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.