ALL-NEW X-MEN #17 — Now that is the real-life slam-bang accept-no-substitutes unfiltered goodness. Right from the first three pages, there. I knew knew knew it was all going to go so horribly wrong, but man, as soon as Future Hank shed a tear out there in front of the Capitol, I was right there with him. What a damn campaign it must have been that we didn’t even get to see a panel of. And Handlebar-stach Piotr seeing his little snowflake, man, that broke me down even worse. I almost take them for granted, these merry mutants, but I picked up my first issue of UNCANNY in the summer of 1988 when I was eleven years old, which certainly seemed at the time like the perfect age to check in to the mansion at 1407 Graymalkin Lane. The issue on the rack that day was #236 and I got #231 too because I liked the Leonardi cover but by the time #239 hit the stands and it was time to ignite Inferno, I was pretty much up to speed with the situation, had completely absorbed #155 on and also hit The Dark Phoenix Saga in trade (the first time that happened, I guess) and via the CLASSIC X-MEN reprints also spewing forth at the time was pretty well all caught up there within the first twelve weeks of that first Genosha arc. All of which to say, I grew up with these people. I love them. They are family to me. Long before my first beer, I dreamed of sneaking off to Harry’s for a pint or two with Logan and Kurt just for the comradery, the conversation. As much as I toe-crinklingly adored Morrison’s run and the ASTONISHING Whedon/Cassadayness that followed, Bendis’s run right here is the closest I’ve felt to them since that first white-hot pubescent blast.
MARVEL KNIGHTS SPIDER-MAN #1 — Well, I had very high hopes for this, have been a fan of Kindt since he took over FRANKENSTEIN… from Lemire and maintained the quality, had to go back and check out REVOLVER and MIND MGMT, which are both excellent, and have been a fan of Brother Rudy since he was over on Lemire’s rebooted-before-its-time SUPERBOY and then kicking all kinds of ass during the first year and a half of this latest volume of SWAMP THING. And the boys, they did not disappoint! From the first page, this feels very much like classic Marvel Knights, which is to say the off-kilter 616 equivalent of Vertigo, which is in no way a dig, I believe that is a very good thing. Right away, both the narrative voice and art are spot-on for Peter but simultaneously evoking that same kind of underlying sinister tone that Morrison had going with Jae Lee on the FF: 1234 deal or the aforementioned did with Jenkins on that killer INHUMANS series. They hit the gas right away with these pages. The level of depth and detail on that close-up of Peter on Page Three are not to be believed. And Rudy has managed to both refine and escalate the quality of his innovative layouts, one of the only guys in the industry who seems to be not only processing the insanity that J.H. Williams III brings to his panel arrangement but actually running with it and trying to push it forward. And I’m glad I took a moment on Page Three to slow and down and really appreciate the quality of what was going down there because after that, basically everything goes insane. They hit the gas on this issue in more ways then one. The little girl robot blows up, Peter gets dosed and since he’s our narrator, we basically have as little idea what’s actually going on right now as he does. He keeps saying that he’s dropping frames, which is a clever way for Kindt to translate the fact that Rudy is no longer giving us linear consecutive panels, the gutters are miiiiiiiiles long, and the effect upon the reader is perfectly identical to that upon Peter, we just get beat up every single direction backwards and forwards (even the lettering goes backwards for a page), things happen out of sequence, it’s an entire damn mess. A glorious one. Hard to believe that through all of this rabid madness, we actually get the set-up for the series. I presume they have some plan to escalate this next issue but don’t see how?
CATALYST COMIX #4 — I am late to the party but have jammed this entire run and am now entirely caught up. Joe Casey has done a terribly cool thing here, this is an anthology featuring three different serials that take turns headlining, with the one in front getting fourteen pages and the other two seven pages each. 28 pages with a single ad and a letter-column for $2.99. You can’t afford NOT to buy this thing. The first headliner was “The Ballad of Frank Wells,” which scans as kind of an existentialist Zen riff that at least starts out in GØDLAND territory, though it’s clearly headed somewhere all its own. Dan McDaid provides suitably crackling art. Then Austin’s own Paul Maybury takes up the torch to present the adventures of a teen super-heroine named Amazing Grace, who it looks like is in the process of getting seduced by an extra-dimensional charmer called Mr. Seaver, though she seems to be turning it around on him here in this latest issue. “Amazing Grace” takes the headlining slot with this issue (and I assume for the next two) and I’m looking forward to seeing her story have twice the room to develop, this one is my favorite of the batch. But we also have “Agents of Change,” which features a super-team that’s been reunited but all they’ve done so far is go to group therapy and get blasted at a club, only it turns out they’re rocking a MATRIX-or-really-JOHN-BYRNE’S-NEXT-MEN-type virtual-reality situation. That one’s really been a slow burn so far but I have a feeling it’s going to blow up once it moves to the headliner slot. Ulises Farinas on art. But then Brad Simpson is coloring everything and really does a good job giving each story its own palette but really making them all feel unified, which seems like it would be a hard thing to do. And Rus Wooton is lettering the whole deal and manages not to toss in those italicized phrases that are so obtrusive over on the Hickman books, so I guess we can blame him for those. If you are one of those who complains that there is nothing new under the sun and the Big Two are incapable of producing superhero comics that set your heart a-racing, you should give this book a shot, there’s really nothing like it on the rack and quite a lot of story for your three American dollars.
MORNING GLORIES #32 — Aw, a Vanessa issue. I’ve got to say, I am almost almost getting wise to this book, when she was talking to the person on the other side of the wall, was thinking, “Well, I really wish that we could hear this person’s voice. If it’s a woman, it’s probably either Casey in disguise or Future Vanessa. If it’s a dude, got to be Future Hunter.” And the instruction site. Our august commentator lumps that right in with the tower and the cave, at this point, I’m okay if Hurley shows up. It would be a hell of a cliffhanger. He can be saying “Dude . . .” in the last panel on the penultimate page and then you turn the page and there’s Hugo. I would just completely break down if that happened.
TRILLIUM #3 — Man, a very efficient but nonetheless brutal little slice of backstory to open up, there. They pack just the right amount into only six panels. And we’re back to a flip for the past sequences. Flashes of manga, turning the pages from left to right. “Sorry, but I need your raygun,” is the line of dialogue to beat tonight. Elegant in its simplicity! Nika needs the raygun to kill that door at 78%-charge. And now everyone’s in the mix. Big brother Clayton makes it to the future and it looks like those three heavy glide bombers follow Nika back to the past. And next issue is the end of the universe. This continues to be one of the very best stories currently on the rack, just wonderful business all around. Lemire & Villarrubia ride again!
DETECTIVE COMICS #24 — That cover is like an old-school STAR WARS level of excitement-generating. I suppose, now that I mention it, the only way to possibly crank it up is to have them dueling with lightsabers. Layman/Fabok/Blond do nothing more than continue their run of greatness, bringing the arc with the Wrath to a conclusion of sorts while once again setting the next deal up right away, it looks like it’s probably Man-Bat’s turn in the rotation. I like how the epilogue of this one parallels the Emperor Penguin story, highlighting what happens when Batman wins, his antagonists are only beaten insofar as their current plan but they go right back to their cell in Arkham and start hatching their next dastardly scheme. A bittersweet announcement about the creative team, I have really enjoyed Manapul/Buccellato’s work on FLASH and am certainly onboard to see what they do here (and not just to see how many incredible ways they can Eisner the title sequence into the Gotham skyline). But man, would really love for this current team to hang out for another couple of years, this has been a terribly strong run all around.
FOREVER EVIL #2 — Man. I’m not sure that having Luthor inner-monologue a quote on survival of the fittest by some obscure novelist named David E. Smalley is the way to make him come across as smarter. Unless the plot of his 1929 novel STUMBLING is some sort of foreshadowing clue? “…his mystery/suspense novel that was probably the inspiration of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE a generation later- about a vicious murderer, surgically altered to become a brilliant surgeon and philanthropist. And the complications that ensue.” That would be pretty nifty subtextual work if the end of that’s a clue to the end of the series, I have to say. And Otis! I can hear Ned Beatty now. “Mistah Luthor.” Raven needs to figure out that “an evil Justice League” is not a figurative term and does not require the “literally” qualifier. I swear to God. Like last issue, the art is lovingly hyper-rendered, it looks like it took three months to draw this thing, Finch is a beast and Friend and Oback complement his lines to tremendous effect, but if Johns can’t deliver characters that I can invest in taking party in a story that I care about, well, it’s not even worth quoting Faulkner over.
BEST OF WEEK: BATMAN: BLACK AND WHITE #2 — I’m honestly such a fan of this concept, it’s going to take something pretty special to knock it out of the top spot every week it comes out, critical bias confessed. This time out, we open with a tale by Co-Publisher Dan Didio and insanely talented photorealistic renderer J.G. Jones that looks like it’s Man-Bat saving his kids from a molesting worker at the foster home where they’re living. Narrated by the little girl. Pretty grim stuff, top drawer craftsmanship. Then we get a hell of a tale written and drawn by Brazilian phenom Rafael Grampá featuring the Joker talking some real creepy folks into robbing Wayne Manor by way of a very well written monologue about circles and patterns that is heavy on the symbolism. Killer twist at the end but the real star is of course Grampá on eight pages of Batman interior sequentials. Rafael Albuquerque of AMERICAN VAMPIRE fame steps up to the writer/artist plate next and delivers a solid romp through Purgatory for our dark knight that has another twist ending. These artists and their twists! The next one I’m not so sure about. Jeff Lemire predictably knocks his script out of the park but legendary Filipino illustrator Alex Nino makes the decision or didn’t have time to ink the pages. Maybe he thought gray markers would do the job for a gang of the shading but whether the effect is intentional or not, the end result looks to these eyes like pages that are sorely in need of finishing. And the story deserves more than that. Hellacious linework throughout, it must be said. Finally, the perfect headliner, long-time Hollywood Bat-producer Michael Uslan and Dave Bullock throw down a silent movie starring The Bat-Man, complete with the celluloid reels on either side of the page and title cards for the spoken dialogue. Bullock’s time spent making all those great cartoons is put to tremendous use here, this looks pretty much like screen shots from a silent black and white forties equivalent of the Timm/Dini animated series. And just when it seems like the thing’s possibly more style than substance and there’s maybe nothing wrong with that, Uslan pulls a knife on you in the end. Strong strong material. Forty pages, five dollars, no ads, and it’s all For Archie Goodwin. What is there not to adore about this series?