Outside the circle of fire: Douglas on three 2/27 floppies

A handful of of pamphlets this week, two of which allude obliquely to Ant-Man. Two different Ant-Men, actually. After the jump: BATMAN #674, NEXUS #100 and WORLD WAR HULK: AFTERSMASH!: DAMAGE CONTROL #2.

BATMAN #674: Couldn't make head or tail of this the first time through; fortunately, Timothy Callahan has helpfully pointed out the connections between this story and "Robin Dies at Dawn" from Batman #156, which I found reprinted in Batman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told, and which includes a reference to an Ant-Man. (Note that this issue is called "Batman Dies at Dawn.") It's still a little confused by Morrison's occasional habit of selecting random fragments of a complicated story and leaving out the ones that would explain what's going on, but at least now it feels like it's going somewhere. But I love Batman trying to push all the horrible stuff he's experiencing into his world-view of "clues" and "crime," and I also think it's interesting that both Morrison's Batman and All-Star Superman are almost totally dedicated to iterations of the "superhero versus alternate versions of himself" story. Pretty Good.

NEXUS #100: Steve Rude's art is as gorgeous as ever, and this issue totally has the look-and-feel of Nexus in the '80s, when I read and enjoyed it. So why, I wondered as I slogged through the lead story, am I not getting any pleasure out of this? Oh, right: the previous issue came out in July, and it's a tightly packed story where almost every panel relies heavily on knowledge of comics that came out 20 years ago. I mean, if you'd asked me in 1987, I'd probably have known what a "Gucci assassin" is, or what Tyrone's relationship to Nexus is, or who Kreed is and why it's impossible that he's back from the dead, but that was a while ago. The backup story with Sundra brushing off advances from sleazy Washington, DC politicians might be a lot more enjoyable if it weren't a very tired old twist-ending story with a science-fiction muumuu flung over it, and if the pretty painted Rude art weren't built around the two sleazy politicians being modeled on Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton. (Hillary as a rapacious lesbian? Is there really any appropriate response to that but a blank, pitying stare?) Creepy: two different photos of Jack Kirby, apropos of not much, one accompanied by a semi-hagiographical essay about the history of the series that ends "Undoubtedly, The King of Comics is watching Steve Rude and his cohorts, approving of what they're all trying to create with their hearts and their hands... And he's smiling." Doubly creepy: the fact that Rude-as-publisher begins the letter column by running a letter from a friend of his about how clever and cool Rude-as-artist's artwork in the story we've just read is. And seriously, if you're going to be half a year late with your second issue, serialization is probably not an acceptable strategy. So yeah, it looks really nice, but that only nudges it up to an Eh. (And yes, I know I'm blaming this issue for something very similar to what I just praised Batman for, but the difference is that Batman is approaching its sources with the understanding that it's dealing with messy, primitive memories of long ago, and Nexus is trucking along as if all the stuff it's referring to just came out last month.)

WORLD WAR HULK: AFTERSMASH!: DAMAGE CONTROL #2: As the next-issue blurb suggests, very little happens this time: the cliffhanger from last issue is resolved through a few minutes' worth of conversation, there's some more discussion, and another cliffhanger turns up in the final two panels. But this is a little gem of a story about what happens after the big fight scenes in the post-Civil War landscape, with hugely fun character interaction, one funny line after another ("I don't want any of you having unnecessary origins"), and lots of nice little bits of visual business (I especially like John Porter's Spider-Man key ring). I was happy to see a reference to the "Slaying Mantis" routine from Irredeemable Ant-Man, too. My reservations about Salva Espin's artwork in the context of this particular story still hold--the more he draws these characters as broad caricatures, the more he threatens to oversell the jokes. Still, it's Very Good, and I kept thinking I'd so much rather see Damage Control complements to big Marvel events than Frontlines...