Well, I didn't see THAT death of Mary Jane coming. No pun intended: Graeme's review of the 2/7 books.

Is it wrong of me to be surprised that so many of the midnight openings that comic book stores across the country had for the Dark Tower book were so popular? Not to slight Marvel or Stephen King or anything, but I just can't get my head around anyone going out at midnight for a comic at all. Does that make me a bad comic fan? ACTION COMICS ANNUAL #10: Man, this could have been so good. It has such potential: A Silver-Age style anthology of short stories - complete with go-go checks on the cover! - illustrated by an all-star lineup (I mean, seriously; Joe Kubert and Art Adams in the same book? How often does that happen?) giving hints about what's to come for Superman in the next year or so. Where could it go wrong? The answer, of course, is with the writing. Geoff Johns ("with Richard Donner", which I'm now taking to mean that Donner said something like "So, Superman fights Lex Luthor and there's Kryptonite involved. And you know that Superman movie I did? Make it like that," and poor Geoff has to make it into an actual story) sadly forgets to bring any story to the proceedings, with the exception of two plots that are retellings of past stories (Literally, in the case of the Mon-El one), making the whole thing feel like a 48-page trailer for a particularly confused movie made by a rabid fan of Curt Swan and Julie Schwartz. I love the Silver Age Superman as much as the next guy, but even I'm a bit concerned at the sudden reappearance of the Intergalactic Zoo in the Fortress of Solitude, or square Bizarro Earth, with no explanation whatsoever. Okay, maybe not that last one (Mind you, Toyman suddenly being Winslow Slott the old guy again, considering we had the little creepy living talking toy version in Up, Up and Away this time last year, was unexpected). Disappointingly empty, and not as fun as I'd hoped for. Eh, and that's almost entirely because of the artwork.

THE DARK TOWER: THE GUNSLINGER BORN #1: I am completely the wrong person to review this, because Stephen King normally leaves me cold (aside from his journalism; I loved "On Writing" and "Danse Macabre"), and I generally have problems with fantasy stories in general, so I was never going to be the target market for this. It seems to be fine for what it is, however, with Peter David coming up with a narrative voice that seems to be part his and part King's. Jae Lee's art is strong, although Richard Isanove's coloring weakens it, for me; everything has the same texture and weight, which gives the whole thing a very artificial feeling. The rest of the package is almost as interesting to me as the main story, with a map and text story back-up playing very much to the existing Dark Tower fan demographic, advertisements that try to play up Marvel as a serious literary company, and an amusing editorial by Ralph Macchio that reads like someone awkwardly trying to impress strangers before ending with "Catch ya at the Tower," as if Stan Lee had suddenly entered the room. Like I said, I'm the wrong person for this; I'm sure others more interested in the subject matter will love it, but it was just Okay to me.

THE NEW AVENGERS #27: Is it wrong of me that I love the narrative device of this issue so much? Echo sends an email to Matt Murdock, which is interesting in and of itself considering he's blind and all - although, yes, someone else could read it to him, or he could have software that will read it out loud - but said email outs him as Daredevil by the second page of the book. You can imagine one of Matt's legal assistants checking his email for him and getting a surprise, or someone hacking his email and finding out his secret identity... There's just something wonderfully not-thought-out about it that I love. The rest of the book, I'm much more on the fence about - It's completely unfriendly to any new readers (or, for that matter, people who haven't read Millar's Wolverine run or Mack's Daredevil run), and I'm not so sure that I understood what was actually going on, but I enjoyed the appearance of the team, and Bendis's banter-dialogue, and Lenil Yu's art is always fun. None of it really feels especially Avengers to me, but I think that battle's been long lost by now; it's still Okay, though.

THE SECRET #1: You can tell that writer (and Dark Horse head honcho) Mike Richardson has been hanging out in Hollywood, because this first issue of a new horror series reads entirely like a generic horror movie, somewhere between "I Know What You Did Last Summer" and "The Ring". The star of this book is Jason Shawn Alexander, whose painted art is essentially Kent Williams, circa his Moonshadow fill-ins, or Blood, used for more commercial purposes. It may be entirely unoriginal, but still Good at being entirely unoriginal.

SHAZAM!: THE MONSTER SOCIETY OF EVIL #1: As I'm sure comes as no surprise to anyone, Jeff Smith's take on Captain Marvel plays the material very straight, and true to its origins, giving us a very enjoyable story that's as kid-friendly (especially considering that "Lust" is replaced as a deadly sin by "Injustice") as it is fun for old-school fans. Smith's cartoony touches (Billy's hair standing on end when he's scared, beads of sweat flying off him) and simple dialogue and character motivations feel very pure and more true to the character than anything else that DC has done to him in... well, maybe ever, and the only thing that's wrong with the book is the format - Something that perfect for kids should, I feel, be in a cheaper format than the $5.99, 48-page one. A dumb complaint, I know, but otherwise, this is Excellent.

SPIDER-MAN: REIGN #3: And now it's time for this week's "I seriously can't believe that Marvel did that" moment. I'm very surprised that I've not seen more online outrage about the reveal, this issue, of what killed Mary Jane: Spider-Man's cum. And for all of you who think I'm joking, here's the dialogue from the book itself: "Oh God, I'm sorry! The doctors didn't understand how it happened! How you had been poisoned by radioactivity! How your body slowly became riddled with cancer! I did. I was... I am filled with radioactive blood. And not just blood. Every fluid. Touching me... loving me... Loving me killed you!"

Seriously, Marvel, WHAT THE FUCK? At what point did Spider-Man having radioactive sperm ever seem like a good idea? At what point did anyone even think about Spider-Man having radioactive sperm? Jesus Christ, I can't believe this ever saw print, I cannot believe that no-one at Marvel thought that having a comic where Spider-Man tells the corpse of his wife - because, yeah, I meant to say that, he's talking to the corpse of his dead wife - that he killed her with his special radioactive spider-spunk was ANYTHING that should ever be allowed to appear in a comic. And that's before you even get to the continuation of his admission: "Like a spider, crawling up inside your body and laying a thousand eggs of cancer... I killed you."

Holy crap. To get an idea of the context of this scene, as he's saying this, the corpse of his wife is trying to kiss him with some kind of demon tongue. I was so numbed by the idea that Marvel somehow thinks that this is a perfectly publishable idea - that showing Marvel's #1 licensing jackpot, the same character that they put on all manner of kid products, the same character who's probably going to have the highest-grossing movie of the year this year coming out at the same time as the collection of this series, as being responsible for the death of his wife (potentially strong story idea, possibility for tragedy, etc.) specifically because of his radioactive jism (somewhere between WTF and TMI, and reducing potentially strong story idea to cheap dirty joke and/or bad idea, and something that I feel is kind of offensive in ways that I can't really explain) - that, later on, when the book does a very, very obvious 9/11 rip-off ("Bodies are falling! From the top of the building!" - They're not bodies, they're mini-Venoms, by the way), I was just bored. This book has gone from Dark Knight rip-off to car-crash embarrassment far too quickly. Ass, and, boy, does someone on the blog have to complain that Marvel really has no idea what to do with their own characters anymore every single week?

(And nothing to do with the book itself, but do you think Nissan are going to be that thrilled at their probably-expensive back cover ad having some of its text be covered up by the barcode and pricing info that Marvel didn't want to ruin their front cover?)

WONDERLOST #1: Another book that I had high hopes for, and didn't deliver. The idea of an autobio anthology (all written by the same person) about romantic failures and successes could, in other hands, be a thing of wonder and beauty... But for CB Cebulski, it sadly is just a collection of chances to show how much women like him even though he's an asshole. The common thread through all of these stories (aside from the first, which is about a friend being dumped) is that the women want him - even the best friend of his girlfriend, who pulls him into the back seat of her car and strips for him before they both come to their senses at the same time. His best friend, who he manages to offend by claiming to friends that she wants to fuck him even though she doesn't? She returns at the end of the book and leads him to the bedroom, and leaves the book offering the possibility of future love. Cebulski himself, meanwhile, comes across as a jerk, insensitive and - and this is the failure of the book, I think, as Jeff pointed out to me in the store - seemingly incapable of any real reflection on events beyond "Man, I sure screwed that up." Add those two things - Cebulski's fratboy sensibilities and apparent inability to stop women falling at his feet - together, and the book is nothing more than a shallow teen movie by a John Hughes wannabe trying to show that he really is sensitive, after all. Probably to try and get into someone's pants. It's a shame, because there is some lovely art in here, most notably from Paul Azaceta and Alina Urusov, and the basic idea was strong... but, no, it really is Eh, I'm afraid.

X-MEN ANNUAL #1: I'd love to see what someone like Paul O'Brien would make of this book, because it's all about ongoing storylines and completely impenetrable to someone like me who's not been keeping up with the X-Books at all. It's not just that I don't understand what the backstory is, or who all of the characters are, but I also don't really understand what actually happens in the story itself - Some characters fight and then they stop because there aren't going to be any more mutant babies? Or something? There's nothing discernably Mike Carey-ish about the writing, which is what always fascinates me about the X-Books: They kind of eat writers up and overwrite their styles with the generic X-style. It doesn't matter who writes them, because they're always going to be these sub-Claremont overstaffed tapestries, written for the pre-existing audience. In that case, I guess, it's probably fine and decent, but for a lapsed X-fan like me, kind of Eh.

PICK OF THE WEEK is easily Shazam!, and PICK OF THE WEAK, just as easily, Spider-Man: Reign. I can't get over "I killed my wife with my spider-sperm". I really want to, but I can't. I think it's scarred me for life. TRADE OF THE WEEK is tough, because I've been finishing off the Showcase: Brave and Bold Bob Haney Boy Genius collection this week, but I talked about that last week. Instead, I'll point to Yotsuba&! volumes 1 through 3, which Jeff loaned me as part of my continuing indoctrination into the world of manga, because they were ridiculously fun and full of joy.

But what did the rest of you read this week?