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.