Monday, 28 May 2012

Project 52.1: Batman Incorporated #1 (Michael v Alex)

Here we are. The comic that made me care about the whole New 52 reboot in the first place, because I'd worry it was going to get in the way of Grant Morrison's five-year Bat epic. But I'm playing my hand early. Read on, but beware of spoilers.

(Guest-starring in today's post is Michael Eckett, who described the two of us in an email last week as "the Batman and Robin of Reviews, Inc". 'Nuff said.)
Project 52.1
Worlds-finest-1



Batman Incorporated #1
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Chris Burnham






                  Michael Reviews Batman Inc #1


It's Batman Inc in the New 52! Sort of. Well, Batman has his New 52 costume on, otherwise it's business as usual. Evil organisation Leviathan is attempting to create a ring of crime around the world. Presided over by Talia Al Ghul, Batman's ex and mother to Damian Wayne, the current Robin, Leviathan aims to destroy The Batman and everything close to him, which includes placing a bounty on Damian's head.

This is all covered in exposition dropped into dialogue amid tight characterisation; not an information overload, but in conversations peppered through the plot as the Dynamic Duo race to hunt down criminals and solve clues in a meat packaging plant, juxtaposed against dinner served by Leviathan as they muscle in on other territory. There are some references to Bruce's death and resurrection as well as Dick Grayson's time as Batman being in continuity. And allusions to the previous Batman Inc run, but nothing that would confuse readers. Characters that we thought dead in the New 52 show up in the Dead Heroes Club, unchanged, as though nothing had happened. Their base in Batcave West also allows Chris Burnham to draw another giant coin, another set of old costumes in glass cases another set of kooky trinkets, just as he was prone to do in the old series.

The usual Morrison Batman tropes are there, idiosyncratic phrases like "Rocket Rifle" and "Perv suit", the dirge of information in a single issue, cartoon villains that manage to remain threatening, and the little nugget of information in the background being brought to the forefront as a clue later for Batman and Robin to show how smart they are.

Perhaps the only real difference is Chris Burnham's art which has somehow managed to improve as he finds fantastic new ways to lay out his pages. His work is exemplary of the things you can only do in comics, his use of depth and striking the right note between detail and cartooning make his work constantly vivid and exciting. Some of Burnham's visual tricks are fascinating and I love having to go over this comic again and again for the review, always finding new things to appreciate.

A simple story for Grant Morrison, something perhaps more reflective of his Batman & Robin run than prior Batman Inc issues, but it's fun, excellently paced and leaves us with a few loose threads to fret over.

Batman Inc returns, different Bat-timeline, same Bat-Style.

FINAL GRADE: A–


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Alex Reviews Batman Inc #1

Okay, full disclosure. Batman Inc #1 represents the culmination – or at least the continuation – of one of my top-ten-all-time favourite superhero stories. Grant Morrison has being helming at least one Batbook for half a decade now, and I've read every issue. So I'm probably not your most objective guide here. But... bloody hell, that was quite the comic.

Quick recap. Over those five years, Batman has discovered he had a son; battled a shadowy organisation led by his ultimate nemesis, who may or not have been the devil; died; but didn't really; got replaced by ex-Robin Dick Grayson, with the aforementioned son donning the domino mask as Robin; travelled through time; come back, and set up the titular BatmInc, a sort of worldwide vigilante franchise. And then met an even more shadowy organisation led by an even more ultimate nemesis, who turned out to be the mother of the aforementioned son, still acting as Robin.

As with any years-long serialised story, it's had ups and downs – the text issue, Tony Daniel's art, that Batminternet issue – but mostly it's been fantastic comics. And naturally, so is this.

It really is a perfect encapsulation of the run as a whole. As my esteemed colleague mentioned, all the hallmarks are there. Here, have a few more: the reintroduction of the weird (goat-headed assassin, the furry Manbat minions from the first issues) to the Batworld. The playing around with form (a page which has its panels 'projected' onto the sides of buildings, the built-into-the-world sound FX Morrison and Quitely introduced in the first issues of Batman & Robin). The great Morrisonian slogans ("Welcome to Batcave West, and the Dead Heroes' Club") and throwaway characters with rich implied histories (the dining room full of crimebosses, including The Invisible Man, a nurse and a mummy). The drool spots where I've hyperventilated over each page.

Chris Burnham's art – which combines Quitelyesque shaky lines and wrinkled faces, with the smooth cartooning of Cameron Stewart, and works in the experimental panel shapes of JH Williams III – is reminiscent of the very best artists to have touched the run. And apart from being very pretty pictures, sets the tone wonderfully – colourful, playful Pop. There's a panel where he abstracts the image of Batman and Robin falling from the sky into single-colour icons. It made me crack a big smile.

As that recap earlier might suggest, Morrison's run has always been poking around in the dark corners of Bathistory, and finding a way to bring it all back. A child losing his parents in Crime Alley. The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh. Bruce Wayne's spine on Bane's knee. Adam West. Echoing and reassembling.

And that's what this issue does, for Morrison's own run. It draws together plot points from all over. Setting up the closure of the arc that began with the introduction of the young impetuous Damian Wayne, and his supervillian mother's questionable parenting techniques. Old mysteries, too - who's under the Wingman mask? What's going with Red Cross' double-triple cross? What is it with Gotham and evil goats?

Appropriately, it ends on an image of Batman kneeling over his shot-in-the-brains son, screaming to the sky. It's the perfect capstone to this first issue, the fourth #1 of Morrison's run. A dramatic cliffhanger, which  takes that most classic Batman image – the young boy losing his parents to crime – and inverts it.

FINAL GRADE: A

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Friday, 25 May 2012

Project 52.1: Earth Two #1 (Bret's Take)

Never let it be said that Alex-Spencer.co.uk is anything less than a site with its finger firmly on the geek pulse. We're more timely than Doctor Who,  more hip than a Ninja Turtle.

So you'll imagine our surprise that Earth Two - apparently the biggest Kahuna in the DC's Second Wave of New 52 comics - slipped through our fingers (we must have been too busy keeping them pressed firmly to the aforementioned pulse). Blame Bret's comic shop, blame DC, blame the strange timewarp that is the comics distribution system.

But not one of these evil forces would sway our brave reporter, as he stepped into an alternative universe to investigate...

Project 52.1
Worlds-finest-1


Earth Two #1
Written by James Robinson
Art by Nicola Scott







               


And so it begins. Earth Two. Barely nine months into the New 52 and already we’re setting up the multidimensional mess which, at least I believed, DC were trying to avoid by relaunching all of their titles in the first place.

Having said that, though, the book itself was actually rather good. Laid on a little thick and without any kind of subtlety to start - like meeting someone for the first time then listening to them brag about how awesome they are. It eventually won me over, but not straight away. The tone of the comic seemed to imply that reading the words 'Parademons', 'Steppenwolf' and 'Apokolips War' were meant to strike a nerve with us as if they meant something, rather than leave me unimpressed. Even the front cover proclaims 'The Epic Begins!' - a little presumptuous for my tastes.

Luckily for them, a few pages in, the story was saved by the art work. The sheer level of detail made me stop and enjoy every frame. There’s a full 2 page spread early on featuring Superman, Wonder Woman and Bats all sticking it to these Parademon chaps, but in very individual ways. The personalities of the characters really come across in the little touches added to the art, which made up for the very generic dialogue and unimaginative writing.

I think my main problem with the book is the fact that the majority of it was just an introduction to the universe, leaving what seems to be the beginning of the main story arc for the last four pages. Because of that, there’s really not much I can say about what I assume will be the book's direction from now on, as all we got was a very simple origin story: Meet Normal Guy. Thing falls from sky. Normal Guy gets powers from Thing. But even that doesn’t really happen this issue.

The rest of the book is a setup for what kind of world this new story will be told in. Even while reading, I was just waiting to finish so I could start the real story. It still managed to do some brave things, though, that I didn’t expect.  Some landed - like the first thing Steppenwolf does when he appears - and some missed their target all together - like the attempt to humanise the soldiers by having them say they love each other before getting eaten. And don’t even get me started on what Batman says to Robin before the tower blows.

All in all it was a pretty good read, but has left me no urge to carry on reading. Everything I would have wanted to see has already been done.

FINAL GRADE: B

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Saturday, 19 May 2012

Project 52.1: Earth Two #1 (Alex's Take)

Earth Two is, by all accounts, the lynchpin of this mini-relaunch. Its cover features the biggest names that DC Comics has to offer, it crosses over into the (already-reviewed) World's Finest, and it's the all-action set up of a whole new universe.

So, of course, we completely failed to review it until now. Consistently missing the boat on all the biggest pop-cultural happenings - that's the Alex-Spencer.co.uk guarantee.

Also, Bret's comic shop failed, as comic shops so often do, to actually sell him the issue. But while they get the tiny gnome people that live behind the counter to piece it together pixel by pixel, here's me doing my best Alan Moore and getting all grumpy about the industry.

Project 52.1
Worlds-finest-1




Earth Two #1
Written by James Robinson
Art by Nicola Scott







 

It’s time we talked about Elseworlds. Those little alternative-universe pockets that let comics writers act out the desires they’d never dare indulge In Continuity, to ask: What if Clark Kent was a Commie? What if mutants weren’t a minority, but the majority? What if Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were all killed?

That last one is the question posed by the first issue of Earth Two.

The cover and the first few pages present you with this familiar trio of lunchbox-iconic heroes. Here are the DCU’s three biggest names, saving the world again, tweaked just enough to be clear they’re not our Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.

And then, halfway through the issue, they all go KABLOOM, and it becomes clear the book isn’t about them at all.

It’s a neat trick, which the book works hard to sell. The three characters are sketched out, simply but clearly, and we’re given the last third of an action film – the heroes are down, but they’ve got their plan to save the world.

(And speaking of, the issue is oddly comparable to the Avengers film. A tight bunch of the world’s mightiest, hugely outnnumber, fighting off an invasion from a force of alien-demon-things which fall from the sky, as a city crumbles around them, while one hero battles to the McGuffin that will bring them all down. It doesn’t mean anything, but it’s startlingly similar, right down to the unexpected death by large unexpected spike. Is this just what blockbuster superhero action looks like these days?)

Getting rid of your three biggest characters is a daring move, but that’s not what happens, really. Because these aren’t characters, they’re franchises, which could never be meddled with. So they still exist happily over in the ‘proper’ DCU.

And that is balanced awkwardly against the fact that it expects the deaths to carry weight, just because of the reputations these characters have earned in their seventy-plus years of history. Actually, that’s not quite fair. The moment Batman tells Robin – who, by the way, is actually his daughter – he has to give his life for the world is a little touching. Not because it relies on the reputation of Batman (even though I really, really love Batman) but because it plays on the eternal fear of losing a parent.

But as Wonder Woman and Superman are swept aside, with nothing linking them to the world or the story beyond their overwrought narrative captions, we’re presumably meant to be taken aback. But the comic makes no effort to earn those moments. This is, as I said, the last noisy third of an action film, without the first two thirds, that boring but important bit which sets up the characters and makes us care.

And that’s a sad remind of all that’s unhealthy and problematic about the state of modern American super-comics. The conservative cowardice where greedy business meets nostalgic artist. That constant need to recombine the same few elements, just enough to make them slightly different, but staying familiar enough to still be comforting.

Earth Two does take risks with its characters – even down to the less obvious stuff, like casting Robin as the daughter of Bruce Wayne. It shakes up the status quo a bit and setting the scene for something new. Exactly the kind of risks DC didn’t take, in short, with the New 52.
These things don’t make Earth Two a bad comic. They’re just personal prejudices. But still, on its own merits, it’s not a great comic.

FINAL GRADE: KABLOOOOOOOOOO...

...Aaaaaand cut, to the new world order. I’m sorry, this hasn’t really been a review of the comic Earth Two at all, but the culture that surrounds it. But that seems fair enough, given that the issue relies on shock value which has nothing to do with the story. It’s a meta-shock, almost, based on what we know. It’s shocking because Superman and Batman, at least, are money-making machines; because DC and Marvel never take risks.

So now I’m going to try and review Earth Two, the DC comic book series, a little.
See, as the first chunk of a greater story, this could make for an interesting device. As the first tenth of a longer collection, it could essentially play the role of the pre-credits sequence, setting up a situation and then pulling the rug from under you. That’s something I admire in a lot of art.

It also sets up an interesting problem for the second issue, which is that almost all of its pages focused on characters we’re not going to be seeing again. Each of the characters who will make up the cast get a couple of pages introducing them. It was only after reading the issue for the first time, and hearing others talk about it, that I realise I was meant to be watching these characters at all, and I can’t decide if that’s cheap or artful.

I can’t help but wish they’d gone with entirely new characters, rather than once again leaning on old standbys – and ones I’m completely unfamiliar with – but I’m intrigued to see where everything’s going, and I will be reading the second issue, even if only out of grim fascination. And that’s a success, surely?

Frankly, so far Al Pratt, Alan Scott and Jay Garrick don’t seem especially charming. But we’ll see.


FINAL GRADE: C

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Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Project 52.1: World's Finest #1 (Tim v Alex)

World's Finest. Now there's a title that could just as easily refer to the dynamic duo of Tim Maytom and Alex Spencer as to Power Girl and the Huntress. Unfortunately, in this case, it mostly refers to the latter. Mostly.
Project 52.1
Worlds-finest-1



World's Finest #1
Written by Paul Levitz
Art by George Pérez
and
Kevin Maguire








                  Tim Reviews World's Finest #1

I’ve got to say, I approached World’s Finest with more than a little trepidation. For DC to be introducing their infamous Infinite Earths-style cosmology to the New 52, which was supposedly a way of wiping the slate clean and freeing them from the shackles of convoluted continuity, it feels like a step backwards. Worse, it feels like a flimsy excuse to introduce heroes they couldn’t elegantly introduce in the first wave and pandering to those who still insist that the original Green Lantern was an interesting character (seriously, when Hal Jordan is considered a cool, dynamic upgrade for your title, you are doing something wrong). In addition, Power Girl and Huntress were never characters I considered particularly original or worth following; they might as well be Generic Female Superhero and Generic Female Urban Vigilante, every time I’ve read them previously. So, with all those preconceptions I was carrying with me, World’s Finest left me pleasantly surprised.

The concept sees Power Girl and Huntress as refugees (and possibly last survivors) of another DC Universe, where they were Supergirl and Robin (it’s implied Huntress is Batman’s daughter, but it never outright says it, and I don’t know my DC trivia well enough to be certain). Arriving on 'our' Earth five years ago after a climatic battle with Darkseid that saw their world decimated, Supergirl becomes a jet-setting technology mogul aiming to build a portal back to their world, while Robin transforms herself into Huntress, and carries on doing what she does best. The issue uses a flashback structure, with George Perez handling the present day and Kevin Maguire tracking the two heroes in the past. Both artists are fantastic storytellers, but I can’t help but wish they were the other way around. Perez’s art has a distinctly old-school feel (that may come from having read his run on The Avengers with Kurt Busiek) while Maguire shows a bit more flair in terms of layouts, although Rosemary Cheetham’s colouring work on the Maguire segments gives them a beautiful, slightly washed-out feeling that complements their flashback nature.

The issue rattles along in terms of pace, establishing the characters and throwing in some action, as well as developing some links with sister title Earth Two, without losing itself in a swirl of references. Paul Levitz establishes a really fun mood in this issue – duos are rare in comics but more common on television, and this comic sometimes feels like a freewheeling sitcom about two girls fighting crime, like Absolutely Fabulous with superpowers. It’s not that the characters aren’t treated seriously or lack depth, but there’s a lightness of touch that is admirable in the modern comics world, which tends towards the grim and gritty still. There’s some cheesecake when Power Girl rushes into a fire in her dress, which ends up strategically torn and burnt, but this issue is leaps and bounds ahead of DC’s previous track record with women in the New 52.

I can’t say there’s anything here that has me scrambling for the next issue – the story ends on about as generic a cliff-hanger as you can get, and there’s nothing to really suggest that the title is reaching for anything beyond standard superhero action done well, but it is done well, and as a first issue it’s super accessible, even with all the Earth Two nonsense it has to address. If you’re looking for something fun and well made but disposable, you could do a hell of a lot worse than World’s Finest.

FINAL GRADE: B+


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Alex Reviews World's Finest #1

The first page of World's Finest #1 is really rather interesting – in a series of tight close-ups, it sets up two characters living double lives, and establishes an air of a mystery. The last page isn't too shabby either – as Tim says, it's your standard-issue 'villain reveal' cliffhanger, but it's fun, and neatly laid out. What's inbetween, however, is something of a mixed bag.

That's perhaps inevitable, given that the issue is split down the middle by a flashback sequence, explaining who these two characters are (alternate-universe Robin and Supergirl, from Earth 2), and how they came to be (climactic battle, Big Bad chased through a portal, trapped in the standard DC universe).

That split comes hand in hand with a change in art, from tight George Pérez linework to a digitally-assisted Kevin Maguire. The styles aren't a good fit. I'm not the biggest fan of Pérez, but his strength is in his characters' expressive faces, which rely on a lot of delicate lines. On the first flashback page, the focal point is Supergirl flying towards us. Her features are rendered with the minimum of strokes, and the rest of her face is given shape by airbrushed colours. It couldn't be much further from the opening pages' rather traditional art if it tried. Worse, Supergirl is unconvincingly posed, and her expression suggests she's trying to pass a particularly troublesome kidney stone. And don't let your eye be drawn to Robin at the top of page, who resembles a distressed turtle in profile.

The writing fluctuates too. While the banter between the two is fine – never anything special, but buoyant enough to carry the issue along – the flashback throws in some narration from Supergirl. And cranks the Sixth Form prose up to full: “Charging through the hellish flames and smoke, feeling like we were Earth's last chance... and maybe we were.”

There's a spark of something in the idea, and on the odd page it nearly catches light, but overall it's not enough. By the end, Robin and Supergirl have become Huntress and Power Girl. That's the goal of the issue, and one which it serves, but it never does it more than functionally. It sets up the pieces, explains them, and then starts to move them around, but that's all – just getting from the first page to the last one.
FINAL GRADE: C-

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Monday, 7 May 2012

Project 52.1: Dial H #1 (Alex v Bret)

Bret Canny steps up to the bat to lend a hand as we review Dial H #1, the Second Wave's obligatory venture into Vertigo territory.
Project 52.1



 Dial H #1
Written by China Miéville
Art by Mateus Santolouco








                Alex Reviews Dial H #1

Maybe it's the fact that it took me three attempts to make it through Dial H (work lunch break – interrupted; waiting for friends in a cocktail bar – interrupted; with a cocktail hangover while the lovely girlfriend slept hers off – success!) but it felt much longer than any of the other #1s. It could be that, or could be the sheer density of the thing.

The set up is simple, adapted from a '60s comic – a man, trying to help his friend, stumbles into a telephone box that turns out to be magic, and transforms into a hero. (A quick Wikipedia suggests that's not exactly the premise of the original comics, but there's definitely a silver-age purity to it.)

And then a celebrated author – of actual, real books! – comes on board, and makes it just a little bit more textured and interesting. The man is an overweight failed boxer, with a quickly laid-out history of recent failures; the friend he's trying to help is good and loyal, but involved with mafioso types; and the hero he turns into... Well, that's quite something.

As I understand it, our hero will turn into a different Hero every time. That's both wildly exciting and quietly disappointing, as this issue gives us Boy Chimney, the playful spirit of Victorian industry and modern pollution, and Captain Lachrymose, the misery-drinking emo superhero. They're wonderful, Morrisonian creations and I wish I could see more of them. Which, given comics' all-too-common dependence on past glories, is absolutely great if I never get to again.

Both characters are realised sharply by Santolouco. His scratchy art style works okay in the more mundane scenes, but it comes alive with the transformations. Boy Chimney moves fluidly, his proportions appropriately impossible and inconsistent, equal parts horror and cartoon. Captain Lachrymose is designed in a way that's both familiar and alien, all for the benefit of a two page spread and never – presumably – to be seen again.

And that's what I mean about the density. I’ve never been a believer in 'story' as a unit of a comic's worth, but this issue certainly gets things done. In that spread, the Captain, his powers and personality, is introduced and fully laid out, a message is sent to the bad guys, he meets something he can't defeat, and gets out.

There's almost always something else going on – a fight scene is peppered with unpunctuated poetry, conversations set up characters and situation and foreshadow what's to come. It takes full advantage of being a comic, basically, and puts everything else I’ve read so far to shame. I’ve now read it a fourth time. I suggest you do so too.

FINAL GRADE: A


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Bret Reviews Dial H #1

I feel I should begin by pointing out once more that I am not a longtime DC reader. Of all the New 52 titles launched last year, I’ve only bothered to keep reading four of them - Aquaman, Animal Man, Swamp Thing and Blue Beetle. Reading Dial H, I have no idea if this is a character or concept ported over from the Old 52 or if it's a totally new idea altogether.

But judging this book on its own, without speculation as to its future, I can only say this: I liked it… about three pages from the end.

Before that, I quite honestly had no idea what was going on. The art, although breathtaking in its style, attention to detail, and gritty urban beauty, didn’t do much to help me decipher the story. It was only near the end of the book did I realise that making me feel confused and overwhelmed was what it set out to do. (Probably… Hopefully…)

Thankfully, Miéville chose to explain things using the story and not just via a block of text near the beginning of the book. Overweight smoker Nelse witnesses his caring-but-running-with-the-wrong-crowd buddy Darren taking a beating from some thugs. Nelse can do nothing to help Darren except try to dial the police using a nearby telephone box. Rather than the police, however, Nelse gains the aid of 'Boy Chimney', a Victorian looking, cudgel wielding, smoke demon who defeats the thugs using the city's air pollution, and then rushes Darren to the hospital, before disappearing in a puff of ...well, smoke... leaving Nelse in his place, and leaving the reader to realise that Nelse was that dapper demon all along.

We’re not done there, though. Nelse now needs to send a message to the thugs so they won’t come after Darren again. We return to the phonebox to call on the aid of Boy Chimney once more. However, Boy Chimney is not the man to send a message. Oh no. This looks like a job for Captain Lachrymose! A hero that you really need to see to believe. Finally the book wraps up with Nelse realising that the phone box is the source of his power and with the introduction of what seems to be a potentially interesting arch nemesis.

I learned from previous New 52 titles that the weirder ones were clearly the better (O.M.A.C the OMAZING for instance) and I’m glad to say that Dial H has not disappointed.  With the gorgeous artwork and a story that's as bizarre as it is intriguing, I believe I may have just made my four continued titles into five. Dial H gets two thumbs up and a solid...
FINAL GRADE: B+

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Friday, 4 May 2012

Project 52.1: G.I. Combat #1 (Alex v Michael)

...and we're back. 

You might remember Project 52, in which I gathered an elite group - Tim 'Tumbln' Maytom, Bret 'The Enigma' Canny, and Michael 'Special Guest Star' Eckett - in order to review every single one of the 52 #1 issues DC released as it rebooted its entire universe.

Now, switching out some of its less successful titles - farewell, dear OMAC - DC has launched six new #1s - G.I. Combat, Earth Two, World's Finest, Dial H for Hero, The Ravagers and Batman Incorporated.

So we thought we'd get the band back together and review the hell out of some comics, in a double-bill, Avengers-vs-X-Men style. It is, as comics publishers are so fond of saying, the perfect jumping on point. So join us for... 
Project 52.1


THE COVER OF THE COMIC
G.I. Combat #1
Written by J.T. Krul
and 
Justin Gray &  Jimmy Palmiotti
Art by Nick Olivietti
and
Dan Panosian



                Michael Reviews G.I. Combat #1

It was only upon Alex requesting that I review G.I. Combat for the second wave of Project 52 that I realised I'm not sure what G.I. stands for. And so I've gone in to reading G.I. Combat hoping to find the answer. Good idea? Well let's get into it and find out.

G.I. Combat #1 contains two stories, Krul and Olivietti's 'The War That Time Forgot', in which the US army fights dinosaurs, and 'The Unknown Soldier', written by Gray and Palmiotti, with art from Panosian, about a scarred soldier of relentless malice, fuelled by revenge.

'The War That Time Forgot' goes by very quickly. After a very brief, rather bland character introduction, in which it's established that one of our protagonists has a family and the other is his friend, we follow the US investigating an area of anomaly in North Korea. When they spot Pterodactyls, the grossly incompetent soldiers think it's a good idea to shoot at the dinosaurs. This goes as well as one might imagine, leaving our not-so-gifted individuals stranded in the middle of a war between the North Korean army and dinosaurs.

Luckily, whilst the dialogue isn't to my liking, Ariel Ollivetti's realistic artwork works well in a book filled with vehicles of destruction, giant Indosuchus [Indosuchi? - Plural Ed], Tyranosaurus Rex and Pterodactyls. His digital colouring might be jarring to those not used to it but it's the best I've seen of his recent style. The characters' faces are smooth and expressive and whilst previously his photo-referenced objects, like guns or backgrounds seemed to stick out from the figure work, they now blend together more. I find it hard to complain about anyone who draws a fighter jet tearing through a Pterodactyl, guts, intestines and blood spurting out the other side.

'The Unknown Soldier' is a standard origin story told through two narrative devices which don't entirely mesh. We're introduced to the Unknown Soldier as he ruthlessly and effectively kills Al-Qaeda soldiers, told through a US soldier's letter home. A colonel then interviews the Unknown Soldier about his past, revealing his origins and the reason for his brutality. It functions similarly to a superhero origin and makes better use of its 14 pages than 'The War That Time Forgot', feeling more like a complete story. There's a really nice touch of black humour at one point and a genuinely intriguing ending.

Panosian's art is kind of scratchy during moments of conflict but cleaner during flashbacks to a happier time in the Unknown Soldier's life, making it quite effective. His action makes war chaotic but has few moments of depicted violence, often focusing more on the person shooting than who they're shooting at.

G.I. Combat #1 is a bit of a mixed bag, but there is something enjoyable there and it adds some diversity to the DC line whilst maintaining enough fantastical elements to stop it from feeling out of place. I still haven't learnt what G.I. stands for though. I'm going with Gun Infested.

FINAL GRADE: C+


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Alex Reviews G.I. Combat #1

And it really is. From front cover - we'll get to that in a moment - to back, G.I. Combat is guns, guns, guns. Manly men with gunly guns. Also, as my esteemed colleague pointed out, some dinosaurs. And then more guns.

The cover is fairly lights on guns, though. FEATURING THE WAR THAT TIME FORGOT, it boasts, over images of the aforementioned dinosaurs crushing war machinery (hell yes). Tucked away in one corner, next to a scowly-faced bandaged marine, it adds ALSO: THE DARK AND VIOLENT WORLD OF THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER (ick). With those exclamations and its double feature , it's could almost be a comic you found at the bottom of a bargain bin, printed on yellowing paper with a great big DRAWING THE LINE AT 25¢ sticker peeling off the front. The cover makes a promise - comics like your grandaddy read.

Of the two stories, 'The War That Time Forgot' keeps this promise best. It plays its premise straight, keeping its men serious, musclebound, and with conveniently humanising families (and guns!), trading lumpen banter, and its dinos helicopter-chewingly lethal.

Unlike my comrade, I'm not familiar with Olivietti's art - however, it shines through that this it isn't the work of an artist/inker/colourist team, but a single hand. Everything is given a hard black outline, but the details are delicately picked out within that, in subtly differing shades of naturalistic colour. It's a little static, but all rather stunning - at least, as long as you're looking where the art wants you to be.

The fit between the painterly faces (and dinosaurs, which look like they've come to life from Mars Attacks-style trading cards) and the computer-generated everything else is awkward to say the least. Those guns, of which you see so many, helicopters and even scenery have all been amateurishly SketchUpped into life, their smooth textures pasted on top, behind and in the hands of the impressive figurework. It all reaches a horrible climax at, well, the climax - the double page spread we all paid to see, Koreans vs dinosaurs. It's all rather impressive, even if the jeeps and tanks look like cheap toys, but a series of computer-generated stegosaurs have been copy and pasted onto the landscape, all identical and stood in the exact same pose. Some of their feet aren't even touching the ground properly.

It looks like low-budget CG, something out of those B-movies you can catch late at night on Channel 5. And, really, the whole thing seems to wish it was a film. I suspect having finally seen The Avengers this week could cast a long shadow over all these reviews, but it really comes off as a Michael Bay-directed combination of Jurassic Park and Predator. The way it bows to the blockbuster films it's imitating is, ultimately, what gives it away as a modern comic. This isn't your grandaddy's comic, after all.

(After that, Unknown Soldier was the sterile mouthwash stuff the dentist gives you after he's scraped cold metal on the insides of your teeth. Not as bad, just kind of nothingy. The whole thing is framed as a soldier's letter home to his wife - a cliché apparently hardwired into the DNA of war comics - and never pays it off. There's too much show and not enough tell (a whole character lives, die, and provides motivation in a few captions). It does manage to build a fine level of mystery around the titular Unknown Soldier and his origins, but the tale spills its load far too early, and not very satisfyingly. Once he's the Known Soldier, our hero turns out to be just a sort of jingoist Punisher, without the satirical verve that premise lends itself to.

Despite getting exactly half of the pagecount, it feels, frankly, like a footnote.)
FINAL GRADE: E

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Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.