Tuesday, July 22, 2014


INFINITY MAN AND THE FOREVER PEOPLE #2 — Jesus, that is a hell of a way to frame a first page! And they even go the AMBUSH BUG route two pages later, a classic callback, of course that’s not really Darkseid just looming over Dreamer’s sleeping form in a non-astral completely physical sense. Giffen returning to a New 52! teration of his thirty-year-old gag makes a hell of a compelling opening. And reminds us that Darkseid can, very very occasionally, be funny. Then, I dig how Didio manages the ensemble one-by-one introductions in not quite as clunky a fashion as The One True King threw down back in the day, even working in a genuine revelation with regard to Big Bear’s place of birth. And the sudden subplot about Vykin having a romantic attachment to Mother Box is pretty funny. This reads as a bit decompressed for a single, we had the entire last issue to get to know the cast and take this entire one to maneuver them into place to actually form the titular character, who doesn’t appear until the last page, but I’m definitely enjoying the ride and how well Didio/Giffen manage to channel the Kirby krackle into the present day and am of course on board for as long as this one lasts! Taaru!

GRAYSON #1 — I have never been much of a fan of Dick Grayson’s solo adventures. Which is actually a bit of a conundrum to me, now that I think about it. He’s always been one of my favorite characters, ever since I was a little kid. I mean, when I was four, I wanted to grow up to be The Boy Wonder, you know? But the stars never aligned for me to devour 150 or however many issues of NIGHTWING when they were coming out. Though, of course I loved him in what I’ve read of the legendary Wolfman/Perez NEW TEEN TITANS run and the brief time that Morrison scripted his adventures with Damian in BATMAN AND ROBIN already holds some serious real estate in my heart for all-time great runs. All of which to say, I’m in no way the best barometer for how well this series stacks up to previous iterations, but I can say that I dug the hell out of this. The writers manage to combine just the right amount of gripping espionage action with succinct little character beats to make this feel like a story that could only be starring this particular character. And as usual, Mikel Janin (three weeks in a row now I’m saying this!) shows up and knocks the lights out on interiors with dynamic fluid movement and beautiful acting through body language and facial expressions. And any fan of Morrison’s run has to appreciate these guys setting the premise with Dick as the undercover Agent 37 in Spyral. I’m definitely curious to see where this is heading.

FUTURE’S END #10 — Um, that is some goofy banter between Masked Superman and Lois. Intentionally so, I’m sure, it just certainly plays weird. You’ve got to love Tim spotting Bruce’s Deathless Tonga Death Strike from across the bar when Terry throws it. It’s funny that the outer-space crew was just Hawkman and Amethyst this week, but we’ll allow it. And bringing Barda into all of this can’t be a bad thing. Who else could Jan Kirby be? So many Kirby name-checks lately!

BATMAN ETERNAL #14 — Well, no one can accuse this series of spinning its wheels! I love Tim’s reaction, it rings so true. And but did he really not know that Harper was creeping up on him last week? I did not get that at all, thought he was just being cute. Fabok knocks another issue out of the park as we reload for the next horrible thing that I guess will be at Arkham before we head over to the inevitable Blackgate riot. They seriously better not be trying to set up killing Gordon, though. You have to give him at least a couple of arcs in the present-day title, Snyder! If we ever make it back!

DETECTIVE COMICS #33 — Had to score the Steranko cover, even before the trash-talk. As for the interiors, Manapul/Buccellato's art has quite possibly never looked better. Which is really saying something. But, I’m still having trouble sinking my teeth into the characterizations of all these random characters. No one except Bullock is landing for me. And then they go and do something borderline unforgivable by invoking TRUE DETECTIVE in a giant panel with the lightning crackling behind our guy. Batman comics shouldn’t name-drop modern zeitgeist explosions, I don’t feel like. Especially when the guy creating that other thing is writing the pants off of what’s going down in this iteration of Gotham. And pretty much everything else, to be fair. But, come on. Gotham City is the last place that anybody needs to be thinking about old Rustin Cohle. And shit, now I’ve got to watch all eight of them again.

AMERICAN VAMPIRE: SECOND CYCLE #4 — Snyder/Albuquerque are still seriously tearing it apart in this second volume with no sign of letting up. They even make you fear for the adorable little monsters! The art remains a tour de force. Really, the only negative thing that I can say about this is that it’s such a whirlwind dervish that I’m positive this will read better in trade. But it’s not like I’m going to pull up now and start waiting for it. Also, it does seem unfortunate that the Hep-V plotline from this final season of TRUE BLOOD has also apparently spontaneously generated over here round these parts (last night’s cliffhanger was the very same as this one, even!), but I’m sure there’s room enough for both of those stories to be told in this big old bad world.

STAR WARS #19 — We’re introduced to Leia’s old best friend, who’s been undercover for years, spurring our main crew out of their upper-level positions with Rebellion and out into the dangerous void of space for a rescue op. More importantly, Carlos D’Anda returns to the fold. I was afraid that he was out of the picture, but it’s nice to see his quality illustrations return before Dark Horse has to shut this glorious operation down.

DAREDEVIL #005 — Waid fiiiiiiiiinally lets us in on what’s been the deal with Foggy this whole time and, no surprise, it’s a terrifically fun romp executed to sequential perfection by Samnee/Rodriguez, as ever. I initially rolled by eyes at Foggy/Waid opening with the THE USUAL SUSPECTS paraphrase, but of course they more than earn it by issue’s end.

FANTASTIC FOUR #007 — I couldn’t imagine what could be so horrible, but I think the scale of the secret and Ben’s reaction to the revelation fits the scope of this book perfectly. More than almost every other superhero title that has sprung up in the wake of this world’s greatest comics magazine, this series has always been first and foremost about the way that the characters interact with one another, and the way this latest tie-in reverberates through is no exception. Kudos to James Robinson. Though he does have Reed saying “From who?” at one point, which completely threw me out of it, the big brain knows well enough to use the object of the preposition “whom” in the objective case every time. And Leonard Kirk and Karl Kesel continue to throw down absolute justice on every page of present-day adventure with Dean Haspiel and Nolan Woodard on hand yet again to lend that extra bit of krackle to the flashbacks, all colored in the popping palette of Jesus Aburtov. We don’t get Sue beating the hell out of the Avengers, as the cover promises, but this one right here is certainly a quality read.

ALL-NEW X-MEN #029 — X-23 shows up in time to be enough reinforcements to tip the balance just enough in our guys’ favor in the rematch against Baby Xavier. Which is all well and good but then Cyclops has got to go and draw the line against killing THIS Xavier and the reset button gets pushed again at the end, it looks like. Which is a little frustrating, but just another day in the life, I suppose. Far FAR more heartbreaking is the very sudden news that this is apparently the art team’s last issue. Can this be true? Of course, we wish them well and kudos all around for them going on to what’s got to be a higher profile (or at least more mainstream) assignment depicting Sam Wilson’s adventures as the new Captain America, but I have got to say that if Bendis has been the brains behind this series, then Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger, and Marte Gracia have been its beating heart and soul. Really, the main reason I even gave the first issue a shot amidst announcements of elevated price-points and double-shipping was their stunning cover, and then of course I was hooked. This has been one of my very favorite Marvel titles amidst a linewide roster that is jam-packed with serious talent and creative firepower, and I am going to miss them on this title very very much.

BEST OF WEEK: AVENGERS #32 — Man, it was past three in the morning, I had been tearing it up with the Fourth Coven in the Cattle Baron’s suite at the Driskell for the better part of the evening, and I was both sorely underprepared and in exactly the right frame of mind to experience Hickman bringing adult Franklin Richards from the far future back into our lives again. What an imaginative slice of glory this issue is. There’s actually barely even any conflict to speak of and it doesn’t even matter, we’re just grateful to be along for the ride as Franklin walks and flies Cap, Natasha, and Star Brand through the distant future and basically shows them how awesome everything is. Hickman has always excelled at that kind of accelerated bleeding-edge almost-plausible hyper-science that Morrison and Ellis have broke ground on down through the years, and this issue is probably the best example of that in his Avengers run so far as he has Franklin describe for us in detail exactly what it means to have an Avengers World five millennia in the future. The only hiccup actually has to do with that number. At the top of the issue, we get the standard “BETRAYAL +_____ YEARS” tag with the number of years this time being 5,045. And the issue is entitled “Five Thousand Into The Future.” So that’s all straightforward enough, but then early on in the issue, Franklin very clearly tells Steve that it’s 4,103 years into the future, or “four thousand, one hundred and three years, actually,” all spelled out there like it should be in-dialogue. So what gives? I thought he might just mean that’s the interval since their jump from last issue, but by my count they were only a total of BETRAYAL +470 YEARS at that point, so even that reduced number should have been 4,575. Where did those missing years go? That’s a pretty prominent piece of plot to have a discrepancy with. Am I the only one who cares? Probably? At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter, because this issue is a captivating glide through a future that’s full of wonder and hope, a positive futurist outlook that’s a refreshing break from the usual post-apocalyptic fare featuring Yu/Alanguilan/Gho’s strongest interiors on this title yet. And just when you think that Hickman can’t dig any deeper, he manages to land the Groot tie-in/punchline just in time for 8-01-14. Thank you, indeed.

Monday, July 21, 2014


BEST OF WEEK: SUPERMAN UNCHAINED #7 — Well, Snyder/Lee/Williams/Sinclair have spent some time laying the groundwork, but it all pays off here as they put the pedal all the way down on the floor and do nothing but drop the atomic thunder pretty much every single page, here. The arguably main part of the narrative deals with General Lane attacking The Fortress of Solitude while our hero does his best to protect Lois before donning Kryptonian battle-armor in yet another Very Iconic Splash Page by Jim Lee. But, you know. It’s Jim Lee. Even the splash of Gen. Lane in his attack-tank is pretty stunning in its level of technical precision and intricately detailed linework. If this issue was nothing but an Arctic slugfest, the creators would be doing a good job and all the readers could feel good about paying their four dollars for another collection of pages of Jim Lee drawing Superman making fight with Lois’s daddy featuring a nice little inversion at the end involving Lois saving our boy. However. What I guess we could possibly refer to as the B-plot of this thing is basically a fanboy’s wet dream and, for my money, the most impressive sequence that Jim Lee has produced since DC decided that it would be a wise investment to buy his little studio fifteen years ago. The entirety of HUSH and FOR TOMORROW have got nothing on this. Simply put, it’s Batman & Wonder Woman vs. The Superman from 1945 in the Batcave. And it is gorgeous. Let’s do a trick where I say what the shot is and you try to imagine how great it can be and then Jim Lee will roar up and stomp whatever you could come up with into the ground with the jawdropping expert craft he brings to each and every image. Begin!

Batman crashes the Batwing into The Superman from 1945. Batman sends All The Batmobiles at The Superman from 1945. Wonder Woman smashes The Superman from 1945 with the giant Lincoln penny. The Superman from 1945 smashes Batman and Wonder Woman with the giant robot Tyrannosaurus Rex. Sounds incredible, right? Good on Scott Snyder for envisioning such a ridiculous sequence of escalating nonsense, yah? Well . . .

ACTION COMICS #33 — I liked this about as much as I could like a part of an event of which I’m only reading this one title. Pak and Kuder continue to deliver solid work, wisely holding on to Lana as a focal-point character. I don’t know, though, man, then something that I don’t care for gets shoehorned in, like Supergirl as a Red Lantern. Maybe that seemed like a pretty great bit of syngery when whoever first had the idea, combining the franchises, but why can’t she be like blue? There’s just so much darkness running rampant throughout The New 52, even when I try to dodge it, it crowds in on the stuff I otherwise really dig. Ready for these creators to get their book all the way back and just keep crafting memorable stories that are for the most part self-contained within this title.

FUTURE’S END #9 — Does anyone else get the vibe that Lois is hunting for the island from L O S T? The Hawkman moment was great, of course he’s fine. What terrible needlessly amputating people they are in that S.H.A.D.E. away team! And I read that that very same thing happened over in one of the JUSTICE LEAGUE books in the present. It is a bad month to be one of Hawkman’s arms.

BATMAN ETERNAL #13 — Okay, wait, Gordon’s kid is not supposed to be Bard? I certainly misread that last week, but I have to say that maybe Bard’s design shouldn’t have been like, you know, exactly the same as James, Jr.’s? Old Bard is certainly doing a good job in Gordon’s stead. To the point that you kind of wonder if he isn’t the actual Big Bad clearing the way of what he considers to be obsolete material, perhaps. Mikel Janin delivers another beautiful set of pages. They’ve done a great job keeping top talent on interiors for this series.

EAST OF WEST #13 — And lo, the shit it did rain down. Hickman/Dragotta/Martin pull no punches and maintain the insane momentum from last issue by sending Death head-to-head with that ultimate Texas Ranger fella they’ve got running around here, and the results do the Thing vs. Hulk proud. Really, this entire issue is basically one beautifully choreographed fight scene, and it is a thing of beauty. Dragotta juxtaposes opposing panel angles and countershots with total mastery, lending immediacy to every page. It is not an insult to say I read this thing in under five minutes the first time. I just couldn’t stop turning pages fast enough. After slowing down to build up a head of speed in the back half of its first year, this title is really ripping great guns ahead now.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #3 — The plot thickens like smoky sweet barbecue sauce on the plate next to Shawna’s lip-smacking ribs. I don’t have much to add, but I’m enjoying the pace these boys are telling their story at and happy to stick around for as long as they take to tell it. It doesn’t as much feel like they’re conjuring up a world as telling a story that already happened right there outside their window.

SATELLITE SAM #9 — This is starting to ramp up a bit, here. I’m finding the individual plots a bit more compelling, like Guy suddenly making a principled stand, and Mike is a bit easier to root for when he’s not just drinking and fucking everything in sight. Which, I can’t decide if that’s counter-intuitive or not. But this is looking like maybe twelve issues and done? That length feels about right. Y’all can have that one for free.

MORNING GLORIES #39 — After an opening scene featuring a character meeting herself but not realizing on either side (I think?), we get another four-long-panel montage for four pages to check in with sixteen of our main characters, a much-appreciated reminder of just how many plates Spencer/Eisma have had spinning for quite some time now. Then, even better, we zoom right in on Casey waiting for Hodge and the rest of the issue (one nemesis-introducing flashback/almost-retcon notwithstanding) is nothing but the two of them postmorteming Casey’s jump. Only, and I know I keep saying this, but I really really am going to have to go back and read all this from the start, because certain fundamental aspects are getting by me that I don’t think should. If Casey jumped back and then lived out the intervening thirteen years up to the present, did she just eventually jump back into her present-day body with no memory of all that time? Or did like a fraction of her leave and go do all that and then this other part stayed at MGA the whole time? I bet Spencer’s master chart of all of this would get him committed.

ORIGINAL SIN #5 — The creators are doing nothing but pick up momentum here, as we’re treated to the secret ret-con of Nicholas J. Fury, who has basically been a one-man watcher on the wall, preventing alien invasions (in some cases preemptively) since witnessing the previous man who held the position, Woodrow McCord, die in 1958. Deodato/Martin continue to bring the thunder throughout, and Aaron’s script hums right along with a nice little moment in which Nicky decides not to assassinate a teenage Spider-Man just on a hunch. The only hiccup for me was the idea that Fury was actually running out of briefings and doing this new gig on the sly and none of his enemies in the espionage circuit ever got wind of it. I mean, everyone knew he wasn’t missing his Aunt Matilda’s birthday, but it seems like at some point, as out-maneuvered and –flanked as he’s been over the years, H.Y.D.R.A. or someone would have gotten hip to his other work. And I would also like to know at what point the LMDs took over and the actual guy stopped going out and just aging in private. Really digging on this one, though, and looking forward to seeing where they’re going to take it.

FANTASTIC FOUR: 100TH ANNIVERSARY #1 — This was magnificent fun. I wish they would have numbered it something crazy, FANTASTIC FOUR #1,693 or something. I’m not familiar with either of these creators’ work, but Jen Van Meter and Joanna Estep have crafted a very cool tale of the next next generation of the FF. It looks like Valeria had a son and daughter with Bart Banner, son of the Hulk? And of course the boy is named Kirby. That’s really becoming a thing lately. Van Meter does a great job giving us the shorthand and catching us up completely on a continuity that’s been invented just for this one issue, and Estep excels on full art duties, with the soft pastels of her palette in particular pleasing to the eye. And I dug the pair of footnotes referencing issues that don’t actually, as of yet, exist. Though who’s not down for GAMMA GIRLS? This issue sets out to provide tremendous Silver Age good times and completely succeeds.

MOON KNIGHT #005 — And then on the opposite of the tremendous fun spectrum, we have the penultimate issue of this Ellis/Shalvey/Bellaire horror show. The cover doesn’t lie; this one plays out as pretty much one of the best single-player guy-fights-his-way-through-a-building games ever, though of course Shalvey doesn’t limit the camera shots to side-scrolling (which would been kind of cool, too, honestly). There’s something gloriously unpretentious about this issue being nothing more than a simple hostage-saving fight scene. And that’s before Morris Day shows up on the fifth floor. I love the efficient way that our hero talks his way out of that hostage crisis in three panels so economical that they border on chilling. And then we get that perfect sole moment of pure characterization (as opposed to characterization through body language/fighting style/etc) with the kid correctly differentiating between mask and face. These are lean and mean little singles, man, I tell you what. It only takes five minutes to read them, but you can stare at them for hours and keep learning from them for always.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


SUPERMAN #32 — This has got to be the most anticipated mainstream superhero release of the week. After close to thirty years in the business, DC has finally wooed away Marvel legacy John Romita, Jr. from The House of Jack’s Ideas. I was cautiously optimistic when I heard that Johns was writing. I was a huge fan of his entire run with Kubert and Frank a few years back on ACTION but feel like the overall quality of his writing has taken a serious tumble since the reboot, to the point that it looks like I’ve dropped all of his titles, something that would have been unthinkable to me around the last time that he was scripting the big guy’s adventures. But I’m happy to report that it’s the other fella who showed up here, the guy who wrote SECRET ORIGIN and that terrific Legion arc and the one with Brainiac and is the only person to actually succeed in writing a sequel to SUPERMAN II (with the help of mentor and guy-who-knows-a-thing-or-two-about-it Richard Donner). Terrific opening scene. It threatens to buckle under the weight of its own cleverness but holds together well enough for me. But then you turn the page after Page Five with John Williams’s overture blasting through your head and JRJr spikes the dials to eleven right away with a staggering two-page splash of our boy punching the hell out of Titano. That’s just giving us the requisite amount of action before we get three pages of Perry White-centric Daily Planet dialogue that makes me feel like I’m home. This is how it should always be. Johns displays a very firm grasp of the nuances of these characters from the way they interact with another to a nice little touch like Perry giving Olsen grief over the streaky quality of his pictures. It’s Page 12 that I’m wild for, though. Clark takes Perry’s advice that he needs to talk to somebody but we’re only privy to his end of the conversations, first dealing with an apparent immediate reversal because Diana’s so glad to get him on the phone that she right away starts unloading some of the shit that Azzarello’s been shoveling at her back in the direction of Metropolis, quick cut to Lois ducking out of the bar before Lombard can buy her a drink, then my favorite panel of the issue, Clark cooking a steak on his stove with heat vision while saying, “No message, Alfred. Have a good night.” It’s such a powerful moment in its tension between the mundanity of cooking dinner-for-one while not being able to reach the person you want to talk to versus how he’s cooking it and the fact that he’s reaching out to his best friend who of course is too busy fighting crime while dressed up as a bat to take his call, but then on top of that the sincere friendliness toward Alfred in wishing him a good night. It’s just perfect, man. That’s who he is.

So, everything else about this issue also pretty much worked for me. I had no idea that Laura Martin was coloring this and that felt like the best surprise of the month, seeing her name in the credits, there. I am a fan of Janson’s inks over JRJr’s pencils, that man knows a thing or two about tightening up the situation. It’s interesting that Johns decided to open with an alternate Superman arc, which is basically exactly what the other big-name ticket in town has going down the way with Snyder/Lee’s UNCHAINED. It will be interesting to watch these two superstar teams execute their own visions of this basic concept that was such an integral part of the framework of Morrison/Quitely’s all-time classic ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, basically putting our guy in a room with various analogues and letting his character shine through to distinguish exactly what it is that makes him unique. I had pretty high hopes and expectations for this one that the creative team managed to exceed.

BATMAN #32 — All parties continue to knock the lights out here in the penultimate chapter of Zero Year. It’s getting kind of frustrating to come up with new things to say about them every month. The art is incomparable, some of the very best on the rack each month. Snyder takes his time on the characterization, letting a series of moments build, sometimes over the course of months, to rewarding payoffs. My favorite page of the issue is Page Sixteen, the message that Bruce is leaving for Alfred while walking to his final encounter with the Riddler. The familiarity, the affection, the respect, I finished the page and just had to marvel at it and reread it. Tremendous characterization. And then of course the kicker turns out to be the first caption on the next page. Strong work from Snyder, from all of them. Very much looking forward to next month’s finale.

FUTURE’S END #8 — If anyone thinks this series is treading water or in any way not worth it, in this issue, while approximately one hundred light years from Earth, Ray Palmer borrows Amethyst’s sword and uses it to hack off the arm of the recently killed Hawkman so that Frankenstein can use it after Black Adam ripped his off last issue in the Phantom Zone. So, there. It’s hard to make an argument that the epidemic of graphic violence spearheaded by IDENTITY CRISIS and INFINITE CRISIS is not still going stronger than ever one decade later, but come on. That’s just good fun, right there.

BATMAN ETERNAL #12 — HOW DID I NOT SEE THAT COMING? I was just thinking halfway through this issue what a good job they did introducing a new regular into the GCPD. I am also okay with Harvey Bullock calling him Bats. Just Bullock. That makes all kinds of sense to me.

TREES #2 — We zoom in a bit, here. Jason Howard continues to turn in pages that are nothing short of absolutely gorgeous. I love the line about the polar bear guards. A series about those fellows would be for me. These guys are channeling Ba/Moon here, I realized, the somewhat cartoony art juxtaposed against vast expanses of cityscapes. A great trick about the strategic Tree. I totally assumed the guy wanted to stage some vertical action. And then we’re back to our crew at whatever Arctic station they’re at that the letterer can’t be bothered to caption again this issue. This mystery with the black poppies is by far the most interesting aspect of the rather schizophrenic narrative thus far. It will be interesting to see how Uncle brings all of this together in his own time.

CHEW #42 — The sight of Baby Applebee toasting with his bottle might be the most terrifying thing that I have ever seen. Of course, this being a single issue of CHEW, there are several other flashes of greatness and horror liberally sprinkled throughout. This particular installment is generous enough to give us yet another two-page titles splash starring POYO! as well as another single-panel flash to #60 showing us that at least Tony, Applebee, and some assorted pamphlets scattered in the wind survive. Layman/Guillory continue to do tremendous work and we are lucky to have them.

SAGA #20 — Pretty compelling business. Our creators hit their marks of a shocking/titillating opening page and a crushing downbeat ending just like they like to do. I’m hoping for a curveball with the whole Marko/Ginny affair deal that BKV is teeing up, surely there’s going to be more to it than that. The highlight of the issue has to be Fiona Staples’ two-page spread of Alana blasting off on Fadeaway. What a long strange trip it is certain to be! Maybe next month’s opening page, even.

FANTASTIC FOUR #6 — It all keeps going wrong for our intrepid quartet. Sue freaks out against the Avengers (I guess that gets further developed in some other tie-in? It seems a bit odd to cut away from here. It’s not like it’s going to be happening over in Hickman’s books), and then we catch up with Uatu getting murdered, with the secret memory returning to The Thing turning out to be something to do with a failed attempt that Reed made back in the day to cure bashful Benjy of his ever-lovin’ rocky hide. It’s kind of an awkward deal, plot-wise, because Ben claims that it’s not his memory even though he’s right there in the middle of the story. I guess he loses his memory later? Nothing that happens this issue gives any indication of why Ben is now so pissed at Johnny, but I guess all will be made clear next issue. Kirk/Kesel/Aburtov continue to tear it up on the main feature with Dean Haspiel returning to the title alongside Nolan Woodard to provide just the right amount of dynamic krackle to the flashback sequence. Solid material!

UNCANNY AVENGERS #021 — There is all kinds of greatness in this issue as the team finally makes it back in time to undo their fuckup of planet-shattering proportions a few months back. Every page is a delight, from Tony and Doom talking shit at one another to Rogue reconciling with Wanda before soaking up everybody’s powers in a sea of Kirby krackle. The only bumps in the road come from some tics on her dialogue. Remender bungles the apostrophe on y’all twice, which drives me insane, but then doubles down with the confusing line, “Give me your sugar, Sugah.” Now of course, deliberately misspelling words to reflect the dialect or accent of their speaker is a tradition as old as Claremont himself, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be an affectation for the character, right? Rogue isn’t going around deliberately choosing to Southern up the word as “sugah.” That’s just how she talks, how she pronounces it every time. So, the last thing we should ever ever read is her saying “sugar.” The line, which I like, should read, “Give me your sugah, sugah.” Right? That’s probably a bit of overconsideration, but Claremont accent-misspelling is an old fascination of mine. The story itself clips along to tremendous effect, Acuña continues to knock the lights out with the able assistance of White. If the twist ending didn’t happen, I think we’d all be disappointed, but I certainly cannot wait to see how Remender is going to bring all of this crashing down.

NEW AVENGERS #020 — Well, I certainly thought that that cover was going to turn out to be malarkey. The House of Ideas is taking Dr. Stephen Strange to a very dark place, indeed. The DC-analogue Great Society crew pretty much took our boys apart. My favorite was the Boundless/Stark takedown. Hickman is really digging in and posing a very interesting moral conundrum with this premise, here. DO our guys have the moral right to engineer a planet-killing doomsday weapon in order to save their own Earth? Have they crossed the line? I would be interested where hardcore DC-reading Marvel-hatin’ fans fall on this spectrum. It does seem like a very Justice League stance to take, not to cross that line. I feel like the Superman/Batman guys SHould have at least offered up some kind of alternative besides just decrying the 616 crew as capable of unthinkable acts. Of course, the last page certainly bears out that accusation. What would an alternative even be? Whip up an artificial satellite world? There’s no way that a single Earth could sustain the lives of both populations. I guess our guys are about to do something really really horrible next issue. It’s the moment we’ve been building up to all this time, True Believer!

BEST OF WEEK: NEW AVENGERS ANNUAL #001 — Frank Barbiere & Marco Rudy show up with a devastating solo tale starring Dr. Stephen Strange that is as horrifying as it is strange. The basic set-up is no different from your favorite episode of L O S T, we flashback to our protagonist’s younger days when in his hubris he was convinced that he could fix anybody (so pretty much straight up Jack Shephard, yes), and this lends new context and greater resonance to what is unfolding in the present. A young princess adept has been taken from the mountains of Tibet where she was studying with the monks responsible for the good doctor’s indoctrination into the supernatural. The worse news is that she’s been abducted by a horrible demon that has bonded itself to her. As a premise goes, it’s fairly straight up for this character. But the magic lies in the execution. Barbiere’s script is lean and mean, managing to sing out several lines that resonate in transition between the two timeframes in that way that Alan Moore loved to do in the eighties that folks always aim for these days, but few hit the mark as well as Barbiere. But come on, as sharp as the script is, all anyone comes away from these pages thinking is that Marco Rudy is a beast beast beastmaster. His craft has certainly been on the ascendant these past few years as he graduated from a DC fill-in artist to wielder of destruction on that last Marvel Knights Spider-Man mini, but this is escalating matters to an entirely different level. Thirty pages of full mixed media art that vacillate between finely rendered pencils that might not even be inked to full-on balls-to-the-wall watercolor insanity with each choice of media in perfect service to the story and image itself, not the artist’s ego. Which is fortunate in a story about a protagonist’s crippling hubris. Rudy’s brilliant panel layouts continue to evolve, guiding the reader’s eye through the pages to feast upon images that will linger long after the issue has been set down. This is no $5 filler ordered up by editorial to empty fanboys pockets right on schedule. This is an emotionally resonant standalone that works whether the reader has never heard of the character or has been onboard since the days of Ditko. This is a work of art, an artifact that you absolutely have to clasp in your hands and hold up close to your face to experience viscerally, so raw and vibrant you can almost smell the paint drying and hear Rudy impatiently pacing behind you muttering about one last perfect detail always left to add.


BATMAN AND RA’S AL-GHUL #32 — The team behind my favorite DC book turn in yet another humdinger of a finale to yet another best arc so far. Batman and Frankenstein beneath Nanda Parbat battling for the corpses and very souls of Talia Al-Ghul and Damian Wayne. No more really need be said. This is crushing material on every page. We get a history lesson from Frankenstein, which earns him the respect of Ra’s, another Frankenstein-is-a-monster joke that still somehow manages not to fall flat but be wonderful, yet another masterful shot of Frank hurling himself into battle, Batman blasting his way out of the subterranean Lazarus Pit carrying his dead son’s sarcophagus on his back, Titus even, that terrific six panels on Page Fourteen of the camera just zooming in as Ra’s closes in on Batman followed by the close shot of that threat on the opposite page, climaxing with of course four pages of the two daddies scrapping in the snow like they never picked up a sword in their lives, and then just when Batman is set to go all Mountain-on-The-Viper with old Ra’s, we get a shocking surprise that was so terrific to not see coming. I mean, that bottom panel, the BOOM, I was thinking to myself, “Well, surely not,” but then what a last page! I was very very dubious when I heard that something called ROBIN RISES was coming down the pike, but I trust these creators right down to the marrow of my bones and can’t wait.

FUTURE’S END #7 — And Editorial scores Aaron Lopresti, another very talented fellow on sequentials. Opening with the first third being nothing but Phantom Zone conflict is just fine with me. But, tragically, they moved that aerobics Comedy Bang Bang! ad to the interiors, so you never know when those mostly hairless dudes are going to sneak up on you. SO MUCH WORSE. It’s cool that Lois is one of our protagonists for this series, interested to see where she winds up in her quest to unmask Tim. It’s hard not to read any scenes with Slade Wilson now and not think about ARROW. How could he not call her “kid” one single time? And sorry to see Terry blow his element of surprise. He’s kind of been a putz since he got here, I’m sorry to say.

BATMAN ETERNAL #11 — Ian Bertram is a revelation. I didn’t recognize his name and was the least bit worried, but wow. Seeing his pages reminds me of the first time Chris Burnham came in and blew the doors off the fourth issue of BATMAN INCORPORATED, or of how I felt the first time I laid eyes on Pope or Grampa or Quitely or Darrow. This guy has such a unique and singular vision. Thrilling. That panel on Page 10 of Barbara slamming Gonzolo against the wall is the very real deal. But that’s nothing compared to what happens a few pages later when young Stephanie Brown first lays eyes on Batman doing the same thing with her father and we see the Caped Crusader through the filter of her young terrified mind. Bravo. I love his Starfire. Thank you thank you so much. Just when he couldn’t kick ass any harder. She is an A-cup and still magnificent. And of course we have to have El Gaucho. I do wish Selina wouldn’t call him Bats. That kind of drives me crazy like it does John Byrne. At any rate, I dearly wish that Bertram is already hard at work on #19 or some such. This series has been clipping along very well so far, but the injection of his style that is so far afield from what we usually expect from mainstream superhero art is a very welcome and exciting turn of events.

WONDER WOMAN #32 — Once again, all Cliff Chiang has to do is show up for the cover and his presence is devastating. Though of course Goran Sudzuka holds the interiors down very well. Azzarello is definitely ramping up his endgame. Hard to believe that there are only going to be three more of these. I do love how the krackle presages Orion’s triumphant charge on the last page. Of course, I love those little dots any time they come seething right up, don’t I?

FABLES #141 — Wow, that is a really really dark place to begin the final arc. The final Big Bad will just be every single one of the other boxed horrors all taking up residence inside of Rose? That is certainly one way to burn it all down, Mr. Willingham. The council of the thirteenth floor folks is an interesting and well-crafted collision of characters. Of course Lumi the Snow Queen pops up in conversation, how could she not? Fucking Elsa. And Grimble! I love the second-person in the captions about him. It is always nice to be acknowledged as a reader. And a solid pair of closing scenes. Oh dear, I am not ready to say goodbye to any of these people. Can’t Mike Carey just take over when he finishes up THE UNWRITTEN? I apologize for the blatant segueway.

THE UNWRITTEN: APOCALYPSE #6 — All right, we’re ramping it up now. As much fun as it is to read Carey connecting the dots from maanim/graal/grail, I think my favorite part of the series remains the Tommy Taylor prose business. Just really love that voice. Gross continues to throw down thunderous stylistic changes by the page with all the nonchalance of the wind changing direction. What a cruel place to leave off this month out. I hate the tradewaiters. This thing, this story of all stories, is rearing up from deep in the heart of all the tales and getting ready to reach out and crush my heart, I can already feel it.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #21 — Part of the greatness of this book is that every two or three issues, it implies a spinoff series that seems like it would be at least as good as the main deal. I don’t know if this was just a well-timed convergence with the mounting GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY hype, but I would certainly tune in to the monthly adventures of this wacky band of interstellar irregulars. Ryan Browne continues to excel at one of the roughest fill-in gigs in the business while constantly tightening up his already ridiculous linework.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #1 — Oh, Team Phonogram, when will you quit batting my heart back and forth between your ravenous maws and produce the long-awaited Volume 3? Surely that Jamie McKelvie has eaten enough by now. He sounds like sort of a skinny fellow, anyway. But, we are all fortunate any time that Gillen/McKelvie/Wilson can synch up their schedules to produce glorious pages and of course expectations on another creator-owned by this crew have spiked to new highs on the heels of that crushing bit of YOUNG AVENGERS that season-finaled up last year. The lads are still very comfortable with their protagonists’ previously established demographic, telling the story of a bunch of teenage gods who are really really awesome and sing so good that basically everyone has epileptic seizures and comes their brains out every song and then also they can snap their fingers and make peoples’ heads explode. Wait, IS this the third volume of PHONOGRAM? Because that actually sounds about right. This thing is gorgeous, McKelvie and Wilson have one of the best blasts of synergy going on the rack today, and the narrative voice is razor-sharp. A debut that lives up to massive expectations.

SEX CRIMINALS #6 — Well, we’re back and of course things have to be on a down-swing. But whaaaaat a down-swing. Things were just getting to be so fun! Now, bro is like a eunuch! Was that supposed to be one of those metaphorical type things? Like, are his colors all faded to Suze when she looks at him? I don’t know. I just want the best for these kids, and it looks like things are veering off into an even darker place. Chippapotamus makes lines and colors so pretty just like McKelvie and Wilson. Maybe someone should snap their fingers and try to make KegelFace’s head explode?

FATALE #23 — Wow, Brubaker always of course carries more than his share of the narrative load, this Lovecraft noir half-breed springing more from his noggin than anyone else’s, I suspect, but Phillips and Breitweiser absolutely blow the doors off this month in a tour-de-force performance that does its very best at convincing a non-participating reader exactly how awesome it is to have sex with Josephine. They hit hypercosmic Starlin levels of greatness as no less than ten pages of the book are dedicated to five double-page spreads of our protagonists screwing across time and space while we finally get more than a glimpse into the secret origin of the eponymous femme. Like the rest of this series, none of it is that much of a surprise, it’s just the level of execution and mastery of craft that make it such a pleasure to behold, everyone involved well into years and years of firing at the top of their game and slinging out justice by the page because that’s the only thing they know how to do by now. The finale is going to be a hell of a thing.

MPH #2 — Superspeed is so fun and awesome, you guys! I’m pretty sure the pendulum is going to have to swing the other way pretty soon for our happy band of misbehaving crusaders from bad old Detroit finally taking some back for themselves. Millar’s characterizations are a bit more one-note than they have been lately but Duncan Fegredo’s dynamic art and detail certainly gives you everything you want from a book with this subject matter. This is good inoffensive fun. Which from Millar is pretty much a triumph at this point.

SAVAGE DRAGON #195 — Larsen once again makes the strong case that he is enjoying his job more than about anybody else on the planet right now. That’s the way he’s drawing this, at least. There’s a very palpable joy visible in every page, every layout. That first double-page spread is yet again a thing of beauty and exemplifies the reason I show up every Wednesday. But I certainly hope there are additional models of that red suit of armor that soared in at the end, there. That character design is too banging to waste on just a few pages. This title remains essential for the lover of all things Kirby in your life. And if you don’t have one of those, please strongly consider acquiring or becoming one immediately. It will make everything so much better, I promise.

AVENGERS #31 — Well, we’ll spare no suspense about how Hawkeye got split up from the team. That shit was disturbing. Of course, this is nothing but great fun throughout. Our intrepid band of timehoppers winds up 422 years in the future and are captured by future Avengers who turn out to all be Ultron-bots because of course, except for Thor and Hyperion who are just really old and broken now. Hickman is doing tremendous work keeping both of his AVENGERS titles so compelling while excelling and conquering at two creator-owneds. I mean, not counting INFINITY, dude has already slammed out more than fifty Avengers scripts alone. I feel like more people should be making a big deal out of this run, every issue is terribly compelling in its own right while slotting in seamlessly to a pretty immaculately plotted long-term game, the full shape of which has barely begun to make itself known thus far. Impressive business. Now, if we can just get Yu to stop drawing Natasha’s cans the size of her head, we’ll be golden.

UNCANNY X-MEN #022 — This is certainly the first time I’ve turned to a credits page, seen six inkers credited, and then wanted to high-five myself. It’s worked out so well before with Bachalo! And further tremendous news to get Jose Villarrubia assisting on colors. Nothing can stop the Bendis Juggernaut! Nice of him to finally clear up the deal about Scottie’s eyeblasts always going crazy at the end of every issue for the last little bit. Though I think I’ve already said that that was only getting better for me with time. Ripening like the fine Summers vintage that it is. And now it’s the Secret Xavier School? Maybe we can have a different cool name every issue now. It can be a thing. And but that Hijack fellow is pretty indispensable after all. This is a very solid end to all of the Dazzler/Mystique, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D./helicarriers vs. the mansion madness. Bachalo is a monster throughout.

DAREDEVIL #004 — Leland Owsley gets a serious upgrade that definitely sets him up to be the ultimate antithesis/nemesis to San Francisco’s newest arrival that was foretold in #50NOW or whatever the hell that was a little while ago that came out like the week after #001. This is nothing more or less than Waid/Samnee/Rodriguez continuing to kick ass on this title just like they have been for the past few years now. Hell of a cover, too.

SILVER SURFER #003 — I tell you what, that Dawn Greenwood is just the pluckiest Companion that the Doctah never had. Slott keeps things moving along at a brisk pace. These three issues amount to the season premiere and we’re now set up for ongoing adventures. It will be interesting to see how it goes next month once our duo is into their rhythm. The Toomie gag on the last page is a good sign of initial chemistry. But the Three Stooges gag seemed like an odd bit to shoehorn in there a few pages back. We’ll see how it goes! The Allreds have no problem bringing down the cosmic justice, as ever.

ORIGINAL SIN #4 — Deodato/Martin are shredding from the get-go. That Page 3 shot of Bucky doing nothing but showing up on the moon with a severed head is slamming. Aaron does efficient work bringing the far-flung characters and plots together here with a minimum of fuss. I love Logan’s line about Bucky. And you’ve got to give Aaron the elbow for having Dr. Strange quote Millar’s tagline for Civil War at T’Challa. But that’s got nothing on Bucky’s shot at poor old Frank. Low blow, Buck! But man, those cute introductory character captions remain just painful, as Rocket Raccoon’s illustrates. In whose mind does that business improve the reading experience? I’ve got to hand it to Aaron, though, for that last-page reveal. It’s the kind of retcon that makes too much sense and has been floating around the collective fanboy subconsciousness for quite some time now, and this is a hell of an elegant way to execute the concept into continuity. The entire first half of this thing was very good looking set-up and preamble, but I am very interested to see what is about to break loose now.

BEST OF WEEK: ESCAPO — It seems like Paul Pope is incapable of turning in anything that doesn’t hit somewhere between being a breathless tour-de-force and a masterpiece. Even way back when. I was previously unaware of this project that he jammed out over a broken up six-month period in 1998, but it is thrilling to see both the height of jaw-dropping talent that Pope had already reached sixteen years ago and also now be able to somewhat gauge how far he managed to push his longform sequential work over the course of just the next few years with HEAVY LIQUID, 100%, and BATMAN: YEAR 100. This book consists of two chapters starring a reluctant escapist* dealing with first love/rejection, and then death. The writing is sparse on characterization, hinging upon the protagonist’s voice coming through the dynamism of his kinetic on-panel action in large part juxtaposed with the rhapsodic barking of the ringmaster. But the art is more than enough to carry the show. Everything is much tighter here than what I’m used to seeing. In a closing essay that I might even have dug more than the pages themselves, Pope shares that he cranked out these pages at night while working for Japanese mega-publisher Kondansha by day, and the kind of trademark wildness with the brush that becomes such a trademark of his later on is only hinted at here. Aerobella’s appearance, in particular, manages to simultaneously veer over toward being more mangaesque but also suggest a far greater deal of time spent at the drawing board and careful consideration than later work, which oftentimes explodes from the page in its immediacy and crackling sense of the now. Of course, every hero is only as good as his antagonist, and young Pope spared no effort here designing our boy’s death-traps, a plummeting automobile and a locked waterwomb and Le Pinceur and the old Bizarre Box, all of which are convoluted and fantastic enough to do Kirby’s heart proud. This is not the book you want to put in someone’s hands to make him or her a Pope acolyte for life, but it is a fascinating document of one of the great talents of the medium in a nascent and formative time, not so much one of his deep cuts but more like an unmastered demo from a garage recording that doesn’t, can’t, punch you in the face with its production value but that still manages to just about bring tears to your eyes because the song is so good and everything you love about the band is right there amidst the crackling hiss of the tape and it’s obvious to everybody listening now and then that these guys are really going to make it, one of these days, sooner or later, these guys are going to be huge.

*and this just triggers, didn’t Pope spend a couple of years working on the trapped-in-development-hell film adaptation of Chabon’s THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY? That is an interesting convergence, given that he self-published this comic of a hero escapist probably right around the time the idea must have either been percolating in Chabon’s head or more likely by the time he had already moved on to interviewing folks like Eisner and actually writing the damn thing. The world is a latticework.