Twelve books this week! If JH can’t show up to draw Batwoman, it looks like poor Kate is going to get squeeeezed out, I’m sorry to say. On the other hand, this is as strong a week of Non-Big-Two offerings as I can remember consuming, really crushing. I always try to save the best for last but there was no chance of that after two months of waiting for this next installment (six weeks, incidentally, being how long it had taken me to dole out consumption of the previous 29 issues):
BEST OF WEEK:
LOCKE & KEY: CLOCKWORKS #6—Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez, and Jay Fotos deliver the goods on every level in my new Very Favorite Series Being Published Today. This is the final issue of the fifth and penultimate volume, in which we conclude our flashback to how it all went down 25 years ago before getting suckerpunched with an unreal final page that leaves you scratching your eyes out waiting for the final volume to arrive. I don’t want to get into the plot at all, really, just because I’d hate for someone to even skim over something and miss out on experiencing this for themselves, but the reason I think this book is the best on the rack is because it features the most fully-realized characters stumbling their way through a plot that always feels like an organic extension of what’s come before, never ever like a master storyteller just throwing the sickest shit at you imaginable as fast as he can, even though that’s happening too, and then the artists are a freakshow, never heard of either one of them outside of this and they simply burn it down with every single page. Just realized that trying to make it through the last issue of this is going to have me as twisted up as ALL-STAR SUPERMAN #12 or the finale of that show about the island did. Strong strong work. I highly recommend you purchase the first two volumes and then try to stop yourself from there.
THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #3—Man, just an immensely satisfying slab of serial narrative, here. I think I liked it better than FF, which makes it just improbably batshit good. This series takes a premise so wonderful that it would cripple the most ambitious mind this side of Morrison and then succeeds on every level. A triumph! And we’re just getting started, it appears that this has been a staggered three-issue rollout and now we’ve got the full cast and are ready for things to get rolling under something resembling a status quo. For as long as it lasts, anyway, this book is the opposite of static, all crackle. Pitarra continues to turn in beautiful pages, though I think I liked Cris Peter’s colors just a little bit better on the first two issues. Love Einstein & the Monolith, there’s your first spin-off, right there.
SAGA #3—Another enjoyable enough installment, though the wonder is starting to fade a bit for me. I had a problem with Izabel’s voice, her tone. You could argue that making her talk exactly like a present-tense teenage girl is some kind of universal statement, youth is youth is youth, no matter what end of the galaxy you’re from, but pretty much all of her word choices just made BKV come off as lazy to me, like he couldn’t write any more depth into the character. Which I know not to be the case, I mean, have been all the way down two long trails with him, but that’s just the way it seemed, whenever she’d say something like “I’m a fucking ghost, lady,” or “suck-ass,” it was just grating. So, not promising, as she’s clearly going to be around. Also, the cliffhanger fell pretty flat for me, especially given what a pro he is at jawdroppers month after month after month. This is still good comics, Staples keeps tearing it up, but I expect a little more from Mr. Vaughan on a monthly basis.
GLORY #26—Incredible cover from Ulises Farinas, verging on Stokoe levels of greatness. I found this issue a bit more meaty, very much a part of the larger tale as a whole but perfectly satisfying in its own right. There wasn’t any one thing, just that the sum of the parts felt like enough. I did love the parasite telling Xavier that this was awkward. Also a big fan of the new big alien guy, who I could swear is named Henry but I can’t find that anywhere in the book now. He looks like a Henry to me, I guess.
CONAN #4—Man, and then just with both barrels, Harren blows it up out of the water. I was very very morose to learn that Becky Cloonan was bailing after three issues, the long-time synergy between her and Brian Wood is a big reason why in a short time I’ve fallen harder for this series than I have with recent adaptations by such notables as Truman or Busiek/Nord. But we hold on to Dave Stewart’s magnificent tones and his B.P.R.D. collaborator James Harren gives us phenomenal lines, a double-page splash of the port of Messantia at Argos to rival the greatness we got in #1. Gripping until the last page. Just too many fantastic new series lately.
WONDER WOMAN #9—Man, they put it on the cover and I was still as blindsided by Hades’s gambit as Diana. Outfoxed! Akins does a fine job once again picking up for Chiang, who will presumably carry us into the homestretch of this story. Are he and Azzarello hanging out after this arc? I’d be surprised, it really feels like they are going for broke all the way and will let somebody else pick up the pieces.
JUSTICE LEAGUE #9—And here’s that Mr. Lee back in the fold. Nice of them to give us that initial splash of Batman & Superman vs Arkham Breakout, what big fun. Wasn’t The Key in Morrison’s JLA #9 fifteen years back yonder? I thought Johns did a pretty solid job cramming five topically relevant mini-flashbacks into all the shenanigans. Spinning lots of plates. I still don’t get, though, why torture/Xtreme violence is now just like his go-to for any attempt at gravitas or creating a credible threat. The guy who went all Warren Haynes on the JSA and resuscitated them from life-support or imbued Old-52 Connor Kent with all of his heart and soul should be able to do better than just have the bad guy tear someone’s arm off or break a bunch of bones as shorthand for what a horrible villain he is. The SHAZAM back-up still looks great, but I still don’t care for how we’re apparently making Billy Batson grim’n’gritty here in 2012. Have we learned nothing from the 90s?
AVENGERS VS X-MEN #4—At last my man Hickman shows up to script. And . . . it’s pretty much a unified tone with what’s gone before. I guess that’s a good thing when you’ve got a revolving door of five writers, but I was expecting a bit more of the FF-style balls-to-the-wall science-fiction sickness. I guess I do have two other books this week alone for that. As we finish this first arc, there’s definitely the feeling of a shell game. Look, these people are over here, these others are over there, and they’re all fighting! I mean, really, we’ve had a few character moments and amusing exchanges of dialogue, but after four issues, all that’s happened is we’ve been handed the premise and now everyone’s up on the moon about to keep fighting (I guess I don’t have much room to complain when it says Round 4 right there on the cover) when the Phoenix shows up. That’s something, at least. Let’s get a little bit more of the What Happened Next? in here, now. Johnny Rom Jr, man I guess this series is the first time where I crossover to the side of people who feel like his art is just too stylistic and cartoony to be taken seriously for something like this. I was totally on-board with WORLD WAR HULK and Gaiman’s ETERNALS, really loved JRJr’s work on that first arc of Bendis’s relaunched AVENGERS this last time a couple of years ago, but it looks like he took about two weeks to draw this issue. The storytelling is of course there, but the rendering is a bit too rushed for my taste. As much as I love my Kirby. I think I’m probably going to dig on the more photorealistic work of Coipel coming up here just a bit more.
AVENGERS #26—So I guess you can just skip the three SECRET AVENGERS issues because they of course fail and then wind up over here? The art continues to flummox me in this one, Simonson definitely brings the justice, but I feel like Scott Hanna and Jason Keith are not realizing these pages to their fullest possible glory. We couldn’t get Miz Laura Martin coloring Uncle Walt’s return to Thor et al? I will say that I’m interested to see where this story is heading, and that’s success in and of itself, given that this is a tie-in. The biggest thrill of all, though, is seeing that famous signature on the cover. 1/13/12 was a good day.
DAREDEVIL #13—Man, I feel like I’m coming down hard on Marvel’s art today, but that’s the way it’s gone. I love love love Waid’s work on this title, and this issue is no exception, but the fact that Khoi Pham delivers sub-par work on this issue before getting shuffled off the book is much much more galling given the fact that this is, I believe the third issue to come out in four weeks. The Marvel overshipping thing is seriously pissing me off. Even at $3 a pop, here. We’ve got what appears to be the climax to the first year’s worth of stories and it’s the worst art the book has had so far. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not terrible art, just nowhere near the incredibly high bar set by Martin, Rivera, and then even Samnee last week or the week before. Very satisfying resolution to the long plot of the 4 data drive, though, along with a couple of great cliffhangers. What did Foggy find? And what the hell is up with that ending? The title character suddenly finding himself imprisoned in a glass case in a Latverian castle, in THE Latverian castle, should be the go-to shocker for any book finishing up a slow-burn long arc. Give it time.
X-FACTOR #236—It is with a heavy heart that I type these words. I’ve been picking this one up since PAD relaunched that new #1 years ago. It’s been, what, maybe a hundred issues, now? He’s always entertained with an engaging ensemble and done a fine job plotting out the long game so that there’s serious payoff for readers who show up, month in and month out. But yeah, that’s the thing. The fact that the next issue is three weeks out with this one having been basically bi-weekly for some time now . . . man, I just can’t keep doing it. This one’s another fun romp. The art has never looked better, Leonard Kirk is a machine. Twelve issues a year with the odd special, I’m glad to support this, but like twenty issues per annum is just more than I can afford.
FANTASTIC FOUR #605.1—Crediting Lee/Kirby as the Universal Constant is a fine way to begin. Have I been missing that or is this the first time? I haven’t been feeling Choi’s Oback-less covers of late, but he turns in pretty good-looking work, here. You just know things aren’t going to go well for old Nazi Reed, that’s a permutation who’s going to have even more than his fair share of trouble. I do think this is hilarious being framed as an accessible “jumping-on point.” It’s much more like, “fucking awesome if you’ve been religiously devoted to this book for the last three years and change.” I am here to tell you. Should really have seen those last two pages coming, but of course they completely took me by surprise and made my night, just to come back around to the beginning of it all. Can’t imagine how Hickman’s going to get off this crazy ride, but it’s going to be a beautiful thing. In about ten years, I hope. Fifteen.