Not Quite Ill, Far From Well: Jeff's Reviews of 7/26 Books....

Maybe it's allergies and not a cold at all. All I know is, between it and all the Walgreen's Rest Easy Nighttime Cough syrup(compare to the active ingredients in Vicks Nyquil Cough) I've been consuming, I'm simultaneously most of the Seven Dwarfs at once: Grumpy, Sneezy, Sleepy, Doc and Dopey (good Christ, do I feel Dopey!) plus a few others left out of the original--Lazy, Coughy, Whiney and Rarely Ambulatory. Any words of condolence you wish to proffer to my wife will be duly forwarded. On the other hand: comic books! They're a pip, ain't they?

52 WEEK #12: I mean, check out 52. I dug this issue quite a lot, although part of that is undoubtedly me being smack-dab in the middle of that "Wow, that JoAnna Cameron was sexy" demographic they're courting with the debut of Isis, and part of it is being able to close the book without the taste of "Jurgenized" continuity in my mouth. But I'd also submit the longer scenes of the last few issues help stave off the sense of the book running in place, and some of the threads are finally coming together. As long as I can pretend that's not really Captain Marvel and not really Ralph Dibny but shabby impersonators, then I can think of this as a solidly Good issue.

ACTION COMICS #841: I also liked this as well, as Busiek has a solid handle on how to keep a Superman story interesting (keep it very, very busy) and the art was solid. There's a few things I could gripe about, but that's probably the cough syrup talking and if they're still bothering me next issue, maybe I'll mention 'em. Good.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #534: From what I can tell, JMS is running through a snug gauntlet of continuity (this issue crosses into his FF issue, and parts of it seems to take place between the pages of Civil War #3) and he does a solid little job with it--as I think I've said before, Straczynski seems to have a better handle on how to make the Civil War resonant than Millar does--even though it's really tough to buy that Spider-Man, one of the few Marvel heroes to be genuinely hunted by the authorities, would actually help perpetuate the burden under which he suffered. It kinda works as long as it's kept very rhetorical questionish--"if I'm doing good, why do I feel so bad about it?"--but once Spidey (or the audience) thinks about it for more than fifteen seconds (as he should have by now), things should be changing a lot more quickly than they are (or, presumably, will be). In short, I can feel the plot dampers in place, keeping anything from happening until the story outlines say it should, and that's kind of a drag. OK, though.

ANNIHILATION NOVA #4: One of the books I didn't review last week that I'm throwing in this week, because, you know, how could I have collected comics for over thirty years without becoming strangely compulsive in weird, hard-to-explain ways? Overall, this wrap-up did what it was supposed to do (with the added bonus of making me like Quasar before, of course, killing him off): Annihilus seems like a bad-ass; the Nova/Drax apprenticeship makes sense; and the mini wrapped up without seeming like too much of a blind money-grab. It was pretty OK, and left my chops at least mildly whetted for the Annhilation event.

ANNIHILATION RONAN #4: This ended up my favorite of the four minis and most successful overall, even though the art took an unexpected dive in the last issue because the artist was rushed, or decided to ink with thick sharpies, or something went awry in the repro process and fucked up the fine linework I'd been grooving on. It kinda sorta tied into the Annihilation happenings by having the wave arrive and fuck up everyone's Christmas (apologies to MC Chris for the incorrect use of the term). Also, the Marvel Universe isn't complete without at least one of all-powerful dude with a cosmic stick stuck up his ass, and the creative team made a fine case why Ronan The Accuser is the right man for that job. Good, even though, man, that art was just so tasty in the first three issue and just so very meh in the finale. I cry a little. I really do.

AQUAMAN SWORD OF ATLANTIS #43: Pretty Good, despite being unable to truly please anyone. Hibbs doesn't like it that it's too focused on Atlantis and he doesn't care about Atlantis. I don't like it that it's still too rooted in the DCU, and every other goddamned book is set in the DCU and I want an underwater Conan book dammit. Poor Aquaman: is Itunes the only place he can ever truly win?

ASTRO CITY SAMARITAN SPECIAL: Even though Hibbs probably won't write reviews this week (he has me in some sort of horrific Catch-22/quantum conundrum where if I post, he insists that he doesn't have to, even if all I'm is writing a plea for him to please just put aside some motherfucking time and motherfucking post), I won't cockblock his review and tell you all the cool things he thought about this issue. Instead, I'll just say this was a Very Good Astro-City story, which really doesn't require the reading of any previous issue (except maybe the very first) and posits an interesting twist on the "mad genius" archetype that a "Superman" archetype such as Samaritan might end up with. It reminded me of those later issues of Moore's Miracleman where the writer convincingly portrays the mindset of a vast and timeless intelligence. I liked it.

BATMAN #655: Kinda shocked I didn't love this. The truly deranged opening was a nifty piss-take on the current grimmer-than-grim take on Batman, but rather than it being framed as a dream sequence or a story-within-a-story, Morrison puts forward the idea that Batman and the authorities threw a gunshot Joker in a dumpster and then just drove off. Hmmmmm.... If you can get around that little bit of mission statement asserting itself as continuity (and, to be honest, I couldn't), the rest of the issue is pretty good, with Kubert being a surprisingly strong bridge between the Jim Lee Batman and a more retro (think Adams & Aparo) Batman, and all the story pieces being set into place with wit and charm. With severe reservations, I'll say this was Good, if only because I'm really looking forward to next issue's nine million Man-Bat ninjas.

BIRDS OF PREY #96: As ever with Birds of Prey, I truly love all the character stuff and can barely remember the action stuff. It took me five minutes to remember that the Birds had gotten tricked into fighting Black Alice and, honestly, I still can't remember how the issue ends--at all. (Although, you know, let's be fair and blame all the cough syrup.) (Oh, hey, wait. I remembered the ending! I guess we should blame the cough syrup.) This book is highly OK and Gail is clearly actively working to kick things up a notch and hold the reader's attention span, but in this reader's case, it's still not working. Wish I could say why.

BLACK PANTHER #18: I could spend 3,000 words on this issue and barely begin to touch on why it creeped me out but let me try to concisely summarize, at the risk of being misconstrued and mischaracterized: Say what you will about Chris Claremont, but for many years (before the psychic-rape fixation really kicked in) he made a African (and American) woman a popular figure in a genre that didn't exactly boast a surplus of such characters (or a surplus of such readers, for that matter) and she commanded, for quite a while, a lot of dignity and respect. And say what you will about Reginald Hudlin, but in making Storm a perfect mate for the Black Panther--she's now a princess, she now has family, she now has a love of her life for which she's always pined--he's stripped the character of anything recognizable apart from superpowers and physical appearance. Feminists looking for examples of the whole "marriage as slavery" argument will find a lot of interesting metatext in this issue as, despite Storm being a popular character in the most popular comic book of the last thirty years and the Panther being a cool character who can barely keep a book for the last six, the achievements bandied about by the BET presenters (and what a creepily self-serving plug that is, coming from the President of Entertainment for BET) are nearly all the Panther's, and all of the famous friends--"Reed and Sue Richards, Captain America, Iron Man"--are the Panther's, as well as it being the Panther's rules by which they marry, the Panther's country, the Panther's god which Ororo must appease, etc., etc., etc. In short, the book is creepy, cynical, self-serving, patriarchal and--seeing at it forgets that Ororo already received the approval of the Panther God in that recent X-Men Annual that ties into this story--sloppy. No, sir, I didn't like it. It was Crap.

BLUE BEETLE #5: The guest artist threw this issue off its game--that heavily symbolic showdown at the U.S. border looked more like a slugout in the parking lot of a Petco--but not by much: I'm still enjoying the charm of the writing and the design of the title character. It's a Good book. I hope you're reading it.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #20: The first of two stellar Brubaker books this week. I've groused (Christ knows, I've groused) about Bucky, pacing and what-have-you on this book, but this issue really pulled it all together. Dynamically paced, this was an effortlessly enjoyable read where you could feel every bit of careful character definition start to pay off. Throw in the return of an old-school character that looked enitrely creepy and menacing and you've got yourself one Very Good issue of Captain America.

CASANOVA #2: Last issue, I compared Fraction to Tarantino. This issue, I'm comparing him to Dave Eggers, not least because his afternotes seem, like Egger's preface to A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking Genius, the work of a clever and witty second-guessing control freak deathly afraid of being seen as a second-guessing control freak. Don't get me wrong, it's a very fun issue, and solidly Good work, but I hope the emphasis in the notes of later issues try a little less to jujitsu me into complying with authorial intent.

CASTLE WAITING VOL II #1: Wait, but... is this all-new, or the stuff that Medley left out of the trade but with some new? I'm deeply confused and so held off on reading it although it looks really stellar. I should just cave in and buy it and the hardcover, despite all my original issues languishing somewhere in my storage space.

CIVIL WAR FRONT LINE #4: Looking back through issue #3, I realized I was kind of harsh--I liked the main story and the Speedball story, but the other two pieces really annoyed me. Here, the annoyance is even greater--Paul Jenkins adapts a Billy Joel song about Vietnam into the most cringe-worthy back-up yet--but I liked main story and the Speedball story, aided considerably by Steve Lieber's art, was really good. So I don't know: Ehful? CrEhp? It's been a while since a title's needed the Comic Book Centrifuge to separate out the good and the horrid.

DAREDEVIL #87: The second half of Brubaker's stellar week: this storyline was incredibly well-handled from start to finish, just a stellar transition from Bendis and Maleev to Brubaker and Lark. My only complaint is one of Brubaker's cool little twists got spoiled (Although I really have no one to blame but myself. Well, and Marvel. And the Internet. Come to think of it, those are usually my top three suspects for everything's that wrong with my life...) I'm really excited to see where this book goes next and hope Brubaker can continue to hold on to this high level of quality as his workload increases. Very Good stuff.

ETERNALS #2: Far less inept than issue #1, which is a solid relief. Kind of taking its time, though, which seems to miss a very important component of Kirby's work right there. Hopefully, it'll continue to pick up the pace. OK.

GUMBY #1: If I'd done reviews last week, this probably would've been Pick of the Week--it's funny and charming and kind of melancholy and odd. If they can get Steve Purcell to do an issue as well, I'll be in cutesy clay-kid heaven. Very Good.

JACK OF FABLES #1: You know those shows you've watched maybe one episode of, and every time it comes on TV, it's the same god-damned episode? For some reason, every time I try to pick up a Fables title, I get an issue with naked Goldilocks in it. I have no idea what this says about me, but it's not a good sign since I never pick up another issue. Nonetheless, this seemed OK enough that I'll check out next issue. If anyone has any clues as to my Freudian naked-Goldilocks block, feel free to email me.

NIGHTWING #122: So. Nightwing and what's-her-name defeat one guy by talking about how inadequate he is in bed, and Jason Todd defeats the other guy by ingesting him and regurgitating him. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and guess that Bruce Jones lives in Los Angeles, home of the "sexual bitchery/eating disorder" one-two punch. I think an entire generation of fanboys have learned a vital lesson here: never bitch about Devin Grayson's scripts ever again. Basest Crap.

POWERS #19: There's a fine thesis out there waiting to be written about Bendis's conflation of sexual potency and destructive superpowers in Powers, but to do so a keener mind than mine will have to unravel what happened in those last few Night Queen pages. Her husband walked in on her? She walked her in on herself? Huh? Who? Wha? OK, in a "why did this book get 90% more naked all of a sudden?" kind of way.

SHARK-MAN #1: The main draw is the loveliest work I've ever seen from Steve Pugh (by far) but this very odd superhero book (it's Batman crossed with Aquaman, to put it bluntly) really does everything a first issue should--gives you cool imagery, introduces you to likeable characters and an interesting status quo, and then sets that status quo on its head and throws those likeable characters into hot water right at the end. It's an impressively solid piece of work, with maybe some interesting anti-work-for-hire snarkery going on sub-rosa. Believe it or not, Very Good and worth picking up if you see it.

SHE-HULK 2 #9: Another top-notch little issue. Hibbs, out of his mind on loco weed, thought the spit-take page was a waste. I thought it was hilarious. Very Good.

SUPERGIRL #8: Manages to lay off the ick factor thanks to several choice reveals, but still manages to make barely a lick of sense. Ripping a few pages from Howard Mackie's '90s playbook of "we can't tell you what the mysterious secret is because we haven't figured it out ourselves, but we're going to make it seem really, really ominuous" probably isn't the best maneuver, either. Eh.

XENA #1: Appears to have everything a Xena fan would want. Sadly, I'm not a Xena fan, so it's only OK to me.

PICK OF THE WEEK(S): Captain America #20 or Daredevil #87, definitely, if you've been following 'em. Otherwise, Gumby #1 or Shark-Man #1.

PICK OF THE WEAK: Boy, I did not like Black Panther #18, did I?

TRADE PICK: My loving analysis of Joe Sacco's But I Like It HC will have to wait for another week (it's busy as hell at the moment). But it was great, even if you had that issue of Yahoo from way back when (which I did). At $14.99, (I think?) that Hellblazer: All His Engines SC is more than worth the coin, as is Polly & The Pirates TPB, Museum of Terror and probably a lot more I didn't read. I'd also be a liar (by exclusion) if I didn't confess to the mesmeric hold that Dear John: Alex Toth Doodlebook had over me as well. There appear to be several full stories from Eerie wedged into there!