ACTION COMICS #41 — I have been loving this book ever since Pak/Kuder came on board, but these guys really take advantage of the line-wide relaunch/soft reboot/whatever we’re calling it to substantially elevate their game on this title (and without renumbering, even, what a trick). We’re thrown into what turns out to be the beginning of the resolution of an all-new desperate situation involving our hero just barely making it to the fringe of civilization after presumably walking from a Fortress of Solitude that turned against him and possibly had something to do with depowering him? It’s a risky non-linear maneuver, kicking events forward and promising via cheeky editorial footnotes to fill in the gaps later on in subsequent issues, but it pays off, creating an immediately engaging story in which the reader is just as uncomfortable and thrown out of the comfort zone of the usual status quo as our protagonist. Kuder’s dynamic layouts guide the reader’s eye along the page with an energetic hum, but the real work is happening in the excellent character acting that he accomplishes through emotive facial expressions and striking body language. These people really do come alive. Morey/Hi-Fi lend the proceedings a decidedly European tone with the employment of earthy hues throughout, which serve to complement the back-to-basics approach that Pak & Kuder’s plot have brought us around to, echoing the situation that Morrison had going back in #1 of this volume, not only bringing back the jeans-and-a-T-shirt look but even working in a faster-than-a-speeding-bullet sprint and a leaps-tall-buildings-with-a-single-bound hop in successive pages, to the point that when Brother punched the shadow creature, as great as that splash was, my first reaction was, “Hey now, where the hell is that locomotive?” But the best thing, the very best thing about this issue is that two-panel shot halfway through when one of the very cool and grateful neighbors of Kentville asks our boy if he’s still strong, and the guy big responds by dangling a bunch of kids off of his biceps while beaming, just smiling so wide. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. That’s not just MY Superman. That’s Superman, full stop. Such terrific work these guys are doing, so glad that they seem to be absolutely roaring into a second wind on this run.
JUSTICE LEAGUE #41 — Now, this is the business that I’ve been waiting for. I have not been loving Johns’s work ever since the reboot but checking in intermittently, and the fellow finally throws it down. This is a very satisfying issue on every level with all of the balanced interplay between the ensemble that this book requires to be successful and plenty of Mister Miracle and Mother Box to boot. My sole scripting quibble was that he’s got Superman saying “For who?” which is grammatically incorrect and basically impossible for a genius reporter who sometimes goes by the name of Clark Kent to utter. Other than that, glory throughout. Jason Fabok finds a way to elevate his previously jaw-dropping game and brings the absolute thunder throughout with several iconic splashes that always arrive at just the right time and never at the expense of narrative clarity. There could have maaaaaaybe been a little bit more Kirby krackle throughout, but I’m probably always going to say that, as much trouble as I give poor Scioli for bringing krackle on even like 14 out of 20 pages with his latest series sometimes over at IDW. I bought this issue on a hopeful note, and it really delivers on every level. I’m all in for The Darkseid War and glad to be.
STAR WARS #006 — A pretty legendary wrap-up to the first arc here. It’s a shame to have to say goodbye to John Cassaday & Laura Martin, but I am certainly grateful to have had them providing interiors for a full six issues. They certainly blow it up on the way out the door, though. We get Luke Skywalker fighting Boba Fett in Ben Kenobi’s old place with a blue lightsaber versus a jet-pack and a trusty droid to help save the day. There is a terrific series of cliffhangers. I’m sure that there will be people howling about the big reveal with Han, but it seems perfectly in character to me and certainly makes the situation a bit more complex, going forward. Finding Obi-Wan’s journal certainly opens the door to a bevy of interesting tales filling in the Jedi Knight’s lost years on Tatooine. Paging Ewan McGregor! And that last scene, man. Some pretty iconic business.
DARTH VADER #006 — This is really just two scenes. We have an in-depth review of all of those new bad guys that bum-rushed Vader at the end of last issue, which is all well and good but I didn’t care too much about it. The business kicks in, though, in the back half of the issue when Boba Fett shows up to make his report. Now, at first I was calling Bullshit, as they were just giving us the same thing we just got at the end of the main title, word for word, but then Vader’s reaction kicks in and Larocca starts dilating the time with flashbacks to key moments from the prequels featuring dearly departed Padme, which really adds a great deal of narrative weight to a scene that already played well but definitely deserved to be expanded. Very solid craftsmanship on the interweaving between titles here.
PRINCESS LEIA #004 — Waid & the Dodsons keep up the thunder as our princess makes plans to trade herself for an Alderaanian that the Empire is holding hostage and two members of her staff try unsuccessfully to recruit the people of Espirion to the cause, a subplot that I’m sure will build to something worthwhile but that feels totally shoe-horned in here.
SECRET WARS #3 — Now that the bar has been raised so high by #2, we’re walking into this expecting some pretty serious business. As Sheriff Strange and the Thor Corps begin to unravel the mystery of the interlopers from Earth-1610, God Doom & Imperial Consort Susan Richards weigh his reign. Man, even just a relatively simple summary of this thing sounds just too cool. When Strange explains the new status quo to the crew who have been in stasis and reveals who’s been playing God, the stunned reaction shot is one for the ages. Ribic/Svorcina are still drawing the hell out of this, but it’s Hickman’s vast imagination that is propelling this series into arguably already the most enjoyable Big Event I have ever enjoyed from the House of Ideas. Very very strong material.
ALL-NEW X-MEN #041 — We come at last to the final issue of this title, as apparently the Bendis run is concluding in what they’re calling UNCANNY X-MEN #600. It’s definitely a bittersweet issue, very well made, but I’m just kind of sad because the ride is almost over. This is especially a bummer as Bendis brings in a whole new crew of favorites (as well as Random) who have been consigned to mutant limbo the past few years (not Illyana’s place either, I mean, the unpublished kind). I was always a fan of the Madison Jeffries incarnation of Box. There’s a terrific riff on generational humor as Boom-Boom straight up screams at the titular characters to get off her lawn. Asrar/Gracia throw down the kind of thunder and lightning to which we’ve all become accustomed. I am really going to miss this book.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: RENEW YOUR VOWS #1 — Wow. All right, let it be said that no one hated the neck-breakin’ climax of MAN OF STEEL more than I did. I won’t belabor that anymore but only mention it here as context to say that while that ending absolutely did not work for me, this one does. A very similar set-up, but Peter making the same decision makes total sense, and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a parent who wouldn’t do the same thing. You’d have to search a lot harder to find an psychotic alien symbiote as an antagonist, but you get my point. This really just serves as the pilot episode for what is a completely reset status quo by issue’s end. This one has A-list talent all the way with Slott/Kubert leading the charge, but more importantly, it follows the initial premise to its inevitable conclusion: if Peter & MJ really had a kid, there would be a brief period of not-yet-getting-it because he’s Peter Parker, but pretty soon, he would realize that he’s got to hang it up for the greatest responsibility of all, being a parent. Very interested to see where this one is going next issue.
BEST OF WEEK*: NONPLAYER #2 — It’s impossible to discuss this issue outside of the context of the fact that it’s been a little more than four years since #1 came out. My little girl was only two years old when we got blown away by #1 and I said to myself, “I hope this Simpson guy has a couple more of these in the can because it looks like these pages took a loooooooong time to produce.” Well, I was certainly right about that. He did not, and now my little girl is done with kindergarten. But let’s just talk about the issue on its own merits, yes? It’s a pretty staggering situation. Both inside covers are in-story art, bringing the total page-count to thirty uninterrupted ad-free pages of a singularly unique and absolutely gorgeous story that is as immersive and all-encompassing as the truly massive multi-player online virtual role-playing game that is such a critical element of this series. If anything, creator Nate Simpson ups the ante on his insane, super-precise detailed visuals that have basically anyone who lays eyes on them running for cover. Every page is basically a staggering feast for the eyes that I suspect even has Geof Darrow shaking his head, muttering, “too much, too muuuuuuuch.” The colors evoke strong Moebius tones, which is a perfect fit for the futuristic science-fiction tone of the series. But hey, we all knew that Simpson could draw like the greatest badass of his age. The really good news here, particularly after such a long wait, is that his script does everything that it should be doing here. He seriously zooms out and rather than provide another very gorgeous set-piece (which was a great opening hook on #1, don’t get me wrong), Simpson gets on with some serious world-building, introducing several new characters who populate the real world in which Dana Stevens lives (and with whom we are so busy meeting, we only get Dana for two panels this time out. Simpson is berserker!). We open with Jeff Homer, the charismatic but clearly sinister CEO of Lands Unlimited, the manufacturer of “Warriors of Jarvath,” the fantasy virtual reality game that apparently over a billion people are playing at one time. So the deal is, this game is such a ridiculous simulation that it actually has an entire artificial planet up and running at any given time, creatures living and dying in the deep oceans that nobody ever sees and so forth. The girl interviewing Homer brings up some allegations about the non-player characters, a title-referencing exchange that is obviously a huge deal going forward. Apparently, the non-player characters in “Warriors of Jarvath” can straight-up pass a Turing test, but Homer assures us that it’s all “smoke and mirrors” and nothing to worry about. Famous last words! Then, we do need a little action, so cut to a hostage crisis at a fish market where we meet Roland Hanley, a police detective who’s seen it all but appears to be a pretty good dude. Simpson doesn’t really sink his teeth into this character to let him break out of his basic good-guy tough-cop archetype, but he’s likeable enough. Probably his defining trait at this point is that he’s unflappable, completely not fazed by all of the crazy tech and giant robot business that’s got all of us readers bulging our eyes at every turn of the page. Then, there’s Alan, the apparently genius programmer who Homer fires from Lands Unlimited because it looks like he’s maybe been breaking some sanctions on coding AI and making them technically human? That seems like a safe bet. Alan eventually goes home to meet a synthetic customized Queen Fendra android. She was the one who Dana killed last issue, remember. And he’s just basically a sad sack who’s trying to code his idealized virtual reality into real life as well as he can, bless his heart. We also learn about the National Artificial Intelligence Bureau (NAIB), who use a riff on the MINORITY REPORT triad called CUBE (Cognitively Unlimited Bulwark Entity) to solve crimes. And then we head back to the South Realms of Jarvath to check in with King Heremoth, who is wounded but learns from a soothsayer that Queen Fendra yet lives in another dimension (they call it Hell, but it’s just the real world), and so he asks for his sword and then the door slams shut on this gorgeous expansive tale. No wonder there was no time for Dana this issue! Hope no one has been waiting too long for any kind of insight into her tamale delivery methodology! Simpson is an unparalleled force. This issue was very much worth the wait on every level; it had a lot of expectations to live up to multiplied by the massive gap in publication, but it exceeded my very high hopes for it. I am hoping that we can maybe get a look at #3 some time before 2017, but whatever works. Certainly don’t start rushing it at this point, my man, hey.
TRANSFORMERS VS. G.I. JOE #7 — Yikes. This is the THE PRISONER-Scarlett’s- goin’-crazy!/goin’-crazy? issue and totally works, even though it’s so intentionally jagged to reflect her experiences that it really took me a second pass through to fully even understand what was happening on several pages. The deal with Scarlett’s family was a bit disturbing. The way Scioli has the panels go askew in a mist of blood when she slits Fred’s throat is a very intelligent piece of panel layout. When she comes face-to-face with herself, the backmatter mentions THE PRISONER, but I was thinking that cave in Dagobah all the way. The following one-page fight is some strong mirroring work, that double-kick really is a thing of beauty. And what symmetry, on that last page, she’s juuuuust about to chop of Zarak’s head and then we see her in headmaster-of-Scorponok mode returning Bumblebee’s head to Optimus, which also calls back to the start of the issue. If you had asked me ahead of time, I would have said that I would prefer for this insane book never to zoom in on any one character at the expense of the whole massive ensemble, but great comics is great comics, and Scioli’s done it once again. Just tremendous work. I guess this series will have to stop one day, but not for many issues, I hope.
JUPITER’S CIRCLE #3 — All right, finally we’re shifting focus, maybe we’re going to do a bunch of two-parters on individual team members? This is really nothing new but all in the execution, as a member of the team decides to trade in his wife/family for a newer sweet young thing. I don’t think it’s going to end up very well for him, no. More solid work. Between STARLIGHT, CHRONONAUTS, this series, and its parent title, I think I just about trust Millar to produce quality again, no matter what. It’s been a tough road back.
MORNING GLORIES #46 — Even ten-year-old Irina is a terrifying battle-beast! That fight in the bathroom was almost funny. Another –centric here brought to us by those Spencer/Eisma rapscallions. I definitely appreciated all of Professor Meylikhov’s discussion of #22 in the backmatter. And here comes Zoe again, this could be a fearsome match-up if Irina would just put down her sniper rifle. Kind of worried about how crazy it’s going to get for #50, this ramp-up kind of snuck up on me.
THE WICKED + DIVINE #12 — Jesus, you guys! You’re not supposed to DO that! Not cool at all! Jesus!
(but thank you for the PHONOGRAM ad at the end, you know it made my week)
ZERO #16 — This one’s a little bit more coherent than last issue as the adventures of William S. Burroughs continue. Terrific likeness work from Robert Sammelin, particularly that one black-and-white page with Patti Smith, that business pulls you all the way right back to the Bowery.
AIRBOY #1 — Oh my goodness, these guys. I’ve never encountered Greg Hinkle before, but he is clearly a force in the world of cartooning. Robinson’s script is wry, funny, and unflinchingly honest. I feel like I’ve read that he’s gotten sober since the events depicted herein? Probably a Good Thing. This is indeed some Hunter S. Thompson shit right here, it probably was indeed the call to go ahead and just explicitly state that. What we have here is a couple of creators engaging in the loveable antics of a very serious bender that apparently results in the Morrisonesque meta-appearance of the public domain Golden Age character who they’ve been trying to channel all along. Getting Robinson to write this, however close to the truth the opening scene really is, was a stroke of brilliance. I very much look forward to the next issue. I did think the blurbs at the end were overstating the situation just the least bit. Maybe the creators got to read all four issues; maybe they just really related in a way that I haven’t had the means to thus far. Don’t get me wrong, I quite enjoyed the issue, it’s just that calling it the best thing that Robinson’s ever written seems kind of harsh to the denizens of Opal City, you know? Ah well, we live in hope.
* Any other week, perennial champions ACTION COMICS, STAR WARS, SECRET WARS, or TRANSFORMERS VS. G.I. JOE all would have been shoe-ins for top honors, but how can it be anything but NONPLAYER? I mean, wow, dude’s been working on it since before The New 52 was even announced. Think about that for a minute. Nate Simpson, take very good care of yourself, please sir.