Friday, February 28, 2014


BEST OF WEEK: BATMAN AND ROBIN #28 —Well, good Lord. I suppose that we will forgive the creators for making this arc three installments longer than what might have previously seen like the perfect conceit. At this point, these guys are dispensing absolutely catastrophic destruction about every two or three pages. That opening huge shot of just our hero in all his fiery glory across Pages Four and Five is only the first example. Panel Three of Page Eight (entire page just over to the right, there) is a crippling piece of storytelling, the depth of the facial expression we get even from behind the cowl, the choice to frame the shot just so, in order to work in the unscarred half of Harvey’s face. What an incredible beat following that previous line of dialogue. And then I’m a huge fan of Batman’s argument for the third side of the coin. Once again, Tomasi digs in like no other. It’s also a wonderful choice to continue to dial the flashback back even further to Bruce of course introducing Harvey and Gilda in the first place before a horrifying-in-hindsight aside re: the McKillen twins. What a stellar three panels of courtship. It’s all we need. These creators move even faster than Harvey. The blue/red shift during the Harvey/Gordon scene is another masterstroke. I wonder if that was in the script or Kalisz. And that last scene with Harvey. So good it renews the faith of even this somewhat jaded reader that it Will Always Count & Really Matter, it won’t be undone by editorial edict a few years down the line. I certainly hope so. And a very nice touch at the end with the signal functioning as the face of the single-sided coin that Batman and Gordon share. This issue does so so much in twenty pages. Some folks feel it necessary to qualify something like this as “the best in mainstream superhero comics,” the kind of faint praise that says, yes, this is the business but it can’t hold up to more literary four-hundred-pages-of-autobiography-by-a-single-gifted-writer/artist type fare, but for my money, this is nothing less than the best the medium is capable of, immaculately framed sequential narrative depicting character-driven plot that continually stuns, surprises, and thrills. These men have been firing at the top of their game since the beginning of their run and are only reaching loftier heights through their continued association with one another.

ANIMAL MAN #28 — In many ways, we hit the climax of this volume here before what’s sure to be a devastating epilogue/coda next month. Lemire & Albuquerque bring the story of Maxine’s quest into the Red to resurrect her brother to a close, all the major conflicts are resolved and the reduced nuclear family is as healed as they seem likely to be, all under the watchful gaze of some sort of extra-dimensional being who I feel like I should maybe recognize? It’s not one of the dude’s from Morrison’s run, have we seen this design here with Lemire? I haven’t actually busted out the entire run and thumbed through, if anybody knows exactly who this guy is supposed to be, if we’ve even already seen him before, certainly please let me know. Next month is going to be incredible, I have no doubt.

WONDER WOMAN #28 — Well, it appears as though Cassandra is going to wind up being just a bit late to the party. That is . . . quite a last page. Azzarello/Chiang/Wilson serve up yet another installment of one of the most entertaining and far-reaching runs starring our favorite Amazon that it has ever been my pleasure to encounter. Tremendous work, all around.

FABLES #138 — I would like to renew my assertion that Russ Braun is an absolute hoss. A stunning level of draftsmanship. Of course, I was thrilled to read the subtitle of this issue, I love it when Willingham drops time-flash recap montages and with the news that this title will be winding down I guess one year from right now, I’ve been wondering what part Geppetto would play in the endgame. Coming in right in character, it appears. Man, I simultaneously don’t want it to be over and can’t wait to read the words THE END.

RETCON BEST OF FOUR WEEKS AGO: THE UNWRITTEN: APOCALYPSE #1 and #2 — Well, somehow my shop didn’t pull the first issue for me, which, I need to go back and see when it actually came out, because it very well might have been Best of Week. After burning everything down at the end of the first volume with a FABLES crossover (oddly enough, I now cannot find my copies of those singles. Just those five, #50-54, gone like they were never there, to the point that I almost started wondering if I’d made up that the whole thing even happened, a radical notion that you can almost get behind, given the content: I wanted it so badly that I wished those comics into being and when I made it to the last page of #54 and put them away, they simply vanished), Carey & Gross do nothing less than walk us up the evolutionary ladder itself, from the void of space to the primordial ooze, single-celled amoebas to double-helixes. And that’s just the first page. The remainder of the issue is a whirlwind narrative tour de force of our hero basically reconstructing himself with, what else, stories serving as the fuel and/or engine. He opens with Aesop’s “The Ant and the Grasshopper” then transitions into Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling” before heading on over to being one of the young in Rudyard Kipling’s “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” followed by a turn as The Dormouse at Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter’s tea party, concluding with actually harnessing C.S. Lewis’s Aslan’s resurrection to achieve enough power to catalyze his own rebirth. Mike Carey runs through all of this with a dizzying facility of shifting tone that always honors the source material while remaining internally consistent to the mythos that have been building within these own pages. Peter Gross is just as impressive, turning in a virtuoso performance across a full spectrum of styles, opening the Aesop section with sparse inks and actually leaving in his blue-line pencils in several places before moving on to charcoal for Andersen, adding a few tones for Kipling, doing a fair impression of John Tenniel in the Wonderland section, and then bringing in fully rendered figures for the Narnia scene. I should remark upon Page Fourteen, a splash that features a palindromic verse whose meaning is completely changed from beginning to end through the application of altered punctuation and is really a stunning thing to behold. Okay, I just went back and checked and, yeah, this one would have taken it over HAWKEYE #16. Just ridiculous. It seems like Carey & Gross routinely set out to accomplish narrative feats that should be impossible and then knock it out of the park every time. This first issue is pretty much as good as comics get, the creators pushing the form as hard as they can just to see if it will break. But of course, it never does, shifting instead into beautiful new shapes we’ve never seen before but that are immediately familiar and even beloved nonetheless.

(Oh, and #2 is pretty good, too.)

MORNING GLORIES #38 — Ms. Clarkson, naturally. We’re pretty much looking for her around most bends by now. But this time, we go straight dream-logic for our Akiko-centric due to the fact that she’s in a coma. Which certainly gives Spencer/Eisma less narrative transition hoops to jump through, just on to the next thing again and again. When the word “lost” shows up on the next-to-next-to-last page, did anyone else experience a PEE-WEE’S PLAYHOUSE Secret Word type moment? I am really a fan of that pages-of-horizontal-panels heavy-shit montage that has really become a thing this book, every time we hit that layout, you know you’re in for The Business. And that they’re totally going to be much heavier in years to come through the lense of events that haven’t already unfolded. Because Ian hasn’t made it to The Cylinder yet. I think? This book huuuuurts my brain.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #25 — The first thing I thought when I saw the cover was, “Who the hell is Leandro Fernández?” followed immediately by, “I guess he’s a total fucking badass like everyone else they’ve ever gotten to draw this book. One could always argue that it’s the benefit of Dave Stewart’s colors but I haven’t been feeling this way the entire run, but what I’m trying to say is that this art looks like Mignola in all of the best ways, terrific use of shadow and sparse linework while conveying maximum dynamic action. I really love that Page Six with the double-shot of Bêlit, you certainly don’t need any words to get knocked down by all of that. Wood does once again break period with Conan’s anachronistic single-beat “Hey,” on Page Nine. I don’t feel like the guy has ever ever talked that way and trying to impose an updated vernacular on him is pretty blasphemous. I want to letter up a parody run of these where he’s all like, “Hey, gurl,” and “Bro, you know I’ll cut you, Bro?” And of course we wouldn’t be good to go without another goddamn abuse of “literally” from Thessy. I swear. It’s not enough to wreck the magnificence of the final sequence, though. Conan burning the Tigress down to the bottom of the ocean off an unnamed beach, burying his queen and the vast treasure that they have accumulated is a grand, romantic gesture that underscores the tragedy of the entire doomed affair. It has been a journey in which I have been glad to take part. I do hope that there will be continued publication somewhere of Jim & Ruth Keegan’s excellent THE ADVENTURES OF TWO-GUN BOB: TRUE STORIES FROM THE LIFE OF ROBERT E. HOWARD. What a man.

ZERO, VOLUME ONE — My good friend Matt Doman has been singing the praises of this book for the last little bit now, and it was such an alarming departure from his perpetual stumping for SAVAGE DRAGON that when I saw this first trade for the low low price of nine dollars and ninety-nine cents, I had to check it out. And I’m glad that I did. Created by Ales Kot of WILD CHILDREN fame, ZERO starts out in near-future espionage mode with a dash of superpowers and science fiction thrown in. To spice things up, every issue has a different artist, more often than not folks I haven’t heard of, though Tradd Moore does show up for the second issue. This revolving artist conceit could easily backfire every month but it’s almost the book’s strongest feature due to the talented crop of folks Kot brings in. The bittersweet part is when you’re almost done with an issue and realize you’re about to say goodbye to a style that you’ve really grown to love. I’m certainly going to seek out that Morgan Jeske from #4, he or she has a serious Paul Pope thing going on. As much as anyone else can, at any rate. Kot makes some interesting decisions pacing this thing out. The first issue isn’t nearly as devastating as VELVET’s, for example, we simply jump right in the middle of a mission with a couple of scene-breaks to check out our eponymous lead’s handlers handling each other. Michael Walsh’s art is terrific, but I’m honestly not sure if the whole deal would have been enough to hook me into picking up #2. Well, I actually probably would have anyway just because of Moore’s involvement, but my point is that there are narrative elements that are introduced after #1 that I find much more compelling, namely Zero’s upbringing/indoctrination and his relationship with fellow agent Mina Thorpe. Which, #3 messed me up pretty good, I have to tell you. I’m still holding out hope that the rest of her will show up alive here in a little while. And I will say that the pacing levels out to perfection by the end of this first volume, that is exactly where you want to end your trade because I will be happy to pay fifteen American dollars for the next five issues now that I’m hooked. This is really compelling excellent brand-new creator-owned material. Image is killing me.

SAVAGE DRAGON #193 — Well, it’s official, as Malcolm Dragon takes over his daddy’s book, opening with an action-packed five-page flashback showing that he had the guts even way back when. But that’s nothing compared to what it’s going to take to make it through college! They need me to write trade dress. Larsen of course has the dynamic Kirby energy thing down pat, but what is sometimes underrated in discussing this book is the terrific natural dialogue uttered by even bit-players, everything feels very organic with total verisimilitude. Which is no mean feat, considering the physical appearance of the lead. And just when the present-day portion of the issue is starting to feel perhaps too grounded in the relative mundanity of real college life, the horror of Tantrum appears to forever scar the reader. If not his character design alone, then the final fate of the chest-baby. Disturbing in all of the best ways. It was very cool of Larsen to drop such a paradigm shift here in this issue that isn’t a round number or anniversary, a statement to remember that every single issue should be as spectacular as possible. Hold nothing in reserve every single issue, every single page.

UNCANNY X-MEN #017 — This could basically be a new volume of THE NEW MUTANTS, and there is nothing in the world wrong with that. Bendis wisely lets the gang of students take center-stage for the entire issue as they are dropped off and forced to fend for themselves in the middle of some future-relic from either Morrison’s run or Remender’s X-FORCE, I forget. This allows for Bendis to flex his considerable ensemble chops and provide a gang of characterization in just twenty pages. And Chris Bachalo. I mean, the guy has arguably never been better, and that’s really saying something. That circling camera-angle thing he does across Pages Two and Three alone is a serious master-class in staging team dynamics. I mean, it’s the classic Bendis trope/complaint of a scene where a group of people is standing around talking but then Bachalo elevates it through expert usage of layout and evoking emotion/acting from his characters through body language. Terrifying. However many years Bendis’s run winds up lasting, it won’t be long enough. This is still nothing short of spectacular. Bring on Marco Rudy!

DAREDEVIL #036 — And so ends this critically acclaimed and all-around-beloved third volume of Daredevil. It’s as straight-ahead and high-quality as we have grown to expect with all the usual suspects knocking it out. I particularly enjoyed the Easter eggs on the cover, the “other Murdock papers,” in particular. I do wish that the Mighty Marvel Hype Machine would have kept the particulars on the next volume under wraps before this one hit because it would have been really nice to read this issue and actually be the least bit surprised when making it to the last page instead of having it plastered all over the Internet two months ago. So, that let the air out of this ending a little bit but I’m certainly interested to see where Waid & co take things from here. And will probably even pay the All-New All-NOW! cover price of $3.99 a pop for the opportunity to find out.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


BEST OF WEEK: NGUYEN/FRIDOLFS DOUBLE-SHOT PART I: BATMAN #28 — Wow, from the past to the future. In a successful bid to seemingly never fulfill my wish of telling stories about Batman set in the present, Snyder enlists writing partner James Tynion IV and LIL’ GOTHAM cohorts Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs on art to throw down really just a tremendous glimpse into the near-future world of BATMAN: ETERNAL. They really channel Mignola here, his bold economy of lines that are never over-rendered but always exactly what you need. I was already optimistic about ETERNAL's debut but am now wildly excited about it. I won’t go into any of the reveals but I will say that the smile Selina throws Bruce over her left shoulder is both incredible cartooning and a note-perfect character beat. I am surprised that more people aren’t freaking out about the last page, as well. The quality of this issue bodes well for the future of Gotham. Our enjoyment of it, at least, if not the fate of its heroes.

BEST OF WEEK: NGUYEN/FRIDOLFS DOUBLE-SHOT PART II: BATMAN: LIL’ GOTHAM #11— But then what’s so tremendous about this week is that we also get the penultimate installment of this Nguyen/Fridolfs masterpiece, which is never better than when thrown into stark contrast with their work over on the main-continuity property. The first page ends with one of those meta- lines that so often fall flat and too self-aware/winking-at-the-audience but that lands here with heartbreaking finality. And since father and son are off to visit the Al-Ghuls, of course it isn’t long before they’re walking through the desert and we are in the presence of the “hairy-chested love-god” of the O’Neil/Adams era. I could honestly call out something from just about every other panel as noteworthy in its own right. The single exchange of dinner conversation between Batman and R’as Al-Ghul, for example. This book is paced and executed to perfection on every level. And then in the second story, a bunch of Batmen from parallel universes team up to fight Clock King. I am going to miss this book so much.

KICK-ASS 3 #6 — I had to get the terrific McCaig cover riffing on The Saturday Evening Post. We open with an extended Hit-Girl flashback that provides a few more pages of Big Daddy, which of course must now and forever be read in the voice of Nicolas Cage. It’s pretty apparent that Millar is hearing it, as well, the tone is a bit different from the first volume. It looks like it’s going to end very badly for Dave, but I have to say, I’m a lot less worried about Mindy, even with old McLovin’ holding a gun to her head for the cliffhanger.

FATALE #20—Brubaker opens with some Nietzche and when all is said and done, this might be the most impressive installment of this series thus far. The suicide montage is pretty rough going. We certainly seem to be heading into the home-stretch here. It will be interesting to see if we stay in the present from here on in or if Brubaker’s got one last flashback up his sleeve to give everything greater weight and import. Am finding it hard to believe that I’ve already read twenty of these, feels like it just started coming out.

STAR WARS #14—Opening with a dream about Obi-Wan is a masterstroke. Very effective work. The elite squad of Stormtroopers trying to run a mutiny on Vader was hilarious. This was a really solid little two-shot arc here illustrating how horrible and terrifying it is to run support for the most famous Dark Lord of the Sith. Hard to believe it was a fill-in before we seriously get back to it next month.

ASTRO CITY #9 — The Winged Victory-with-a-side-order-of-Samaritan-&-New Confessor arc soars through its penultimate installment with our heroine taking advice from a member of the Council of Nike while her boyfriend wrecks the Bat-Crypt. Consistently entertaining storytelling by masters of the craft who always favor substance over flash.

ALL-NEW X-MEN #023 — Am I the only one who had no idea Gladiator’s first name was Kallark until all of these shenanigans got underway? I do like how Bendis gets Kitty back on point in her second scene this issue with her calling herself out for not seeing this coming. You are right to do so, Professor K, but we forgive you. Hilarious beat with Groot starting to freak out Teen Bobby. And Kitty referencing the end of Whedon/Cassaday’s ASTONISHING, a solid bit of continuity from Brother Bendis. And what an incredible last page, there. The art team of Immonen/von Grawbadger/Gracia continues to consistently throw down some of the most beautiful pages on the rack today.

AVENGERS #026—Hickman loves his A.I.M. action, which takes an interesting turn this issue as the new generation of adaptoids becomes self-aware pretty much right away. The invasion-of-infinite-parallel-universes action from the sister book further encroaches in upon this title. Once again, I got so engaged in the action as it was unfolding that even though there were multiple _____ DAYS/HOURS AGO captions, I was still shocked when the adaptoid went all MAN OF STEEL on the other Hank Pym’s neck. Hickman’s run on these titles remains compelling in the short-term singles format and downright riveting when taken as a whole.

Friday, February 21, 2014


ACTION COMICS #28 — Pak & Kuder continue to knock it out of the park here as The Adventures of Clark & Lana kicks into subterranean mode. This might be my favorite issue of this short run thus far, which is no mean feat because they’ve lost the element of surprise, now I’m expecting the serious greatness. We get another serious dose of spot-on characterization/interaction between our two leads. Of course, making Lana the dominant point of diplomatic interaction is perfect but I in particular dug the way that Kuder staged the scene of them changing clothes in the same room, the way he played down the sexy and conveyed a sense of familiarity more in line with siblings. A nice bit of restraint before he blows the barn doors off with the serious action toward the end of the issue, what a run of dynamic splash pages! Once again, these guys perfectly balance everything that makes an entertaining single issue starring the original superhero. And Pak is even good enough to set up the stabbing-in-the-back on the last page so that new readers won’t call bullshit. This has shot right up the list to one of my favorite monthly releases, so glad and grateful to feel that way about this character again.

DETECTIVE COMICS #28 — Man, I’m bummed that this run is already coming to an end. A year and a half went by too fast! This is simply more of the rock-solid greatness we’ve come to expect with Aaron Lopresti doing a terrific job pinch-hitting for Jason Fabok, who has presumably been hard at work on he and Layman’s last issue since the moment he got his hands on the script. Lopresti is a great choice, there’s barely a hiccup between his art style and Fabok’s. Of course, our hero has a plan and battles his way back into the fold with the assistance of a kiss from Poison Ivy, but there is some bad news waiting for him on the last page. Not reading the tie-ins served me well in this case; I presume that the stars of those titles all underwent whatever circumstances that led them to this point in their own respective books but just having them all show up here like this right there at the end with no previous set-up makes for an especially surprising cliffhanger.

FOREVER EVIL #5 — Well, we had to wait until halfway through the issue for someone to get dismembered, so I hope everyone was okay with that. And Luthor made the point to satisfactory effect before “Waynes tend to DIE.” Even the lettering is ham-handed. Finch/Friend/Oback continue to produce beautiful pages with all kinds of intricate linework that only tapers off there on a couple toward the very end (thinking specifically of the shot of the five heavies standing their ground against Batman). And oh no! Steven Moffat’s Crack In The Universe turns out to be the Big Bad that destroyed the CSA’s universe. Paging The Doctah!

TRILLIUM #6 — JesusChristGod, what a heartbreaking opening scene. Jeff Lemire drops the hammer hard in those first five pages, proving once again that he is one of the most accomplished storytellers of his generation. But, “oh no,” indeed! This issue once again uses a variation on the flip-book convention we’ve been hanging out with since the first issue to string the reader along a dual narrative in which Nika and William negotiate the blended conceits of each other’s time periods to get back to Peru where presumably all will be set to rights. The final page once again tosses out our expectations and leaves us stuck waiting for another four weeks. I kind of hate the future people who are going to read this in trade. Though what a ride they’ll have. Very interested to see what further flip-book madness Lemire has up his sleeve for the final couple of issues. Just when you think he’s done it all, he comes up with a new permutation.

CATALYST COMIX #8 — Man, I just like the way Dark Horse books feel, the cover stock, the way they’re bound. Casey and company round the home-stretch as we come upon our final round of cliffhangers for our catalytic characters! Ulises Farinas maintains his tradition of juxtaposing very sparse linework of characters on tight shots with extremely detailed panels of presumably greater import. Of the varied tones that Joe Casey hits in his narration across the different stories, I dig what he’s got going with Frank Wells most, just the right dash of Kirby. And that’s before the fourth page of this installment, yoW! Dan McDaid starts slinging thunderbolts! The secret of Frank Wells! All leading in to the penultimate installment of “Amazing Grace,” a panoramic explosion of light, sound, and action! Brad Simpson, the anchor for this entire terrific anthology, in particular blows it up here. And Paul Maybury turns in his best pages yet, tethering the unfathomable extra-d madness of The Reaver Swarm to a two-dimensional page that we can contemplate from the safety of our three-dimensional biological constructs. This mini-series has been something special since the beginning and it looks like it is going to go out with one hell of a bang, or a “bigger bang” if you believe the hyperbolic next-issue copy, and how could you doubt it, Catalytic Convert?!?

SECRET #5 — Ryan Bodenheim cranks it up a bit here, really strong and bold linework throughout. That little 5 on Grant’s chin is a bit distracting, though. But not nearly so much as Rus Wooton’s near-constant always-maddening emboldening and italicizing. Those four pages of This Is The Plan montage aside, folks can barely get out a couple of sentences before all of that malarkey kicks in. I know I keep going on about it but it keeps happening and really really preventing me from any chance of connecting to the material because I keep reading all of these emphases with ham-handed overacting and diabolical music trumpeting forth just about every other word balloon. Duh-duh-DUUUUUH!

THE FOX #4 — Had to get the Mack cover. This is more Kirbytastic dynamic action courtesy of Haspiel & Waid. This series really is the antidote to continuity-heavy corporate books full of dismemberment, if that kind of thing gets you down. Also, very cool to have The Fox crossover with The Shield for the final issue. Though they seem to be two different adventures based on the disparity of final-panel dialogue. I think? We’ll see.

BEST OF WEEK: MARVEL KNIGHTS: SPIDER MAN #5 — Nothing less than an absolute tour de force. This series has been nothing but thunder from Page One but it is quite a thing to see Marco Rudy put the pedal all the way down on the floor and roar in past the finish line. I haven’t been keeping count, but I guess Peter fought a couple dozen of his scheduled ninety-nine foes in the first four issues? Rest assured that Rudy ensures that the remainder of bad guys are each and every one accounted for in this final installment, the majority of whom are found in a single double-page spread that features three horizontal panels across the length of the two pages wherein no less than nine Peter Parkers are going batshit insane against a massive crowd of villains and, really, there have got to be more than seventy-something dudes in just this spread alone. Rudy improbably accomplishes this without seeming flashy or like he’s showing off, this is just what’s happening on this page, Spider-Man is fighting Everybody Else. Rudy’s explorations into JHWIIIesque layouts are intensified this issue by the fact that he apparently rolled up and smoked all nine issues of the seventh volume of David Mack’s KABUKI: THE ALCHEMY while he was painting parts of this thing, there’s this deal in the middle section where there are a few pages in a row where all the panels are fixed within the shadow of Wilson Fisk that is straight Mack in all the best ways, but my favorite part of the entire issue is that Rudy’s got this really lush watercolor bleed style going on, which is particularly cool with the Klimt allusion that serves as a bookend for the issue. I’m thinking Rudy’s got to be responsible for the full color on those sections? Val Staples certainly brings the justice on the “normal” sequential panels and of course we wouldn’t be here without Matt Kindt’s story, but make no mistake, Marco Rudy is the star of this show, this is the point where he graduates from promising penciler on Red Circle comics and alternate-to-Yanick-Paquette-who-can-more-than-hold-his-own (no mean feat, there) to a marquee name in his own right, one to be reckoned with and who will command sales due to nothing more than his attachment to a project. This was a terrific ride and it will only read better in trade in one furious ad-free rush. Highly recommended.

WOLVERINE #1 — Ryan Stegman is a beast. There’s no getting around that. And maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, but I can’t believe the degree to which I miss Alan Davis/Mark Farmer/Matt Hollingsworth and how much less engaged I am with this narrative following their departure. Paul Cornell isn’t helping by introducing new characters with names like Pinch and Fuel. Ninja and Heavy? I mean, come on. He’s still got enough of a line into Logan that I’m interested to see where things head from here, but this volume has got a hell of a lot to live up to.

NEW AVENGERS #014 — We join our heroes of 616 in tuning in to yet another doomed permutation of their merry band, the gang from Earth-2319, a charming little place that has weathered four Ages of Apocalypse and both Braddocks assuming the mantle of Captain Britain. The B-plot is essentially Stephen Strange selling his soul for ultimate power, which seems like a pretty rough arrangement for Bendis to walk back. Bianchi’s lush painted style is a terrific fit for all of these dramatic goings-on, especially Alternate Reed Richards sacrificing himself to ensure that Alternate Victor von Doom lives one page longer than he would have otherwise, which should bring a tear to the eye of any trench-embedded True Believer.

BATMAN: BLACK AND WHITE #6 — And so Volume 4 comes to an end. What a tremendous run. It’s a shame that Becky Cloonan didn’t write her own script, making every story of this final issue the product of a single writer/artist would have been a pretty cool little conceit on the way out. Cliff Chiang comes out absolutely swinging with a story featuring a young Dick Grayson Robin’s instrumental role in capturing Clayface. As much love and respect as Chaing gets, it isn’t close to enough. I mean, man. Olly Moss and Ms. Cloonan turn in a tale about the aftermath of a one-night stand with our Young Master Wayne that draws a somewhat disturbing parallel between his knocking boots and knocking the shit out of bad guys. I’m not really okay with Batman sexually fetishizing his run-of-the-mill nocturnal back-alley activities. Which seems like kind of a hypocritical sentence to type, but you see what I mean. I’ve never seen Dave Taylor’s work. The guy is a hell of a draftsman, though I could use a bit more shadow for balance, particularly in a story featuring this character. Dude’s got a nice European flavor happening, though, to be sure. Adam Hughes delivers by far my favorite story of the issue, a tour de force revolving around Selina Kyle (who else?) that does terrific work mining the emotional content of one of the Caped Crusader’s most interesting relationships. And that’s just the writing, the guy is one of the best illustrators in the business, accept no substitutes. The final story of this volume is by Dave Johnson, of Azzarello/Risso covers and RED SON fame. It’s . . . a pretty dark note to end on, the content of the story belied by the clean and even wholesome good-girl style that Johnson adopts. It is always wonderful when it turns out that the master illustrators can produce compelling plots as well, and this issue proves that in spades. I’m going to miss getting to read these every month and eagerly await the next product of Mark Chiarello’s editorial greatness. For Archie Goodwin, forever.

Friday, February 14, 2014


BEST OF WEEK: UNCANNY AVENGERS #016 — Man, now this is just the real deal, right here. I don’t care how long it takes to come out in between issues, this series always feels like a massively big production, every issue an event in its own right. The three deaths from last issue are not as of yet undone and we get Thor beating the hell out of one of the Apocalypse Twins, always good fun. As stellar as the rest of the issue is, the last page of the book alone is enough to kick it up to BEST OF WEEK. Kirby as hell!

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #011.NOW — Haven’t been picking this up, but then Bendis went and x’d his books over and of course Sara Pichelli is brilliant. The line about nostalgia and the X-Men being “mad, selfish children who never learn from their mistakes” assumed a fairly meta- quality, I thought. As someone who hasn’t read a page of this since the first issue, I found it completely accessible and a well-done counterpoint to last week’s ALL-NEW NOW X-MEN .NOW. Looking forward to seeing Bendis slam these two teams together and glad I picked this one up to check in with these folks first.

INHUMANITY #002 — Sooooo, this was supposed to just be a Medusa one-shot but now it’s the ostensible second issue of this two-issue series before Fraction just bails to keep slamming out the creator-owned glory and then we start in with a NEW #1! with Soule & JoeMad next month. That is some editorial confusion more in line with what seems like is happening over across the street, there. Just taken on its own merits, this issue, let’s see, we’ve got the talented Nick Bradshaw and Todd Nauck both inking their own pencils and then also getting the help of two other inkers. This is all right. Not great. Fraction doesn’t really do much of a job selling us on why the Inhumans deserve this sudden push (other than Marvel Studios will probably never get the rights to X-MEN/FF/SPIDER-MAN back from Fox). Dude’s heart is not in it and it really shows. I mean, the last page of this is our previously titular protagonist in bed weeping for her lost husband and son. That’s an entire page of Medusa crying because she misses her dudes. What’s the take-away from that? I thought Fraction was supposed to be advocating for the whole empowered female protagonists deal with ODY-C and what not?

BLACK SCIENCE #3 — Remender & Scalera are really firing on all cylinders with this one, advancing the action forward a bit but providing even more entertainment via two four-page flashback sequences bookending the issue and setting us up with quick glimpses of our characters’ status quos immediately before Everything Went Wrong, which turns out to be a great trick, we’re already invested in the people at this point and the scenes unfold with a much greater degree of tension than they would have if they had just been the first eight pages of #1. Scalera & White continue to provide staggering vistas at the drop of a hat but the most wonderful thing about this issue is probably Remender coining the term “dimensionaut,” which I really kind of hate myself for not thinking of first but am certainly delighted to see employed to such tremendous effect here.

EAST OF WEST #09 — Man, Hickman and crew are really playing the long-game here as we have another issue with only five pages featuring our ostensdistracting at best but am resigned to it. This series almost surely makes a better read in trade when you can digest larger chunks of it in a single sitting but the singles are such pretty no-ads dramatic double-pages-of-white packages that I couldn’t quit now if I wanted to.
ible protagonist and the remainder of the book developing John Freeman, the crown prince of (I think it’s) the Union, the seventh nation of former slaves that was born out of all the chaos of the Civil War. As graphic-happy as Hickman is, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to include the map of the reconfigured former United States of America in at least issues that deal with nations and characters with whom we haven’t spent any time. This is all moderately compelling stuff, of course Dragotta keeps knocking it out of the park. I still find ALL of the italics and bold and italics/bold

SAGA #18 — All right, this one really really did it for me, brought everything together in a way that seemed completely natural and made me grateful to be along for the ride. We get a secret origin for Lying Cat, a reboot for Prince Robot IV, it turns out The Will isn’t really his name and he has a sister (her offhand comment about introducing him to his last girlfriend is a deft, dense, and otherwise lovely piece of single-line characterization), and then that last shot. Man. That last shot. I have made no secret of, while mainly enjoying this book for the most part thus far, completely not relating to everyone falling all over themselves proclaiming this the Greatest Book Ever in the History of the Industry but the way BKV negotiates that reveal on the last page combined with the glorious art that Fiona Staples has been delivering since #1, Page One suggests that the next phase of this title is going to be much much better than what has gone before and will probably have me as a member of the adoring masses, cheering louder than most of them. A really beautiful piece of work.

FABLES #137 — Young/old/wise Winter is a hell of an interesting character to just pop up here recently, Willingham has been really dialed in to her voice from the get-go and it shows. The line about checking all the worlds to make sure there’s no one stronger than Mommy just cut right into me. And things are really progressing along at an interesting clip with Rose’s Round Table, as well as with the not-that-slow-burn plot thread of Bigby’s potential restoration. The finale’s still a year out, but I’m already feeling the future-nostaglic tug, am really going to miss this one.

BATMAN AND ROBIN ANNUAL #2—Well, we all know how crushing last year’s effort was, and I will admit that I didn’t see how Tomasi and company would be able to pull it off, given that their lead character has been killed between now and then. Leave it to them to simply bring him back up off the bench with a flashback framing sequence so that we still get our dose of Damian goodness, even if most of the issue is all about the first Robin. I mean, the first page alone is an instant classic. This is all about Tusk, a villain with whom I’m unfamiliar (if this isn’t his first appearance, which it certainly feels like) and who has an immediate and serious grudge against our original Boy Wonder. Doug Mahnke delivers his usual top-shelf sequential work throughout. The story is perfectly satisfying when taken on its own merits. However, when held up against the pretty stunning glory of what has gone before in this title under Tomasi’s pen, it doesn’t just knock my lights out like I was hoping. There’s nothing wrong with it but it’s all a pretty standard boilerplate affair. Young Robin has a first night out with Batman, bristles under the fascist yoke of his mentor, disobeys orders, gets fired, proves himself, and is eventually accepted back into the fold. The other thing that I’m the least bit unclear about but fairly certain: did Damian go back and perform a stealth wetwork op on Tusk? That is certainly the implication from the resolution of the framing sequence but the reaction, or rather non-reaction, of Bruce, Dick, and Alfred lands a bit strangely. “Oh, he went back and killed Dick’s first nemesis, quietly disposed of the body, and left this trophy hidden up here above the ceiling. That vicious little maniac. That scamp. Oh, Damian!” I’m not sure, maybe I’m reading it wrong, but I don’t see an alternate take on it at all. All told, still better executed (pun intended) than most Batman stories, but Tomasi has me trained to settle for nothing less than four-and-a-half or five stars of white-hot brilliance pretty much every time out now.