Robot Pants: Graeme's reviews of the 4/26 books.

With absolutely no proof whatsoever, I would like to blame Brian Hibbs for the fact that I spent the last week sick on the couch and feeling sorry for myself. There is almost no way that Bri could’ve made me sick – What with him being sick for the last week or so, I hadn’t even seen him for a couple of weeks – but lack of reason has never stopped me before... AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #531: The Road to Civil War is, apparently, not lined with good intentions, but mediocre comic books. The first of J. Michael Straczynski’s two lead-ins to Marvel’s big crossover event this week, this is another example of the creators being much more excited about their big ideas than anyone else – the story ends with Tony Stark talking about his respect for Abraham Lincoln: “When the South began going its own way, he knew that taking a position against them would lead to civil war. But he did it anyway. Because he understood something… understood it more perhaps than anyone else in that time. He knew that a house divided against itself cannot stand… A nation cannot be divided and survive. Under his administration, brother hunted down brother, friend turned against friend. It was terrible. It was bloody. It was necessary.” Yes, Marvel, we get it already. Civil War will have the Marvel Universe turning against itself, yadda yadda (Incidentally, one of the big changes that Civil War is going to bring will hopefully be some kind of explanation about why Tony Stark has suddenly become the Exposition-a-matic Iron Man, considering this monologue and his “I’ll tell you the plot of the first half of Civil War #1” thing at the end of the Illuminati special a few weeks back). Sadly, this upcoming excitement isn’t conveyed by this book, which spends too long on dull speeches illustrated by an artist who isn’t too great drawing faces… so, yeah. Crap, sadly.

ASTONISHING X-MEN #14: John Cassaday’s a great artist, but obviously one in a rush these days: Not only are some panels incredibly weak for him, but there’s a lot of Photoshop-repeated panels in here (The sixth page in particular)… Maybe there were Planetary-related deadline things happening? It’s a shame, though, because the story this issue is kind of interesting – Joss Whedon goes into the psychology of Cyclops, picking up on some things that Grant Morrison left lying around after his run. I’m not convinced about the overall plot that’s happening here, but this episode alone is worth paying attention to, even including the lazy art. Good.

BLUE BEETLE #2: Of course, if we’re talking art, I should admit upfront that Cully Hamner’s work on this book is probably making me enjoy it more than I would if anyone else was drawing it – There’s something about Hamner’s stuff here (cartoony but not overly, like Walt Simonson in his prime meets Disney) that helps the well-done but kind of generic teenage hero in mystic secret origin plot go down easier. Good.

CHECKMATE #1: “From the pages of Infinite Crisis,” according to the cover, but unless something happens in the last issue of that book, that’s not really true… But then, “From the pages of The OMAC Project, you know, that Infinite Crisis tie-in book” probably has too many words for a cover blurb. Greg Rucka has the whole spy thing down pat after doing Queen and Country for so long, but I’m not convinced that it works here – The idea that Kobra, a religious cult of nihilists who dress up like snakes, are meant to be taken seriously as an international terrorist threat is as tough to swallow as Rucka’s fairly-sudden revamp of Fire (from the Giffen/DeMatteis JLI) as a heart-hearted Sydney Bristow type. As is traditional with Rucka’s DC work, he doesn’t introduce his characters as much as assume that you already know them from his other DC books, so the death of (Wonder Woman supporting character) Jonah McCarthy falls completely flat considering the reader isn’t given any reason to care about him. It’s all done well enough – Jesus Saiz provides nice art, and Lee Barmejo’s cover is good – but… Eh.

FANTASTIC FOUR #537: The Road to Civil War! Again! This is just horrible, ruining the surprise of Thor’s return at some point during Civil War (because there’s no other reason for this to be a Civil War tie-in) and making what should have been an exciting story – Doctor Doom is back! – into a subplot that’s done with absolutely no enthusiasm in the first half of the book purely to get it out the way before returning to a main story that makes no effort to hide the mechanics of We-have-to-get-to-plot-point-B-now. Really, really Awful.

FRANKENSTEIN #4: Okay, it’s a month late, but everything comes together in this penultimate part of the whole Seven Soldiers story, as Grant Morrison brings the plots of his JLA Classified, Zatanna, Klarion and Shining Knight series into this issue in such a way that it still doesn’t slow down the story. Doug Mahnke’s art is as gorgeous as ever – he does a great evil Fairy Queen – and Goddammit if it actually wasn’t worth the wait. Excellent, even if I’m bored of the “One soldier must die… Will it be X?” teasers at the end of each series by now. It’s going to be Frankenstein. It’s obviously going to be Frankenstein. Ignoring that we’ve seen Mister Miracle, Guardian, Klarion, Zatanna and Bulleteer in Infinite Crisis by now, Frankenstein’s the only one whose death would be a happy ending, and Grant’s superhero work is all about the happy ending… (Now that I’ve said that, of course, the Shining Knight will die. It’ll be Armageddon 2001 all over again.)

THE NEW AVENGERS ANNUAL #1: Do I have to hand in my Bendis-Hata badge if I admit that I liked this? I mean, yes, Bendis still can’t really write superhero stories without some kind of out-of-nowhere non-conclusion – This time, the bad guy gets killed by other bad guys because she’s too much of a threat to them – and his fight dialogue is appalling (“You arrogant - - You just killed yourself! You just killed yourself!”), but there’s something about the lightness of tone of the story mixed with the wonderful Olivier Copiel art that just sold me… Personally, I would’ve liked it more if the story really had been about the wedding of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones instead of the new Super-Adaptoid, but still, it’s Good, surprisingly.

ION #1: The good: Greg Tocchini’s Gene Colan-esque artwork. The bad: Ron Marz’s writing, which pairs an unoriginal concept (A hero has more power than he knows what to do with! That’s never been done before!) with shitty dialogue (“I don’t know why you came here… But you’re not going to take me!”). You can imagine why this got downgraded from an ongoing book to a 12-issue mini-series: Someone at DC saw this issue and came to their senses. Crap.

RONAN #1: I just don’t get this whole Annihilation thing. Everything I’ve read from it just makes me even more convinced that Marvel are pushing out series based on minor characters that can’t really support their own books just to flood the market, and this isn’t any different. The very definition of Eh, because I had to re-read it just to remember what it was about.

SOLO #10: Hibbs handed this to me the other day with the announcement that it may be the worst thing that DC has ever published, which I tell you just so that all of you can want to read him review it as much as I do. Me, I don’t think that it’s that bad, but it definitely makes me wonder if Solo editor Mark Chiarello lost a bet or something: Never mind the quality of the artwork (Which varies from terrible – that Flash story hurts the eyes – to kind-of-interesting in a Gahan Wilson meets the Yellow Submarine cartoon way in the Superman gallery pages) or the writing (which is almost uniformly bad, in a fan-fictiony way), what gets me is that there’s not a full issue’s worth of work here – Each story is seperated with pages of cover sketches and roughs and hand-written commentary, which kind of screams “Filler” to me in a very loud, panicked by the prospect of a deadline, voice. Although I think that Brian hated it more than me, I’d be lying if I said it was any better than Awful.

SUPERGIRL AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #17: Good as ever, with Waid providing a much more interesting take on Supergirl than she’s gotten anywhere else, but what I really wanted to point out was the comment from the bad guy towards the end of the book: “Remember the fiffffdeetu.” Looks like the Legion is really going to be tying into DC continuity from now on, then.

USAGI YOJIMBO #93: Hey! Everyone who’s ever complained about Bendis writing decompressed stories? Try reading this issue, in which you get a Japanese Tea Ceremony explained to you and… well, that’s about it. But when it takes seven pages for Usagi just to cross the garden and enter the room where the ceremony is taking place, you can understand why there isn’t space for much else. Despite my sarcasm, I really enjoyed this – the pacing is deliberate, and done with such skill that you’d have to be even more of an asshole than me to seriously complain. A beautifully peaceful book, and a Very Good one, at that.

VILLAINS UNITED: INFINITE CRISIS SPECIAL #1: This really shouldn’t feel like anything more than a lead-in to Infinite Crisis #7 (and one that will, hopefully for those only reading IC, be recapped at least in that book), but this had exactly the right tone of dread and anticipation running all the way through it for me, as Alex Luthor’s Plan B comes into focus just as everyone who could help stop it realizes what’s going on a little bit too late. There are some nice character moments in the middle of all the Infinite Crisising, and Gail Simone provides yet another bit of proof that she’s good at channelling Grant Morrison’s JLA with a shout-out to the end of his World War III arc. The only downside for me was the expected lack of ending, but with Infinite Crisis due out next week, I can wait to see just how everything ends up alright. Good

ZOOMSUIT #1: Zoomsuit stinks. And I mean that literally; the book has some weird metallic smell that hits you as soon as you open it, probably from the metallic ink used to provide a barely-there silver sheen to certain scenes for no immediately apparent reason. Luckily enough, the book stinks in a figurative sense as well, just to help keep things straight. If I tell you that the book opens with the following exchange between two old folk out searching for a fallen meteor, you may get an idea of just how bad it is:

“Dang it Ma, you nearly scared the bejesus outta me. Don’t do that to me in my Sunday trousers.”

“I get gassy when I’m scared… And I’m really scared.”

“Well put a cork in it. We don’t want these aliens to ‘smell’ fear.”

“Better hold on… I feel another one coming.”

The aliens then appear, and say something in their alien language. Which translates as “Who farted.” I wish I was joking.

Sadly, things only get worse from there. The plot is stolen from a million different sources, the dialogue at the level of the above exchange (or worse – There are a few shots that the writer takes at Billy Dallas Patton’s art in captions and characters’ thoughts. Not that the art is good or anything, but still, I’m sure you shouldn’t be going after the people who drew your book for you) and the overall execution completely amateurish. Ass, but with a worse odor.

PICK OF THE WEEK is Frankenstein, which makes me wish that Seven Soldiers #1 wasn’t so late that it’s not even on the schedule anymore. PICK OF THE WEAK is Zoomsuit, although I really want to give it to Fantastic Four, because that at least has the potential to be better… Even if I’d picked up one of the few trades that came out this week, I doubt that I would’ve been able to give out a TRADE OF THE WEEK; I spent most of my trade-reading time going through Essential Iron Mans, coming to the twin conclusions of (a) Iron Man has really always kind of sucked as a strip, and (b) Don Heck was an incredible artist, back in the day.

Next week’s a bit of a double whammy: Wednesday has the final issue of Infinite Crisis and the first issue of Civil War, and then Saturday is Free Comic Book Day, where there are roughly several million different comic books for you to pick up, including the surprisingly disappointing X-Men/Runaways by Brian K. Vaughan and Skottie Young. Bear that in mind when you go into your comic stores of choice this week, because your retailers? They may be a wee bit stressed.