STAR WARS #8 — Well, I had doubts that any regular crew would be able to follow the Cassaday/Martin greatness to any capable extent whatsoever, but Immonen/von Grawbadger/Ponsor set it on fire. Ponsor, in particular, shows up with some luscious tones when ALL-NEW X-MEN has trained me to be appreciating Gracia over these other guys. The art is terrific throughout. Aaron kind of dicks us around return-of-dead-Starbuck style with the Sana Solo thing, as now after all these weeks of us waiting for cliffhanger follow-up, Han is denying the whole marriage thing, but that of course doesn’t seem like terribly solid intel at the moment. This issue was certainly enjoyable but felt a little bit slighter than the singles in the previous arc, not quite as much happening this time out.
BEST OF WEEK: JUSTICE LEAGUE #43 — Johns/Fabok/Anderson absolutely keep blowing it up. This continues to be the epitome for how you handle a massive event within the pages of what should be the biggest, most important team book that DC produces. Massive set-piece rock’em-sock’em plot set-ups with a couple to several Holy Shit! moments happening per issue but never failing to lose sight of the nuanced beats as these icons supercollide off of one another. Superman & Luthor stranded in Apokolips continues to yield fruitful results. It’s a terrific moment when Luthor’s jaw drops at the sight of blood running down the side of his nemesis’s face, but my favorite beat of the entire issue is when they’re running for their lives from the approaching army and Superman tries to finish Lex’s sentence with the fact that without solar radiation, soon he’ll be “human,” and even then and there with their very survival in question—running for their lives, remember!—Luthor can’t let it slide, has to correct Superman that he’ll only be “powerless, you’ll never be human.” Oh, Luthor. The little girl and I could not stop laughing about this. The contempt and loathing seeping through, such terrific work. And of course you have to love Batman rocking the Mobius chair, which is only beginning to yield strong narrative. Wonder Woman’s Scylla & Charybdis comparison at the end of the issue was maybe a bit forced and held down the momentum of those insane pages, but overall, this issue was a very dynamic and exciting third part of the most engaging storyline this title has had since the reboot. Fabok is destroying it every single panel to the point that you can almost see Jim Lee clutching his temples when the pages come in, freaking out like the rest of us. I've been a fan since first spotting Fabok on a Batman fill-in not that long ago, but the guy has leveled up to a ridiculous extent in a very short amount of time and is really pushing this thing all the way forward, cranking everything up to a breathless pace. Exhilarating work.
ROBIN: SON OF BATMAN #3 — Still killing it! Best issue of this series yet. You have got to love Maya punching out one of Damian’s teeth on one page, soothing Goliath on the next, and then the amazing splash of everybody just chilling out on the page after that. Gleason continues to just script the bejeezus out of this, continuing/honoring the very strong character work Morrison & Tomasi have put into our title character while propelling him headlong into his own solo adventures. And of course, so good to still have the band together. I hope that Gleason/Gray/Alamy/Kalisz are planning to produce this title for a very long time. They are showing no signs of flagging, throwing down greatness every single month like it’s no problem.
BLACK CANARY #3 — Very little dialogue necessary as Wu gives us page after page of Dinah rocking glorious fighting-on-the-roof-of-a-moving-train good times with the tremendous elevated stakes of having to be on-stage in twenty minutes or the band is off the bill! I’m still digging this new conceit of our heroine fronting a rock band on the run, though it does seem the least bit dicey to suddenly retcon her powers as being connected to Ditto? I guess forget about continuity and enjoy the ride. Ha, it’s not like Ollie showed up as her husband, which certainly threw me for more of a loop.
ASTRO CITY #26 — In September 1995, I had just arrived in Austin to attend the University of Texas. I was delighted to be assigned to a dorm down the street from Dobie, this outrageous private dorm I had stayed at a couple of years back that had a two-level shopping mall for its first two floors that, among other wonderful places, contained Funny Papers, a comic book shop. Living just a couple three blocks within walking distance of a comic shop was a dangerous and wonderful situation. The first time I walked in after I moved to town, I immediately spotted a new Alex Ross cover on the rack, which was huge because at that point, all he’d done was MARVELS and I guess that old TERMINATOR: THE BURNING EARTH series that of course nobody cared about. But here is was! A new Image series! By the guys who did MARVELS! Making up their own superhero universe! This was going to be the best thing since 1963! So excited, I reached for it right away and flipped to the first page, something I never do before buying an issue. But I just had to lay my eyes on that first Alex Ross interior! Would it be a splash? Some panels? Surely a splash, right? It was . . . huh. Brent Anderson? The guy who did the X-Men graphic novel from way back? I mean, he’s fine and all but . . . Alex Ross isn’t painting this? I gave a great sigh and put the book back on the rack. Nothing against Mr. Anderson in particular, it was just such a letdown for this not to be the full-on official follow-up to MARVELS. I gave the entire first volume a pass. And the second one, for that matter. Of course, the price of that first issue shot way up as the years went by. I eventually picked it up for like five dollars quite some time later, shaking my head to myself all the while. But this was years later. It wasn’t until THE DARK AGE started that I finally made it into Astro City and realized how short-sighted I’d been about the whole deal, immediately going back and devouring the first two volumes.
All of which to say. It certainly hasn’t been twenty years for me. But I guess it’s been at least ten? More than that, I bet. Busiek/Anderson/Ross do a wonderful job of bringing everything full circle this month by returning all the way back around to where it all began, Samaritan dreaming of flying around through wisps of cloud in his birthday suit. The plot has a nice balance to it in that good old Asa certainly has center stage but the plot of this issue is elastic enough to allow us to check in on a vast majority of the by-this-time seriously extended ensemble, from the Furst family to that new cute little chibi-headed heroine reminding us that the whole deal that got rolling at the top of this volume with the fourth-wall-breakin’ alien ambassador is still simmering, as well as a gang of cameos from several heroes pitching in while Samaritan is out of commission, all resolving in a satisfactory manner by issue’s end, complete with the customary Samaritan-zoom global overview roll call of just what went down that night, how many villains were caught/natural disasters averted/lives saved/etc. The really wonderful thing about this issue is that, while it completely succeeds in revisiting the territory it first traversed 240 long months ago and really barely even scratching the surface of how much work the creators have put in issue after issue, character after character, and really kind of knocking out the reader with the full breadth of the panorama of how much this book actually contains, this one’s not any kind of big event, not substantially better than it ever is every single issue. It’s always this good. And we readers are so so lucky to be able to have had this series for all this time. Here’s to twenty more years.
SAVAGE DRAGON #206 — Nothing more or less than good savage fun, this time with a graduation thrown in the mix. The bit about Dr. Doom’s origin cracked me up, that was a perfect set-up and punchline, I was very much like, “Hey, isn’t that..?” Solid as a punch thrown by bashful Benjamin J. himself, Larsen shows up with yet another love letter/homage to everything that Kirby showed us makes this medium the most vibrant storytelling engine there is to be found, this month with even more punching!
ARCHIE #2 — I went with the slamming Paul Renaud cover though would have been happy to go home with the Fiona Staples in-mirror shot if that had been on the rack. No surprise, this is another Waid/Staples home run with our title character almost relegated to a supporting role while Betty Cooper takes center stage. Though it is interesting that Veronica does show up on-panel but still without saying a word. And we even get a secret origin of Jughead thrown in for good measure. Waid is juggling the ensemble with all the deft seemingly effortless characterization we expect, packing plenty of wonderful little moments into this without making the pace seem anything other than breezy. And what a last page, that look on her face. We still don’t even know what’s going on, but of course she wants him back. What’s the deal? I don’t care. This book is still perfect. I never would have thought that I could be so pumped about these characters but these creators are knocking it out of the park.
TREES #12 — I’m digging this volume a little bit more than the last one, God rest poor Chenglei’s soul. The mayor is hitting me as a relatable and fun sort of fuckup, and I find myself rooting for him while he’s blundering around on the way to the next mess. Ellis is creeping the overall deal with the poppies forward ever so slowly, but the glacial pace is working. We care about these characters not the damn Trees. Though What The Hell Is With The Trees, Anyway? Howard remains the engine propelling all of this loveliness forward. And what in God’s name is on this cover anyway? Some sort of black poppy priest? Horrifying.
ISLAND #2 — The Roy story was definitely good but doesn’t manage to do quite the amount of heavy lifting that Brother Graham managed last time. As if anything can, I guess. Ludroe comes back to really stick the landing on his “Dagger Proof Mummy.” I had no problem with the first part, but the finale cranked it up for me quite a bit. Also, it’s nice to see one story come to a close as another begins, lending a fluidity to the collection that’s preferable to everything being a series of five-part stories that all begin in the first issue and end in the fifth. The plot of Rios’s “I.D.” is happening, and of course she can draw the hell out of anything, but the red monotone was working for me even less this time out, probably due in no small part to it being the headliner, so instead of opening up with this and then expanding our filters to all the madness of Graham, we end the collection by dialing our color spectrum almost all the way down to red red white and that other lighter shade of red. Would I feel the same way if it was in that sweet CASANOVA Volume 2 Moon-blue? I kind of think maybe not? At any rate, bless Miz Rios and Brother Graham, the both of them, for putting out such an original and varied anthology where quality creators can find a home for their work to find fresh eyes that might never have bumped up into them otherwise.