ACTION COMICS #13—And after an interlude of zero issues, Year Two gets a proper beginning in grand and glorious fashion. We begin, as ever, with ACTION. Morrison is never one to miss a numerological trick and so sets this thirteenth issue released during the month of October during a pair of Halloweens, with the Phantom Zone taking its first prisoner twenty Halloweens before the destruction of Krypton, a very ominous little fact/retcon that just gets tossed off in a single caption and never addressed again. Is the fact that Dr. Xa-Du’s first parole hearing took place the day the planet exploded a coincidence? Hell of a thing to just drop in, there. Travel Foreman shows up with a style that’s far less scratchy and jagged than his ANIMAL MAN run, which is a good fit. I wish they’d do this every time, rather than pile on three pencilers and four inkers in a mad dash to make deadline, just have single pencilers or penciler/inkers lined up with as much cushion as they need and then hitting their marks. It sounds easy, but I’m sure it isn’t. Sholly Fisch and Brad Walker provide another solid back-up. I’m always a sucker for the Krypto stories, though I think the prize will always go to that fill-in of Busiek/Leonardi’s they finally published last year, #612, I want to say. That business laid me out.
DETECTIVE COMICS #13—An incredibly auspicious debut for the Layman/Fabok team. I was overjoyed when these guys were announced, Fabok’s been killing it every chance he gets in the occasional fill-in I’ve picked up, and of course Layman is the initial mastermind behind one of the most original and entertaining books on the rack, CHEW. I couldn’t wait to see these guys’ take on Gotham hijinx and it’s nothing but by-the-book excellence. They don’t try to overload the boat the first month out, we just get pitch-perfect characterization with Batman trying to overcome any and all distractions in order to make it to the dedication of the wing named after his mother. Only, of course, the Penguin’s taken out a hit on Bruce Wayne and is trying to usurp him in the philanthropic sector. Just another week in Gotham! This is nothing more or less than an excellent first issue that bespeaks great things to come. Also, it’s very cool to have Layman writing the back-up feature as well, it really justifies the extra buck on the price-tag, as opposed to ACTION up above, where the stories are passable but never really manage to hang next to the main feature. I can’t believe Martin from Miami wasn’t Bruce in disguise! Actually never saw that coming.
ANIMAL MAN #13—Rotworld is at last underway and, goodness, it doesn’t bode well for our heroes. I mean, I guess this has to get undone at some point, right? You can’t take out Flash and have zombie Supergirl impaling Batwoman during the recap montage and expect that this kind of thing is going to take. I hope that’s the case, as dumping the family tosses aside the character dynamic that really makes Buddy Baker stand out. Timothy Green III does a fine job blending in with Steve Pugh’s work, tough gig.
SWAMP THING #13—Dire times here, as well, and circumstances that completely torpedo this book’s status quo if they are allowed to remain when all is said and done. I actually quite like the idea of this book and Animal Man staying in some kind of post-Rotworld future. That would definitely be having the cake and eating it too, in terms of the difference in tone between setting these books in the Vertigo or DC universes. I guess that would kind of negate the point of folding them in in the first place. At any rate, one year in and this is the most entertaining the character’s been since Moore took a walk. Great to see Paquette back in the fold, tearing it up.
RORSCHACH #2—This is all terribly authentic, Bermejo’s lush art is breathtaking and Azzarello has, in particular, done an incredible job capturing the narrative voice we know so well in a -8 years state, meaning he’s got Kovacs leaving in some words in the journal that we absolutely know shouldn’t be there, but it’s only because we’ve internalized the 1985 version to such a degree, and this guy hasn’t quite chunked all the superfluous and codified his jargon just yet (Example: Page 3, panel 2: “NAME DOESN’T MATTER. ONLY FACE DOES.” There is no way in all the whispering hells my man from ’85 leaves in that “DOES.”). So far, though, here at the halfway point, Azzarello hasn’t hit the alchemy for me that he does over on COMEDIAN and manage to lend new insight into the character and make him compelling in a new way. We’re still pretty much going through the beats. There are no surprises. Maybe he’s going to drop the hammer next issue, I certainly hope so. Poor old Walter deserves better treatment and new insight into what makes him tick before his own true and personal end is nigh.
THE BOYS #71—Good lord. Never in the history of the medium has there been action of greater import taking place in the gutter in-between the cliffhanger of one issue and the first page of its next installment. The first page of this issue is so shocking, I stared at it for at least two or three minutes, marveling at Ennis’s audacity, not wanting it to be true. The symphony of the trademark over-the-top violence at the top of the page underscored by Butcher’s typically understated and so very hard-man report as to what exactly has transpired in the four-week real-time-flash since we were last granted a window into this world. But my favorite thing about this issue is how it manages to avoid the pitfalls that seemed inevitable to me all this time. I was sure at some point this was going to have to degenerate into a relatively melodramatic good vs evil sort of situation, but the manner in which Ennis manages to subvert that expectation is a microcosm of the tremendous success he’s had with this book. The friendship and respect and even love never take a back-seat to the narrative but instead continue to propel it forward to a conclusion that is of course completely inevitable and perfectly in-character. Tragic, heartbreaking, perfect, and beautiful, this has been one hell of a run. I have absolutely no idea how they plan to hurl us off into the sunset next month, but I expect it will be brutal and terribly terribly funny.
FATALE #8—Oh joy, another interlude! Those parts are my favorite. Of course, you totally see the ending coming but it makes no difference, it’s all about the ride. Except for that one red red dream, this issue is . . . very very purple. Stewart’s muted tones almost contribute more to the palpable thickness of the atmosphere than Brubaker’s remorseless script or Phillips’s lines that are never over- or underrendered, just the perfect amount of detail necessary to push the story forward. This may be a mashup of noir and Lovecraft mythos and Hollywood sexploitation and drug abuse, suspense thriller, horror, pretty much everything except science fiction so far, but these creators are firing at the top of the game so hard, they ram home the point that none of that matters, it’s all just window dressing for the characters, bait to draw us in to care about them and empathize with them and want them to succeed or at least be okay. Of course, then these guys take someone’s leg off and call it a day.
AVENGERS VS X-MEN #12—And we’re done. It was better than I thought it was going to be but not as good as I had hoped, given the magnitude of the creative talent involved. I was hoping that all that synergy would crackle together and push this past the land of editorial-mandated corporate comics, but that was a pretty foolish amount of optimism to retain after the past ten years. Kubert’s work is a bit rushed but he still delivers thirty-five pages of slam-bang-um-up finale. I particularly liked that spread of vertical panels across pages 9 and 10. Laura Martin’s deft hand with her palette enhances the work as a whole without calling attention or distraction to her individual contribution. I don’t know, something like this would work better or at least might be more satisfying if we didn’t already know there were midnight parties for UNCANNY AVENGERS the next week, if it was actually a Holy Shit moment when Cap said, “Uncanny,” instead of everyone just being like, “Check,” and oh, there are only two pages left, Thor’s got to invite Nova to join The Avengers, “Check,” these days too many of the repercussive beats get spilled before the story even finishes. Curse you, three-month solicits! Marvel’s made it very easy to reduce the majority of my consumption of their monthly superhero fare, will always hang with Hickman on his AVENGERS and going to see Bendis out after all this time and going to give Fraction a shot on FF and got to hang with Waid DD, but that is really and truly it. Ah shit, I’ll probably give UNCANNY AVENGERS a shot. They double-shipping that, too? (oh wait, and HAWKEYE, too. I am an oak)
BEST OF WEEK: DAREDEVIL: END OF DAYS #1—Man, Waid and company have been cruising along here so impressively with such regularity now, you wouldn’t think there would be room for anyone to come in and blow everything up with an ultimate Daredevil story, and by ultimate, I’m not talking about anything to do with Jemas or Millar or reboot or resetting but of course very much with Brian Michael Bendis, but what he and David Mack and Klaus Janson and Bill Sienkiewicz and Matt Hollingsworth manage in just this first outing alone is a such an uppercut to the face that you suddenly realize you’re in the middle of another mythic Daredevil story, it’s the eighties again, the bad times, the lean times. Miller & Mazzucchelli are back together for this one last seven-month run and nothing will ever be the same. Sure there have been good runs, great runs, since. Nocenti/JRJr, Mack’s arcs, Bendis/Maleev, and Brubaker/Lark, giving way to the aforementioned greatness of the current team turning in thrilling adventures starring The Man Without Fear more than twelve times a year, but none of them manage to come close, because this one is really The End. And it actually really and truly feels like this time it’s going to matter this time. To be worthy of the character. The blind arrow shot to mark Robin Hood’s grave. King Arthur drifting out to his final watery rest. Crafted for people who love the character by creators who feel that same sense of respect and devotion, who want to do right by him. I don’t want to discuss the plot at all, I had no idea what was coming and it blew me away. But this Sienkiewicz painting tells you all you need to know. This is not a discarded panel from ELEXTRA: ASSASSIN, though it feels like one in all the right ways. This is the last Daredevil story. And it’s only beginning.
(To be honest, BEST OF WEEK is too close to call between DD and THE BOYS, but I gave it up to the former because at least I could provide an image to back it up, something you can’t really roll with in the latter for a single panel without massive spoilage, now you know!)