Wednesday, January 29, 2014


BATMAN #27 — All right, this one won me back over. I’ve been thinking that we’ve been languishing for too long here in the Zero Year and feeling like as immaculately crafted as every page has been, it’s been past time to get back to the present day where there are higher stakes. But Snyder has been slowly building something, and here it reaches critical mass as the creators finally get around to paying homage to that time in YEAR ONE when the GCPD did their very best to perforate the Caped Crusader, which of course makes for a jawdropping bit of business as staged by Capullo. The resolution of that encounter comes across as both unexpected and the only way that it could have happened in hindsight. Later in the book, Gordon delivers a monologue that does a really effective job of tying together the whole retcon of him being the beat cop who caught the case of the Waynes’ murder and it resonates really well, justifies the whole deal in a way that I had until now strongly felt was lacking. We also see The Riddler come into his own here, as well, with a more logical explanation for his motivations than I have ever personally run across. And really, that one Frank Miller shot where the silhouette is backlit by the lightning over Alfred’s caption about making them all bearing witness, that might be the single greatest panel Capullo has drawn in two and a half really stunning years' worth of issues.

BATMAN AND ROBIN #27 — This issue also spends a fair chunk of time in the early days of caped crusading as we dial the clock back even further past the origin of Two-Face in order to witness the evolution of Harvey Dent from legal-system-gaming defense attorney to the doomed Apollonian district attorney we all know and love. Peter Tomasi subverts the present-day antics about as far as he can with our hero and McKillen and Two-Face all momentarily on the same side. As usual, the panels in this are a Masters class in sequential storytelling with Patrick Gleason framing every shot in the way that most optimally tells the story but never in a flashy or overt manner. Invisible directing. And of course, his cohorts Mick Gray and John Kalisz once again make his lines sing. This remains one of the most compelling and high-quality books of The New 52 since Day One. Really, these four here this week are the champs of the entire lot, have all been cooking with fire from the get-go and held on to the same creative team with the exception of the succession of kickass artists blasting through the following series.

ANIMAL MAN #27 — Dire dire times here in The Red as we barrel on toward the conclusion of this series. Rafael Albuquerque continues to absolutely knock this business out of the park. And he even quit signing all of his badass splash pages, or at least I didn’t notice if he did, which is just as good. Jeff Lemire manages to find a way to once again ratchet up the stakes and make the reader feel true concern over the fate of these characters. It’s going to be sad to say goodbye to this one but also very satisfying to reach an organic conclusion to this story.

WONDER WOMAN #27 — Dear Lord, Cliff Chiang and Matthew Wilson produce good-looking art for this series. These pages are stunning. And Azzarello doesn’t let up, continuing to weave a tale that is vast in scope and better measured in years than in these monthly installments and that has much more to do with Greek mythology than Justice Leagues or superheroes. Quality work, all around. And just when things can’t get any better, a minotaur gimp shows up. So, we’re basically all good here.

CHEW #39 — The Page Three trapdoor into Amelia’s novel is pretty much the greatest thing that has happened in this series. Well, POYO!!!! notwithstanding. Whether or not that CCP on the door of the detective’s car means what I think it does. But the glory doesn’t stop there, Olive’s turn impersonating her father and confiscating the psychedelic chogs induces a trip leading to a final page that makes me very glad to have been so wrong in a review of one of a previous issue of this series. The conclusion of this arc is going to be a hell of a thing.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #24 — I guess we’re going to get an epilogue here, I mean, I know we are, but this issue is, in most of the ways that matter, the climax of this entire run. And it delivers on every level. Of course, the art is stellar, that’s never been an issue, but detractors of Wood’s take on Conan (and if you’re someone who’s putting the words “emo” and “Conan” in the same sentence, I want to point out that you’re almost certainly doing more harm to Robert E. Howard’s legacy than any perpetrated by the writer of these pages) will find not only plenty of requisite carnage herein but also an answer to why our hero has been acting this way. Because for all his bluster and braggadocio and battle-axe thunder, this is the character at a pivotal time in his life and the ending of this story in particular turns out to be a massive influence on the development and codification of everything that is core to his being. We can’t hold it against the character for not acting like he should in #5 when he doesn’t become who we think we know until after #25. You can cite primary text all you like, but I haven’t hit that. On its own merits, this story succeeds in depicting the Cimmerian in the happiest years of his young life, and the creators paint such a vivid picture that it is all the more heartbreaking when they are ripped away from him, as we know they must be.

PRETTY DEADLY #4 — This was the first one that made total sense to me on the first pass through. Which isn’t a dig, I just think I’m getting much more acclimated to the rhythms of this crazy fever-dream. Rios/Bellaire continue to produce pages of great depth and thunderous beauty. Kelly Sue gives us a hell of a final page to end on and then one-ups herself once again in the back-matter by invoking Fraction and Gaiman as they attempt to trap the ephemeral process of writing in words, always a dicey endeavor but I’m certainly thrilled to read about what they have to say.

ALL-NEW X-MEN #022.NOW — It really is a funny thing how whatever latest marketing research the folks at Marvel have in the can says it’s a good idea to just throw a big white #1 that’s even bigger than the book’s logo up in the top right corner and that that will move a few thousand more units. Even if this is the twenty-second issue of the book. Or twenty-second-nowth issue! Ah, they’re probably right. Funny, though. Okay, so what we have here is the not-that-long-but-still-greatly-awaited return of our A-list art team just in time for a special-jumping-on issue in which the first half of the book is Teen Scott and Teen Jean having it out in the kitchen with poor dreamboat Teen Warren caught in the middle before the Shi’ar try to blow up a RUN-DMC-rhymin’ Teen Bobby Drake while in pursuit of the aforementioned Teen Jean. They take her and leave and then the Guardians of the Galaxy show up in a gorgeous double-page splash, just in time for this arc to be collected in hardcover by the time they make their cinematic debut in May, I suspect. While that summary might make this sound relatively light on plot, every single page is laid out and rendered and colored to such perfection that it really is a treat to thumb through this thing more than once. However, Bendis has a pretty serious misfire on characterization with the much beloved Professor K, who completely loses her shit and spends half a page screaming about what could the Shi’ar POSSibly want with Jean and how could they have known she was here, etc? Did Bendis think that was a plot-hole that needed to be addressed? We all know the Shi’ar’s beef with Jean Grey. If he wants to burn a panel having Kitty catch up a confused X-23/New-Readers about the five billion souls she ate up in the D’bari system that one time in 1981 right before Kitty joined up, that would be fine, but there is no way in the world that this should have caused her to freak out with incredulity. Those aliens have got a genetic matrix set for Jean’s DNA code and when it finally went off, they came and got her. No problem. One other thing, Teen Hank’s chalkboard at the first seemed like it might have a bunch of Easter eggs for what’s coming in the next little bit, the way Bendis had Tony Stark do in, I want to say, the fifth issue of his AVENGERS reboot (first used by Johns in 52, seems like), but the only thing of real note that I found is almost funny. There in the bottom right corner it says that “Dark Phoenix Dies . . . Again.” They’re really verging on, if not straight up crossing over into self-parody here. But I bet that issue where she dies again gets a nice new #1 up at the top of its cover, too.

BEST OF WEEK: HAWKEYE #16 — How great that we didn’t wait on Aja to finish up #15 but just went ahead and jammed this out. I certainly don’t mind. And here, wow, if the Page One isn’t screaming Brian Wilson/PET SOUNDS at you, that first panel on Page Two will certainly get the job done. A case like this is a perfect fit for Kate’s West Coast avenging and not that surprising, given Fraction’s well-documented sonic sensibilities. I do have to say that I’m not sure where a girl raised as a Manhattan socialite (because her dad is in publishing, right? I’m not making that up?) picked up the “y’all.” Just because your wife is from Texas doesn’t mean that your best female characters should talk like her, Fraction. Though the Lucas reference is spot-on. “Libarry” is typo’d on the first panel of the next page. I really dig Annie Wu’s interpretation of Kate, as much of a mark as both Aja and McKelvie have both put on her of late, I kind of can’t remember what any other version looks like when I’m going through these pages. Love her Bryson-hedge-as-phone-booth costume-change in particular. More clever shout-outs to Sharon Tate and The Champions one was actually laugh-out-loud hilarious. The image of The Bjösendurber in the wading pool is one for the ages. Kate’s facial expression after Bryson calls out the contents of the acetate master recorded on 5/8/80 by just eyeballing it is a masterstroke of cartooning. And I actually got choked up at the end, love how they left it entirely to us, the song playing in my head was indeed beautiful. And conjured up from all this, so, many thank yous to all involved. Sorry to see Wacker leave, have really enjoyed his style on every project of his I’ve picked up. I guess we’ll get some swell cartoons out of it.

AVENGERS #025 — I need to quit getting excited when I see the name Martin on the cover of one of these because it never winds up being Laura. Not that I’ve got anything against Frank, but come on. Hickman dials up the parallel-universe shenanigans herein and even manages to work in a permutation of Bendis riffage by bringing in a crew of All-New/Actually-Original Avengers. Only with a twist! And I am really not a fan of the old crazy-opening-scene-cutting-to-X-AMOUNT-OF-DAYS/HOURS-EARLIER trope that BSG absolutely beat to death wherein we spend the entire installment just leading up to that nutty time that the writer opened with, but this time the remainder of the issue is so engaging that when we finally get caught up, I had been carried away enough that I hadn’t spent the entire time figuring out how we were going to get to that craaaazy opening and when we made it back to that dead Avenger’s body, it was definitely a cool moment, everything fitting into place, there. Deftly executed. No pun intended. Sal Larroca draws a pretty iconic version of Thor, but his likeness of Clark Gregg’s Coulson there on the last page is downright uncanny.

FF #016 — And so we bring it all to an end. Scott Lang has figured out the three axes of manipulating Pym particles and it is apparently a big enough deal to freak old Uatu out. It also leads to a very cool splash/graph from Allred that brings his panel-bending shenanigans from WEDNESDAY COMICS with Gaiman roaring back into my head, always welcome. Bentley and Onome’s subsequent exchange is an instant classic. And then the rest of the issue is nothing but Lang’s payback on Doom. Which is as it should be. The Allreds all continue to bring the justice throughout. Solid closure that had me wrapped up enough that I freaked out when it looked like Val bought it, though of course I should have remembered that she makes it to the Barbecue in the Blue Area of the Moon. Which was handled in an interesting way here, five pages that we already saw last week with five new pages featuring this book’s cast interspersed throughout. It made hitting those final three pages that I had already read the least bit anti-climactic but I really didn’t mind. More than any other book on the rack, this permutation of this title really did the best job of capturing that zany anything-can-happen vibe of Silver Age Marvel. Cannot imagine a better art team for it. Good fun, throughout. And I really committed to write a much longer and more in-depth review for this final issue of the run but it turns out I’ve got all this other writing to do over here now suddenly. Okay, that was the final Fraction Bailed joke. Thank you and good night.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


FANTASTIC FOUR FINALE #016 — Well, it wouldn’t be a fitting end to this run without the replacement guys zinging off a couple of more gratuitous “literally”s. It actually made me kind of instantly nostalgic to see them. I am a sucker for recurring motifs. Even consistent and remarkably persistent grammar-mangling ones. There has been no small amount of complaining and consternation from this corner about the quality of this run since Fraction bailed to go write INHUMANS or as it turns out slam out a gang of really excellent creator-owned material. So, here on the flagship title we’ve got Karl Kesel scripting to finish up Fraction’s plot with Raffaele Ienco on pencils and inks along with mainstay color-beast Paul Mounts holding down the fort after all this time. I’m pretty sure that Mounts was the longest-running colorist by the end of Hickman’s run and he’s still hanging out. And they do a pretty fair job of bringing it all home, particularly considering that the first two guys weren’t even onboard four issues ago. It certainly comes off much better than when Joe Ahearne and Stuart Immonen had to perform the exact same thankless task for the also-16-issue-long Millar/Hitch run a few years back. But the two FFs come together to battle Doom the Annihilating Conqueror for the fate of the multiverse and half of them die but it all still turns out just peachy keen. If it was just the main story, this would be a competent but somewhat lackluster finale. However, in his last month on this title, Brevoort wisely shuttles over the Allreds (and Quinones-in-his-insanely-Allredian-style) from the superior sister title for a ten-page backup that really really delivers, nothing but character beats during a barbecue on the moon that wraps up everything to complete satisfaction. Almost to the point that I barely feel like I need to read #016 of FF next week. I was feeling nervous from that glimpse during the main feature of Scott confronting Doom over in the other title but then there was that shot in the backup of Darla cuddling with Scott on the moon, so I guess everything turned out fine. Not that I’m not going to pick up the other finale, certainly not, it’s just that this backup did such an effective job serving as closure for several character arcs. The art is a thing of beauty and the way that the conversation with each character ends is just perfect. Shulkie swatting Ben, Johnny shrugging at the prospect of a music career, Sue basking in Ulana’s glow, Reed craning his neck to bring Val in on this latest bit of thrilling science, and Val arm-in-arm with Onome, that last one really did something to me. And the line was just totally thrown in, right? It isn’t like bread and circuses have ever been a thing before or are providing some kind of emotional payoff, but it still really worked. And a terrific last splash. I do look forward to the final finale of FF #016, even if the whole thing takes place before the backup here. A fine effort from all concerned but the team on the backup really knocked it out of the park

ALL-NEW X-MEN #021 — I know that Marvel is a ravenous greed-driven capital-devouring juggernaut that nothing can stop, but it wouldn’t break my heart if this went down to monthly to just maybe set it up so that the regular A-list art team can draw every issue. Peterson/Silva would be fine in any other situation but Immonen/von Grawbadger/Gracia put such a distinctive stamp on this title, their presence is always missed. That said, what a seriously cool move bringing in Brent Anderson to draw the opening flashback with William Stryker. Man kills, y’all! Plotwise, this was the most by-the-numbers this series has been thus far. Team in trouble, team gets out of trouble via mutant powers and engaging character interaction. Not bad but not one of the best books on the rack like it usually is. Hoping for a return to form next month. Ha! I mean next week, of course. Keep ’em coming! BEEEEENDDIIIIISSSS!

UNCANNY X-MEN #016 — Well, I hope the titles at the end don’t mean that Magneto is leaving this book in favor of a solo title because the dynamic of the triumvirate of him, Scott, and Emma is one of the most compelling aspects of this ensemble. Once again, Chris Bachalo completely knocks it out on pencils and colors and his four inkers do fine work subsuming their individual tics into a seamless blended style throughout the issue. I was really thinking that Magneto was about to take over Madripoor as a new sort of Island M but he certainly had other ideas. He got very angry at the end of this issue!

DAREDEVIL #035 — Man. These guys are so good that when the Serpent Society guys drop the secret origin of Daredevil on Page Six, even though we’ve sat through it a hundred times in a hundred different ways, it’s still beautiful. A lot of that comes down to Javier Rodriguez’s choice of palette but of course Chris Samnee is a beast as well. Waid does squeeze in a rooftop “literally” with Elektra, unfortunately. It’s not technically abuse of the term but I’m just really sick of the word. And that is a serious destruction cliffhanger to drop here as the last one of this volume. But doesn’t the prosecution always call their witnesses first? Or do they just do things funny up in that thar big city?

BATMAN: LIL’ GOTHAM #10—Since the pin-up that first invoked this series into existence, Dustin Nguyen has been cresting through a career-high executed with such a degree of taste and craft that almost nobody seems to even so much as realize or be talking about it. He has all this while been conducting a master-class in storytelling, drawing up all the sequentials in marker with every single panel rendered to an arguably perfect degree of detail, never too much or too little, in kind of a neverending jawdropping sequence whose magnitude accrues with each subsequent panel for coming up on a single calendar year, now. And with the help of Derek Fridolfs on script, Nguyen paints resonant and immediate portraits of the entire Gotham ensemble, evoking Bill Watterson’s finest work. Seriously, CALVIN & HOBBES is my all-time favorite strip, I’ve read them all, etc, plus besides that, I am more than willing to argue anyone up down and all around about how “Sparrow” is, bare-minimum, the third-greatest issue of LOCKE & KEY ever, so please believe this trained eye when I tell you that here, for these next last couple of months, we’re getting maximum-wattage-level Watterson-grade greatness and everyone should just delight in this series for as long as we are able.

JUSTICE LEAGUE 3000 #2 — Man, I want to hang with this due to the pedigree of the writers alone. But the ensemble dynamic is really not working. I would like to think that they are gearing it to a less frustrating situation but I’m not sure that I’m going to be along for that much more of a ride. This should be so much better.

PROPHET #42 — Quite the pastel-soaked departure here as Ron Wimberly gives us eighteen pages of one-man-band (story/art/colors) on a Diehard flashback. Which isn’t a bad thing. He’s got some serious pastels happening in his palette and is rocking a European sensibility to his style that looks like something derived from HEAVY METAL. Which of course feels right at home in this book. Plotwise, I’m not sure that we get enough meat to justify burning an entire issue on this story that doesn’t particularly offer new insight into the character that informs what’s happening now, or at least not that I can see. Still a lot of pretty pictures to look at. However. The five-page backup “Frog & Fly” by Polly Guo is really really good, beautifully written and drawn and terribly affecting. You know you’re always going to get quality at the back of this book, but I’ve never seen the backup just roll up and smoke the main feature to such an extent. Terrific work.

VELVET #3 — An entire season’s worth of intrigue in another issue as Velvet Templeton breaks into a prison to follow up her only lead on X-14’s missing day. But of course nothing is as it seems and everything goes terribly south on the penultimate page. Another quality serial installment from Brubaker/Epting/Breitweiser, they make kicking ass and completely knocking it out of the park every time look like just something you do.

ASTRO CITY #8 — All right, this one is really humming along now. Glad that it isn’t already over. Winged Victory is a terribly compelling character in her own right, but then Busiek doubles-down here with full-on trinity action and offers an intriguing tweak of the time-honored World’s Finest dynamic as played out here between Samaritan and the new Confessor. Brent Anderson seems to crank it up a bit on art, not that he was ever lacking, but this issue has layouts that are just a bit more dynamic with that last double-page splash really standing out as an image that can hang with the best that we’ve ever seen from this series. Which is really saying something.

BEST OF WEEK: WRAITH #3 — Now, this is certainly the real business right here! As much as I have enjoyed the previous two installments, we are now confronted with a situation in which all of the players have already been established and we have the entire issue to enjoy Charles Talent Manx III in his proper element from the get-go. And let me tell you, that gentleman gives every impression of being incapable of opening his mouth without a veritable snowstorm of bon mots springing forth as wise as they are charmingly phrased! Charles Paul Wilson III and Jay Fotos continue to provide artistic interpretations that are every bit as horrifying as the images conjured by the prose from which this character originally sprang forth. This is most particularly in evidence on the final page of the issue, which was actually a fair bit worse than I EVER pictured. And I can certainly imagine quite a lot!

MIRACLEMAN #1 — All right, I didn’t buy the new remastered reprint Marvel’s George Lucas Special Edition because I’ve already got the first eight issues of the Eclipse singles and I’m going to buy these new versions in trade eventually, so decided to save the $6 in the short-term. However, as soon as Marvel catches up with where I’m at in the original series, I will be duly picking those up so it seemed like a good idea to just start rereading the originals as they’re rereleased to get into the rhythm of the thing. It has been a few years. Does that make sense?

Diving right in: It was only this week in 2014 that I learned that the opening eight pages was actually a reprint from 1956, or whenever Mick Anglo was still cranking out the original Captain Marvel pastiche of this series. For all these years, always assumed that it was just Moore and company dropping a pitch-perfect short with “that old-timey feel” but it turns out it’s actually just an original. Funny. When this was first published, the Anglo years were only twenty-five years in the past but the entire Silver and Bronze Ages lay between that original and Moore/Leach’s new take. Now, here we are thirty-two years after this series first showed up as eight-page shorts in WARRIOR. So, we’re all really old and time will grind us all to powder with its inevitable onward rush. But nothing you didn’t already know. Of course Moore quotes Nietzsche Übermensch goodness on his first page. Classic Alan! Such a mensch all on his own. The word-count per panel is certainly far north of where it’s devolved to be these days, just take a look at that first title page for “. . . A Dream Of Flying,” but even as early as this very first issue, what we have here is Moore firing at very close to the full blast of his considerable capabilities here just barely shy of his thirtieth birthday. The quality of depth in the linework of Garry Leach’s art is frankly stunning throughout the course of these first early chapters. I can’t find a list of credits for this original colorized reprint at all that Eclipse put out, the only creator credits I can see in this entire thing are there on Moore’s second page, a little scroll that has Dez Skinn giving himself top billing as editor, followed by Moore on Story, Leach on Art and a G. George on Letters. Those are the original WARRIOR credits; it doesn’t look like Eclipse ever credits the colorist. Whoever he or she is, lately the job has been called “garish” when trotted out side-by-side with the more restrained digital version that somebody has done, but here on this three-decades-old newsprint pages, the colors look wonderful. Unlike, say, V FOR VENDETTA, which is such a product of the Eighties that you can practically hear Maggie Thatcher shrieking from just off-panel every page, this entire package, while clearly the product of a different era, comes across with every bit of the timelessness and master craftsmanship intact that make it such a storied and resonant piece of comic book history, one that we are so fortunate to finally see restored to print after all of these battles over all of these years. I’m thrilled at the opportunity to finally get to read the entire glorious story through to the end, at long last.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


ACTION COMICS #27 — Once again, Pak really goes the distance to display how well he understands the core of the multi-faceted character who sometimes goes by the names Kal-El and Clark Kent. “Where would I be if no one had ever anthropomorphized me?” is as fantastic a retort to an Inner Bruce as we are likely to run across for quite some time. And the dynamic between Clark and Lana continues to be the best between those two characters that I’ve ever run across. The “I’m in the suit” exchange is priceless. And the final bonus double-page splash is jaw-dropping. THIS is exactly what we need from this title: connection with the man behind the archetype that we love mingled with a massive sense of wonder. Editorial also did a good job recruiting R.B. Silva and Mike Hawthorne to draw the first eight pages in a hyper-detailed style reminiscent enough of the high standard that Aaron Kuder has set for this title that it is in no way incongruous when the man himself steps in to absolutely burn it down for the rest of the issue. It makes me indescribably happy to be able to say that this is one of my favorite titles again. Because it always should be. Most weeks, this would be lock for BEST OF WEEK, but it’s a pretty gnarly gathering here, this time out.

BEST OF WEEK: DETECTIVE COMICS #27 — It almost isn't fair to compare this to everything else that came out this week, but they're all singles released on the same day, so here we go. I knew they wouldn’t be able to resist making this issue a great God-amighty thing. I was, however, expecting much more of a carefully maintained marketing phenomenon and absolutely not that each successive short story in this collection would up the ante on each one that had gone before. And by that, I mean that Meltzer’s various answers for the question “WHY I DO IT” are a pretty knockout little string of verse all on their own with the line, "I DO IT BECAUSE I DON'T KNOW HOW TO DO ANYTHING ELSE," maybe my new favorite line of Bruce Wayne describing himself in the first person, or maybe even best single-sentence first-person narrative caption ever, time will tell. And Hitch completely knocks it out of the park. This is apparently a panel-for-panel recreation of the beats of the original issue from 1939, though we expand a few pages so that Hitch can jam out a few splashes, as is his wont. But this is only even in the first story of seven.

In the second story, Neal Adams locates Gregg Hurwitz to tether himself upon this particular plane of narrative reality and the results are sublime and really quite redemptive as Batman and Robin battle their foes across the course of their own evolution, with Adams altering his style to match the eras flashing by to tremendous effect. And then the third story is by far the best yet, nothing more than a surprise seventy-fifth birthday for our hero followed by a cute little homage to the first issue of Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT, but Tomasi's character work once again puts this way over the top. With regular collaborators Gleason and Gray hard at work on their monthly, we have Ian Bertram and David (not Dave?) Stewart on art. Bertram’s scratchy style is evocative of Paul Pope and other European cartoonists and is a great fit for this latter-day tale. The most crushing aspect probably of the entire issue takes place in this story with the sudden on-screen appearance of a full-grown Damian Wayne sporting gray temples, generating immediate implied thirty/forty-odd years of continuity that has not even occurred to me to thus far ever even imagine before now. I just want a regular Tomasi/Damian series. Would be all over it.

And then there are still four more stories! One-man band Francesco Francavilla gives us an iconic five-page night-in-the-life vignette before Mike W. Barr comes off the bench with Guillem March and enlists The Phantom Stranger to play “It Could Be A Wonderful Life” with Bruce in order to provide concrete illustration of just how much our hero continues to give up in order to do what he does. Then, our regular team of Layman/Fabok kick off their final arc and have no problem hanging with all the devastation that has come thus far, opening with an intriguing premise before leaving us with a cliffhanger that it will definitely be entertaining to see play out over the final two months of their run. Finally, we have Snyder/Murphy/Hollingsworth, the guys who have been absolutely burning it down over on THE WAKE, with a final tale of generations of cloned Batmen cycling through into the far future, which is apparently in-canon and at first blush seems like a Morrison-scale set-up for an entire legion of new mythos to build. Come to think of it, this is surely the first thing we’re seeing from what’s going to be BATMAN ETERNAL. It’s certainly right there in the name. These guys are masters of the craft, really knocking it out here. Strong strong work, both on this final story and throughout this entire anthology that is more than worth its cover price. Heartstopping greatness abounds.

BATMAN: BLACK AND WHITE #5 — Oh, good. An anthology of excellent Batman stories by some top creators. An embarrassment of riches tonight, to be sure. Fortunately, this is another example of quality. Every story ends with some kind of cool twist, nicely curated by Chiarello, as ever. We open with Ivan Brandon & Paolo Rivera’s tale of everything going wrong on the last half-mile home to Wayne Manor with the twist at the end being obvious in hindsight, though still entertaining. Keith Giffen & Javier Pulido provide a concrete example of our hero hiding in both the shadows and in plain sight at the same time during a new entry into the time-honored canon of villains-drinking-at-the-bar stories. Blair Butler & Chris Weston drop a bit of 80s Alan Moore meta- into their effort with a superior stylistic shift late in the story from Weston. And he letters the thing, to boot! I love Len Wein’s solution to what happens when Two-Face doesn’t agree with the toss of his coin there on the second page, natch, of his story with Victor Ibáñez involving two different capers, which obviously should always be the case with this guy. Of course Wein gets it! Though it must be said, as twists go, this is probably the weakest one of the batch. If it was a contest. Paging Chubby Checker. Finally, Andrew Robinson, hot off his critical success on THE FIFTH BEATLE, shows up here in a big way to illustrate Jimmy Palmiotti’s script. Robinson has an expressive style all his own while managing to channel early SIN CITY to an eerie extent in certain panels (the foreshortened angle of Page Three, Panel Six being probably the strongest example). And Palmiotti’s script is a really touching and affecting piece of work. Strong writing and the perfect way to close out another successful issue of this series.

SEX CRIMINALS #4 — “HA HA CHIPPER.” The tone of the Page One Preembus defies description and also pretty much belief. I mean, it is incredible. Completely worth the $3.50 all by itself. I felt a mixture of excitement and trepidation that the rest of the issue would turn out to be written in this cracked-out voice that’s sort of a bastard cousin of the first chapter of The Original Writer Alan Moore’s VOICE OF THE FIRE. Alas. At any rate, the art is as gorgeous as ever. Plotwise, Fraction cranks it up a bit and we finally catch the entertaining present-tense backstories up to Jon & Suzie getting pursued in The Quiet by those glowing white frozen-time sex-police sorts. Very gratifying. And the eight pages of letters and funny responses are a scream! This is one book whose blistering hype is completely justified. Come check it out!

THE SHAOLIN COWBOY #4 — ??!?! Da fug? Darrow finally not only drops in with a single bubble of dialogue on the first page but then breaks down the non-stop zombie-dismemberin’ carnage into panels. But there was one hell of a plot twist in the aftermath of all that carnage, bro! And this is just it? Is it going to take Darrow another five years to draw the next volume? Probably? Heinous!

STAR WARS #13 — Very very good. We follow up the initial year-long saga with a done-in-one narrated by Ensign Nanda, Vader’s personal assistant for five of the most terrifying days of her life. With Facundo Percio filling in on pencils. It’s perfect, I cannot envision a more entertaining actualization from this premise.

FATALE #19 — Wow. This was the best issue of this series yet. This crew is so sick and adept that it’s borderline appalling. The “FUCK PEARL JAM!” line of dialogue alone, man.

MORNING GLORIES #36 — Well, I had no idea that this doctor fellow was modeled after Baltar. But of course it’s obvious, now. I have a terrible confession to make. The DC insanity front-loaded this evening’s madness to the point that my Lone Star narcolepsy kicked in after three in the morning before I had a chance to make it all the way through the stack to this comic book. That was released on 1/08. I am a terrible person by any standard and all I can off you all are my apologies and assurances that I shall endeavor to do better in the future.

MARVEL KNIGHTS: SPIDER MAN #4 — And then this is the best one yet. These guys are telling one of the most enthralling and beautifully rendered Peter Parker stories that I have seen in quite some time. This kind of thing seems to be happening about everywhere tonight.

WOLVERINE #13 — An immaculate conclusion. Though I certainly missed Brother Hollingsworth on color, of all of his gigs, this single was an unfortunate one to have hit the chopping block. No, but Cornell/Davis/Farmer in no way fumble on the one-yard line, just continue to destroy as they have been since the get-go. This will make one hell of a single-sitting read in trade, the first thing in quite some time to hang with Claremont/Miller or BWS. That’s right, I said it!

YOUNG AVENGERS #015 — I am pretty wrecked about this being the finale with no immediate promise of return. Not that they’re not coming back. They won’t be able to help themselves, these boys. But this was a profoundly satisfying conclusion. And even though McKelvie/Wilson are only responsible for 25% of the interior content, this little darling is almost pretty much the best single issue of PHONOGRAM, right here all on its own. Cloonan murders the Noh-Varr epilogue, so much what we needed for that guy. And then but Gillen letting go of Kid/Teen Loki really summons forth just an appalling shower of tears, uncommanded throughout. And a perfect ending, perfect last shot. Somehow channeling that photography nostalgia Moore/Gibbons first started stirring up nearly thirty years ago now and filtering it through, what else, a jpg on a cell-phone. Perfection. This season was something very very special, and I really love every one of these kids. Heart in my throat.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


A 53rd week ripped from the jaws of 2013! We had to cheat a bit and release the books on Tuesday, but all's fair. Instead of slamming a Lone Star and starting right in like usual, there was just a bit more pre-game on this particular New Comic Book Night, glory be!

BEST OF WEEK: NEW AVENGERS #13 — After last week’s excellent first blast of second-act, I was certainly very curious to see where this series would begin, due to its unofficial-though-Brevoort-proclaimed status as flagship title for All the Really Heavy Cosmic Shit in the good old 616 and far beyond. And this one certainly delivers. I’ll admit that they had me going there that first page, immediately found it total garbage to burn an entire page of the same speech from #1 only broken into panels so that Bianchi could put his sweet kiss on them. Why are we back here? But the gag was worth the page, it was indeed the same speech but delivered on Earth-23099 to a halfway different roster of Illuminati right before an incursion that this time leads to the first on-Earth appearance of the Black Priests that our lovely Black Swan was just prophesying about right before the holidays. Of course, they immediately start kicking the holy hell out of everyone, meanwhile back on the 616, all the smartest guys bang their heads together for a few pages of very solid Hickman-comic-book-science talk before realizing that Reed built this thing way back in the very first issue of Hickman’s FF run, and if you have never seen a grown man shouting at the all the guys in the comic book to just think about it for a minute, it’s so damn obvious!, well, it’s a pretty funny sight. And it looks like Matt Smith regenerating has given Stephen Strange a serious inferiority complex, he is making a strong push to supplant Capaldi by selling his soul to Mephisto, perhaps? And of course, all the Black Priests have to do is just utter three characters and everybody turns into Wolverine-skeletons from the cover of UNCANNY X-MEN #142 all over again, they probably missed a pretty good opportunity here, instead of titling this one “Inhumanity” like apparently every single thing has to be called this month, “Everybody Dies!” would have been just a swell way to go. Oh, 23099, you seemed like such a lovely place.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #17 — Is it just me, or is the tone of that blue alien guy’s voice entirely channeling The Dude? I mean, it was hitting me right from the first line of dialogue, man. And I love how Pitarra keeps sacrificing his friends as cannon-fodder extras. Wish we could have at least gotten another Poyo special out of those guys, though. The best part is how the last time we see Pitarra, he’s running away and might even possibly make it, but every other one of these guys has a vicious on-panel execution. Did Pitarra avatar survive? Oh, sweet ambiguity. I dig the cover for this one, as well. Hickman, I’m thinking?

ROCKET GIRL #3 — They lock it back down on this one here to a much greater extent, our girl is off and running from the bottom of the page and the pace never slows down. Amy Reeder continues to be a revelation on full-color art and we get a very solid plot twist in the past/present/future/whatever-the-hell-we’re-calling it world of 2013. Very glad to see this one right its course this issue after a bit of a dip from the initial greatness of #1.

CATALYST COMIX #7 — As I’d hoped, I’m a little bit more into The Agents of Change now that they’ve got a little bit more room for their business to unfold. Frank Wells kicks the hell out of the Redline squad. Brad Simpson continues to do really quality work giving each story its own feel through unique palettes. And Grace gets a little Saving Regan paraphrase from ALL-STAR SUPERMAN #10 before rocketing off into deep space for our final two installments. Should be solid. Can’t believe this thing’s already racing headlong into its conclusion.

THE TRUE LIVES OF THE FABULOUS KILLJOYS #6 — I guess I blame Shaun Simon. Which I’ve already said before but I kept hoping that they’d turn this around in some glorious climax that made the rough early going worth it. Not even close. Becky Cloonan and Dan Jackson did beautiful work throughout and this issue was no exception, but unfortunately the plot is a cliché-riddled bore shuffling uninteresting cardboard characters out of the city and into the desert and back into the city and then the end. I mean, gay Grant Morrison’s running around shooting multiple versions of the same bad guy in the head over and over and I can’t be arsed to give a shit, is how bad this is. Thas low. And the pitiful thing is, I really do love love everything about this property, the album, the videos, I’ve got a damn Killjoys tee-shirt, I can do the Dr. Death-Defying DJ spots from memory, the whole deal. And THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY was one of my favorite comics of last decade. All this had to be was okay and I would have stayed all in. Was looking forward to this for years, stoked by seeing Cloonan get better and better and better and just so ready for her to blow it up on these pages at long last. And she did the best she could. That damn Shaun Simon. Hopefully, the cat book will be a return to form.

FABLES #136 — I totally thought Lancelot was Merlin at first, just because of the beard, I guess. I’m a simple man. Interesting business with the Camelot archetypes, seems really obvious once they come right out and say it, but it certainly never seemed obvious to me beforehand. Is that shot of all the dead guys and Weyland supposed to make him Rose’s Guinevere, here? Grim business with the lady’s reaction to seeing Ambrose, Willingham always knows how to payoff the ominous prophecy material. And Russ Bruan continues to do a bang-up job over Buckingham’s layouts, good show all around.

SUPERMAN UNCHAINED #5 — The plot on this is starting to come into a bit sharper relief and catch up to more what I expect from Snyder. I still can’t imagine what kind of an explanation there’s going to be for this “First Superman” to justify the concept but no reason to report on that until there’s something to report. At first I thought that the whole Smallville flashback sequence was just straight filler so that Lee wouldn’t have to turn most of his pages, but Nguyen jammed out nine of those to Lee’s seventeen, so we’re certainly getting some serious sequential shredding for the price-point. Lee’s shots of the supporting cast accelerating into the future are, of course, instantly iconic, the guy continues to simply terrify with his command of pretty much everything. Since a lot of this issue was talking, it’s a good thing that the conversation between our hero and Wraith was as engaging as it was before everything went nuclear there at the end. And that is the sole misfire that really stood out for me, the sequencing, after you’ve got a Jim Lee splash page of Batman and Wonder Woman, who haven’t so much as shown up in this issue yet, calling in from the Bat-Cave to report that every single nuclear missile on the planet has just been launched, it’s the very definition of anti-climax to flashback-cut to Craaaaazy Old Man Colder unloading his shotgun on ten-year-old Clark in the wheat fields of Smallville. Don’t worry, folks. Clark’s going to be fine. I think his secret is safe. Go back to Bruce and Diana in the cave. Jim Lee was drawing them. Let’s just stay with that, there, and see what happens next.

Saturday, January 4, 2014


AVENGERS #024.NOW — And I thought all of that point-1 numbering was stupid. But The House of Ideas always has somewhere else to take it. I should have been grateful that at least we were still rocking actual numerals, there. At any rate. Hickman cracked me up in a recent promotional interview, saying that this issue of Marvel's flagship title that is specifically numbered with a non-event brand-name in the tenths through thousandths decimal place of its issue number in order to somehow convey the fact that it is an ideal jumping-on point for new readers was, in actuality, a “terrible jumping-on point.” I appreciated him just shooting straight with Brevoort sitting right there, challenging the hallowed “every issue is someone’s first issue” mantra first espoused by “The Man” before then even citing that maybe he was just rationalizing for his own deficiencies. All of that said, I do have to more agree with Brevoort. It’s at least as much of a jumping-on point as you’re going to get from a Hickman epic at this point. And he said “twenty-something” issues, but when you throw in NEW AVENGERS and INFINITY (and why wouldn’t you?) this is more like in the low forties already. It’s definitely Part One of The Next Big Act. If you are down with the fact that there are a bunch of Marvel heroes who hang out and are Avengers and just came back from some serious celestial shit, you’re pretty much good to go with this one. Or at least, you’re no more thrown than the rest of us mainstays when we open with The Baxter Buildings in 3030. And but then you’ve got to have gone back with Hickman even a little bit further through all his prior three-and-a-half years of FF greatness to appreciate the full implications of adult bearded Franklin Richards roaring into that first scene seeming every bit the antagonist. So, a crazy opening, then we get more character interaction than classic Claremont could pack into a baseball game over on the grounds of 1407 Graymalkin, followed by Steve and Tony messing with Hickman’s roster graphic that’s been such a cool little deal since the top of this run. And then something really really monumental happens that gives every indication of being actually much more potentially Everything Changes! than the entire Big Event we just tore through, setting up some serious fodder for the next wave of monster big ideas that Hickman no doubt has queued up for the next little bit, here. I really am interested to see how they can escalate from what has come thus far. And was about to say that Esad Ribic tore it up on art and, in particular, did a good job channeling Deodato on some of those pages, but it turns out the man was on hand himself, to say nothing of Larocca and Guice. All in all, a balanced and in fact satisfying done-in-one that is as good of a jumping-on point as you’re going to get amidst all of this crazy. Everyone should give it a shot.

FOREVER EVIL #4 — All right, now this is the first one of these that the script even somewhat did it for me. Finch/Friend/Oback have been knocking it out from the beginning but the manic glee with which Johns has infused just how baaaaaad everybody is has really kept me at arm’s length thus far. And that’s certainly still happening here, it’s not like the characterization has gotten just so much less shallow, but I liked the first scene with Bruce and Selina and then, I don’t know what it was, that page with Luthor and Bizarro snuck up on me. Even when Lex starts into the story, I was kind of rolling my eyes at this very Lindelof trick to pull (somebody whips out a heartbreaking-but-impossibly-topical childhood anecdote to suddenly convince someone else to change their mind about some plot-critical element), but the combination of Bizarro’s response and, really, that delayed beat when Luthor opened his eye, it just really hit me in the gut from out of nowhere. So, well played there before all of the hilarious escalation at the end. All we needed was Blue Lantern Superman to roar in from the mesosphere, but maybe that’s next month.