BATMAN INCORPORATED #7 — All right, I totally missed that ninja-ManBat swooping our guy up into the upper right corner of the first page the first two times I read this. Though I still love the layout. Beryl’s stuttering dialogue is really rough going, and I mean from an emotional standpoint not one of comprehension. And then Damian and Alfred. Man. It is a shame that the world is likely ever only going to get two or three dozen more panels of them exchanging Morrison-scripted dialogue. Every line is so perfect at this point. We’ve come so far. And oh but hell. That enforcer fellow reminiscent of a Middle Eastern Bane being a Damian clone is another lunatic twist of perfection that is of course painfully obvious in hindsight. I thought Tim was toast. But is Jason, really? Are we supposed to come away with that impression? It didn’t even occur to me the first pass through but then later on I saw something about a hero dying this issue. If so, almost a hilarious lack of fanfare worthy of this permutation. That Ellie-Bird lady who got away, let’s not forget her, she’ll surely have some pivotal role to play. The shot of Bat-Cow and Ace and Alfred the Cat huddled up in a nap is a glorious homage to Baltazar’s Super-Pets, hard to handle. Again, Damian and Alfred take it on that last scene, such incredible chemistry. And good hustle to Jason Masters for rising to the rough rough challenge of pinchhitting for Burnham on a scant three pages and doing a more than reasonable facsimile of his style. Don’t want this to end. But can’t wait.
BEST SINGLE OF THE WEEK: BATMAN AND ROBIN ANNUAL #1 — Tomasi and the usual crew of Gleason/Gray always deliver entertaining slices of interaction between Damian Wayne and his father but in this annual, Tomasi brings in Adrian Syaf and Vincent Cifuentes to help produce an issue that is not only the best single of the week but one of the best done-in-ones I can recall reading for quite some time. The conceit is forehead-slappingly obvious in hindsight. Damian rigs a global scavenger hunt for his father, sending him gallivanting around the world to uncover fairly seismic bits of evidence pertaining to Bruce’s parents that he has remained ignorant of his entire life. While Bruce is out of town, though, Damian has the run of Gotham and doesn’t waste any time, setting an alarm for sunset and rampaging around the city all through the night, running afoul of criminal and cop alike. Thus, we have a compelling juxtaposition of the maniac assassin-trained sidekick running amok with as much pure unfettered joy as you might expect a ten-year-old to express in that situation opposite very well written and thought-out character moments from Bruce’s early childhood or the days of his parents’ marriage before he was born. And Alfred breaks out his Shakespeare costume and takes another ride on the boards of the Globe theater, most of which is left off the page but conjured in our imaginations to glorious effect. I really really love this story, find it thrilling but am also ridiculously proud of Tomasi for hitting a new high with such a tremendous character. Top drawer work, all around.
FLASH #16 — Damn, you wouldn’t think the art on this book could get any better and then here comes the first page. And the next two pages. And why stop there? It just keeps happening! Manapul & Buccellato continue their high-velocity rampage with no signs of slowing down. One of the best looking books on the rack but with enough narrative heft and character work to back up all that beauty.
JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #16 — Janin’s lush work took a dip on this one, I can’t believe some of these pages weren’t a fill-in. The deadline crush! It does one’s heart good to have Frankenstein’s adventures continue within these pages. Constantine involuntary blurting the truth is a clever idea that it seems should be played to more humorous effect. Humourous? I do like the new secret origin of the Books of Magic, that works. And that is one gorgeous last page.
OZYMANDIAS #5 — An elegant bit of retconning here, Wein corrects a major plot point that he found objectionable over twenty-five years ago. He found the similarity between Moore’s answer to why the Comedian was killed (because someone wants to perpetrate the greatest hoax in the extant history of civilization and use a giant fake alien squid to prevent Armageddon and unite humanity) and an old episode of THE OUTER LIMITS just a bit too close for comfort and insisted that Moore dig deeper and change it. Of course, Alan wasn’t having it and Wein wound up walking off the title as editor sometime around #10. All this time later, Wein winds up writing the autobiography of this title character and comes up with the reasonably organic solution of having him scour the annals of popular culture for inspiration and just straight up happening upon that very episode. This is the second BW retcon in as many weeks that I’m totally on-board with, which I certainly did not see coming this time last year. It also makes total sense that the majority if not all of the tech advances are brought about through Adrian surreptitiously co-opting Dr. Manhattan’s abilities. And the cover to this one is brilliant.
THE UNWRITTEN #45 — We take a break and check in with Savoy, who really isn’t that bad of a guy, still. Worth it for the page of misspelled zombie fiction by the twelve-year-old alone, good night, I lost about five minutes there, laughing my ass off on the couch.
MARA #2 — Mm, maybe Wood has just spoiled me with THE MASSIVE but I come away from this one with the same feeling that I did from the first one. The art’s very pretty and the story is somewhat intriguing, but this one isn’t delivering enough punch to justify picking it up in singles, particularly with this cliffhanger being such a miniscule escalation on we got last issue. I will gladly pay half-price for this trade the first time I see it on the shelves of Half Price Books.
GLORY #32 — Beautiful damn cover. And then that first panel is something special, as well, I’ve got to say. But then I was sorry to see that this was a jam issue, really dig Campbell on interiors. I should have had more faith, Owen Gieni’s style is a great fit for Riley, but then Emi Lenox dropping in on Henry is suddenly the greatest most wonderful thing ever, all through the lense of a vintage camera and looming death. Though I don’t recognize that Question ripoff there in the next scene. Nanaja + The Baby wants to be its own one-shot spinoff. Checking in with everyone for Last Moments scenes wound up being a cool way to pad an art-jam issue and hopefully give Campbell enough lead-time to bring this baby home. Awesome last page.
HAWKGUY #7—Fraction and Hollingsworth bring in Lieber for a Very Special Superstorm issue and of course it’s got as much heart and emotional weight as you expect from this crackerjack creative team. Clint continues to not be an Avenger and help one of his neighbors get his dad and all that’s left from his dead mother out of his house before ceding the back half of the issue to Katie-Kate, who has her own Jersey wedding adventure, that phrase pretty much saying it all. As much as I adore Aja on this series, we’re in a pretty good place when the fill-in guy is able to drop possibly the most iconic shot of Miss Bishop thus far, that last solo panel when she turns and hollers “Jersey rules!” And of course the last page is perfection. Clint and Kate are already close to my favorite relationship in comics at this point. Not counting Damian and his dad. And Damian and Alfred. Rubbing my hands together in gleeful anticipation of how this crew might fold Noh-Varr into the situation in light of that first scene from Team Phonogram’s YOUNG AVENGERS.
AVENGERS #4 — It’s always good fun to ignore the solicits and then find an A-lister like Adam Kubert on one of your favorite titles one fine Wednesday morning. With that opening arc behind us, Hickman zooms out to a relatively ancillary C-team, the back six of eighteen, you could say, as they deal with the arrival of a sixth origin bomb at the Savage Land. But the real meat of this issue is the secret origin of Hyperion, which, I can’t tell if we’re rebooting it here or just streamlining Gruenwald’s deal with the original SQUADRON SUPREME or cleaning up JMS’s MAX version, though I strongly doubt the latter to be the case. Regardless of whether this is an ultimatized continuity or a brand new one, the point is that our Superman analogue is not the most stable of fellows and a timebomb that will in all likelihood detonate at a most inopportune moment, I’m going to guess sometime around #11. Which will probably be out by like the end of March, the pace we’re running, here. This is the first issue of the run in either title that I felt could have used a little bit more meat on it to justify the price-point, but you know, Hickman and Kubert on AVENGERS, I guess they’re wearing me down on that $4/20pgs thing over time but that still makes plenty of sense.
BEST OF WEEK: THE ONE TRICK RIP-OFF & DEEP CUTS — It isn’t really fair to compare this to other books that came out this week. What we have here is nearly three hundred pages of early Paul Pope, beginning with a graphic novel that I believe was serialized in a dozen or so issues of DARK HORSE PRESENTS that Bob Schreck commissioned after reading something Pope self-published at Comic-Con ’93. Those were the days. The kicker is that these twenty-year-old pages have been newly colored by Jamie Grant, one of the very best colorists in the industry, which is the best news I ever could have received from the Table of Contents. I’ve only managed to track down a single later issue of THB, so that until now 100% and HEAVY LIQUID have been the earliest look I’ve had at Pope’s development. And you can see how this right here is the work of a young man, the momentum and narrative energy of the thing carry you right on through from the first page. But it’s wild how developed Pope’s idiosyncratic style already is at the age of twenty-three. Of course he kept evolving all though his twenties, and naturally continues to do so, but so much of what is unique to his work is already there, mostly or fully formed: the way he draws those brash confident faces or lips that can pucker into a seemingly endless succession of expressions, the obsession with international cuisine and Indian food in particular, the frenetic camera work that rockets you right through an action scene and then slows down and zooms out for wide-open panoramic landscapes . . . I’ve always really loved the guy’s work but don’t think I’ve been afraid of him until now.
And that’s not even discussing the 160 pages of shorts that comprise the back two-thirds of this thing. A couple are only single-pagers while others stretch out to almost forty pages long, but it’s fascinating to watch his development over the course of eight years from Columbus to Toronto to Tokyo manga immersion and winding up in New York City, the only logical conclusion for an artist whose vision is a unique synthesis of Kirby and Moebius and manga and a bunch of other guys I’ve never even heard of, blending American superhero kinetic dynamism with lush and delicate European hyper-detail with the smash-cut action energy of Japanese comics. This is an essential book for any fan of one of the most exciting American artists of his or any generation.