What I do while Kate watches Lawrence of Arabia: Graeme's review of 3/22 books.

Jeff and I both review on the same day? This kind of thing can only happen… in DC Nation. I admit it; I’m kind of amused by the revamp of DC’s back page version of “Bullpen Bulletins,” especially as it reminds me of the version they had the last time they had a Crisis of Infinite proportions, when Dick Giordano had the Dan Didio role and promised all manner of good things and revolutions and the like. Still, at least DC have finally hired a good designer to do the page this time, even if a third of the page is filled with a stylish black and white portrait of Didio. Shall we begin the reviewing, nonetheless? BATMAN #651: First off, you don’t fool me with that cover, Simone Bianchi – You can’t really connect it to the cover of this month’s Detective Comics. It’s a different drawing, you sneaky wee so-and-so (I am anal enough to notice that the brushstrokes on the gloves on each cover are different. Pity me). This is a first for the One Year Later books – a Part Two. As such, it’s weird to see the “One Year Later” caption at the start of the issue. Sure, it’s One Year Later than the last issue of Batman, but this issue actually starts before the end of the first part of the story, in Detective #817, so I’m guessing that someone in DC’s collections department will have some editing to do before the inevitable trade.

What’s that? You want me to say something about the comic itself? It’s Okay, I guess; the art (by former JSA artist, Don Kramer) is kind of generic and the larger plot doesn’t really get advanced that much, but there are things to like about it, especially the way it reinforces the new “Batman isn’t a dick and can do teamwork” zeitgeist for the OYL set-up, considering that he more or less sets himself up as a diversion while Robin does the primary work beating this issue’s bad guy (Oh, okay: bad girl). But it feels like filler, already, which doesn’t bode well for the rest of this eight-issue storyline. Is it too early to want Paul Dini and Grant Morrison to take over the books?

CATWOMAN #53: The strange thing about this book is how underwhelmed I am by it, even though there are so many details about it that I really liked. Will Pfeifer has the characterization down – Being a big fan of the Brubaker run on this book, but not having picked it up since he left, I really enjoyed the Selina/Holly/Slam scene, with Slam speaking for the reader when he talks about Holly’s role as the new Catwoman – but the plot and pacing feels disjointed, and just like other OYL books, it’s playing entirely to the existing audience (No characters really get an introduction for those unfamiliar with them – Holly’s name doesn’t appear in the entire book, despite her apparently being the title character - and the scene with the cops completely lost me), without acknowledging that the Holly-as-Catwoman thing was done before, at the end of Brube’s run. David Lopez’s art is static and problematic in some scenes, but he does a nice Holly-Catwoman to balance out his weird Selina. Overall, there’s enough here to make me curious enough to maybe pick up another issue, but I wish that Pfeifer would let his characterization run riot more. Okay.

DAREDEVIL #83: I really wish that someone with a sense of humor would change the subtitle in the logo to “The Man Without Freedom” at least once before Matt gets out of prison, but that may just show why I’ll never get a job in Marvel’s production department. Meanwhile, Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark are doing a pretty good job with this book. Ed’s hitting a tone somewhere between his Sleeper and Captain America, and Lark’s stuff is just amazing in certain scenes. I’m convinced that the Daredevil running around New York is Spider-Man, for some reason, but am happy enough to hang around to see just how wrong I am over the next few issues. Good.

HAWKGIRL #50: Howard Chaykin, he likes those nipples, I’m telling you. There’s something so ideosyncratic about both Chaykin’s art and Walt Simonson’s writing that you could tell even without looking at the credits who’s behind this book, and all they’re really doing here is staying within their own comfort zones, with varying degrees of success. Simonson’s writing, with old-school thought balloon-expositions and self-depreciating humor intact, sets up the story fast and heads away from superheroics for the mythological and historical so much that the five pages Kendra appears in superhero costume at the start of the book feel like the result of editorial begging, while Chaykin provides the impressive layouts and unusual fashion choices that you expect from him. Sadly, his actual draughtsmanship is looking kind of weak – the third panel on the page where Kendra meets Grubs features the second worst facial drawing of the week – and his fondness of close cropping in every second panel begins to get a bit repetitive by the end of the book. Nevertheless, this book kind of feels a bit reviewproof: If you like Simonson or Chaykin, you’ll probably come away enjoying it – I did – and if you’ve never liked them, this definitely won’t change your mind. It’s Good, but it’s not only nothing new, it’s almost intentionally old.

JSA CLASSIFIED #10: And this book features the first worst facial drawing of the week. Paul Gulacy, the man who used to be great and then became the man who really ruined the end of Ed Brubaker’s run on Catwoman, continues his artistic decline with the final panel of this issue, where we discover that Vandal Savage is not only a (formerly) immortal caveman, but also someone whose entire head is unusually slanted to the right. And it’s a shame, because Stuart Moore’s story about Savage discovering that he’s not only no longer immortal but now only has eleven days to live, deserves better than Gulacy’s increasingly lifeless linework. Okay, but with better art, it would’ve been a Good.

MANHUNTER #20: Hello, last page reveal that means nothing to anyone other than long term readers, again! Jeff was telling me about this book the other day, and the best he could put it was that it was “ept,” whereas once it was “inept”. Me, I’m not even convinced of that; as a new reader, there was nothing here that made me want to come back, or even think of the book as anything other than fairly bland. Everything from the “superheroing is just a job” attitude to the domestic drama felt as if it’d been done before, and with more style and passion. Eh, and that’s only because it wasn’t even bad enough to get more involved with giving it a rating.

ROBIN #148: Bri and Jeff seemed somewhat surprised when I paid for this, this week, but I’ll admit it: I had a sneaking hope that this would be one of the One Year Later books that worked. I’m not sure what I could put that down to – I don’t think I’ve ever read any of Adam Beechen’s writing before, and even though I’m a fan of Karl Kerschl, I knew he was only on the book for one issue before disappearing to do movie tie-ins. But for some reason, I really wanted to enjoy this. Thankfully, I did (Not that it would’ve been that bad if I hadn’t, of course. At worst, it still would’ve been better than Manhunter). The tone of the book feels light and “young adventure”-ish, despite the murder mystery plot, and, as with Catwoman, I enjoyed the characterisation (This is definitely the week of Batman not being a dick, as his appearance here shows most effectively of all, even down to the offhand mention of he, Robin and Nightwing all going off on holiday together to “build trust” post-Infinite Crisis) – Beechen has a nice line on Robin as intelligent detective without him coming across as arrogant or annoying (Something else that works in the writing is that it’s almost entirely absent of any awkward “It’s been one year since anything special happened,” unlike almost every other OYL book so far. I keep expecting someone in one of the books commenting on how weird it is that all of these heroes who’ve been disappeared for some time all reappearing at exactly the same time). Kerschl’s art is, if anything, better than his under-rated Adventures of Superman run; there’s just something about his kind-of angular style that really appeals to me. If he wasn’t off doing covers and special projects now, I’d say something about him being DC’s best artist on a regular book right now. With the benefit of hindsight, he might’ve been a better choice for the Seven Soldiers Mister Miracle book than any of the artists that ended up working on that series… Hmm. Anyway, this was Very Good, if you ask me.

SQUADRON SUPREME #1: In an effort to guilt Brian into abandoning his already way-too-packed schedule and writing reviews, I really wanted to say that his take on why this issue doesn’t work is spot-on, and leave it at that. Except that I can’t. I feel compelled to ask whether I am the only person who is bored to death, then ressurrected as a zombie, and then bored to death again, by “superheroes - - in the real world!” comics like this. And, as if that wasn’t dull enough, to create a set-up where superheroes are really just a secret military project and, by the way, the military are evil and underhanded and aren’t telling the American people everything, feels even lazier. Luckily, it’s all in the execution, right? And considering that execution reads like sub-Claremont (complete with lines like “Do one last thing for me. Run fast, Stanley… Run so fast… that I never see you leave”), then… Ehhh. Kind of Ass, and when the most entertaining thing in a book is seeing the artist do a bad characture of George Bush, then surely someone somewhere at Marvel must be hoping that the upcoming “Ultimate Power” crossover with the Ultimate Universe is going to keep interest alive where quality can’t.

SUPERGIRL AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #16: Well, that’s an interesting cliffhanger. Supergirl comes to the book, as “hinted” at by the cover portrait of the Maid of Might and that whole “changing the name of the book to include Supergirl’s name” thing, but only revealed in the book itself towards the end. Hibbs and Lester both pointed out that this seemed like somewhat strange plotting, considering that it was fairly obvious that the “mysterious impending disaster” with the S-shield was really Supergirl, and yet somehow Kate, my wife and person-who-avoids-all-the-hype-about-these-books, was still hooked on what was happening, and wondering if Superman was about to appear. Which just goes to show what they know.

(Kate’s just asked if I’m trying to show everyone that she’s dumb. I’m really not. I’m trying to show that people who don’t read blogs like this don’t read stories waiting for the obvious – to us - reveal. She had much more fun reading New Frontier than I did for the same reason.)

Anyway. Like Birds of Prey last week, this is pretty much the same book as it was prior to (One Thousand and) One Year(s) Later, and as a result, it’s the non-Supergirl aspects of the book that are more interesting – the political status of the Legion, the somewhat bratty attitude of the main characters, and just how much society doesn’t like them. I’m hoping that Supergirl doesn’t overwhelm what made those aspects, and what made the first year of this book work so well for me (Waid’s humor, and the done-in-one pacing that also moved larger plots forward simulataneously), but given that the title of the book has been changed, I’m not sure if I’m that hopeful. This issue was Good, but the series has been much stronger than this.

SUPERMARKET #2: I missed reviewing the first issue of this because I missed it in the store (Chris Hunter sent me a copy, because he is wonderful and kind), but enjoyed it very much, mostly because of the stunning art by Kristian (Donaldson). This second issue opens up the story slightly, and for some reason makes me wonder if Brian Wood has been channelling Grant Morrison. Not only does the set-up of warring porn and Yakuza armies have a Morrison-esque quality to it, but some of the dialogue is reminiscent of my bald countryman as well… Or perhaps I’m reading into it. Nonetheless, this is another side to Wood, closer to his Couriers than his current DMZ or Local books, and with Kristian continuing to provide wonderfully stylized (and wonderfully colored) work, he’s matched with his best collaborator since Demo’s Becky Cloonan; taking all of those books, along with next month’s “The Tourist” OGN from Image, I think there’s a case to be made for Wood to be one of the most versatile writers in the mainstream these days, something made all the more interesting for his refusal to engage in that mainstream in any way other than his own. For that alone, he’s someone to pay attention to. This book alone? Very Good.

PICK OF THE WEEK, my friends, is going to be Robin, just to blow your minds. Well, that and it actually being one of the books I enjoyed most this week. PICK OF THE WEAK is Squadron Supreme, one of those things that make me wonder just how I ended up so out of step from mainstream opinion. I mean, lots of people liked Supreme Power. Lots of people I like like Supreme Power. So is it just me, or is this really as horrible as it seemed? We may never know. But I’m probably right, and you’ll all come round to my way of thinking sooner or later. Trade of the Week, though, is something that escapes me, because I’ve not read any of them. If the Jack Kirby: Visionaries Volume 2 hardcover hadn’t been so expensive, it would probably have been that one, though… Instead, I spent my trade-reading powers this week cracking open Crossover Classics, Volume 1, which collects the first four Marvel/DC crossovers from the ‘70s and early ‘80s. There’s really something to be said for those first couple of Superman/Spider-Man books, you know…