Friday, September 21, 2012


BEST OF WEEK: BATWOMAN #0—While #12 was a welcome return to form, this zero-issue interlude is a devastating suckerpunch that is suddenly the best we’ve seen so far from this series. It practically follows the form of an illustrated children’s book. There’s almost no spoken dialogue, the entire issue is Kate leaving a message for her dad in case she doesn’t come back from her big case with Wonder Woman, which we learn she used to do every time before a mission but has discontinued the practice since the end of her first arc when she learned that her father had been keeping the truth about her twin sister from her. Kate’s monologue, which is full of flashback montage recap, is amplified to tremendous effect by JH Williams III’s illustrations. The guy’s been absolutely murdering it from the get-go, perfectly complemented by Dave Stewart’s colors, and this issue is not only no exception but stands as some of his best work yet. I love how he’s got the one style for the past, Kate as a girl, losing her mom and sister, all the way through West Point and discovering Sophie and then we get that gorgeous iconic painted shot of Batman that’s unlike anything we’ve seen in the book so far, which highlights the amount of impact the experience has upon the character. But what makes this Best of Week for me is the way it opens there at the end of DETECTIVE #857 before Kate takes her dad and us through her entire extended origin, bringing us all the way back to that moment that now has all kinds of new depth in the context of this issue-long montage through her life. Really fine work. When Williams is on interiors, there are very few books on the rack that can hold up to this kind of thunder.

WONDER WOMAN #0—Wow. This issue is improbably presented in the Merry Marvel style, Azzarello dropping a pitch-perfect “The Man” impression while Chiang tweaks his style to be a bit more Silver Age. And beautiful colors by my PHONOGRAM boy, Matt Wilson. But the decision to frame this issue in this retro style is quite brilliant, serving to convey the impression that we’ve stumbled upon some long-lost Golden Age back-issue that will finally give us insight into Diana by showing us an adventure from her youth, not in flashback but as it happened, complete with narrative trappings from a bygone era. Lots of exclamatory occasionally alliterative narrative captions! The first page alone does most of the heavy lifting, letting us know “this magnificent missive that originally appeared in “ALL-GIRL ADVENTURE TALES FOR MEN #41.” As if this wasn’t old-school Marvel enough, we’re also treated to a gang of thought-bubbles featuring our heroine questioning herself and her actions, right up until the last panel. This title is always gorgeous (at least whenever Chiang turns up), but this is the first issue that’s done-in-one, a very satisfying slab of serial entertainment that fleshes out what we know about Diana while entertaining us in its own right. Really close call on Best of Week. Highly recommended.

JUSTICE LEAGUE #0—If you were holding your breath for the secret origin of what Superman, Batman, and all the gang were doing before they got retconned into assembling to battle Darkseid and the Parademon menace, go ahead and exhale. The Shazam backup feature with Gary Frank’s fine rendering takes over and finally gets a chance to get moving along with Billy catching his level-up from the wizard before coming back to Earth to bitchslapping the hell out of some mugger and then cadging a cool twenty-dollar bill from his near-victim. I get what Johns is going for here, the idea that kids today are bastards and that the first thing an orphan would do upon getting all these powers would be to drop some kind of pre-Death of Uncle Ben selfish personal betterment-type behavior. And if he can finally bring it around to that character’s redemption, streetwise Billy learning what it means to be a hero and what not, I guess it’ll be close to the fella we know, but I just miss the Big Red Cheese trying to get the JLI do sing-alongs while J’onn had his hand caught in the Oreo cookie jar.

And the back-up, I love me some van Sciver interiors but this whole Pandora/Trinity War thing, so far there’s absolutely no narrative hook hung on it, no reason for me to care at all about what’s coming. I want to be excited, but the engine’s not firing quite yet.

THE UNWRITTEN #41—This one’s pretty much The Ballad of Richie the Vampire. The revelation as to what’s really going on in this series with regard to how Tom’s perception shapes the situation leads to a very interesting new set-up that will surely see us through these last few months’ worth of stories. You’ve got to respect the dissolves-into-bats exit.

FABLES #121—Twisted and evil, this. Man, what a dark way for things to resolve on the old Island of Toys, there. At eight parts, this arc went on maybe a couple of months too long but now that we’re through it, it seems like it was entertaining enough. Probably another example of this reading better in trade. But I can’t bail out on monthlies now! Bring on the new story.

THE AVENGERS #30—It is great fun still to have Simonson onboard, even when he gets saddled with seven panels of walk-and-talk across the bottom of the page. But where Bendis has always nailed the tone of give-and-take between Luke Cage & Jessica Jones, he’s not doing it for me with the chemistry between Clint & Jessica. Hawkeye’s fine but Jessica comes across as shrill and bitchy. Spider-Woman shouldn’t convince the reader that she’s absolutely PMSing every single month, you know? I get that that’s part of the arc of this story, but that was a lot of exclamation points to hurl at ol’ Hawkeye in twenty pages. Sorry to say I dug this one about as little as possible with Simonson on art the only thing making it in any way worth a look. Total AVX filler. Let’s get this End Times business going.

DAREDEVIL #18—This continues to be nothing but gorgeous brilliance. Just the panel of nothing but DD swinging through the city on the bottom of Page 11, alone. It’s insane this book’s already moved through Martin and the Riveras and it still looks this good. Samnee/Rodriguez are a force. Waid doesn’t push the overall arc forward too far and it isn’t a done-in-one but we get a little scene with Matt and Kristen that’s cut too short before he possibly hallucinates Milla back in his apartment and then swaps cases with Foggy, off to a gangster’s building to solve a murder mystery. Really, it doesn’t sound that incredible in the recap, but the outstanding level of craft painstakingly put into each page is what sets this book above almost everything else that the House of Ideas is putting out at the moment. The smartest thing they’re doing this year is not giving it the Now! treatment. Looking forward to years more with Waid, Wacker, and hopefully Samnee/Rodriguez. This is a hell of a good time.


BATMAN #0—The usual suspects return for this pre-Year One tale and it’s of course beautifully drawn and the characterization is bull’s-eye pitch-perfect, as ever. The back-up is even stronger than usual, a real engaging seven pages dropping in on all three Robins-to-be and young Miss Barbara Gordon immediately before her dad turns on the signal for the first time. Tynion does a fine job juggling all four characters and giving them scenes that feel fully formed in a way that actually almost shows up the headlining crew. Not a knock, but that back-up is a complete story that cuts back and forth between four characters and gives us a beginning, middle, and end. The main feature has shades of Nolan throughout, opens up with a Red Hood Gang robbery, which of course, since everyone in the world knows who’s coming back next issue, we’re all primed for Snyder to drop some kind of deft retcon tweak that will pay off to tremendous effect next month. This doesn’t happen, at least in this issue, as far as I can tell, but then we get Bruce and Alfred eschewing the manor and holed up in the tower, more Nolan, before the only real meat of the story, the tension of Bruce and Gordon up on the roof with a ticking batarang, timed to return in under four minutes and blow Bruce’s cover before he ever even puts on the cowl. Gordon certainly already does seem suspicious, his taciticity an interesting potential retcon, given that Snyder all but had Gordon calling Dick Grayson by his first name while wearing the cowl over back in THE BLACK MIRROR and here it feels like he’s establishing that Gordon always knew, almost even before Bruce did. But then that’s it. A cliffhanger, the Red Hood’s coming for Bruce and we’re To Be Continued . . . next year. That makes the whole thing seem a bit slight. It’s all very well done, but at only two pages less than the standard length, this feels like much much less of an experience than, say #1, which was a revelation. The problem is these boys have set the bar very high for themselves. Bring on the Clown Prince of Death.

BEST OF WEEK: BATMAN AND ROBIN #0—Oh man, nothing else even comes close this week. As consistently talented as the boys over on the other book are, Tomasi/Gleason/Gray drop in with this portrait of the martial artist as a young man, and manage to completely annihilate every other book this week. In a scant twenty pages, we rush through a Damian Wayne birthday montage, opening with skydiving Man-Bat destruction before flashing back to his baptism in nursemaid blood a few minutes after being born, then jumping to maybe his fourth birthday, when he learns that he’s got to defeat his mother in single combat before she’ll tell him who his father is. This is a serious and wonderful bit of almost retcon characterization to just slip in here at this point and Tomasi artfully weaves new moments through the years in with references to Morrison’s run, which of course I’m like target-demographic-zero for that, Talia’s got old Otto Netz on the line, threatening an off-with-his-head if he doesn’t get the meta-bomb together before we race through a bunch of birthdays that inevitably end in defeat for our boy assassin protagonist until we finally, perfectly, end up with Damian holding the sword up to his dad’s throat at the London pop-art exhibit that we first saw on the last page of Morrison’s second issue waaaaaaaay back in BATMAN #656. But I love how this deepens what we know about Damian, from pretty much as early as he could remember, he’s been goaded to excel at combat on all levels, driven by his mother dangling the ultimate carrot in front of him, the answer to the question Who is my father? It goes a long way toward explaining why he was such a terrible insufferable asshole when he first showed up and broadens the breadth of his journey from then until now. They squeeze so many iconic moments into this one, that opening double-page spread, the aforementioned baptism by nursemaid-blood, Damian in the cowl at the age of four, really every bit of aerial Man-Bat combat, that panel of the boy and his mother screaming at each other before engaging in the last year of birthday combat, all the way through to that last page that, by God, might even trump what Kubert managed way back when. Before this issue, Damian Wayne was already one of the most nuanced and compelling individuals in not only mainstream comics but just period, and this issue only serves to enhance his depth of his character. Exemplary work, all around.

FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E #0—This wasn’t as terribly compelling as Kindt’s first three issues but still doesn’t disappoint, nothing more or less than the not-so-secret origin of Frankenstein, how he met his maker and what not. This issue suffers, I guess, from the character not being an original creation. As beautiful and spot-on as the art provided by Ponticelli/Faucher/Villarrubia is, one still can’t escape the sensation that we’ve seen all of this before.

COMEDIAN #3—We slow down quite a bit here, not quite as crushing as the previous two installments. The entire issue is Eddie in Hawaii on the phone to Bobby delivering exposition as to his role in the Watts riots. The chief of police called all the black folks monkeys, so the Comedian threw some shit in his face. Also, there was clever call-and-response wordplay throughout, as is Azzarello’s wont. A bit underwhelming, this, though of course Jones’s pictures are pretty.

CHEW #28—These prologues just get more and more batshit, don’t they? I love that Poyo’s just a regular member of the supporting cast now, that’s certainly the right call. It’s hard not to dig on a doped-up Tony Chu anthropomorphizing the cast (I assumed the NEXT ISSUE: page on the back of SPECIAL AGENT POYO was a joke). I’m still adjusting to reading this in singles every six to eight weeks apart versus gorging on trades, but it’s always great fun, just a little bit less at a time than I prefer. Exploding cattle. Naturally.

THE ROCKETEER: CARGO OF DOOM #2—More five-star greatness from Waid/Samnee. This is just good fun. We have delightful escalation in the form of aerial on-plane combat with unattached rocketpack, as well as the image of all the creatures from Monster Island potentially running amok through New York with rockets. Chris Samnee and Jordan Bellaire’s pages are glorious and Waid’s script remains drum-tight, as ever. This couldn’t be better. If you ever thrilled to the airborne derring-do of Cliff Secord, then this is the book for you.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #8—Mmm, I think I liked it better swashbuckling on the high seas or ransacking port cities before leaping off the pier just barely in the nick of time before being cut down by the city watch. This trudging across Cimmeria is kind of a drag. As is more overwrought angst over Conan & Belit’s relationship. It was working for me in the last arc, but now we’ve been there and done that. Also, while I usually dig Vasilis Lolos and I like how they kept in the family and yes he can draw wolves so well, his draftsmanship simply is not up to the ridiculously high bar established for this title by Cloonan and Harren. This certainly isn’t a bad comic book, but it’s a bit of a dip on what we’ve seen thus far.

THE MASSIVE #4—Been listening to a gang of Baader Meinhoff to get ready for MorrisonCon, so it was a bit odd for me to roll up on Mogadishu, here. This one’s a bit more of a slow burn than the first three. Still some interesting character work. Donaldson is, I guess, out and Garry Brown is in, possibly a slight improvement, the facial expressions aren’t as tightly rendered and nuanced but the body language is a bit less stiff and more natural. And the wide shots are still incredible, that bird’s-eye view of Somalia is ridiculous. This book remains an interesting slow build, but it’s starting to feel like it needs to move a bit faster. I need to be quite a bit more invested than I am right now by the time we make it to #10, say. Maybe Anatartica has all the answers.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #6—We completely bail out on the ridiculous ensemble, hanging on to only Wernher for half of the issue as a supporting tyrant keeping poor Helmut Göttrup under his thumb before the guy escapes into the clutches of the Russians. But that’s only the beginning. We’re seriously adding Gagarin and fucking Laika to the cast? You read over the nine character descriptions on what used to be the only THE CAST page and tell me that’s not frothing-at-the-mouth eye-popping lunatic enough for you. This book is wonderful. Delicious madness. I’m horrified to report that I suspect they’re still really only getting started, the maniac machine hasn’t even started spinning up all the way, as of yet.

AVENGERS VS X-MEN #11—Shenanigans! Young Master Summers goes too far. SPOILERS. SPOILERS! Bendis/Coipel/Morales/Martin all show up here with A-game material that is light years better than HOUSE OF M and consists of pretty much everybody dogpiling on Cyclops. In the space of a scant nine pages, Scotty burns Magneto to a crisp, performs whatever power-suck ritual is necessary to soak up Emma’s half of the Phoenix, stone-cold murders Professor X so hard the dude doesn’t even have any pupils at all to speak of, I mean there might as well be X’s in his eyes, and then like disintegrates Wolverine. While I’m sure probably only one of those will actually take, it’s Great Big Event Fun to see the madness unfold. Now! If they don’t kill Cyclops next month and really try to rehabilitate him, it’s definitely the uphill battle of the 21st century.  Unfortunately, at $4 a pop twice a month, I’m probably not going to be along for the ride. Unless he shows up over in Hickman’s AVENGERS, I suppose.

THE NEW AVENGERS #30—This was some pretty meh filler, particularly compared to last month. Some Bible-quoting Purifiers try to hijack Emma from Luke Cage, DD, Mockingbird, and bashful Benjamin J. Grimm. Then, Luke Cage decides to quit on the last three pages, bringing this long-simmering plot to as tame and quiet a resolution as possible amidst all the wonderful Deodato explodo. Bendis clocking out, suckahs, End Times a’coming!

FANTASTIC FOUR #610—Wow. So, instead of putting the toys back in the box, now all of a sudden Hickman is busting loose. A.I.M. buys an island? Achieves sovereign-nation status and selects Reed as their ambassador? This kind of set-up worked out pretty well over with Sue and Atlantis a couple years back, remember. Young Ryan Stegman continues to blow the doors off here in the home-stretch, is rocking kind of a Jim Lee style with the cartoonistic stylization cranked up just a little bit in the direction of Ed McGuiness. Really solid and confident work out of the gate for a guy I hadn’t heard of two months ago. And of course the Wizard’s got to start in with Bentley, that isn’t a shotgun that Hickman’s going to be leaving up on the wall. This is nothing less than more of the greatness we’ve come to expect. Can’t believe we only get three more. Stiff upper lip.

Monday, September 17, 2012


ACTION COMICS #0—What begins as an entertaining enough early-days-in-Metropolis yarn takes a sharp turn when we are given the title, “The Boy Who Stole Superman’s Cape.” Morrison digs deep, strips through all the continuity and obsessive fanboy concern over what’s been retconned and what “counts” and just tells an iconic story that renders all of these things moot, what would happen if an abused boy got his hands on Superman’s cape and believed that he could do anything? Even the hardest thing in the world, standing up to his abusive father. We also get two pages of White, Lane, and Olsen that are MUCH better than any exchange featuring them since the reboot. I loved the negative space comment and what the S really stands for. But of course the centerpiece of the issue does a perfect job locking back up with the 1938 pulpier roots of the character who, before he could fly into deep space, was merely more powerful than a steaming locomotive. Ben Oliver’s painted work is a good fit for this flashback. Great ride.

ANIMAL MAN #0 & SWAMP THING #0—There’s not much reason not to continue reviewing these two together, even though Lemire and Snyder stay in their own sandboxes for just this month before all the Rotworld erupts. Even though a great deal got streamlined by the reboot last year, these boys are not afraid to drop in some legacy characters out of the sky. Or to have Arcane take them out. Both of these are basically Arcane amok across the decades, murdering avatars of the green and red right and left. The regular team stays on with Animal Man and holds the fort just fine while Kano pinch-hits for the Paquette/Rudy tag team and manages to maintain the artistic quality at the high level to which these gentlemen have caused us to grow accustomed. These issues were all well and good and grisly and horrible, but I’m ready to jump back to the main narrative. Bring on the Rotworld.

BEST OF WEEK: SILK SPECTRE #3—This continues to blow every other one of these minis out of the water with Amanda Conner turning in career-best work augmented by Paul Mounts’s achingly beautiful colors. This is certainly one of the best-looking books on the stands, no problem, but what makes it stand head and shoulders above the rest is how engaging the narrative is, the extent to which it manages to draw the reader in and make us totally invested in what amounts to a Year One arc for good ol’ Laurel Jane Juspeczyk a full nineteen years before we meet her as the chain-smoking jaded concubine of the walking blue penis atomic bomb. One great touch here is how the layout warps to accommodate the acid tip, the familiar nine-panel grid twisting and spiraling into the center of the page to reflect all the lysergic crazy. We close with another beat so perfect, it’s like they channeled it, the root of Laurie’s first heartbreak as a result of her parents’ behind-the-scenes machinations along with a pre-WATCHMEN Easter Egg that might have some folks groaning, though I thought it was absolutely perfect in a way that no one else has as yet been able to manage, finally accomplishing the opposite effect we got from looking at the snapshot Minutemen team photo in the first issue of the original series, a kind of reverse nostalgia here where we see something unfolding in the present tense in 1966 but already know how it’s going to turn out, I mean, it’s the most iconic image of the series. And this is its secret origin and it’s perfect.

THE BOYS #70—Nothing but all kinds of escalation here, which, I guess there’s certainly no place left to take it. This is so so good, pitch-perfect and completely true to the characters that Ennis has spent almost six years dialing us right into. No cackling maniacal world-dominating madmen here. I really can’t imagine how the good guys are going to win this one. Not that they will. This is Ennis. This is one of the most compelling portrayals of an antagonist I’ve ever seen, right up there with the greats, Kirby’s Dr. Doom and Darkseid, Claremont’s Magneto. Two more to go.

HAWKEYE #2—Wow, this issue was better than the first, which I was wild for. I hope old “Crystal Clear” Wacker has just a hell of a fill-in artistic team lined up or has convinced Marvel to improbably suspend monthly publication and just hang out until Aja/Hollingsworth can produce pages at their own pace because, lawdy, are they worth it. The first page alone here is a callback/homage to Steranko in all the right ways and then we’re suddenly thrown into the new dynamic of Kate Bishop as sidekick, a pair of Hawkeyes. And then there’s the perfect time-dilation trick on Page Three, where the act of Clint taking aim stretches Kate’s words out into fourteen panels and her mouth is even making the perfect angle, letter by letter. And wow, a newspaper article with actual text instead of the old standby “kdsjf asdkjf;dj mnddf.” The French/Italian dialogue caption for Ringmaster is a thing of joy. And then the caper ensues and erupts. This is hi-toned streamlined comic book goodness, right here, nothing less than a rollicking good ride starring the best archers in the good old 616, who just happen to have explosive chemistry, I mean, every single exchange between them is pure gold, there are somehow five or six of those sandwiched into the twenty pages alongside all of the jumping and shooting and diving and punching and blinding-bad-guys-for-the-rest-of-their-lives-with-trickshot-arrows. Grim, yes, but also terrific terrific fun. After only two issues, this one’s already on the short list of Marvel books that I can’t live without, with only Waid DD and Hickman FF for company. Gives me hope for Fraction hopping onboard FF, though of course, what a nightmare act to have to follow. If Amanda Conner wasn’t just slaying it, this would be Best of Week and will surely take it for #3. As long as Aja can hold on, fingers crossed.

FASHION BEAST #1—Just when you thought Alan Moore was done with singles, we get an announcement for 48 pages of new LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN goodness next February and this story finally sees the light of day. Originally commissioned by Sex Pistols founder Malcolm McLaren in the 80s, Moore’s screenplay for an update of Beauty & the Beast finds new life in this ten-issue series from Avatar, adapted by Antony Johnston and illustrated by Fecundo Percio. With Moore’s edits and input, apparently. It’s an intriguing affair, doesn’t just grab you and make you ravenous for more, but it certainly does have its own rhythm. We spend a full seven no-dialogue pages meeting our cast in a series of jump-cuts as they get dressed to leave the building where they all pay rent and attend The Catwalk, which is some kind of swanky nighttime debauching situation. Our hero(ine) is apparently a transvestite possibly called Doll who is the individual responsible for coat-checking, occasionally stealing away to vogue for the masses. I’m not just wild about it after this first issue but will definitely hang out and see what develops, who these other people even are. It’s not like there’s just a gang of Alan Moore singles cluttering up the rack.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


So much for a light fifth week!

BEST OF WEEK: LOCKE & KEY: GRINDHOUSE—What a nasty bit of business this was. I had heard that a one-shot was coming down the pike but had no idea that it was today, so finding it on the top of the ol’ weekly pull was about the best news possible in that particular circumstance. The choice of dropping the old EC Comics font for the lettering is pitch-perfect. This was basically Hill/Rodriguez roaring their Buick 8 into Brubaker/Phillips country at 80 mph and claiming all the land that they could survey for themselves. Everything played out exactly the way it should have and I really kicked myself a couple of times for not seeing the twists and turns coming, really quite obvious in hindsight, but I was so bewitched by the narrative. And the backmatter pages are priceless, Rodriguez is apparently an architectural madman. I love how Hill had no idea that Tyler and Kinsey’s bedrooms were on the fourth floor. Also a fan of Kinsey’s Komix Korner, that three-panel one at the bottom was a scream. This issue is nothing less than the creators of the best comic series on the rack kicking off their shoes and doing whatever the hell they want, just because they can, delighting us with how great it is but also causing no small amount of infuriation because every minute spent working on this wonder could have been in service of bringing the first issue of OMEGA closer, ever closer . . .

MINUTEMEN #3—Okay, I think I get it, the point of this series is to track the journey of the group from idealistic greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts unit to the collection of alcoholic opportunistic fame-hungry Sodomite-and-otherwise-evil-bastard types that were such a cornerstone of the whole horrific grim’n’gritty movement following the original series. The framing sequences are all right, but I don’t really see much point. I mean, we know he publishes. I did dig the juxtaposition between the circles of Golden Age propaganda opposite the seedier more unfortunate reality. Though it was maybe more effective when Parker and friends pulled the trick first in that THE AGE OF THE SENTRY mini a few years back. I did like the Comedian’s exit from the group, not something I ever even imagined in all these years, but Cooke’s version feels completely authentic. As do Hollis’s feelings for Ursula, it never would have occurred to me and they aren’t really implied by the source material, but they ring true. At the halfway point, I don’t feel like this series has quite justified its existence narratively, though of course Darwyn Cooke simply storyboarding scenes implied by one of the greatest graphic novels of all time is pretty okay.

JUSTICE LEAGUE #12—I definitely should have realized what an easy walk-back was possible to execute from that last cliffhanger, but Johns goes a little overboard with that caption “...believed to be where the dead…” I mean, he might as well have said, “according to the last page of last issue, but hang on, dear readers…” When I saw the names on the cover, my first reaction was being bummed that Lee needed help from both Reis and Finch to get it done here for the last issue of the year. Of course, it turns out those guys just jumped in at the end and Lee knocked out the pencils to the entire main story with the help of nine inkers and five colorists (!). That’s insane. You could definitely tell which pages were Williams/Sinclair, but otherwise, I suppose the mob did a pretty fair job locking in to a mostly unified style. It didn’t take me out of the story, anyway. What really cut into my enjoyment reading this comic book was that two of the three things that had the potential to freak me out were spoiled the previous week. And I get it. If you’ve got Superman kissing Wonder Woman, that’s going to spike sales and you’ve got to promote it. But should you do so at the cost of wrecking the experience for the 150,000 people who have already been showing up every Wednesday for the past year? Sales are tabulated in monthly values, not daily. You don’t get extra points for selling out on Wednesday. What if they let the regular readers have first crack at the story, maybe even don’t put the Big Iconic Moment on the cover and keep it a complete surprise, and then let the story build from there? Drop the USA Today or Newsweek stories on Thursday and Friday to get people in the stores that weekend. It seems like that way, everybody would benefit to no one’s detriment. As is, reading those two pages of Superman and Wonder Woman talking, all I could think about was how contrived and hackneyed the writing was to get the two icons in position for the next page that I had already seen posted all over the Internet dozens of times. And that might be a disservice to the writing. Possibly, it would have swept me away if I didn’t already know for certain where it was leading. The other thing was the ad for the new series. Not a huge deal, not like you can even call it a spoiler, but the one remaining surprise about the issue was the reappearance of those COMING THIS YEAR IN JUSTICE LEAGUE vertical panels that Johns used to do every twelve months in JSA and BOOSTER GOLD and that I always loved, so they were a great ride and caused all this momentum that would have led to a real cool way to announce the new title. I guess they needed something to say at FanExpo. Too, was the coloring screwed up on anybody else’s issue, the Big Iconic Kiss page and then the page facing opposite? Like, there’s this splotchiness in the shaded part of their faces. And I was thinking that it might be intentional, but the same thing is on Amanda Waller’s skinny face on the next page, which makes me think someone forgot to hide a layer in Photoshop or something.

FLASH ANNUAL #1—All right, I’ve been wondering how Manapul/Buccellato were going to be able to crank out so many extra pages for this thing while holding down their duties on the monthly title minus one fill-in and the answer turns out to be have Manapul do all the layouts and then kick it out to a different crew for every chapter. Which works pretty well, supplying a cohesion and consistency both in the book and to the main title while letting each chapter retain their own distinct artistic flavor. Glider gets a bit more weight once we know her secret origin. I’ve never seen Marcio Takara’s work, but enjoyed Chapter 4, kind of a Samnee thing going on striking a real fine balance between cartooning and photo-realism. And then a bunch of hand-grenade-shaped pods crash down from the sky full of Gorilla Grodd’s minions. Readers of the regular series who gave this a pass are going to be scratching their heads next month, I tell you what.

AMERICAN VAMPIRE #30—Man, and then again, this one feels like one of the better issues of this series. That’s been happening a lot lately. Snyder/Albuquerque remain at the top of their game. Nice of them to blow up that car with a hand-grenade to help celebrate the recent release of THE INVISIBLES OMNIBUS.  And I really dug Skinner’s “Wrong genre, asshole,” line. And, of course, really serious business there at the end, cutting back and forth between those two scenes with the phonograph lyrics getting all kinds of weight from the adultery. That’s actually the kind of synergistic alchemy they haven’t been able to quite hit over there on BEFORE WATCHMEN, as of yet.

SPACEMAN #9—This was a hell of a series that never shied away from challenging its reader. And pretty much all of that comes from narrative decisions made by Azzarello. All the dialogue is rendered in this slangy future patois that the writer invented solely for this story, which sounds like a dicey proposition, but Azzarello crafts his syllables with such a deft hand that, not only did I never get lost or confused about what they were saying for the entire course of the series, but I actually managed to internalize this brand-new dialect and in some cases even anticipate what they were going to say. Say? On top of that, though, the timeshifts between the present-day action and whatever went down with Orson, Carter, and the rest of the Spacemen on Mars are presented in a way that seems constructed to deliberately disorient any reader who doesn’t stay right on top of things. And the art. I mean, Risso/Mulvhill/Robins are pretty much universally acknowledged as one of the best teams in the industry. Hell, they’ve got over a dozen years of experience working together under their belts! And it shows, expressive faces delivering the unique dialogue, body language as dynamic as it is unique, gorgeous tones depicting everything from dock explosions to lush panoramic Martian sunsets, and a lettering style that is completely invisible, Robins gets out of the way entirely, I didn’t think about him while reading a single word of this series. Which means he was doing his job. I haven’t even touched upon the actual narrative content of this final issue, and I don’t think I will, but I will say that I didn’t expect it to be half as heartbreaking as it turned out to be. If you loved 100 BULLETS or are a fan of very intelligent literary science fiction that makes you work for it and rewards the effort, definitely pick this one up when the trade comes out. Top shelf work, all around.

PROPHET #28—God, I love this series. We check back in with Old Man Prophet and his tree sidekick Hiyonhoiagn in their starship moving at the bleed of light. An act of wordplay that I’m wild for. Maybe I’m just the last person in the world to realize this, but does this mean that every artist on this book is assigned to a particular Prophet. I’m think that Milonogiannis drew these guys last time? But I can’t be sure, every one of these issues about completely scrambles my brain by the time it’s done. The crowning achievement of this issue by far is the resuscitation (on both levels of an on-panel influence on the plot and just the character in general) of Diehard, who first exploded into the lives of millions of readers (or hundreds of thousands of readers who bought multiple copies) twenty years ago as probably the most cliché and derivative member of a team comprised entirely of clichéd analogues. Of course, in the hands of this brain trust, he’s wildly compelling to an almost laughable extent. “Diehard’s headless body leads them on,” is, no problem, my favorite sentence of the week. If tragedy struck and for some reason I had to jettison 90% of my pull list, this one would still get picked up every month. I just hope we make it back to this crew sooner than three months from now. I actually really care about what’s going on with Diehard. Inconceivable! This one missed Best of Week by the narrowest of margins, to the point that the whole hierarchy of the thing almost seems pointless.

MORNING GLORIES #21—And brand-new psychopath du jour Irina is on the cover about to pull the pin out of yet another grenade. Almost too much to take! Spencer/Eisma and friends continue to put Marvel to shame, delivering massive value on another issue, this one’s 36 pages, no ads, still for $2.99. You can’t afford NOT to be reading this one! The Lindelof story structure adoration continues as we get resolution to a dangling cliffhanger opposite flashbacks that you can’t really call “The Other 48 Days,” but close enough. This new gang of kids who’ve been here all along jump right in and provide plenty of spark to a book that’s going to have quite a ridiculous ensemble if everyone can ever get in the same place at the same time any time before #50. And when the hell are we going to dial back in with Casey?!? She’s just been hanging out at the Academy for years incognito or in disguise? I think? One of the most consistently rewarding serial experiences in comics today, this.

FF #21—So sad, you can definitely see Hickman putting all the madnesses back in the toybox one by one, here. Unless things just go batshit bananas on his way out the door, which would of course be wonderful, this issue seems to completely retire the Inhumans/Kree cosmic conflict, a really sparse affair, but beautifully rendered. I hope Nick Dragotta stays through #23, his crisp economical lines are just enough to fully depict the body language and facial expressions without over-rendering, and Cris Peters fleshes the images out with soothing hues that are always well-chosen. The counterpoint between Reed and Sue on the station and Ronan and Crystal was well done, and of course, Spidey getting called out by the Centaurian was the perfect comic relief to dispel the crippling tension permeating this issue, if only for a page. Let’s shut it down here, I’ve still got four more of these to get through and it’s going to get better, not worse, my dears. As Jerry Horne once sagely noted, “Man . . . now I’m depressed.”