Wednesday, December 17, 2014


BEST OF WEEK: LITTLE NEMO: RETURN TO SLUMBERLAND #3 — Well! The only way to crank this situation up, I suppose, is to do an M.C. Escher issue. Now, Gabriel Rodriguez is just showing off! Never even mind the Tessellated Tower exterior on Page Four, the romp through, up, down, and around it on Page Six opposite the birds turning into the fish turning into the bees on Page Seven is a stunning technical masterpiece that blows away just about anything I’ve seen lately this side of Quitely a couple weeks back on PAX AMERICANA. And then there are those gnomes/fairies, I swear. They haunt me. Nelson Daniel and Eric Shanower certainly do their share of heavy lifting as well, but it is Rodriguez’s insane mastery of perspective and ridiculously-tight-but-never-fussy linework that make these pages well worth revisiting over and over again. People throw around the term “master class” all the time these days, but that is exactly what is going on right here. A gift to us all.

SUPREME: BLUE ROSE #5 — This one seemed a little bit skinnier than previous issues? Maybe a couple more no-dialogue pages?  Takes just as long to read, though, you can really get lost in Tula Lotay’s lush art. And this guy is Doc Rocket, too, I remembered that I had one in an old manuscript when that name surfaced last month in SAVAGE DRAGON, I think it was, but it just goes to show you that we’re all tapping into the same ideaspace. When we’re really really lucky. I dearly hope that the NEXT ISSUE is not a tease and that it’s just a straight Professor Night issue with only a single two-page non-sequitur back to the main action. Ha ha. Maybe some day, Supreme will appear in these pages. God, some people must really hate this book.

SEX CRIMINALS #9 — I’m not sure that our eponymous duo are in such a good place that introducing John’s porn-star sex-crush into the mix is necessarily going to be the best call for smoother sailing. They did bring that around nicely, though, I was certainly wondering who the hell was montage-narrating there at the beginning. This was another issue of Good Clean Sexy Fun. “The Lick-ed and the Divine” made a seriously inspired run at it, but the letters column was once again better than the sequential content. All of these people are like my friends or something, it is a source of great comfort to hear them all keep going on about their orgasms and such.

BITCH PLANET #1 — Rian Hughes has no problem claiming the trophy for best design of the week. Frankly, this is a terrific book, but it just barely manages to live up to that insane rocking exploitation cover and the fake (fake?) ads on the back. I was just cruising along totally lulled by all this smooth-sailin’ hyperviolent action, so that bait-and-switch definitely took me by surprise. Though that last line of dialogue was a bit on-the-nose for my taste. It looks like we really don’t quite know what this book is going to be like on a regular basis, so it will be interesting to check out the rhythms of the next issue that will presumably not follow such a pilot-episode vibe. Good on Kelly Sue, it looks like she has another hit on her hands! Several of my local friends who almost never mention the books they buy or even seldom buy books every Wednesday were talking about this before Wednesday and all the way up through the weekend. BITCH PLANET is here.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #6 — Well, goddammit, but this right here really and truly seems to be the best issue so far. This really deserves Best of Week, but Rodriguez had to come along and ruin it for everyone. It is a goddamn subversive thing what these boys have done, pulling that little trick at the end of the first arc and then immediately pulling a 180 and making the antagonist sympathetic through flashback. Earl who-was-it-now? This whole deal pivots on the mentor relationship between young Coach Boss and his future defensive coordinator Coach Big. That two-page training montage alone is some of the best comic-booking of a really impressive week. But extra points for the spread of the young lad coming into his daddy’s trailer and encountering a drug-fueled orgy with stolen fighting chickens as innocent bystanders. The expression on the face of that dude on the couch at panel-left who’s got the cowgirl riding him is maybe my favorite part of the entire issue. I hope his arc is next.

PUNKS: THE COMIC #3 — Just when this series gave the complete impression that it could go no further, Marko Ramius arrives on Page Six to make all that has come before seem like a bastion of linear sanity. “PLEASE, ALEC BALDWIN, ONLY YOU CAN HELP ME DEFECT!” Dog is not Alec Baldwin, from the past or any other time! But then Young Alec Baldwin is on hand, as well. And so handsome! And there is Capt. Ramius in his Zardoz uniform referring to Dog as “Highlander!” But who is there left to save Thanksgiving but the Baldwin brothers? This comic is wonderful and makes almost no sense at all. It doesn’t have to. Also, there is the best Rick Remender interview. Be still, my heart!

SAVAGE DRAGON #100 — This is, indeed, a “SUPER SPECTACULAR!” Over the past 22 years, Erik Larsen has written and drawn this title continuously with no fill-ins (I think? Surely?), at this point vaulting past every other creator with the exception of Dave Sim (obligatory readability/entertainment value joke here). Larsen hits his usual monthly quota of twenty pages and then writes almost the entire remainder of the issue, bringing in serious talents such as legendary Herb Trimpe and Chris Burnham on art. The entire issue is a rocking good time, with various stories referencing and flowing into one another. The narrative content of particular note has got to be the three-way that goes down in the first story between Malcolm, his girlfriend Maxine, and her best friend Angel. Who is also Malcolm’s step-sister. The way that it just came out of nowhere seemed pretty nonchalant. I completely buy Malcolm being all the way up for it, but maybe Angel could have taken like half a page more of convincing? I pretty much bought it, though I was expecting there to be at least a little bit of an Internet uproar about it. I guess everyone’s okay with it. What liberated times we live in! Man, these last two issues, Larsen is on fire and grooving possibly stronger than he ever has been. He is, no doubt,  planning to take us for quite a ride here in this next little bit.
(sexual innuendoes embedded within this review: 5. Did you catch them all?)

ASTRO CITY #18 — Brent Anderson returns, and once again, the reader has cause to bemoan the fact that there isn’t just a series about these people. Why does it have to always keep shifting focus? Of course, that might be ASTRO CITY’s best draw, but there are so many tantalizing glimpses into situations that we may or may not ever revisit, and even then, who knows how long it will be? The first half of the issue brings us up to date with the status quo of an aging Quarrel & Crackerjack before flashing back to the former’s secret origin, which is perfectly compelling taken on its own, before Busiek leaves us on a decidedly somber and melancholy note. It’s a moment of quiet reflection, all the more affecting for its lack of bombast amidst the nigh-infinite possibility of sudden shifts in plot development or characterization. No big twist to be found here, just our protagonist staring out her window at the great metropolis, wondering how it’s all going to end. There’s nothing like this book.

BATGIRL #36 — The crew finds a way to dial it up a notch here for the third time out. Tarr/Wicks continue to drop absolute justice over Stewart breakdowns with an energy and excitement that is completely infectious. Dagger Type is just the worst, though, there is no question about that. Of course, our heroine is more than a match for such ridiculous antics and manages to work in a positive message about managing her own social media presence by issue’s end. Very topical. Oooooh, it’s almost enough to make me not yearn for the acutalization of that slamming Cooke cover.

BATMAN ETERNAL #36 — Vicki Vale dives into the secret origin of Jason Bard and does not like what she finds. It is also regrettably similar motivation to what that Dr. Yamakaze fellow has steering him in a Dr. Psychowardly direction five years later over in the other weekly. And Julia calls our hero “Bats,” which you know I cannot stand from anyone but certainly seems out of character for her. An interesting twist at the end here, but we’ve been coasting for about two full issues now.

FUTURES END #32 — So, it looks like that as grim as things seem for the old Wayne family fortune over there in ETERNAL, everything gets resolved nicely some time in the next five years. And I don’t understand why Terry has never had a slice of pizza. They don’t have pizza in the future? But there is still Coke? I just, I just don’t get it. There is a distinctly KNIGHT RIDER vibe about this month’s page with Brother Eye, you could totally hear him addressing Mr. Terrific in a K.I.T.T. voice. And now Grifter & Lana are totally rocking an odd-couple romcom. That’s a little weird. And but the doctor, enough with the internal monologuing. We get it. Your wife is dead. It’s the League’s fault. Cannot believe we burned a whole page on nothing but that. Ditto for Jason & Madison sniping at each other because they’re stuck sharing the same space. After Jason tells her that he needs to see Yamakaze’s lab, I really wanted her to launch into a diatribe about how the League killed the dude’s wife. That would have been funny. All of these shortcomings are totally mitigated, however, by the last scene, which is bananas. Father Time jumping for joy because of all the monsters is just the best.

UNCANNY X-MEN ANNUAL #1 — With her superior Bachalo character design and combustible Australian temper, Eva Bell is arguably the strongest of the new batch of mutants that Bendis has introduced in this title, though there’s been so much going on, he hasn’t had much time to zoom in on her or anyone else to really flesh them out to a significant degree. That ends now as we get the story of her missing years, how she went from a teenager to a seven-years-or-so (?) older-but-still-young woman. This is only the first part, but it’s already quite a bit more heartbreaking than the aftermath has hinted at. I won’t spoil the particulars (I really never like to spoil anything, you know, Wednesday Night Faithful), but Eva’s various time-jumping provides cameos from a couple of noted Marvel stalwarts that propel the action ever forward. Hot off her stint with Lemire on GREEN ARROW, Andrea Sorrentino turns in a gorgeous run of pages that surely rank with her finest output. Everybody is certainly doing their job well because I made it to the last pages and was already getting a bit sorry that the story was coming to a close before getting hit with the usually-dreaded TO BE CONTINUED. I’m actually looking forward to an annual now, which, Marco-Rudy-Dr.-Strange-NEW-AVENGERS notwithstanding, is not a usual occurrence. I just hope Sorrentino also has the gig for Part Two. Recommended if you’ve been hearing how terrific Bendis’s run is, but have been hesitant to dip your toe into the heavy-continuity maelstrom. All you need to know is that a new mutant is lost in time. But it helps if you are an old-school fan of Killraven and the 2099 line. (which, hell, yeah, I know is kind of a spoiler, but here we are)

AVENGERS·X-MEN: AXIS #7 — Well, they bring in Kubert and certainly do kick the deal into high gear, here. Deadpool remains as much of a focal point/narrator as we get, and Remender does indeed squeeze tremendous mileage out of the few pages of action that he and Spider-Man have as each other’s sidekicks. The whole deal with Wanda. That definitely struck me as a wrong-headed bullshit retcon move on early Thursday morning when I was first going through this. Seemed like the story, “the canon,” suffering for the sake of a really kewl idea that Remender or even Editorial had. But apparently, the damn Whizzer used to be their dad until 1983? That was still four years before my first foray out toward gorgeous Greymalkin Lane, so I guess that whole father/daughter dynamic is not so sacrosanct as I once believed. I’m dialing back and willing to reserve judgment until seeing how the story that results from this retcon plays out. Shh, don’t tell Internet!

AVENGERS #038 — Man, Hickman all-but-officially extending his FF run into this title by swinging the spotlight over to Reed corresponding with Valeria is the serious good news. Deodato yet again brings the justice, that dude got done with ORIGINAL SIN and maybe like took a break for lunch before just pounding right into the next thing. The dude is very impressive, his pages have never looked better. I have to say that I did not share Carol’s confidence about the outcome of her encounter with the Hulk, upon what basis did she form that opinion? Getting punched into orbit was a very plausible outcome. And a nice soft twist there at the end, I don’t think I realized that Bobby’s rehabilitated A.I.M. squad was calling itself the Avengers, but that is good fun. It looks like the next part of this will consist of several heroes fighting one another over considerably more than a minor misunderstanding that will be resolved by story’s end in an energizing escalation of the merry Marvel tradition!

Friday, December 12, 2014


ACTION COMICS #36 — All right, I have to got to say that I was eyeing these widescreen Darwyn Cooke covers for close to a full ten minutes before finally opening this one up, feeling a bit of the old bittersweet at the sure-to-be massive gap in quality between the stories implied by these covers and their actual interiors. And while it is true that I would pay a considerable sum to see Mr. Cooke just for one month take over these books that he’s providing variants for, all three of these creative teams really elevated their already considerable game and banished those melancholy thoughts. None greater than Pak/Kuder here, who have got a nice little rhythm back after getting jostled around a bit by fill-ins and a couple of small crossover events. Smallville is still having a case of the Octobers, and the situation escalates dramatically by issue’s end. My favorite part of this issue has to be the three-page flashback to when Clark and Lana were in third grade. Really, not much is better than the first panel of that, but I am a fan of how Kuder relaxes the tight inks on his lines and lets some just straight pencil shading stand. It gives this short scene a really different atmosphere and has you longing for just a series of Young Superboy adventures with Kuder tearing it up throughout.

DETECTIVE COMICS #36 — Man, Manapul & Buccellato continue to be turn in some of the most dramatic vibrant panelwork on the rack today. They are both masters of their craft who have refined their talent through years of collaboration, and the resulting pages are always a wonder to behold. Every page truly is a standalone work of art. And now that I’m not expecting the Eisner title pages, I’m blown away by them when they hit, still packing plenty of visual punch. What keeps this from being a great issue, though, is still the writing. It isn’t bad, but it’s average and always seems to manage a couple of missteps that take me out of it. Alfred ever referring to something as “Bruce time” is horrible. Having Bruce point that out does not mitigate the damaging effect it has upon the reader. And then I was able to dial back in to the exchange between Bullock and the ridiculously named Yip until that wacky splash of Batman peering in through the broken window to answer Bullock’s question. Surprise! The art on that splash is absolutely gorgeous, but the narrative beat made me laugh out loud and completely diffused the gravity of the content. This book is certainly worth it for the art alone, when these guys aren’t getting fill-ins, but I would love the scripting to tighten up a bit, see: the following issue.

GRAYSON #5 — Predictably, another incredible issue. And easily the most dramatic opening page of the week, yow! Talk about the in medias res. It doesn’t matter what’s gone before, Dick and Midnighter are trying to deliver a baby and save the mother’s life while Helena tries to keep their plane from crashing. The baby makes it, at least. Then, it’s nothing but a slow-burn done-in-one as the three survivors+baby try to survive the impossible two-hundred mile walk to the next settlement as the days add up and the characterization thickens. Dick Grayson really is just the best guy. I could also do an alternate series of him deliriously stumbling through a desert telling a newborn increasingly fragmented and nonsensical dreams about him and Batman. That sounds incredible. As much love and hype as this book is getting, it isn’t enough. Tom King’s scripts are razor-sharp, and Mikel Janin has elevated his already considerable game to a ridiculous level. And they’re really still getting started, I can’t imagine what the long-term plan for this book is. Am certainly going to be around to find out though, hey.

BATMAN ETERNAL #35 — That “THREE HOURS FROM NOW” caption is kind of a confusing way to open when just a “THREE HOURS EARLIER…” on the next page would do the same deal just fine. Otherwise, this is a pretty solid issue. Relatively taking things at a slower pace, but that’s to be expected after the blow-up last week. Fernando Blanco turns in very solid work, and I can’t remember the last time that Tynion was actually scripting. It’s been quite a while.

FUTURES END #31 — Where was Merino last issue when we needed him? I love how Lois is blowing the whistle on Cadmus and trying to make them eat it for Ollie’s murder even though she knows good and well that he is alive. And that’s before dropping the emboldened term “Secret War.” Really, Lois? Really? And who can resist the fun of Lemire writing the Bakers cavorting about with Island Ollie? Give us THAT shit every month, DC. Two pages is not enough. One single line of dialogue and the look in her eyes really slams home how much I missed Maxine. And was anybody else thinking of Booster & Beetle rocking it on the isle of Kooeykooeykooey when Buddy & Ollie toasted the latter’s retirement? (fun fact: I drop in and write these reviews only a couple at a time, seldom all in one sitting, but here we are at the third time that I’m clamoring for an alternate DC series implied by some short-term set-up; so, this is the week for that). Okay, but then what the hell was that with the Midge creature? Are we supposed to know what’s going on with her? She came out of nowhere, but Constantine acted like we were supposed to already be familiar with her. And the whole deal with Firestorm/Madison/Jason/Tim certainly took an interesting enough twist, but it is an ironic inversion, Madison getting so mad about Tim not telling her about his  heroic past while straight-up shutting him out of the situation the very minute that the same sort of thing erupts for her in the present.

GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS  #04 — This opening is pretty straightforward as far as this series goes. Flashback to King Tiger Eating A Cheeseburger back when he was a prince playing a game with his friend Crabigail. He pretends to be his father and has poor Crabigail be the enslaved population of Crabulon. The king commands his worthless crabs to eat a passing sentient toad. Cut to the actual king and queen being told that the queen’s previous pregnancy with this charming little fellow has rendered her barren. The king has the messenger disintegrated. The little prince comes in and lies about Crabigail’s toad consumption being her own idea. The reason for this is because the toad was apparently poisonous. There is a sound-effect entitled “Croad.” Cut to Croad the unfortunate landing on earth to quote Darth Vader and eat a native crab, producing a sound-effect of “Cronch.” Okay, actually, this one was pretty weird, too. There’s something profoundly wrong with Ryan Browne, but it is such a delight to watch unfold.

LOW #5 — This book is worth the cover price just for the introduction of the term “quantumologist,” alone. With what Remender’s been up to over in the merry Marvel universe and then also in BLACK SCIENCE, you certainly can’t take the survival of the protagonists for granted, which lends an immediacy and gravitas to that battle in the arena that most other books wouldn’t have. And just when it was going so well . . .

BEST OF WEEK: CHEW #45 — Yes, what an utterly shitty ending! Goddamn you, The Mighty Layman. I can’t believe I queued this up to be the last book of the night. What a fucking terrible last page. You’re all evil, evil bastards. The end.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


BEST OF WEEK: G.I. JOE VS. TRANSFORMERS #4 — Every page of this series really is so much more insane than what’s gone before. Scioli’s starting to really loosen up on this now that he’s got almost a hundred pages under his belt. I dig Duke’s crazy color scheme on Page Two, and for that matter, the completely fluid status quo with Duke already getting discovered rather than spending issues and issues undercover. There’s no time in this book for anything remotely resembling a slow burn, shit is blowing up constantly. The two-panel Snake Eyes hit on Page Three is a magnificent summary of the Soft Master’s and the Hard Master’s diametric philosophy. Sciloi’s reverence for and deference to the original Hama and Budiansky runs of these series in the eighties is the main reason that this book fits together as well as it does. Basically, add Krackle and you’re good to go (incidentally, the Kirby Krackle/pg ratio starts off at an all-time high, pulling twelve pages out of the first thirteen before slacking off at fourteen out of twenty, still perfectly respectable, but you hate to see it fall off to that degree after such a strong start). I really have to read this thing through twice to fully grasp the plot points, there’s just always so much insanity erupting, it can be hard to follow. For instance, I had no idea that Duke and Snake Eyes were jumping into the portal on Page Four until I made it to the end of the issue. This is followed by the mandatory Dr. Venom appearance, which in most books would be crazy enough, but that’s actually a slight dip before the bottom completely drops out and we are introduced to the Joes’ interstellar battle-pet squad. I really can’t believe that this happened, both that there even were so many pets already created and that Scioli thought to supercollide them together in this way. Fascinating and horrifying. I love that he calls them U.S.7, that is some serious Morrison/Quitely love, right there. But then Fortress Maximus just devours them all on the next page?!? My brain can’t handle this. I love the Psych Out monologue over the Kirby map. Methinks the North Pole of Cybertron is more than a bit reminiscent of some certain Fire Pits on planet in another continuity, mm? At first, it was great to see Hot Rod on the following page, but then awful that he is a turncoat! And isn’t that actually the Rodimus Prime vehicle that he turns into? That is a clever deal about hot rods being “ultra-dense energon cylinders,” that is a new one on me. And we’ve got the Smelting Pits! #s 17 and 18 were classics of the original run, no question. The tonal shift is pretty hilarious, we go from Bazooka cradling Scarlett’s apparently lifeless body all DC-style to everybody being okay to straight-up two pages after that tragic shot, an Autobot/Joes dance party. And then Bazooka tripping balls on Cybertronic vegetation. And then why not a FOREVER PEOPLE reference before Grimlock’s insane cave-painting storytelling. And finally topping It off with Prime ex machina. Scioli is absolutely kicking all kinds of ass here, I keep thinking that there’s nowhere crazier he can take it, and then but then here come all the G.I. Joe battle-pets in space. Magnificent.

BEST OF WEEK, TOO: ODY-C #1 — I don’t want to live in a world that I have to decide which is better, this comic or all of that Scioli insanity, so. This sounded like a cool concept to me when they first announced it, but holy shit. Matt Fraction & Christian Ward absolutely knock it out of the park! Between this, SEX CRIMINALS, SATELLITE SAM, and CASANOVA coming back next year, I hope that Fraction doesn’t get romanced back into the fold of merry Marvel monthly sequentials pretty much any time ever. His strongest work is, by far, creator-owned. This issue starts hammering you as soon you open that cover just from a design aspect. What we have here is a five-page gatefold that gives a massive ages-long timeline of a gender-bent Greek mythological narrative all the way from the time of the Titans to that old Iliad, brilliantly conceived in blinding white-hot science-fiction revision. The level of ambition and degree to which it lands with perfect execution is nothing short of astronomical. Then, it turns out that there’s a second five-page foldout that’s got a star-chart map of all these celestial doings, and then when you unfold both sets, you get a goddamn ten-page splash of three Achean soldiers amidst the devastation of the Fall of siegeworld Troija-VII. And the comic book hasn’t even actually started yet. It turns out we still get 26 pages of ad-free bleeding-science insanity on top of that opening nonsense. Pretty serious value for your four American dollars. What plays out is the first step of a journey that we know is going to last a very long time. There’s very much a Morrison/Hickman vibe permeating these pages, the deal with the swiftships almost directly recalling the way that Nohvarr and his doomed crewmates were getting around right before MARVEL BOY got going there too many years ago. I guess Ellis/Hitch were doing all that right around the same time with STORMWATCH giving way to THE AUTHORITY, now that I think about it (see: above image). Running Homer through all of those filters is a really wonderful thing. The narrative captions also manage to be pretty evocative of the tone that Brandon Graham and friends have been striking since they took over PROPHET. Letterer Chris Eliopolous does commendable work, eschewing word bubbles in favor of captions that have different colors based on the speaker. This keeps the whole thing flowing and really gives the whole affair a feeling somewhere between the kind of lyrical poem that serves as source material and a children’s book. We’re basically just getting our bearings in this insane set-up, but there is a charming action scene in which Christian Ward rocks a side-scroll set-up with panel inlays recalling JHWIII or Quitely zoom-ins when opponents make physical contact. It’s interesting to note how many elements of the original that Fraction directly cribs and then how many get clever reworking, like the deal with Circe or the reveal about Odyssia and Penelope’s offspring. Maybe the most interesting tweak is that instead of being all lustful for the fairer sex, this version of the character so far all but ignores her sexual plaything in favor of brooding over what it is about battle that she loves so much, putting her over more in Thor’s camp than the Odysseus that we know and love. This is a very impressive beginning, and I can’t wait to see how they escalate things once that swiftship Ody-C really starts working up some momentum and cruising up at faster-than-Zeus thought-travel.

PROPHET STRIKEFILE #2 — Wow! Roy/Sheean/Ward drop about as ambitious of a headlining feature as it’s possible to throw down. By the last couple of pages, I was picturing Kirby averting his eyes, muttering, “Too much, guys. Scope . . . too vast!” Strike me dead, but only two issues in, I almost prefer these massive backstory installments to the incredible run that this whole beautiful crew was putting out prior to this. The scale is so wide, it beggars belief and you can just barely wrap your brain around it if you squint really hard. The pastel palette recalls Moëbius and is a terrific fit for a story so fundamentally alien, or really, universal is probably a better term. And how fantastic to get Liefeld on the double-page Youngstar splash! I threw a character called Doc Rocket in the backstory of my master’s thesis, but the universe is probably big enough for both of them. My favorite piece of art in the back half is not a very controversial pick: A-team Roy & Bergin’s shot of the Crystal Blessed. This series is a serious value, not even an ad to be found on the back cover and about half a dozen more brain-expansions than I’m licensed to fully experience. Special mention to Darrow for the typically gorgeous inside front cover, and respect to Bergin for the 36-character cover.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #25 — Whoof-duh! I queued myself up quite the frontloaded section of science fiction to open up the evening. Thought I could anchor it with Hickman’s Avengers batting clean-up, but it’s getting pretty heady up here in front. Pitarra’s got me trained to be looking for cameos in every wide ensemble shot. Like, I don’t think that’s Joe Eisma there right at 9 o’clock in that second panel, but I can’t be sure. Jesus, though, that last page of the opening scene with LBJ is strong material. And terrifying. On the other side of things, very very cool to see Feynman finally writing Clavis Aurea on-panel. But those Einsteins are so madcap and zany with their violent ways! But oh, ha ha ha, the line about the “poorly drawn tractor beam” is the winner for the night, man. Hilarious. And but it turns out all of this has been only the beginning? I’m really excited about that. Seems like tightening up the format and expanding the page count could make this book even better. Onward into evil science!

TREES #7 — Well, it’s certainly all coming to a head now, isn’t it? This has been an interesting read in singles, but it’s going to be far more engrossing in one single sitting with a spine. The answer about the mystery of Blindhail Station is enough escalation for me. Seems like this is ramping up toward the conclusion of the first arc here probably next time, right? Jason Howard, again, I can’t say enough things about how much incredible work he’s doing here. I have a feeling this entire thing is going to be a lot more crushing going back through after seeing how it all shakes out in the end.

THE UNWRITTEN: APOCALYPSE #10 — Matters escalate to a predictably horrific degree as this series roars right up into its final cliffhanger. Once again, Tommy Taylor & his amazing friends just about steal the show, and I wish that we could be treated to nothing less than a thirteen-book series starring their charming selves. Of course, instead they meet dire fates. Carey seems to pick up that Sue is a breakout supporting character and so reserves the most horrible conclusion for her. This final page is the only thing that would have done for the final cliffhanger for this series. It’s just going to take quite a feat of narrative magic to come back from, though of course, Carey & Gross are up to the challenge. Very interested to see how we make it to The End.

GOTHAM BY MIDNIGHT #1 — Well, I should have realized this ahead of time, but it doesn’t take until Page Three before I realize that as great as this series might turn out to be, all it’s really going to be doing is just about but not quite scratching that itch for more FELL. Ben Templesmith is a force unto himself with a completely idiosyncratic style that makes every page feel like an alternate phantom Gotham that is actually a little bit darker and scarier than the one we have come to know and love over the years. Ray Fawkes has been turning in solid work over on ETERNAL and has the makings of a cool serial here, building up his cast starring Jim Corrigan with the requisite Dark Knight cameo, and the overall atmosphere chilling as hell. I’m definitely hanging out to support this book that is about as off the beaten path of Gotham mainstream as you can get.

INFINITY MAN AND THE FOREVER PEOPLE #5 — Going for it! That is one hell of an opening page. I was very sorry to see Giffen drawing such a serious first scene, but Tom Grummett really does good work, it must be said. Young bearded Uxas is terrifying. Terrific climactic double-splash page. The only thing is, it was so fierce, it made me not really care about checking in with the present-day adventures that much. “The Oath” is an issue-length spectacle, you know! Though I can totally get behind our guys beating up on a red-lantern-vomiting Guy Gardner. And Green Lanterns to send us off are always welcome. Though I am most intrigued by the concept of “Mecha-Darkseid.” As we all should be!

FUTURES END #30 — As much of a fan as I am of bopping around and checking in with everybody, I’m digging these issue-long arc climax issues. This one is devoted to the Ollie/Barda squad storming Brohter Eye’s stronghold on Cadmus Island. The cover totally faked me out. I don’t know if Ryan Sook was going for it on purpose or not, but that sure as hell looked like the silhouette of a massive Despero looming behind our heroes, there. I guess I should have realized that he didn’t have a third eye. I wasn’t crazy about Tom Raney’s art on this. His static character work is passable, Lois in the jungle there just talking, but he’s really lacking that dynamic flow of body language that’s really crucial in an all-action issue such as this. Now, I’m getting lost in all the Earth-2 folks. Have been thinking for a while that the guy in the Red Arrow outfit was Roy, but that might just be because of ARROW. Ollie calling the other guy Ollie on Page Six is I’m thinking maybe not a typo. Same deal with the Barda/Fury lady who’s been on the island with Scott, I wasn’t getting that she is from Earth-2 but am now thinking that she is. Brutal business with old Slade, there! Seems like she stole Miss Fifty-Sue’s thunder a bit. It’s not super-clear what happened on the last page. Is that Brother-Eye transferring from Ollie’s phone to the female Red Tornado-Loisbot? Or vice versa? Kind of a pivotal end-of-issue deal to be ambiguous from a craft standpoint.

BATMAN ETERNAL #34 — Some strong work here throughout. I really thought Julia was a goner, still a sucker after all these years. That four-panel exchange at the bottom of Page Ten is a powerful piece of characterization, a crazy kind of inversion on Alfred & Bruce’s father/son relationship made stranger by the fact that Alfred is trying to get his daughter out of the life and Bruce is just like, “It’s far too late for that, we’re all fucked.” And is that an Iron Throne of weapons that Hush is sitting on? It’s almost enough to make me start liking the fella. And does his battle helmet remind anyone else of The Knight’s? It seems to come to a bit of a conclusion here, but of course, there are many more horrible things left to happen.

SUPERMAN #36 — It’s getting pretty serious now. I was digging how the big guy and Ulysses weren’t immediately coming to blows in their opening encounter, but then of course Johnny Rom, Jr. has got to take some pages of dudes just wailing the hell out of each other before all is said and done. So, it looks like maybe old Ulysses has got to do something like suck up the life-force of six million souls in order to save the place he calls home? To the fourth dimension!

NEW AVENGERS #027 — In hindsight, totally should have seen the reveal with the big eye guy coming. They put it right there in the PREVIOUSLY . . .  for you and everything. I’ve never heard of these folks Szymon Kudranski and Dono Sanchez Almara, but they’re a terrific fit for the action here, lending a very European aesthetic to the pages. Suitably heady shit with Dr. Strange as the head of the “field surgeons of the multiverse” by means of replacement ciphers as spoken magic words. Naturally, Hickman. This shit obviously writes itself. Kind of a strange beat with Kevin the teenaged Star Brand looking stupid there on the next to last page, but sign me up for Multiversal Avengers action for as long as it lasts, no problem.

Friday, December 5, 2014


BEST OF YEAR: THE MULTIVERSITY: PAX AMERICANA — That last issue of ASTONISHING X-MEN that turned out to be giant-sized. PLANETARY #27. There have been a few comic books that I’ve waited for so long that months turned into years, but I don’t think I’ve ever been waiting on a single defined issue for as long as four years. Certainly nothing that John Cassaday wasn’t drawing! But here we have it. First announced in 2010, with pages previewed more than two years ago at MorrisonCon, this installment of THE MULTIVERSITY above all others has been the object of intense speculation and expectation for quite some time due to its astronomically enticing set-up: Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely, the team responsible for FLEX MENTALLO, ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, and WE3, among others, reunite to present their own version of that still-mostly-sacred milestone of graphic literature, WATCHMEN. Morrison ratcheted fanboy expectations up to a fever pitch back in 2012 by going into detail about his conceptual thinking for this issue. One representation of the harmonic alignment of the different Earths across the vibrational multiversal plane is that this issue does away with Dave Gibbons’s ubiquitous and famous nine-panel grid in favor of eight panels to represent the octave-to-octave musical notes of the Western major scale. Morrison actually went ahead and then showed us the uncolored unlettered opening pages and I now remember being a little disappointed that he just went ahead and blurted out, “The book begins with a backwards tracking shot of the President’s exploded skull as the Comedian’s just assassinated him from space!” But, if you’re going to get spoiled, you want Morrison to do it for you like that, only the deal was, sooooooooo much other shit happened in between that and the time that my poor body finally gave out on that long ago Saturday night that I had absolutely no retention of being spoiled until turning the page here and realizing that it was running backwards and then it all came crashing back in for me and it was really quite the charming effect. But, let me back up for a moment.

Just like the source material, the cover is actually the first panel of the issue. Or last, really. There’s already more shit happening in the first couple of shots than you almost know what to deal with. The cover appears to be the right half of a peace sign emblazoned on a flag that is on fire. The section that we can see is not unreminiscent of the DC peel logo in the upper-lefthand corner of this cover. The reader pulls back the cover to reveal a series of zoom-out shots whose angles are drawn (or shot, is the feeling) in an identical manner to those that we know so well from Gibbons’s groundbreaking work nearly thirty years ago. At first glance, the page hits the reader with two details: Gibbons’s nine-panel grid is indeed gone and we’re dealing with four skinny vertical panels on top of another four, giving us eight as advertised but also, that first shot back from the cover, the actual first panel of the interior comic, has the peace sign now folded and flapping in such a way that it also looks like an eight. Or, more specifically, a möbius strip. It’s such a striking visual aesthetic, Quitely’s hyper-rendered linework brought to glorious life by Nathan Fairbairn’s colors, that at first glance, the reader isn’t even aware that time is running in reverse. It’s only really explicit in the jump between the seventh to the eighth and final panel from the dripping blood’s spatial relationship to the Presidential seal, and remember, I already knew this because Morrison told me and a room full of one thousand people himself, but I was already so overwhelmed by what was happening that it wasn’t until that first page-turn that I realized that time was running backwards. Oh, and in the fifth panel, the dead guy who must be the President has a ring with an eight or an infinity sign or a möbius strip on it. But then, we turn the page and any subtlety about the backwards-time thing is blasted away as we watch the president’s jaw completely reform after being blown to bits. The same 4 x 2 grid of skinny vertical panels recurs here, which is enough to set it up as the default before Quitely violates it on the following page by subbing out the bottom half of four panels with two horizontal ones instead, possibly alluding to the whole widescreen comics thing that Ellis/Hitch inaugurated with THE AUTHORITY at the turn of the century, but maybe that’s reading too much into it. The next page is the title page and returns time to its natural forward flow, referencing Steranko’s Fury with that swirly business and explicitly mentioning the backward and forward flow of time.

The next page is the first walk-and-talk, kind of a riff on the trope of Aaron Sorkin television except that instead of the camera following the speakers for an uninterrupted take, what is uninterrupted in this case is the long shot of the room with time flowing as the characters walk from one panel to the next across the same physical space. Which you pretty much have to see for it to make sense, but trust me, it does. Everything I’m writing makes perfect sense. This issue has in no way damaged me at all. This page is looooooaded with that kind of double- or triple-meaning dialogue that Moore codified to such a ridiculous extent in WATCHMEN and that everyone has been doing such a sad job of reaching for ever since. The first panel mentions the light in the interrogation room, nothing subtle about that. Then, we proceed to talk of Smith burying the American super-hero while they walk on top of the presidential seal. The next panel, they stop walking and Nightshade rattles off an emboldened “stop,” followed by her father inviting her to take “the elevated view” while they walk up a staircase (of eight steps, natch). Subsequent dialogue references turning a corner and opening a door before the next page turns out to be a redux of the classic Clark-interviewing-Luthor-on-the-winding-staircase page from ALL-STAR SUPERMAN #5, which is once again loaded with multiple in-dialogue allusions to what’s happening in-panel. Eden’s last line mentions a leap of faith.

So, of course cut to The Question leaping through the air and asking a bunch of questions to his former partner, The Blue Beetle. Question mentioning four prominent scientists in conjunction with their four unsolved murders once again adds up to you-know-what. His mention of these guys and the disappearance of Captain Adam/Atom in the same context of the Yellowjacket case makes it seem like the killer might have been President Harley. And Nora O’Keefe maybe got too close and figured this out, so she had to go, as well? That is actually a great fit because it provides Peacemaker all the motivation he needs for then taking Harley out. But, more on that later. As Question hits the subway after escaping Beetle, he walks past ads for his secret identity’s news show, but there’s also one for Nightshade’s album futureBOMB, the cover of which directly references FLEX MENTALLO. It is also worth noting that The Question first mentions Algorithm 8 on Page Eight, which I have a pretty hard time believing is unintentional.

Oi. And then comes that insane double-page 32-panel spread that starts out doing that same Sorkin trick as before, breaking up the same physical space into 32 distinct bits of time but upping the ante quite severely by interweaving three separate timelines instead of just keeping it linear. We’ve got Nora O’Keefe right before getting murdered juxtaposed with The Question showing up later that night (in homage to Rorschach’s first scene at the Comedian’s place in #1 of WATCHMEN), referencing the date, November 17th, 2015 (with both 1 + 7 = 8, 2 + 0 + 1 + 5 = 8, natch) and also juxtaposed with Nora and her husband or boyfriend Peacemaker earlier that day. Dialogue from that earliest scene indicates that the President has claimed that “Algorithm 8” is projecting world peace. But later that night, Nora has cracked the algorithm and possibly knows that she is about to die. We see the murderer crouched behind the statue in Panel Six of the first page of the spread (or Panel Ten, if you’re counting across both pages horizontally), then he circles clockwise around the base of the Pax statue, as Question states. It’s a pretty incredible moment of the layout coming together in the bottom middle, there, Nora approaching from the left, the killer from the right, with the actual murder happening off-panel because that space is taken up by the follow-up scene with The Question. You could probably write a pretty mean five- or ten-page essay on just these two pages alone, but we had better press on. Special shout-out to Nathan Fairbairn, whose colors are crucial to making this spread as comprehensible as it is.

Oh good, now Captain Nathaniel Adam is reading ULTRA COMICS. Like my brain wasn’t already hurting. This charming fan-favorite from SUPERMAN BEYOND 3-D’s first line states that he has “caught sight of a massless time-symmetrical boson” on Pages 12 and 13. We just came from there, this is Page 14, but he’s probably referring not to that insane spread we just got done with but instead to the comic that he’s actually got in-hand. That ULTRA COMICS is going to be one hell of a thing to read, one of these days. This first page with the Dr. Manhattan analogue is as perfect an encapsulation that we get all issue long of what Morrison’s going for with the character’s usage of the second person in the last panel invoking Buddy’s famous “I can see you!” from way back in ANIMAL MAN #5. Also, a cool thing here with the layout, Quitely opens up with the first panel horizontal but only taking up a quarter of the page, meaning it stacks up on top of the other four half-panels that are then on top of the other four full-length panels. This seems to imply the way that the character exists in upper-dimensional space. Even on this page, he’s up above the normal eight panels that have been established as the norm. The good doctor takes his leave on the next page after the doomed scientists each push a button, executing “porti belli,” which translates to “beautiful places.” Quitely does a mathematical breakdown in the panel when Adam leaves, one in the middle, then two on each side, then continually having into increasingly smaller columns of four, eight, and sixteen. That winds up being thirty on either side of the main one. Which I don’t think means anything other than that Quitely’s a beast. This is immediately followed by the scientists’ murder by a “sergeant” that they seem to acknowledge as a superior and whose left arm is metal/bionic just like Nora O’Keefe’s killer.

The following page is a reprise of the Sally Jupiter/Laurel Juspeczyk scenes from the source material with Nightshade visiting her mother and sharing that her father, Dr. Eden, is working with Allen Adam on harnessing black hole energy to reduce America’s dependence on oil.

The spread on the next page is more confusing than even what we’ve gotten acclimated to by now. Across the top row, we’ve got four panels of Peacemaker and Nora in the very room that she will later be killed, discussing the ULTRA COMICS story that apparently Harley’s dad wrote entitled “Janus the Everyway Man,” which was the inspiration for her piece of art that will later be used to bludgeon her to death. Peacemaker clearly states that Harley has the algorithm but will not share it. All this while they let a pair of doves loose to fly off into the sky. This scene jumps to the bottom row of the page with the camera tracking the two doves. Peacemaker explicitly references all that is to come, he will “do what has to be done” after Harley wins the 2015 elections (why are there elections being held in 2015?) and then he and Nora will “go where they’ll never find us.” This is one shot when the doves are flying away, good to go. The next panel is a series of droplets of blood in a loose implication of a möbius strip. Then, there are just two feathers. Did Captain Atom pull the doves up into upper-dimensional space? Meanwhile, the sequence across the middle of this spread is laid out to echo the two-headed piece of art up above it with someone beating the hell out of Peacemaker post-assassination while the newly inaugurated President Dr. Eden asks him why he killed Harley. The person beating the hell out of Peacemaker’s face is the metal-armed killer. We’ve seen Eden’s hands and they are fleshy, so this just means that the killer works for Eden? Shit, I thought it was Harley.

Then, we’ve got Question reprising the famous Comedian-in-Moloch’s-room-from-Moloch’s-POV scene from #3 (I think #3). There’s another FLEX MENTALLO bomb allusion with the lighting of the fuse. Our hero goes on to reveal that he does not have a black-and-white worldview similar to one Walter Joseph Kovacs but is instead in favor of breaking things down into a, wait for it, eight-stage color-coded system. The high-level mob fixer playing the part of Moloch is apparently a “dirty cop in the pay of a corrupt vice president,” (who I think is supposed to be Eden, here). And this guy claims to have been taking orders from “the Sarge,” who I believe that we can correctly identify as Nora’s killer, whoever he really is.

Oh God, we’ve only made it as far as the staples.

Next up is the redux of Ozymandias’s failed 1966 Crimebusters meeting. The guy doing the talking, significantly, is one Sergeant Lane and HOLY FUCKING SHIT, I JUST FOR THE FIRST TIME AFTER TEN READ-THROUGHS NOTICED THAT HE’S HOLDING UP THE EARTH-2 GRAPHIC NOVEL AND ALL-STAR SUPERMAN #10. Um. I can’t really deal with that right now.

Then, Harley gives a press conference in 2008 announcing the formation of the Pax Americana, a super-team comprised of some martial-arts based character called Tiger, the second Nightshade, Blue Beetle (now in the Dan Garrett outfit, having been seen rocking the Ted Kord duds in that future confrontation with his partner), The Question, and Peacemaker, who is even drawn in that scene leaning against the desk just like good old Eddie Blake, God rest his soul. But at that press conference, Captain Atom makes some new towers to replace the ones that fell on 9/11. There’s some assassin who’s rushing up to take out Harley but Adam teleports him to jail without even appearing to notice that it’s happened. That seems significant, but I can’t tie it in to anything else at this time.

Cut to Adam sitting on a park bench with his old dog Butch and reeeeally out of it as Harley approaches. Adam calls him the president, but subsequent dialogue reveals that he is just a governor. There’s a crazy deal here where Adam uses his powers to instantaneously not as much dissect poor Butch as separate him into his component parts. This of course immediately recalls Dr. Manhattan doing the same thing with his father’s watch, but that explicit comparison implies an interesting commentary on Morrison’s mindset to the material vs. Moore’s in the original. Whereas Moore takes a more mechanical craft-based approach, Morrison is far more humanistic and willing to roll his sleeves up, diving into the blood and guts of superhero comics to see what makes them tick, just as surgical as Moore but far less detached. One comes away from Moore’s material uncertain how much affection he even has left for this genre that at least at one time inspired him so much, but Morrison will clearly still have that big red S blazing under his shirt until the day he dies. And beyond!

Harley’s subsequent conversation with Adam irrefutably sets him up as our Ozymandias analogue. He discovered Algorithm 8 at his father’s graveside when he was twenty-three. He can see the new Dark Ages in the not-too-distant future. He puts forth the notion that the president has to be sacrificed in order to secure world peace. This is a very interesting permutation of Veidt’s plan, all but explicitly stating that the president was in on the assassination and that Peacemaker was acting upon the Chief Executive’s orders. Harley believes that Adam can resurrect him the same way he does with Butch a couple of pages back. All of this is apparently contained within “Major Max Meets Janus The Everywhere Man,” which it seems like is that issue of Major Comics that has been wrecking everything for everyone here for this entire series and which, by the way, was written and drawn by Harley’s father Vince.

Then, there’s a scene of some terrorists trying to get into President Bush’s White House and getting subdued by Peacemaker and his drones, all of which is narrated to the terrorist leader by Governor Harley. The significance of providing this scene to the reader at this point might be to illustrate the dichotomy of Peacemaker “loving peace so much he’s vowed to fight for it to the death.” That’s the genesis of the plan, right there. Same ironic goal as Veidt, the whole deal, this is just Harley putting himself in the role of sacrificial victim instead of half of New York City. Which makes the whole deal much more heroic, I believe we can all agree. This is confirmed by the following scene, the issue’s final post-assassination interrogation scene in which Peacemaker says that he was trying to “suvva worll.” He gets loose after that and manages an finger-gun “BANG!” in Eden’s direction before none other than the metal-fisted man, probably Sergeant Lane, decks him. Cut to that previous conversation with Nora when Peacemaker says that Harley said that he should be the victim because the punishment should fit the crime.

Then, we just back up to the early days of the Beetle/Question partnership and the latter causing a smack dealer to overdose on his own product at some basketball court. There’s a funny line about Question having to write something “badass and ironic” on his question card, but this page doesn’t really seem to contribute any answers to the narrative that I can discern, and its placement here seems to function mainly as a directional cue for the reader to show that we are now travelling backwards in time again. The next scene is Harley visiting his father’s grave across four different seasons, culminating with the Algorithm 8 revelation, which cranks up the situation on that panel-doubling pretty seriously, doubling so many times that there is a row of 256 goddamn panels across the middle of the page. Which I think means that there are 509 panels on this page. Okay, my brain is about cooked, now. Not even going to try to interpret that. One more scene to go. Okay.

Young Harley walks into his dad’s office and goes through a scrapbook. It’s a bunch of Yellowjacket clippings. The radio drops a long JFK quote, which you’ve got to do at this point in your WATCHMEN-homage situation. Young Harley starts playing with his dad’s gun. Yellowjacket (Vince Harley) comes back in through the window. He forgot his key but startles his son, which results in young Harley putting one right between Dad’s eyes. This is, of course, the crime that necessitates the punishment all of those years later. Young Harley holds up his father’s domino mask and it forms a möbius strip, which will go on to inspire him to see or compose Algorithm 8, as well as performing a nifty little tuck-in back to the beginning/end of this story, a perfect marriage of form and content. Oh, and there are the doves.

Okay. So, what I think happened is that Harley does in fact pull his little Ozymandias riff and orders Peacemaker to take him out but that he possibly expects that Adam will resurrect him. Only Vice-President Eden is a really bad dude and has Sergeant Lane coerce the four scientists to remove Adam from the equation before killing them, thus preventing Harley’s resurrection and leaving Eden in control, which is in keeping with the rest of the issues of this series ending in a really terrible place for all concerned. The only thing that I’m not really sure about is the extent of this that is revealed by Algorithm 8, how much both Harley and Nora knew before dying. Learning the secret of Algorithm 8 is clearly what caused Nora to be killed. Did Eden order this so that Harley’s equation would die with her after Harley’s assassination? Did Eden know Algorithm 8? Shouldn’t Harley have been aware of Eden’s machinations through Algorithm 8? Did everything, in fact, go according to his plan?

Just zooming in on this issue with this level of clarity has about sucked me dry, but I want to close by stating that my expectations for this issue could not have been higher and that they were surpassed. This is Morrison and Quitely both firing at the top of their game with Nathan Fairbairn and letterer Rob Leigh doing more than their share of heavy lifting to make this thing so much more clearer than it otherwise might have been. But, oh, it makes my brain hurt and my heart sing. It doesn’t get better than this, folks.

BATMAN AND ROBIN #36 — The Bring-Back-Damian arc in The New 52’s strongest and most consistently magnificent title continues. Gleason’s cover was so great, I had to bail out on the LEGO variant. Seriously, give those kids their own show on Fox Mondays after you-know-what! Bruce continues to dispense all manner of badassery in this issue. Dude even turns off the voice telling him all the horrible things that are breaking down on Page Three, even. That’s going to come back and bite him later on. A weird moment for me when our hero happens upon that crazy battle-tank and drops the classic, “I’m Batman!” For the first time, instead of thinking of Keaton dropping that seriousness in 1989 or even the Christian Bale cover-version of 2005, I could only hear it in the voice of whomever says those words for those wonderful “How It Should Have Ended” shorts. Kind of messed with the story flow for me a bit. That’s a terrific long shot of the team running up to the chaos cannon. And a perfect last page. This thing is going to read aces in trade, but it’s pretty sweet, savoring that shadow for an entire month.

FUTURES END #29 — All right, well I guess this business was important enough that we quit jumping around and just stayed with one cast of characters for this week. Would that they didn’t give away the big ending on the cover. I mean, it’s right there, man! Ryan Sook is so good. Patch Zircher is once again on interiors and pretty much locking down artistic MVP on this book at this point, fella keeps showing up and just putting it down. It looks like all kinds of Arrow & Barda fun next week, so hoorah.

BATMAN ETERNAL #33 — The shit has now really and truly hit the fan as Batman and newly promoted field agent Penny-Two race to lock down the seventeen weapons caches before Hush (who even has a stupid name, I’m realizing all these years later; oh, how that Jim Lee art blinds you!) can blow them all up and rob more Gotham families of their loved ones. Jason Fabok stays onboard for another round of finished pencils before jumping ship for the big show, and he once again turns in nothing but dynamic A-list business. DC really has found a deep reservoir of talent in this guy who I don’t know anything about but it seems like he is very much a child of the Lee/McFarlane nineties who has also studied Capullo’s evolution along the way and matured into his own style that is reminiscent of these influences but still very much his own. Character-wise, I love how Julia talks Bruce into letting her come out and then only makes it to her fourth panel out in the city before starting to question him and rake him over the coals for the whole underground weapons cache boondoggle. Which is a hell of a band name if anybody needs one.

JUSTICE LEAGUE #36 — I bailed on this title when Jim Lee did, was not a fan of the character dynamics that Johns had crackling for that entire first year. But I do like that Jason Fabok boy and wanted to support his ascendance to the ultimate big-time, so gave this one a look. It’s solid. Luthor in the League is definitely an interesting dynamic (and plays much better than that nonsense Bendis was running a few years back with Norman Osborne in Nick Fury’s old gig). The premise for this arc is compelling. Fabok once again knocks every single page out of the park, and his Outbreak Batsuit is a rocking character design. I’ll be back to see how it all goes down next month.

WONDER WOMAN #36 — I always reread the issues before writing them up so that I can blend my full-on going-for-broke Lone-Star-attack Wednesday night first impressions with a more nuanced pass through with more of a focus on the actual craft of the thing. For this reread, I waited until I had what felt like a particularly heavy bowel movement on deck. Because as talented of an artist as David Finch is, to say nothing of his collaborators Richard Friend & Sonia Oback, this thing manages to take a dump all over Azzarello/Chiang’s run in a mere twenty pages. Hell, in the first five. We open with a narrative caption montage about water. It is essential to life, you know, but too much of it can also lead to death. With this stunning juxtaposition between grass growing in the fields and floods destroying a city out of the way, we stop off at the statue of Hippolyta where the line “evidence of our sorrow” is oh-so-achingly presented alongside the image of rain trickling down from stone-Hippolyta’s eyes. As if the statue were crying, you see. People have got to stop copying thirty-year-old Alan Moore tricks. And then there’s some guy standing on top of a dam who might have caused this flood? And there’s Swamp Thing. All of this grand discussion has been in service of what we’ve been waiting more than three years for, an entire page of Diana doing nothing but washing blood off of her naked body in the shower before we turn the page and there she is, a full body shot of The God of War emerging from that self-same shower wearing a towel. Looking hot, Mama! This is the Wonder Woman we deserve. Nuanced.

I have made no bones about the fact that Azzarello did a great job loading this book up with a compelling ensemble, almost to the detriment of the lead herself occasionally, but it was always a good ride and they were all (with the exception of Orion, who still mainly hung around here) unique to this book. Well, Pages Eight and Nine are a double-page splash of the Justice League. And Swamp Thing shows up a couple of pages later basically so Diana can have someone to lose her temper against and fight. Because all of those dead women and children made her emotional, see. Then Aquaman just straight walks out of the jungle to fly Diana back home. And that’s such a weird thing. The League was all together, Batman said, “Let’s move,” it cuts to Wonder Woman attacking Swamp Thing to burn pages, and then Arthur takes her home. Best part of the issue is that they spend the flight with her holding and then nuzzling a teddy bear while providing an info-dump of the status quo post-Azzarello/Chiang’s run for all the folks who had been skipping one of the best books of The New 52 but who are now totally in because of that smokin’ Finch cover. Art notwithstanding, this comic would be very average without any context. Following up on what’s come before, it is downright insulting.

FABLES #146—Things are moving right along as the entire gang pretty votes to kill Bigby with Miss Duglas as his only hope of mercy from the merciless hand of Willingham. It looks like next issue is going to be really good.

ZERO #12 — This is an interesting short blast. I didn’t care too much about the opening scene, but the brief follow-up in the back end saved it for me. Once again, I’ve never heard of this Adam Gorham, but he comes out of nowhere to provide interiors that are a terrific fit to everything we’ve seen in this title before, stylistically speaking. I guess it’s too much to hope that #13 will just be what Zero is seeing in his file, there.

MORNING GLORIES #42 — This feels like a denser read than they have lately. Twenty-eight pages for $3.50, that is some quality! Sometimes, it’s hard finding something to talk about these singles that Meylikhov doesn’t already cover in the backmatter. It is a little funny, his last heading quoting one of the catchphrases of that latest BATTLESTAR GALACTICA just a few pages after Isabel just goes ahead and drops John Locke’s all-time classic “Everything happens for a reason” into her campaign speech. I guess Spencer had to mark the #42 somehow. This book has got me so twisted around that when Georgina first walked in, I thought that she was maybe Casey from the future and undercover? Those glasses really do make one hell of a disguise.

ASTRO CITY #17 — Well, shut my mouth! When we jump to Honor Guard having Red Cake Day there on the bottom of Page Three, I thought that Busiek finally caved and, mysterious first-person narrative captions notwithstanding, was going to give us just a straight JLA-type issue after all of these years. Silly me. Of course this story is still about some random dude, even if he’s an alien. The character design made it a little confusing for me, though, I spent the entire issue that Stormhawk, whose face we see in the first two pages, is also that The Assemblyman fellow who’s there with the rest of Honor Guard, like those Quiqui-A folks were making reparations by somehow dreaming him into a new identity or something? Maybe it was just me, but there was some disconnect in the issue when it just turned out that they were two guys who looked very much alike.

FANTASTIC FOUR #013 — That goddang Bentley-23 finally shows his true colors while several guest stars make an appearance. Robinson brings in Namor to hang out with Hammond and remind us that they are Invaders and then drops Fraction’s FF team into the mix again, if only for a couple of panels. And why not the Inhumans, as well? After so much strife, it’s good to get almost everyone back together. Though I have to say, the red uniforms didn’t last long enough! So much for “The Man’s” “illusion of change.” I like how Sue took the time to cut her hair short while they were changing back into blues for that last page. And really, if that was going to be the final beat for this issue, seems like maybe they shouldn’t have defused it prematurely and saved the reveal for next issue’s cover.

DAREDEVIL #010 — Another quality issue from one of the most consistent teams working today. This is really a pretty painless resolution to a situation that could have gone much worse. Waid does a commendable job of once again not stringing anything out but keeping the story beats drum-tight. Samnee/Wilson continue to turn in absolutely beautiful work. It will be a sad day when this team decides that they’re done with the character.

AVENGERS·X-MEN: AXIS #6 — It should have occurred to me before now, but Remender is swinging at Geoff-Johns levels of fanboyhood. It’s not just a gig to the guy, he knows these characters, as evidenced by having Kurt & Rogue come after Mystique and then the great inversion of Sabretooth hiding from them in the Morlock tunnels, of all places. The Dodsons’ drawing Magneto & the kids visiting Vic out in Latveria is very reminiscent of Cheung’s last romp with that gang back in THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE. And Inverted Thor vs. Truth-Telling Loki is a pretty great dynamic and could have lasted a few more pages to my liking. I’m digging this series as it rounds the bend into the third act. It knows what it is, isn’t trying too hard, and is telling an entertaining yarn. And seems like Cheung is going to be on hand pretty soon, so, good fun for all.

UNCANNY X-MEN #028 — Bendis really has no problem not stacking his singles full of ensemble juggling in favor of crafting basically one major scene and a brief minor one to vary the tone and flow. It was a nice touch having Hank pitch a fit say that Scott Summers was right but then pretty on-the-nose to then just a few pages later have Scott tell us that Charles Xavier was, in fact, not right. We get it, Bendis! Kris Anka shows up and provides another round of more-than-solid B-team interiors, but they really shouldn’t have Chris Bachalo’s name on the cover. That just sets a brother up to disappoint folks, no matter how talented he is.

AVENGERS #039 — Hickman is just light years ahead of everybody, man. I know that prior to THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS, he was serious about outlining everything out beforehand, and I can’t imagine what this must have looked like a couple of years back or how it’s mutated and metastasized since then. This issue is nothing but moving more pieces into place. We know about Old Man Steve’s S.H.I.E.L.D. crew and we know about the Illuminati folks and we know at least that there is a cabal, but that’s not enough, so now here we’ve got fucking Sunspot of all people having bought up Advanced Idea Mechanics and rallying his own contingent, poaching Natasha and Jessica from Steve, and even having Hank drop by Cyclops’s new digs at the old Weapon X complex to report on the doings of the Illuminati. Yeah, not much happens here except extraordinary people in equally extraordinary situations orbiting one another, strategizing for the imminent endgame. Oh, and now Shang-Chi is infinite, the Masters of Kung-Fu!

NEW AVENGERS #026 — Ditto. Another really heavy slab of sequentials. Those of us who read the other issue first had no doubt about the identity of those two armored folks in the opening scene, but it just heightened the suspense. It’s always wonderful to see Valeria Richards drop in for a few pages of Hickman scripting. Bentley-23 offering Doom franchise opportunities was a really nice touch. But then, that’s of course the only way it could have gone down with Tony or the ladies. This one is another really powerful single. Trade-readers in the future are really missing out on watching this elaborate labyrinthine masterpiece unfold across the months and years one slice at a time.

ANNIHILATOR #3 — Ray & Max really start sinking their teeth into it here as Morrison dials up the meta- just a bit, and we get more scenes of their interaction. It turns out Max isn’t an original creation at all but an old public domain character from weird stories penned between 1910 and 1970. This whole deal is work-for-hire! Irving does some wonderful work across a variety of styles while providing the various covers for those prose editions of the old adventures. There’s even a Simonson riff on some interior sequential panels for an Italian comic book. But now Makro is in the guise of Ray Spass! So, this whole deal is probably Ray going all Tyler Durden, we think? The bottom is starting to drop out in the last pages of this issue. It looks like next month will be even more unhinged than we’ve already seen.