Lazy Sunday: Graeme finishes off this week's books.

So, Jeff complains (below) that this page is full of essays and that we can't skate by by just complaining that things suck anymore. The following is my attempt to prove him wrong, because sometimes I just want to phone it in. NEW AVENGERS #28: Maybe I'm just getting beaten down by the constant world of pain that is mainstream Marvel these days, but this was surprisingly enjoyable. Not so much for the main plot, which leaves me relatively cold, but instead the smaller moments - Luke Cage buying milk, the Dr. Strange scenes (especially the cloaking of the Sanctum Sanctorum, which I'm sure that I've misspelt), the Silver Samurai's choice of movie. Bendis is clearly enjoying himself on this book, and it's more apparent than it's been on his other series. Less immediately apparent is whether Lenil Yu is a suitable choice for the book, but I'm completely fascinated by his current style, which looks like early-Enigma-era Duncan Fegredo inking over Kevin Nowlan pencils (dig the pout on Wolverine as he sniffs at the end of the issue). A high Okay.

PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL #5: While I get that Matt Fraction may love the Punisher, he still seems to be writing a book that works around the character as opposed to starring the character. This issue is a good example, with the Punisher himself only appearing in what essentially amounts to a cameo in a story about Bridges and a beat cop in New York City. It's interesting to see Marvel trail this book as featuring a Punisher who tries to replace Captain America, because there's something about this issue in particular that makes this an especially American book, focusing on one character's response to 9/11 and, amazingly enough, the Stamford disaster that started off Civil War. It's a tricky balancing act that works only because the superhero fallout from Stamford is ignored - Once you start pointing out that, in the Marvel Universe, 9/11 is apparently less important than the explosion of a small Connecticut city, you're in a bad place where a real tragedy is pushed into second place by a sales-grab, which leaves a slightly bad taste in the mouth. Nonetheless, this series is continually better than I expect, especially when it zigs instead of zags in its focus as it does here. Okay.

SPIDER-MAN: REIGN #4: Yet another issue of DKR: WTF, and luckily, the last one. Too much of the intended emotional impact here comes out of nowhere (The kid is the Sandman's daughter? And has superpowers? Wait, what?), or rely on readings of the characters that are pretty specific and not necessarily what the original creators intended - So much of this series seems to rely on the idea that Peter felt that Mary-Jane pitied him instead of loved him for who he really was, which is an interesting take, but one that I'm not sure is really supported in the original stories. The ending is fascinating, however; success relying on the destruction of a tower is an interesting climax for a story that felt so affected by 9/11. Following from that, there seemed something anti-climactic about the series ending with Spider-Man up and about and protecting New York again. Sure, it fitted the Dark Knight model, but somehow works less well here. Eh, but sadly missing the thrill of radioactive spider-spunk.

SUPERMAN #660: Yes, I know that this is the second straight month of fill-ins on this title, but Kurt Busiek makes it work by following the Silver Age model of using Superman as incidental character in his own stories (also a trick that Busiek uses successfully in his Astro City books), and writing about the way Superman affects other people's lives. There's nothing earth-shattering about the story or art, but it's perfectly enjoyable and perfectly Good nonetheless - A sign of how strong the Superman books are these days, when even the fill-in issues are stronger than many other books on the market.

WONDER WOMAN #5: The infamous fill-in issue, replacing the long-awaited conclusion to Allen Heinberg's relaunch of the character. It's unspectacular but solidly Eh, being preachy yet confused in its political message (Was the moral of the story that violence is bad, but suicide is good as long as it's bad guys who do it?). I hadn't noticed, as Brian pointed out, that there's no explanation as to why this isn't the last part of the Heinberg arc anywhere in the book, because I am part of the Newsarama-readin' (and writin') clique, but he's right; it's something that someone at DC should've noticed before the book got sent out. Another continuation of the ongoing clusterfuck that is the relaunched Wonder Woman, then; it'll be interesting to see what happens to the book if/when Jodi Picoult gets the book on a regular schedule. Will we all lose interest without the car crash element?

PICK OF THE WEEK overall is probably, I dunno, Superman I guess. Is that a sign that it was a pretty weak week? PICK OF THE WEAK is Civil War: The Confession, which was just unnecessary - I was listening to one of Brian Bendis's Wordballoon podcasts the other day, and he was talking about the misconception in his eyes that Marvel has contempt for the their audience. He said that the opposite was true, and that everyone involved in the company is really trying their hardest on what they work on, because they're very conscious that people are paying money for things that have their names on them... If only that was obvious in the books themselves, you know? TRADE OF THE WEEK, I have no answer for - I didn't read any trades all week, and couldn't even tell you which trades actually came out this week. Instead, I'll recommend Live From New York, the oral history (written oral history?) of Saturday Night Live, that I just finished rereading this week. It's much better if you stop before the last couple of chapters, but the first half of the book, concentrating on the first decade of the show's history, is well-worth the price of admission.

Next week: Runaways Saga comes out, which is co-written by a friend. I'll try and be nice about it.