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.