Actually what I thought was the funniest thing about the 85 (!) responses to my last post here was that nobody had anything to say about the Art Spiegelman book! BATMAN #678: So there's this concept, the "Magical Negro"--this essay by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu is a pretty solid overview of it. Essentially, it's a plot device in the form of a character of color (in a story that's mostly about white characters) who is at some kind of severe personal disadvantage, has a mystical connection to the earth or magic powers of some kind, helps the white protagonist accomplish a goal or achieve a new perspective, and then dies or disappears. It's one of the soggiest clichés in fiction, and this issue is basically a straight-up Legend of Bagger Vance-athon. (...As a quick Google just informed me that Jog pointed out several hours ago.) The framing sequence, with its nervous riffing on the original Zur-En-Arrh story, is just enough to drag this up to a low Eh, and I loved the last issue enough that I'm still invested in R.I.P., but Jesus Q. Christ, what was Morrison thinking?
ASTONISHING X-MEN #25: The first non-Colleen-Coover-related X-book I've bought in a while--yes, I'm an apostate on the Whedon/Cassaday run, I'm afraid--so it actually is my jumping-on point, and a pretty Good one. This is the debut of the Warren Ellis/Simone Bianchi team, and you can see them sort of grinding their gears as they get used to working with each other. Ellis deals with it by resorting to his familiar tool-kit: The opening scene with Hisako and Hank (you can see it here) is effectively a Spider Jerusalem/Filthy Assistant dialogue ("And what did I tell you about the singing?" "You said you'd wait until I was asleep and then shave Japanese obscenities into my fur"), and later on, we get a lecture on bleeding-edge scientific theory. Curiously, Ellis isn't even pretending not to be writing for the trade: the story ends in a place that might as well be the middle of a scene. Meanwhile, Bianchi and Simone Peruzzi's hyper-rendered images and crazy-quilt layouts are pretty gorgeous, if sometimes so dark they're muddy; I particularly like the effect of Emma's white lipstick, and Bianchi's obviously having fun with showing the X-Men in street clothes. The team isn't quite clicking yet, though--Hisako's facial expression in the panel above, for instance, is excessively photo-referenced, and doesn't fit the dialogue, either. But there's enough verve and drive here that I'm going to keep following it.
BILLY BATSON AND THE MAGIC OF SHAZAM! #1: I fear Mike Kunkel's new series, which sort of takes off where the Jeff Smith Monster Society mini left off, is going to get lost--it's part of the DC Kids line, which might as well feature a dead cockroach polybagged with every issue for all the traction it's got in the direct market. But it's definitely worth a flip through (which is what sold me on it): it's got not just a visual style but an overall look and feel that's not quite like anything else in American comics right now. It's packed, too, with 10 or 11 or 12 panels on every page and a ton of text, several large chunks of it in "Monster Society code." Plus: the first appearance of Black Adam that I've actually enjoyed in a really long time! If I were eight years old I'd be obsessed with this; as it is, I'm looking forward to my kid being old enough to dig it. Quite Good.