And I even liked Ms. Marvel. What's that all about?: Graeme's reviews of the 3/1 books.

So, it’s an odd week. DC’s first One Year Later books appear while other DC books ship late and confuse people who aren’t paying attention. Meanwhile, Marvel launch Ms. Marvel really quietly, and wonder whether they’ll have to change the name of their Civil War series if the situation in Iraq gets much worse. Ttt. Comics, huh? Who’d bother with them? ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #649: Or, as the cover calls it, “The Last Adventures of Superman”. Of course, that’s not true in any sense; it isn’t even the last part of this particular (and peculiar) three-part Superbook crossover that appears to take place between pages of Infinite Crisis #5. Even the art on the cover has nothing to do with the story inside whatsoever: It’s got Superman and Lois from Earth-2, plus some blonde Superboy from Earth-Pantene and Evil Alex Luthor from Earth-3, all looking very dramatic and everything. Thing is, Evil Alex and blonde Superboy don’t appear anywhere in this book. I’m guessing that this is one of those cases where the cover was drawn waaaay before the book was written, and the editor probably just made some guess as to what’d happen inside. “It’s an Infinite Crisis crossover, right? Aw, put Alex Luthor on there. And Superboy, too. But, hey! Make him blonde. Kids like those blonde superheroes.” The story itself really doesn’t work for me as it seems to rely on the assumption that both Supermen are arrogant, self-centered and unsympathetic… That’s not really the Superman that I want to read about, you know? I don’t care if he’s married to Lois or not married to Lois, or whether he’s the Last Son of Krypton or the third-cousin-twice-removed of multiple sons of Krypton who are all around, but, come on. Superman is meant to be a good guy, sometimes too nice, sometimes a bit naïve, but definitely not someone who has internal dialogue like “I almost pity him… almost. Too blind to see that his world was a shell. Empty as his black and white ‘morality’. The falseness of it all is part of his very being.” Here’s hoping that the whole One Year Later relaunch is better than this Crap.

AQUAMAN: SWORD OF ATLANTIS #40: One Year Later, Aquaman is suddenly and suspiciously much closer to what the upcoming TV version of him is going to be like: Teenage, confused about his origins, and two-handed. Feel that corporate synergy at work, aquafans. Kurt Busiek’s revamp of Vincent Chase’s favorite hero starts out fairly slowly, not helped by heavy-handed narration of the “Great things are expected of this young man, lo, it has been written” variety. Butch Guice’s scratchy art stays as ideosyncratic as ever – he still draws limbs too long whenever he gets the chance – and given coloring that makes everything muddy where it should be clear. Kind of a disappointment, to be honest, but that might be because I’m not a fan of the fantasy genre that’s being introduced here. Okay, if you like that kind of thing, I guess.

BLOOD OF THE DEMON #13: John Byrne books have become kind of review-proof these days, haven’t they? Here’s my cheap-shot one, anyway: One Year Later, I’ll be surprised if this book is still being published. Eh.

DETECTIVE COMICS #617: I’m completely torn on this one. It’s Very Good, I should get this out the way straight off, and probably the best a regular Batman book has been since Ed Brubaker’s Detective run was cut short way back when. Like Jeff said, James Robinson comes up with the best use of the One Year Later gimmick so far to reintroduce old characters and set up the idea that significant things have happened that we don’t know about, while also putting a current day plot in motion that offers up a few things of interest. But at the same time, I’m kind of annoyed that all of the changes to the status quo are steps back – James Gordon is the Commisioner again, Harvey Bullock is back on the police force and Harvey Dent clearly soon to be Two-Face again. Yes, it’s the classic Batman set-up, I can see that, but… it’s all been done before…

I (HEART) MARVEL: MASKED INTENTIONS: Given the rumors that are floating all around the comics internet about the fate of the New Warriors, this seems like a strange parting gift that Marvel’s giving fans of those characters – A one-shot with two short stories, both written by original NW writer Fabian Niceza, centering around the love lives of various NW characters. The first story, starring Joe Quesada’s favorite Speedball, is the most successful by far; Paco Medina’s art giving the story some bounce – sorry – and Niceza’s writing keeping pace with some fun classic romance story plotting and dialogue (“I felt a fire in my belly, and then my heart melted.”) that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The second story, about the break-up of minor characters Justice and Firestar, drags on and feels painful for all the wrong reasons in comparison. It’s not just that the reason for the split isn’t given any context in the story, but there’s nothing there to give you any reason to care about it one way or another. Apparently, Firestar doesn’t want to get married but does want to have parties in college. Um. Okay. The first story’s Good, but the second story drags the book overall down to just Eh. New Warriors fans, savor it, though; they’re all getting blown up in Civil War. Allegedly.

INFINITE CRISIS #5: If that last page reveal is meant to be taken seriously, then I’m very worried that the final two issues of this series are going to lose the goodwill that it’s generated so far. He’s meant to be the big bad guy of the series? What about Evil Alex Luthor? Why isn’t he getting a page to himself wearing Anti-Monitor cast-offs and trying to catch flies in his mouth? As we get further and further into the “Oh My God, Nothing’s Going To Be The Same Ever” series, Geoff Johns seems to be losing control of the pacing, even if certain scenes still work (The Superman versus Superman battle is much better here than in the Superman books, perhaps because neither Superman seems like a pompous dick). In one way, Johns is to be commended for keeping so much of the book centered around Wonder Woman, Superman and Batman, considering their rift was meant to be the central conflict to the series originally, but the Batman plot feels shoe-horned in here, and somewhat unbelievable (“I want to fight an invisible satellite in space with its own army of invincible cyborg defenders, so I want the best team! Black Canary! Green Arrow! Blue Beetle who doesn’t even know his powers yet! You’re with me!” And he’s supposed to be the smart one?); Wonder Woman’s role in the Superman fight was nice, as well, but how she got there was gratutious Crisis fanboy wankery of the highest order. I’m guessing that it’s unlikely that everything can be resolved in the next couple of issues, so I’m preparing myself for either a deeper downturn following this issue, or some crazy expositioning over the next couple of months. Okay, with a nervous forecast for the remainder of the series…

JSA #83: The fourth of the One Year Later books this year, this is the one that really pushes the whole “What’s the point” thing home. Really, it’s just a JSA story. There’s no obvious benefit or result of the one year jump, and it seems to ruin a couple of Infinite Crisis dangling plots (Flash has his powers back, so presumably the Speed Force comes back, and everyone seems to all be on the same earth, so I’m guessing that the multiple earths aren’t sticking, either), so… well, maybe this was one of the few DCU books that no-one thought could be improved on? Or maybe Paul Levitz didn’t want to rock the boat too much during his fill-in run. About Mr. Levitz, however… You can tell that he’s got his roots in 1970s and 80s team comics, as Mr. Terrific brings back two hallmarks of X-Men, Teen Titans and Legion comics of my youth: Characters saying “ohmigod” and very bad accents (“I’ve told ya, lad, ya canna fight like this”). It’s almost enough to make this more than just Okay. But only almost.

MS. MARVEL #1: Remember back when Bill Jemas was at Marvel, there were rumors about people trying to come up with a Sex And The City-style book starring superheroines? The first half of the book seems to be the result, mixing Spider-Woman and Ms. Marvel talking about their days over lunch, with flashbacks to the appropriate plot points (The second half settles into a more traditional first-person narration of an uncertain hero thrown into an unfamiliar situation scenario, and it’s much less interesting as a result). Surprisingly playing down the cheesecake factor suggested by Frank Cho’s bland-but-busty cover and the character’s recent (Frank Cho-illustrated) New Avengers appearance, this reminds me of nothing as much as the first four issues of Grant Morrison’s Animal Man, before he got all metatextual… There’re some funny sequences – Captain America’s cameo, in particular – and the tone for most of the book feels appropriately light and devoid of the recent “event” thinking of Marvel’s core books. If you liked the mix of respect for the original material and irreverance for fanboy convention of Allen Heinberg’s Young Avengers, you might be as pleasantly surprised by this as I was. Very Good. No, really.

NEW ORLEANS AND JAZZ: Yeah, this is going to be a tough one to review. Because it’s a charity book, raising money for the American Red Cross’s Hurricane Katrina relief effort, and that means that I feel guilty saying that it’s a really bad book, because, you know, it’s for a good cause. But still. It’s a really bad book. Everyone involved has clearly the best intentions but worthiness isn’t enough to protect the contents from being occasionally tasteless, especially in the one story that seems to say that Hurricane Katrina happened because the devil couldn’t steal someone’s hat. Billy Tucci’s “pouting Mardi Gras dancer with one lone tear” cover kind of sets the tone, really. Crap, but, hey. Help out the Red Cross and donate the money directly, instead.

NEXTWAVE #2: Not as good as the first issue, true, but still worth your time and money. Warren Ellis is still playing the stupid comedy card, and even though the pace is less frenetic this time around, he finally manages to work “Kick! ‘Splode! This is what they want!” into a comic. Stuart Immonen is still an art god, with his lovely cartoony cleanness looking unlike else Marvel is currently publishing, and this is what I wish New Avengers was like. Very Good.

OUTSIDERS #34: Everyone who bought this book, turn to the last page right now. Right there, while Nightwing is finishing his sentence? That is the kind of thing that I thought we’d managed to get rid of in comics, Goddammit. You can’t even pretend that the rest of the team is just standing around listening to him; they’re quite clearly posing for the camera. Look at Metamorpho! He’s doing that whole flex thing! Even if the rest of the issue had been the greatest comic ever created, that last page would have left a sour taste in my mouth through its sheer unnecessariness. Thankfully, this was far from the greatest comic ever created, as it’s lacking in anything other than a painfully drawn-out set-up for yet another super-team that gets involved in real world politics that will lack complexities and be solvable through blowing things up. Crap, and the type of crap that makes you wonder yet again if the 1990s are back in full force. Dan Quayle will be revealed to be an alien invader in this book within a year, I’m telling you.

UNTOLD TALES OF THE NEW UNIVERSE: STAR BRAND: I really liked Star Brand when I was a kid. Not the whole thing, mind you, but the Jim Shooter run with John Romita Jr. art. If there was an Essential Star Brand collection, I’d get that in a second. Is that wrong of me? So, I guess that I’m the target market for this one-shot “celebrating” the 20th anniversary of the failed New Universe by Jeff Parker and Javier Pulido. It’s a fun book, with Parker pretty faithfully riffing off Shooter for the majority of the book before a new character offers a pretty accurate list of complaints about what was wrong with the original series, and Pulido’s art managing to look like Romita’s without slavishly copying it. There’s a pretty strong “But what’s the point” feeling to the whole affair, but overall this offers something surprisingly enjoyable in terms of nostalgia without the rose-tinted glasses. Good, and really, who expected that?

STAR WARS: REBELLION / STAR WARS: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC #0: Okay, so Rebellion, I can understand. It’s set between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, so, cool. That’s Star Wars. But Knights of The Old Republic? Set four thousand years before Episode One? Why bother? It’s not got anything Star Warsish going for it apart from people with lightsabers that you’re not familiar with, calling themselves Jedi. Not being an obsessive fan of all things Lucas, both of these previews for the relaunch of Dark Horse’s Star Wars franchise leave me pretty cold, but they’re both fine for what they are. Eh, but perhaps only because I don’t know how many parsecs it took Han Solo to do the Kessel Run.

(Although if I remembered the name of the run that Han Solo boasted about correctly, I may be showing off my geek points nonetheless.)

PICK OF THE WEEK, despite my conflictedness, is probably Detective #617, because it was a strange relief to see a well done Batman story after so long. PICK OF THE WEAK is Adventures of Superman #649, and I’m hoping that it’ll act as some kind of exorcism of shitty Superman stories for the foreseeable future. Trade of the Week for me, I’m entirely ashamed to admit, is Essential Official Handbook Of The Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition Volume 1, purely because I got it the first time around when I was ten years old and I still love the dry straight-faced way in which all of the ridiculous stories are recounted. But I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone with taste, that’s for sure.