More than usually Superhero-centric: Graeme's reviews of the 8/23 books.

Awww, Major Victory! How could they get rid of you?!? I mean, yeah, Feedback’s really into the whole thing and Fat Momma has not only the inspirational thing but the theme song, but still… You were the best of all of the contestants on Who Wants To Be A Superhero?. You were the only one who deserved your own Sci-Fi Channel movie. And now you’re… gone… (Blame Hibbs. He’s the one who got me watching the show in the first place, the bastard.)

ASTONISHING X-MEN #16: Hibbs has a one-line review of this that’s so perfect that, if he doesn’t have time to write his own reviews this week, I’m going to come back on here on Wednesday just to post it. He was a fan, though, but my own enthusiasm for this book is being defeated by the schedule… This issue was Good, but felt too inconsequential for something that I’ve waited two months for. Part of that comes from the lack of forward motion in the main plot; as fun as the Kitty/Emma confrontation was, that and the dramatic reveal of the fifth member of the Hellfire Club, were the only real plot movements in this issue, with pages being lost on the not-as-funny-as-Joss-thinks-it-is infantilized Wolverine joke and the Ord/Breakworld subplot that gets a quarter of the issue for something that could just as easily be done in two pages. With two issues left in this story arc, it feels as if there’s a lot of resolution and explanation to be done, and the pacing so far makes me think that it’ll either be rushed or done half-assed, much in the same was as the end of the last arc. Still, it’s very pretty.

BATMAN #656: Now, this is much better than the last issue, both playful and intelligently done, with a nice tone of absurdity throughout the whole thing (The narration helps immensely with that: Both “Man-bats. Ninja Man-bats. Alarming twist” and “Plan B switches to plan C, just for a second. Then plan D kicks in” bring in a dry sense of humor to add to the traditional clipped Bat-tone). Immediately from the first panel, the pop-art background acts as meta-commentary to the story, winking to the reader without undercutting whatever action that’s going on at the same time, and managing to make the fight sequence simultaneously old-school and contemporary. It’d be a neat trick in any superhero book, but to do it in a Batman book, considering Batman’s history with pop-art and over-the-top sound effects – Holy Adam West! – makes it something ever better. Beyond the main part of the book, everything else continues the raised eyebrow bemusement: Talia’s dialogue, the flashback to a love scene Batman naked except for his mask (and his costume neatly laid out beside him), Grant Morrison’s speaking-through-Batman commentary on the comic itself (“…There’s a message here somewhere. I know if I just stare hard enough…” and, later, “If there’s one thing I hate… it’s art with no content.”). It’s a Batman book with the energy and fun of the best of Morrison’s Seven Soldiers books, and Excellent.

BATMAN AND THE MAD MONK #1: So, I didn’t read Matt Wagner’s first mini-series from this series (Batman and the Monster Men, I think it was called?), but this has me interested in picking up the trade. Taking cues both from the earlier Batman comics and Frank Miller’s Year One, this manages to merge the two into some kind of uber-pulp, with tough-guy narration (“I don’t give them time to react. They’re big, but soft around the middle. Slow. Two are down before they even know what hit them.” And that’s Jim Gordon talking.), hard-boiled action and a lovely cartoony look – with beautiful coloring from Dave Stewart – that just works really well. It’s not a Batman book for everyone, because again it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it’s Very Good and a somewhat strange realization that there are a lot of great Batman comics out right now. Superman’s comics don’t suck, either, and Wonder Woman… well, you’ll find out later. But what’s the world coming to when DC seems to be bothering about their biggest franchises?

DAREDEVIL #88: Ed Brubaker’s really rather good at these one-issue breathers after initial story-arcs, isn’t he? His Nomad one-off in Captain America was a highlight of his first year on that book, and this whatever happened to Foggy Nelson gives you just enough shakes and shivers to explain the whys for what went before and give you all new questions for future storylines. Fill-in artist David Aja apes Michael Lark’s texture but not his linework, with the result being something that reminded me, weirdly enough, of the art from Where The Wild Things Are. That aside, this was Good, and I’m looking forward to Daredevil in Paris next month, as well.

FLASH: THE FASTEST MAN ALIVE #3: The bad: A fill-in on the third issue of a book doesn’t bode well. The good: Karl Kerschl’s fill-in art is the best that this book has looked, clean and easy to understand against regular artist Ken Lashley’s over-rendered work, and it helps the book be readable for the first time this series (There’s actually a complete fill-in art team this issue, unusually – Fill-in penciller, inker and colorists – so perhaps the editor is trying to sort out some of the visual problems from earlier issues?). The script still contains more than its fair share of clunky dialogue and again a cliffhanger that doesn’t have that much dramatic tension, but it’s astounding how much better this book is when it’s not so difficult to look at. Eh, but a step in the right direction, at least.

HEROES FOR HIRE #1: I’m convinced that Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti got paid by the word for this book, considering how much narration and exposition that’s contained between the covers of this book. I know it’s a first issue introducing a lot of characters that readers probably haven’t really seen before – the one exception being Black Cat, who noticably is one of only three regulars in the book that don’t get any introduction at all (the others being Paladin and, weirdly enough, Orca. Is there a massive Orca fan contingent out there I’m not aware of?) – but still, good Lord, this is a verbose book. It’s not a bad book, though; Billy Tucci’s art is horribly inconsistent but competent, and the idea behind it is fun enough. Shame it had to start with a Civil War tie-in – and yet again, the pro-registration side is made to look unsympathetic, with Misty Knight comparing forced registration to slavery and the regime in communist China – but give it a couple of issues, and things might be different… For now, it’s Okay, and has potential to be better when Marvel stops being tied up in political allegory land.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1: Say what you like about Brad Meltzer, but you can’t deny that he isn’t afraid to stick his favorite characters in the Justice League for no obvious reason whatsoever. Vixen! Black Lightning! Arsenal! Red Tornado! Because no-one demanded it apart from Brad himself! For everything that’s interesting about the new series – My favorite is the anti-Mister Miracle, complete with Father Box and Hush Tube, although the reprinted panels from the Red Tornado’s first meeting with Kathy is a very cute touch – it fails for me because the structure is so close to that of Meltzer’s Identity Crisis, down to the multi-character narration and pretentious “This is a story about…” introduction to each character (not to mention the layout of the last page title and credits); it feels unoriginal and forced to try and evoke the earlier success. Maybe later issues will feel more organically – and explain why this particular league exists with these particular characters – but for now, it’s simply Eh.

NEW AVENGERS #23: Two thoughts: 1) Well, the Civil War crossovers are definitely bringing out the best in Brian Bendis, who’s getting to do the character work that’s his strength while the main CW book does the heavy plot-lifting, and 2) Wow, they’re really making Iron Man into a bastard. For those who haven’t seen this issue, this is the one where Iron Man tells Spider-Woman that, unlike everyone on every message board on the planet, she doesn’t get to pick what side she’s on because he doesn’t like her, and by the way, she’s under arrest. By this rate, by the time that Civil War ends, Tony Stark will have shaved his goatee into a Hitler moustache and be demanding that he gets Heiled whenever he enters a room, and Joe Quesada will still be insisting that Marvel is trying to provide a balanced viewpoint to this story. Meanwhile – and although Bendis’s introduction to his upcoming Spider-Woman series is fun in its own right – the real star of this issue is Olivier Copiel, whose work this issue puts most of Marvel’s current set of Young Guns to shame. Good.

SUPERGIRL #9: This may be some kind of superhero comic Stockholm Syndrome speaking, but I didn’t hate this. I didn’t really like it either, but when you compare it to the issue I read two months ago, then it might be about to win Most Improved Title of 2006, if only because there’s no kissing-your-cousin-while-he-gropes-your-ass action. While Ian Churchill is still incredibly the wrong artist to be drawing this series (Call me picky, but I’d prefer someone who has a basic grasp of anatomy), but for all his mistakes, there was something in Joe Kelly’s basic idea of a Supergirl who doesn’t have any idea who she is or who she’s supposed to be that made me almost enjoy this issue. Eh, which I wouldn’t have believed possible two months ago.

SUPERMARKET #4: It had to happen, of course, but the ending of this series felt completely anti-climactic. It just kind of… stopped, which was a shame, because the first three issues had held together really well. It’s not that the reasoning of the end that disappoints, but the execution. After the two families having chased Pella for so long, when they catch her, we don’t get enough of an explanation as to why they were chasing her – there’s a McGuffin reason, but it’s very vague (Pella is the key to a vault containing a fortune, but what does that actually mean? We don’t find out, but instead cut to the next scene where she’s done whatever her key thing is and they’re inside the vault). Everything becomes deux ex machina: Pella manages to disassemble the supermarket, although what that means isn’t really explored, the bad guys just disappear (it’s even commented on in the story, but never explained), and the much needed epilogue never comes. It’s like finishing a story with “And then I saved the world and became really famous the end.” Kristian Donaldson saves the day, though, with art and coloring that makes the frustrating story go down easily. That said, it’s still, sadly, Eh.

WONDER WOMAN #2: Just like Batman, this second issue is better than the first, focusing on filling in the blanks from the previous issue and doing some character building. While there are still some fannish shout-outs, unlike the last issue, they’re of the kind that play less to the comic fanboys than a more mainstream audience (Especially the return of the costume change twirl from the ‘70s TV show at the end of the issue), and don’t really interrupt the flow of the story... which is nice. It’s still nothing more than old-style superhero thrills that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it’s done so well that it’s one of the more enjoyable things I’ve read this week. Who knew? Good.

PICK OF THE WEEK is Batman, which was not just well-done fun, but well-done clever fun. PICK OF THE WEAK is, depressingly, Supermarket, which should’ve been so much better. I don’t have a TRADE OF THE WEEK, because I spent too much of the last week reading the second volume of Essential Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man, which contains the spectacular Spider-Lizard. You want high-concept? He’s Spider-Man… infected by Curt Conner’s Lizard serum! There’s your high concept right there, true believers!

…Yeah, you’re right. My brain may have turned to mush. It's all from watching Who Wants To Be A Superhero?. That's enough to make anyone lose their mind.

Blame Hibbs.