Would Sir or Madam like to start with a restaurant review?: Graeme's review of the 1/17 books.

Before I start, I just have to say this: If you're in San Francisco and you like the cheeseburger, then get your ass to Nopa on Divisadero and Hayes. It's the best cheeseburger in the city. The rest of the food is pretty damn good as well - you can add to your impending heart condition by having the bacon, onion and gruyere cheese flatbread starter like we did, and their doughnut hole dessert is very nice indeed - but that cheeseburger. Man. 52 WEEK THIRTY-SEVEN: Well, this is obviously the real end of act two, then, with a couple of reveals (including, possibly, just why last week's death of Animal Man was so underwhelming - It wasn't meant to be that dramatic, considering what happens this week?) and an ending that suggests that all of the characters are where they're meant to be for the ending to begin. It's surprisingly Good considering last week's unevenness, even with the strange fact that the big reveal of Supernova's identity is spoiled by the cover, and the "shock ending" is revealed in the DC Nation text page...

BIRDS OF PREY #102: Depressingly Eh. Ignoring the fact that almost nothing actually happens this issue - Manhunter starts the story losing a fight and ends the story about to fight the same character, which doesn't help the feeling of wheels being spun - we're midway through the latest plotline and I still feel as if I'm missing something. Am I supposed to know who Spy Smasher is? She's the antagonist in this story, and Babs has made references to knowing her and having been to school with her, but I still don't really have a clue as to who she actually is, or why she's going after Oracle, and that's a major problem if I'm to buy into her as a threat to the team, or to this story in general. Likewise, the new team is made up of too many characters to allow for characterisation, one of the strengths of the book back when the core cast was only three people; right now in particular, Gypsy and Judomaster could be anyone for all their personalities have been shown. Like I said, it's depressing, because this book normally manages to mix character and plot much more smoothly, but I'm hoping that next issue will explain Spy Smasher enough for me to get what's happening and why, and then future storylines will allow for more character to come through.

FANTASTIC FOUR #542: Yes, Dwayne McDuffie's first issue as writer has Reed Richards giving an explanation behind his pro-registration stance in Civil War that fits in with his character slightly better than what we've previously seen, and all of the other characters sound a lot more like their old selves in general, but I can't help but wonder if this was always meant to be the plan under JMS's reign anyway. The way that Reed is shown to have tried to hide this motivation behind weaker ones feels too planned, in a strange way, to have suddenly come from McDuffie alone (especially when Sue Richards appears at the end and essentially says "I didn't buy the other motivations, but this one works!"); either that, or he's very good at immediate retcons based on fan feedback. Whichever, the issue is still just Eh; McKone's art deadens the book, being static and devoid of the kind of dynamism that this book should have given its Kirby pedigree, and McDuffie's injection of common sense isn't enough to hide the fact that this "Civil War is so important, it tears Marvel's most important family apart!" plotline is going nowhere fast.

MARVEL ADVENTURES: THE AVENGERS #9: Jeff Parker's winning streak continues with this fun, shamelessly dumb, story where all of the Avengers get turned into Modocs ("Killing" having become "Conquest", because this is a book aimed at kids), and that's still not the funniest idea in the book (Personally, I'm a fan of Karl, the inept evil AIM scientist). Yes, the dialogue is a little self-consciously juvenile (which makes sense, considering the target audience), but there's something about the fast-paced, free-wheelingness of the storytelling here, and the lack of the heroes fighting with each other every two seconds, that makes this one of the more appealing Marvel books that I've read in a looooonnng time. Very Good, because it's Very Dumb.

PHONOGRAM #4: I don't share Kieron Gillen's love of the Auteurs or Luke Haines, but nonetheless, this book continues to work for me on multiple levels, but I'm not sure how much of that is because of the fact that I was the right age and in the right place to understand all of the references herein. As the series continues, it seems to unravel - this issue is not only less like the Hellblazer meets Britpop of the first issue, but it's less focused than everything that came before, as well; scenes seem to drift into other scenes, and characters traipse through with dialogue that calls back to earlier scenes with no other context. It fits in well with this issue's plot, where the main character is in a world made up entirely of memory and iconography, but I may just be thinking that because I recognized Damon Albarn and Jarvis Cocker without having to be told about them in the text pieces at the back of the book. As with every issue, I wonder if those of us who aren't in our late twenties/early thirties and British get anything out of this at all, and think that it's as Good as I find it.

SHE-HULK #15: Okay, so there's a line in this that firmly places the book in the post-Civil War world (Clay Quartermain's reference to a new SHIELD Director), and considering what's going on in the rest of the book, kind of gives away that, yes, that whole Superhuman Registration Act is still in effect after the series so Iron Man probably wins. And yet... the book still has no novelty. The lighthearted tone of the earlier three years is gone, replaced by angst that doesn't feel genuine at all, and art from Rick Burchett that is either half-assed or the victim of really bad inking; it reads, as Hibbs said in the store on Friday, as if both creators were phoning it in. So, yeah. Pretty Eh, really.

SPIDER-MAN: REIGN #2: It's not Dark Knight Returns anymore, that's for sure. It's not good, either, mind you, but at least the Frank Miller worship is lessening. Credibility gets stretched throughout the whole book, but I really get the feeling that Kaare Andrews doesn't care about anything other than the grand statement he's convinced himself that he's making with this book. What that statement is, it's not entirely clear; he's trying to say something about the government using its great power without great responsibility in this post-9/11 world, I think, but he's doing it in the most ham-fisted way possible, with sledgehammer media swipes and inept politicians being misled by their staff, all mixed in with a Spider-Man story that completely lacks the pathos or humor that underpins the character. It's not completely horrible - it's very nice looking - but it's pretty Crap overall.

THE SPIRIT #2: This, on the other hand, is a cartoonist taking on a classic character and doing everything right. It doesn't hurt that (blasphemy!) Darwyn Cooke draws a more attractive P'Gell than Eisner, considering her role as the ultimate Femme Fatale, of course, but there's just so much goodness to be found here. The writing is pitch perfect, managing the right mix between lighthearted romp and melodrama (P'Gell's confession scene felt like classic Eisner in a lot of ways), and visually, the book is amazing - even beyond Cooke (and inker J. Bone) doing some gorgeous linework, Dave Stewart's colors continue the beautiful work he did in New Frontier. It's really an Excellent book, which probably means that it'll get cancelled within a year. Sigh.

STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION - THE SPACE BETWEEN #1: It says a lot about the spirit of this adaptation that this story, set in the first season of the series, completely captures the tone of what the show was like back then, down to the sterility and awkwardness of a team not being entirely sure what they were up to yet. The writing is exactly like a first season episode, which does kind of beg the question, "Couldn't it have been better?" The art is the main problem with the book, though; it's blocky and doesn't fit the overly 80s, shiny, look of the show at all, nor does it have any real spark on its own merits, either. It's a competent enough tie-in that'll probably sell to the hardcore fanbase, but to casual fans...? Eh, best avoided.

PICK OF THE WEEK is The Spirit, easily, although giant heads and crap scientist mean that Marvel Adventures: The Avengers is pretty recommended as well. PICK OF THE WEAK is Spider-Man: Reign, because it misses the point of Spider-Man in order to make its own point that it's uncertain of, and that's... not so fun to read. TRADE OF THE WEEK isn't a new book at all, but something that came out towards the end of last year - SEVEN SONS, the retelling of the seven brothers myth set in 1850s America that AiT/Planet Lar put out. It's a wonderful book, telling the story sparsely but enjoyably, with some nice art. Highly recommended, and that's before you get to the text piece at the back of the book talking about the history of the myth, which only makes the whole package all the better.

Next week: My mother-in-law's in town, so maybe no reviews. But what did the rest of you read this week?