Wednesday, March 27, 2013


BEST OF WEEK: ACTION COMICS #18 — Well, that went right by. After it got off-track from First Week these past couple of issues, I didn’t realize that this finale was coming out this week until the day of, and so it was that I read #s 1-9 from 4:00-5:00 on Wednesday afternoon with a quick break to pick up my child and eat dinner and teach a couple of music lessons and then right back to #s 10-12, 0, 13-17 in another single-sitting blast before cracking open this final issue of the run. It is impossible to overstate the debilitating effect that this had upon me, slamming through the entire thing in such a short amount of time. Though I read each issue at least twice the week that it came out, a unified pass back through the entire run with an awareness of all that is yet to come with the single exception of this issue gave me a far greater appreciation for so many nuances and little callbacks and -forwards, as well as cooking my brain down to a texture that seemed perfect, susceptible and receptive to the final facet of hyper-dimensional madness that had yet to reveal itself. Best example, even when everything starts blurring together in #17, I completely forgot that the scene of Glenmorgan asking The Little Man who turns out to be Vyndkvtx to toast him originally took place on the very first page of #1. That is a high level of long-range planning, my friends. Messed me up pretty good.

Reading all of those pages was a perfect primer to dial right into our beloved protagonist. I was not fresh and rested with a month off in-between the last page of the previous issue and this one but instead reeling under the weight of the sheer totality of all that had come before, every issue from the first day of September 2011 to now, hyper-compressed into a supermassive reading experience. Everything seemed imbued with more resonance and meaning, with all of these hidden connections and references just barely hidden from view streaming back in every direction. Ferlin’s “Mother, how could you?” Didn’t Christopher Reeve ask his Jor-El the same thing during a moment of crisis? And the rebooted Captain Comet tells Drekken to “evolve or die,” quoting Lemire’s first ANIMAL MAN arc, which in turn explicitly referenced Morrison’s incursion onto that continuity twenty-odd years ago. The mind reels at the self-reflexive hyper-madness. 

The ending is as heartfelt and massive in scope and gloriously batshit insane as the grandest Morrison finales (ANIMAL MAN #26, DOOM PATROL #63, JLA #41, THE INVISIBLES vol. 3 #1, NEW X-MEN #154, FLEX MENTALLO #4 well all of FLEX MENTALLO, really, and even ALL-STAR SUPERMAN #12), returning to a well-worn trope we’ve seen in several of these previous final issues: our hero can’t succeed without the entire population temporarily banding together into an elevated super-consciousness in order to provide enough energy to help him overcome his conflict. Wonderful to see the Morrisons and the rest of creative show up on-panel to lend a hand. 

And then it all comes full-circle two pages later when Jimmy tells Superman that it’s impossible to lift Super-Doomsday and Morales recapitulates the image that I was thinking was the cover to #1 but actually even pre-dated that, the first press image that we got for this project and I think even the entire New 52 reboot, the Man of Steel in his jeans and boots and tiny little cape lifting a rock over his head in a display of nothing more or less than brute strength. It's an incredible moment when it returns over a year and a half later as an "impossible" exertion of ultimate effort to save the world.

The inversion there at the end with Mxyzptlk, I had been partially looking for it these past couple of months, wondering if things were going to go this way for the last cliffhanger or two. Any story in which the trickster imp is portrayed sympathetically and doesn’t appear to be the bad guy should be immediately suspect, and that’s certainly the way it looked like it was going to go on that first page of the twist there, that look on Mxyzptlk’s face. But then the not-so-happily-ever-after page? Of course, my noggin was completely cooked by this point, but are we supposed to interpret this as a timeloop? Mxyzptlk and Nyxlygsptlnz become ever after until she dies giving birth to it looks like three children? Mxy keeps the daughter but “can’t bear” the boys. What does this mean, does he cast them out? Are these children actually himself and Nyxlygsptlnz and Vyndkvtx, caught in a perpetual loop of auto-creation and conflict with linear causality that’s not a concern because all of this is taking place in the fifth dimension? It’s testament to how insane this whole thing is that that seems like the most logical reading. Really glad about using the wish to bring Noah Random back, I have to say, his death was certainly a shock and tremendous elevation of stakes for a cliffhanger a few months back but felt like a tonal betrayal of these mythos. The backup was also, as usual, excellent. I was quite curious what kind of a story Fisch/Sprouse/Bellaire were going to choose to tell when faced with the unfortunate task of providing a coda for a run of this sweeping magnitude. Of course the answer is to set it in the future starring a bunch of kids we’ve never met and highlight the immortality of the idea, the ideal of Superman. The best in all of us, choosing to do good not because we have to but because it’s the right thing to do. Hal-la, Kal-El!

WONDER WOMAN #18 — Goran Sudzuka and regular fill-in guy Tony Akins pitch in to get the final issue of this second arc in on time as Orion saves Diana, War saves Zola, and Orion accuses the ensemble of sexism, which is as funny of a way for this to go out as seems possible. Azzarello’s writing this as a Greek soap opera flirting with situational comedy elements, I just realized. Which of course makes Orion the most Special Guest Star of all, ever. I mean, you can almost hear the laugh track after that last line. Really good times.

BATWOMAN #18 — Trevor McCarthy does another good job with the most thankless fill-in gig in the industry. I mean, I can’t even imagine the self-imposed pressure. The layouts are well within the vein of what we’ve come to expect from Mr. Williams, but McCarthy maintains his own style throughout. Guy Major even helps out on colors in a passable riff on what Dave Stewart’s been doing. Narratively, this issue’s got much more meat on it than the individual issues of the previous arc, a nice dynamic with Kate and Bette fighting Mr. Freeze with their own handlers counterpoint yapping away in their earpieces and of course the big guy showing up to ratchet it all up there at the end. I suspect I had to have read CHASE to appreciate the import of the Party Crasher’s arrival on the final page, guess they’ll tell me what I need to know next issue.

CONSTANTINE #1 — All right, I had to check this out because of Lemire’s involvement. Didn’t realize he was co-writing it, but I guess he is spreading himself just a bit thin. This is solid but unremarkable. The first couple pages read like correct Constantine characterization, he’s still a right bastard and strikes the iconic lighting-the-cigarette pose at the bottom of the second page just like he should. I’m not sure the art style Renato Guedes chose is a good fit. It could work just fine in another context but seems odd here, as does the palette, which is much too bright. On the other hand, this is the first non-Vertigo issue of this character’s solo title, so I understand why they didn’t try to coax Dave McKean to come in on interiors. The verdict: this is okay but not compelling enough to pick up in singles, particularly in light of the fact that I was ignoring Milligan’s beloved final run on HELLBLAZER. I can see myself picking up this trade at Half Price Books in a year, though, no problem.

FABLES #127 — More good fun from Willingham and the Fabletown regulars. Nothing really unique to say about this issue. It lives up to all that has come before and I look forward to seeing what happens next month.

CHEW #32 — So much to love about this book. Layman’s inventiveness shows no signs of flagging as we head into the back half of this book and meet a torta-esperado. Or his body, at least. This one’s got another killer montage as Colby finally puts it together about Caesar and Savoy. Of course, the Poyo cameo is once again the greatest thing to be found within these pages. Wonderful to see Tony tell off his boss, particularly the lettering. Almost my favorite thing, though, are the letter-column shots of Layman and Guillory kicking it in Paris.

SAGA #11 — BKV delivers on yet another first-page gotcha. They are having the sex! Tricky reversal on last month’s cliffhanger, but the universe has a way of course-correcting that sort of thing. The cover should have tipped me off. Gorgeous Staples art, as ever.  

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #14 — Lots of pining and walking through the sewer and fightin’. Mirko Colak’s lines continue to be a good fit for this arc, though of course it doesn’t hurt to have Dave Stewart’s colors make it all go down better. In terms of plot, this arc feels like it’s spinning its wheels a little bit, overall. Not much has actually happened in two issues of a three-issue story. And a weird decision to open this issue with a flash-forward showing them all back on The Tigress weeks later, lowering the stakes of the main narrative to almost nothing for no perceptible gain, at least as far as singles are concerned. Really having trouble working that one out.

DAREDEVIL #024 — Another quality issue from this team. Unfortunate, in its way, that this comes out the same week as FABLES. I have about run out of unique positive criticism.

ALL-NEW X-MEN #009 — I remain completely wild for this book. As much as I loved Morrison’s run, it felt like Grant Morrison doing the X-Men. Which is certainly not a bad thing, it was a mad brilliant ride and I was thrilled by every minute of it. Same deal with Whedon & Cassaday tearing it up on their twenty-five issues of ASTONISHING. One of the best runs of the characters I’ve ever read, but it still felt like Whedon & Cassaday Present: The Astonishing X-Men! In this book, Bendis sublimates his voice completely, every repeated call-back dialogue, pause-a-beat-for-rhythm tic that we’ve come to know and that he really codified on his Avengers run after a successful string of solo books, here Bendis buries himself in the characters, is nothing but the channel to what they’re saying and doing. And it feels like coming home. Immonen and Von Grawbadger return with Gracia’s lush tones transitioning us back from Marquez’s good-looking pages and it is a magnificent thing to behold. The facial expression/body language acting is as top-drawer as the panel layouts and composition. And really, very little happened in this issue to push the overall narrative forward, we burned almost half the issue in a Danger Room sequence that was obviously a Danger Room sequence, but the whole thing is such a great ride because it never loses sight of the most important aspect of a successful X-Men book: the character interaction. How they bounce off one another. Kitty Pryde as Headmistress is the most logical and rewarding character promotion since they let Dick Grayson have the cowl for about five minutes there a little while back. And here we are at the other end of the cliffhanger from UNCANNY. Cannot wait to see what happens next.

AVENGERS #008 — If you had told me a year ago that I wouldn’t really be missing Hickman’s FF that badly at all because he was slamming out these two brilliant titles, one of whom featured an 18-member squad making first contact with a new Nightmask and Star Brand, that would have about cooked my hard drive. Though this one is a pleasure to read, not that much happens. Relatively speaking. The Hulk gets punched into orbit and then Captain Marvel throws him right back at the guy who tossed him with hyper-pinpoint accuracy, Thor has a decent round of battle-lust, Tony manages to stay sober for another issue, we get a little mythos exposition on what’s going on here and yeah, it looks like pretty much the Ellis model, and then the two new guys take back to Mars. So, this is two issues from Weaver/Ponsor in three weeks’ time. I sure would like to read the end of that second volume of S.H.I.E.L.D. one day.

NEW AVENGERS #004 — And Cap is just straight dumped from the cast. No stomach for the moral compromises inherent in running a global-scale superhero secret society for the man out of time. Of course, there’s way too much going on to miss him. I feel like I could read an entire issue of Reed, Tony, and T’Challa just talking all smart with one another on the far side of the sun and dropping a lot of bleeding-edge science all over the place. But there’s no time for all that, we get a second incident in as many issues and it’s off to a parallel world in which a giant iron Magneto replaces Lady Liberty on Ellis Island and, for bonus fun, Galactus is about to devour the planet. Tony’s reaction is perfect. The sustained levels of high quality in these two books are getting kind of ridiculous.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


BATMAN #18 — Capullo takes another well-deserved breather, but we keep it A-list with Kubert/Hope and then Maleev on the back end. Just like the last interlude fill-in on #12, this one’s all about Harper Row, who everyone is so certain is just destined to be Robin, I’d say there’s no chance of that happening.  There’s a weird disconnect between the two stories, though. I’ve been back over it and over it and can’t figure out where she gets her nose broken. She seems fine in the last page Kubert drew but then there on the next one by Maleev, her brother’s making reference to getting back at the guy who broke her nose. I like the way they once again threaded the back-up into the main feature to make it a unified narrative, but the title reveal at the end left me a little bit cold. This one manages to be a pretty solid Batman comic and simultaneously the issue of this title that I’ve by far enjoyed the very least.

BEST OF WEEK BY FAR: BATMAN AND ROBIN #18 — And then these guys. I knew it was going to happen, but the Tomasi/Gleason/Gray crew completely nuke every other creative team’s take on the horror. Badly cut me all up open again. I’m ready to move on to another stage of the grieving process. The mark of how good a silent issue is might be measured in how long it takes you to realize that there is no dialogue, how well the story lures you into its rhythms and lulls you into a different reading experience than that to which you are accustomed. It breathes more. There are no balloons obstructing the art. With no words to read, the eye lingers. You stare longer. Time dilates. The entire reading experience expands.

There are so many pristine images of heartbreak packed into this requiem. Bruce Wayne by the fireplace, staring at the palette that will never be slept in again. The naturalistic sketches of a young hand. Who knew he was such an artist? The subjects he chose. The note from Connor recommending literary classics he will never experience. The family portrait that will never be finished. Or seen again. The pole. What can be done about that pole? All of the violence dispensed upon all of those criminals, deserving and un-, that cannot erase the pain, will never fill up the hole. The water that can’t wash anything away. The fallen boy’s last testament. The grieving father holding on tightly, clutching so closely the outfit that defined his son’s identity, the composition of this shot identical to the last page of issue #14 of this title pictured above-left, released just four months ago but now revisited at the climax. It is impossible to fully encapsulate the tragedy of Damian Wayne's death for anyone who has not lived with the character for the past six years and seen him grow from the spoiled aristocrat assassin bastard son of the Batman into a child who is wiser than both of his parents and is arguably the best Robin of all time. But the emotional punch packed in the juxtaposition of these two final pages comes as close as you possibly can.

Bravo, Peter J. Tomasi, Pat Gleason, Mick Gray, John Kalisz, and Taylor Esposito. A finer tribute could not have been composed.

*  *  *  *  *

OZYMANDIAS #6 — This is a pretty strong finish right here. It hadn’t occurred to me this whole time, only hit me when we saw Max Shea that there was only one way that this could end. This one accomplished everything that the Rorschach series didn’t, even though both were diaries, but here we got dialed directly into the mind of one of, if not the, most important characters in the series, and through logical linear explanation of his motives, got a bit of new light shed on the character’s motivations that contradicted nothing from the original. And the original additions made total sense, down to that perfect last line. Fine work, all around.

STAR WARS #3 — These guys are still basically destroying it. There’s not much more to say. That first double-page splash is glorious and hilarious, given what we know, how many years before the station is going to be operational and what an insult it is to be kicked to such a back-water forest moon. So, Luke and Prithi are like doing it on the seven-plot lightspeed jump home? Farm boy got game. But, I mean, it’s so apparent that she’s the mole that there’s no way that can really be the case. I hope? The “Han Solo has a very strong feeling he will not survive this,” caption is golden. This team seems incapable of doing wrong at this point, and they’re still just barely cycling up the engines.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #10 — And I thought this book read fucked up before now. Hickman is officially whack-a-do. This script has the flavor of something written entirely between last call and sunrise in the middle of the nights of 9/29/12 and 9/30/12 in the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas after Morrison gave my man generous helpings of his hash cake. At least that’s how it seems at first, but by the end of the issue, we come to realize that everything makes perfect sense and Hickman is actually Morrison’s Joker, existing in a perpetual state of seething hypersanity, a cauldron from which these ideas have emerged fully formed, though it takes us months to even begin to understand them when presented in linear serial form. As for art, this Ryan Browne fella manages to fill some very big shoes. I mean, when I didn’t recognize the name, I was sure sorry they couldn’t get Darrow or Adams or maybe Quitely if he’s done with MULTIVERSITY by now, okay I’m kidding, but I really did feel like an adulterer admiring the strong clean lines and composition on every one of these pages. This book without Nick Pitarra is like a BATMAN AND ROBIN title where Robin is supposed to be the main character but is actually now dead and/or imaginary. Rough week.

FANTASTIC FOUR #005 — Some kind of perfection that SXSW held me back from reading this issue with Caesar until just after midnight on the Ides. Felt like a really big win when I realized. Fraction creates just a hell of a jawdropping page-turn cliffhanger when he has the Emperor of Rome on the morn of his own assassination quoting the play bearing his name that Shakespeare will write in sixteen centuries’ time. Am always going to remember that one. And what a cool way to introduce a character who’s apparently going to stir up some ripples over in the other book. Still really digging on this ride.

UNCANNY X-MEN #003 — Bendis’s pupil-dilating reign on Marvel’s Merry Mutants continues unabated. Can he be stopped? This one is actually really really good, in exactly the way that I was bitching last week about the crowded Avengers and X-Men ensemble not getting enough character beats, Bendis really knocks it out here. And a fantastic first-page flashback that sets the perfect tone. Can Bachalo please please be drawing the next issue, too?

AGE OF ULTRON #002 — In the hands of anyone other than this art team, that Spider-Man Manhattan Armageddon business might have felt like exposition, but with them is nothing less than heart-stopping, made me feel like a kid getting blown all widescreen open on AUTHORITY back when again. Otherwise, we’re still really just barely cycling up here, feels like Bendis throws it way back into second gear with all these street-level heroes taking up the whole issue. And the page turn before the cliffhanger made me laugh, “Oh oh, this week, boys and girls, Captain America’s going to stand up and say something badass!” At least it wasn’t just a splash-page headshot of him doing same, Mark Millar, we thank you for maintaining your ravenous autohyperbolic distance.

WOLVERINE #001 — I was expecting quite a lot from this creative team. I wasn't crazy about DEMON KNIGHTS, but I really love Paul Cornell’s Luthor run on ACTION COMICS and the gone-before-its-time CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND MI13. Anyone who doesn’t know how much destruction Alan Davis and Mark Farmer have been kicking up these last thirty years has got thousands of pages to catch up on. And Matt Hollingsworth has been killing it for almost as long, going as far back as the first two years of PREACHER and early issues of THE FILTH and but still knocking it out on an almost bi-weekly basis with DAREDEVIL: END OF DAYS and FRACTION LOVES HAWKGUY(, BRO). The instant I heard about this team, I knew that I would be buying my first WOLVERINE #1 since that one John Buscema scribbled out written by a fella name of Claremont. Sure enough, no surprise, these guys deliver a fast-paced in medias res high-stakes adventure that immediately grabs you by the face and melts it and then you heal up and the whole thing keeps happening all over again only this time there’s a little possessed kid body-checking you with a stolen police car. As much love as he gets, Alan Davis has still go to be one of the most underrated draftsmen in the business, a storyteller of the highest caliber. Riveting high-octane business. Only nineteen pages in, this one’s already right at home in there on the list with DAREDEVIL and HAWKEYE for the People Who Don’t Buy Marvel But… Dept.


BEST OF WEEK: NEMO: HEART OF ICE — (coming soon, just too much to write about here alone, never mind all these issues and my birthday/SXSW week, sorry for the cop-out, but here's a peek. It really is BEST OF WEEK, oh my!)

DETECTIVE COMICS #18 — Now, this one made me wish that Editorial was just keeping Morrison’s INCORPORATED run contained in a post New 52 pocket universe of some sort like I assumed was the case, because this issue’s motoring along kicking as much ass as it has since the first issue of the run and then all of a sudden we’ve got to crash to a halt and mourn the dead son, suddenly bringing everything into continuity and making us wonder, okay wait, so this is happening after BATMAN INCORPORATED #8, but the first thing Bruce does is go mess with all the Cobblepot/Emperor Penguin mess? But is Talia/Leviathan still running around? Or does all this take place after Morrison and Burnham are done? I’m usually great at distancing titles from one another, Wolverine can run around with however many crews he likes, but when we’re specifically referencing the Snyder/Capullo thing that just got done crossing over here and then it’s like everything had to pause for the last three months of Morrison/Burnham to happen and now we're back with the Layman/Fabok greatness, only then we finally get the proper Morrison/Burnham aftermath I hope pretty soon, I’m just not really seeing the synergistic gain in fusing all of those stories, it completely interrupted the flow and took me out of the greatness that these guys in this title have been delivering since Page One of #13. Also, while I’m bitching, how dare Mike Marts drop an OMG in a footnote to this august title? I cannot envision Mr. Schwartz accepting this in good conscience and must therefore also condemn such an act.

ANIMAL MAN #18 — This cover has a melodramatic promise to keep! Especially considering what’s gone before. But these guys deliver on all levels, providing almost tidy resolution to all of the madness that has befallen the Bakers thus far. Great to see the thing reversed with Maxine, but then of course, somebody’s got to pay the price. So terrible. And odd synchronistic parallel to what’s unfolding elsewhere in the DC Universe. I won’t go into further specifics, but suffice it to say that Lemire/Pugh/Kindzierski turn in probably the best issue of this volume yet, which is really saying something.

SWAMP THING #18 — And but that’s just the warmup for Snyder/Paquette’s swan song on this title. I barely know how to talk about it. What a stirring, emotional climax, as well earned as it was absolutely heartbreaking. This ranks amongst one of Snyder’s very best scripts. Paquette is a god. I honestly don’t think I can pick up the next issue because I just need this one to be The End so badly. Perfect.

GREEN ARROW #18 — All right, I’m starting to break up a bit, here. Leading off with an hour’s worth of new Alan Moore/Kevin O’Neill business might not have been the call for sustained longevity. Andrea Sorrentino draws real good.

GREEN LANTERN #18 — Wait, didn’t #17 just come out? Was it late? Or is this early? Or they wanted to synch up the Green ______ books because that worked out so well for the Vertigo expatriates? At any rate, we finally tune in to what’s going on with Hal and his buddy SInestro in the death dimension chamber of shadows or wherever with Ardian Syaf and Mark Irwin providing suitably ominous visuals. Though that is some kind of weak cliffhanger, who in their right mind is supposed to feel the least bit of tension or high stakes about that? Unless it’s a joke? Cliffhanger? Do it, Hal! Jump!

RORSCHACH #4 — Rorschach gets the shit kicked out of him by disco. I guess that sounds about right. Lee Bermejo’s work is absolutely glorious in sequentials, we are lucky that he takes the time to produce pages instead of just getting rich off of covers and prints. Azzarello delivers a script that is completely tonally consistent with the in-between Rorschach of its time period, neither Kovacs pre-dead-dog nor the character we encounter on the first page of the original series. But there’s really not enough weight to this narrative, no apparent reason that this story needed to be told (not counting just getting to see Bermejo’s art). It took until the last issue of Cooke’s MINUTEMEN for that one to earn its keep, he and Conner’s SILK SPECTRE was of course perfection from the first page, and I have hopes for the final issues of OZYMANDIAS and COMEDIAN, but this one, while managing to in no way contradict a single shred of extant characterization of this beloved vigilante madman, also doesn’t reveal anything about him that we didn’t already know.

FASHION BEAST #7 — This one definitely left me a bit cold as a single issue. Too much of the camera work is stiff in a way that it either didn’t or I failed to notice earlier on, like Percio’s running out of gas. The static staging felt a bit stiff. Am still interested to see where it’s going to go but am now fairly certain that it would make a much better single-sitting read, as it was originally intended (single-sitting viewing, if you want to split hairs, but same difference).

GLORY #34 — Oh, okay, wow, I didn’t realize this was ending. I mean, I kind of had a feeling, the way it’s been going here, but it was really a shock when a couple of those beloved characters just totally ate it. Keatinge wrings as much emotion out of that camera collection as possible, nice work. The real star of the show here, though, of course, is Ross Campbell, who lays waste to page after page of magnificent battle wreckage. And I love how Keatinge brings back the ripping-off-arms motif again, it started off as almost like a parody of the hyper-violent ultra-gory Image 90s and how that kind of got homogenized into the mainstream a bit by way of the Geoff Johns DCU of the 00s, and that was enough of a joke for me, but its return here suddenly feels like the only way this could have gone. “You rip off my arm? I rip off YOUR arm!” This has been a hell of a run.

DAREDEVIL: END OF DAYS #6 — The tension is becoming unbearable. Urich’s exchange with his son is a strong bit of character work to kind of ground this whole thing before it surely spirals off completely out of control. Could the new DD be the redhead playing pool in the bar when Ben’s talking to the Bugle? It certainly doesn’t look like a woman in costume, but then they do make a deal out of backlighting him/her, and the redhead is certainly prominent in the layout, up in the top left corner, the first thing we see in that crowd scene and then also the last, reflected there in the far right of the last panel on the page. Or is it Natasha keeping tabs on him? Or Matt’s daughter with same? I thought the Owl had Matt’s entire head the first panel when he busted out that mask. Not what you want to keep in your desk drawer, Leland! And another cliffhanger that ratchets up the stakes a few more notches. These last two issues are going to be madness, I have no doubt.

AGE OF ULTRON: BOOK ONE — Am only just now much later seeing Hawkeye there on the cover and feel kind of foolish. So this is the batshit insanity that they dropped on us last Free Comic Book Day. This thing has been in the can for a while now! The full issue doesn’t give us any more exposition as to exactly what happened other than Ultron Won, and that’s maybe a good thing. The Hitch/Neary/Mounts artwork is exquisite, no one can give you grandiose metropolitan superheroic shenanigans like these guys. I’m so glad Millar isn’t scripting this. This is a pretty successful first issue that drops you right in the middle of the horror and doesn’t let up until the last page. Though I wish Bendis wouldn’t have hyped up the insanity of the ending so much. It was perfectly serviceable but kind of a quiet thing, a bit of a letdown if you’re looking for some mind-blowing last page. Maybe I just can’t stand the sight of Steve Rogers pouting in the corner. But at any rate, I already feel like for me this is going to mitigate my feeling that Bendis’s AVENGERS run didn’t go out with anything approaching a bang, just a straight lateral to Hickman, but the thunder is here in the near future and it should be a hell of a thing.

ALL-NEW X-MEN #008 — As beautifully as Marquez stages every page, in terms of solely narrative content, I am damn sure we did not need half of this book to be two Angels versus H.Y.D.R.A. agents at Avengers Tower. I guess you can counter that if one goes ahead and signs up to pay eight bucks for forty pages of a book per month, then they can do whatever they want and you just have to eat it, but with this fantastic ensemble of characters whose beats Bendis has thus far been nailing scene after scene, it was a damn shame to suddenly just be hanging out with a couple of Angels for over half the book. Especially if you’re going to go ahead and throw in the Avengers, too. That’s like thirty characters you’re neglecting in favor of our present-tense Warren flying around basically going “Woo-woo!” at his teenage self. Even if it’s all in service of setting up the last scene with Jean, that’s still just a woeful lack of balance. Of course, Kitty & Bobby providing dialogue for the Captain America/Beast exchange turns the entire thing around and still leaves the reader with his or her money’s worth, just that page alone. Hilarious.

AVENGERS #007 — The return of 616 nomenclature! Thank you, Hickman, I’ve never understand current Marvel editorial’s disdain for it. Let me just get the obligatory If-Dustin-Weaver-had-time-to-draw-this-then-where-the-hell-are-the-last-two-issues-of-S.H.I.E.L.D.?!? question out of the way and move on. So, I was thinking the White Event was the initial inciting incident that set off the chain reaction over in NEW AVENGERS, but they happen all the time across the multiverse? Maybe it’s still the original one from the New Universe, though it is doubtful that Kenneth Connell or our beloved D.P.7 will make an appearance. Hickman is cribbing a bit from Ellis’s aborted relaunch of a few years ago, setting up those certain characters as archetypal roles that must be filled, universal ushers. And maintaining the Psi-ForceàCipher switch. I’m never going to read a comic book about Psi-Hawk again, am I? This one reads a little skinny with those single-page red herrings that I guess are intended to only highlight that the actual new Star Brand guy is kind of an asshole. Because all those other people got toasted? We’ll see. I dug this, but it really just made me want to read the next one right away. Which I guess is the point. And the wait will not be long. NOW!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


BEST OF WEEK: BATMAN INCORPORATED #8 — Like most folks, I hated Damian’s guts the second I saw him there on the last page of Morrison’s first issue. Andy Kubert did a really fine job making you detest him right away with only that single shot, just his body language. This negative impression dramatically increased with successive issues. The first time he kind of made me chuckle was when he tried to kill Tim in the Batcave. And this is nothing against young Master Drake, it was just the sheer psychosis of the action, Damian’s commitment to his own greatness and simultaneous obliviousness to his current situation really appealed to me. Admit it. There’s something immediately likeable about the notion of Batman’s son trying to straight-up for real murder Robin the very first chance he catches the guy alone in the cave.

#666 will forever be close to my heart because it came out the day before we went to Comic-Con ’07 and I was an enormous fan of the way that rather than finish out the third part of an in-progress arc, Morrison flash-forwarded into a future in which Damian wore the cowl, had a cat named Alfred, and could barely stay ahead of Commissioner Barbara Gordon, who hated his guts for being responsible for the death of Batman, though there was immediately doubt about whether it was Bruce or Dick in the cowl that night. And I brought the issue along with me just so I could keep reading it over and over, even though of course I had stacks and stacks of business to get signed by professionals who had scheduled signings, but I was such a newb, I didn’t realize that just because Morrison didn’t have a specified session advertised on the website didn’t mean he wouldn’t be signing autographs at the DC booth just any old time, and so it turned out that #666 was the only issue of the massive amount of his catalogue that I had in my possession when I finally got to meet him and get charged up, and so then there was that.

And then I never wanted Bruce to come back. When Dick & Damian took over, it was the most dynamic thing to happen in years. The book was fun again, in a way that I didn’t realize that it still had the potential for or that I needed it to be. It was madcap. The Boy Wonder openly mocking his supposed mentor and counting down the days until he took up the mantle while barely sparing the time to condescend to “Pennyworth,” with us knowing that he’s going to be directly responsible for the death of (probably this) Batman and then name his only familiar after the butler, the first name that he will not at this time utter, just such a dense and terribly poignant journey all tucked up in there. It only lasted a little more than two years but it felt like an era. I was so sorry when it had to end. And Bruce Wayne is maybe my favorite character ever. To such an extent, though, see, that I almost didn’t even need him, he was so resonant that just his legacy was more than enough. Or the best possible thing, even.

Enter Peter Tomasi. He and cohorts Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray did the unthinkable and actually expanded upon Damian’s character in ways that not only complemented what had come before but enhanced it in heretofore unimagined directions. “Born To Kill,” the initial arc of the current volume, is a tour de force story of a father and son battling to overcome the programming and trauma wrought upon them by a cruel and capricious world while trying to accept and love and change one another for what each truly believes to be the best. And then that annual. One of the best done-in-ones I can remember hitting, every beat perfectly placed. And #17. Gah. Talking about this is too hard. Let’s just look at the issue.

The first page, airborne Damian POV on the way in to save the day, is a perfect thing. Four horizontal panels stacked on top of one another provide a cinematic widescreen sensation and perfectly even pacing with which to begin. That first bit of dialogue mirrors the utterance of his killer clone at the moment of death, the trademark “*TT*” followed up by the line that just cuts you up when you go back through knowing exactly what’s coming, “WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITHOUT ME, GRAYSON?” We’ll know soon enough. Also, you’ve right out of the gate got to be paying all kinds of attention, Burnham’s already packing it in there, on this last panel you can see the kid right behind Gordon at the top of the panel cocking back the bat, about to just open up the back of Nightwing’s head before we do the page turn and see that Damian’s knocked him head-over-heels airborne, suspended there right in between the line of sight between Dick and Damian. 

And then you could spend an hour just breaking down Burnham’s choices for panel layout and composition on Page Five. The askew interlocking situation he’s got going there combined with the varied camera angles and consistently depicting the edges of Batman’s body straining off-panel, all of that combines to do a fantastic subliminal job recreating the claustrophobic deathtrap of the world’s greatest detective locked in a safe at the bottom of a swimming pool, all of this escalating tension only partially released by that single bubble floating up the final seventh vertical panel, but of course it really just makes everything much tenser because it highlights what we already know: time’s expiring, Talia’s already stated that she’s got this all calculated to the last micro-second so that once he does in fact break out of there (which we all know he must and will), it will be Too Late.

Jason Masters does a fine job with the thankless task of trying to fill in on the Red Robin scene on this of all issues. It’s not Burnham, but it’s close, barely jarring, really, those askew layouts were clearly made with an eye on keeping the entire issue integrated. Much appreciated. And then, of course, we could watch Damian beat the shit out of a mob of hypnotized hammer-wielding children for two issues straight.

Page Twelve. This is where the tide rises, the orchestra swells. Dick & Damian’s final conversation. Everything you need is right here. Dick Grayson saying “ROBIN THE BOY WONDER, DAMIAN,” to his mentor and surrogate father’s son is a profound thing because there have never and (it’s going to take a serious serious run of writing in the years to come to overturn the) will never be two people who better understand what it means to be The Boy Wonder. To swing through that city with that man and support him and complement him in all the hundreds of ways that you must if you are to both survive the night. After all of the all of the shit that Damian shoveled on Dick while he was wearing that cowl, taking the time here to have him say that he was his favorite partner and that they were really the best, no matter what anyone thinks, man, at that point I had tears in my eyes, the little bastard was exactly right, I had been thinking the same thing all along. And then the perfectly in-character cavalier way that Dick defuses the emotional weight of the scene with bravado, only five words. With the weight of what is to come looming but yet a few, too few, pages off, those last two panels on the twelfth page hit me as hard as any piece of storytelling I can bring to mind, the payoff and sendoff to years of shifting identities and assumed legacies and heroism and earned respect and brotherhood, most of all. Those boys were brothers in every way that matters.

I’m not doing well here, this is still damaging me so badly even a full week later. But there are two more pages of the good fun, a sweet little callback to the sound-effects laced halcyon days of Adam West and Burt Ward, and really, that’s what I was trying to say before about when these guys were Batman & Robin. It wasn’t campy like that, but it had the same sense of zany Day-Glo fun. All of which comes to an end when the Damian clone makes his entrance. The momentum comes crashing to a halt in every sense right there on the top of Page Fifteen when the duo recreates their signature double-punch, which previously has always served as the resolution to an arc but here indicates the turning of the tables. There is no happy ending to be found here.

Damian never breaks character. As far as he’s come, he’s still the pampered little aristocrat calling out for his mother to put an end to this and fully expecting her to do so. And invoking his father as a battle cry.

Okay. I’m done. I’m sorry. Can’t do the last pages, any more pages, under this level of magnification. The twenty-panel page is brilliant, a tragic callback to the tiny-panel fight scene pages that Quitely and later Stewart employed to such devastating effect back on the original volume of BATMAN AND ROBIN. Burnham is really pushing himself, the material is inspiring him to new heights of greatness. That final double-page splash, the glass breaking as the panels, all very smart stuff. On the last page, Burnham pulls off the obligatory reference to the classic Aparo Batman-holding-Robin's-lifeless-body shot before ending things as low as they can go. We've come to expect the final panel of this series to actually provide a scene from the following issue, but this one is tiny tiny Burnham sequence of nothing but Batman's grief-stricken face fading to black. Next issue, our hero succumbs to darkness.

From the standpoint of page flow, it’s wonderful that that CONSTANTINE preview at the back means we get this issue almost entirely ad-free. However. It would have been really swell if the one ad that does appear did so on the opposite page rather than breaking up the story at the last possible opportunity. When the decision is to roll without advertising for 21 straight pages, it’s kind of a dick move to suddenly throw up an ad featuring Jim Lee Superman right there the page after you stab Robin to death. Even nastier, for just a split-second, I believed everything could still be all right. If anybody is ever going to fly in out of nowhere and impossibly save the day, Jim Lee Superman is your guy. Of course, this kind of thing happens with some amount of regularity, he’s actually the third Robin to go, but this feels different. I’ve never been this invested. I think I might at last know what it felt like to read AMAZING SPIDER-MAN in 1973 or X-MEN in 1980, how the sudden death of a fictional character can just gut you in ways that shouldn’t be possible.

I really loved that kid. It has been a source of great delight to follow his path these past seven years. He rose up from darkness and trained and fought as hard as he could to overcome a dire set of circumstances and chose to do right, to help people and make the world a better place. Because it was the right thing to do, but mainly, I think, because it’s exactly what his father did, and he loved his father more than anything in the world. It's surprising and staggering to what an extent his death has wrecked me, how much I’m going to miss him. And I can’t begin to fathom what this is going to do to his father is maybe the worst part of all.

Damian Wayne. May he rest in peace.

*  *  *  *

FLASH #17 — The great big Gorilla Warfare finale! This one had to operate at a breakneck velocity simply to avoid a drop in the momentum that’s been steadily escalating since this arc began, and, surprising no one, Manapul & Buccellato deliver once again. This might be the best art of this series so far, and that’s really saying something. The two-page spread of Iris about to get trampled by the wooly mammoth then getting rescued is one of my favorite Flash bits ever, the continuity doesn’t matter, it’s just pure undiluted super-speed perfection. And of course, with all being well, Barry is left to wonder if he’s even charting the right course for himself while we readers are privy to the imminent arrival of his ultimate nemesis, a character they were smart to keep on the bench until now, as his arrival is sure to raise the stakes of this title to a heretofore unimagined extent. A year and a half in, this remains one of the most consistently rewarding titles of the New 52. Here’s to these guys hitting #50 just in time to ring in old 2016!

JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #17 — Beyond wonderful to have Frank quote Morrison’s “Nothing is impossible!” This one’s definitely hurtling along to the climax of everything that Lemire’s been building up to since hopping on board. Jeromy Cox’s colors are a beautiful fit for Mikel Janin’s lines. Though I’m still not over how clean everything looks, how un-Vertigo and anti-Sienkiewicz it all is. I guess that’s the point. I’m still hanging out here, but if Lemire bails, I probably will as well.

THE UNWRITTEN #46 — Carey/Gross manage to keep the tale captivating without our protagonist yet again. Savoy and Didge have got what it takes to carry any sort of undead buddy-cop scenario that might present itself and Madame Rausch gets a level-up that will surely factor in to the landscape in the months to come. Now, we can has a superior tangential done-in-one next month, please?

THE MASSIVE #9 — The last issue of this arc ends quite a bit less explosively than it potentially might have. At least on-panel, Wood reserves the real fireworks for the closing captions in the final panel. Which some folks might call Foul on, but I’m okay with. Garry Brown and Dave Stewart continue to provide quality art for Wood’s tale of what happens when the world ends.

PROPHET #34 — Simon Roy slides back into rotation on co-plotting and art as a gang of Johns makes it to a domus, a central Prophet hub that’s channeling kind of a Hrothgar’s-mead-hall vibe, and there is a council of war and also the best naked-dude knife-fighting scene since Viggo in EASTERN PROMISES, no problem. This one moves the madness along just as well as we’ve come to expect and thank you, but the real surprise of this issue is the back-up story by Matt Sheean & Malachi Ward, whose work is so swell, they get to have the cover. In just five pages, these guys do fine work dialing us into the mindset of a doomed architect who’s been chosen to be the sacrifice to keep his city’s ecosystem going in some unexplained arrangement with a creature that lives to the east. This is a really sparse little feature, very much a horror sci-fi anthology feel, CREEPY meets 2000 A.D. I actually am unable upon further readings to identify exactly what facet of it works so well for me, they just hit the right narrative alchemy and I’m onboard to see what happens to this guy next, now that his journey is surely only beginning.

UNCANNY AVENGERS #004 — This one right here is more than worth the wait as Cassaday/Martin hand in pages that deliver plenty of crackling climactic action and big moments but never at the cost of telling the story as cleanly as possible. Remender has really elevated his already high-level game here, weaving a tale that seems to flow naturally from character motivations and the continuities of Marvel’s two biggest franchises, making this seem more like an inevitable culmination of events up until now rather than a callous attempt to bleed fanboys dry by way of simple franchise addition/collision. No mean feat. The double-shot of Havok and Wanda vs Thor followed by the text detailing what Wanda puts herself through in order to take Thor out of action is, in particular, a strong exchange. And of course those last two pages are complete and glorious batshit insanity. Can’t wait to find out if this is just the new status quo for this series or only a glimpse into the future or what. Pretty sure Cassaday will bail out after this arc, but hope he comes back for the third or fourth. A hell of a good time to be had, here.

UNCANNY X-MEN #002 — Bendis makes with more of the talky-talk and Bachalo throws down serious sequential justice page after page. Not a lot happens in this issue outside of Scott and Emma defining for them and for us where they stand and then we get some character development for these new mutants and some demon witch snark from Illyana, but Bendis has such a fine ear for dialogue and Bachalo’s pages are so gorgeous, I really didn’t mind.

FF #004 — This is almost a filler issue, in that there’s not a terrible amount of advancement in the overall narrative and you get the sense that the creators are just having fun goofing off a bit. That said, I’ll pay to watch this team finger-paint riveting mud canvasses on cave walls if that’s where their artistic impulses take them. A tiny bit of the issue is dedicated to making us question the validity of future doomsaying Uncle Johnny (which is in turn undermined with the final page revelation) before we get to the meat of the issue, Bentley-23 and the Moloids trying to sabotage a date between She-Hulk and that mainstay of the Byrne years, good old Wyatt Wingfoot. It’s not much of a plot twist to have the kids actually enhance the date rather than wreck it, but like I said, the sense of fun conveyed through the situational dialogue but most particularly the art is more than enough to carry the issue through any bits that would seem too zany or ludicrous in the hands of lesser men and women. Good clean fun here, certainly more than you’d expect in a book in which seventy-five percent of the Fantastic Four have allegedly been killed by a triumvirate of Dr. Doom, Kang, and Annihilus from an alternate timeline.

HAWKEYE #008, I KILL YOU, BRO — This book can be barreling along better than you think it’s ever been even yet and so far, despite the blistering and totally deserved levels of love and hype heaped upon it, but then Kate Bishop drops in with only three panels of glory and lays waste to all that has come before or will follow. Annie Wu’s covers are a treasure and actually manage to factor into the plot in a clever way. Glad to see this book’s principal femme fatale return, Clint is never more entertaining than when he’s fumbling over his business with that Penny. Aja & Hollingsworth, though, my God, still.

YOUNG AVENGERS #002 — Even with half of the team not along for the ride, there is still plenty to enjoy about this issue. Of course the super-clean McKelvie/Norton linework or Matthew Wilson’s perfectly chosen palette or the way Kid Loki can bop in and out of pocket dimension panels like it’s no problem in between ordering diner grub, but I’m not sure this one ever gets better than the credits page explicitly stating where we all first read the word “Manichean,” and there’s nothing wrong with that. The only way this one might have been better is if we cut away for like two pages to Kate & Noh-varr plunging through orbit post-postcoitus-SkrullAttack. Dialing into that fun couple not only would have scrambled up the flow and made these twenty pages feel a bit denser but not doing so heightens the cruelty of not returning to them after last issue’s first five pages by continuing the blackout for another full issue. Gillen knows what he’s doing, the sadist.

Monday, March 4, 2013


ACTION COMICS #17 — The climax that could not be contained! This was supposed to be the last issue of the Morrison/Morales/Walker run, but all the madness spilled over into #18 (which, incidentally, that’s got to be daunting for Diggle/Daniel on the follow-up run, bad enough they’ve got to follow Morrison but even worse when his finale surges up and claims their inaugural issue). And the pace is relentless, I’ve got four jump-cuts between scenes in the opening Death of the Kents montage alone, which roars right by in the first three pages. The art team does well hammering home the brutality of that Super-Doomsday on Page Seven, cranks it up to almost a Kirby level of brute strength and physicality. Loved the one-two set-up of the Legion kids being the angels that Jonathan saw take Martha away, that was beautiful. Vyndktvx’s line on the last panel of Page Ten elevates the situation into a glorious new height of madness density, implying an upper-dimensional logic that we can just barely grasp well enough to fathom how incapable we are of understanding it. Just like hypercubes. And then the callback to #0. Having the bad guy stage a simultaneous attack across all of space and time is a fine way to optimize the situation that a single team has been telling this character’s story since the reboot and has seeded elements since the beginning that are only now beginning to pay off. And yes, a teleport rifle, of course. That last page is the only thing that could have happened, the best escalation possible. This run hasn’t been the diamond-cut gemstone perfection of what we got in ALL-STAR, but it has had enough flashes of brilliance to remain compelling throughout and I’m certainly going to miss it when these boys are done telling their tale of how an upstart anti-corporate socialist grew up to be the Man of Steel we know today. Or at least until the next reboot.

BATWOMAN #17 — Wowdamn. This issue is nothing less than the climax of everything that’s been going on since #1 and just when it can’t get any crazier, there’s the epilogue that hearkens all the way back to Kate’s first-ever arc that Williams crushed with Rucka a very few years ago back when DETECTIVE COMICS had three digits. Williams/Stewart pull no punches, every double-page layout is, as ever, a masterpiece of composition and dynamics, but owing to the climactic situation we have going here, this issue has a few more big moments packed in than we’re used to getting in a typical twenty-page hit. Just that opening shot of the tear in the fabric of reality alone, man. Dave Stewart is a beast. And Williams continues to choreograph the most exhilarating fight scenes coupled with the most jaw-dropping draftsmanship on the rack today. Beautiful beautiful work. I’m just afraid that he’s about to bail out on interiors, he said it was happening sometime relatively soon back in September and this would certainly be a high point from which to make his exit. That last moment between Kate and Mags is one for the ages.

WONDER WOMAN #17 — The neo-Greek family dynamic squabbling continues and we get quotes from GHOSTBUSTERS and EPISODE IV on successive pages. Tony Akins/Dan Green (with a little help from Amilcar Pinna) turn in their best looking issue yet, abetted by Matthew Wilson in the thankless task of alternating issues with Cliff Chiang. This was a more satisfying single than usual, fine work because Orion barely did anything, but as ever, I wanted the next issue as soon as I made it to the last page. Mission accomplished, purveyors of serial entertainment.

GREEN LANTERN #17 — Oh my goodness. Eagle-eyed readers will note that I bailed out on Johns’s run almost a year ago when he brought Black Hand back and put Carol back in the Star Sapphire suit and I realized I didn’t care about those things the first time they happened so why would I want to sit through them again? Cut to now, Johns is finally leaving after all of these years, and I just couldn’t stay on the sidelines to see how he was going to bring it all down. At first, I was just going to drop back in and make sense of what was going on as best I could, but when this Wednesday rolled around, I simply couldn’t do it, so God help me, I jammed every single page I had missed #s 8-12, the annual, and then #13-16. A lot of gorgeous Mahnke/Alamy pages with a special guest annual hit from the Right & Left Side of the comic book industry, Misters Ethan Van Sciver & Pete Woods. The big memorable moments, though, were remarkably thin for a year’s worth of stories. Everything kept chugging along and there were certainly cliffhangers, but nothing that particularly messed me up. Johns does immediately crank things up with this arc, though, taking us back to all those ur-shenanigans Krona was getting up to ten billion years ago on Oa. And in a very cool move, editorial recruited Phil Jimenez to pencil this prologue over Mahnke’s layouts to give the pages that magic Perez feeling. It’s kind of stunning that Johns keeps Sinestro and his beloved Hal benched for all but the final page of this issue and that Jordan doesn’t even get a line of dialogue, but everything moved along well enough and I remain curious to see how things are going to finish up.

VIBE #1 — This one got by me on Wednesday but when I realized I’d missed it, I had to head back in to check out what old Pete Woods and his writers had in store for a fellow who, let’s just say, does not top the majority of lists of great Justice League characters from the eighties. As further illustrated by a couple of recent DC Nation shorts, yeesh, I headed into this first issue a devout skeptic. But the crew won me over almost immediately. The art is top-notch and the story is engaging, dialing the reader right into the situation and banishing all thoughts of breakin’, radical though it may be. Linking his not-so-secret origin to Darkseid’s first incursion into Earthspace does a nice job taking advantage of the rebooted New 52 continuity and gives this character a weight and importance that was sorely lacking in the previous iteration.

FABLES #126 — It really is great to have this one back burning at full steam. I remain an enormous fan of the conceit of having Future Ambrose provide narration. Is that Blue Fairy sporting a pretty serious Mary Poppins vibe, a well? The encounter between Reynard and Gepetto is worth the cover price alone. And I have to say, as grim as Karen Berger “resigning” seemed for the fate of Vertigo 2013, that double-page spread has them sitting pretty at least in the short-term: new series from the rotting dynamic duo of Lemire/Snyder, FABLES and THE UNWRITTEN crossing over, the quite-possibly-in-no-way-awaited return of TIMEWARP, and Gaiman and Williams falling back into SANDMAN, pretty strong titles, all around.

HAPPY #4 — And this bloody fucking mess comes to the only possible conclusion. Well done, all around, these pages are as meticulously rendered as anything we’ve thus far seen from the hyper-detailed Darick Robertson and Morrison’s script managed to actually get me a little bit choked up at the end there, despite its quasi-Ennis bluster. Those twisted fucksacks always have a bit of beating heart buried deep down inside.

SAGA #10 — Oh, BKV just cannot resist those clever little meta first-page openings. Don’t worry, dude. Everyone thinks your new book is the greatest thing since the first STAR WARS, we’re all going to keep reading. This issue is another little slice of wonderful with all kinds of collateral damage, great and small, that will no doubt engender howls of remorse from the far reaches of galaxy. Vaughan does not care! And possibly just sat through this last season of DOWNTON ABBEY, is suddenly angling for a shot at the Robert Kirkman/George R.R. Martin title, creators who will straight up kill characters just because they’re your favorites. How many more issues before either Marko or Alana eat it? If they both make it to the last page of #25, it will be a stunning thing.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #13 — I tell you what, I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even flinch, I grin when I see a name that I don’t recognize on the cover of this series. As a long-time fan of Wood and Cloonan’s collaborative efforts, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the first issue of this series and was quite disappointed to see the talented Miss Cloonan bail out after only three issues (though #7 was a welcome but fleeting return, I cannot cannot cannot wait for her FABULOUS KILLJOYS pages, at long last, make some noise). Then came James Harren, Vasilis Lolos, and Declan Shalvey, all of whom completely won me over. I’m always sorry to see each of them leave in turn but am a fan of the next person in the chute! This Mirko Colak fellow has a style that’s much more photo-realistic than the more stylized business we’ve been seeing lately. It’s interesting to contrast Dave Stewart’s choices with what he’s been using thus far, as he goes with a much lusher palette here. I know purists who keep complaining that Wood’s version here is not “their” Conan, or Howard’s for that matter, there’s not enough emphasis on plot-based momentum or fantastic sorcery and far too much character work. And maybe they’re right. But I haven’t read a dozen REH Conan novels, I say not as a point of pride, but simply to point that taken on their own merit, without a preconception or a sense of being terribly beheld to an existing canon, I’m really enjoying these stories of a young man coming into his own, in the days before he was feared throughout the land and known only by his first name and title.

DAREDEVIL #023 — All right, I was definitely spending those first three pages wondering why the hell we were back at the secret origin, as good as the Samnee POV looked, but there turned out to be a payoff. I’m with Matt, the Chrysler Building is just the best.  It’s Waid, though, buddy! Mark Waid is drawing the noose around your neck. But, oh man. Perfectly crafted terrible situation at the end, there. Gut-punch. I’m really loving Waid’s lighter more upbeat antidote to the depressing twenty-five-year run, yeah.

AVENGERS #6 — This is pretty damn incredible business right here, but it is only devastating for readers of a certain age. In 1986, I was just getting my bearings in the Marvel Universe, nine years old and hadn’t yet dared to plunge into the convoluted soap-operatic madness of Claremont’s UNCANNY X-MEN or all of that trouble that Peter Parker was having figuring out whoever was really behind that Hobgoblin mask. All of the main titles were in their mid to late 200s, a few verging on that #300 milestone. It was the 25th anniversary of the first issue of Lee/Kirby’s FANTASTIC FOUR, the beginning of the Marvel universe, and editor-in-chief Jim Shooter decided to celebrate by publishing a New Universe, a series of eight loosely interconnected titles telling the story of “the world outside your window.” The conceit was that there was a single inciting incident, a White Event, this flash in the sky that took place on July 22, 1986. Before that moment, this world was identical to ours, Reagan was president, Transformers and G.I. Joe were all the rage in the toy and animated series departments, Oliver North was getting ready to jump under the bus over the whole Iran/Contra scandal, etc. But the central appeal to a young reader like myself, who hadn’t been around in the sixties when all these other titles got cracking, was that here was a chance to jump on board with a whole new run of #1s that were for me. And I loved them. PSI-FORCE was my favorite, but I was also a huge fan of Gruenwald/Ryan’s D.P.7, Shooter/JRJr over on STAR BRAND, a new spin on Iron Man called SPITFIRE AND THE TROUBLESHOOTERS, and NIGHTMASK. The line eventually compressed and then finally folded, but it those titles have always had a place in my heart. Making it to the final page of this issue and finding nothing less than a straight homage to an ad that I first laid eyes upon 27 years ago was an incredible moment. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

BEST OF WEEK: LOCKE & KEY – OMEGA #3 — And things go from worse to pretty much catastrophic right there in that first scene. After teasing us for these first two issues (or, one could argue, the entirety of Volume 5), Dark Bode finally makes his move and has Nina, Duncan, and Tyler completely out of commission by issue’s end. Of course, this series being what it is, this is interspersed with several moments of stroooong character work, made all the more poignant given the fact that at this point, every single conversation and interaction could be the last words these people will ever say to one another. I definitely had that feeling with Tyler and Uncle Dunk, but it’s all but a certainty from the way Rodriguez zooms in on that last shot of Tyler and Jordan’s hands unclasping as they part. Terrible terrible heartbreaking business. And, of course, the CARRIE moment. Joe Hill, bless his master craftsman heart, has everything perfectly poised on the precipice of absolute calamity, several principals taken out and all the kids heading down to be slaughtered at the cave rave as the Omega key is finally at long last turned. I can’t bear to wait another one or two months for #4 but I never want this to end. Incomparable work.