I'm too fanboyish about 52, I know: Graeme's review of books from 7/26, 8/2, and 8/9 too.

When Lester and Hibbs are in full flow, it’s more than a little intimidating to follow them. Factor in the fact that Jeff was completely and utterly right in why Black Panther was kind of uncomfortable last week and the fact that my work managed to keep me very busy until late most of the evenings, and you’ve got all the reasons you’re going to get out of me for why I didn’t post anything last week. But now, it’s Sunday, it’s sunny, and Kate’s working away on her own job things – So let’s review, shall we? 52 WEEK 13: Well, finally I’ve read the most depressing comic of the year. I don’t know why I was so surprised by how soul-crushing this book was, because I never expected that Sue Dibny would magically return from the dead; I simply hoped that there would be some level of closure for the plot, and that Ralph (and we readers) would be allowed to, on some level, move on. Instead, I get an issue where Sue almost gets reincarnated as a straw-doll (and I’m sure there’s some “strawman argument” reference in there), but everything goes wrong and Ralph is left insane, with brand-new “My wife isn’t alive again because I made the wrong choice” angst to accompany his “My wife was raped because I was a superhero” and “My wife was murdered by my friend’s ex-wife as part of a deranged plot to bring her and my friend back together again” ones. I know that there’s three-quarters of this series left to run, and that “Ralph’s story is far from over,” but still: Wow. This was Ass and felt full of contempt from the writers for poor Ralph and the poor schlubs like myself who really enjoyed the original Elongated Man stories.

ACTION COMICS #841: In which I start to get paranoid that off-screen accomplice of the oddly familiar Auctioneer bad guy – Am I the only person who read this and was reminded of Manga Khan, from Giffen and DeMatteis’s JLI, years ago – who has the name of Grayum is some kind of strange dig at me on behalf of writers Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza. That aside, there’s a lot to enjoy in this issue despite the nagging feeling that it isn’t anything more than a fill-in arc (a feeling that can probably be traced to the slightness of the plot and numerous guest-stars, if you’re that bothered), not least of which is Pete Woods’ art and, like all of Busiek’s Superman writing so far, the nostalgic sense of fun in the story: Yes, it’s ridiculous, but reminiscent of the stories in the recent 50s-reprint Showcase collections, you know? Good, but probably not the stuff of three-part story-arcs; unless there’s more meat to the story next issue, I’ll be looking forward to Richard Donner sooner than I’d expected.

AGENTS OF ATLAS #1: One of Marvel’s recent launches that kind of got lost in all of the noise surrounding Civil War and everything Superhero-Registration-Act-related, this revamp of a superteam who’d only previously appeared as an alternate universe Avengers in a mini-series years and years ago is much, much better than it has any right to be. The keys to the success are the creative team: Leonard Kirk and Kris Justice come up with art that’s reminiscent of Stuart Immonen’s Superman work (That’s a compliment in my head, honest), and Jeff Parker’s script takes all of the ridiculousness of the concept – there’s a talking gorilla and a 1950s mad-scientist-style robot called M-11 in a team created to fight Asian supervillain, The Yellow Claw, for the love of God – and plays it up without playing it for laughs, coming up with something that’s just plain pulpy fun, and Very Good, at that. It’s the anti-52 Week 13, and I’m not sure there could be a higher recommendation for a book this week.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #534: So, apparently the point of the Civil War crossover issues is to make you buy more Civil War-related books. I’m not even talking about the main Civil War series, either; halfway through this issue, half of the cast disappear into a fight that we see for one panel here with an explanation that we should read Fantastic Four this month to find out what’s going on. Truly, this is the era of Mighty Marvel Cross-Marketing, true believers. Sadly, for all the attempt at filling in the characterization blanks from Millar’s central Civil War series, this ends up being entirely inconsequential and full of little other than “Peter Parker is conflicted” and “Iron Man is a bit of a bastard” foreshadowing. Eh.

BATMAN #655: Dear Grant… It’s the small things, isn’t it? That opening sequence, more than a wee bit heavy-handed – I get it, Grant, it’s a parody of how self-consciously “dark” Batman comics had gotten, complete with Commissioner Gordon saying “Everybody needs to lighten up,” very clever – has been what Jeff and Brian have been talking about, but it was other things that caught my eye: Robin appearing by sliding down the batpoles. The pop-art sound effects in the background during the party scene. Grant Morrison, you are trying to single-handedly trying to drag the Bat-franchise back to the days of Adam West and Burt Ward. And I applaud you for it. I’d just rather you did it in a speedier way that didn’t feel as if you were kind of tired and recycling yourself; the opening was a longer version of your NewXMen first page statement, the “day-in-the-life-of-Batman” page reminiscent of the first page of All-Star Superman, and the rest of the book just much slower than we’ve come to expect from you. Is it because we’ve been spoiled by All-Star Superman and Seven Soldiers over the last year? Are you spending more time than you should writing 52? Is it me? It is, isn’t it. It’s me. Oh God, I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry

(It’s a Good book, by the way, but you’ve probably read it already.)

CASTLE WAITING #1: Perhaps I’m just too used to reading mainstream books where, you know, first issues have things like introductions to characters and settings and plot (Insert your own snark here), but I spent the majority of this issue completely lost and trying to figure out what was going on and feeling as if I needed to read the hardcover collection of the previous series to understand who half the characters were. Linda Medley’s art is nice, but when you finish a six-dollar book feeling as if you need to spend an additional thirty dollars to understand it, then you might as well be reading Infinite Crisis or something. Eh.

CIVIL WAR: YOUNG AVENGERS AND RUNAWAYS #1: Call me unfeeling and uncaring, but despite my love for both Runaways and Young Avengers as series, at no point during any of the Civil War stories previously had I thought “I wonder how the Young Avengers or Runaways feel about these events?” Thankfully, I’m not in charge at Marvel, because if I had been, this entirely pointless series would never have existed. Zeb Wells’ script is fine – the art less so – but the plot is completely generic, even going so far as to have the two teams meet with a misunderstanding and have a fight. Crap that exists only for the most cynical reasons.

THE CREEPER #1: This, on the other hand, is crap that exists for… no, wait, this exists for the most cynical reasons as well. Either that, or I’ve been missing the cries for another reboot of the Creeper the past few years; you be the judge. I might be being a wee bit harsh calling it crap, because there is something amusing about Jack Ryder suddenly becoming the liberal Bill O’Reilly, but it’s the one point of amusement or originality in a book that’s otherwise a cynical rehash of something that’s been rehashed too many times before. And next issue, the Creeper meets Batman! Because that’s never been done before either… Yeah, it’s crap.

DETECTIVE COMICS #822: Paul Dini’s obviously having fun with his new writing gig, and this second issue shows it much more than the first; recasting the Riddler as a crimefighter (and without a last page reveal that he’s actually still a bad guy at heart, surprisingly) and pairing him with Batman works as a distraction from the clues being planted throughout this fairplay mystery, as well as entertainment in and of itself. Nice to see Batman having underground friends and informants again, as well. Is it heresay to say that this is more enjoyable than Morrison’s Batman? If so, sorry, but this is Very Good.

FANTASTIC FOUR #539: Or, the second half of the story from the Amazing Spider-Man issue above. What’s interesting is that the crossover just doesn’t work – the shared pages (there are three pages of events and dialogue that are exactly the same in both books) stand out too much here, as if JMS accidentally got his books mixed up and put Spider-Man pages in an FF script, and the plot of the Spider-Man issue makes less sense when you know the larger context from the FF issue (Captain America leads an attack on a prisoner convoy, and then abandons that to go and fight Spider-Man? What?). Overall, this is more of a mess than the Spider-Man half of the crossover, because there are more immediately obvious plotholes (Iron Man can’t track down Captain America’s hideout, but the Yancy Street Gang can? We’re supposed to buy that neither side of the fightin’ superheroes cares about civilians at all, during their fight, and that the Thing is the only one who does?) ignored so that the main point of the story – Ben Grimm gives up on the whole thing and leaves the country – is reached by the end of the issue. It’s not a bad idea, exactly, but seems slightly odd when we’ve previously seen the Thing fighting on Iron Man’s side in the last Civil War issue proper, and feels more than slightly manufactured for the purposes of controversy as opposed to being true to character. Mind you, that wouldn’t be a first for the Civil War “event”… Crap.

HIGHLANDER #0: Oh, I have no idea. Since when was Highlander about Russian terrorists and not Sean Connery’s non-attempt at a Spanish accent? I’m sure that there’s an audience for this, but I’m so outside of it, the best I can do is shrug my shoulders and say Eh. Sorry, Joe.

JACK OF FABLES #1: Literally, if you liked the three-part Fables story about Jack going to Hollywood, you’ll like this series, it seems. There’s no shift in tone or pacing – or even art-team from that storyline – as Bill Willingham (and co-writer Matt Sturges) stick incredibly closely to the Fables style for the first spin-off series. I’m not sure that this won’t wear thin as an ongoing (Jack isn’t one of the most compelling of the Fables cast, in my opinion, and without the other characters or mythology to back him up, I can see it getting old very quickly. With the other characters or mythology, of course, it’s just the same as the regular Fables book, and I’m not sure whether the market would support two identical Fables series), but as a first issue, it’s Good enough.

MARTIAN MANHUNTER #1: So, this was lying on my doorstep on Friday evening, in an envelope from DC Comics. I’m not entirely sure who sent it to me, or even how they got my address, but considering that I’d said, only a few hours earlier that very day, that I wasn’t really planning on reading this, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some cosmic karmic payback thing going on. My problem with this series – based upon the preview in Brave New World and this first issue – is this: If you take a relative pacifist alien, the last of his race, who has grown to love humanity and believe in their potential, yadda yadda yadda, and then say “No, but wait! There are other Martians! They’ve been kept alive by shadowy government conspiracies and now that the Martian Manhunter knows about this, he’s so pissed that he hates humanity as a whole and he’s out for revenge!” then, well, part of me wonders why you’re bothering. There’s only so far you can go with an “Everything you knew is wrong!” story, and even less far with a “No more Mister Nice Guy!” story, and in both cases, you should at least be aware of what you’re giving up by setting up your shocking new directions. The basic idea behind the series feels like the creators were told to do something with the Martian Manhunter because the powers that be wanted a Martian Manhunter comic, but no-one could think of anything to do with the character (or were, perhaps, completely unfamiliar with the character – Hasn’t J’Onn gone bad at least a couple of times before? And hasn’t he already seen humanity do terrible things, without turning against them? Not only that, but we’ve also had the “there are martians after all!” plot a few times, as well, I’m sure), and so came up with a stunning new status quo that shows that you only thought you knew him, etc..

Beyond the basic pitch behind the series, the execution does nothing to lift expectations. The script relies very heavily on internal narration to sell us – not very successfully - on J’Onn apparently turning against humanity (including one scene where we seem to see that one of the reasons he’s done so is that people prefer Superman to him, strangely enough. “You don’t love me enough! I knew all of humanity were bastards!”), the new characters are more generic character-types (Hard-assed female boss, hard-assed deadly-assassin military man) than characters in and of themselves, and the art is static and drowned by murky coloring.

The saddest thing about this? I probably won’t be getting any new books to review for free from DC after panning this one. If there is an upside, though, it’s this: As bad as this book, it’s still nowhere near as bad as 52 Week 13. Crap.

NEW AVENGERS #22: First issue by new regular creative team, Brian Michael Bendis and Lenil Yu! Second issue in the “New Avengers Disassembled” Civil War-crossover storyline! Twenty-second issue of the series! Or something. Obviously, there’s rot settling into my brain from reading so many comics in one sitting, because I actually kind of enjoyed this issue. Sure, Bendis is still giving his characters entirely unrealistic dialogue due to his desire to make all the dialogue sound very realistic (“Now, I talked to - - wait - - I talked to the powers that be,” Iron Man says at one point, despite no-one attempting to interrupt him or needing to be asked to wait for anything) and the plot doesn’t make that much sense – Iron Man is trying to get people to sign up to his registration thing hours before it becomes law, and then sends the army to arrest the most prominent black superhero in America minutes after it becomes law for refusing to do so? I guess that those futurist types haven’t quite figured out that “Great way to stop people accusing you of violating people’s civil rights, Tony Stark” public relations thing, yet - but Yu’s art is gorgeous, and I was completely sucked in by the scenes between Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. If Bendis ever managed to write a Luke/Jessica ongoing series focusing more on domestic sitcom than superhero slugfest, I’d be there in a second. There’s still too much need for the Civil War crossover books to show characterization and rationales behind action that are missing from the main title, but it’s because of their doing so that I’ve been enjoying the crossovers much more than the main title itself. Good.

NIGHTWING #122: Last week, Hibbs gave me a copy of this to read, telling me that I needed to read something shitty. He really wasn’t lying; whether it be to deus-ex-machine “I’m Jason Todd and suddenly I have shape-shifting powers!” climax to the main battle – a battle that had previously been fought by Nightwing and his girlfriend, who is also Nightwing, apparently having gained the desire to become a superhero by sleeping with Dick Grayson, telling the bad guy that he has a really small dick over and over again – or the offhand way that Todd is then written out the book (In the last three panels of the issue, he sends a letter to Dick Grayson that honestly says “Leaving town to find my own way” and offers no other explanation or motivation), there’s such a slapped-together-don’t-know-what-we’re-doing quality to the writing here that it’s almost embarrassing to read. Bruce Jones is, of course off the book with #125, and I’m unsure whether that has to do with his shitty work on here to date, or the fact that he may have originally signed on to do a Nightwing book starring Jason Todd and bailed when it became clear that Dick Grayson wasn’t going to be killed off after all… Ass.

POWER OF 6 #1: Jon Lewis, who also provided less than stellar work on a Batbook a few years back (he replaced Chuck Dixon on Robin, around 2001-ish, before editorial killed his enthusiasm and his work – Something that he alludes to in his bibliography in the back of this book), returns with this Alternative Comics-published superhero book that owes a large debt to Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol and Scott Pilgrim, amongst others (The main character’s powers feel very computer-game inspired, like some of the fights in the latter. But then, I’m an old man who doesn’t play video games, so what do I know?). It’s fun, but feels stuck-between-worlds, and almost too reverential to mainstream superhero books for its own good; for all the “hero accidentally releases great evil” traditionalism, I wanted to see things go further than it did, because it felt like it could, if that makes sense… Good, but it could’ve been better, goddammit.

PICK OF THE WEEK is Agents of Atlas, which will make you believe in superheroes called Bob and the rebooting of spies who are near death. PICK OF THE WEAK, as will come as no surprise to all of you, is 52. To add insult to injury, the (very good) two-page “Origin of Elongated Man” by Mark Waid and Kevin Nowlan that follows the “How much more misery can we bring to these formely comedic characters” main story only serves to underline who horrifically off-base the current storyling is. TRADE OF THE WEEK is something that Jeff Lester forced into my hands on Friday: FINDER: FIVE CRAZY WOMEN. I’ve never read any of Carla Speed McNeil’s series before, but this conversation/examination of five women that a particular “bad boy” has seduced is enough to convince me to read much more; smart, sexy and unafraid to be completely honest – I didn’t expect to see that Genie scene – with artwork (also by McNeil) that matches the boldness and effortless intimacy of the writing, it’s an intoxicating book that keeps you guessing, but more importantly, keeps you reading. I liked it a lot, in case you can’t tell.

So, what is everyone else reading these days?