Week 103: One More Year Later

It's almost a year after 52 ended--as of this Wednesday and DCU Zero, the next cycle of DCU stuff is about to begin, and I'm a lot more curious about that than I was about virtually anything in the Countdown era. (The line in this week's DC Nation column about how Countdown's goals "met with various levels of success" is a delicate way of putting it.) But before that starts, I thought I'd take one more look at the afterlife of the series I spent a year writing about.

52 opened up a bunch of possibilities, opportunities and resources for the DCU setting, and the last year has not been kind to many of them. Here's what's happened with each of 52's main characters and plot threads:

ADAM STRANGE, STARFIRE, ANIMAL MAN: The outer-space plot of 52 didn't quite build up the force it was supposed to--where it seems to have been going at first was that they not only had to make it home but save the world from Lady Styx when they got there, which didn't happen. And the point of throwing these three characters together was that they didn't really belong together, or have much in common except for being different kinds of exiles longing for return. (The one who got to go back was Animal Man, which functioned dramatically as the end of Buddy's story: he's integrated himself with his understanding of what's beyond the fourth wall.) So putting them back together for Countdown to Adventure was a horrible idea: they are not a team, and have no dramatic reason to continue to work together, and there was no new angle to make it worth bringing them back right now.

BATWOMAN: Wasn't she supposed to be the Sensational Character Find of 2006? There actually may have been some demand to do something more with her--like explaining what her deal is--but after a year and only one appearance (in Crime Bible) that bothered to actually do anything with her, I suspect the urgency is gone. As of New York Comic-Con, there don't seem to be any announced plans to do anything with her (although she did show up in that Adam Hughes promo piece recently). Then again, if that Rucka/Williams project with her ever happens, I'm there.

BLACK ADAM: Look, the whole point of the end of 52's Black Adam arc was that it was final--that his pride had destroyed him and that he'd spend his remaining days wandering like Cain, searching for his magic word. It also meant that when he inevitably reappeared, eight or fifteen years down the line, it would have this massive return-of-the-repressed impact. And then he showed up again... THREE WEEKS LATER. Thereby undercutting all the dramatic force of his story, and making it totally exhausting every time he's appeared since. Also, the resolution of the "lost magic word" thing in the Black Adam miniseries was as stupid as it could possibly have been.

BOOSTER GOLD: The first few issues took off from the tone of the Booster sequences in 52, it's a clever idea, and I've enjoyed most of it so far. There's no denying it's an exercise in mining the past, but it gets away with it because "mining the past" is its premise.

RALPH AND SUE DIBNY, DEAD DETECTIVES: On the other hand, Batman and the Outsiders? In 2008? It's like turning on the TV and all you get is The Dukes of Hazzard and Dallas, except that all the characters are dead now and it's stories about their ghosts running moonshine and making business deals. Next up: the Arak, Son of Thunder revival, yes?

RENEE MONTOYA/THE QUESTION/THE CRIME CULT: I love the character, I'll read anything Rucka writes with her, and I really enjoyed the first couple of issues of 52 Aftermath: Crime Bible: The Five Books, Excuse Me, Lessons of Blood: What, Were We Supposed To Mention Our Character's Name Somewhere in the Title? It's probably as close as I'm going to get as that "superhero comic about introspection and self-discovery" I imagined a year ago. But if you're going to end a miniseries on a cliffhanger, maybe it's a good idea to indicate where that cliffhanger's going to be resolved. (Final Crisis: Revelation, right, but that wasn't clear at the time.) (More title confusion, actually: is it Revelation or Revelations? Can I vote for the proper, singular, John-the-Divine version, especially since Wildstorm already used the plural a couple of months back?)

STEEL: The most awkward thread of 52--his plot never went anywhere all that interesting, and the "metagene" business was so unclear that it all ended up shoved back into its box by the end of the series. Peter Milligan's Infinity Inc. is kind of a clever idea (superheroes as metaphors for various kinds of psychological disorders and mental illness), even if he tends to bang his thematic drumbeats a little too obviously, but trying to hang it onto the 52 peg has probably hurt more than helped.

OOLONG ISLAND/THE FOUR HORSEMEN: Well, I couldn't have imagined that there was any more story to be told on this front--but Giffen and Olliffe managed to evoke the tone of 52. The Four Horsemen miniseries was unnecessary and vestigial, but at least it wasn't parasitic.

THE MULTIVERSE STUFF: The idea that there are parallel realities that sometimes intersect is one of the coolest concepts in DC continuity; I was glad to see it return. It would have been nice to have it floating around as an occasional story resource, not to have the 52 worlds pinned down and summarily zipped through the way we've seen them in the past year.

There are also still a ton of dangling plot threads left over from 52. I maintain a dim flicker of hope that the Waverider/Time Commander/Clock Queen business will eventually be wrapped up in Booster Gold, and that the Intergang/Gotham City/Apokolips stuff will get at least a nod in the course of the impending Kirby-legacy barrage of Final Crisis, but I'm still wondering what the business with Adam Strange and Alan Scott's eyes was, for instance. Also, um, Super-Chief.

What I miss most about 52, though, is its tone--the sense that anything could happen from week to week, that all the plotlines were hurtling somewhere far from where they started, that cool new creations and resonant echoes of history could turn up on any page, that the DCU was becoming a deeper and richer and more interesting place every week. It made me want to know what happened next. 52 gave us Oolong Island, Batwoman, the Crime Bible, Everyman, Lady Styx, the Four Horsemen, Rip Hunter's chalkboard, the Great Ten, Supernova, the Cult of Connor, St. Camillus, Sobek, Osiris... and then, when it ended, its inventive energy mostly dissipated. I'm really hoping that the Final Crisis cycle, and Trinity running in parallel, will build for the future at least as much as they evoke the past.

I Dismember Halloween: Douglas jumps the gun on 10/31

Since I'd thoroughly enjoyed 52, and especially the storyline that involved Renée Montoya and the Question, Greg Rucka was kind enough to pass along some photocopies of the first two issues of 52 AFTERMATH: THE CRIME BIBLE: THE FIVE BOOKS OF BLOOD. (I may have the title wrong: some sources say "Lessons" rather than "Books," and I haven't seen a finished copy yet.) The first one, drawn by Tom Mandrake, comes out today; despite the fact that she's not mentioned anywhere in its tripartite title, this is the new Montoya/Question story, and it's really satisfying to see Rucka writing her again. For those of you who didn't follow 52, one of the odder additions it made to the DC universe was the idea that there's a religion of crime that has its own Bible. We saw fragments of it in that series (where Montoya's investigation of its links to an Apokolips-related scheme began), and it's also quoted in passing in the Keith Giffen-written 52 Aftermath: Four Horsemen miniseries. The venerated figure in this religion is, naturally, the original criminal, Cain, who's referred to as the First. It's worth pointing out that Cain himself is actually a recurring character in the DCU; we haven't seen him lately, but we saw the House of Mystery he maintains in 52. We also saw allusions in 52 to the Book of Moriarty and the Book of Kürten, both of which reappear here, the latter rather prominently; Moriarty was, of course, Sherlock Holmes's nemesis (and is also an in-continuity character in the DCU!), and Kürten was an early-20th-century German serial killer.

A bit of this issue is given over to some necessary exposition: a professorial character, Stanton T. Carlyle, notes that the crime religion is prima facie ridiculous, and also explains that the Crime Bible concludes in four homiletic "Books of Blood," based on the pillars of deceit, lust, greed and murder. (I wonder if Carlyle's first name comes from Question creator Steve Ditko's former studiomate and occasional collaborator Eric Stanton--link potentially NSFW.) This would be the "deceit" issue, hence its twist-ending structure, and if you've noticed that there's a numerical disjunction between the concept in the story and the title of the miniseries, bingo; I'm assuming there's some kind of hermetic-gnostic fifth Book we'll find out about. Mandrake's specialty is establishing a shadowy, uncertain mood--in some ways, he's the closest thing to Gene Colan working regularly in comics now--and that fits nicely with the theme of the issue, too. (The big twist two pages before the end, though, is drawn with a peculiar gimmick that doesn't really work.)

The Question, in the Denny O'Neil incarnation that Rucka's taken after, is a detective whose investigations extend outward and inward: he (and now she) is interested in understanding complicated systems more than solving mysteries, as such, and one of those systems is his (and now her) own inner self. What Charlie kept asking Montoya in 52 was "who are you?"; she's still figuring that out. (Incidentally, if you're interested in this stuff and haven't read Rucka's interviews about the Question at the dedicated fan site vicsage.com, they're pretty fascinating.) As in the O'Neil series, she has neither a real face nor a full identity; nobody ever refers to the Question by that name, except indirectly. Carlyle asks "Are there any questions?"; Montoya steps forward.

The premise of 52A:TCB:T5BOB--and doesn't that sound like a good name for a designer drug?--is that the crime cultists think the new and not-fully-formed Question might in fact have potential as one of them (their religion includes a "parable of the faceless"). One of their leaders, a guy by the name of Flay (which just made me think of the great character with the same name in these books), even suggests that her familiarity with the text of the Crime Bible makes her one of its adherents, and that she's "looked upon the red rock, bathed in the blood that soaks it." She's acquainted with things that can be framed as deceit through her double life, lust through... the same way everybody's acquainted with lust, and murder very very tenuously through her killing of the suicide bomber in Kahndaq--although it was hardly premeditated, and inarguably defensible. Greed? I don't know if she's ever done anything that can even be construed as greed, other than dating somebody from a rich family, but on the other hand we don't know what she's been doing for money since 52 ended. Or even since 52 began.

Now, there's one thing that's still frustratingly opaque about Cainism (does the religion have a name among its adherents? is it the Order of the Stone, as Montoya suggests this issue?): what its adherents believe, and why. There's a pretty strong division between the religious concept of sin and the secular notion of crime, and the crime religion muddles the two. (There's some story I read a few weeks ago in which a religious sect believes in sinning as much as possible in order to better be able to humble themselves before God when they die; if you substitute "committing as many crimes as possible," that no longer scans.) Carlyle's lecture this issue proposes that the attraction of Cainism is somewhere between the freedom of the Nietzschean superman who makes his own morality and the de Sadean utopia in which personal gratification is the only law. But it sure seems regimented for all that it values individualism, and it doesn't offer its faithful any particular justification for their actions. (Actually, it asks them to do things on the grounds that they're not justifiable: its leaders "seek the vilest perfection.") This is the same kind of logic that, over in Justice League of America, gives us Lex Luthor, who was very recently obsessed with maintaining his public image of always being in the right, forming an "Injustice League"; it doesn't wash, because everyone justifies their own actions to themselves. We're also told that there are only three extant copies of the Crime Bible's complete text, but that the religion is trying to disseminate its text as far as possible. Jessica Hagy's index-card taxonomy of two-sin combinations makes more sense.

So a high Good for the first one--although it's worth noting that the second issue is a real step up, the kind of densely packed spy thriller/psychological grilling Rucka's got a particular gift for. But I'll get to that one when it's due.

Hibbs wobbles into 5/23

It seems like I keep starting each week's set of reviews, but never quite finishing them lately? Gonna try (since it is such a small week) to get through virtually everything by this time next week... COUNTDOWN #49: 52 was always, always, without fail the first comic I read each week. And, three weeks in, its the same with COUNTDOWN. But, I'm reasonably confident that won't be the case a month from now -- I'm really not feeling it. (You know there's something wrong when Doug Wolk's chosen successor starts his second issue review with "Well, that wasn't very good at all, was it?")

I may need to go back and look at the start of 52 again, but it seems to me that by this point in 52, the individual character arcs were all well into play:

Will Ralph find Sue? Will Booster find respect? Will Renee find herself? Will the "space heroes" get home? Will Black Adam fall even farther? Will John Henry... hm, harder that one... make up with Natasha, I guess?

Everything else in 52 gets back to those points, even with all of the flash and dazzle, and, so, 52 was effectively a human story about human motivations.

And, yes, I know its absolutely unfair of me to keep comparing this with 52, but the book physically demands such comparisons.

In COUNTDOWN, here's what I think we have so far:

Will Jimmy get a story? Will the Monitors do [something barely understood by the audience]? Will Karate Kid... well, dunno, but let's go with "prevent the Great Disaster"? Will the Rogues...again, unclear yet again so far, but probably some sort of redemption/destruction split Will Mary find herself (/powers)?

Of these five threads, only the last two seem to have much of a human core around them. #2 & 3 are... well they seem like comic stories ABOUT comic stories, y'know? And Jimmy... he's meant to be the POV character, the "everyman" of the DCU, but ironically that's what renders him the least dramatic, really -- he's Jimmy Olson, Superman's Pal, and ain't nothing gonna happen to him. "Jimmy Must Die!" buttons notwithstanding. He's the safest character in this series, let alone the entire DC universe.

Maybe it will get better, who knows, but at this moment in time, I'm really only vaguely interested, and I don't see any immediate evidence that this is going to change. So: EH.

This issue also starts a backup of "History of the Multiverse", just like 52's "History of the DC Universe" (which really wasn't), and really everything you need to know is the first line: "The Timestream. A place unaffected by the flow of time..." Buh, wha?! AWFUL.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #26: I'm going to pretty much echo Graeme, all the way along -- this is effective, compelling work, and I liked it very much, especially its structure and use of 0ff-panel (esp. the Falcon's speech thing), but one thing bugged me: in the bar where Bucky confronts the redneck guy, the redneck guy calls him a "jackhole". Yet, both Falcon and Luke Cage use "$#!^". That really really bugged me. Other than that? VERY GOOD.

IRON MAN HYPERVELOCITY #5: One of those "and that's why covers are important, kids!" moments -- I had skipped reading #2-4 of this mini, but the cover here made me said "Huh, give it a read" Glad I did -- pretty ripping cyber-sci-fi action that made me think than nothing less than a Warren Ellis comic. I was fairly lost on the stakes, etc, but I was still wonderfully engaged with the story as it transpired, which is exactly what a comic should do: VERY GOOD.

OK, that's enough for right now. More tomorrow, I hope...

What did YOU think?


Is there a natural "Countdown" joke for the title? Hibbs starts 5/9 off.

52 was special in a way because it was the "first of its kind" -- I think a pretty significant percentage of the comics buying population "bought into the experiment"' that is to say, once you reached, say, Week 12 or so, you decided whether you were "in for the year" or not. That's pretty much what my sales charts say -- there's peaks and valleys (and some absolutely unexplainable dips, but wait for those until I have all 13 weeks I'm capturing on 52, before I present the data, probably in a Tilting), but the through-line of week-to-week sales is really remarkably strong. I really really thought we'd lose half of the readership between #12 and #30, and that simply didn't happen.

I think I made the comparison here, earlier, between 52 and COUNTDOWN, and LOST and HEROES -- HEROES upped the ante for what a long-form drama (on Network TV, because, of course, THE SOPRANOS, or THE WIRE, or even, really, THE SHIELD and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA showed what the promise actually was) could be. That's pretty much the expectation of the audience, that each thing will be better and stronger that what proceeded it.

LOST really needed to step up its game (and, yeah, it pretty much has with the last few episodes -- I'd personally put the turning point back at the Tales From The Crypt one), but who knows if, because of the downtime, the audience it once had will come back?

So, I've thought, since the moment they announced this book, that COUNTDOWN needed to launch really really strong, in order to overcome the innate suspicion of the audience.

And yeah "#51" is a pretty good first issue.

There's action, there's mystery, there's a lot of universe building, and I like a fair amount of the initial characters, and/or underlying continuity enough to be happy.

I had problems, though, of course. First, I thought it was pretty left-field to have Duela Dent and Jason Todd be the main players in this first issue, particularly with the whole casual "I may be from a neighboring earth, but..." comment. I was ready to chalk that up to "well, yeah, she's claimed 20 different identities since her first appearance" (and there's never really been any real resolution to who she really IS, for the 428 of us who actually CARE), but then there was the whole Monitors-with-guns thing (which is, really, stranger than strange.... I already want them to go away!), and they cack her, and, WTF, THERE'S STILL NO CLARITY ON WHO SHE EVEN WAS IN THE FIRST PLACE?

I mean, doubleyou-tee-eff, to the extreme.

The Mary Marvel scenes were nice, but, huh? when was she in a coma? Did I skip over some stray line in 52 Week 50? She was in that, right? I don't remember her getting hurt that bad?

Dramatically, I'm not sure if the plot works. The Countdown is to the Great Disaster, and only Ray Palmer can stop it. Well, OK. So he will. Certainly, we're not going to end up with a post-Great Disaster DCU. Who would want to read that? So, there's not a lot of underlying tension to this.

And my big worry is, like 52, they don't actually have fifty-two comic books worth of story for this. Again, to go back to the (wrong-headed) Television analogy, I don't think that BATTLESTAR GALACTICA or LOST actually has 22 episodes worth of "story" any given "year" -- 12-16 episodes seems like the much smarter way to go. 52 maybe had twice that range of actually interesting-within-themselves issue. And the other third was "filler".

I won't pay $3 for plate-spinning (not that I pay full retail, but you know what I mean), so I'm not willing to embrace COUNTDOWN the way I embraced 52 -- I decided I was ON the ride real early. COUNTDOWN I will be taking week-by-week.

And based on week 1, I'll be getting week 2. A tentative (and low) GOOD.


52 Weeks Later: Hibbs on What Was Wrought

52 WEEK 52: So, I have to admit I am a little torn. The final issue of 52 is kind of two different things, really. There's the full-length (or there about) "multiverse, multiverse, who-has-the-multiverse" story, which seems almost tangential, and largely irrelevant to the narrative through-line of 52; then there's the Epilogue-to-the-series bits where everyone (who didn't get one last week) gets their happy ending. The latter mostly makes me happy -- especially the Ralph sequence, which is pretty much exactly what I asked for weeks ago (yay, me!) -- but also goes far in underlining some of the narrative problems of the series: situation A, B and C are all resolved while skipping over some of the "how", and while more or less ignoring certain amounts of story logic. (For example, the whole "prophecy" bit -- when you're "playing fair", prophecy should, in fact, "come true", but with a twist that no one expects because they read the prophecy incorrectly. Like a Wish spell in Dungeons & Dragons, y'know? "I wish for 1 million experience points" "OK, your character ages 60 years, mark off 6 points each of Str and Con, and 4 points of Dex")

As a story, I think history will probably judge 52 to be a failure - a very noble and far-reaching failure, to be sure, but a failure none-the-less. Plenty of stuff is left unexplained, or dashed off explanations that don't really make a lot of sense; there's an enormous bloat in the 2nd act where wheels are spinning on mostly really dull stuff (every single thing that happened with Steel, for example, could probably have been contained in a single 22 page story); and, it appears to me looking at things from the outside that the intent and the scope of the story changed from week 1 to week 52 -- shouldn't have there been more meaning in the "people were changed coming back from space at the end of Infinite Crisis"? Which, instead, more or less got tossed under the rug.

However, that's kind of alright, really, given the experimental nature of 52 -- something I don't think any of us really thought was going to work at or, nor, in fact, come out like clockwork the way it did. And it very much raises the stakes on COUNTDOWN, because I strongly suspect the audience isn't going to put up with the annoying tics that 52 had on Project #2. Overall, I very much doubt that 52, the series, deserves much better than a Savage Critic "OK"... and it was actually probably closer to an "EH", but you have to admire both the audacious nature of the idea, as while of the crazy efforts of everyone involved, both on the business side (as exemplified by Didio's column this week), as well as the creative side (who.... uh. Aren't even mentioned in passing?)

As for the specific content of the main bits Week 52, I was reasonably charmed. But, again, I'm not sure how I feel. I *think* when people say things "we want that back", what they actually mean is "we want it back to what it was pre-Crisis -- JLA on e-1, JSA on e-2, Shazam family on e-S, Freedom Fighters on e-X" and so forth, where there was demarcation between the "earths", and where each one was relatively self-consistent.

What I'm less sure of is the value of "Earth-1 is 'smooshed Earth' where everything stays jammed together; but then we also have an e-10 (10=X, get it?!?!) where the JLA heroes are controlled by the nazi party and the Freedom Fighters battle them"

How do I put this? That set up is good for a story, maybe two. BUt it's not really sustainable in terms of audience interest over the next umpty decades. Why? Because the audience wants to read about the "real" version of a character. The Freedom Fighters on e-10 can't be much more than a McGuffin (or a way to introduce Ubermensch and Fraulein Vundabar) because the "real" FF lives on e-1.

[I also want to say that just because the audience or a reader wants a concept back in play, that doesn't necessarily mean it has commercial success written on it. For a decade or more I thought one of the stupidest mistakes DC made was eliminating the Green Lantern Corps -- what a brilliant tool for generating ideas and stories! But that doesn't mean I want to read a monthly GREEN LANTERN CORPS comic book, running parallel to GREEN LANTERN itself]

Obviously, at this point, it's probably not even possible to "unsmoosh" Earth, even if that what people REALLY wanted, but this does feel like a way to keep 52 plot devices, rather than actually bring back the multiverse in any meaningful way -- especially because there are only AND SPECIFICALLY 52 parallel worlds, rather than an infinite number of them.

Anyway, despite all of that nitpickery, as a single issue I really rather enjoyed the romp, and the spirit on display, and anyone jumped off during the series, or, really, cares about the DCU at all would do well to pick up this issue -- I thought it was a solidly GOOD comic, though I might be a little more rose-colored than I should be.

What did YOU think?


Too Much Crossover: Hibbs starts 4/25

52 Week 51: Ah, the end is nigh. Quite a number of "happy endings" in this installment -- Buddy and Adam and whatnot -- and the solid point to the grand finale, in the form of the New Mister Mind. Frankly, I always liked the big glasses and the radio around his neck myself. Maybe I'm crazy, but the last few issues have been fairly satisfying, and I'm thinking we'll get a "good enough" resolution in... six days, sheesh. A lot of it is going to depend on just how the resolve the central "52" mystery (exactly 52 parallel worlds seems to a) miss the point of parallel worlds (that wouldn't even be three seasons of SLIDERS, would it?), and B) be a little too coincidental), but it seems that the latest issue of SUPERGIRL & LSH pretty much gives that away, anyway. All in all? GOOD. AMAZONS ATTACK #1: If a) I had the slightest idea what was happening in the setup (Apparently one NEEDS to read WONDER WOMAN #8 first... which isn't flagged either on the cover of WW or inside of AA itself), b) this (and WW3) didn't, by and large, feel like an attempt to preemptively kick the legs out from WORLD WAR HULK; c) felt this "mattered" at all -- since virtually no other book is tying into it, it can be "safely ignored"; d) felt like it had any narrative weight upon the DCU itself (the carnage we've seen in just the first issue would certainly make CIVIL WAR look like a liberal's wet dream when it came to Government reaction... esp. coupled with Black Adam and the IC Superboy actions recently from the DCU-bystander POV), then I probably would have really liked this.

It's reasonably well written (barring the smidge of introduction to edumicate people not reading WW what the hell is going on, and how Polly is back from the dead, anyway [from the "Our Worlds At War" crossover a few years back]), and, really, really nicely drawn (there's a real sense of scope on that first double-sized spread, ain't there?), but what kills it for me is my personal sense that DC editorial hasn't got the first fucking idea what to do with Wonder Woman, and appears to be casting blindly around for some sort of a direction that might resonate. Given how recently they just had gotten rid of the Amazons (A year ago this week in INFINITE CRISIS #7? Or do I misremember?), this seems like a pretty quick and absurd return for them. Everywhere I look, it sure feels like the DCU architects are saying "We have a plan!", then 3 months later its "Uh, that plan didn't work... we have a NEW plan!"

Basically, the fault of AMAZONS ATTACK #1 isn't anything in the execution of the book (except for the lack of explanation about some of the key plot points), but in the greater, ongoing problems of DC editorial and the direction and point of the DCU. That yields an EH.

FALLEN SON: AVENGERS: I didn't have a lot of faith in this, I have to say, going in, but as chapter 2 of a 5 issue mini (as opposed to the second stand alone issue, as the naming schema would seem to indicate), this moved along much better than I would have expected. The "Mighty" half was a little weaker on the theme, but Spidey and Logan's interactions were really Classic Marvel, and I liked it tons more than I would have thought. A strong OK

More tomorrow, what did YOU think?


Bunny or No Bunny: Graeme runs at some more 4/4 books.

I really need to look at calendars more often. It's Easter already? Where's my egg? 52 WEEK FORTY-EIGHT: If Richard Corben and Phil Jiminez had a baby, it would be Darick Robertson's art in this issue, which manages to jump back and forth over the line that separates looking rushed and particularly stylized. We're in the rather rushed end-run of the series, now, and it's coming more into focus that things aren't going to really come to a complete conclusion in the next four issues -Intergang may be trying to turn Gotham City into Apokolips (It's the fire pits that gave it away, even though commentators over at Doug Wolk's blog think that they're actually Lazarus Pits), but I can't see any way for that plot to even be properly introduced never mind completed, considering the other plots that still have to be dealt with. Unlike Hibbs, I'm not so happy about the idea of Batwoman dying this issue, if only it feels like the character never really transcended the hype surrounding her sexuality and debut in the New York Times. I mean, sure, it explains why we've not seen the character outside of this series, but still, it's a waste of whatever potential was in there in the first place. Okay, but at this point, I don't want to see characters dying and issues spent entirely on one plotline anymore.

DANGER GIRL: BODYSHOTS #1: It's Alias meets Charlie's Angels, and curiously enjoyable in a trashy kind of way. I've avoided Danger Girl until this series, mostly because I didn't really see the point, but... Eh. It's fun, if you set your sights low enough, and always interesting to see a creator-owned book continue without any input from said creator.

THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST #4: By this point, the co-writing team of Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction has shifted more towards a Fraction-esque direction - When airships crash into mythical cities and men in top hats emerge with guns, you start to wonder whether Matt's taking more of a lead in plotting, or whether Ed has started to be infected by his writing partner. Balancing expositionary introduction of the Iron Fist history with kung-fu and shootin' action and corporate takeovers, this continues to be much more enjoyable than it has any right to be. Good, even as I'm not the biggest fan of the Steel Serpent.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #7: I'm such a sap. I really shouldn't enjoy this; the individual scenes don't work, I don't buy half of the character development, but... I kind of dig the new Hall of Justice/Watchtower headquarters. I'm happy that Dinah gets to be the chair of the team in this new setup. And even as the "fate decided the team" theme voiced by the characters mirrors the first three issues of Bendis' New Avengers too much for my liking, I have to admit that this seemed surprisingly Good to me. I'm sure that everyone else may find it somewhat less impressive, but, feh. This completely sucked up to my DC fanboyishness, and won me over.

OMEGA FLIGHT #1: Again with the slow build! Only two of the characters on the cover appear inside this way-too-self-conscious first issue of a series that shows surprisingly clearly that whoever decided that this shouldn't be an ongoing book after all made the right decision. Bri had it right, pointing out that this book is far too American-centric for a Canadian team. When the whole concept seems to be "American supervillains are invading Canada, so American superheroes have to save the Canadians," there's something weirdly patronizing going on. But why am I surprised? Crap.

SUPERMAN #661: As much as I enjoy Kurt Busiek's one-shots, I have to admit, I'm pretty much done with fill-ins by now. It's not that I'm desperate to get back to the ongoing Camelot Falls arc (Although I am, and it's interesting that the four months of filler on Action Comics is getting such bad press, but the four months of fill-in skip by without commentary on this title; Maybe because regular writer Busiek has been on the book all along?), but there's something almost weightless, in a way, about this issue; a feeling that no-one, not even the creators, really cared about it that much. It's enjoyable enough, but there's something very Eh about the whole thing.

Coming up either tomorrow or Tuesday, we'll see if I can get my thoughts about the Savage Tales relaunch to amount to more than just "It's not Ron Mars, whoever spellchecks the Dynamite books..."

Sky-Blue But Stinking of Vinegar: Jeff's Opening Reviews for the 04/04 Books.

Writing comic book reviews on Easter Sunday morning? I cannot tell if I am to be admired or pitied on this, one of our more deeply confusing holidays [cue the whole Jesus/Easter Bunny/salvation/colored egg thing, done to death by thousands of stand-ups, here). Hats off to Dave Robson, who told me he was going to spend Easter morning watching Grindhouse. I can only hope this will become a trend that will transform the face of the holiday, and 100 years from now parents will have to explain how looking for Easter eggs and watching "Hobo With A Shotgun" ties in to the story of Jesus.... 52 WEEK #48: Montoya becomes The Question and it's highly OK but I was really underwhelmed. I find that especially troubling because I'd argue that Montoya's story arc has been the most solid one in 52, overall: the character beats are there; the motivation is there; verbal and visual metaphorical use of the Question motif, etc. In talking about it with Hibbs, he suggested that maybe because it was a foregone conclusion it didn't have the "oomph" it might have, and there's something to that.

But I still blame the '80s. Yes, that's right. I blame an entire decade for my general listlessness to the Montoya/Question storyline, because if there's one thing that decade taught me to be wary of, it's a woman in a fedora.

As you young whippersnappers probably know from history class, MTV started back in the '80s and in those early, pre-Real World days they actually showed music videos. Music videos in those days were infamous for showing you unreal things filmed cheaply out in the real world, and leaving it to you to sort out what was real and what wasn't. I think it took me over ten years to realize that if you drop a rose on a checkered ceramic floor, it doesn't shatter like glass. Also, if you are in the water with a woman--say, at the beach or a tropical lagoon--and the two of you come out of the water at the same time, you have other options than gripping each other at the arms and screaming. Even if you are in slow motion. Also, no matter how much you clean it first, a sexy woman is not going to dance all over your car. It's just not going to happen.

So whenever I see a woman in a fedora, I find myself getting anxious. It's true. Up until she became the Question, every scene in which Montoya tugged on her hat led me to believe she would next be in a shoving-dancing match with her pimp, rubbing herself all over her hair-metal boyfriend's car, or dancing with a suspendered cartoon cat. I think this may have hampered my enjoyment of 52 #48 which was, as I said, probably a pretty OK issue, overall.

ALL NEW ATOM #10: I wonder if something got changed in the drafting process--you know, another pass to tighten up the plotting that changed the character's relationships, maybe--because I really, really can't buy that (a) Ryan is still going to be friends with the woman who married the dude who savagely beat him before her eyes and would have murdered him if fate hadn't intervened; or (b) that woman would have married the dude who savagely beat her friend almost to death before her eyes. And maybe it'll pick up next issue, but I also wish it was a little less Sometimes They Come Back and a little more Chinese Ghost Story (parts 1 or 2). Still some stuff to like, but lower end of Eh for me.

AVENGERS INITIATIVE #1: I wasn't fond of the death scene, partly because it seemed pretty telegraphed, but more than that I found the book kinda muddle-headed. Here, the Initiative is being an extension of the military whereas the other Civil War comparisons I've seen liken it to police firefighting service--which I think really affects the tenor of the thing. If registering your superpowers is like registering a handgun, and you have to pass some sort of very basic training in order to be licensed, that's one thing. But if it means you're shipped off to a base where people holler at you and you crawl in the mud and get accidentally killed, then that's essentially a draft and I think there would be a very different national reaction to it. (I know there are lots of factors in play, but I think a huge difference between the current war and the Vietnam War is that there is no draft hanging over the head of today's college kids and, as a result, a lot less protesting.) Considering half of the book's hook is the Initiative, it'd be great if, now that Civil War is over and there's not as much tightly-knit deadline sensitive cross-continuity going on, Marvel might take the time to really iron out all their ideas on it. (And considering the other half of the hook was the Avengers in the title, it'd be great if we got to see more than Yellowjacket.) Slott does a an okay job with what he's got, but instead of war movie cliches with a superhero gloss, we got some deeply wonky military nut who could use the previous history of our armed forces as a basis for the behind-the-scenes drama of military men who need to figure out standardized training for people with non-standardized powers. To paraphrase the great bluesmen, "Well, the men don't know, but the Tom Clancy fans understand."

Anyway, for those who prefer their reviews without so much Monday (or, in this case, Sunday) morning quarterbacking: deeply Eh.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER #2: I agree with the G; this was much stronger than the first issue (which I liked just fine) and so like this even more. Another thing that I think Graeme nailed in his review is his reference to Joss's "swagger." A couple of people on our comments and elsewhere have protested that they don't understand Whedon's popularity, and I'd say it's precisely this swagger that makes Whedon stand out. It's not that he's especially great at any one thing (although his sitcom training tends to give his dialogue both a lot of zest and a tendency to sound all the same, sometimes) but more that he's good enough at a lot of things to know how the rules of how they work and how to break those rules when it suits him. (For example, he's done that sudden change-up to a dream or fantasy sequence several times before but he nailed me with it here because of how he plays with the page pacing.) The high level of craft plus that extra bit of zing is what can make him a very entertaining writer and, when he's on, you get Very Good work like you do here.

More tomorrow, most likely. Happy Easter!

My Country 'Tis of Thee: Hibbs starts on 4/4

A couple from this week, then: 52 WEEK 48: The inevitable comes true, though the cover obviously telegraphs it. Ultimately, I tend to think this is a mistake -- there's few enough strong supporting characters in the world that MOntoya becoming a mask isn't the choice I would have made; but it does work well within the context of both the story, and her own personal arc. I was a little annoyed that "Gotham burns" (Again?!? How can ANYONE in that town afford property insurance?), and there's also something a little strange about Robertson's art, with it's big open page gutters -- at first I thought "is he drawing on the wrong sized paper or something?", but no, many of the pages have a full bleed out to the side. It's a weird stylistic choice, and one that distracted me a lot in the first half of the issue. I also think it would be cool if Kate actually dies, since that would be absolutely unexpected, though she's in the COUNTDOWN ad so probably not, huh? Anyway, quibble quibble quibble, but I still thought this was VERY GOOD.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER SEASON EIGHT #2: Yeah, that rocked. Really rocked. And was properly dense, too -- unlike last issue, this felt nearly like a complete TV episode in itself. There's an awkward transitional bit at the end there where it cuts away from Amy and Xander for a minute, but when it cuts back it's away from Xander's beat. But other than that? Letter perfect. My only question: I'm not sure I understood the Giles scene in the beginning? Where is he in relationship to Buffy? Not in the same place? But he's training a larger number of the slayer-ettes then Buffy seems to have around her? Muh? Anyway, an easy EXCELLENT.

I am STUNNED how well the book is selling, also -- our As-Big-As-CIVIL-WAR initial order lasted us 12 days (CW was about 6 weeks or so), we got in the Largest-Single-Reorder-of-a-Comic-That-We've-Ever-Placed for the second printing, and we're halfway through THAT pile already. #1 is easily my best selling 32-page comic in the last 10 years or so -- we're not quite back up to where we were in the SANDMAN days, but if we keep selling 3 or 4 copies a day, like we have been lately, we're going to get damn close...

AVENGERS THE INITIATIVE #1: It is competently done, but there's not really any sympathetic characters here (except for maybe Cloud 9, but I think that's more from pity than actual interest), which is a pretty big problem, I think, for an ongoing monthly. Even the situation isn't sympathetic -- people being taken against their will to a training camp, and, when something bad happens, its covered up. This is supposed to be America? I was also kinda shocked there's a scene of "here is your mask, you will NOT use powers without wearing it" for two reasons: a) that seems pretty counter-intuitive to the High Concept of having an accountable nationwide super-hero task force -- I'd think things would be largely the opposite, that all recruits would be issued a visible ID card with a "badge number" they'd hvae to display openly at all times. If I were an American citizen in the Marvel Universe, I sure wouldn't be up for my government handing out MASKS; b) it is immediately undercut a few pages later in the "training room" where not ONE of the seven characters involved wears a mask. I was also deeply bothered by the "we're confiscating your weapon" scene. Take the same scene, and instead of Never-Heard-Of-Her-Girl, cast, say, Iron Man in that spot. Still feel comfortable with it? "We'll just be taking this incredibly powerful tech from you. We're the government, you can trust us." I usually enjoy Slott's work, but this is really a badly thought-out opening sequence to an ongoing *Avengers* comic. As a mini, this might have been the right way to go (and, it got "upgraded" to ongoing when Marvel got the numbers in), but as a "Hey! Buy me for the next five years!" I'd take a serious pass. AWFUL.

OMEGA FLIGHT #1: Wow. I can't even BEGIN to imagine a world where a sovereign government (not on the brink of collapse, or coup, or otherwise facing direct and imminent extinction) would just blithely hand over the reigns of its single most important military asset to a foreign government. I mean, isn't this pretty insulting to Canadians? Especially having a jingoistic nutjob like the USAgent being the first recruit? And the very idea of Mr. I-nuked-Canada-once being draped in the Canadian flag and forced on the team seems, I don't know, beyond insulting? Walter's portrayed as a completely ineffectual, out of touch loser, and there's not even the courtesy of an explanation of how he survived his previous dashed-off death. But, really, the problem is: this portrays Canada as America's 51st state, with all of the due accord being #51 comes with! I am super-curious to hear what a Canadian thinks about all of this, because I'm kind of reading this with my jaw dropping that anyone at Marvel thought this scenario was a good idea. Maybe the best way to read both this, and AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE, are as horror stories. AWFUL

What did you think?


What I Read and How I Read it, Part I: Jeff and the 3/21 Books.

First, is it wrong to be a prayin' man about an action movie? Point of Impact is one of my favorite sniper dude novels (although I've loved all of the Swagger books by Stephen Hunter) and I'm kind of worried about its adaptation, Shooter which came out this weekend. I mean, they certainly could've done worse than getting Mark Wahlberg for the lead (at one point, our man Keanu Reeves was attached, which would've been awful) but I'm worried about the director Antoine Fuqua who's done at least one good action movie (Training Day) and at least one absolutely turdy one (King Arthur). Have any other Point of Impact fans seen Shooter? Will I hate it? It's times like this I wish Garth Ennis had a blog or something--I remember him recommending the Hunter books to somebody at some point, and I'd totally trust whatever he had to say about the film. Second, speaking of Ennis, anyone know if there are going to be letters pages when The Boys resumes publication? I sure hope so: Ennis always crafted an entertaining letters page and it'd be great to have those back.


52 WEEK #46: A weird, but not unwelcome, shift in tone as Black Adam fights the mad scientists of Crazy Island. Normally, I'd give it more points off for that but considering I didn't like last issue's tone very much, I'll just take the cheap way out and give it a very high OK.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #539: Very anticlimactic, as May gets shot but not much happens other than Peter getting very pissed. I did like how jarring it was to see him openly swinging around as Peter Parker, though, and May's not out of the picture yet so... I dunno. OK, I guess? I've really checked out of the storyline which probably doesn't bode well overall, but I keep checking in to see if/when I'm gonna start caring again.

AQUAMAN SWORD OF ATLANTIS #50: Williams is a witty writer, and the art by Sean McManus has a ton of charm, and I also appreciated that Williams was bringing back old plotlines (like good ol' Sub Diego)--but I also think that witty and charming aren't the main qualities I want in my underwater barbarian book. This was OK, though, and there are enough plusses that I'll be back for more.

ARMY @ LOVE #1: Fans of the batshit should rush out and pick this up--it's probably the closest book I've read to Prez #1 in a long, long time. Honestly, it's no more wrong-headed than Exterminators or Testament but it's both more puzzling and more enjoyable than either of those books thanks to the talents of writer/artist Rick Veitch. Veitch is armed with talent and a decent hook--how the sexual tensions in the ranks during the current war are translating into some very strange new dynamics on the battlefront (my favorite image from the book may be the black sacks placed over prisoners' heads that manage to conjure up both Abu Ghraib torture and a bondage club gear simultaneously)--and absolutely no idea how to connect that to the current generation. Despite the cell phones used by troops and the Wiccan sub-commander, Veitch's idea of sexual chaos springs right from the '70s, with two married couples each with cheating spouses, the workaholic husband, the young wife with the itch her hubby isn't scratching, etc., etc.--kind of a satire of John Updike novels where instead of cocktail parties you've got a war in the Middle East. It probably would've killed back in '72.

But in 2007, Army @ Love reads wrong--the same way goofy ol' Prez read when it hit the stands. Admittedly, this is just the first issue, but I'd think even the most casual observer of today would skew the idea of erotic-thanatic shenanigans toward Myspace pages, Youtube videos and the Missed Connections of Craig's List than the idea of War as a great big key party with landmines ringing the hot tub at Plato's Retreat.

Also, knowing Veitch's propensity for drawing ugly people, the editors have teamed him with Gary Erskine on inks so that now the people are now merely unattractive. While not a bad idea, it's kinda falls flat as everyone looks paunchy and middle-aged in a way that works against the book's conceit.

But, again, Veitch is talented and he's got something to say, and I found something deeply appealing about Army @ Love's wrongness. If nothing else, it is entertainingly apeshit in a way that I find more encouraging than Exterminators and Testament--the mark of a master off his game rather than new talents who still can't figure out the game's rules. If you like "teh cazy," you'll find it at least OK. If not, I only ask that you put up with it for as long as possible so freaks like me can enjoy it.

Yes, I'm really posting before I go to work today: Graeme, 3/21 books, etc.

You know what I'm surprised that I haven't seen this week? More outrage about the latest New Avengers solicitation (which, if you haven't seen it, is this: "No hype! No BS! The most important last page of any Marvel comic this year! Do not miss it!" That's it, apart from the credits and other infomation about length, price, etc.). It was only, what, three years ago (two years ago, maybe?) that the comics internet was falling over itself in outrage about the claim that House of M #3 would break the internet in half, so the near-total silence about the New Avengers line (which even starts "No hype! No BS!" just to bait people) has to be some kind of good sign that either we've all grown up a lot since, then, or that Marvel's BS hype has entirely worn out its effectiveness. Or, of course, that I'm blind and have missed a thunderstorm of people being upset and excited all at once right beside me. Their eyes may even be swiveling, which I've heard happens all the time these days.

Nonetheless, I'm amused to see what the last page of the comic is going to be, considering it has to be beat the "Look. Captain America is on a slab. Dead." of Cap #25. Maybe it's Cap alive again already? Or someone else dying so that we can get a five-part miniseries about that, as well? Part of me hopes that it's something entirely offbeat, like Brian K. Vaughan has abused his new staff position at Lost, and the last page is one tiny little talking head and the rest is a speech balloon where Iron Man appears and, because he can see the future these days, gives away the ending of Lost to the readers. Although, of course, that would depend on there being an actual end of Lost already, as opposed to the writers clearly just making shit up as they're going along: "What would you say if I told you that there was a magic box where, once you open it, your heart's desire is inside?" I'd say you have no idea what you're writing anymore, and I really, really hope that was a metaphor for who was trapped inside the cell at the end of the episode instead of, you know, a real magic box, personally.

That said, poor John Locke. His dad? Kind of a bastard.

Anyway: C! O! M! I! C! S! Quickly, because I've just babbled for far too long already.

52 WEEK FORTY-SIX: And just as I'm complaining that the series is unraveling, they do an issue like this and I'm sucked back in. Not that any of my concerns from last time are really addressed - aside from maybe that the balancing of storylines seems to be coming back, and it looks like there's more to Steel's storyline than I thought (The announcement that Steel is going to be starring in a new Infinity Inc. series from this past weekend was both unexpected and somewhat head-scratching - He's the breakout character from the book? Really? - but any new Peter Milligan writing would be nice, I have to admit) - but seeing Black Adam defeated by the island of misfit mad scientists was both surprising and amusing. I expected Adam's rage to be the driving force behind WW3 in a month, but now it's beginning to look like there's more going on than I'd given them credit for. The scenes with the scientists was great, as well - simultaneously making them comedic ("I'll say it if no-one else will... Feel free to cackle hysterically, gentlemen!") but also weirdly threatening at the same time, considering that they, you know, beat Black Adam without really breaking a sweat. For the first time in a more weeks than should be the case, this book is fun again instead of just being relentless plot-hammering. Maybe that turnaround really is just around the corner. Good.

JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #4: This, on the other hand, felt like a mess: Rushed, unclear, and pointless. After three issues of building up the new Nazi badguys as the villains of the piece, they're largely dealt with offpanel so that we can see Wildcat's son - who has powers that let him turn into a werecat, which are never really explained - beat up Vandal Savage before he gets hit by a fire engine, and then it's back to subplot city. It's an unsatisfying conclusion all-round because the reveal of Savage as the villain behind the villains, and subsequent focus on him as opposed to the guys we've been seeing since issue 1, feels like bait and switch, and what little we do see of the Nazi showdown is there more as grist for the angst-mill (and nonsensical grist, at that: "I blew up Jesse! I hurt her so bad, I am evil and an ugly monster and I - Oh, wait, she's up and about a couple of panels later with no immediately obvious effects. Never mind.") than anything else. More than anything else, it feels as if Geoff Johns was told that he'd have to cut the storyline down so that they can fit in the Justice League crossover next month, and that he did it by literally just throwing out scenes until he had 22-odd pages of comic left. Pretty much Eh.

More tomorrow, potentially.

I'm still alive on Saturday

I felt fine again on Friday morning, but by noon or so I wilted again. Spent a couple of frustrating-to-Jeff hours in the store trying to catch up on stupid-mundane tasks (like refilling quarter boxes and starter sets), but then went home and collapsed again for like another 16 hours. So far today I've had a full day trying to just get caught up on losing 3 days of work (and, really, being a small business owner who is locked into a 7-day cycle because of product release, that's a big big big loss of time), even at 80% capacity, so I hope you'll forgive me for just talking about one funny book.

Which will be 52 week 44

It's fairly rare these days, content-wise, but I agree with nearly every word Graeme wrote below about 52, and I'm sorta freaked out that there's only 8 issues to go, and we can be pretty much guaranteed that at least 3 or them will focus nearly-exclusively on the Black Adam thread and "World War 3". Wolk's 100 item list not-withstanding (and seriously, proabably half of it falls into "ok, not really important" land), there's a LOT of stuff that needs to come to a head/be resolved VERY VERY SOON, and I can't possibly imagine that there's room enough to do it in, given the WW3 thing.

At the very least, I absolutely INSIST on proper closure on anything that's COVER-FEATURED (which would specifically include #5's "how did all of the space-based people get better (eg Hawkgirl being a giant), and wtf happened to them in the first place, anyway?") during the run.

I do not think this will happen.

I am especially mad at week 44 because it, as Graeme pointed out, resolutely tears down everything since week 12 or so we've been told about Isis. It's not "wow, they killed a character I've grown to love ("against all odds")", it's "wow, that's a big plothammer, and doesn't jibe at all with what we were told all the way through this"

You know what's funny? 52 was largely posited on 4 discrete threads: Steel, Booster, Ralph, and Question/Montoya. Steel's thread was 4 issues, max, and they probably gave us the equivilant of 8 issues worth. Ralph was handled "just about right", though Wolk's History of the Wishing Gun will always stay with me. The Question thread has gone on way too long "Who are you?" "Good Question." isn't a sustainable narrative (I think it's fair to argue that Cowan and O'Neill could really only sustain it for 24 issues, really -- the last 12 aren't half as strong; and the less said about Quarterly, the better, really), which leaves Booster and the connection to time travel and maybe somehow that links up to Oolong island and Doc Magnus and all that too, which has (between both threads) the thing I think most people have been digging on the most... but we almost never see those threads.

COUNTDOWN is in a curious place. If they IMMEDIATELY learn from the mistesps that 52 has made -- if it's more HEROES than LOST, to mix media -- then it could possibly fill all of the promise that 52 doesn't look that it is going to. But I have my doubts. I read somewhere, I think, that COUNTDOWN has been planned for a while, but didn't initiate as a year-long weekly. That it was the success of 52 that caused them to expland it. So I fear, that, just like 52, they're going to take what's maybe 20-30 issues worth of content, and vamp it out over a longer period.

The market REALLY REALLY wants a weekly comic, actually -- it just wants one with WEEKLY beats and meaning.

I'm unconvinced that any individual, or group of indivudals, can hit 52 week-to-week beats. Not without being mental and/or stuffing a gun in their mouth when its over.

Parenthetically, our preorders to date for COUNTDOWN are slightly less than half of our preorders for 52. This can (AND DOES) change dramatically as we get closer to release date, but it is a worrying sign.


Hibbs on 2/28 (part 1)

Oddly (not really), now that I have this week's comics, I don't want to talk about last week any longer. On the other hand, I promised.

So... I'm going to start writing about this week's books, at least what I've read so far. My intention, this week, will be to write daily posts, each covering 4-5 things, then by the end of the week I'll have it pretty much all done. One possible road-block: WonderCon is this weekend, so I might slip on Friday, but otherwise, let's see if I can handle 7 days of blogging this time out.

52 Week 43: The last couple of issues have had a density that I was bemoaning early on -- here we have 3 (or maybe 4, depending on what the Four Horsemen things works out to) threads working things out, and now we feel like we have some real momentum. Oddly, I think, the cover featured bit is maybe the slightest of them (and was also the one I wanted to read the most), but it's under-cut by the apparent loss of a caption on page 15 which makes the next scene confusing. Plus, now we know who "hunger" is (though I'm kind of unclear as to what the motivations to hang around in plain sight all of this time were), because it ends in a gore-soaked explosion. That was probably 2 panels too long, really. Finally, we end with Dan Didio telling us to buy COUNTDOWN in a fairly unconvincing way, and I'm going to be REALLY interested in how the audience reacts. Quick straw polling indicates that, in advance, very few current readers of 52 are looking forward to another year, though, obviously, the quality and content of the printed work will ultimately be what matters. Anyway, I thought this issue reasonably GOOD.

FIRESTORM #33: I think this is McDuffie's first issue? (*looks*) Yeah, it is. Weird start for a book -- clearly starting a new story, but I, as a reader feel like I'm right in the middle of something else. This isn't a smooth transition, especially because its more about the New Gods than anything else (and I find them pretty dull in most cases). Also, we're back to a quick regression for Prof Stein where, although he's the McGuffin for the plot, he is pure sideline (to the point of "This better be important, I was i the middle of a lecture" -- what, he's been fired, then, yes?). The tricky thing about a character like Firestorm is to balance the different parts of the matrix. A sloppy start, and it felt very "by the numbers" to me, so I'll say EH

CIVIL WAR FRONTLINE #11: Wow, I'm amazingly disappointed. After all of the build up to a "shocking secret" and a "traitor", the answer is obvious and telegraphed, and then absolutely dismissed and swept under the rug. Am I really to believe that 2 passionate reporters, after laying out a whole line of extremely criminal charges, and who (at least Ben) have close ties to two characters nearly eviscerated by the actions they describe, are just going to walk away from the story with a smile and a wink? Muh? I kinda liked the Cap half of the story, though I have to give the closing notes an AWFUL

IRON MAN #15: So begins "Director of S.H.I.E.L.D", which I was hoping would have a lot of scenes of Tony doing paperwork. Oh well! It's also probably worth noting that I'm less than thrilled they forced 2 covers on this issue, but only branded one of them as part of "The Initiative". Not really sure what to say here otherwise -- obviously, I'm as concerned about the overall direction of the book and character because handing that much power to one person ain't ever a good idea. And I found the introduction of the Sal character into S.H.I.E.L.D. infrastructure to be... weird. But there's some potential for interesting stories (particularly in "civilian-izing" a military organization), and the actual execution of the comic was highly OK. I definitely don't see this as having much of a chance, ala Mark Millar's predictions, of this attracting a huge new long-term audience to the character, or "breaking 100k". So, yeah, highly OK.

FLASH #9: Marc Guggenheim comes in to try and save a sinking ship, and he does a yeoman's job with it, but we're still quite a distance from there being an actual direction here, or a reason for it to be Bart in the red, really. There are a couple of fine enough scenes here, I liked the humor of the copyright-infringing villain, and I thought the "break up" (?) (though probably a good idea -- whatshername isn't a very memorable character) flowed pretty well, but, I don't know, the whole thing felt kind of weightless to me. I was (as above) pretty disappointed with the New Gods thing, and especially with the Deux Ex Machina way they resolved it, but the real problem is I still don't really care for or about Bart in the red. Still, its at least OK.

WALKING DEAD #35: Largely a return to form for this reader. But I really hope that the Martinez thing at the end of the issue is a fake cliffhanger ("What, what? I was just using the bathroom!") because I think its way too soon to go back to Woodbury. To a certain extent, it's like "The Others" in LOST -- I think that show jumped the rails when they introduced and POVed that set of characters. Clearly the "Woodbury" thread is going to have to be dealt with, but I hope it doesn't become the focus of the title. Also: note on the lettercol -- "On the cusp of being on schedule" is a pretty loose definition when you're shipping an OCT06 book (due in December 2006) in the very last week of February 2007. You'll be "on the cusp", Robert, if you shipped that book in the first week of Jan. Anyway, this issue was GOOD.

OK, that's it for now. See you tomorrow (night) with more! What did YOU think?


How I Won The War (And Lost The Universe): Jeff's Reviews of 2/21 Books

I'm being so damned slow Graeme's already posted his other reviews since I started this entry, so lemme just dive in (although if everything works out, you should see Dick Hates Your Blog over there in our blogroll): 52 WEEK #42: For a storyline I didn't care about, I thought this was a Good issue with some strong art by Darick Robertson--it's good to see Ralph look like an ectomorph again, if nothing else. I'll leave it to the rest of you who actually cared about Ralph's storyline to make the call on whether it actually worked or not, but I thought it was worth picking up on art and readability alone.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #538: Both Hibbs and Graeme thought I was higher than a kite for liking this, but I thought Straczynski did a pretty good job milking all of his non-reveals: they felt fun, and knowingly funny, and did a better job with the self-commentary (for me, it was worth the anachronism to have JJJ solemnly ponder his possible spoilerific headlines, although I wonder if JMS feels more like that lonely dude in the hotel room waiting for the authority to take his shot) than Millar's stuff in Civil War #7. Of course, next issue may well make me regret saying anything nice at all, but this was OK to me. Please be warned that you may very vehemently disagree.

BIRDS OF PREY #103: I would've preferred a much smoother work-up to the new Spy-Smasher's connection to Oracle--it suffered a bit from Hush-itis, where the dramatic situation hinges too heavily on how much you can buy into a suddenly prominent (but previously unmentioned) character from the protagonist's backstory (arguably a little harder to excuse here since Simone's been on the book for a while)--and I just didn't buy the last page (of course, I've never bought that Barbara would hide her secret identity from her father so I'm at a disadvantage going in). So it's I guess the usual BOP-itis for me again, where there's enough interesting stuff going on and talented people at work that I pick the book up, but somehow not enough that I actually enjoy myself. Eh.

BRAVE AND THE BOLD #1: I was expecting this Waid & Perez book to feel stuffy and self-important, but damned if this didn't read just like a Haney/Aparo issue of Brave & The Bold, except done by Waid and Perez--which means enjoyable amounts of OCDish attention to tiny details even while the overall storytelling gets played fast & loose. (At one point during a fight, Batman says he's out of weapons while he's in the Batcave. Wha-huh?) But you've got Batman, Green Lantern, space aliens, old supervillains, Bruce Wayne in a tux and Hal Jordan in a flight jacket, with Las Vegas thrown in to boot. It was a Very Good chunk of superhero fun, and I enjoyed it.

CIVIL WAR #7: Listening to Hibbs make all his points in-store yesterday (I didn't read his or Graeme's review because I hadn't yet read the book) was pretty exciting, and I could almost imagine his ideas working--Marvel's universe gets its shit together, most of the supervillains disappear, work begins on making a better world and then slowly, everything starts to unravel and fall apart and we end up in a new (but rougher) version of the original Marvel Universe, one that even feels a little more like our own... I could really see it.

But could I see Marvel doing it? Oh, please.

In fact, it may be true or not, but these days I think of DC as having the editorial infrastructure to get everyone on board (but having nowhere to go) and Marvel as being the place with lots of really big ideas (and absolutely no idea how to get everyone--or anyone, really--to get there, so howzabout a nice three page "Dear Sue" montage instead?) Maybe they'll prove me wrong, but considering The New Avengers launched with dozens of supervillains escaping The Raft and all Marvel wrung from that was one paltry miniseries and the Avengers shaking down some dude in front of a French restaurant, I find myself far from hopeful. (And let's face it, can you imagine Brian's dream of an exciting new status quo being done in any satisfying way from the guys who published Civil War: The Return? I can't.)

Weirdly, it was Marvel--good ol' Nu-Marvel back at the end of the '90s--that got me to finally let go of my fanboyish near-deathgrip on continuity. In the early Jemas/Quesada days, they were mostly avoiding crossovers, editors apparently weren't coordinating, and you could have major shit going down in Grant Morrison's New X-Men without being told you had to pick up Busiek & Perez's Avengers to see why they didn't, for example, show up to help pick up Genosha. It was annoying at first, but it quickly became a relief: as long as I was reading a good story, who cared if the Wolverine I was reading in one book had only the faintest similarity to the Wolverine in the other?

So it's with no small sense of irony that I watch Marvel swing heavily into its new golden age of heavily cross-referenced continuity. It was, after all, that very lesson I learned from Nu-Marvel (and, of course, Hibbs being generous enough to let me out of books I'd committed to buying) that allowed me to drop Civil War in mid-storyline, leaving those first few issues orphaned in my collection. In order to win the Civil War (and save myself at least twelve bucks), I finally gave up on the Marvel Universe, and that's really probably for the best. I'll ignore the Civil War stuff until it goes away, keep looking for the books that do what I want them to do, and pray too many good books don't get railroaded into following editorially mandated storylines along the way.

Oh, and as for the book itself, it felt rushed (full page panels that felt like one half of a double-page spread, pages with no dialogue apart from hollered taglines), bloated and exhausted. Props to Jake W. (for linking to it in our comments), Brandi at Scans Daily (for posting it) and whoever was actually responsible for this, because, although obvious, it really is the more honest and satisfying ending to Civil War (and Wanted, really). If Hibbs had made me buy the books I signed up for, this would've been Crap, but since I more-or-less escaped, Eh.

EX MACHINA INSIDE THE MACHINE VOL 1: A behind-the-scenes puff piece that focuses mainly on the transition from script to art, and Tony Harris's working methods. If it was a freebie, it'd be fucking fantastic, because both Vaughan and Harris come off as intelligent and passionate about their book. But at $2.99, the only way I can justify that price is if I pretend it's an issue of Wizard where they left out the price guide and poop jokes. Eh, but maybe DC/Wildstorm will reprint the sucker as a FCBD freebie or an insert to send to libraries or something...

HELLBLAZER #229: Some strong understated work by John Paul Leon makes this one-off from Mike Carey seem better than it is. Don't get me wrong, it's highly OK but the way the story's constructed, it'd benefit from more Mad Ideas: Carey only works himself up to Unsettling Concepts. But his dialogue and, again, Leon's art are strong enough to cover for that.

HELLSTORM SON OF SATAN #5: It's a shame this was so solidly Eh: I thought Irvine's take on Egyptian myth was solid, and his thoughts about the gods and religion had a bit more sophistication than we normally get with this sort of thing. But swap out the trident and the tattoos and the annoying cellphone, and swap in a trenchcoat, some silk cuts and the occasional "Cor, Blimey!" and this could be just another Constantine story. And while maybe that's the point as far as the writer and editorial are concerned, it's pretty underwhelming.

IMMORTAL IRON FIST #3: It's a gorgeous looking book (the first flashback artist didn't really do it for me, but between David Aja and Russ Heath, I was in nerd heaven) but I know I can't be the only one who thinks it's reading very, very slow. Frubaker's script and some thought in it, the dialogue is witty, and the art is buttery smooth, but I'm worried nobody's going to be reading it by issue #8 except me and Arune if it doesn't get to the point where the ass meets the kicking in a pretty big way. Good, but I'm worried. (Although, admittedly, I'm a worrier.)

NEW AVENGERS ILLUMINATI #2: This is nine different kinds of boned, I'm afraid. Putting aside the pain caused by unnecessary retcons and possible present and future story fucking (I hope this whole infinity gem thing gets returned to again because if you expect me to believe that major players of the Civil War had gems and didn't use them, you're sadly mistaken) this is just a badly paced done-in-one issue. At the plotting stage, it must've looked like a classic Marvel comic (heroes meet and discuss the problem, heroes split up and face separate challenges, reunite to find out they've just exacerbated the problem, barely escape by the skin of their teeth) but by the time Bendis and Reed have their chatty Cathy way with the script, it ends up a both draggy and truncated, graceless and artless, meaningless unless you know the characters involved and unbeliebable if you do. Some expressive work from artist Jim Cheung keeps this from me rating it lower than Eh, although I should.

POWERS #23: Meanwhile, back at What-Bendis-Does-Best-Ville, this story had a dialogue-heavy confrontation where a possible revelation suddenly pops up and ends with a cliffhanger that "could change everything." And yet, what keeps you reading are the little character beats and payoffs from things put in motion dozens of issues ago. Very Good stuff, and although I can't fault Bendis for continuing to stretch himself, and write superhero team continuity books because of being a big ol' fanboy at heart, I'm amazed he continues to focus on work so far from his strengths.

PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL #4: A very odd issue, in that Fraction seems spend most of it making excellent subtextual arguments against the ending he then proceeds to use anyway. While I think that pays excellent dividends this issue--along with Deodato's increasingly dark artwork, it creates a palpable sense of tension that grows in the last several pages--the returns could diminish pretty rapidly if the protagonist goes on to become the despoiler of everything the writer like. (Or, I dunno, maybe like some weird superhero version of The Sopranos, PWJ could turn into a deeply compelling denunciation of the lead character's values. Or, hmmm, something else, maybe? [Yeah, this review has gotten itself lost in the weeds, hasn't it?]) Good, but yeah, very odd.

SPIRIT #3: Lovely, lovely art with simply astonishing color (why'd it remind me of early DC romance comics? Was there some Sekowsky influence someone was trying to work in there or something?) helps me forgive a less-than minor flaw in the storytelling--if you're gonna switch storytelling perspectives every page, you can't decide to do that six pages into the story, just like you can't run your title credits sequence thirty minutes into your movie. It's a Good issue, and the potential continues to grow, but it's not there yet.

SUPERMAN #659: I guess from reading those Superman Showcases I was immediately aware as to how this had such a Silver-Age hook--an elderly religious woman assumes Superman is an angel--and such a non-Silver-Age execution: in the Silver Age version, the tension would've come from Superman continually trying more extravagant ways to prove that he's not an angel while fate or oversight foul things up ("Groan! The lighthouse beacon is bouncing off the silver nitrate I seeded those rain clouds with earlier! Now it looks like a heavenly light is shining down on me from above!") In the non-Silver Age version, Superman continues to save the increasingly adventurous religous woman until he ends up too busy (fighting an alien made out of radio waves at the South Pole) to keep someone from busting a cap in her ass. Admittedly, this was a unique situation--a fill-in issue published ahead of schedule because of other delays--but I think I would've preferred the Silver Age version: by the time I got to page four or five I guessed the rest of the issue (well, except for the alien made out of radio waves). Highly OK--particularly given the circumstances--but I was lefting wanting more.

PICK OF THE WEEK: BRAVE AND THE BOLD #1, which kinda blows my mind. Who'd a thunk?

PICK OF THE WEAK: NEW AVENGERS ILLUMINATI #2, because Bendis and Reed handle a continuity changing superhero team book with all the skill of those burglars from Home Alone.

TRADE PICK: KAMANDI ARCHIVES VOL. 2, DRIFTING CLASSROOM VOL. 4, GOLGO 13 VOL. 7, and MONSTER VOL. 7. I hope to have reviews of that stuff and other trades in the next week or so.

And you?

Graeme fights a Dragon!: Reviews of the 1/31 books.

Apparently, my mother-in-law was the least of my worries last weekend, as I instead ended up sick and sneezing and coughing for more or less the rest of the week, feeling sorry for myself only when I realized that being too sick to work also, occasionally, means that I was too sick to really concentrate enough to do that much else as well. So that long review I'd wanted to do about all of the Essential Fantastic Four books? Covered in mental snot. Attempting to read the crayon-laden pornography that was Lost Girls? Lost to the much-easier task of watching Top Chef reruns (Ilan won? What?). It seemed that my apathy was matched by this week's releases, though, which is something. Maybe not a good something, mind you, but something nonetheless.

52 WEEK THIRTY-NINE: Firstly, as Jeff pointed out in the store, look at the ticker along the bottom of the cover: "Montoya fights a Dragon!" it says, twice... but Montoya doesn't even show up in this issue. Victim of last minute rewrites, or is the ticker now just giving us updates on what the characters are doing off-panel? It'll be interesting to see next issue, when either Richard Dragon will be punching Montoya, or the cover will tell us "Booster Gold has a sandwich!" Storywise, it looks as if they're trying to bring the relatively-deadend Lex Luthor plot to a close, and it's not entirely happening smoothly - the "Yeah, remember that whole 'Lex can't have superpowers' thing? Only joking!" of this issue's events doesn't feel as if it's a cleverly-planned reveal as much as an about-face to try and give the thread some dramatic oomph. Nonetheless, hopefully this'll be over next issue and we can get back to the much more interesting other storylines; we already know how the Black Adam plot is going to go, thanks to the DC Nation page this issue, but I want to find out what's going to happen to Ralph, goshdarnit. Eh.

DAREDEVIL #93: And talking of surprisingly obvious writerly touches, I was convinced that I'd missed an issue along the way, for the majority of this book. Everything from the past few months, even reaching back to Bendis's run, suddenly gets tied up so quickly as to feel rushed and unsatisfying - you feel like this issue should've been subtitled "The Reboot Button gets pushed" - and I'm left conflicted. I like where everything is left, but I wanted more from Murdock's return to public life, more from the latest showdown with the Kingpin, and much more from Murdock learning that Foggy wasn't dead after all. Seriously, what happened? This should've been excellent, but ended up just Okay.

EX MACHINA #26: Wait, is this a plot? An actual, real plot that has something to do with the characters' present, as opposed to some random Law And Order plot that loosely ties into flashbacks while the main characters talk about political theory? Yes, it's much more of a generic superhero story, but that turns out to be better fitted for the title that what we've been getting recently, if this Good issue is anything to go by.

MS. MARVEL SPECIAL #1: Strange Marvel publishing decision number one; I have no idea why this story got its own one-shot, because everything about it says "standard fill-in issue" through and through. There's nothing special about the issue at all, from idea to execution, and it also doesn't work as an introduction to the character due to its unwillingness (or inability, who knows?) to actually introduce anything about the character or her status quo to those who are unfamiliar with her, instead throwing back to part of her part that, in retrospect, is best forgotten, and still managing to say nothing about even that. If it had been a filler issue of the regular book - and there's no obvious reason why it couldn't have been - then it would've just been pretty Eh, but as its own special issue? Crap. I'd love to find out how it managed to end up as a one-shot; between this and last week's Civil War oneshot, it's almost as if Marvel editorial is on a mission to devalue the idea of a one-off special.

ULTIMATE CIVIL WAR SPIDER-HAM FEATURING WOLVERHAM #1: And this doesn't help matters, either. You can almost imagine what happened - J. Michael Straczynski manages to convince Joe Quesada to do a comedy issue to lighten Marvel's output in the midst of Civil War, only to discover that he has nothing whatsoever to say, and has to resort to full-page pictures of Marvel characters as - get this - pigs! There's nothing to this; you can't even say that it's not funny, because there's nothing to be funny. There's nothing to this comic at all beyond the idea that it's inherently funny and fulfilling to make a familiar character into a pig and add "Ham" somewhere to their name, and... well, it's not. It's embarrassing, instead; an injoke stretched beyond interest and even more proof that so much of Marvel's output these days has become preoccupied with self-indulgence instead of entertainment. Ass, and worryingly, probably not the height - or depths, maybe? - of Marvel's current love of naval-gazing.

Another short week means that it's surprisingly easy to pick both the PICK OF THE WEEK (Ex Machina) and the PICK OF THE WEAK (Spider-Ham). In the midst of my own preoccupation this week, what with being sick and all, I've been entertaining myself with my TRADEs OF THE WEEK: Showcase Presents Justice League of America Vol. 2 (Gardner Fox's stories mix the simplicity of good children's stories with a trickiness of imagination and novelty, and Mike Sekowsky's art is an ugly little joy), and the absolutely insane (in the best way) Showcase Presents The Brave And The Bold: Batman Team-Ups Vol. 1 that I picked up last night but can't stop reading - Bob Haney's writing must've seemed as strange and offkilter back in the day as it does now, what with his concentrated attempts to make Batman swinging and out-Stan Lee Stan Lee. Why this man didn't become an often-ripped-off genius worshipped by all, I have no idea.

What did the rest of you read this week, you healthy bastards?

The Intervention: Jeff's Review of the 1/21/07 Comics.

You know the deal. Your friend calls you, makes plans to meet them at a bar for a few drinks and, when you show up, you realize that not only did they get to the bar early and begin drinking without you, they showed up five hours early. Now, your friend keeps making out with the stranger next to them (who is toothless and looks like Curly Joe Besser in a platinum wig) and, after trying to start a fight with you when you point out they have what you think might be vomit in their hair, you realize your friend has a problem. And if you're lucky you can make your friend realize it too, before they drive away everyone who cares about them. Obviously, in this case, I'm talking about Marvel Comics and their releases this week. But I think I'm getting a little ahead of myself... Read on and you'll see what I mean.

Oh, and there are spoilers and stuff, so don't read if you don't want 'em...

52 WEEK #38: Kind of a time-waster, in some ways. I think it's already well-established that Nanda Parabat pops up just when you can't go any farther and are right on the edge of collapse, so maybe we could have just opened with that? Also, what fun is the Crime Bible if they've got the same stuff as the regular bible, but with just slightly more absurd details? Give me the the Four Second-Story Men of the Apocalypse any day!

Ooo, and that plea by Eddie Berganza to read Supergirl was uncomfortable, wasn't it? "We're so concerned about making this a book for women, I even asked my assistant--who's a woman--for advice!" And "We wanted Supergirl to be more like a real girl and have a little more weight on her bones!" (Does the tits and ass really count as "bones"?) Sadly the subtext--"ladies, we failed to successfully pander to men, so we're ready to try pandering to you!"--is pretty apparent and sorta amusing in a depressing kind of way.OK.

CIVIL WAR THE RETURN: There's a few things in Civil War--Nitro being part of the instigating event, the prison's location in the Negative Zone--that tie in nicely with the original Captain Marvel (who, to make things more confusing, isn't the original Captain Marvel, but is Marvel's original Captain Marvel) so it seems like this was planned from the start of the event. But, if that's the case, why is "The Return" both unbearably lame and done with so little cognizance of the actual character? I'm not even a big Captain Marvel fan and I found enormous continuity flaws with this (they show Captain Marvel putting on his Nega-Bands, but the dude wasn't able to take 'em off; also, where the hell is Rick Jones? Back in the past, on fire, clanging on his bands, screaming "Why? Why aren't they working??"). If you're gonna bring a character back, shouldn't you bother to at least read the Marvel Handbook entry on him? Plus, why make him the warden of the prison? "We need someone to sign guards' request for overtime, Mar-Vell, and you're the only one we can trust!" Slapdash and hackish, but, to be fair, should I really be surprised when Paul Jenkins can't even do justice to a character he's created? That Sentry story was arguably even worse. This was a really ASS book, and suggests Marvel has already dealt their good shit with regards to the Civil War--it's all rat poison and baby laxative from here on out.

CONNOR HAWKE DRAGONS BLOOD #3: I didn't bother with the first few issues, but probably because they didn't show Connor making out with his smoking-hot Ninja stepmom on the cover. Hopefully, this mini will do the trick and we don't have to read Chuck Dixon's Connor Hawke: The Dragon's Totally Straight, Okay? where Connor really has to overcompensate. OK.

CRIMINAL #4: VERY GOOD stuff, although, you know, some quibblage. Would Leo really leave Greta the recovering addict with access to tons of high grade junk right after he buries his mentor with whom he's made the same mistake? Apparently he would, and I bet it's essential to the "coward" nature Brubaker is observing, but...I dunno. As I said, quibblage. Well worth your time and coin, though.

DAMNED #4: This is also highly GOOD crime stuff which I've been enjoying. I'm not entirely sure on the cosmology--obviously, the creators don't want me to get all the angles yet, but the hardest part about writing magic and fantasy stories is making the reader feel like they know enough of the "rules" to think they're being treated honestly. I suspect we won't know if it all hangs together until the final issue, but I have high hopes.

DOCTOR STRANGE OATH #4: What with all the puns, it's thisssss close to being a high camp self-parody of near Joel ("Ice to meet you, Batman!") Schumacherian proportions, but compared to nearly every other book Marvel put out this week, it's practically Watchmen. OK, is what it is, and probably about as good as Dr. Strange is gonna get anytime soon.

ETERNALS #6: You know, San Francisco is a very difficult town to convey visually, which is why almost everyone falls back on Golden Gate Bridge/Transamerica Pyramid/Gate of Chinatown imagery, but jeez. Thanks to John Romita Jr's apparent disdain for photo-reference (or detail), an average episode of Full House feels more convincingly San Franciscan than this miniseries. Sadly, that's not the worst of its problems, as top-name talent Neil Gaiman sheepishly drags his cosmic superhero tale through its paces with all the verve of a hungover dad at Disneyland. Parts are definitely charming, and Gaiman is one of the few guys who bothers with the idea that superheroes can (and perhaps should) be super-compassionate, but barring some ultra-mega-cosmic finale in the last issue, I kinda feel like an idiot for spending so much buck on so little bang. EH.

FLASH THE FASTEST MAN ALIVE #8: After eight issues, the creative team has clawed all the way up to an EH rating. Flash goes to Vegas, gets laid, and traps an intangible electrical being behind him on his slipstream. The End. New scripter Marc Guggenheim starts in next issue and I wish him all the best because this book is nine kinds of screwed, already.

HELMET OF FATE IBIS THE INVINCIBLE #1: So, I guess this Helmet of Fate thing is, like, DC's old First Issue Special but with Fate's helmet as a joined linking device? As Brian points out, this'll probably do little more than hurt the upcoming Dr. Fate series and that's a bummer because I thought this wasn't a bad little book--lovely art by Phil Winslade and Tad Williams manages to cover in 20 pages what it took Gaiman 6 issues--if a little glib and unnecessary. But as I grow nostalgic in my dotage, I think I prefer the "let's throw shit at the wall and see what sticks" trademark retention to "hmmm, who can we rape and unmask now?" crossover events. Like I said, kinda GOOD.

HEROES FOR HIRE #6: I can't fully hate any book that has both the Headmen and a Doombot trying very hard not to bond with its precocious kid savior, but it didn't really fry my burger, either. Between this, Dr. Strange: The Oath, Punisher: War Journal and (to a much lesser extent) X-Factor, there's a lot of comedic shtick, as if people writing for Marvel are just trying to keep themselves amused for as long as the checks clear, and hoping that enough old-school shout-outs will keep the audience from noticing how embarrassed the creators are to be workiing on the material. Considering the creators have some talent to them, and it's not quite as bad as the cynically serious-faced money-grab Millar and Jenkins spend more and more of their time at, it's struck me as the lesser of two evils up to now. So, OK, kinda, but Marvel, what's that in your hair, dude?

MOON KNIGHT #7: Moves like a greyhound doped up on horse tranquilizers--slow and kinda stupid (apparently every hero in the Marvel Universe is okay with murder and slaughter when the plot requires them to be (or until the plot requires them not to be)). And if this really got delayed because of Civil War, I'd really like to know why since it's nothing but the most generic of tie-ins. Still, the creative team here has created a superhero who continues creeps the fuck out of me in a way that's neither out of line with the character nor particularly common in the marketplace these days. So, OK, even though I guess it's gonna be draggy-ass all the way through this team's run.

PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL #3: Maybe Fraction is just making the best of the hand he's been dealt, but this was so badly paced, I really have to wonder--The Punisher stumbles out of his interminable Civil War scene (complete with what I assume is an intentional paradox of a flashback) and ends up in an armory...how, exactly? One scene ends with crazy scientist guy in an elevator and the next starts with him and Frank in the armory... it's as if an entire scene in the middle dropped out (I actually flipped through the pages twice to see if I'd missed something). The first point I can kind of forgive (the scientist has a doo-whatsit pinned on Frank with which he can track him down) but the second is such a fumble of basic pacing, I was kind of mystified.

Also? Establishing shots? They're not just for hacks. Really.

So between all that and the plot-hammering, and the OOC stuff, is it enough to have real pretty art and the re-appearance of the Satan's Claw? I wish it was, but really, this was AWFUL, and I'm really, really hoping that's just a fluke.

ROBIN #158: Brought back those fond days of yesteryear, when two unlikely heroes teamed up and fought an even more unlikely villain, and yet you could read it and pretty much believe it because the creators showed a certain respect and affection for the characters. It wasn't showstopping, even with such lovely art, but it was GOOD.

SILENT WAR #1: Sorry, Marvel: I have successfully made my saving throw against your pretty looking unlikely miniseries. I just couldn't buy The Fantastic Four--humanity's first contact with The Inhumans, mind you--being told by the government to fuck off and being okay with that. I'm starting to feel like Helen Lovejoy from The Simpsons: "Won't somebody please think of the characters?" EH.

SUPERGIRL AND THE LEGION OF SUPER HEROES #26: Sweet art, a strong story, and even a sense of peril in a story where three of the superheroes have Superman level powers--which, if you think about it, is a pretty hard trick to pull off. GOOD, although there's really no way to do an LSH book without it being crufty as hell, is there?

TRUE STORY SWEAR TO GOD #3: A strong little issue, even if the ending might be just a little bit too pat. GOOD stuff, though, and one of those books I'm always glad to see on the stands.

WOLVERINE #50: The final sign that Marvel might need help is this horribly hacky over-priced issue. Not only is it bad enough that an artist like Simone Bianchi is wasted on this dreck (although, to be honest, he's not that great here. Does "Wolverine" mean "make the fight scenes too dark and show a bunch of knees and elbows flying out at the reader" in Italian or someething?), not only is Jeph Loeb at his most scattershot "I'm having a flashback--or a dream! That's it, a dream of a flashback!--and it inspires me to start a fight--or maybe it doesn't! Yeah, maybe I'm really upset about this flashback, instead! Or maybe not!" But we don't even get a full story (yes, I know that should be in quotes, and yes I know I'm echoing Hibbs' earlier "and such small portions!" complaint) for our $3.99. Instead, we're expected to underwrite Loeb's fellating of former boss Damon Lindelof in the form of a "tribute" to Len Wein and Herb Trimpe's first appearance of Wolverine (where Wolverine says Wein's dialogue and thinks, "Like I'd ever say crap like that if I wasn't told to," and "those whiskers on the costume were humiliating and I begged Mac to take 'em off," which, as tributes go, lacks a certain something) that suddenly morphs into the infamous double-page spread of Ultimate Wolverine Versus Hulk for no reason. I think it's meant to be cute, but the unintended message--"I can suppress my gag reflex if you can get me paying work"--is really off-putting. And that's why Marvel needs an intervention: it's not just that Wolverine #50, like Civil War: The Return, is an ASS comic, it's that it's an ASS comic that Marvel presents like the most amazing comic you're going to read all month and really seems to believe it. We're all used to hyperbole from Marvel with the books it publishes but there's a wild-eyed desperation to the shit Marvel is putting out on the market--"Isn't this girl awesome? Show him your teeth, honey!"--that makes me deeply, deeply afraid and, obviously, cranky. Blow Damon Lindelof on your own time, Loeb!

PICK OF THE WEEK: CRIMINAL #4. Go get it now.


TRADE PICK: Just this week, I was rounding up a bunch of books on my shelf that I'd read and realized I was never going to read, and the first two Penny-Arcade volumes were in that round-up. I'd enjoyed them, to be sure, but was I really going to re-read them? So of course, along comes PENNY ARCADE VOL 3 WARSUN PROPHECIES and I tore halfway through that thing yesterday afternoon. I'm sure it's not for everyone, but Tycho's prose style is utter fucking catnip for me.

And, hey, this is a trifecta right here. Howzabout that? Please read my savagely critical colleagues below if you haven't already, and lemme know your thoughts in the funny little comments box when you can.

Hibbs has an hour & talks about 1/21 books.

I totally don't have time for doing reviews.... like ever, which is why I hardly ever post, but here I find myself with about an hour and I don't feel like doing any REAL work (or playing a brief bit of MARVEL: ULTIMATE ALLIANCE -- jeez, I suck hard at "traditional" video games), so let's try to pretend that I post content to this blog, too -- shall we? 52 WEEK #38: A downer of an issue after the last page of last week (I'd probably be happy if the last 14 weeks were ALL about the yellow aliens, to be honest), but at least it does seem like some of the threads are starting to come together. This issue is at least OK. I think I'd rather comment on the "DC Nation" page, and Eddie Berganza's plea for women to pick up SUPERGIRL.

I'm kinda disturbed by the "We want her to be a 'real' teenage girl" when the CONTENT is "Act like Paris Hilton, loath yourself, and try to kill your male role model", because all of that, to me, makes it sound like no one in the DC offices has ever MET a "real" teenage girl. This kind of bothers me even more in the context of DC cancelling THE BOYS, resumably for content, because I think garbage like the current SUPERGIRL comic is far (FAR!) more harmful to the souls of people, or to the "mythic value" of the superhero genre, than Garth & Darick's dirty little minds.

Y'know, even IF "real girls" ARE like that (and I think most aren't), maybe JUST MAYBE its because of messages in the media that encourage those kinds of feelings/behavior. And comics ARE part of the media. I certainly wouldn't give this highly sexualized version (look at the skirt! Look at her body proportions!) of Supergirl to a young girl precisely because its the wrong kind of role model. It's pretty shameful stuff, if you ask me.

CIVIL WAR THE RETURN: ....the fuck? Well, I think we have our first contender for The Very Worst Comic of the 21st Century. What a horrific cluserfuck this is. It's not only totally out of left field to have Captain Marvel be the warden of the Civil War prison, but its hamfistedly done at that with exactly the kind of awkward "DC plot" that Marvel usually strenously avoids. It's not even so much a "return" as much as "Oh, look he's been standing here for a while" And, then, as the old joke goes "...and such small portions, too!" The Sentry story just ate up pages that could have been summarized in 2 panels, max, but it didn't even feel "Sentry-like". Man, I am so glad I didn't take a significant position on this one -- this dog isn't going to hunt. It's worse than CRAP -- it's ASS.

CRIMINAL #4: This, on the other hand is EXCELLENT in all ways, shapes and forms. I have nothing more meaningful to say than that, but I wanted to have at least one great comic in this week's pile.

ETERNALS #6: I absolutely have to criticize this for the artistic depiction of San Francisco, which has been an ongoing problem (again, from ground level, you simply can't see the Golden Gate Bridge from Golden Gate Park), but reaches new heights here as we pull back for the wide shots, and it appears the only reference used was maybe a geologic survey map.

Golden Gate Park is yes, about 50 blocks long, but it is only about 6 blocks wide, and on either side of the park is houses. Lots and lots and lots of houses. The way these scenes are drawn, there'd be horrific casualties, in the thousands, if not tens of thousands, with billions of dollars of property damage.

Ignoring that, the story was fine, if a little awkward from the inclusion of the Civil War elements, but I just couldn't get past the staging at all. AWFUL.

FABLES #57: Neat, Mike Allred draws this issue. Solid issue otherwise, too. GOOD.

HELMET OF FATE IBIS THE INVINCIBLE #1: This issue, in and of itself, is fine -- introducing a new Ibis, who probably won't appear in another DC comic for a year, but, unfortunately, making him way too much like Captain Marvel in doing so. The actual execution is really pretty decent, I might even give it a low GOOD, but this is an obvious go-nowhere character introduction that also doesn't really move the "Dr. Fate" part of the plotline forward. All in all, this is bound to hurt the introduction of the DR. FATE monthly book upcoming -- you'd have thought that DC would have learned from the virtually identical marketing mistake made on POWER COMPANY.

PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL #3 CW: Wow, really disliked this issue. Like virulently hated it. Everyone seems totally out of character, or moving to the dictates of the Plothammer. (yeah, as if Luke Cage would let Castle walk with a "he won't forget a punch from Captain America anytime soon!" after he just murdered two guys in front of them). The art is really lovely though, which saves it by giving it an AWFUL.

WOLVERINE #50: I was kind of surprised that the story ended where it did, given this was the double sized issue, and the backup was (while also fun to look at), basically fluffy filler. So, basically, eye candy, no meat. I'm going to go with OK, but feel free to raise that if you're good with just eye candy.

So, I think the PICK OF THE WEEK should be obvious -- CRIMINAL #4 was a fine piece of work, with a lot of solid backmatter, too! I just wish #1 had gone back to press is all...

PICK OF THE WEAK should also be obvious -- CIVIL WAR THE RETURN, which shouldn't have, and isn't really.

For TP/BOOK OF THE WEEK, I think I'm going to go with two left field choices, which your LCS probably doesn't even have anyway. Either the COMPLETE NEMESIS THE WARLOCK BK 1, with the early eyeball-bleeding work of Kev O'Neill, or Paul Chadwick's underlooked WORLD BELOW TP, which I remember as being seriously strange, and gorgeous to look at at the same time.

That's what I got in my hour -- what did you think this week?


Back on the Chain Gang: Jeff's Reviews of 01/17/07 Books

Wow. New York. Actually, that'll probably be another post later in the week, but god damn, did that town knock me on my ass. Since I got back last week, I've been laying low and taking it easy but it's probably time I get back into the swing of things and, since this week was so low-key, the time is right. You'll probably also get another post on some of the trades I've been working through...maybe. I've been so deeply annoyed by that first trade of Paul Jenkins' The Sentry (which I picked up super-cheap) that a long, hectoring screed will be in order.

And finally, for those of you who remember me talking about Secret Writing Project X about five or six months ago, I should finally be able to talk about in the next week or so.

So, that's what I've got for you in the future, but what have I done for you lately?

52 WEEK #37: Since I didn't get to the previous week's books until this week, I read this right along with the previous and together they were pretty enjoyable. At the risk of being spoilerific, it's kind of a bummer when Supernova's reveal isn't quite as cool as all the red herrings (kinda like when Hush wasn't Jason Todd but turned out to be that boring doctor dude after all) but at least it's still satisfactory in a larger arc kind of way. And the paragraph where Dan Didio talked like The Architect from the second Matrix movie was pretty enjoyable as well, so I'd say this was relatively Good stuff.

AQUAMAN SWORD OF ATLANTIS #48: Old school alert!! Bee-you-tiful art by Ricardo Villagran (a name I totally remember from those Savage Sword of Conan days) makes this book worth picking up. I have to admit, though, it conjures the flavor of the book I'd like to read (Aquaman, Underwater Barbarian) rather than the book I feel like I'm reading (Aquaman, Whingey Naif). Still, just to see some gorgeously fine linework? Highly OK.

BIRDS OF PREY #102: Graeme does a pretty good job below pointing out stuff with this ish that doesn't work and misses the big one: the conclusion of the big confrontation between Barbara and Lois retroactively strips the scene (and since it's the bulk of the book, the issue) of any drama. I don't know if it was last minute editorial influence, or a sudden "hey, wait..." realization on Gail's part, but there are better ways to have surprise twists on your confrontation than "Did you really think I was gonna out your operation? Psyche!!" Eh, although I should mention I'm digging the art.

CABLE DEADPOOL #36: Maybe moves a bit too much into the realm of outright absurdity (the book never lacks for it, but the Cable storylines mean that it has to be kept under pretty tight leash), but not enough to mitigate my enjoyment. And although I liked Patrick Zircher's art, I'm glad to have a new artist on the book--so much so, it may take me an issue or two before I can tell what Reilly Brown's bringing to the table. Good.

EXILES #90: Chris Claremont finally takes over the book, with remarkably hacky results. (An imaginary "and that's what would happen if..." scenario followed by danger room training sessions--all we need are the Exiles going on patrol and beating up a band of muggers and we'd have 95% of the Marvel Comics openings I read growing up.) Then Psylocke shows up and the countdown to sexy ninja mindrape begins. Although Claremont doesn't fumble the ball, it's apparent he's on Exiles because its sales are remarkably bulletproof rather than anything in particular he needs to say. And that's probably the way it's going to be until (a) the book gets cancelled; or (b) Brevoort takes Claremont behind the barn to show him the rabbits. In a way, all well and good, but in another way, unfathomably depressing. Quasi-Awful.

FANTASTIC FOUR #542 CW: Exhibit A in why Hibbs should do reviews this week, because his comprehensive overview of why this did and didn't work is beyond what you're gonna get from me. Me, I thought McDuffie did a very good save on Reed's CW motivations, and Mike McKone's art seemed a little more lively than it's been. I don't think we're out of the woods yet--Civil War hasn't left this book "revitalized," so much as "just about broken"--but we're getting there. OK, at the very least.

GHOST RIDER #7: Again, lurve the Corben art--particularly those faces--but WTF is up with the story? I think it's flipping between a fiery showdown between Satan and Ghost Rider, and a flashback detailing the events of Johnny Blaze's death before the beginning of the Ennis/Crain mini, but honestly, that's just a wild fuckin' guess. It reads like someone mapped a bunch of cliches to keyboard macros, dropped their keyboard, stepped on it a few times, and then submitted the result. God-damn lovely art, though. Eh.

GREEN LANTERN #16: There's a line here where someone (I think Alan Scott, but I'll be assed if I can remember for sure) says something like, "Every time you and Carol started to get too close, you and Oliver would go on the road to discover America. But you're not running now, Hal," which manages to be a clumsy retcon, a lazy shortcut (So far, Hal appears to have the same relationship with Cowgirl that he seems to have with every other member of the DCU--she admires him and he feels a fierce loyalty to her for which he will break The Rules--and the only way the reader could assume he felt any differently is that the artists always draw Cowgirl super-hot), and hilariously bitchy all at once. Throw in an annoyingly shrill ubervillain (Abin Sur's son, who is apparently the only person in the universe unclear as to how the Green Lantern succession process works) and you've got the very dregs of Eh(--even if it'll maybe lead to a return to Ysmault or something cool like that).

HELMET OF FATE DETECTIVE CHIMP #1: Although competent, it somehow fails to meet the high bar of expectation set by a comic titled "Helmet of Fate: Detective Chimp." Eh.

PHONOGRAM #4: Yeah, I dunno. Although it could well be because I can't follow the theme and the imagery of the story without reading all the copious notes and essays in the back of each issue, I think there's something vital missing from this story four issues in. Whether through inexperience or an overabundance of caution, Gillen has left the genuine heart out of his narrative (probably the real-life emotional events at the heart of the story as alluded to in the notes) and chosen instead to invest his allegory with dense imagery and fervent argument. Consequently, even as the book trembles on the cusp of justifying Why Pop Matters, I'm not emotionally invested enough to have it matter to me. It could turn that around before the end, of course, but currently I'm frustrated that the book doesn't feel more than OK considering the amount of passion and skill being put into it.

SHE-HULK 2 #15: Both Burchett and Slott seem off their game here: although Burchett's work usually looks cartoony, this issue doesn't have his usual top-notch storytelling, and Slott's Agent Cheesecake is just one of several neither-fish-nor-fowl conceits. If they're trying to change gears on this book to save or boost sales, they'd better change 'em quickly and a little more smoothly. Eh.

SPIDER-MAN REIGN #2: There's a certain excitement that can accompany a very bad comic book: unrestrained by good taste or commmon sense, the creator can take the reader to an utterly unexpected place. And for about four panels, where a fat, aged Hypno-Hustler suddenly appears, I was struck giddy at the possibility Kaare Andrews might make the entire issue a showdown between an decrepit, senile Spider-Man and his absolute lousiest villain. Unfortunately, Andrews quickly veers from the realm of the insane and ill-considered back to the realm of the dull and ill-considered, but boy did those four panels give me hope. Awful work, as much as it pains me to say so.

SPIRIT #2: A nice improvement over the first issue--the sudden passage of time wasn't handled as elegantly as I would've liked but that's a quibble--and a Very Good little read. Unlike Graeme, I'm not too worried about how long this book'll last--Darwyn Cooke is clearly meant for better things than easing The Spirit's transition from creator-identified signature character to quirky corporate asset--but I'll enjoy the ride while I can.

ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #104: That fight scene went on and on even though neither Bendis nor Bagley had their hearts in it at all, but the emotional scenes worked really well. Not sure if it was worth the extra buck, exactly, but at least I didn't pay it for an eight page black-bordered series summary. Good.

WISDOM #2: Read this right after Phonogram #4, which was amusingly apt as the two books cover surprisingly similar ground. Since I didn't read the first issue, it didn't make a lick of sense to me, which didn't hurt it much, truth be told. Nice art, general insanity, and the sort of thing "New Marvel" would throw at you back in the day. Good stuff if you're a fan of the peculiar.

Y THE LAST MAN #53: I couldn't buy some of the events in this based on the timeframe (I don't care how much closure somebody needs, I can't imagine anyone looking in a sewers for a body years after the fact unless it was presented as the mother of all quixotic quests) but I liked the, I dunno, how brazen it was about its thematic concerns. Still, it felt more like an item on BKV's dwindling to-do list for the book, and needed more finessing than it got. OK, I guess.

PICK OF THE WEEK is SPIRIT #2, one of the few books I didn't beat until it bled from the ears. PICK OF THE WEAK is SPIDER-MAN REIGN #2, which proved to me that I'll take bad & crazy over bad & derivatively dull any day. No TRADE PICK because I hope to cover that at more length shortly.

And you?

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?

I don't want to live in a War that's got no end in our time: Graeme's reviews of the 1/10 books.

First of two sets of reviews this weekend - I got sent a couple of previews that I want to write about tomorrow, but right now, let's deal with the books that actually appeared in stores this week, shall we? 52 WEEK THIRTY-SIX: This is a really good issue to show what works and what doesn't about the whole series. The big action scene that ends with the death of a beloved character? It just doesn't work. The execution is underwhelming; rushed, with art that just doesn't sell the action at all (partially, interestingly enough, because of the coloring, I think. Imagine the same artwork in darker colors) and a weird lack of sincerity - It feels as if the creators decided that they probably needed a fight scene, but couldn't really bring themselves to care about it that much. But just a few pages later, when it's dealing with the ongoing mysteries of Rip Hunter (making his first appearance in the book, only half a year after first being mentioned), Supernova and Skeets and dealing with easter eggs for longtime DC fans, it's really enjoyable. Is that proof that the book is just more cerebral than action-based, or midway exhaustion kicking in for the writers? Okay.

BLADE #5: What with the cover having not only the "Casualties of War" banner, but also a caption saying "A Civil War tie-in featuring Wolverine", you kind of get the feeling that this is a book that really wants you to know that it ties into Civil War. Problem is, it doesn't. Oh, sure, there's a McGuffin that SHIELD recruits Blade to capture Wolverine for some reason or another, but ultimately, it doesn't really matter. This is pretty much a fill-in issue, and a really old-fashioned one at that, going with the once-familiar idea that two heroes had met in the past before either of them were heroes. As much as it's a Red Skies book in terms of Civil War importance, it's still nostalgically enjoyable, Good, and feels like good Chris Claremont in a strange way.

CIVIL WAR #6: This may be somewhat blasphemous, but does anyone really care anymore? The announcement that issue 7 will ship three weeks later than the last ship date (which was two weeks later than the ship date that it was originally announced for, which was two months earlier) elicited little more than shrugs and bemusement from all but the most hardcore Marvel zombies, and the online news cycle has already moved on to who the New Avengers are, post-CW. Somehow, this series already feels as if it should be over already, that it's outstayed its welcome, which can't be a good thing for Marvel. Part of that may be because this series doesn't really have a plot, as such; I'm sure I've complained before about the fact that this is a book that's all about showing "shocking" events with no context, which completely undercuts any and all dramatic tension, rendering the cliffhanger ending of this book kind of meaningless: There's about to be a big fight, but as a reader I don't feel as if it's "the final battle" no matter how many times I'm told that it is by the characters (who're showing a really unusual self-awareness by referring to this as their "finale", bringing me out of the story as I read it), because it doesn't feel any different from the big fight in #3-4. I don't believe that the stakes have been raised, because nothing that I've read has actually given me that impression. Crap.

JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #2: I dread to think what people who aren't really familiar with DC continuity would make of this book, which seems to be entirely based around the books that Geoff Johns read in the mid-80s - the Detroit League and Levitz Legion get the somewhat unexpected shout-outs in this issue - while marrying 1990s-style plotting with 1980s-style dialogue. Me, I am familiar with DC continuity, so I kind of enjoyed it, even the new Nazi supervillains who are kind of ridiculous, but it just seemed like the most insular superhero book imaginable. Okay.

POLYGLOT AND SPLEEN #1: I admit it, I picked this up because of the title and the advertisements on the back: "The Romanti-Goth A to Z Coloring Book is an alphabetical trip through the aesthetic world of our favorite Victorian house dwelling," reads one, while the other tells us that "There's a huge difference between a corset and a SINched corset". Who knew? Those ads give you a good idea of what the comic itself is like: Overly romantic and melodramatic in the most Goth-y (as opposed to Gothic, if you see the difference) way, with narration like "At times, I saw through the eyes of a mother, a brother, a lover. Had I truly swapped with another?" and art that makes Emily The Strange look detailed. Pretty Crap for me, but I'm at least ten years outside of the target audience, I think.

SQUADRON SUPREME: HYPERION VS. NIGHTHAWK #1: It's a strange world where "Well, that wasn't nearly as offensive as I was expecting" is a compliment. But that's more or less the best that you're going to get out of me for this book, that takes Marvel's Ultimate Superman and Ultimate Batman to Darfur for an adventure that takes place against a backdrop of real life genocide. The whole concept still strikes me as tasteless, but the execution avoided any obvious "With our powers, we can save the world!" well-meaning yet meaningless posturing, and writer Marc Guggenheim's final page text piece (where he admits, "it's not the kind of thing that you're supposed to write escapist fiction about," before going on to explain why he made the choice to) goes someway towards lessening the nasty taste in my metaphorical mouth. It's still only Eh for me - I just can't get into this "gritty" Squadron Supreme - but that almost feels like a win, compared to what I was expecting.

THUNDERBOLTS #110: Warren Ellis goes broad in his first issue of Marvel's now-with-more-Suicide-Squad villain book (Speaking of which, is anyone else as excited as I am about the announcement that DC is doing a new Suicide Squad series with John Ostrander?); the good guy is ridiculously "good", the main characters are charismatic but without morals (Something that's even in the dialogue, in case readers miss it: "You, on the other hand, have neither morals nor ethics") and there are jabs at America's news media. Ellis is clearly slumming it, but you get the idea that he's enjoying himself doing so, especially with the exceptionally obvious way that he's positioning the Thunderbolts in the Marvel media as the old Gerry Anderson "Thunderbirds" series - Tracy Island becomes Thunderbolts Mountain, complete with the scenery rolling back to let vehicles launch, and he's even as unsubtle as to include the slogan "Thunderbolts are go!" F.A.B., Warren. I can't tell if that shows contempt for the work, the audience, or just a writer who's wondering how much he can get away with on what his publisher clearly considers a much more important franchise than he does. For all the unoriginality, however, it's very readable, and I'm sure that the Marvel fans that this is aimed at will eat it up and declare it revolutionary. Eh for me, though.

WELCOME TO TRANQUILITY #2: I was surprised, upon checking, to see that this wasn't a creator-owned book. It feels like one, for some reason, in the same way that it also feels like a twisted version of Alan Moore's ABC line from a few years back, especially in the opening that switches formats to suggest different media two times before actually starting "the story". Moore's ABC isn't the only thing that this reminded me of, though; it's also similar in the treatment of superheroes and styles of superhero comics to The Intimates, Joe Casey's sadly-forgotten series of a few years back. None of this is to slight Gail Simone, because this is clearly her story - there's something to this that feels like the snark and sex from Birds of Prey given freer reign, perhaps because the main character's narration is very close to Black Canary's from that book - but it's a book very aware of its predecessors as well, if that makes sense. I'm still not sold on Neil Googe's art, entirely, but there are parts where he's spot on as often as there are where his style overrides the content. It's not entirely successful, yet, but nonetheless it's probably the most interesting of the books released this week. Good.

PICK OF THE WEEK is Welcome to Tranquility, because it's ambitious and it's different, and that's more than can be said for a lot of superhero books these days, let's face it. PICK OF THE WEAK is Civil War, because with each new issue, it becomes more clear that there's not really any there there. TRADE OF THE WEEK has me torn; of the books that came out this week, I know that SHOWCASE PRESENTS JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA VOL. 2 will be awesome even though I haven't read it, but I'm still working my way through the ESSENTIAL FANTASTIC FOURs - I'm midway through volume 4 now - and those really are some amazingly good comics, daring in way that almost all superhero comics have forgotten to be.

Tomorrow: Dynamo 5 and First Moon. But for now, what did the rest of you think of this week?