Stone Cold Sober as a Matter of Fact: Diana takes on 4/30

Well, I can't stay away from the Big Two forever, so let's check in and see what Marvel and DC have for us this week! I must've been possessed by the Great Cornholio to think I could make sense of DC UNIVERSE ZERO. Never in my entire life have I ever felt so excluded by a comic book - they might as well have stamped "THIS IS NOT FOR YOU" on the cover. Look, maybe it's me. Maybe I'm the only person who expects a #0 issue (not even #1! #0! Before the beginning!) to actually present the starting point of a story, as opposed to trailers of stories that are already in progress. Is that an unfair expectation? I mean, am I wrong to think DC wants to attract new readers? Because the message I'm getting from DC UNIVERSE ZERO is that, if I haven't been following the 80-something-part storyline that's been threading through the entire DCU line for the past... what's it been now, two years? Three? If I haven't been doing that, I've got no business reading DC comics for the foreseeable future. CRAP, because I'm sick of wasting time and money trying to figure out the DCU for the sake of a decent story.

THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST #14, on the other hand, is a textbook lesson on the benefits of accessbility. "The 7 Capital Cities of Heaven" wraps up after six issues, an annual and a one-shot, and you know what? I loved every minute of it, despite having never read an Iron Fist comic before. I thought Shou-Lao was that guy on MORTAL KOMBAT who laughs when you kick him, and Yu-Ti had me thinking I'd picked up a GI JOE comic by mistake. But none of that kept me from understanding - and enjoying - the Brubaker/Fraction run. A big part of why it works so well is because, aside from meeting the standard head-bashing things-go-splody violence quota, what we have here is an intricate storyline spanning generations, from Danny Rand to his father Wendell to WWI Iron Fist Orson Randall. Iron Fist has become the center of an epic, in the true sense of the word, and that's no small achievement in a year's time. The fact that this specific storyline also contains a martial arts tournament, an exploding bullet train, a gender rebellion and flashbacks to a Golden Age incarnation of the Heroes For Hire makes it all the more impressive. Of course, it's sad that this is more or less the current creative team's swan song, but this is a VERY GOOD, very high note to go out on.

X-MEN LEGACY #210 is a mixed bag. On the one hand, we're still neck-deep in Ye Olde Continuity, with a cover straight out of late-'70s Claremont. And yes, this is a book that's undoubtedly geared towards readers already familiar with a relatively large portion of X-Men history: if you can't recognize David Haller by sight, or you don't know what that excerpt from "The Little Matchgirl" is meant to evoke, you won't find out here. On the other hand, I think it's still possible to "get" what's being conveyed, even without the specifics - this is something Mike Carey does very well, referencing continuity without hinging the entire plot on the assumption that his readers know that continuity. For the purposes of reading X-MEN LEGACY #210, it's not vital that you know what went down between Xavier and Voght; if you do, you get a little something extra out of their last exchange, but if you don't? You still walk away knowing what you need to know. The big development in this issue deals with something Paul O'Brien has called attention to in the past - after a start that lacked any visible long-term direction, we now have what seems to be a concrete premise for the series, at least for the immediate future. Potential downside? The way it's set up, I'm not entirely sure Carey intends to move out of Ye Olde Continuity any time soon, and while I trust his storytelling sensibilities, there's entirely too much nostalgia in the mainstream these days, especially with the X-Men, and it'd be nice if everyone just took a big step forward someday. Let's go with GOOD and see what happens next.

Shifting over to Vertigo, JACK OF FABLES has taken a rather unusual turn. Much like its parent title, this comic occasionally steps away from the present-day plotlines to visit secondary characters or tales from the protagonist's past. Last month, the Pathetic Fallacy tried to stage a production of "Hamlet" that went hilariously wrong, and this month, we're in the Wild West, exploring Jack's first encounter with Bigby Wolf. Now, Jack's always been characterized as a bit of a douche, but Willingham and Sturges usually balance that out with a kind of roguish, immature charm that makes him mildly sympathetic. He's written as overbearingly full of himself, but it's played (quite effectively) for laughs. Not so with "The Legend of Smilin' Jack" - as the last page openly acknowledges, this isn't a funny story. At all. There's no redeeming element in Jack this time: he's cruel, he's murderous, he's a Black Hat straight out of a Clint Eastwood western. It's such an extreme change, in fact, that I'm betting there's something else at work here. A GOOD start, though I'd advise Willingham and Sturges to watch their step - there are certain lines not to be crossed if you want to keep your character likeable, and Jack's been on the edge for years now.