I'm David Uzumeri, from Funnybook Babylon, and I'm pretty honored to be invited to this pretty elite crew. I'm probably most famous on InterNET for my work annotating Final Crisis and Batman R.I.P., but what you might not know is that I read comics that aren't by Grant Morrison! Hell, I read comics that aren't published by DC - or even by the Big Two! So I'm pretty happy to be here at Savage Critics, and I plan on reviewing my weekly titles (along with other items of interest) fairly regularly. If I seem a bit superhero/genre-centric, that's not because I'm averse to "indie"/mainstream stuff, but more because I'm still reading classics like Love & Rockets and I doubt I'll be contributing much with insightful revelations like "Wow, this Scott Pilgrim book is pretty good!", and I'm still building a reviewer's knowledge base to be able to insightfully criticize that stuff at the level I'd like. But superhero comics? I know those. So let's go.
Batman #686: It's kind of hard not to compare this to Grant Morrison's take, even though they're incredibly different stories; while Gaiman's working at a completely different tone and pace, they share certain idiosyncratic sensibilities that lead to a more supernatural yet methodical, empirical, almost scientific take on the character. Morrison and Gaiman's stories are, behind all of the devils and post-hypnotic suggestions and prismatic funerals (All the Jokers! All the Catwomen!), detective mysteries. And that's what Gaiman's doing here, holding a big fat prismatic funeral for the uber-Platonic-form of the avenging crusader, through the lens of our culture's iteration, Batman. I can't really comment on the ongoing mystery until the next issue, but this certainly raises and holds my interest. I certainly can't let this review go by without mentioning the art - Andy Kubert joins Jim Lee's embellishment team of Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair to do the work of his career, traversing through seventy years of Batman's artistic history and continuity with grace, style and ease. It's not an especially progressive story, nor is it at all high-octane, but it's clever and intelligent and, as sappy as it sounds, it feels like it came from a lot of love on Gaiman's part. More important than all of that, it's in no way a mirror or derivation of Alan Moore's similarly-named ode to the Man of Tomorrow - Gaiman's created his own beast here, a paean to the history and concept of the tortured masked vigilante. It won't change the world, but it's a VERY GOOD Batman story.
The only big caveat I have - and to the book's credit, it's something I didn't even realize until I was in the middle of the article, hanging out with friends about to watch Battlestar, talking about the issue and Gaiman - it's YET ANOTHER goddamn story where a bunch of people stand around telling stories! That was, like, half of Sandman, and utterly killed the pace of Miracleman when Gaiman took over. He gets a lot of mileage out of it, but it's still the same old trick, even though it's done really well - make no bones about it, Neil Gaiman likes to tell stories about people telling stories.
Action Comics #874: First, the art - I've always liked Pablo Raimondi, but I've also never seen him without Brian Reber. Hi-Fi do what would be a fine job on a normal Superman comic, bright colors and clear delineations between objects, but Raimondi's shadowy style acts in complete opposition to that, leading to what looks like, well, kind of ugly art despite what were probably the best intentions of all involved. It's an OKAY comic, certainly better than Robinson's earlier work in the Atlas arc in Superman, but it's far more effective as a section of Geoff Johns's Master Superman Plan than as a single issue. So if you're already invested in that stuff, don't miss this - it's the next episode of the ongoing Superman narrative, and some cool stuff happens. But it's certainly not a jumping-on point or a brilliant piece of work on its own, a byproduct of the nature of serial storytelling.
Thor #600: This is, as Brian's said, probably the best value you'll get in superhero comics for a long-ass time. There's about 42 pages of main story material here, plus about (I haven't counted precisely) eight pages of a backup by Stan Lee and David Aja and then another few pages of Mini Marvels from Chris Giarrusso, who turns in his strongest and funniest iteration of his Mini Marvels concept to date, combining just the right amount of reverence and irreverence for a both funny and accurate recap of Thor's status quo in the Marvel Universe. If this were a shorter book, I'd have qualms with the pacing in the main story - it's a lot of wordless fighting and punching and car-throwing and all that EPIC stuff, but I really can't argue with using the space like this when you have so damn much of it. Straczynski continues his celebrated run here, which has improved much since the first arc of Thor Vs. Real World Issues (did you know Katrina and Darfur are horrible?), and really makes fantastic use of both Norse mythology and the personality of Loki to bring twelve issues of scheming and Asgardian puppeteer-chess to a quick and total climax, changing the status quo of the book. I'm sort of mystified that it didn't get a Dark Reign banner, though, since it's actually a very important chapter in the mega-story of the Marvel Universe and draws a lot from its new status quo. VERY GOOD.
Batman and the Outsiders Special: Really Outsiders #14.5, this is the first issue of Peter J. Tomasi's run on the title and features what's likely Adam Kubert's last DC work, using an all-double-page-spreads (except for the first and final pages) layout style that moves the entire bulk of the advertisements to the back. I'm not entirely sure that the story required this - sometimes the panels even break right in the middle of the page, so it's difficult to tell if you're supposed to read it left to right (you are) or stop at the page fold - but it's strong work, and Dell's inks work better here than the did on his portions of DC Universe: Last Will and Testament.
The story, though... Tomasi's a longtime editor at DC, and he's worked with some of the greats on truly complex storylines (Seven Soldiers, for one). He clearly knows all these characters, but he assumes a little bit too much that you do too, and his Katana scenes skirt dreadfully close to Claremontian cultural simplification where the Japanese are all about RITUALS and HONOR and shit. He doesn't really set up the threat, either - they appear at the end, but there's no real menace, instead they're just slightly creepy generic Hills Have Eyes cannibal monster zombie whatever types. It reads like a book about B-list characters for people who care about those B-list characters and want to see them come back, and while it's alright at that I can't imagine people who picked this up for the Adam Kubert art draw compelled enough to continue following this in the main title with Lee Garbett (who can actually reach a deadline). EH.
Captain Britain and MI: 13 #10: I thought the last arc of this title kind of dragged, but this was just a really, really fun 22 pages, completely embracing the silliness of every concept within - I'm sure everyone's seen the Dr. Doom and Dracula on the Moon teaser by now but it only ramps up from there. In the wake of the recent cancellation rumors, this issue especially leaves me VERY glad that the title is continuing, since Cornell is undoubtedly one of the smartest and most imaginative writers Marvel's employing right now and this issue really found the title's feet in my opinion. It switches from character moments to high-concept insanity basically every scene, and it all flows together remarkably well; additionally, this issue is practically an object lesson to Batman and the Outsiders on how to present characters that the audience doesn't give a shit about and, well, actually provoke some shits being given. I always liked Blade as a cool-looking dude with some sweet swords who stabbed vampires and shit, but I never thought I'd actually start digging him as a real character until Cornell got his hands on him. A VERY GOOD classically Marvel comic.
Young Liars #12: Straight up - I love this comic. I think, with all due respect to Jason Aaron's justifiably-widely-lauded Scalped, it is the best thing Vertigo's putting out right now, full stop. I barely even miss Stray Bullets anymore. I haven't even reread the whole series yet - and when I do, I'm sure I'll have something to say - but I have absolutely no idea what I'm going to read every time I open this comic, yet absolute trust in Lapham that it'll fit into his broader picture. He's a superb storyteller at the top of his game, and this is the dirtiest, sleaziest, funniest, sometimes most touching and definitely most unpredictable comic out there. If you enjoyed the punk-rock viscera of the Amy Racecar scenes in Stray Bullets, or just comics in general that start at an insane tempo and don't let up and thrive off of fucking with reader expectations, then this is really a must-read. I know this is more of a review of the series as a while, but this issue - #12 - really just acts as yet another story that redefines what comes before it; it feels like every issue of Young Liars changes every issue preceding, like the whole structure morphs every time it's informed by an upcoming issue. Completely EXCELLENT.