Archive for Astro City

Crackerjack Cracks


Astro City #21

Crackerjack has been taken captive by a high tech criminal organization known as the Black Lab, run by a computerized villain called Gormenghast. Quarrel, along with the rest of Honor Guard, invades their undersea base, only to discover that the Black Lab has cloned Crackerjack to create a small army of soldiers. Once they’re dispatched, they find Crackerjack in the facility’s garbage dump, gravely injured. They’re able to save his life, but while he’s recovering, Quarrel goes off to meet with her father, the first Quarrel, a long retired supervillain. She also gets to try out her newly designed powered armor, designed to let her continue fighting crime as she gets older. So what does the future hold for Quarrel and Crackerjack?

Verdict: Thumbs up. This has been a great story. It’s been hard to see some of our old favorites getting older — Crackerjack has been an important supporting character in this comic almost from the very beginning — so the stoy has been a little bittersweet. But it’s interesting to hear that Samaritan thinks he can do something to keep his friends from getting older…


Spider-Gwen #2

Spider-Woman managed to escape certain death via high-altitude plummeting, thanks to some clever spider-improvisation — but now she’s hallucinating Peter Porker, the Amazing Spider-Ham. Meanwhile, her father, Captain George Stacy, is trying to wrangle Captain Frank Castle and Detective Jean DeWolff, who are responsible to tracking down and arresting Spider-Woman. Their interview with the imprisoned Wilson Fisk goes nowhere, and his pet lawyer Matt Murdock orders the Vulture to find Spider-Woman or die.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Fun storytelling and art. It’s also great to see how all these supporting characters from the Spider-Man comics are re-imagined for this alternate universe. I also kinda like the Amazing Spider-Ham hanging out in Gwen’s subconscious. And there are some great details hidden in the background, too — did you know this world’s Felicia Hardy is leading a band called the Black Cats?


Ms. Marvel #13

Kamala’s family are having some visitors — some old friends who moved away years ago. Her parents would sorta like to set her up with their son, Kamran, who Kamala remembers as a nose-picking little twerp. But he’s grown into an extremly good-looking overachiever — who also shares most of Kamala’s geeky interests. Kamala quickly suggests they go shopping for Bollywood DVDs, with her big brother Aamir tagging along as a chaperone. And of course, once they’re out, a supervillain shows up — an electro-blasting anarchist who calls herself Kaboom. Will Kamala be able to defeat her? Will she learn anymore valuable lessons about superheroing? And what unexpected secrets are lurking around the corner?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Fantastic story — it’s always fun to see more about Kamala’s family life. Really, the Khans are just fantastically fun people to read about. Kamran is looking like a very interesting character, too. Gotta give props to guest artist Takeshi Miyazawa, whose style is a bit more cartoony than we’re used to on this book, but still really cool.


Ghosted #18

Jackson Winters, Oliver King, and Nina Bloodcrow have been betrayed by the ghostly Anderson, giving Markus Schrecken and the Maestro (along with the kidnapped Edzia Rusnak) enough control over the lot of them to dictate their future plans for the heist. Markus wants to enter the spirit plane and steal Death itself. But to do so, they all have to get through the ghost town Markus created — eyes shut so the ghosts won’t attack them, all while being assaulted by their worst fears. Can they run the gauntlet without losing any members of their team?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Spooky and fun, with some nicely tense moments and well-done characterization.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • Is there just something about actors who play superheroes in movies that makes them all incredibly awesome people?
  • This “Microscope” RPG — which lets players create thousands of years of history for any fictional reality — sounds very, very cool.
  • It’s a very long read, but I think you’ll be very, very interested in this true story about a luxury liner, its suspiciously dead captain, its suspicious inferno, and the secret madman who might’ve been behind it all.

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Rising to the Heights, Crashing to the Earth


Astro City #20

We continue Quarrel’s story. During an attack by the alien supervillain Imperion, Quarrel gets into a tight spot and is rescued by the speedster MPH. And since she and Crackerjack are on one of their periodic breakups, this leads to a relationship between the two. It lasts a ridiculously short time because Quarrel is absolutely awful at relationships because she focuses all her energy on training and none on stuff like remembering birthdays. Quarrel and Crackerjack are still getting their butts stomped periodically because they don’t have powers and they’re getting older and slower. But Crackerjack has a plan to make it all better, if it doesn’t make everything worse.

Verdict: Thumbs up, but not a real enthusiastic thumbs up. It’s a good story, don’t get me wrong, with lots of excellent characterization and dialogue, but it’s really here mostly to advance us to the final issue of the storyarc. There’s no real reason for Quarrel and MPH’s relationship, other than to fill time. A lot of this is stuff we’d already seen talked about in the previous issue, too. But the cliffhanger is a pretty good one — by which I mean, a pretty bad one…


Captain Marvel #12

Lila Cheney teleports Carol back to her spaceship — and Carol finds the place deserted, Tic and Chewie missing, the AI computer powered down, and the gravity shut off. When she finally gets the computer on, it’s just in time to take out another attacking spaceship. And she then learns that more aliens had kidnapped Tic and Chewie, and her best chance to catch up with them is to take a shortcut through something called the Endless Envelope. But the shortcut may not end up being very short at all…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Wonderful art and very nice sci-fi action — not sure I’ve ever seen someone use the trick Carol does with the ship’s forceshields, and the Envelope’s gimmick is pretty sweet. I still wish a bit more had happened in this issue…


Secret Six #2

Well, the disembodied voice demanding the six supervillain captives pick one of their number to die spends the whole issue demanding that the six pick one of their number to die, so either it’s a really slow minute or a really patient disembodied voice. But the group manages to escape and beat up their captors a bit — and they apparently decide to stick together for the foreseeable future.

Verdict: Ehh, I ain’t real keen on it. The art is all kinds of messy. The newer characters are still complete cyphers, while Catman’s personality gets much weirder — his dislike of confinement makes sense; his dislike of getting wet is just odd. And there’s so very much attention given to the new Ventriloquist and her dummy, who are both just so utterly unlikeable. I hope this series improves a lot soon…

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Lovers’ Quarrel


Astro City #19

This issue has nearly all of its focus on more of Quarrel’s backstory, as she establishes herself in Astro City, saves Honor Guard and is then inducted into the membership, meets and starts working with Crackerjack, and suffers what could be a career-ending injury. How did she survive it and remain a superhero?

Verdict: Thumbs up. I’m really enjoying learning more about Quarrel. She’s always been a background character, so it’s great to see her step into the spotlight.


Captain Marvel #11

Carol has come back to Earth at Christmas to visit friends. She spends the night at the hospital with her ailing friend Tracy Burke, but she ends up getting captured by Captain Marvel-hating mad scientists Grace Valentine and June Covington, who dampen her powers, kidnap a homeless mall Santa, and prepare to torture and kill both of them. But it turns out the homeless guy has a very big trick hidden up his sleeve…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Probably would’ve been better if they’d released this one before Christmas, and if they’d explained the huge coincidence of kidnapping that specific mall Santa. But I still had a lot of fun reading it. The writing and art were top-notch, just as we’ve usually come to expect with this comic.


Batgirl #38

Barbara decides she wants to make sure no one else is able to coopt her identity as Batgirl, so she starts making sure she gets in social media a lot — mainly, letting fans take pictures of her to put on Instagram — and sometimes, taking selfies of herself fighting crime. Not everyone is happy about this — Black Canary thinks she’s grandstanding and not being a serious crimefighter, while her cop boyfriend thinks Batgirl is just as bad as any villains she fights because she wrecks police investigations. All of this makes Babs want to win over even more people, and she decides to do this by taking down the local bad boy, Jordan Barberi, who likes to wreck things up in his fancy sports car while his lawyers make sure he gets in no trouble. But things don’t work out the way she planned.

Verdict: Ehh, I don’t know. The action is excellent, and the characters are fairly fun. The main problem I’m having with this series right now is that every issue has an extremely strong focus on social media and nightclubbing. More realistic, maybe, for someone about Barbara’s age. But I think a lot of people had an expectation that this title would become more all-ages friendly, and while we’ve got a cooler costume, and Batgirl isn’t a relentless downerfest like it used to be, it’d be tough to find a reason to put this comic in a little kid’s hands when there’s so much in here about drinking and hookup apps. That probably just makes me an old fogey…

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The Old and the Young


Astro City #18

It’s the beginning of a new storyarc focusing on Crackerjack and Quarrel. The occasion of the retirement of the Black Rapier just reminds everyone that a lot of the classic Astro City characters are getting up there in years. Quarrel and Crackerjack still go out there to fight crime, but a near-disaster against the new Chessmen leaves both of them exhausted, sore, and in dire need of downtime. And we also get the backstory of Quarrel — her childhood in rural Kentucky, looking up to her father, and never suspecting he was actually a supervillain — but eventually taking up his weapons and learning to use them to fight crime…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Not really the kind of story we expect to see in superhero comics, but if anyone would end up doing it well, it’d be Kurt Busiek and Astro City. It’s weird to think of characters like Quarrel, Crackerjack, and the Black Rapier as getting old enough to retire — but just because Samaritan and Winged Victory don’t seem to get old, that doesn’t mean that the more human heroes can’t feel the weight of the years. And if anything’s really distressing, it’s got to be that fans of the series remember when they were in their prime — and that means we’re all getting old, too. Please insert the sadface emoticon here.


Batgirl #37

Before we get too far into this issue, may we all take a quick moment to gasp in joy at this issue’s alternate cover by Darwyn Cooke?


Holy cheese, that’s an awesome cover!

Someone out there is impersonating Batgirl, running around in a sequined costume, helping high-fashion crooks, and simultaneously pushing Batgirl to greater heights of popularity and ruining her reputation as a crimefighter. Babs learns that she’s the focus of an art show by an artist named Dagger Type and pays it a visit with Black Canary and some of her college friends, and this leads to even more confrontations with the Batgirl imposter — and soon to the revelation of her true identity: Dagger Type himself!

Verdict: Good grief, it’s so not very good. I mean, there’s the jaw-dropping stupidity of the reveal — after Gail Simone’s famously trans-positive run on this title, to have the new creative team head almost immediately for an embarrassingly ham-fisted portrayal of an over-the-top nutcase cross-dressing villain — it just doesn’t make anyone look very smart. The creative team has already apologized, but it’s a serious mis-step. On top of that, the rest of the story just feels shallow. It’s Batgirl worried about someone stealing her act, then attending two different art shows, whining about her image, and capping the whole thing off by triumphantly… putting her selfie on Instagram. I’m all for making sure our characters exist in a recognizably modern world, but this all comes across like the celebrity-obsessed superheroes in Grant Morrison’s recent “Multiversity: The Just” issue — and that’s not a good thing.

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Two-Face ’66


Batman ’66: The Lost Episode

One of the great missed opportunities on the 1966 Batman TV show is that they had plans to put Two-Face on their program but never followed through. And the coolest thing about the comic book revival of the series is that we can see how things would’ve gone if they’d actually made the show.

So dig this: A story by Len Wein with art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, based on a story treatment by Harlan Ellison.

The story starts off with Two-Face staging a daring robbery at an auction house — but later returning the loot to the police. Batman explains that after District Attorney Harvey Dent was scarred by acid, he began committing crimes based on the flip of a coin — if the bad side comes up, he keeps his ill-gotten gains, but if the good side wins, he returns it all, often with interest. But the Dynamic Duo must find a way to capture Two-Face. Can Batman find a way out when the only choices Dent is willing to accept are bad and worse?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s not a highly original story, to be honest, but it’s not like the TV show didn’t often crib some storylines from old comics stories. The appeal here is obviously seeing how the TV show could’ve handled Two-Face, and all in all, it comes off as a pretty fun treatment. A big chunk of the appeal of this comic is the amazing art by Garcia-Lopez, who always turns out some of the best art in the biz. In fact, in addition to the regular story, we also get an encore presentation featuring just the artist’s pencil work, followed by the original treatment for the series written by Harlan Ellison himself. Both of these features are pretty awesome all by themselves, and combined with the story, make this a bit of a must-have for a wide variety of comics fans.

About the worst thing about this issue is the price tag. Ten dollars is pretty steep!


Astro City #17

So periodically, Honor Guard gets treated to Red Cake Day. Someone sneaks into their HQ and leaves a big spread of delicious red cake, and no one knows who brought it. Until this year — a little purple alien appears, introduces himself as Eth, and reveals that his people have been bringing the cake as part of something they call Sorrowsday. He tells them a story about a terrible interdimensional conqueror called Krigari the Ironhanded, who his people accidentally dreamed into existence. Terrified that his unslakeable thirst for conquest would eventually lead him to destroy them all, they began to steer him to other, stronger dimensions, hoping they’d destroy Krigari for them. Eventually, this led to a long string of confrontations between Krigari and Earth’s superheroes. What caused Krigari’s final defeat, and what’s the connection to Sorrowsday?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a good story, with nice art by Tom Grummett. Krigari and Druin are both great villains, and Stormhawk is a great hero — so it is disappointing that we won’t get to see any of them again.

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Here’s to Fun Superheroes


Batgirl #35

Well, people, it’s the Batgirl everyone was waiting for — much hipper, much less grim-and-gritty, and almost certainly much more likely to make Dan DiDio and Jim Lee overdose on Rolaids. She’s got a redesigned costume, cool art, and a new creator team that isn’t beholden to stupid editors to make everything unpleasant and sad. (Gail Simone really should be allowed to make a fun Batgirl comic someday. You know it’d be keen, and she deserves to have some fun.)

Anyway, Barbara Gordon is moving into a new apartment in the trendy Burnside area of Gotham. After a hard-partying first night with the new roomies, she heads out to grab some coffee and ends up chasing down a computer thief. She comes home to find Dinah “Black Canary” Lance on her doorstep because her apartment burned down — and because Babs was storing some of her stuff there, she’s lost almost everything, too. And she and her roommates are all missing computers and phones. Can Barbara track down the thief? And can she somehow stop the mastermind, the scuzzy cyber-blackmailer Riot Black?

Verdict: Thumbs up. I get the impression that DC was a bit freaked out by Marvel’s success at appealing to markets beyond the stale old manchild gang — and it’s nice that they’ve managed to break out of their own old stereotypes so well. Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher are writing a Batgirl who’s less angsty, more realistic, and more interesting, and Babs Tarr’s artwork is definitely unlike anything else you’ll see with the DC bullet on the cover. I really do wish DC had given Gail Simone a chance to write this new more-fun Batgirl, but the new creative team has turned in a fantastic debut issue.


Astro City #16

Super-keen gimmick here and on other Vertigo covers this month — the story actually starts on the cover of the magazine.

This issue focuses on a couple high-school supers — good-hearted energy-projecting hero Starbright and bitter hyper-genius Simon Says. Simon calls Starbright out and offers him a truce — Simon will help the hero capture criminals for 24 hours, and in exchange, Starbright has to bring him the school’s outcasts for… a birthday party? What sort of scheme is Simon Says up to?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Fantastic characters, dialogue, plot — and a really nice twist long before the end that makes the whole story a lot more resonant and effective.


Captain Marvel #8

Well, it turns out that Carol’s cat Chewie actually is an alien called a flerken. And she’s just laid a ton of eggs with even more flerkens inside. And aliens are attacking the ship to either cat-nap them or kill them. Can Captain Marvel, Rocket Raccoon, and Tic stop the invaders, save the kitties, and get to safety?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a fairly straightforward story — mostly fighting and lasers and rocketships flying around — but it’s told well, and there’s something about weird alien cats with tentacles and pocket dimensions inside of them that really helps push a fun story all the way over the top.

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Pop and Lockjaw


Ms. Marvel #8

Kamala Khan has just gotten herself a pet — Lockjaw, the gigantic, teleporting bulldog of the Inhumans. She gets him to teleport her to one of the Inventor’s hideouts, where she fights off a giant robot and rescues a fellow student who was being used as the robot’s brain. And the next day, she gets attacked by another giant robot — but this time, she finds that her powers aren’t really working anymore…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great art and writing, a fun new co-star that’s likely to pull Kamala deeper into her Inhuman background, and fantastic characterization of Kamala, her family, and her classmates and teachers.


Astro City #15

Ellie Jimson has been arrested and charged with masterminding a recent spree of robot-based crimes. But Ellie is too scatterbrained to be a genuine villain. And after her robot friends show up to rescue her and she returns to her old home to meet her nephew Fred, her memories and her wits start to return to her. She remembers being a collegiate robotics genius, close friends with a fellow genius named Vivi Victor, who eventually turned on her and used a device to map her brainwave patterns to use to program robots, wrecking her mind in the process. Vivi went on to become a global supervillain, and now she wants to completely destroy Ellie’s life. Is there any way Ellie can fight back?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a neat twist on the rivalry between Reed Richards and Victor von Doom, just gender-switched, aged up a few decades, and focused more heavily on robots.

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Rumble Robots


Astro City #14

Our story focuses on an older lady living in the desert and running a makeshift museum of hundreds of robots built by mad scientists and taken down by superheroes. But in fact, Ellie is some sort of mechanical genius, and she’s managed to rebuild and reprogram all of them. Her hard-luck nephew Fred comes to visit and tries to make the museum profitable — and he’s willing to use less-than-legal methods to do so. But what is the strange secret Ellie is hiding inside her age-addled mind?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s an intriguing mystery, with several interesting characters. We also meet some new superheroes from an obscure superteam. And so many robots! Robots are always a good thing.


Captain Marvel #6

J’Son, the despotic ruler of the Spartax Empire, plans to kill everyone on the planet Torfa to cover up the vibranium he’s mining there, and the vibranium toxicity that’s poisoning everyone who lives there. Captain Marvel fights off his fleet while the rest of the refugees on the planet below work on a plan to save everyone. Can they keep J’Son from wiping everyone out? Can they expose what he’s done to the rest of his empire?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great art and a great story — it reads like the last reel of a really fun action movie, and there aren’t that many comics that can pull that off nearly as well as this one does it.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • Not in the mood for a lot of funny stuff lately, mostly because of the crap that went down in Ferguson, Missouri. If we were a truly civilized nation, most of the police officers in that city would be in jail right now. (Though, in fairness, things are already getting less horrible in Ferguson.)
  • On a related note, America has been a very racist nation for a long time, and seeing so many people embrace that like it’s a good thing is intensely frustrating.
  • And on a similarly related note, the depressing secret they never teach you in history class is that the South actually won the Civil War, and the news refuses to talk about the fact that the Tea Party is ultimately an anti-American movement.
  • The roleplaying game industry and GenCon have their own problems with race and diversity.
  • Okay, fine, one funny link for you: 100 actual titles of real 18th-century novels.

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Lord of the Dance


Astro City #13

It’s an extra weird issue of this comic — each page covers one hour of a single day, and all the pages are out of order. You can read ’em straight through, and the story’s just fine, or you can try to read ’em in linear order, and it’s just fine then, too. But it’s still extra weird.

Our basic story is this: some sort of scientific experiment has brought to our world a being called the Dancing Master. He’s generally benign, but also extremely chaotic, as his presence spurs everyone around him to romance — not necessarily sex, just romance — people seek out their true loves or find new true loves. They often find themselves getting out of their cars to dance. Not that bad, but very disruptive. While all this is happening, a supervillain called Gundog is robbing a bank, despite interference from Jack-in-the-Box. Will Gundog be captured? Will the Dancing Master be corralled?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s an extra weird issue, so you’ll have to be a little patient while reading it. Some of the stuff that makes no sense at the beginning will make perfect sense by the end. And I love the shifting art style whenever Brent Anderson draws the Dancing Master — he’s not a corporeal being, so he always looks weird and abstract. I do hope we get to see both the Dancing Master and Gundog in the future.


Captain Marvel #4

Carol Danvers is trying to help out a bunch of aliens trapped on Torfa, a toxic planet. Some of them want desperately to flee, some of them don’t want to split their people up, some of them want the healthy individuals to take off and leave the poisoned ones to their fate. Carol and a few of the aliens start raiding their oppressors for spare parts to rebuild their fleet, allowing all of them to escape, but the Spartax Emperor J’Son is plotting against everyone on Torfa…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Very nice story, with schemes inside schemes and fantastic action. And I really love the art by David Lopez and Lee Loughridge.


Lumberjanes #3

The Lumberjane Scouts are trapped deep underground facing a variety of dire threats, including talking statues, trap doors, collapsing walkways, and secret messages. Will they make it back to camp?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Nice Indiana-Jones-style adventure, with some of the challenges being solved physically (who knew lovable April had what it took to out-match a giant stone statue?) and some puzzled out with very clever mental solutions. This is the first issue of this one that I thought really rose above the pack.

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The Wolf at the Door


Astro City #12

Our full focus in this issue is Ned Carroway, a man addicted to fine clothing and armed robbery. He manages to combine his passions into a career as a costumed criminal, usually as a member of a gang of similarly dressed crooks. Besides his solo career as the Gentleman Bandit, he’s been a member of the Sweet Adelines, the Menagerie Gang, the Gatsbys, and more. But can Ned ever find true happiness? Or does happiness for him really extend no further than expensive Italian shoes and a crisply ironed shirt?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Wow, it’s the first Astro City comic that doesn’t have Brent Anderson on pencils. Graham Nolan does a fine job, though, and I’ve got no complaints about his art. The story itself is exceptionally grand, even with minimal use of superheroes. Ned is a great character, and it’s especially cool to get a look into the world of the themed bank robbers who populated Silver Age comics.


Captain Marvel #3

After Captain Marvel recovers her spaceship from the alien Tic, she agrees to accompany her back to the planet her race has adopted as their new home — a planet that appears to be poisonous. But Tic’s people place some of the blame for their predicament on the Avengers, and they don’t have a lot of faith in human superheroes who show up insisting they know what’s right for everyone. Can Cap win them over?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A lot of it is really kinda by-the-numbers, but Carol’s conversation with Eleanides, the leader of Tic’s people, is really very grand. She’s calm, wise, charismatic, compassionate, but also quite furious — and probably justifiably so — at Earthlings’ insistence on meddling in things they have no business meddling in.


Lumberjanes #2

The Lumberjane Scouts are going to enjoy a canoe trip down the river. Some of them are eagerly anticipating it — some of them are maybe a little too terrified of the possibility of lake monsters. Everything’s going perfectly well — until there’s a waterfall where no one knew there was going to be one. And then there’s the seriously fer-sher giant three-eyed lake monster that comes up out of nowhere. After some gloriously demented exclamations of surprise and terror (“WHAT THE JUNK IS THAT?” and “HOLY MAE JAMISON!” were my favorites), the girls wind up on land, but far from camp — and their only food is stolen by a mysterious three-eyed eagle. And then there’s the ominous tunnel deep underground…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Still not real into this “Adventure Time” style of art, but the story really is fun, goofy, and scary, and that’s a very good thing.

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