SUPERMAN UNCHAINED #3 — Jim Lee maybe should have made the Superman of 1945 not look quite so much like his New 52 Darkseid. I mean, I thought that’s who it was on the cover at first and was all shocked at the potential throwdown. But character design aside, this is a hell of a good ride. Superman got drop-kicked across state lines! Is that even legal? A really clever Hiroshima retcon here by Snyder, as well. Is this a finite mini? We know that Lee can last at least a year on a monthly schedule, hoping they don’t try to spring fill-in guys on us.
BEST OF WEEK: BATMAN AND NIGHTWING #23 — There are some who might argue that it is a bit soon to begin reliving/fetishizing panels from the Morrison run, particularly its final issues. I am not one of those people. The fifth and final part of this grieving arc ups the ante dramatically, bringing us into an Internet 3.0 virtual simulation in which Bruce has been reliving Damian’s final moments. For four days straight, naturally, because the guy can’t just do something like this for twelve hours and call it, that would be lightweight. The look on Alfred’s face at the bottom of Page Three says it all. But, oh. Seeing Damian there on the bottom of Page Five uttering his last words again, it surprises me how utterly crushing the experience remains. These guys just won’t stop ripping off the scabs. But it’s perfect. As readers, we want to move on, it hurts too much to keep experiencing his last moments in BATMAN INCORPORATED #8, but the most effective way that these creators can express Bruce’s grief is to plunge as back into the horror, over and over again, epitomizing the relentless repetition of any parent’s grieving process and this one’s most of all. How incredible and thrilling to see Bruce make it in time, save his son in Program Simulation 448, to hear the boy say new dialogue while engaging in heretofore acrobatic derring-do! But it just makes it all the more painful when he fades away. Dick at last teaches Bruce that he never has to accept what has happened but that, if anything, this tragedy has just given him more fuel to drive his mission.
All of which makes perfect sense and is completely satisfying in and of itself. But we get an epilogue. Cut to Alfred for iteration 449. Of course, the poor man has been tearing himself up as well all this time with the regret of failing to stop the boy. And Internet 3.0 finally gives him a few minutes of peace by recreating the cradling-Damian scene that we've already had twice now with Bruce, but bringing it back around now once more to such beautiful but overall tragic and crushing effect. The best part of this entire thing is the way Tomasi just sneaks Alfred in the back door, when Dick said good-bye, I was all but applauding the conclusion, good arc, good arc, problem solved, not even crediting that of course it can't be that easy and the only one who's really going to bring Bruce out of this is the man who not only raised him but is the only one who possibly loved Damian as much as he did, Dick notwithstanding.
I was too young to be reading about Gwen Stacy or Jean Grey or Elektra and then be shocked when they made their exits, always knew ahead of time when I went back and first met them that they were doomed, but I don’t believe that I have ever been hit this hard by the death of a fictional character. On one hand, this is because he was so well rendered in life. Several times in his final months, I remember thinking to myself, “This kid is just about my favorite character I’m reading, period.” Because he really went on a journey, a clear evolution that drew you in no matter how negatively you initially felt about him. But the other end of the spectrum is how well the creators handled his passing and the subsequent mourning period. Since this volume’s first issue, Tomasi/Gleason/Gray/Kalisz have done an immaculate job keeping pace with Morrison/Burnham masterstrokes with such regularity and in some cases providing bursts of characterization even richer and more poignant than those provided by the mind from whom he sprang. But with this five-issue mourning arc, these men cast a moving portrayal of the grief of a father who has already lost so much and very nearly becomes unraveled as a result of this latest blow. That he does not is a testament to the resilience of the character. That we believe his heart and soul are in jeopardy is a testament to the skill of the creators. This is storytelling at its finest. A small part of me almost wishes that all involved would just walk away after this issue, burn it down after this perfect run while they’re firing at their collective peak, but I have a very good feeling that somehow, impossibly, the best is yet to come. Same Bat-Time . . .
BATWOMAN #23 — Kate takes some fear toxin to square the deal with Maggie while Bette shows just how hardcore and intelligent she can be. And Trevor McCarthy gets better and better. This one was kind of filler but still more of a meal than a great deal of the other books out there.
WONDER WOMAN #23 — Good night, Azzarello/Chiang/Wilson/Fletcher drop the absolute thunder on the second year of this title with what’s pretty easy to call the best issue so far. Everything’s a master class in both verbal and visual storytelling like always but the deal here is this is both the climax and payoff to not only the last year’s worth of issues but really the culmination of everything that’s been happening since #1 with a couple of serious Holy Shit! moments that dramatically alter the status quo of this series and have me really really quite sorry that we’re going to have to take a month off to mess around with some villain before getting back to this narrative. Two years in and these guys still seem to be ramping up to some heretofore unrealized peak.
ANIMAL MAN #23 — Steve Pugh turns in his final pages as Lemire escalates the action to a fever pitch with Brother Blood crossing over to The Red just as Maxine stands on the cusp of finding her dead brother’s soul. Aren’t comics swell? Both Pugh and Francis Portela do a magnificent job conveying Brother Blood’s foreboding menace through his stance and body language. And Lovern Kindzierski once again knocks it out of the park on colors, just a breathtaking breadth of tones throughout. Really sorry to see Brother Pugh exit, he’s been a big part of how much I enjoyed this book this past year, though of course I have faith that Lemire will continue to tell a hell of a story with the next crew. Do hope Kindzierski stays. And that Portela just becomes the guy who draws The Red for always, what amazing fine linework.
BATMAN ’66 #2 — The fun continues as Penguin drifts into Gotham Harbor on an icicle courtesy of Mr. Freeze. Jonathan Case’s art was such a crucial element of the first issue’s success, so his lack of involvement on the lead feature would normally be cause for a raised eyebrow, but that is certainly not the case with the eminently talented Ty Templeton stepping in. And how funny of Jeff Parker to filch Layman’s Emperor Penguin title and run it through the West/Ward camp filter. I could certainly hear Burgess Meredith delivering his lines. And what a value, Case does clock back in on the back-up feature that, at ten pages, ramps the total page count for this $3.99 book to thirty pages of glorious BIFF! & POW! This is a terrific book that does a tremendous job demonstrating just how elastic the character really is.
FABLES #132 — The plot thickens with Rose doing most of the heavy lifting. Very cool that this book is still so great rounding the bend from its eleventh year into the twelfth. I’m sorry that I don’t have more things to say about it. Mark Buckingham is really good.
CONAN THE BARBARIAN #18 — Mmm, that opening scene doesn’t have a strong enough cliffhanger to merit one of those time-shifts backwards. “Oh, they’re going to draw their swords and fight?” I kind of paid my money for that. New artist Paul Azaceta continues this title’s noble tradition of providing top-drawer talent, with Dave Stewart’s masterful tones lending continuity to the proceedings. The first part of this new arc didn’t knock me out, though I do remain a huge fan of Jim & Ruth Keegan’s “The Adventures of Two-Gun Bob.”
DAREDEVIL #30 — Man, leave it to Waid. In who else’s hands would a team-up with the Silver Surfer be this good or really even make sense? Matt’s sense-memories of the women who have worked for the firm are as spot-on as ever and makes you picture Waid typing all this while wearing a blindfold. And Matt even says “crackle,” when the Surfer appears, natch! Because of course he can sense the Kirby of it all. And but wow, that two-page shot of Matt driving the board is worth the cover price all on its own, just gorgeous business. Samnee/Rodriguez are nothing short of ridiculous. But then Waid gut-punches us with a wallop of an ending, much more of an emotional hit than anyone buying a DD/Silver Surfer crossover would have expected in less masterful hands. I hope Marvel keeps these guys happy for a long time, what a damn run this continues to be.
X-MEN #4 — This one’s kind of a breather after the compressed craziness of the first arc and Wood doesn’t even spot us a baseball game. I wasn’t as crazy about this issue as what’s come before. David Lopez’s art is competent but a bit of a drop after that Coipel/Martin perfection. And Rachel’s hardline stance against Storm seems both forced and completely out of character. From her first appearance, it seems to me like she should be the most ruthless member on this team, second to none. And it annoyed me that the girls were all talking to each other through the slipstream on top of that jet when it doesn’t seem like there should be any way they should be able to hear one another and why not just have Betsy link them telepathically? This wasn’t like offensive but not terrific, either. Hopefully we get back on track next month before the Dodsons show up.
AVENGERS #18 — Good, glad that Hickman’s back to writing this by himself. As he should be! I don’t know if anyone’s picking up INFINITY and thinking that these two AVENGERS books are skippable, but I’d say they’re probably doing themselves a disservice. Of course, since we’ve got an entire gang of Skrulls, roll Leinel Francis Yu right in to tear it up something fierce. A couple splashes of serious space conflict! This is maybe the most sympathetically I’ve ever seen the Super-Skrull portrayed, kind of cool. Hickman’s laying it in a bit thick on what a douchebag Bobby is, he was certainly never this bad when he was younger and you’d think he’d improve as he ages out of his teens, not vice versa. I think I said last week, ominous tidings. Of course you know as soon as Cap’s ship warps away, the other guys are screwed. The cosmic collisions continue! Toward Infinity!