Wednesday, January 30, 2013


YOUNG AVENGERS #1 — As the biggest PHONOGRAM fan in at least the great state of Texas, I was beyond elated when this book was announced. Gillen/McKelvie/Wilson reuniting on any book is a cause for celebration, and I can’t think of a better team to shepherd this cast of characters in a post-Heinberg/Cheung era of the Now!. Massive anticipation for this thing. And it did not disappoint. My only problem is that the first five pages were so nuclear fantastic, the rest of the issue couldn’t possibly live up to them. I mean, I could go on and on and on about just that first scene. I’ll try to keep it down. We do, here, benefit from Fraction’s dead-on minimalistic character work he’s been rocking over on HAWKEYE, Kate Bishop is a much more engaging character than she was a very few months ago (and it’s not like she was ever less than completely well-rounded under Heinberg’s pen). Opening the series with her waking up post-coitus in orbit on Noh-Varr’s ship and then watching him dance to “Be My Baby” is quintessential PHONOGRAM and a perfect hook before they drop the thunder on that two-page twenty-one panel shot of glory that is just about the most fun I’ve had on a Wednesday night in the last little bit. Just a thrilling bit of business, loved it loved it loved it. Okay, but so, there was the rest of the issue, we meet our entire cast in a series of deftly handled exchanges that actually put the rest of them (excepting Noh-Varr and Kate) together by issue’s end. Gillen does fine work dialing us into the characters whether we’ve read every page upon which they’ve appeared, skipped CHILDREN’S CRUSADE in lieu of actually signing up for delays and waiting for the trade, or never read an issue of YOUNG AVENGERS in our lives. The art was as gorgeous as I expected it to be. The cliffhanger felt a bit limp for the first issue, but I’m very excited to have this one coming out monthly, though already concerned about the B-team if McKelvie/Wilson can’t keep up the monthly schedule.

MINUTEMEN #6 — Wow. This one was a slow burn but definitely well worth it here in the last chapters when Darwyn Cooke finally hits the gas. It’ll certainly make a hell of a single-sitting reading. As previously noted, Cooke nails the tone of Hollis Mason’s narrative voice and of course he draws the hell out of it, but the greatest compliment I can offer this series is that I accept the incredibly audacious and wildly ambitious retcon that it inserts into the mythos. I mean, it doesn’t contradict the original series but it tucks just a humdinger of an idea in the folds there that is so balls-out, my eyebrows are still as far away from my eyes as they can get a full week later. Azzarello still has to bring his two on in, but Cooke has now finished up both of his series, which means that for the first time, we can step back and evaluate a significant part of this thing as a whole. I don’t know, you guys, my brain keeps telling me I shouldn’t but I found this one quite enjoyable and really loved SILK SPECTRE.

WONDER WOMAN #16 — Azzarello/Chiang/Wilson guide us through another installment of the Wonder Woman mythos crashed into Greek mythology with the crowd from New Genesis orbiting the proceedings. I am a fan of the way Azzarello is extending the phrase “new god,” packing in even more meaning than we’ve seen before now. The art is still just as good as it gets. Not just a whole lot happens this time out, but the pages are so pretty to look at, that’s fine with me. (this completely got by me, but Dylan Todd points out that Milan's appearance is based on Wesley Willis, which really escalates my enjoyment of this entire situation. Good on ya, Cliff Chiang!)

BATWOMAN #16 — This is nothing more or less than another installment of greatness, J.H. Williams III at full strength more than ably abetted by W. Haden Blackman on script, Dave Stewart on colors, and Todd Klein on letters. Kate & Diana conclude their two-month (real-time) plummet into the fray and finally engage Medusa and all those scary monsters. The spread of the six Dianas doing battle with the six-headed Hydra is really and truly one for the ages. I shudder to think at what’s coming next month.

FABLES #125 — “Back to the main narrative then.” Thank you, Willingham! Or Ambrose? Isn’t it Ambrose narrating? These are probably so much more coherent and retainable in trade. I actually thought Stinky was quoting flash-sideways Martin Kimi with “The heart wants what the heart wants,” and got all choked up about Season 6 before checking and learning that it was actually some of the best dialogue that Woody Allen ever wrote, for himself, as ever. Stinky’s subsequent paraphrase is another one for the ages. Briar Rose’s summation of the past fifty issues is a head-shaking bit of business. This Prince Brandish fellow is certainly an interesting sort. With the opening of this arc, it feels like we finally got our book back after a bit of time spent wandering through the woods.

CHEW #31 — Man, it’s been however many weeks and I’m still so sad about last issue. That entire opening scene/flashback finds new ways to twist the knife. Fortunately, good old Layman and Guillory have another montage cued up to see us out of this mourning. Of course the con panel is the best. Guillory’s handwritten lettering jokes never fail and it’s great to see the creators, Eisma, and I guess a Bruno-donkey? “Death to the Chicken-Eaters?” Oh no! Plenty of horror to be found in the backmatter, as well, that sequence with the Chog turning around is chilling, and I really really hope Layman isn’t joking about DEEP SPACE POYO and SON OF POYO. There’s nothing anywhere or –when like this book.

THE MASSIVE #7 — ? ! ? ! ? ! ? !

PROPHET #33 — Graham and friends return with another slab of future science madness with Milonogiannis taking a ride on interiors. That Page Two/Three splash is worthy of Kirby, the ruins of the Hyperconscious Row, just magnificent even in its wreckage. This book feels alien, the creators have envisioned and crafted their world with such exact precision that it really breathes like the impossible future waiting for us at the end of the centuries. This is enhanced in no small part by Joseph Bergin III’s choice of quite radical colors to highlight the shifting scenes. I’ve been waiting with no small amount of anticipation for that one guy to turn up, should have known that he’d be reduced to a corpse-battery, perfectly in keeping with the established tone thus far. Really need to reread the first year’s worth of issues back in a single sitting, sure I’m missing all kinds of cool little recurrences. This is a dense one and well worth the multiple rides.

FF #3 — It got pretty dark pretty quick over here in the land of Allred. Uncle Johnny has crashed back into the present a few days past the team’s scheduled return with the unfortunate news that Dr. Doom, Kang, and an Annihilus from an alternate timeline merged into a composite being and then straight-up killed the other three founding members of the team with a series of specifically tailored deathtraps (actually, in The Thing’s case, he might still be falling down some endless wormhole or some such, but same difference). The best part, though, is that he gets a costume redesign that is vintage Allreds. In other news, the Moloids are pursuing their own agenda, which Fraction is smart enough to immediately illustrate jacks up their sustained end-consonant thing to new levels of creepiness. So with all that, what better way to break all the ultimate doom tension than a romp featuring Scott and Darla-wearing-a-towel versus a trio of pranksters from The Yancy Street Gang? I can’t believe it hasn’t occurred to me now, but of course we’re going to have to have a face-off between those assholes and the Tracksuit Mafia Draculas over in HAWKGUY. I’m really a fan of the way they shift the tone from total the-end-is-nigh horror there at the top with Uncle Johnny’s tale of what awaits the team in the other title to the breezier fare with the Moloids and Scott/Darla, all the way to that page that seems like it’s going to be a perfect moment, a forbidden kiss in Time’s Square at midnight on New Year’s Eve, only Scott flips it back over again, drops a first-principles phrase worthy of Hickman. “End Doom.” Apparently, that’s the macro-arc of this entire team, and I’m so glad I dodged all the interviews that were going on last summer because Fraction was just running around telling everyone that was the case while Hickman was still bringing it all in for a landing, and it is much better to arrive at that linearly through the narrative proper. And but the Allreds. There’s no one like them anywhere, the pages they produce, just singular glory that splits the difference between Silver Age beauty and a peek into a parallel dimension that’s more science fact than fiction.

UNCANNY AVENGERS #3 — Well, no one expected that this was going to be like monthly. It doesn’t matter, these pages, Cassaday & Martin can have as long as they want (though I presume they’ll be benched after the arc concludes in a few weeks in #4 and that at least #s 5 and 6 are already in the can). Remender does fine work doling out the team dynamics character by character. It is interesting to watch Captain America chafe under the command of a man that he’s handpicked as team leader. One bit of weirdness, though, we burn two pages and a panel on Cap fighting the Red Skull’s control, wanting to beat the shit out of mutants and then breaking free in a defiant splash page. Well done, only on the very next page, four panels later, he’s still screaming at Havok, questioning his leadership decisions. Even if it’s supposed to illustrate that Steve still has problems with the situation, even while not under telepathic influence, the momentum is pretty screwed-up. But that’s a small quibble, this is series remains nothing but great fun, total widescreen glory by one of the very best art teams in the industry and Brother Remender swinging for the fences even harder than during his celebrated run on UNCANNY X-FORCE.

BEST OF WEEK: AVENGERS #3 — All right, I just realized that this is the third Avengers title I picked up this week. That is admittedly a little bananas. As entertaining and concept-maximizing as the other two are, though, this one simply isn’t afraid to dream a little bit bigger. As they did with Remender back in UNCANNY X-FORCE, Jerome Opeña and Dean White continue to push the boundaries of what was previously thought acceptable in a mainstream superhero comic book. The pages look painted, lush tones that seem more likely to have turned up in a Marvel Graphic Novel back in the eighties when they were still numbering them (collect them all!). Hickman again does a fine job balancing his eighteen protagonists, shifting the emphasis this time out to the lesser-known reinforcements, shining brief spotlights on them all through a combination of dialogue and action beats with Captain Universe in particular stepping up and living up to her name. The way that shot of them all appearing on Mars was colored really reminded me of the cover of I want to say #7 of Bendis’s original NEW AVENGERS run, that first shot of them all as a team. This issue is satisfying on several levels, as there is more than enough slam-bang slugfest action to satisfy whoever just wants to watch the Hulk beat the shit out of everything, but that’s taking place throughout a discussion regarding creation and parenthood that stretches what should even be possible during a super-powered free-for-all that is very refreshing. All of this made reading this book a terribly enjoyable reading experience, but the level upon which is succeeds most and sent me nuclear was when I looked up the translation of the invented language that the Adam of the new species utters as soon as he is born. It’s not going to mean that much unless you have a fondness for a line of books that Jim Shooter launched twenty-seven years ago to celebrate Marvel’s twenty-fifth anniversary. But it’s really terribly thrilling and casts that white flash from the opening montage in #1 and again from Captain Universe in this issue in a whole new light. This opening arc was a hell of a thing, and Hickman and his crew are only getting started. And I still think I prefer the Illuminati title, even.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


BATMAN #16 — More absolute magnificence from one of the best teams in monthly superhero comics. These guys just don’t know how to let up on the gas, I can’t imagine what’s in store for #18 and beyond. This issue treats us to the majority of Batman’s romp through Arkham and past a huge portion of his rogues’ gallery. Every aspect of this issue is as pitch-perfect as ever, the plot careens along barely leaving the reader time to fathom what’s happening before the Joker pulls the next trapdoor. The narrative voice is rock solid, with Richard Starkings on lettering subtly highlighting the difference Bruce’s lower-case journal-entry narration and Joker’s pronouncements in a madcap font. And Capullo/Glapion/Plascencia once again display why they are masters of their craft with pages that place storytelling above all else. It’s also an inspired bit of madness to get the follow-up to the main story’s cliffhanger on the following page, such a treat to have Jock on the backup. Far from outstaying its welcome, this event has roared right by, leaving the reader breathless for a conclusion that both seems about to appear far too early (how could we have already gone through the entire arc?) and looms much too distant four weeks into the future.

BATMAN AND ROBIN #16 — I wish they could have made it a bit less terribly obvious that Damian wasn’t fighting his real father. It would have made this issue much more of an emotional ride, but the fight sequences were choreographed with great precision. And of course it ended the only way that it could. Damian has come so far. Kind of sorry they decided to drop that image of him in his #666 costume for the first time chronologically in a damn ad, but am certainly chomping at the bit to get my hands on that annual, so I guess it’s doing its job. Nice tie-in on the last page to the simmering cliffhanger from Jock over on the main title. I’m getting quite worried that no one’s seen Alfred since the first part of this thing.

FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E. #16 — What a perfect final issue. Matt Kindt has always done a fine job preserving the groundwork that Lemire (and, arguably, Morrison before him) laid down while adding in his own minute developments and tweaks, but he puts the gas all the way down on the floor for this last gasp, delivering both codification and celebration of everything this book has stood for, perfectly contained within a single twenty-page narrative entitled, what else, “The Monster Bomb.” You can almost encapsulate the entire run in that last panel on Page Four, Frank leaping into action with his sword drawn. The real heartbreaker in this story is Kindt’s insertion of a new character, a CIA guy whose entire five-year operation comes crashing down around his head and who would make a fantastic foil for Frank and addition to the Creature Commandos, if this issue was functioning solely as his first appearance and not the title’s swan song. The best part is that this entire adventure is just a tangent operation on the way to taking out an enormous sand snake heading for Saudi Arabia. Have we even ever heard of the Aurora Robo Kits before now? Velcoro’s “going viral” joke is just the worst. I think Frank was calling Nina the fruit of the forbidden tree, not the tree itself. An important distinction when quoting Milton. The great trick of this story is that suddenly, two-thirds of the way through, the entire thing trapdoors into The Death of Frankenstein. Why not? It’s the final issue of the book. And the complete lack of sentimentality with which this is executed is perfectly in keeping with the tone of all that’s come before. And you know, he just had The Last Talk with Nina, gave Father Time shit for The Last Time, all of that’s suddenly falling into place, not unlike the protagonist himself immediately thereafter, who just gets the single page of plummeting toward the missile before perishing in a massive suicide-vest explosion on Page Sixteen. And it’s all terribly tragic and heroic and such a shame and just how it should be until you turn the page and remember, of course, he’s been dead all this time and will live to fight another day, many more days, until the end of days. His last line to Nina could not be improved upon, perfectly in character and following the flow of the narrative while we are caught up in its momentum until that last page-turn when you realize that it’s the last time we’ll see these characters, at least in this incarnation. The fact that I’m getting so sentimental over the ending of a book about Frankenstein leading a team of black-ops monsters is a testament to the power of the creators. May they bring life to these characters once again in the days and years to come.

FASHION BEAST #5 — An interesting enough pair of encounters in the two scenes, but as soon as we are promised something more substantive, the page count slams the door. Serialization of the screenplay loses again! At least the colors were pretty. I bet that next issue is a serious bit of business.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #12 — And so this title comes to the end of its first year. I’ve found every aspect appealing. Of course the art has been dynamite, no matter who’s been throwing it down, but the real star of the show has been Brian Wood guiding a younger, less experienced barbarian through an affair with the first true love he’s ever known, doing fine work straddling the line between action, dialogue and narrative captions that are evocative of Howard’s original prose. It’s been popular to dump on this comic because Conan hasn’t been such a relentless hardass destroyer for one-hundred percent of the time, but I’ve enjoyed seeing some chinks in his armor and found them believable given the timeframe of the story. I have elected to discuss the arc of this series as a whole rather than focus on the specific issue at hand because what happens within is, while not surprising, still executed to such heartbreaking effect that I really don’t want to talk about it. They did a really good job, made me very sad.

SAGA #9 — I don’t know if Vaughan’s just striking a tone with which I’m more and more attuned or if maybe I’m just not as into the protagonist family, but I thought this issue was just about perfect. The dynamic between The Will and Gwendolyn and Lying Cat is immediate greatness. I could really hang with just a series about them, which is of course the mark of a great ensemble drama, once you start having all these wonderful mini-narratives tucked inside. Which of course, we have in spades with Slave Girl’s ability to home in on the main characters. Am a big fan of The Will quoting Kirby while getting strangled by that last member of Sextillion Loss Prevention. Really could have done without Gwendolyn invoking Marko to no one in particular not once, but twice. Maybe more acceptable if we don’t definitively know that she’s his ex-fiancé but since we do, it’s just tiresome. But I’m quibbling about the only flaws detectable in an ocean of wonderful. Fiona Staples blows it up as usual. I still don’t get the uniform adoration this title’s been getting, but it is a consistently enjoyable read and I’m looking forward to the next issue more than ever.

ALL-NEW X-MEN #6 — I greeted this issue’s arrival with some amount of trepidation, thrilled for Austin local David Marquez to receive the level-up from drawing Bendis’s ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN to this one, which, I’m not 100% but seems like the first issues were not only the top of the chart for Marvel but they outsold everything else, as well. And Marquez has a hell of an act to follow. As I’ve made no bones about below, the first arc of this title is one of the best stories set upon Graymalkin Lane in years, and the pages turned in by Immonen/von Grawbadger/Gracia are some of the most beautiful on the rack. But any concern I had felt was completely misplaced, our boy shows up and knocks it out of the park right away. Bendis is nice enough to provide him with a nightmare sequence to open things up, so that by the end of the second page, we’ve seen Cyclops & Magneto and feral Wolverine has stabbed teen Jean Grey through the neck. And it looks gorgeous! The following interaction between Jean and Kitty and Ororo is probably my favorite in this series, which has put character moments first from the get-go. The deal with teen Scott stealing Logan’s chopper is a nice inversion from the first Singer flick. Is that a LOCKE & KEY Easter egg when Scott first heads into town? Page Eleven, Panel Two, that looks more than a little bit like Scot Kavanaugh and Kinsey Locke in the parking lot, there. And, again, tremendous work from Gracia, locking down serious continuity between Marquez inking his own work and the fellas who started us off on those first five issues. Highly recommended. Such a tremendous feeling to be loving a regular X-Men title this much again. I didn’t realize how badly I still needed these stories to be great.

DAREDEVIL #22 — Waid handles the Superior Spidey cross-over with his usual deft hand at characterization, both men act and react to one another exactly the way we would expect them to. The bit about the folding bills is another great bit of real-world minutiae Waid drops in that succeeds in making the reader understand just how many everyday facets of real life we take for granted that are completely different for not just Matt, but everyone else who shares his handicap. Um. The art is really good, too. Again. I’m kind of running out of nice things to say about this book. It lives up to the hype?

BEST OF WEEK: THE NEW AVENGERS #2 — Okay, so this is my new favorite series. It’s not that much of a shock, given the talent involved, I mean, you expect these guys to completely blow the doors off when they get together, but I guess it’s just the venue? I just wasn’t expecting what has been the ancillary spinoff title, the B-team to the A-listers over in the main title, to come with this much nuclear firepower. These guys are operating at a level so far above everything else that’s happening in a monthly title, it would almost be ridiculous, but it’s being played with such a straight face that the gravity of the situation is almost unbearable. Only two issues in, this feels so much more important than just about everything that’s gone before in the 616, Galactus be damned. In this hyper-jaded age of big events neverendingly tumbleweeding into one another, summer after summer, year after year, with a spiffy new cross-company branding moniker bridging the gap in between, pulling this off should be impossible. And yet.

It takes a full two issues to even set up the drastic scope of the situation. Which I won’t belabor here. Really, everyone should just read these. The first issue is an immaculately rendered episode in Wakanda that is perfectly compelling on its own until it, without indication or advance notice of any kind, suddenly tumbles into the greatest threat that our heroes have ever faced, one that will force Earth’s mightiest heroes to make an impossible decision in secret that will forever damn them in their own eyes, if they are even successful and manage to save the world. Is genocide on a planetary scale ever an acceptable alternative? What if five guys say it is and Steve Rogers won’t bend? That kind of thinking, these seven guys working in concert holding five Infinity Gems with Xavier’s still hidden, the secret having died with him . . . my mind is reeling and we’ve barely gotten started. Highly highly recommended to one and all. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


ACTION COMICS #16—Pretty wonderful out-of-left-field first scene here in the penultimate issue of the run as we open with adult versions of The Legion of Superheroes risking and in a couple of cases, sacrificing everything to get the founding trio to the last time bubble in order to head back in time and of course Save Everything. Hell of a way to burn the first five pages. Then, it’s all ominous portents and red skies as Lois and Jimmy provide exposition indicating that all of those early-nineties Doomsday death’n’resurrection shenanigans do in fact count in this new continuity, which, leaving aside the conundrum of what that means for the current iterations of Steel and Superboy, not to mention and most importantly, the incorporation of the Super-mullet into New 52 continuity, we head back into the near-future when Superman is getting his ass handed to him by the Anti-Superman Revenge Squad, I think we’re calling them? until loyal Krypto shows up to terrify villain and reader alike. I was looking for a follow-up to the Smallville era of the three-part time-trap from last issue, but I guess he just killed Ma and Pa and that’s it? Going to have to jam through all of these again before next month. The Fisch/Sprouse Legion back-up is crisp excellence.
Miller Says: I have no idea what is going on in this comic book. Why is Krypto so mad?

DETECTIVE COMICS #16—After only three issues, this title turns into a potentially thankless gig for the new creative team of John Layman and Jason Fabok. They’ve got to fall in synch with a line-wide crossover featuring the Joker cranking his malevolence up to the next level yet again. Even more unfortunately, it’s not like this is a book starring Dick Grayson or Barbara Gordon, with a little bit of room to play around. These guys have to engage us with the adventures of Bruce Wayne while he’s attempting to manage all of the chaos, but they’ve also got to work not to contradict or crowd the arguably central narrative that Snyder/Capullo are relating over in the eponymous title. While still remaining entertaining over here. It’s a rough set-up, creatively speaking, but these gifted creators stick a perfect landing, giving us a self-contained story highlighting all the copycat gangs running amok that maintains the more procedural tone that this title’s name implies. We also get an eight-page backup with Andy Clarke on art that further entrenches Emperor Penguin as a formidable foe who will no doubt advance to center-stage in this title whenever we’re done wondering who Joker’s going to kill next.

ANIMAL MAN #16—How is it already Part Four of these? This event is roaring right by. Bold move of Lemire to take out Green Arrow in flashback there on the second page. So much for taking over that one with #17. The Green Lantern power battery hidden inside the Daily Planet globe is an inspired choice. Though I’m a little unclear on how old Medphyll managed to use his ring to just annihilate the decomposed soldiers of The Rot. Pretty rough going with Maxine, there, painful to watch. Full marks to the team of Timothy Green II and Joseph Silver blending the art style on the flashback scenes with what Steve Pugh’s rocking on the present-tense business. Seamless work all around. And, whoa, Flash just takes out Constantine. Lemire doesn’t care! This ending is a fantastic blend with the opening of SWAMP THING and further reinforces this reading order I’ve been rocking since their respective first issues.

SWAMP THING #16—This issue’s second page immediately answers the first question that popped into my head over there at the end of ANIMAL MAN. Where’s Superman? I guess there will be no Kryptonian ex machina-type plot resolutions coming down the pike this crossover. Yanick Paquette and Nathan Fairbairn’s work continues to stun, just when you think they can’t crank it up any higher, they manage. I’m a fan of Man-Batgirl. Girl-Bat? The terminology doesn’t quite survive the leap. Of course Bruce left a tape with a plan. A bat-bot armed with weaponized bio-restorative formula. Naturally. Perfect and classic. I didn’t need to know right away that Batman was lying about the devices planted in Freeze, Croc, and Woodrue’s necks, wouldn’t have minded hanging out with that ambiguity for a few pages or forever. Alec powering up with Bane’s venom delivery system is also a really nice touch. And a suitably macabre ending. I don’t see how she’s getting out of that one, Dr. Holland.

BEST OF WEEK: STAR WARS #1—I’ve been really really looking forward to this since the afternoon it was announced, even had to call a couple of people and scream the news at them over the phone right away. Recruiting Brian Wood—who has proved so adept over the years at strong character work that makes you immediately empathize with brand-new protagonists during their first and in many cases only appearance in a given issue (see: DEMO, LOCAL)—to craft the adventures of the Rebel Alliance versus the Empire in the days immediately following the Battle of Yavin, that’s such a jackpot combination of premise and creative talent. Months of expectation leading into this, even further heightened by this beautiful Alex Ross cover. And this first issue, with one ruinous exception, completely delivers. The voices of the characters who we know so well are not only intact, but positively sing. You can hear the 1977 incarnations of Hamill, Fisher, and Ford delivering their lines, which goes a long way toward making this right away feel like the most in-canon experience one could possibly have in this universe via any other form of non-cinematic medium. "Out here, I'm just Leia," is a perfect perfect character beat. Moreover, we’ve already got several intriguing seeds of long-arc plot to come. Leia running a black-ops Shadow Council within the Rebellion in order to root out a spy or find a planet to set up the new base is a tremendous idea, even if there is zero suspense as to who she might recruit to join her. The Vader angle is even better, I love the idea of him not knowing who he is and just now feeling initial rumblings, the stirring of familiarity from that name, Skywalker. Just a hell of a ret-con. Lots of solid groundwork laid here. Also, an interesting little aside, Mon Mothma’s reference to it seeming like the stormtroopers were coming out of a factory sent me down a whole tangent, because of course the Rebels would know that the Stormtroopers are just later-gen clone soldiers, right? That seems apparent. But her comment makes it seem like there’s no way that’s going on. Which makes sense if you remember the actual premise of this: Only EPISODE IV counts. Of course, there’s no EMPIRE or JEDI, but you know what? Even better? There’s also no prequel trilogy. No midichlorians or Gungans or even dozens and dozens of episodes of Clone Wars. These characters are being written like none of that happened. Even if it takes place in their past. And I think that’s pretty swell.

I should mention the art. Fine work from Carlos D’Anda and Gabe Eltaeb, who manage to perfectly straddle the line between making the characters resemble the actors without venturing so far over into uncanny or ghastly photorealism that they sacrifice dynamic motion or energy within the panel. I had some concern about that after making my way through forty issues of Jeanty over on the eighth season of BUFFY from this very publisher, but all is well here on that score. The only reason this isn’t a five-star slab of sequential perfection for me boils down to one word. “Literally.” Of course, it’s nothing more than a pet-peeve, but I am so. Damn. Sick of everyone saying “literally” all the time. It’s very much a twenty-first century malapropism, in the same way that “awesome” and “epic” are. It doesn’t even mean anything anymore. Just subtract it from your sentence and not only does your sentence mean the same thing, it’s invariably stronger. I was pretty bummed to see Wood fire one off in the very first panel of this issue. But, you know, it wasn’t a dealbreaker. One got by, that’s cool. Everything else was so spot-on, I was more than willing to make allowances for my own peccadilloes and just roll with it. But then Mon Mothma says it. And then the narration drops a third one toward the end. Talking about Darth Vader. Is it more imposing for the dread Lord of the Sith to make his officers shake with fear or literally shake with fear? Terrible terrible, I don’t understand how a writer with as much experience as Wood, who is so prolific and obviously gifted at his craft can allow three “literally”s to creep into the script of the very first issue of a project of this magnitude. The second one snapped me out of it pretty bad, but the third just had me heckling the pages. Which nobody wants. A disappointing flaw in an otherwise superlative issue.

THE SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #1—It’s pretty good, man. Slott negotiates every beat of OttoParker’s first issue with all the professional acumen and finesse that we’ve come to expect and Stegman/Delgado show up with an energetic style that is reminiscent of Ramos’s hyperkinetic manga-heavy imagery but dialed back just a bit in terms of overemphasized cartooning, a balance that works perfectly for me. This is compelling material. Doctor Octopus has certainly never been more interesting, and I find myself invested in what’s he’s going to do next, how he’s going to straddle the line between who he was and who he’s become. I completely understand why Slott/Wacker elect to give us the last-page reveal this first issue out, before this title bleeds thousands of readers over the course of the next few weeks or months, but it might have been cooler to dole it out just a little bit more, allude to it with a few out-of-character actions of mercy for Otto before going with the full reveal at the end of #5 or #6, wherever the first arc falls. Kudos to the entire creative team, this is already one of the most entertaining Spidey stories in recent memory, and we must remember that it’s really been a hell of a ride since Wacker came on-board.

FANTASTIC FOUR #3—The fifth installment in Fraction’s run is fairly boilerplate FF, meaning we’ve got Ben being grumpy, Johnny playing pranks, Reed lying by omission For The Good Of The Family, Sue saving the day when it really counts and proving for the 593rd time that she’s really the most powerful member of the team, and an unstable planet that looks like an enjoyable New Year’s Day AM field trip but turns out to be nothing more than a “planetary lure for a cosmic predator star-sized consciousness.” Just another day in the life.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


NEW AVENGERS #1—Memento mori. “Remember your mortality,” or literally “Remember to die” in the future imperative. Old Hickman is certainly opening up his sister title here with something a bit weightier than just what the hell Luke Cage and Jessica Jones and friends are getting up to.  He builds on a single page way back from that first Bendis/Maleev ILLUMINATI special when T’Challa bails after telling the rest of them that they are getting too big for their britches. We actually get that page in flashback sepia, which I really appreciate because have really not been carrying that one around with me all this time, and then open with a scene that it looks like serves as a catalyst for a reversal of that opinion. And it is The Business. During that brief sojourn in Wakanda toward the end of the FF run, Hickman seemed to immediately have so much fun with both king and country itself that you really wanted him to go back and explore that territory a bit further, and it looks like he’s doing exactly that with this title. Former FF collaborators Steve Epting & Rick Magyar return to the fold with Frank D’Armata on colors to illustrate the story of three of Wakanda’s best and brightest coming of age and the horrible consequences that result. This is basically one of the tightest plotted and beautifully rendered Black Panther issues that I’ve ever experienced and it’s just the very beginning of what’s on the horizon. Don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed Hickman’s graphic design madness more than when he answers to the question “Who answers the call of desperate men?” herein. This kind of reading is immediately addictive and kind of wants to ruin you.

ALL-NEW X-MEN #5—Well, it’s official. In a single arc, Bendis/Immonen/von Grawbadger/Gracia have produced the most memorable and entertaining X-Men arc I’ve read since at least Whedon/Cassaday finally finished up over on ASTONISHING, and frankly, this gives even that a run for its money right out of the gate. They make the return of Jean Grey (albeit the teenage version from long before the adjective “uncanny” became synonymous with “serial mutant soap/space opera”) not the exercise in tedium that it should be by now but instead quite a riveting character study of someone thrown into a terrible situation, having to process all of the awful business that the Marvel 616 has had to throw at Jean Grey since she boarded that shuttle with Peter Corbeau and the X-Men way back in the summer of 1976, our time. While Teen Marvel Girl takes center-stage this issue, Bendis remains completely in control of his ensemble, a conductor with an intimate understanding of his orchestra’s nuances and capabilities. Once again, every single character interaction is pitch-perfect, including and especially those featuring the founding members who have made it to the present and are able to interact with their younger counterparts. And all of this while not only embracing all the convoluted Avengers vs X-Men big event madness that has come before but actually letting that plot drive these mutants toward reactions, emotions, and dialogue that never rings false and remains totally consistent with characters who some of us have been reading about for decades. The art is also nothing less than A-list, Immonen and von Grawbadger’s lines rendered in Gracia’s evocative palette that manages to be breathtaking while not totally drowning out the narrative with its gorgeous lush tones. The Jean Grey double-page splash montage alone, my God. If I was the editor trying to find the colorist for this and Laura Martin wasn’t available, I can’t imagine what a godsend Marte Gracia must have seemed like. An indispensible title in the new Marvel stable. I feel like I’m home, home at last after all these years, and even though Logan changed the name to The Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, this is the place where I’ve spent so many months and months and months with characters I adore, watching them live and fight and love and die, all the while training to make themselves the best they can possibly be.

DAREDEVIL: END OF DAYS #4—Just when we can’t up the stakes any more on how bleak and horrible this future really is, they drop the Presidential ticket there on the first page. The Falcon’s veep is Norman Osborn. I guess that’s about right. If it was Harry, none of this would be happening. As absurdly high as this all-star creative team of Bendis/Mack/Janson/Sienkiewicz/Hollingsworth has already raised the bar for themselves with the first three issues, they go us one better right out of the gate with Ben Urich’s keen analyzation of Bullseye’s crime scene, which is a such a meticulous and well-conceived reflection of the former’s character, it almost makes you weep for the horrible bastard. So damn perfect. Fortunately Alex Maleev is on-hand to jostle Urich’s powers of observation honed by a lifetime of slogging through the shit of the 616. And then Turk. I was surprised by how good it was to see him. I’m glad he got his own place. But that last scene. I’m not going to just recap it here because you really have to experience it, but clearly the word “Mapone” is a weapon, right? If the cover to next issue is any indication, it triggers a death-wish for everyone who has thus far heard it. I can’t imagine what set of circumstances could weaponize two syllables to that extent amongst such a varied group of individuals but am completely confident that this team is going to deliver an answer that provides impossible satisfaction. I just hope we all survive the experience.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #8—Spectaular. Nuclear. It’s all been building to this since the first issue, and these pages are from the get-go some of the most scratch-your-eyes-out balls-to-the-wall insanity ever visited upon this shallow mortal plane. I feel like even attempting to summarize the contents of this issue will get me institutionalized by the Google Police or that maybe just running through it all will be the last thing to trigger the spell and I really will scratch my eyes out. I barely made it through the issue. Three times. But, um . . . highlights, maybe? Quick flashes for all of our sakes. Yes, let’s.

1) Nehebu’s hieroglyphic speech is a treasure but I’m struggling with the translation. That second character on Page 2, Panel 2 is an “n,” but there don’t seem to be English alphabet equivalents to the ankh and the dude with one arm raised. AS unlikely as it is, I’m positive this was covered during Hickman’s panel at MorrisonCon and it just hurts my heart.
2) Retasking complete? Who will draw the next 70-something issues of MORNING GLORIES now? He just had a BAY-bee! And THE STUFF OF LEGEND? And, oh shit, this very book?!?!? I guess rumors of a fill-in on the next couple issues are making all kinds of since now. Poor Hickman.
3) An Einstein/Feynman bro enforcer arc would be the best thing ever.
4) Having Yuri & Laika pump up Wernher for the suicide mission is I guess the best thing until the Einstein/Feynman bro enforcer arc.
5) FDR: A.I.’s employment of “horseradish” as an epithet is truly one for the ages.
6) I think Feynman on that last page is standing in for every single reader and maybe even creator there with that reaction to the preceding twenty-four pages. Jesusfuck. And Infinite Oppenheimers ever looming.

PROPHET #32—The first Brandon Graham-less issue of this title is released and, you know I wasn’t really worried, but the quality level doesn’t plummet like you might fear. Simon Roy produces this entire thing by himself aided only by Ed Brisson on letters and it’s yet another origin story, this time of Brother John Ka, a female version of the Prophet clone whose nomenclature apparently does not bow before gender. It’s a fairly straightforward tale with the mad science fiction we’ve come to expect seasoned by a liberal dose of social commentary vis a vis a cloning technocracy vs alpha-based primitives topped off by a nice character moment that I was hoping for but doubted was actually coming. And yet again, another soldier is folded into the band. This book is very exciting, providing serious amounts of mind-bending science pulp month in and month out while organically building toward something greater, accruing narrative weight all the while. This past year, anybody who wants to snort about the way Liefeld draws feet, I just tell them I’m real real grateful to the man for hiring these guys and the ones next book down to relaunch his properties, because these are some consistently damn good comics right here and that is not something that should ever be taken for granted.

GLORY #31—These boys really kick it into high gear here with the whole damn family. Gloriana and her beleaguered troupe finally come face-to-face with her father and the result is far more culinary than everything up to now would lead you to expect. Nanaja continues to steal every scene she’s in with blacked-out curse words even more deadly than all her predatorial fighting acumen (she breaks off seven alone on her first page this issue, possibly a record?). And Ulises Farinas proves more than up to the formidable challenge of dropping in on the middle of all this madness to pencil and ink an eight-page flashback scene with series regular Ross Campbell showing back up at the end to deliver a last page that’s downright cathartic after all of that breakfast nook conversation. At least one character won’t be delivering so much dialogue next month.

FATALE #11—And now, the Brubaker/Phillips/Stewart triumvirate eases back a little and makes themselves comfortable. This is suddenly not a mini-series, or even a collection of mini-series but a monthly. I presume this puts both CRIMINAL and INCOGNITO on indefinite hiatus? That kind of hurts, especially when you think about how much CRIMINAL would have potentially linked across the family dynasties and really opened up by now with another eleven issues in the can, but you know, you’ve got to go where the muse takes you and I’ve certainly enjoyed every issue of this series, as well. This issue is our first stand-alone of three and very reminiscent of those old CREEPY and EERIE EC Comics, I was already thinking, before Brubaker was good enough to cite for me right there in his text-piece. As usual, these guys mine themes and tropes that have been done to death a thousand times and somehow make them sing anew. I mean, if you describe the plot of this story, not really that incredible, seen it all before, but it’s all in the execution here. Masters of their craft. Looking forward to experiencing whatever horror they mined next month. Or for Brubaker to announce a new different series. That would actually be hilarious, suddenly a Borges story, the same creators tunneling down a never-ending series of trapdoors, going on and on, starting new series after new series, never to return to complete any of them. Actually the Borges version of that story would probably be a description of the unwritten final issues of all those series. Okay, I’m going to go write that now.

AMERICAN VAMPIRE #34—We head into this book’s hiatus with a stand-alone featuring a couple of relations to characters with whom we’re already familiar. Good Will Bunting’s nephew Gene pays a visit to Felicia Book’s mother Abilena and gets shot full of dimes for his trouble. It’s all perfectly ominous and there’s a short-term prophetic vision that saves someone’s life, but the real payoff this issue is Rafael Albuquerque’s magnificent double-page splash follow-up to the first vision, a montage of characters we know doing things that we haven’t yet seen that is rendered as beautifully as anything within this title’s three-year run and is surely enough to whet readers’ collective appetite until Snyder/Albuquerque/McCaig come roaring back after they get a few issues in the can. It’s exciting to hear this being discussed as a halfway point, it’s honestly never even occurred to me that this thing was ever going to end, but if the storytellers are actively steering the narrative toward a set ending, you know it’s going to be spectacular. Old Scott Snyder has had just a hell of a run at DC these last three years, I suppose it was a good thing there was a shop like Vertigo up and running where he could squeeze his head in the door, there.

JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #15—The arrival of Ray Fawkes as co-writer probably signals the beginning of the end for Jeff Lemire’s run, while Mikel Janin & Jeromy Cox’s art remains as clean and beautiful as ever, though still quite a stylistic departure for this stable of Vertigo expatriates (with the exception of Amy Reeder Hadley over on MADAME XANADU, this is actually right in-line with that, stylistically). This run has been entertaining enough, though not quite as devastating as I’d hoped when Lemire took the reins with the announcement that these were his favorite characters to read about as a teen. The adventure component is fine, the plot moving along and enough quippy quips, but it’s been a little light on the in-depth character work that Lemire pours into his graphic novels and SWEET TOOTH and even ANIMAL MAN.

FLASH #15—We open with some strong pages with art by Marcus To, Ryan Winn, and (I presume) Ian Herring. The last time To filled in, he did just fine living up to the very high bar set by this title’s regular art department, but it he raises his game a bit here. Really clean lines. But that’s all set-up for an extraordinary sequence of an unconscious Barry activating his “Speed Mind” and flash-forwarding through a myriad of possibilities as to how the battle with Grodd’s occupying army will play out. And you really have to see it to believe it, feels like I’ll have to burn a thousand words even barely beginning to do this justice, but the short version is that the composition and panel layout on this eight-page run of double-page spreads can hang with the deepest sickness that Williams or Quitely has to offer. We follow three lightning-bolt-shaped threads of probability crackling out of Barry’s mind, colored yellow, red, and blue. These are all no-dialogue montage shots averaging eight to twelve panels each per double-page spread and illustrating the eventual outcome of various tactics and ending when first Barry dies, then Patty dies, then finally when it looks like we might have a workable strategy. The very best part, though, it hit me there on that third double-page splash, right before I turned the page, was that we hadn’t yet seen this issue’s title page sequence and this entire thing, in addition to being an incredible visual depiction of a recent addition to Barry’s powers set, also serves the function of being the most badass glorious lead-up to this issue’s most innovative way yet to work the work our heroes name into the art. This business would have brought a tear to Will Eisner’s eye.

BEST OF WEEK: BATMAN INCORPORATED #6—With every issue, the circle closes and the end nears. I’m wild about this issue’s double-reversal on last month claiming suddenly that Damian isn’t the Third Batman, but oh by the way, here’s a kitty-cat who trusty old Pennyworth just rescued from the animal shelter. That two-panel bit where the cat takes a swipe at Damian, the surprise on the kid’s face followed by the look of love/trust/empathy in the next panel when he names him Alfred and potentially confirms and sets in motion all of the events from the #666 timeline first seen in July 2007, well, let’s just say that it was the very threshold of what I was able to bear at two in the morning in the great state of Texas. Not even counting Bat-Cow closing out the page with a resounding moo. But the real centerpiece of the issue is Talia maneuvering her detective through his paces accompanied by ten stages of understanding the parable of the Zen goatherd. The ninja man-bats versus the Iron Batmen was a particularly nice touch, I thought. And oh right, the Oroboro, Otto Netz’s perpetual energy source. There’s kind of so much shit going on here, it’s easy to lose track of a few things. And then it just . . . it all goes really wrong. I simultaneously don’t know if I can handle six more installments of this and am so wrecked that it’s going to be over.