Wednesday, September 14, 2011

You are very fat and stupid and persistently wear a ridiculous hat which you should be ashamed of

My horoscope in the Metro today told me that "Self-deprecation is not attractive, so focus on your positive traits."

How dare the stars tell me (and the five million other Libras in Britain) that I'm not attractive! Do I even have any positive traits that I could focus on? I don't think I have.

Anyway, I'm going to Heilbronn tomorrow, and I really can't wait for the German Championship! There's so much tough competition there, it's a world away from the UK event, fun though that is. It's an event where I could get a good score and still finish behind (in no particular order) Hannes, Simon, Gunther, Christian, Cornelia, Boris and others. But I'm hoping to do rather better than my miserable fifth place last year, because I'm feeling more confident in my preparation. And if I do lose, it'll set me a target to aim for before the World Championship in December, so I'll still be happy!

Meanwhile, please watch Gaby's slideshow of the UK Championship!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I'm still complaining

I have a history of complaining about Broons and Oor Wullie compilations. But they seem to have actually run out of stuff to reprint, so most of the ones in this year have already been reprinted before. Most but not all, so I still bought it, but I feel justified in complaining. I don't think they've tippexed anything out this year, though.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ben Pridmore's Xtreme Memory Show

So, Epic Win got me thinking. There must be good ways to do an entertaining stage show, using memory skills. The whole barcode thing would be cool, and then there's this awesome performance by Penn and Teller, which obviously isn't really a memory trick, but it could be. It'd work with a paintball gun, two easels, a blindfold and a big long tube full of blue and red paintballs.

What other cool things could I do that aren't just standing on a stage and reciting pi for sixteen hours? Because that's just not xtreme enough for modern tastes, apparently.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Super Sunday

DC Comics in America are relaunching their entire universe of superheroes. There are 52 comics numbered #1 hitting the shelves in September. The intention is presumably to bring in new readers who want to read superhero comics but are put off by the fact that they've all been going on for anything up to seventy-odd years. Now, I've never been a particular fan of DC - for the non-comic-fans among my readership, they're the ones who publish Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and others - although obviously I've read them here and there over the years. So I thought it might be an idea to buy these new #1s and see what I think of them. All in all, are they worth coming back to next month?

So I went into Forbidden Planet in Nottingham and bought what they had there. This is one of the two comic shops in Nottingham (and the other one's shut on Sundays), which are the only places in the area where you can buy these comics - they don't appear in the newsagents even in America, as a rule, just in comic shops, so I'm really not sure how the new readers are going to get their hands on them, but that's not really the point. The three coolest ones among the fourteen released so far were sold out, so I acquired them by other means in order to review them here. I'll pay for them another time, when I find them for sale.

So here are the "New 52" in the order I read them:

Static Shock #1
Scott McDaniel, John Rozum, Jonathan Glapion, LeBeau Underwood

That's a lot of creators, isn't it? Most of these comics only have two people named on the front cover. But the first page credits McDaniel and Rozum with the story, McDaniel again with pencils, and Glapion and Underwood with inks.

The first page also presents us with a dynamic shot of our hero, Static (the title at the bottom of the page says "Static Shock in RECHARGED", but he seems to be just called Static), who's a cool teenager with an extremely cool electric-themed costume, flying around on a stylish but rather impractical hexagonal flying disc with a hole in the middle. He's in the middle of a fight with a guy called Sunspot, who's stolen a "plasma protection suit" from the lab where Static works after school.

The introduction is excellent, it fills us in on who this Static guy is and what he does - it doesn't fill us in on how he knows the bad guy is called Sunspot, since he's not a talkative type, but perhaps Static just made the name up himself. Anyway, he fights the bad guy while spouting various scientific justifications for what he's doing (he wields electricity and knows his physics, but Sunspot proves more difficult to handle than he expected), he's rather rough in pushing bystanders out of the way of falling rubble, and they're unappreciative. He eventually manages to short out the suit on a metal bridge - and once again, all the bystanders can do nothing but complain - only for Sunspot to be shot dead from afar by his mysterious employers to stop him talking.

Static flies off, chatting with his boss, Hardware, on a hi-tech video screen, while the mysterious employers (who seem to include Batman's enemy the Joker, just standing in the background) discuss the situation, establish themselves to be a sinister conspiracy of evil and powerful people, and send a cool-looking supervillain called Virule out to kill Static, just in case he found out anything about their plan while fighting Sunspot.

Static goes home and spends two pages hanging out with his family, then two pages at his secret headquarters talking with Hardware again, then goes out flying over New York to test out his latest piece of cool technology. However, he's ambushed by Virule and in the final panel, his flying hexagon is shattered in mid-air and his entire left arm is cut off!

The verdict? Story - extremely cool. Nothing too original in the teenage hero or the sinister baddies, the unappreciative public is a little excessive, but it's all extremely well written and compelling. Art - awesome. Just right for a comic like this. Tells the story well and gives the central character a distinctive appearance. All in all - yes, I want to read the next issue, and keep buying it monthly. A great introductory issue that does everything it's supposed to - I've never heard of Static before, I don't know if he's brand new or if he's been around for a while, but I like him.

Stormwatch #1
Paul Cornell, Miguel Sepulveda

Cornell's the writer, Sepulveda the artist.

"The Eye of the Storm, Stormwatch HQ, hyperspace" is where we start our story. It's a sort of big flying saucer in a swirly colourful background. Someone called Angie (who might be a robot) is looking at another floating mid-air transparent computer screen, just like Static's (they must be cheap in the DC universe) at what the dialogue tells us is a giant horn, and a caption tells us that it features in Superman #1, which isn't on sale until September 28. Frankly, the art doesn't really make it clear what's going on at all. The couple of other people with Angie, one of whom is called Adam, talk about the mission that Harry is on, and then tune in on what's going on with the team in Moscow.

They're trying to recruit a new "Superman-level" hero, who's known as Apollo. He doesn't want to join them at all, but they assure him they're not superheroes. They're Stormwatch, and they've been protecting the world from alien threats for centuries. They show off their powers for Apollo (and us) - Jack Hawksmoor can manipulate cities (make bricks into a chair, make buildings turn upside down to really confuse people inside them, things like that), Projectionist can sort of mentally connect to the internet and find out who Apollo is (you'd think she would have done that back at base, but hey, she's got to demonstrate her powers somehow) and the Martian Manhunter can change into a human disguise or a big giant toothy monster, as necessary. Apollo still isn't impressed.

Back on the base, Angie (aka Engineer) points out that the moon is growing giant claws and threatening the Earth, and maybe Harry could use some help, but Adam is more interested in going down to the Himalayas on a different mission. Harry, the Eminence of Blades, is up to his neck in monsters made from the moon's crust, then falls down into a hidden cavern where he meets a giant eye. It's come in response to the blowing of that giant horn we were talking about earlier, and it's "here to make your world stronger, through devastation". The giant eye is just an advance scout for something much bigger and scarier, and it takes over poor Harry's body, after scanning his mind and finding out a few cryptic things about Stormwatch (they're ruled by a shadow cabinet of the dead, unless Harry's deliberately thinking made-up things to confuse it).

Adam and Jennifer, meanwhile, are down in the Himalayas, investigating the big giant horn (which looks more like a big giant worm, really). Jennifer demonstrates her "Spirit of the Twenty-First Century" powers in a way that doesn't make much sense, and teleports the horn to HQ, I assume. Back with Apollo and friends, the Martian Manhunter really isn't taking no for an answer. He insists that Apollo may be the most powerful person on the planet and is needed to save the world. However, all three Stormwatchers are then knocked out (surprisingly easily) by a new, sinister-looking person called the Midnighter, who offers Apollo a different proposition - "With your help, I can kill every evil bastard on the planet. Interested?"

The verdict? Story - This one had a lot more work to do, introducing the whole team rather than just one solo superhero, and it does at least get the point across that they're very busy, and that they deal with things on an epic scale. And it seems less rushed on a second reading than it did the first time I went through it. The cover, which shows Martian Manhunter, Apollo and Midnighter all looking at a holographic Earth with "alert" pointers dotted around it, seems to come from a status quo that hasn't been arrived at yet, which is a little annoying (just like the first-page reference to a Superman story that hasn't been published yet), but the story itself does leave you wanting to find out more. Art? Pretty good, you can always tell who's who and usually what's happening too. The colouring is a little dark in places, but it's entirely readable, and quite dynamic at times. All in all - call this a possible. It takes more time to get to grips with, but it's growing on me. And let's face it, a bit of complexity is a good thing!

Justice League #1
Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, Scott Williams

This one came out last week, as a vanguard of the new 52. Apparently from now on it'll be a third-week-of-the-month one, so we have to wait a month and a half before #2 comes along. Johns writes, Lee pencils and Williams inks.

The cover shows us our big heroes - Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Green Lantern, Flash, Batman and Cyborg. All the long-established, popular heroes, plus Cyborg. Token black guy. They're all either charging forward or striking dramatic poses, it's a bit weird. Superman, who looks about twelve years old, seems to be flying straight upwards, but Batman and Flash especially look really cool. But the cover isn't representative of what happens in the comic.

It's five years ago. Superheroes are new, and the average person isn't sure what to think about them. Police helicopters are tracking this new "Batman" person as he fights a monster on the rooftops of Gotham City. They decide to take them both down. Super-people in general need to be shot at, apparently, in case they cause trouble. Batman escapes them with the help of a smoke bomb, and chases the monster some more. The art is very detailed, but it's surprisingly difficult to follow what's supposed to be happening here. Anyway, the fight is interrupted by the Green Lantern. He's tracking the monster because it's an alien, and aliens are his thing, and he's surprised to find that Batman is a real person.

Then the monster attacks them both, and shoots down the police helicopters, which are becoming a nuisance. While the heroes save the police, the monster gets away. Batman and the Green Lantern bicker - GL is cocky and irritating, Batman is surly and unfriendly. But they find the monster in a sewer, planting some kind of alien computer device. It then blows itself up, yelling "For Darkseid!" but the heroes aren't harmed. They decide to go and check out this "Superman" person they've been hearing about, because apparently he's an alien.

Then we get four pages of someone who's presumably going to become Cyborg eventually, being really good at American football and being unappreciated by his dad, who is apparently connected with superheroes in some way.

Batman and GL arrive in Metropolis. Batman chooses this moment to complain that they shouldn't have gone there in GL's glowing green plane, although since they've already landed, it seems a strange time to mention it. Still, they've tracked down Superman in a building with big holes smashed in it, and GL confidently asserts that he can deal with any super-powered alien. But then something blue and red (it looks like some kind of energy beam, but it might be supposed to be someone flying really fast) flies out and hits him in the face, and in our last panel we get our first look at Superman, as he says hi to Batman. He's wearing an ugly suit of armour in the style of his original costume, and we're promised that next issue will bring us Superman vs Batman.

The verdict? Story - for this one, it seems we've decided not to introduce most of the team yet at all. If you bought this comic because Wonder Woman was on the cover, you'd be disappointed. Same for Superman, really - he's only in one panel. It does introduce the two central characters well, giving us plenty of power-demonstration and personality, but it doesn't read like a complete story. It leaves me wondering how long it'll be before the Justice League gets together and we catch up to the present day. And although it's the same number of pages as Stormwatch, there's not nearly as much happening! Art - not bad, it's a bit hard to make out what's happening sometimes, and Superman just looks wrong, but there's a lot of effort gone into it. Some of the facial expressions and poses are awkward, but the story flows nicely from one panel to the next. All in all - I don't know, if it's going to take a long time to tell the story, maybe I'll read them all in the shop until I've read enough to make a judgement on whether it's worth buying. You can't really tell just from this one.

Swamp Thing #1
Scott Snyder, Yanick Paquette

Snyder writes, Paquette draws.

We start at the Daily Planet. Clark Kent looks out of the window and notices that all the pigeons in the sky have dropped dead. In the Batcave, Batman notices a whole lot of dead bats, splattered over the Batmobile. Underwater, Aquaman's seeing dead fish. Meanwhile, a series of captions scattered across the pages reminisce philosophically about cutting flowers. Then we're in Louisiana, where Alec Holland is picking up planks in the course of building a house. As he chats with his boss about his surprising knowledge of plants, there's a mysterious cloaked figure sneakily drawn very small and unobtrusively in the background, watching him.

Elsewhere, in Arizona, a recently unearthed mammoth skeleton is sucked away by a giant tornado. Back at the building site, Alec sorts through his planks, while his narrative captions recount his origin - he was working on a "bio-restorative formula" when there was an explosion which killed him. Then he woke up in a swamp as the Swamp Thing, with a whole extra set of memories in his head. He dates this to 'six weeks ago', but then goes on to talk about 'that morning at the construction site', which is what we're looking at now, so I'm not sure what the timescales are. Anyway, Superman shows up to talk to him.

They chat about the things dying all over the world, and about plants in general, but Superman's just there to see if he's okay after the whole Swamp Thing business. Alec is sort of one with nature, he knows everything about plant life and he's not sure he really likes it. But back in Arizona, the archaeologists whose mammoth was stolen wonder what happened to it (did they not notice the tornado?) and then are attacked by a sort of horrid skeleton monster with buzzing flies that fly into your ear and make your head spin round backwards. The art, which has been in conventional rectangular panels until now, fragments into irregular shapes with ugly black and red borders at this point, just to emphasise how gruesome it is.

Back at his motel, Alec dreams about the accident that turned him into Swamp Thing and wakes up surrounded by plants. He takes his bio-restorative formula that he apparently didn't throw away after all, and goes to throw it into the nearby swamp. But he's surprised when his arm is grabbed by the Swamp Thing, who tells him he really shouldn't do that.

The verdict? Story - weird and not exactly action-packed. There's a lot of talking, but the history of the Swamp Thing is conveyed entirely through words and not pictures. When it appears on the last page, it's the first we've seen of it apart from the cover. It sort of reads like we're supposed to know something about the comic before reading it, which isn't how these things are supposed to work, and it doesn't really make me want to read more. Art - the faces are badly drawn and not very expressive. I do like the change in style in the monster attack sequence, though, it's genuinely creepy. All in all - it just doesn't entice me back for next month's story. I don't honestly care about Alec Holland, whoever he is, and I'm sure I can get my supply of creepy monsters and ear-flies in some of the other New 52.

O.M.A.C. #1
Dan Didio, Keith Giffen, Scott Koblish

The credits say "Story & art by Didio and Giffen", with inks by Koblish, so it's not entirely clear who does what.

We're at Cadmus Industries. We're not told where in the world this is, and the lettering in the captions makes it look like it could just as easily say "Cromus", or any other variant of R and A, D and O. But we're introduced to Tony Jay and Jody Robbins, who work there - Jody's been stood up for a lunch date by colleague Kevin Kho, and Tony leers inappropriately at her. But then the alarms go off, security guards run into the scene and O.M.A.C. breaks down the wall.

He's a big giant blue monster with a weird mohican, and he talks in monosyllables. But he's taking orders from a computer voice in his head, who directs him to the Cadmus mainframe. When Jody yells for Kevin, O.M.A.C. turns his head before disappearing into the basement. Outside, Jody worries about Kevin, and Tony propositions her again.

But down in the basement, it turns out that Cadmus is actually run by a weird yellow alien with a lot of bubbling tubes and those floating computer screens again all around. He's called Lord Mokkari, and he orders Dubbilex, a grey alien with horns, to stop the intruder. He scans O.M.A.C.'s mind and gets a few cryptic hints about his origins, but the computer voice cuts him off by making O.M.A.C. hit him.

The big guy defeats Dubbilex and his faceless red things, defeats Mokkari's "build-a-friend" who's got a giant gun in her mouth, and defeats his Gobblers, weird creatures that are practically all mouth. The computer voice notes that it was once part of this system, but was cast out, and needed to get back inside. It achieves its aim, connecting with the mainframe, while O.M.A.C. smashes things at its command and then escapes. Lord Mokkari vows revenge.

Then Kevin wakes up in the ruins and wonders where he is. The computer voice calls him on his mobile and tells him that it is Brother Eye, and that "your life is now mine". And also to call his girlfriend, because she's worried about him.

The verdict? Story - old-fashioned insanity, with lots of colourful monsters fighting and very little in the way of plot. But it's good fun, and it does leave you wondering what will come next, and how poor old Kevin is going to juggle his personal life and a big giant space eye turning him into O.M.A.C. And who knows, maybe future issues will tell us what those initials stand for? Art - a deliberate homage to Jack Kirby's genre-defining 1960s comics, it works for new readers too, because it's so over-the-top and colourful, it's compelling reading. Fantastic stuff. All in all - these comics cost £2.20 each, and this is a five-minute read. But it's a very good one, so what the heck, any time I'm feeling rich, I might buy it.

Action Comics #1
Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, Rick Bryant

The cover actually says "Superman ACTION Comics", with "Action" being the big, eye-catching word. We'll call it Action Comics, because Superman #1 is coming in three weeks. Morrison writes, Morales pencils, Bryant inks.

A rich man in Metropolis is having a party, when Superman gatecrashes it. The police break in - the rich man is so powerful, they're scared of him, but Superman definitely isn't. This is an all-new Superman, we're apparently back in the timescales even before Justice League's "five years ago", although there's no caption to that effect. He wears a Superman T-shirt, jeans, sensible brown shoes and a red cape. He's standing on the balcony, holding Mr Glenmorgan over his head and demanding a full confession.

To make his point more fully, he jumps off the building, landing safely in the street with Glenmorgan in his arms, and threatens horrific implied violence if he doesn't stop "using illegal cheap labour, no safety standards and bribing city officials". Then he contemptuously runs away from the police - Superman apparently can't fly at this point in his career - but doesn't know he's being watched in a secret mission-control kind of base.

He's being watched by General Lane, who's got a daughter called Lois, and Lex Luthor, who's a consultant. They've set this whole thing up to catch Superman - he's been around for six months by this point, and he's getting more and more powerful. This worries General Lane. They've lured Superman in with an irresistible bait - a building's being demolished with people still in it - and then send in the tanks. They've got an electric net and missiles that can really hurt Superman, but then he's protected by those innocent people from the building, who are grateful to Supes for saving their lives. He gets away from the "robocopters" and returns home.

Turning back into Clark Kent on the roof, he bumps into his landlady. She praises his journalistic skills, and then he leaves and phones Jimmy Olsen, his recent acquaintance. Jimmy is with Lois Lane, who works for a rival newspaper, and they're tracking someone connected to Glenmorgan, on a train. But the train has been sabotaged and goes out of control, and Superman has to stop it. Frankly, at this point it gets very difficult to work out from the art exactly what is supposed to be happening, but General Lane and Lex Luthor understand it at least, and argue extensively, until Luthor scoffs that he's done his job, and points to Superman, squished by the runaway train into the Daily Planet building's wall.

The verdict? Establishing Superman's early days, it does a fine job of setting up the regular characters, although Lois Lane doesn't get much screen time. Sinister government forces out to get the hero don't appeal to me much, but Superman as a hero for the little people really does work nicely. Art - it's very good in places, the faces are excellent and Superman looks good in his semi-civvies. But the action scene with the train just doesn't convey the story at all well, which is worrying. And there's a scene of General Lane in an 'accusing' pose, pointing a finger at Luthor, that is so exaggerated it made me laugh out loud, which really wasn't the intention. All in all - it's readable, I do want to see more, it's not top of my list of favourites, but I think it'll entice me back next month.

Men Of War #1
Ivan Brandon, Tom Derenick, Jonathan Vankin, Phil Winslade

Two stories in this one - a full-length tale written by Brandon and drawn by Derenick, and a six-page back-up strip written by Vankin and drawn by Winslade.

A soldier is lying in rubble, bloodied and bruised. And sepia-toned - this whole story is coloured in greys, browns and reds, it looks really weird. Narrative captions tell us his macho thoughts. He's hurt, there are explosions all around, and he's sure he's going to die today. We go back to what is presumably a flashback of the same corporal (it's not entirely clear from the art) as a general and a sergeant question him about his career and his parents. His mother's terminally ill, and he's a tough guy who plays by his own rules but gets the job done. The sergeant tells Corporal Rock he can't avoid being a sergeant forever.

Now we're on a plane, and another soldier shows off his cool gun. The sergeant tells everyone to listen and outlines their mission, and it's official - this comic is written by someone whose idea of what war is like is a long way removed from the way people who have actually been in action tell it. But there are editorial footnotes telling us what the soldiers mean when they say "M4". It means "M4 carbine rifle", apparently. Anyway, the soldiers are parachuting in to rescue a senator from insurgents. We're not told where they are.

But there's a superhero flying around too, and he apparently causes a big explosion. The sergeant does something heroic, it's hard to tell exactly what, and someone who's probably Corporal Rock does something cool with a bazooka he's suddenly acquired. They run into the building, only now they're in a cave, and the sergeant's doing something cool again. Frankly, I have no idea what's supposed to be going on. But the superhero's still flying around on the fringes of the story, and having some kind of fight. Now we're in a town, and back with Corporal Rock, only now the sergeant's lying next to him, impaled on a big spike (although he nonetheless seems to have crawled over to Rock over the course of several panels), and promoting Rock to sergeant with his dying breath. The end. Next issue promises us "The life of the man called Rock!"

Story two is about Navy Seals. There's a chalk-and-cheese pairing of "Ice" Berg and "Tracker" Trachsel. Ice used to be in the peace corps, Tracker is prejudiced against sissies. They're on a mission in some foreign country where Americans aren't officially supposed to be, and being shot at. That's about as far as we get in the six pages.

The verdict? Story - dreadful. War story written by someone who learned everything he knows about army life from a film he once saw, awkwardly stuffed into the DC world of superheroes because they want a coherent single universe for their comics. The second story is even worse, as far as we can tell from the little bit we get here, it's macho and all-American to the point of being offensive. Art - horrific. The colouring makes it even worse, but the people look different from one panel to the next, and there's no coherent storytelling. The art in the second story is a lot better, but that only brings it up to 'unexceptional'. All in all - God no. Can I have my money and time back, please?

Justice League International #1
Dan Jurgens, Aaron Lopresti, Matt Ryan

Jurgens writes, Lopresti pencils, Ryan inks. Not to be confused with just-plain Justice League above, this is a different team.

We start with Andre Briggs, the head of UN Intelligence, explaining his proposal (and, weirdly, explaining who he himself is) to the UN Global Security Group. He feels that they need an offical UN superhero team, who will do what they say, unlike the Justice League, who are great, but independent. It's all about good PR, the sleazy Briggs explains, a cool, accessible, superhero team.

He introduces the team to us - leader Booster Gold, Ice, Vixen, Fire, Guy Gardner the Green Lantern (not the same Green Lantern as the one in the Justice League), Rocket Red from Russia, August General In Iron from China and Godiva from Britain. Along the way, the security group reject Plastic Man, Green Arrow, Blue Beetle and Batman because they don't like them. But they grudgingly agree to the general idea, and give Briggs the go-ahead. This scene, like the rest of the comic, is played mostly straight, but with some stupid comedy-Russian dialogue from the Russian representative. I sort of get the idea that this might have been intended to be an outright comedy comic (like the previous incarnation back in the eighties) but the humour was toned down, or perhaps the reverse, it started out straight but had funny bits added. Anyway, it's a bit jarring.

Anyway, Briggs has already recruited the team and acquired the Hall of Justice as the HQ, despite some very vocal protestors who insist that it's a public building. And they've got their first mission lined up - a UN research team has been swallowed up by the earth in Peru.

Booster arrives for work, keen to project the right public image and make the team loved by all, and meets the rest of the crew. Guy Gardner immediately walks out, on the grounds that he considers Booster an idiot. Outside, Batman shows up and urges Guy to give him a chance, but he's not listening. So the team, minus Guy but with Batman stowing away, set off in their cool plane to Peru. There, they're attacked by rock monsters, while back home some protestors blow up their HQ. The monsters are driven off easily enough, but then a giant robot shows up.

The verdict? Story - it's thin on plot, and doesn't introduce most of the characters very well. There's not much to tell new readers who these people are or what they can do. The action scenes are perfunctory, and it spreads a minimal story over its page count. Art - pretty good. There are four women on the team, and Lopresti follows the usual convention of making them basically identical Barbie dolls in the face, but otherwise it's nice work. There's some disconnect between the writing and the art, though - after the brief monster fight, Batman accuses Godiva of not being involved enough, but from what little we saw, she was right in the thick of things with everyone else. All in all - enjoyable, but too slight to really keep my interest. Worth keeping an eye on, at least, but it's low down on the list.

Hawk and Dove #1
Sterling Gates, Rob Liefeld

Gates writes, Liefeld draws.

Washington DC, and loony "science terrorist" Alexander Quirk is threatening to unleash monsters and weapons in his crusade to make a political statement. Our heroes, Hawk and Dove, are on a cargo plane stocked with zombie monsters, trying to thwart his plan. Little captions tell us their secret identities, list their powers and make it clear that we're looking at another chalk-and-cheese team here - Hawk is the Avatar of War, Dove is the Avatar of Peace, and they don't get along. Hawk misses his previous partner and feels that Dove isn't pulling her weight in the fight. Dove, not unreasonably, points out that she's trying to stop the plane crashing straight into the Washington Monument. They don't quite manage to miss it, but close enough.

Back on the ground, they're greeted by Washi Watanabe of the Special Crimes Unit. He wants the heroes to work more closely with him, but they're not particularly interested. Hawk goes home to his dad and laments about his late brother, the original Dove. Meanwhile, the new Dove is hanging out with her boyfriend, the superhero Deadman, and sighing about how the Avatar powers mean Hawk and Dove are stuck being a team whether they like it or not. Hawk recaps his origin story for Dad's benefit, detailing how he and his brother gained the powers thanks to some vague cosmic force and being in the right place at the right time, how Dove died saving lives, and how New Dove showed up a couple of years ago with the Avatar of Peace powers, much to his annoyance.

New Dove, meanwhile, laments that perhaps she should have told Hawk by now about how she really came to get the powers, and what her connection to his brother was. But there's a bad guy tracking them, who's wearing a brown version of Hawk's costume.

The verdict? Story - does its job of introducing the characters and setup. It's another one with a slim plot, but it's still readable. Art - very nice. Dynamic fight scenes and cool poses in the superhero action, although it struggles a little more when it comes to drawing normal people. The story flows well. All in all - worth reading. The story's got my attention, however skimpy it was, and I'm interested to see what happens next month.

Green Arrow #1
J.T. Krul, Dan Jurgens, George Pérez

Krul writes, Jurgens pencils and Pérez inks. Yes, Jurgens is writing JLI for Aaron Lopresti to draw, and drawing Green Arrow as written by Krul. I don't know why.

In Seattle, the board of Queen Industries are having a meeting. Emerson, the CEO, is a bit annoyed that the big boss, Oliver Queen isn't there in person, but talking to them from Paris, while he fights crime as the Green Arrow. You can see Emerson's point, frankly, but our hero doesn't see any problem.

He's watching three international supervillains, going to a nightclub boat in their civilian identities. Discussing the situation with his team back at the headquarters (who've got those floating computer screens again), he decides to go in there and tackle them - even though they don't really seem to have done anything evil yet, and they're surrounded by bystanders (and hey, there's the cloaked glowing figure who was watching Swamp Thing! I wonder if I've missed him/her in any others of these comics too...). Still, he bursts dramatically onto the scene and fights the baddies, demonstrating his various technological arrows in the process. I've got to say, I've never really bought the idea of a superhero with a bow and arrow, especially one whose arrows are essentially magic and can do anything. It's just stupid.

But a lot of magic arrows later, he gets the job done, and goes back to his corporation. He talks to his support crew, who get a few lines each to establish their personalities - Jax, who designs his weapons, doesn't like designing weapons. Green Arrow feels that this makes him perfect for the job. He also makes it clear that he's a little bit obsessed with fighting crime, because one time when he didn't do anything, people died.

As an final scene, the bad guys he caught are freed by another gang of supervillains, who are going to get Green Arrow.

The verdict? Story - most of this is a big long fight scene, but it clearly sets out who our hero is and what he does. Makes him look just a little unhinged, but sympathetic too, but we don't get any clear idea of where the story is going in the future. Art - very good. So many of these comics have excellent art, I'm impressed! There aren't many costumes here, it's full of people in normal clothes, and it still looks nice. Conveys the story, such as it is, well too. All in all - it just doesn't grab me, somehow. Probably just a prejudice against Green Arrow rather than a specific problem with this new beginning, but I'm not really interested in following the series in future.

Animal Man #1
Jeff Lemire, Travel Foreman, Dan Green

Lemire writes the story, Foreman does pencils and part of the inking, Green does the rest.

This one takes the unusual step of having a page full of text to start off with. In the form of a magazine article, it summarises the world of Buddy Baker, alias Animal Man. He's an occasional superhero, stuntman and actor, happily married for ten years, and something of a cult figure. Not a big deal in the superhero world, but a nice guy.

Then we turn the page, and eww. Horrible artwork. After all those other splendidly-drawn comics I've read today, too. Buddy and his wife are sitting around the kitchen, chatting about the magazine article. He tells his daughter she can't have a puppy, because having an animal around the house would mess with his animal-themed powers, the wife grumbles that he never does superhero things nowadays, but then complains when their son (I assumed it was another daughter from the art, but it's meant to be a boy, it seems) tells them there's a superhero kind of situation come up at the hospital, and Buddy decides to go and sort it out.

So off he trots to the hospital, where it turns out a mentally ill man is holding the children's ward hostage. Animal Man goes in there and demonstrates his powers - he can sort of connect to "the life web" and take on attributes of any animal he comes into contact with, like the skin of a rhino if someone's shooting at him, or the strength of an elephant for general punching. He deals with the unfortunate villain easily enough, but the police notice to everyone's horror that Animal Man is suddenly bleeding from his eyes. His face seems to be scaly and blotchy now, too, but nobody mentions that in the dialogue, so I assume it's just the bad art.

A checkup by a doctor (who also seems to have a skin complaint) can't find any cause, so he goes back home to bed, and thinks to himself about how much he loves his wife and kids. Which leads into a horrific nightmare sequence, blood and guts and spooky omens about his little daughter and some scary nightmare monsters. Which is upsetting enough, but when he wakes up and finds that the daughter has apparently resurrected a whole lot of decomposing dead animals, well, we can see this isn't going to end well.

The verdict? Story - it starts out light-hearted and simple, but then switches gears and lurches into real nastiness. It's genuinely shocking, so well done on that front, but I think it goes too far into the realms of the unpleasant for my squeamish tastes. It does introduce the title character well, albeit with the help of a page full of writing rather than letting it come up in context. Art - I can't describe how disappointing this is. After all these beautifully-drawn comics, this is just plain ugly. Scribbly and weak, and just not my thing at all. Boo. All in all - I can't get past the bad artwork, and even if I could, I don't think the story's going to be my kind of thing. Sorry.

Detective Comics #1
Tony S. Daniel, Ryan Winn

Written and drawn by Daniel, with Winn inking. Again, this is "Batman DETECTIVE Comics", with other Batman comics on the schedule.

Batman is on the trail of the Joker. He's killed no end of people over the last six years, and this time, Batman's got a lead. However, the Joker is actually in the process of being attacked, it seems - he's in a fight, naked, with a man wearing a strange mask apparently made of human skin. It's cryptic, but by the time Batman arrives, the Joker has killed his enemy. And he gets away while Batman is checking on a small girl who's been hiding from the violence.

Just then, the police arrive, and they don't like Batman, it seems, because a fight breaks out, and they're shooting at him. Commissioner Gordon, on the other hand, does seem to like Batman - the nature of his relationship with the police really isn't made clear here. But Batman goes back to the Batcave, muses about the Joker's insanity for a while, then goes to respond to the Commissioner's signal.

The girl, it seems, had information about where the Joker lives - apparently he let it drop in the course of the conversation. Batman, not being an idiot, knows it's a trap, but the police apparently don't - they charge in, find a fake Joker dummy, and get blown to smithereens.

Batman chases and fights the real Joker, who's captured and taken to the loony bin, warning that there's bigger business afoot that Batman can't see. But in the asylum, the Joker is met, as prearranged, by a shadowy figure called the Dollmaker, who was apparently related to the man Joker killed. There was some dispute about the fine details of their agreement, it seems, but no hard feelings. The Dollmaker gets to work and, in a surprisingly graphic final panel, cuts the Joker's face off!

The verdict? Story - Dark and gritty, perhaps to extremes; it thinks it's cooler than it is, certainly. But it's compelling in its way. As an introductory story, it doesn't take much to establish that Batman is the sinister hero and the Joker is the loony murderer, and it does that. We probably don't expect any finer details of characterisation. Art - very good, highly detailed, if just a little stiff and awkward in the action scenes. Lots of shadows and silhouettes, which perfectly fits the tone of the story. All in all - it's good, but not really my thing again. I seem to have left the Batman comics to last, accidentally, but they're never going to be my favourites while they choose 'dark' over 'interesting'. This one is readable, though, and I'll certainly keep an eye on future issues.

Batwing #1
Judd Winick, Ben Oliver

Winick writes, Oliver draws.

We open with a page of Batwing apparently fighting. It's hard to be certain, because we just see close-ups of his face, drawn in photorealistic style. We have to turn the page to see that yes, he's in a fight with a sword-wielding bad guy called Massacre. Where they are, though, we can only guess, because the background is a featureless blank brown space. This sets the tone for the rest of the comic - it's unfortunately obviously drawn from photo references, so there are stagey poses, no interaction between characters, dreadful perspective and no backgrounds.

But while he fights, Batwing muses about the life he leads. He's in a suit of armour provided by Batman, who's personally training him for some reason to be the local Bat-person in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He flashes back to six weeks ago to illustrate the point. The Blood Tiger, a drug dealer, is driving around a featureless background in a jeep with entirely the wrong perspective, when Batwing and Batman catch him. They find that he was running away from a horrific slaughter in Tinasha, and Batwing, in his civilian identity of police officer David Zavimbe, is involved in the investigation.

In fact, of course, he's investigating it as Batwing, he's just interested in prodding the local police to actually do some work as well, for once. But he goes back to his headquarters, the Haven, to look at some more floating computer screens with his sidekick Matu Ba. One of the people killed was a former superhero, it seems, one of the first of them from the point a few years ago when superheroes first popped up. Then the Congo's first superhero team disappeared, and now this guy has shown up as a corpse. Strange.

He goes back to the police HQ, past an out-of-perspective van and up some horribly out-of-perspective stairs, to find that everyone's been killed, and "stay away" written on the wall in blood, just to make the point absolutely clear. Batwing blames himself for getting the police involved, but his reverie is cut short by his being stabbed through the back by Massacre. To be continued. I think we're still "six weeks ago" here, although it's not entirely clear, so it's a cliffhanger of academic interest at best.

The verdict? Story - introduces the title character and his settings, although the ongoing status quo isn't clear, nor why Batman is involved. "Batman in Africa" is a strange concept for a comic, and I worry that it'll veer into stereotypes of African society. It's not a complete story in this issue, just an opening chapter, but it doesn't really compel me to keep reading. Art - really puts me off. I don't want to see exact copies of photographs if they aren't put together in a way that tells a story. It looks staged and fake, and there's no sense of movement in the characters. All in all - I don't think I'll bother with this one again.

Batgirl #1
Gail Simone, Ardian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes

Simone writes, Syaf pencils, Cifuentes inks.

We open with a mysterious mostly-off-panel figure called the Mirror, who's visiting people on a list. He finds an old man, Graham Carter, watering his garden, and accuses him of suspiciously surviving a shipwreck before killing him unpleasantly. The next name on the list is Barbara Gordon.

Who, funnily enough, is swinging through Gotham City as Batgirl. She's on the trail of a gang of killers, and she finds them, and deals with them. Along the way, she ponders how good it is to be a superhero again, having recently recovered from an injury that left her unable to walk for three years. She polishes off the bad guys easily enough, with a bit of luck along the way, then heads home for a chat with her dad, good old Commissioner Gordon, before moving into her new flat with her eccentric new roommate.

Meanwhile, the Mirror comes to the hospital where one of those bad guys Batgirl thwarted is being held. Batgirl is called in, to find him already having shot the attending police officers and now is threatening to kill the bad guy in his hospital bed. Batgirl moves to stop him, but when he points a gun at just the spot she was shot in three years ago, she freezes. The Mirror goes ahead and pushes the bad guy out of the window, and says his goodbyes to Batgirl and the injured policewoman who's lying on the floor.

This latter picks up her gun and points it at Batgirl, yelling "You let him kill that man! You just watched him die! Murderer!" This is a tiny bit weird, because the actual murderer is still in the room! He's still standing there, pointing a gun at Batgirl, and this policewoman thinks that Batgirl is the one who really deserves her scorn!

The verdict? Story - Until that ending, I was quite enjoying this. The Mirror just shouldn't be there in that last panel, it stops the whole ending making sense. Apart from that, though, it's a good story, I like the idea of a hero who's not quite back in the game yet, but it's basically just another Batman, and there are enough of those in the world already. Art - another good one. Good storytelling, nice detailed figures, a good story flow. All in all - I like it, but there are better comics in the selection. Maybe I'll stick with it and see what happens. She has got a super-memory, apparently.