Wednesday, August 28, 2013


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!


BATMAN #23 — Snyder/Capullo/Miki/Plascencia continue to bring the sequential justice. But here we run into a problem that I thought these guys were going to sidestep. Just from the title alone. Don’t get me wrong, the entire issue is immaculately crafted, every beat honed to perfection, it’s great . . . except it looks like they are going to be rebooting YEAR ONE, after all. Because Bruce has his “I shall become a bat” moment. Yet again. And it looks gorgeous, this crew couldn’t have produced better looking pages, but I’m afraid I have to draw the line at saying, “Nope, what Miller produced didn’t happen, this is what happened.” I know that we get origin reboots all the time, poor baby Kal-El seems to crash into Earth about every five years now like clockwork but this feels different, like they’re positioning it as canon that’s dominant to what is arguably the greatest Batman story of all time (if not Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT, I’m not sure anyone’s going to make a serious claim for any story other than those two). I’ve been rocking this arc thus far under the tacit assumption that we were kind of threading through the early months of Miller/Mazzucchelli’s masterpiece. I mean, he’s obviously in Gotham so it’s not like we’re really in some zero-year period that’s taking place entirely before that. I’m not usually one that quibbles for how this particular story slots in with that one over there, but they’re treading on some pretty sacred ground here. Producing five-star top-of-the-line business, but treading nonetheless.

BATMAN: LIL’ GOTHAM #5 — And it’s Mr. Freeze’s turn. Of course this take on him is heartbreaking. Was the whole set-up with Nora a part of canon before “Heart of Ice” or is that something that the comic book absorbed as well? That first panel on Page 6 has got to be homage to the claustrophobic shot of him piloting the Bat-tank in Miller’s second issue of THE DARK KNIGHT (TRIUMPHANT). Of course, the bit with Damian licking the Popsicle is perfect. And it’s still absurd how great it is to see Barbara as Oracle, that isn’t getting old. Even better seeing her and Dick out for Mexican food while the kids deal with Bane and the greatest Scrabble game ever plays out in the Bat-Cave. The three-pronged negative response to Zatanna’s backwards spelling question is a high point in another issue that consistently rewards.

ASTRO CITY #3 — Oh good, last issue wasn’t a done-in-one. Because that would have been a pretty bleak way to take it out, there. It turns out our protagonist is every bit as heroic as those high-profile folks she works for as she goes in deep for weeks, risking life and limb to correct her mistake. Anderson/Sinclair’s art manages to convey a sense of the fantastic while remaining grounded and Busiek breathes life into another memorable non-powered individual with a distinct voice and unique set of foibles. Man, I really missed this book.

STAR WARS #8 — Well, if Carlos D’Anda finally needed some breathing room, Ryan Kelly is one of the guys at the top of my list who I’d love to see fill in on this, am a huge fan of LOCAL and was also impressed by the way he threw down cityscapes in those two New York minis with Wood. And seems like he did a NORTHLANDERS arc, come to think of it, but never mind that now, we’re a long time ago, etc, and it is all going down, with Luke & Wedge taken voluntary prisoners, Han & Chewie as ever barely evading Boba Fett by the skin of their teeth, and Leia on the verge of pulling an end-of-the-first-act of EMPIRE bailout with her R2-unit. It runs in the family! This one is a pretty good time all around, though Wood manages to let contemporary slang creep in once again with Solo’s last line being “not so much.” You didn’t crash-land in Sunnydale, Han.

SAGA #13 — Ah, a first page that doesn’t scream out to us how shocking it is. Well played, BKV, you have managed another surprise. D. Oswald Heist staggers on-panel in this one in a way that is immediately evocative of my good friend Brad Ellison, so that is a serious positive. I still don’t think it’s in any way correct that this book stomped HAWKEYE all over the Eisners but probably need to just get over it. Ellison told me to!

EAST OF WEST #5 — It’s official, Xiaolian is indeed the best character populating this blistering pile of madness, an opinion codified courtesy of the exposition montage of our star-crossed couple’s history, interesting as hell, beginning with a shot of her training as a child that looks a lot like an homage to the Damian/Talia shots Kubert and Burnham were rocking over there down the way just recently. Frank Martin does a cool kind of washed out thing with the colors to differentiate these flashbacks. Dragotta continues to drop nothing but jaw-dropping business with every panel. Um. But their kid is pretty smart. That’s a wild page Hickman spins there with him. And what a final encounter at the end. Five issues in, not only is this not letting up, it just keeps escalating. Strong work.

THE TRUE LIVES OF THE FABULOUS KILLJOYS #3 — Mmm, it’s looking more like my buddy Markisan is right. This just isn’t what it should be. The art is killer, but I don’t care about these characters. It’s not enough for the Grant-Morrison guy to say “Run!” like Grant Morrison did in the video that one time. The original Killjoys mythology was so rich and hinted at dozens of thrilling adventures and a magic that is missing from these pages. Not even counting if you hold this up next to THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY, which isn’t even fair. I want more but am expecting less by the month.

SAVAGE DRAGON #190 — I owe many thank yous and much gratitude to Brother Matt Doman who is such an ardent supporter of this title from Acolyte to Zealot that he straight up called my shop from Mississippi and had them add it to my Pull. All you can do at that point is check that business out, my friends! Of course, I am familiar with Larsen’s work from his post-McFarlane/pre-Bagley run on AMAZING back in the day and I believe that I picked up the MEGATON MAN crossover that happened in the nineties, but I went into this issue pretty much blind, thinking that it was going to be an interesting test of “The Man’s” maxim that “every issue is somebody’s first.” How essential would familiarity with the previous 189 issues’ worth of continuity be to me enjoying what was going on in these pages? I have to say that Larsen passes with flying colors, not only did I have a blast racing through this but it made me want to go back for the rest of the story. I was most impressed by the pacing, the tightly focused cuts between the various members of the ensemble, who all seemed to be doing something important and that I was sorry to cut away from but then hey, look over here! And over here! And just when I was thinking that there was no way that Larsen could Kirby it up any harder, we get the penultimate page, chock full of krackle. Pulse-pounding! Completely on-board with this.  

WORST IN RECENT MEMORY: FANTASTIC FOUR #011 — I was pretty disappointed to read the announcement that Brevoort made the day this came out that Fraction suddenly wasn’t going to be able to carry his load and finish what he started with the double-run of writing this book and its sister-title FF. The reason for this is because I have really been enjoying the story despite my disbelief that anyone would be able to follow the absolutely devastating Hickman run, really got invested in it and of course wanted to see the original mind that generated it see it through to its natural conclusion. This was the least bit mitigated by the announcement that next month Karl Kesel and Ben Allred would be taking over the scripting duties based on Fraction’s plots. Now, Kesel inked the unforgettable Waid/Ringo run and wrote a swell little story for the Reed & Sue wedding special that I picked up for my little girl last summer at Mile High (she is crazy for that issue), so at least that’s someone who’s already got history with the title and is more than likely to see things through in a way that will be entertaining and a good tonal fit for what’s come before, especially since I presume Bagley will at least continue. And Ben Allred? What’s not to love? Now it’s all the way a family affair, and what better book for that to be the case? So, you know, I took the news as well as I could have. Fraction has to write INHUMANS. Or INHUMANITY. Or those are two things. And of course he’s killing it on SATELLITE SAM. Oh, and there are those two more Image books that he’s got coming out, SEX CRIMINALS with Zdarsky and ODY-C, right? The gender-flip Odyssey reboot? Sure, it would have been nice (or, another way to put it, would have made good on the implicit covenant a writer who comes on board the first issues of two new linked monthly titles makes with his readers) if he could have maybe just hung in another four or five months to finish what he started before launching a new Marvel series and three additional new creator-owneds, but who am I to say?

So, clearly I had kind of a bad taste in my mouth before I turned to the credits page of this issue to discover that this guy I’ve never heard of, Christopher Sebela, is not a last-minute fill-in artist but instead a credited writer. Way to get out in front of it, Brevoort. But you know, reset, I’ve never heard of this guy. Maybe he’s great. I certainly raised my eyebrow at the temerity of this new young turk Scott Snyder dragging in Stephen King to try and boost sales on his new little Vertigo book, and it turned out he was a pretty okay writer all by himself, there. Always give everyone a chance, Wednesday Night Faithful! And so away we go:

-First page, no hiccups. Bagley/Rubinstein/Mounts doing it, as ever. I’m not exactly blown away by the interaction between Reed & Valeria but probably have the critical dials bristling and too turned up. There’s nothing objectively wrong with this page.
-Oh no, right there on the second page, third panel. He’s got Valeria saying “Literally.” Christ on a crutch. I have mentioned before that I can’t stand it when writers drop this modern-day verbal malapropism into dialogue and then editors don’t do their job and catch it. Wood did it twice each in two issues of STAR WARS, #s 1 and 7. Terrible, there. On the flip-side, I think it’s totally all right when some teenagers drop it in ALL-NEW X-MEN, especially when you remember the old stories of Bendis going to the mall with a notebook and eavesdropping on kids to get up-to-the minute vernacular for dialogue for ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN. Which didn’t sound that creepy a dozen years ago. But I digress. It works if you believe that the character would actually drop a “literally” where it has no business being and in a situation in which subtracting the word would cause the sentence to have the same meaning. Bendis gets a thumbs-up last week for doing the same thing that drives me instantly bananas here because isn’t Valeria one of the smartest smartest people in the Marvel Universe? All right, but isn’t she still like three or four? She’s emulating the teenage dialogue she hears around? Ironically or satirically, even, let’s say. I am insane about “literally.” We’ll give Sebela a pass. On with the issue.
-Now she’s calling her brother “Stupid Franklin” and squabbling with Johnny like they’re siblings, too. Huh.
-Page Six, now we’re quoting L O S T episode titles. Cute. At least it was from the time travel season . . .
-But then, oh no. Next panel. One of the alien guides drops another “literally.” A “quite literally,” even. The word virus has spread to Celeritas! Perhaps via Valeria. This is starting to feel less like a choice and more like bad writing. “Chronal explosives. Time bombs,” are all the cool words you need in one balloon, I promise you. We don’t need the see-what-I-did-there? with the follow-up, man.
-Next page, pointing out that a fake accent is shitty does not mitigate its shittiness.
-Page eight. She just . . . she just said it again. Three “literally”s in eight pages. I’m . . . I just can’t . . .
-Great. Page Ten. The two books converge. The meeting of the Johnny Storms. I should be pumping my fist in cross-over glory but am apoplectic that Fraction set all this up so well, bailed, and left us stuck with this literal hack.

-Page Eleven. fuuuuuuuuuuck. He’s got the average down to one in less than three pages now.

-Page Eighteen. Might as well toss in Jack Bauer’s catchphrase while you’re at it. I am battling despair that this book that I was digging so much can fall this hard, this fast. This Sebela guy lives in Portland, I see, so I guess he and Fraction are buddies and he had to knock out this whole thing Kordey-style over the weekend and then there wasn’t time for an editor to at least shave out all the literallys and crank this up to a mediocre script instead of one of the most offensive pieces of shit that I have ever staggered wild-eyed though in recent memory. Jesus wept. Save us, Karl Kesel.

WOLVERINE #008 —Now, I was really taken with the first arc of this volume, Cornell/Davis/Farmer/Hollingsworth all clearly brought their A-game and it was very gratifying to see what top creators could do with this admittedly oversaturated character if given free rein. It turns out they were just getting started. The hook here is so straightforward and brilliant, it’s hard to believe no one’s stumbled upon it before now: Logan loses his healing factor. The effect that this has upon him is something that is just beginning to be explored but the most interesting bit thus far occurs when Cornell breaks the “Show, don’t tell” rule and has Storm just straight up relay nuances that we as readers are not privy to, the sound of his voice, how raw it is, like he’s always shivering. That is some serious evocative imagery that dialed me right into the man who finds himself suddenly confronting his mortality in a way that he has never had to before. Plotwise, we move along with acquiring The Host with a side of love triangle between T’Challa, Storm, and our protagonist with a nice reversal there at the end that plays well. The art is once again spectacular and some of the best in the business. Alan Davis cannot be praised or revered enough, the man is a consummate storytelling master, dynamic action, interesting framing and angles, and some of the strongest acting through facial expression this side of Kevin Maguire. It’s hard to believe how chamelonic Matt Hollingsworth’s style is, the way the guy completely gets out of the way and just does whatever best suits the pages, this is a very good looking but much more by-the-numbers type of superhero gig that straddles the line between the flatter work that’s happening over on HAWKEYE or the impressionistic washes splashing through THE WAKE. Top drawer, all around. One issue in and I already can’t wait to have the whole thing in trade up on a shelf to devour in a single sitting with no ads.

UNCANNY X-MEN #015 — Frazer Irving! I didn’t know you were coming back! Just assumed it was one and done. Terrific news. This is all fairly standard business. Mutants stand around and talk about things and develop their character, there are some powers, an angry mob, the demon sorceress gets accidentally skipped forward in time, a former nemesis steals the Blackbird (is it still a Blackbird? Did they get the Blackbird? It seems like Scott should get it), fairly standard business. Consistently entertaining. Bendis!

BEST OF WEEK: INFINITY #1 — What a terribly well done and accessible Big Event first issue. Hickman’s standard PREVIOUSLY IN… montage gets dumped in favor of just re-running two pages from NEW AVENGERS #6 before we launch into white-sheet title-card frenzy. What has been a standard Hickman graphic beat finds new narrative utility here as a transition between the many different scenes and ensembles that come firing our way in this first issue. Predictably, Cheung/Morales(&friends)/Ponsor completely blow it up on art. Just that page of the Outrider making planetfall and hitting stealth mode over the city alone, a ridiculous level of greatness. But how wonderful is that title page? 48 characters, a dozen of whom I don’t think we’ve ever heard of, spanning five different groups and then Abigail Brand, Thanos, and the Skrulls are all off by themselves. Immediately, the reader is plunged into the depth of the scope of this event. Why can’t we just get a straight-up SPACEKNIGHTS OF GALADOR series? Paging Joe Casey, I would read the hell out of that. And, um, that doomed Sanno kid, the citizen of Galador, looked kind of exactly like Luke Skywalker in EPISODE IV, the white shirt from Tattooine and everything. His father’s father was a knight? And fought in the Wraith Wars? We are only a couple of membranes away from the parallel universe containing the Jedi, I tell you what. But, wait, Galador! Quit burning everything, Hickman! And but what’s the deal over on the Moon? Black Bolt’s secret-within-a secret makes it look like the Illuminati’s former incarnation was a bunch of Tolkien kings and queen. Cheung gives us the requisite amount of krackle when Black Bolt suits up. That Outrider is a resilient little cuss, gets his arm torn off and endures a whisper from the king, not sure we’ve see that before. And over to the Avengers disembarkation. I kind of feel like something very bad is going to happen to Sam and/or Bobby, Hickman’s writing them like such douchebags, seems like seeding the potential for tragic growth or just sudden poignant massacre. But as we wind up, everything looks suitably ominous, the stage is set, the extensive cast is in place, and the intergalactic mayhem is set to begin. This is the culmination of everything that Hickman has been writing toward since his run began just eight months ago. What’s so impressive about this is that it functions on that level, not as much paying off what’s been set up but setting that process in motion, the beginning of the end, as the characters keep saying, but then it gives every indication of seeming to also function as a self-contained premiere issue, not relying on anything that has come up before and conveying any information that a new reader needs to know in a lean but not too overly expositional manner. Which is really much more of a high-wire act than people realize. The economy and razor-sharp cuts of Hickman’s script belie the ruthless efficiency of a master craftsman who has barely begun to unleash his full narrative fury. I know I say this like every three years, but if this one stays the course and lives up to the promise of its first issue, which I have every indication to believe that it will, INFINITY has the potential to be the richest, most satisfying Marvel event since SECRET WARS.

Friday, August 23, 2013


THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #13 — Okay, wow, and now we’re into the ONE YEAR LATER blister-on-through. Hickman really lays down on the gas here as we hit the fast-forward button and check in with the progress of all of the various projects envisioned by Oppenheimer. I was surprised by how affecting I found Yuri & Laika’s goodbye. Thirty-five in dog years, indeed. The depiction of JFK is brutal and kind of perfect. And of course Oppenheimer is the next major problem on the horizon, which I guess he’s always been. The art in this issue is particularly good, Pitarra’s found some improbable way to tighten up his hyper-detailed super-fine linework and Bellaire’s colors have never looked better. Thirteen issues in, this book still seems to be on the ascendant, spiking all the way up out of orbit with low to no probability of flaming out and tumbling back down to earth.

PROPHET #38 — I love how this book just starts on the inside cover now. We continue our tour of the far-future Awesome universe as Old Man Prophet takes tea with the evolved form of Suprema while in search of Badrock. And what’s that you say, Glory is still out somewhere running around? Paging Ross Campbell! And a lifebomb detonates, freeing the sleeping celestial body of Moorrock, son of Badrock, from the gravity well of a nearby star. This book is oooooouuuuut.

BEST OF WEEK: TRILLIUM #1 — I picked up SWEET TOOTH #1 the day it came out. It was only a buck and a new Vertigo and seems like the first issue of THE UNWRITTEN had just blown me away in the not-too-distant past with the same deal, so, you know, not such a gamble, those four quarters. It was the first Jeff Lemire book I had ever read, and while I certainly did not find it offensive, I didn’t love it. I wasn’t crazy about the art and, more importantly to me at the time, the last few pages of the issue had also been reprinted in a preview that was running around in the back of Vertigo books the previous month, all of which to say that I concluded the first issue distinctly underwhelmed and quite certain that I would not be picking up #2 at full price in four weeks. But then I kept hearing about how great THE ESSEX TRILOGY was, and when I saw it at a deep discount not that much later, I picked it up and was blown away. It was like Top 10 Graphic Novels I’d Ever Read good. And of course caused me to reevaluate Lemire. I eventually started picking up the SWEET TOOTH trades and—like most folks, I suspect—cried my eyes out all through #40. And went back to hit THE NOBODY and picked up that LOST DOGS reprint that Top Shelf did a little while ago and of course THE UNDERWATER WELDER is brilliant as well, and so no one was more excited than me to hear that he would be writing mainstream DC books with the reboot, and ANIMAL MAN has held up as one of my favorite monthlies these past two years, and how insane that we can even live in a world that someone can string those words together, and but so all of which to say, I came into this issue with some serious positive emotional baggage with regard to Jeff Lemire, particularly on his creator-owned work that he also draws.

But this one really just blew me away. The flip-book format is perfect. Both chapters are immediately engaging and manage to seem fresh and original while still dealing in fairly standard tropes of the science fiction and war genres. So but of course this is a love story. Or will be. It’s hard to believe that this was all essentially prologue, we won’t be privy to the supercollision of all that we have come to know until next issue. Even after three passes through this thing, I’m still reeling, it’s hard to talk about it coherently. Clearly. Let’s see. There are two fourteen-page stories. Lemire writes and draws it and shares coloring duties with his boy Jose Villarrubia, and the nearly one thousand pages they spent together on SWEET TOOTH is apparent, the shorthand between longtime collaborators who by now are intimately familiar with the minutiae of the other man’s craft. Our protagonists are a scientist from the end of the 38th century who happens to be the last person convinced that diplomacy with an alien race is the key to humanity’s survival, and then we’ve got a shell-shocked WWI veteran cutting through the Amazon jungle searching for meaning from the Lost Temple of the Incas. It’s not horrifically reductionistic to say that this entire glorious flip-book premiere issue amounts to one of the most compelling and intricately composed meet-cutes of all time, one that traverses time, space, and genre with the graceful ease of a sprinter barreling over hurdles. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

SATELLITE SAM #2 — If anything, I liked this one a little bit better than the first issue, with which I was quite taken. But this is clearly one of those narratives that’s going to accrue momentum by the installment as we have more and more time to get to know our ensemble. Fraction’s writing is nuanced and much more like CASANOVA Fraction than THOR Fraction, and Chaykin’s art looks just impossibly damn good in black and white. If I can just get used to the no-word-balloons thing, then I’m all the way in. This is definitely another one of the new Really Great Books that Image seems to just be shoveling out every few weeks, now.

FATALE #16 — Josephine decides to call herself Jane Doe and start sleeping with everybody, which is clearly her default setting. The art remains fantastic and Brubaker’s prose is leaner and sharper than ever.

KICK-ASS 3 #2 — This one was really kind of filler. The Motherfucker’s mother goes to kill him but then inexplicably kills a hit-man who was already in the process of killing The Motherfucker. Hit-Girl is nowhere to be found. Millar remains an evil douche and I ingest and retain an infinitesimal percentage of that evil by giving him money. I like to tell myself that I’m on a self-prescribed vaccination program but I know that I’m lying.

DETECTIVE COMICS #23 — The plot thickens between Bruce and his new antipodal arch-nemesis, escalating to the point that even letterer Jared K. Fletcher mixes them up and has each man delivering his opponent’s lines on the bottom of Page Ten. Jason Fabok continues to absolutely throw it down, that double-page splash of Caldwell’s arsenal might have made Jim Lee Himself shudder. Really looking forward to the finale next month.

ALL-NEW X-MEN #015 — mm, David Lafuente’s highly stylized art was a bit jarring after the more photo-realistic smackdown insanity we’ve grown accustomed to from Immenon/von Grawbadger/Gracia (with Marquez pinch-hitting). I wasn’t really feeling it at all at first but warmed up to it after a few pages. Jean’s thought-bubble of rampaging Wolverine is maybe what sold it for me. Also, really well crafted moment by Bendis with Hank(s) and Jean. I am really on the edge of my seat wondering how this is all going to resolve itself when they finally have to go back. Which is of course the point, well played, all.

AVENGERS #017 — This is the end of the beginning, I guess? The narration certainly seems to indicate as much. And that there might be Real Actual Consequences stemming from the INFINITY event. I know we’re approaching fool-me-ten-times sort of levels here, but I can almost believe that Hickman will deliver. Hopefully, he will not be lobbing the script off to Spencer next month and actually be scripting the run that they are double-shipping. As an acolyte of the old New Universe, it was beyond cool to see the new Nightmask and Star Brand guys join the ranks. Also, a very unexpected development to see Ex Nihilo just fall into line, makes the character much more intriguing and will certainly lead to interesting team dynamics. For as long as they last. Bring on the hypercosmic infinite madnesses!

Monday, August 12, 2013


BEST OF THE WEEK: BATMAN INCORPORATED #13 — I started back in on that first arc with Andy Kubert, BATMAN & SON, three weeks ago and since then blasted through Morrison’s entire run. I can’t believe it’s been seven years. Three different ongoing series, two self-contained event mini-series, and three different men wearing the cowl. Actually, more than that. Many more. We even got Robin, the Toy Wonder, for God’s sake. The driving force, the engine behind the massive sprawling story Morrison crafted over the years has always been legacy. Lineage. Batman and his sons. At the close of the second act, upon his return, Bruce Wayne explicitly states that he is going to fight the idea of crime with the idea of Batman. And, as a certain terrorist in a Guy Fawkes mask once famously said, you can’t kill an idea. Ideas are bulletproof. Which makes perfect sense, the idea of Batman is the cloak that young Master Wayne wraps around himself to cope with the primal tragedy of witnessing his parents’ murder, to not only not let it destroy him but instead serve as fuel for his survival, inversely defining him, inspiring him to construct an identity and belief structure so resilient that it turns out to be immortal and that, Morrison hammers home repeatedly across space and time, will outlive him by centuries.

But it’s so easy to get lost in the web of this entire grand tapestry. This is, by my count, the eighty-fifth issue of Morrison’s run*. Legend has it that Dan Didio asked Morrison if he wanted to write Batman and right away threw out the title R.I.P. and Morrison dove right in with the novel high-concept that Everything Counted, all the pulp madness of the forties and romance of the fifties and weird Silver Age science madness of the sixties and, significantly, O’Neil/Adams’s hairy-chested love-god dark knight detective of the seventies, and Miller’s raging semi-psychotic DARK Knight of the eighties, grimmer’n’grittier than them all, and I guess the shoulder-pad-popping excess of the nineties kind of surfaced in the new Batmobile and at least the art style when Tony Daniel showed up? But at any rate, Morrison constructed a timeline in which every published adventure of Batman since 1939 could be said to have actually taken place to this incarnation, this particular character, Crises and multiversal revisions be damned, and that the first Big Bad was not The Joker, as ever, but a character who first appeared in the second of a two-part adventure published in BATMAN #156 with a cover-date of June 1963, which I think means it came out in March, which is the same month that Parlophone rush-released The Beatles’ debut album Please Please Me in the UK to capitalize on the success of the singles of the title track and “Love Me Do,” but oh, you see how this entire latticework spins you around and starts trying to pull the whole wide world into its tapestry? “A network of interlinked strands,” indeed. But so, all right. The only way to do this is linearally, page by page, or we’re going to be here forever:

Of course we open with Gordon arresting Wayne, the first scene from this second volume, Morrison’s third and final #1 writing this character. Now we’re all caught up, the kid was dead during those first couple of pages we read a year and a half ago. Still makes me so sad. The Gordon narration initially comes across as a terrific throwback to YEAR ONE. Has that ever happened during this run, Gordon captions? Doesn’t seem like it, off the top of my head. I am an insane fan of the payoff to the Page 3à4 page-turn confirming once and for all that Gordon knows. Of course he does, he always has. But, dig deeper. All the way back to DETECTIVE COMICS #27, which opens with a conversation between Commissioner Gordon and his young friend, millionaire Bruce Wayne. For his finale, Morrison takes us all the way back to first principles on every level. And but it isn’t until we first jump back to the confrontation in the cave that I realize that Morrison has now reached all the way back into the past to also subsume what's become a straight Bendis trope, having two guys sitting around talking about the climax of the story after the fact, but just killing it so hard that I don’t mind and didn’t even realize until the cut back. Just in time for Talia to let us all know that it’s the grand finale, as if we didn’t already. A bit jarring a couple of pages later, that flashback to Lieutenant Gordon there with Bruce right at the first consoling the brand-new orphan with Leslie. Is that a Snyder addition to the mythos? Seems like. You have to respect Morrison’s unflinching commitment to make everything canon. And but then wow, the title page. The stakes. Batman must kill the mother of his dead son to save Gotham. That is certainly just putting it right out there. And what a one-two punch, Bruce telling Jim that his parents’ murder made him incapable of loving anyone ever again followed by his apology to Talia for same. I had to send that particular page with no context out into the night to a dear friend, could not keep it to myself. And what a masterful resolution to the confrontation with Talia. I was thinking ahead of time that of course she had to die but Morrison really takes Goyer/Zack Snyder to school in that regard. And surely most folks figured out who the headmistress of Spyral was, it’s not like there were that many candidates, but her entrance and exit five panels later was still very well executed. I particularly enjoyed her line about it all coming full circle. I believe that Burnham’s first issue was #4 of the first volume, which was all about her.  And then, man, right up to the minute, Gordon even just goes ahead and mentions Zero Year, which, in any other context would just seem like corporate shilling but it’s almost heartbreaking how well Morrison unflinchingly roars through, tying it all together. Everything Counts. Even and especially the storyline that Misters Snyder & Capullo are good enough to be providing us across the alley in monthly installments. Only two issues have come out so far and they still get threaded in here, on the way out. And then the parting Gordon monologue is absolute perfection.  Of course it never ends. And like any truly great story, this one concludes with both resolution and the promise of so much more. Because it isn’t like these people’s lives come to an end when we run out of panels. It keeps going. It always does and it always will.

The art on this was wonderful throughout, possibly even a notch higher than the greatness to which we have grown accustomed. Chris Burnham and Nathan Fairbarn outdid themselves, as ever, but I especially loved the askew angle canting back and forth panel by panel in that last scene, invoking both the Adam West series and that kind of horrifying first reveal of Batman as Bruce Wayne coming out from behind the clock on the eighth and final page of DETECTIVE #27, again. The fractal cover is also a dead-on fit with the themes that Morrison’s been playing with, Batmen within Batmen. And but that epilogue. So much work done in two pages. Setting up another adventure/last battle that will surely only play out in our imaginations (because, really, who in the whole wide world has the balls to pick this one up and run with it? I can't believe Morrison gives us those empty graves, just horrifying) but then also invoking the phrase “Sons of Batman” to further solidify the act of reaching into the future and treating Miller’s revered THE DARK KNIGHT as canon that was begun with the Mutants’ first appearance. And if all of that wasn’t enough, the last word of the entire series**, a single syllable, just goes ahead and folds in Nolan and Bale and all the rest. Everything Counts. It all happened! Rise! “What if it was all real?”

This run has not only been one of my favorite stories that I have ever been lucky enough to read in a lifetime spent devouring stories, it has also been a constant in my life through a period of great change. I remember reading the first issue in May 2006 a very few weeks after moving back to Austin and tantalized with the possibilities of where Morrison might take us. Months later, I was thrilled beyond reason to discover that #663 was illustrated prose that took me an hour to read. Just about the best three dollars I spent that year. Three months later, #666 came out the week of Comic-Con and I was so in love with that flash-forward that actually and instantaneously (SUDDENLY…!) made shitty terrible Damian a great character that I brought it along to San Diego just so I could keep rereading it on the plane, not realizing that just because he didn’t have any autograph sessions scheduled didn’t mean old Morrison wasn’t happy to sign a book and so that was the only one of his I happened to have on me when I got to shake his hand and get charged up with the uncut narrative energy right after finding out at the J.H. Williams III panel that the pair of them were going to be producing the very next arc of the series, THE BLACK GLOVE, it was already all drawn, and reading even the kind of terrible #670 just apocalyptically drunk in the Omni hotel down on 8th Street where we were staying because Catherine had a conference and it was Halloween, or oh then, we got pregnant and had a little girl and she had to spend the fifth and sixth nights of her life in NICU and I read #682 over and over to her while she was had to stay down there passed out under those lights that were reducing the catastrophically high amount of bilirubins in her blood, and then FINAL CRISIS finally finally finished coming out, like one week after another, #6 and then the next week SUPERMAN BEYOND 3-D #2 and then #7 the week after that, but so just to read #6, I am never going to forget this, I was dealing with like a three-week-old at this point, who needed something pretty close to constant attention, which was all well and good until we got to Wednesday night and her mom was asleep and there were new comics to read, so as soon as I got her back down at midnight or whenever it was, I ran for the fridge and popped my Lone Star and started devouring FINAL CRISIS #6, no saving the best of the pile for last that night because the reading could end at any minute, and I didn’t make it ten pages before she woke up and needed to be rocked, well, I didn’t even break pace, just ran over, got her and rocked her and shushed her while still reading, only when it got to the great Batman/Darkseid showdown, when our boy shoots the living embodiment of evil dead with a time-travelling god-bullet and just, in the understatement of the millennium, says, “Gotcha,” right at that moment, my sleeping daughter let out a long burp and seriously crapped her diaper, could not contain the situation on either end, and all I could do was nod, that was exactly the appropriate reaction to what was going down there, and oh, on and on, I wish Dick & Damian could have had their own Dynamic Duo series forever, that’s really what they maybe should call it, THE DYNAMIC DUO, just when it seemed like Morrison had said all he had to say, everything went sideways, and but then of course the status quo had to be reset, but still in a way that we didn’t see coming, the franchising, the incorporation, and then that dear boy who worked so hard to overcome the dark side of his heritage struck down . . .

All leading to this. Which, the one thing I never saw coming was the implication of a tie-in double-sequel with ALL-STAR SUPERMAN. Which is probably not happening, is certainly the best-case scenario, but look at the two epilogues thematically. It’s almost the same ending. Our hero is gone, but his son(s) will live on. To meet one day and team up or fight. Probably not, I don’t actually think that that double-sequel is a story that will be told, but the fact that it’s implied is Morrison’s final masterstroke. I could go on and on and on about how much I have loved and will always love this epic feat of storytelling, but all that is really left to do is express my immense gratitude to the creators involved in bringing it into this world where we could experience it, teaching us not only that Batman and Robin will never die, but as Damian exclaimed when viewing the tapestry of his mother’s web for the first time, “We're at the center of this.”

*give or take fudging it ten or three issues, your mileage may vary, even though our guy is absent/captured for issues at a time, I think you’ve got to consider FINAL CRISIS part of the overall epic due to the events of #6 alone, and you can’t really read the main seven issues of the series and pass up on the glory of SUPERMAN BEYOND 3-D, and but then the trade also includes that admittedly uneven SUBMIT one-shot starring The Tattooed Man that Morrison wrote that has absolutely nothing to do with Batman at all and could be convincingly argued to be maybe the nadir/low point in Morrison’s entire and admittedly vast oeuvre, but anyway, it’s not like I was going to skip it along the way while powering through the other six dozen of these things.

**No TO BE CONTINUED . . . or certainly not THE END to be found here, just a straight cut. That THE SOPRANOS finale pissed everyone off so much but I would have really appreciated just a black page at the very end, it would have been a perfect touch.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

BATMAN ANNUAL #2 — Ah, crap. I should have done better in the due diligence department but just assumed that because Snyder’s name was on the cover, he actually wrote this instead of just co-plotting it. I wonder how many extra units they moved versus what would have sold without the Snyder credit. I certainly wouldn’t have dropped the money on an annual by a pair of unknown talents. But what’s done is done! How is the story? Pretty solid, our narrator is an ASTRO CITY-style civilian on the fringes, the new guy at Arkham who winds up sympathizing with the asylum’s retconned first patient, a lady who checked herself in voluntarily and is more than dismayed about what has befallen the old sanitarium since it became a cage for insane rogues. Wes Craig delivers good-looking pages displaying a surprising amount of uniformity, given that there are six inkers on this thing, and Marguerite Bennett’s ear for dialogue is crisp and never breaks character. This is a well constructed though unremarkable tale, I wouldn’t say you have to rush out and buy it, but I’m not sorry that I did.

DETECTIVE COMICS ANNUAL #2 — Layman continues serving up the Bat-thunder. And it occurs to me reading this one, how crucial Jeromy Cox is to the look of this title. Which is probably an obvious statement, of course the colorist is very important to maintaining continuity of presentation from one issue to the next, but it’s uncanny how close Scot Eaton, crucially abetted by Cox, comes to achieving the high artistic standard put forth every month on the main title by Jason Fabok. And it’s not like The Mighty Layman is phoning it in either. With one of the most successful creator-owned books on the market, Layman has not been shy about tossing in new additions to the Batman mythology just as fast as he can create them. In under a year, we’ve already had an entire Emperor Penguin long arc, are just getting cooking on the Wrath, and now in this title are introduced to Jane Doe, a very unsettling chameleon mimic who threads her way through expired lives, fleecing the recently departed for all they’re worth before moving on. Which is an idea so well suited to a Gotham rogue, it’s surprising that it’s taken someone this long to come up with it. The first back-up is a cool little riff on EC Comics-style storytelling, but the second one felt completely superfluous. Still, all in all, this one’s well worth the cover price.

FLASH ANNUAL #2 — Mr. Buccellato holds down the word-slinging end of things just fine without his usual partner-in-crime, as he has done in the past but the art team of Sami Basri and Stellar Labs on colors did not even come close to providing the incredible artwork we have come to expect from these pages. Flat composition and layouts, colors that also look, well, flat, nothing about this pops. Which wouldn’t be a dealbreaker, this is not a terrible comic, we’re just so trained to expect greatness, this sub-par art team completely capsize the issue. It’s a shame editorial couldn’t rope in Marcus To once again or why not talk the great Cully Hammer into drawing the lead feature? With Matthew Wilson on colors, that would have been the real deal. Which is to say that I enjoyed the ten-page backup a bit more than the main attraction.

ANIMAL MAN ANNUAL #2 — Oh my word, now this is how you do it. This annual feels not only like an indispensible chapter in the life of our protagonist but is also a hard-charging strong contender for best issue of the series so far. And of course it doesn’t hurt to welcome initial series artist Travel Foreman back to the fold. What devastating subject matter, though, particularly given that the entire reason that Foreman had to bow out of this title in the first place was due to his difficulty illustrating this rather macabre subject matter after his mother’s death. These flashback quasi-retcon stories can be a dicey thing, the whole wait-wait-also-this-happened-TOO all in the service of achieving a payoff that has maybe only just now occurred to the writer. But, man. The story of What Happened When Maxine Was Born is not only a perfect little yarn unto itself and certainly the only way that it could have happened but just a hell of a setup for an emotionally crushing two-page spread that completely tore me apart. Wracking sobs, I mean, without exaggeration. Really, I could see where it was heading with the return to The Spider Queen (and I love love love how Lemire subverts the typical monster-fighting formula with her) but the reveal of the dream, absolutely heartbreaking business.

THE WAKE #3 — Man, these bookend timejumps just get more and more intriguing. This continues to be one of the tightest written and best-looking comics on the rack. Matt Hollingsworth’s muted tones are a perfect complement to Sean Murphy’s kinetic linework. That particular shade of pink/purple he starts using for background on Page Five in particular really pops. I totally guessed that wasn’t Lee after the cut to her going for Bob. What a predator this thing is, though, I was completely unprepared for that venom-induced vision of the white whale feast. And once again, a stellar cliffhanger (though this is the first time we didn’t bookend with a timejump), I really don’t see how the survivors of our cast are going to survive seven more of these.

MORNING GLORIES #29 — I had to go with the Matthew Waite 8-bit video-game variant cover. Though if I’d seen the Lemire one with Casey, that would have been a hard call. I hear the 8-bit version of Sex Bob-Omb’s “Threshold” every single time I look at this thing. So it’s got that going for it. This is, I believe, the final part of the Season Two premiere, which, of course it makes all kinds of sense that that is the structure these guys would go with, breaking it up like that (see L O S T, episodes 2.1-2.3). But what we have here is kind of, almost, Spencer and Eisma putting the genie back in the bottle, at least as much as is possible on a title that has run off the rails from its initial premise to such a batshit degree (I mean this in a good way), much much more than I ever would have thought they could have managed. But for all the insanity that’s gone on in the woods and underneath the school and, you know, throughout space and time, we’ve got most of our original cast back in the halls of glorious old Morning Glory Academy with the Truants at least temporarily out of the picture and something like the old status quo miraculously and improbably back in place. And of course, just when we’re lulled into thinking that we’re about to get out of here without a massive WTF?, the lads drop a doozy on us. Quite possibly the gnarliest one yet, in a book whose regular stream of cliffhangers would give even poor Yorick & 355 a run for their money. This is yet another issue that hits the reader quite hard upon first pass through but that I’m sure will be much more devastating when binge-read in sequence with the couple of dozen issues that have come before. And the back-matter, I’m a bit horrified to discover just this very minute that Matthew Meylikov is a real person, I just kind of assumed Spencer was doing an Alan Moore-type back-matter thing laying out and breaking down all of the non-linear madness for the readers, and that premise was cracking me up more and more. The guy speculating on how it’s going to go and what this and that could all mean and such. Now that I know he’s a real dude, I’m certainly grateful to have someone walking us through the crazy, but it’s just . . . I actually can’t believe that he’s a real person. It shouldn’t freak me out so much, but there you go.

FF #010 — And in the noble Merry Marvel tradition first codified in #10 of the original volume, the creators crash down through the fourth wall to take direct part in the on-panel antics! Am a big fan of Fraction’s constant Q-Bert-filtered epithets. But Allred’s double-shipping crack followed by Fraction’s shot at Brevoort’s Formspring account is just too much, the greatness. Which only gets trumped by Allred telling Medusa that he’s always loved her. And Brevoort whacking Fraction upside the head after the breakdown on satisfying tragic-comic endings. This book has too much wonderful to be contained. I guess it’s too much to hope that the creators will just get folded into the regular cast, though there was that line about embedding Fraction & Allred. We live in hope!

DAREDEVIL #029 — Javier Rodriguez continues to prove that he’s more than just a pretty palette-slinger. We open with a really interesting about-face from Waid, all of the eyewitnesses immediately start lying about the insane cliffhanger and there’s nothing Matt can do about it. I can’t see a bird’s-eye angle shot of a stairway like the one on Page Thirteen without thinking of those opening pages of the second chapter of SIN CITY, first volume. And what a killer long shot on that penultimate page there, love the linework but the colors especially pop. And that’s got to be Kristen the Assistant DA in the chair, there, right? Matt’s half-smile at the end seems to confirm it.

UNCANNY X-MEN #009 — Man, I just love Bachalo on interiors. And funny to see the cover from DAZZLER #1 there. On vinyl, maybe even? Alison and Illyana’s back-and-forth rings true. Though hopefully we’re going to get more resolution into what happened with the team hijacking the Helicarrier, that’s too big of a deal to just get taken care of off-panel. And shenanigans with Phil “Big Fan” Coulson, this Bendis X-Men business really is the sequential equivalent of just straight crack, I enjoyed the hell out of another one and want more more more right now.

X-MEN #003 — Ah, so we only get this art team for this initial arc. So it goes. Coipel/Morales/Martin absolutely blew these pages out of the water and have set quite a standard for the talented individuals who are lined up to follow. Wood balances the interactions between the ensemble well but the resolution to the action is a bit anti-climactic. It doesn’t happen off-panel, strictly speaking, but it might as well. All of this building to . . . huh. That was it? Not a terribly satisfying payoff but I will definitely be hanging out with this title to see what else Wood has in store.

Friday, August 2, 2013


BATMAN/SUPERMAN #2 — We get Jae Lee for the duration this time and two versions of the title characters. Pak continues to excel at the captions, striking strong counterpoints between the four main characters while managing to keep their voices unique. No mean feat. It makes sense for our guys to be over on Earth-2, the darkness of Lee’s style is practically screaming ELSEWORLDS. This is well worth the cover price, though it is interesting to note that this is practically a Marvel value here, all DC does to ostensibly justify the $3.99 cover-price is include a couple of variant covers as back-matter, no additional story content whatsoever.

FLASH #22 — Another high-quality installment, the likes of which we have become accustomed to from the cosmic Manapul/Buccellato treadmill. I feel like I single it out almost every month, but this title page in particular was the absolute thunder. I think it was the first one with which they tried to be subtle and not so much foreshortened lightning-in-your-face THE FLASH!, the effect of which was sublime, I totally failed to spot the letters in the laundry and buildings, being more concerned with the dialogue and foreground art and it wasn’t until I saw “IN REVERSE PART 3” on that right side of Page 3 that I went back and was thrilled to see how well they’d hidden the main title. Phenomenal work. The issue itself was excellent, of course the art is always spectacular but there was also good character work, some nice tension between Flash/Iris re: Barry and of course the uncomfortableness of our guy having to drop her off with Patty. Not cool, Barry. And Reverse-Flash is terrifying and seems unstoppable. Already can’t wait for next month.

THE UNWRITTEN #51 — I was a little unclear on what happened with our trio of young mages. They made duplicates of themselves to fight Mister Dark? That wasn’t entirely clear from this issue. Maybe I missed it last time out. Carey, Willingham, and Gross, with the assistance of Buckingham on co-pencils and Russ Braun finishing a few pages, continue to produce a pitch-perfect FABLES crossover within the pages of this book. Still very curious and interested to figure out how this will eventually fit in with FABLES continuity but certainly enjoying this ride too much while it’s happening to get hung up on such concerns in the meantime.

BEST OF THE WEEK: THE ROCKETEER & THE SPIRIT #1 — I was going to wait for the trade on this but then couldn’t resist that Darwyn Cooke cover. And why wait? They were good enough to go with the IDW model of presentation vs DC, meaning $3.99 for a no-ad situation as opposed to $2.99 for ten pages of ads. No question what’s better. What top-drawer talent they recruited for this crossover. Of course we know that Mark Waid is going to completely knock the lights out on something like this, or really anything, but wrangling Paul Smith into the fray is a particularly inspired choice. Smith was a contemporary of Dave Stevens in the eighties, both at the head of the movement of the new guard of inspiring young artists at the time who were pushing themselves and the medium as far forward as possible, both at the very top of their game but whereas Smith broke through to serious mainstream adoration through a particularly memorable year-plus on Claremont’s UNCANNY run that saw such highlights as the introduction of the Brood, the initial Madelyne Pryor/Dark Phoenix fakeout, and the all-time classic “PROFESSOR XAVIER IS A JERK!” opening page, Stevens took a serious amount of time honing a somewhat smaller number of pages of his creator-owned property to perfection. And Stevens, of course, was drawing inspiration from a relatively simpler time best personified by the medium-defining work of Will Eisner on his seminal detective hero The Spirit. So, while to no one’s surprise, Waid bull’s-eyes every single character collision/interaction to perfection, even those limited to a couple of panels, it is a real thrill to see Smith go to town on a style that manages to be simultaneously evocative of both artists, amalgamating Stevens’s photo-realism and Eisner’s cinematic layouts and composition. This is only the first twenty-two pages, but the creative talent lays down the basic set-up with such facility and apparent ease that it seems pretty much a lock that this is going to be an optimum-case one for the ages when all is said and done. The only aspect of this book that is anything less than perfect is the title page, the straightforwardness of which is pretty much embarrassing on the same day that FLASH came out.

THE MASSIVE #14 — There’s a Georg flashback as Ryan defects, then comes back to negotiate Mal’s surrender to the American government, and then it’s time to take in a show on Broadway. Possibly a version of FINDING NEMO got up and running before the collapse?

GAMMA ONE-SHOT — This is great fun, right here. Dark Horse was good enough to reprint this compilation of a three-part serial that ran eight pages at a time in DARK HORSE PRESENTS #18-20. Like LIL’ GOTHAM, this series benefits from having the individual solely responsible for interiors as a co-writer, so the beats line up very nicely. What we have here is a kind of Pokemon send-up by way of the wild west with a dash of kaiju action thrown in, all drawn and hand-lettered in a smile reminiscent of Brandon Graham’s solo material. While Dusty’s road to quasi-redemption might not be the stuff of legend, this tale is a self-contained burst of fun that is more than worth the $2.99 and ten minutes it will take the reader to consume it.

YOUNG AVENGERS #008 — That is a more-than-solid single-page interdimensional montage that kicks things off. Gillen keeps the ideas flying fast and furious and the tag-team art crew of McKelvie/Norton/Wilson provide consistent excellence throughout. No great surprise to see the return of the Oubliettes, can’t believe it took this long. And Miss America is coming into her own as a character, I like how they’re not rushing to spit out her origin but just letting her hang out and develop at a slower pace. It worked for the hairy Canadian. Also very cool to see McKelvie’s stylistic panel-play return, Miss America smashing down on the panel borders for an emergency exit leading to the return of a character who will have fans of JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY all in a tizzy. Followed by more panel-play there at the end with Teddy and David running away, strong strong panel work all around. And that last page, this book is making some kind of hard charge for some a sweep at the GLAAD Awards, Kate Kane & J.H. Williams III, watch your back!

UNCANNY AVENGERS #010 — Remender continues digging deep, dusting off Ozymandias, not that Comedian-killin’ fellow who used a secret psychic space-alien conspiracy to save the world from communism and nuclear holocaust, but some Egyptian-type who I vaguely recall running around in the X-books sometime in the nineties, when I kept dropping in to confirm that it was still a train-wreck disaster post-Claremont and dropping right back out. At any rate. This issue. The balance on this title is starting to swing a bit heavier in favor of the philosophy talky-talk than I would prefer. I’m fine with protagonists being characterized via the particular way in which they hash out some kind of issue with one another but it feels like it’s happening every time. Oh, Alex and Wanda are off checking out the Guatemalan temple, it must be time to talk about Xavier’s Dream and our culture’s desensitization to violence as portrayed by media cycles. Wanda seems to be crushing on Alex pretty hard, there. And wow, can’t believe that The Grim Reaper Horseman made a CHEERS reference, that was certainly an interesting call. Logan telling Thor and Rogue to quit ass-grabbin’ is a good time, but I do believe that verb should be a hyphenate. Also a fan of him calling the former “Fabio.” And Shai-Hulud from Arrakis makes a triumphant present-day appearance! Our heroes can’t seem to catch a break.

NEW AVENGERS #008 — Well, that was a whole bunch of random business blowing up, there. This issue appears to take place on a tangent to INFINITY #1 with the majority of Cap’s 18-member squad heading off-planet off-panel and leaving Tony behind to walk around and Talk Bbout Really Heavy Shit with Reed, which is turning out to be this book’s comfort zone. Which I’m fine with. Medusa gets pissed and slaps Black Bolt, the Wakanda/Atlantis hostilities erupt, and we burn four pages on checking in with the arriving invaders in a variety of locales. Deodato/Martin’s pages are beautiful, as ever, but overall, this one felt more like racing down a bullet-point list of plot-points that need to be accomplished, as opposed to the crushing single-issue experience that characterized every month of the first arc.

HAWKEYE ANNUAL #001 — All right, I think I went in with expectations that were too jacked up for this one and it kind of let me down. I guess is what happened? Since her arrival in #002 of this title, I have been a huge fan of the dynamic and interaction between Kate Bishop and Clint Barton, and old Gillen has done fine ensemble work with her over in his book, but when I heard that this annual was going to be a solo story featuring her, presumably following up on the horrifying ending of #011 that we got from Arrow/Lucky/Pizza Dog’s POV, I was really really looking forward to this. And it’s solid, certainly. There’s nothing wrong with it. Javier Pulido drops back in to follow up on the two-parter her illustrated in #s 4 and 5. I was, in particular, a fan of the cartoonish inset-panels that featured Kate’s internal monologue. Matt Hollingsworth’s pretty flat palette continues to be exactly what this book needs, no more, no less. And Fraction does make with the clever while providing a tale of Madame Masque stalking her down-and-out houseguest Kate, who knows she’s being stalked and is stalking in return, repeat ad infinitum on down the line. And like I said, there’s nothing wrong with it, per se, this issue just doesn’t hit that crazy alchemy that is like a regular expected thing in the ongoing where every month, they push the form forward just a little bit further on the page and break our hearts off the page with the story of how these people relate to one another and make their troubled way in a world that might be the Marvel-616 but is really just Bed-Stuy, which stays the same no matter what universe it’s in.