O Come All Ye Faithful: Graeme's reviews of 12/20 books.

The secret joy of the Holiday Season is that I somehow managed to find space in the middle of my day to do reviews for this week's books early. It would be a Christmas miracle if it wasn't for the fact that I didn't like half of them. NEW AVENGERS: ILLUMINATI #1: Because you demanded it - The entire history of the Marvel Universe... retconned so that Mr. Fantastic, Dr. Strange, Professor X, Iron Man, Namor and Black Bolt murder lots of Skrulls! Yeah, that was a weird start to this series, and something to harsh the mellow that was my excitement about the potential fun that this could offer. No matter how pretty Jim Cheung's art is - and it really is, by the way - it can't overcome the bitter adolescence of Brians Bendis and Reed saying "No, they've been bastards all along - Look, they were even killing aliens when Roy Thomas was writing them, it's just that you didn't know about it until now!" as justification for the Civil Warring of the Marvel Universe. It's not as "They're raping my childhood" as Identity Crisis, but I'm getting fed up of writers finding it easier to retroactively create motivations for behavior in flashbacks and "untold stories", instead of actually trying to either do something new or at least build on what was there before. Eh, and that's mostly down to the art and remembering how much I liked Iron Man's armor back in those days.

IRON MAN/CAPTAIN AMERICA: CASUALTIES OF WAR #1: Less a story, more Marvel's way of saying to the fans, "Yes, Iron Man and Captain America used to be friends and weren't always dicks, happy now, fanboys???" And it only costs the fans $3.99 for the pleasure. Writer Christos Gage was given a pretty impossible task with this special - Have Iron Man and Captain America meet in the middle of the Civil War to talk, but NOTHING CAN HAPPEN because Civil War is already written - and it shows; there's nothing but continuity porn here, the two characters just referring to past story followed by past story followed by past story before, bizarrely, having a fistfight and walking away from each other, having resolved nothing. It's a completely pointless Crap book, made all the more so by...

IRON MAN #14: In which Captain America and Iron Man meet in the middle of the Civil War to talk. Iron Man seems to be getting the shitty end of the stick in this "event" in general; the character becomes completely confused, with his depiction varying wildly depending on who's writing the issue in question (Is he really troubled and trying to do the right thing, as in this issue? Is he a Machiavellian megalomaniac, as in anything J. Michael Straczynski writes? And, more to the point, when will Marvel realize that that doesn't make it a nuanced story as much as a clusterfuck of miscommunication between creators?) and his book doomed to repeat storypoints that happen in other books that ship on the same day (This month's Iron Man/Cap talk, last month with Tony Stark being offered the directorship of SHIELD in both this book and the same week's New Avengers). That said, this is probably the more successful of the two secret meetings of the two heroes, if only because they actually talk about the murder of Goliath and the conversation ends on a more believable plot point (Cap's side ambushes Iron Man). Sadly, the rest of the book is less interesting, especially when the Invisible Woman appears to accuse Tony of breaking up her marriage, because nothing says "strong intelligent woman who's committed to her relationship" than someone who abandons her family and then, instead of talking things over with her estranged husband, attacks a third party and blames their troubles on him. I mean, sure, it's being proactive and all, but still: Sue Richards. I know you know better than that. Eh at best, and that's not even touching the odd "Iron Man euthanizes his best friend using his magic technology telepathy" subplot.

CIVIL WAR: WAR CRIMES #1: Bringing up the rear of the Marvel books for this week, this oneshot that surprisingly turns out to be the best of the Civil War-related titles for awhile, if only because it actually answers a genuinely hanging plot point from the main series - What've the villains who aren't part of the Thunderbolts been up to while the superheroes are beating each other up? The answer, apparently, is "They've all been pawns of a game of chess between the Kingpin and Hammerhead, of all people," in what turns out to be an oddly sound, if unspectacular, Okay attempt at gritty-ish crime drama. The version of Iron Man that appears here, by the way? Easily-fooled-but-well-meaning Iron Man. Gotta get 'em all.

Now, shall we do some non-Marvel books about things other than superheroes being dicks? Let's.

THE BAKERS MEET JINGLE BELLE: So, Hibbs gave me a hard time when I was asking about this, the other day. I made some comment about Jingle Belle - which I've never read before - seeming like an okay idea, because how can you go wrong with a cute elf girl? His response, loud in volume if low in wordcount, was that That was all there is to it. She's a cute elf girl. That's all. It's the ultimate in meaningless high concept: Jingle Belle! She's a cute elf girl! And... she's a cute elf girl! Yay! Sadly, having read this special crossover between said cute elf girl and Kyle Baker's autobiographical family cartoons, I have to say: He's right. And worse, once you take the autobiographical away from Baker's The Bakers, then they're just as bland: They're a cute family with a grumpy dad and smart mom and fun lovin' kids! And that's all! Put both flavors together, and you end up with something that's completely forgettable, and (surprisingly, considering the creators involved) boring. Crap, sadly.

CRIMINAL #3: Worth mentioning not because it's continuing to be very well done, although it is, but because the change of pace in this issue towards something less heist/crime/plot driven (even though it is, undoubtedly, the calm before the storm of plot resolution in the next couple of issues) makes me want to see Brubaker and Philips try their hand at something in the romance genre at some point. Very Good, as ever.

WALK-IN #1: Dave Stewart - Pop star, very very bad artist (he tried to remake himself as a Damien Hirst wannabe in the mid-90s, if I remember correctly), filmmaker of movies starring All Saints, and now the man behind Jeff Parker's latest comic. Ignore the horrendous cover, with the outlandish breasts and attitude that you won't find on the inside, and you'll find something that's not quite there yet but interesting enough to catch your attention. Right now, it feels like a Vertigo book from when that line launched (Strippers and slackers and realities crossing over. It's practically early '90s Milligan. Just add sexual neuroses and wordplay), but in a good way... Kind of aimless but charming, nonetheless. It's cautiously Good right now (with a stronger artist - someone like Brendan McCarthy would be perfect, but anyone who could make reality a bit grimier and the fantasy more fantastic would do - I would be much less cautious), but then, I've always been a sucker for stories like this.

Y: THE LAST MAN #52: I promise you, Brian K. Vaughan - If you don't get Beth and Yorick together by the time this series ends, I will be pointlessly upset and probably write something bitchy about you here. So, you know, not much change, really. But the last page cliffhanger of this series teases that we really may see the two lovers reunited after all, and reinforces the feeling of everything coming, however slowly, to a close. Still Good after all these years, and still probably the strongest Vaughan book in the long run.

PICK OF THE WEEK is Criminal, if we're going by, you know, what the best book of the bunch is. If you're going for novelty, though, then go for Walk In. It's interesting. PICK OF THE WEAK will be the Iron Man/Captain America: Casualties of War book, because there is no reason for it to exist apart from Marvel's omniverous desire for the almighty dollar. TRADE OF THE WEEK, although I haven't read anything released this week, is probably the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA HEREBY ELECTS... collection, because that really goes straight to the heart of my superhero nostalgia. That said, the new Fables trade, WOLVES, is also out this week... Me, I've been reading an early Christmas present: that big ETERNALS BY JACK KIRBY collection that came out a few months ago. Boy, that Kirby liked to just throw ideas out there, didn't he...?

I'm still going to try to do that trades only post, by the way...