They Say That Girl You Know She Acts Too Tough Tough Tough: Diana Turns Off The Lights

This probably won't come as a surprise to anyone, but I've decided to step away from mainstream comics for a while. Sadly, that also means bowing out of the Savage Critics. Why, when and what next: after the jump. I love comics. I think they're capable of telling stories in ways no other medium can. Regardless of cultural stigmas, I've always believed comics are as legitimate a form of literature as the novel. And even though we lose a little ground every time Joe Quesada talks about genies or Dan DiDio does another '70s revival, we're still better off now than we were ten or twenty years ago.

My very first comic was a TPB of the Dark Phoenix Saga. I was fascinated by the characters, the drama, the action. That's when I became a fan of Marvel in general and the X-Men in particular, but it's also the book that introduced me to the concept of shared universes in fiction. If you recall, Dark Phoenix's escape from Earth is accompanied by a series of cameos, and to a 14-year-old newbie this is what it looks like: a stone giant comes rushing out of the shower, a guy in a spider-costume gets worried, and someone calling himself the Silver Surfer's flying around at the edge of space. You don't know who these people are, as they're not part of the story and only serve to indicate that Jean's transformation is a Very Big Deal Indeed... but these cameos also tell you that there are other stories happening at the same time, in the same world.

But it's the shared universe that's been steadily turning me off comics over the past two or three years. The problem, in my eyes, is that instead of having a wide and diverse selection of stories set in the same fictional universe, what we've been getting since CIVIL WAR is a single narrative that dictates the tone and agenda for the overall universe; the end result is that DARK REIGN makes me think of that Black Eyed Peas song where they keep repeating that tonight's a good night. It's dull, it's repetitive and it's uninspired. And it's everywhere.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating a return to Silver Age wackiness. In fact, as an act in an ongoing narrative, the occasional dark turn can serve as very fertile ground for stories - look at how the New Caprica arc changed BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. Admittedly, it wasn't exactly The Reading Rainbow prior to that, but the point still stands. What we've been getting since 2006, though, is an endless slog through poorly-written political allegory and blatant writer's fiat: why Norman Osborne? Because Brian Bendis thinks he's swell. The mentality seems to be "Oh, you don't like Norman Osborn in Thunderbolts? Maybe you'll like him in X-Men. No? Maybe you'll like him in Agents of Atlas." Right now Norman Osborn's like sand after a visit to the beach: no matter how careful you are, it'll get into uncomfortable places and nothing less than a very long, very thorough shower will set things right.

And it's not like DC is doing any better. Admittedly, I've never been as invested in the DCU as I am its counterpart, but even I can tell you this much: I was in the first grade when Barry Allen died. I don't understand why I should see him as the Greatest Flash Ever just because Geoff Johns says so.

Which leads me to what I consider the source of the problem: both Marvel and DC are currently being run by a very specific breed of fanboy, the type that fixates on the specific period when they were reading comics. And rather than try to move forward, they spent all their time recreating that past over and over again, to perpetually diminishing effect. Looking back instead of looking forward, and making more and more outrageous leaps to get there (ie: Peter Parker selling his marriage to Satan so good old Aunt May can keep on keeping on). This mindset has become so pervasive that I can't even get worked up about the Flop of the Week anymore - Onslaught's back? Whatever. They're doing the Clone Saga again just to remind everyone how badly they messed it up the first time? Eh. The X-Men have moved again? Why get worked up about it? They'll end up somewhere else next year.

The last straw for me - what finally prompted me to make like Fred Astaire and Call The Whole Thing Off - is how it's getting progressively difficult to sidestep the Big Events. To use a specific book as an example, I've been reading DAREDEVIL consecutively since the start of the Bendis run. In eight years, I never had to deal with HOUSE OF M or CIVIL WAR or SECRET INVASION: it was a self-contained, consistent story that worked on its own merits without having other ideas imposed upon it. Then Andy Diggle takes the reins and guess who turns up in his very first story?



This guy.


So... yeah. That's it for me, at least until the current trends burn themselves out. I leave you, dear readers, with this final thought: there's been a lot of talk regarding Disney and Warner, and as the brilliant It'sJustSomeRandomGuy points out, it's quite possible that both companies will become actively involved in the publishing of comics, right down to content. Under any other circumstances, I'd be very much opposed to the idea of corporate shareholders imposing creative restraints on any story... but the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that they really can't make things much worse. And who knows, maybe someday I'll enjoy comics again and come banging on Hibbs' door like Fred Flintstone trying to get back in.

Speaking of which, I want to thank Brian for offering me this opportunity, Jeff for making me think, Graeme and Abhay for making me laugh, Paul O'Brien for being my inspiration and all the other Savage Critics just for being your awesome selves. And, of course, our readers, because if a Critic falls in the forest and no one's around to hear her, does she make a sound?

Until the Watcher admits to watching Desperate Housewives, Make Mine Savage!

Diana Goes Digital #601: Capsule Edition

Back with more webcomics... * ERFWORLD recently wrapped up its first book, "The Battle of Gobwin Knob", and I have to admit that Rob Balder and Jamie Noguchi had me fooled. I'd pegged this series as a cute, light-hearted parody of D&D, mainly because that's what you see for the first thirty pages or so: you've got an Evil Overlord besieged by an Alliance of Noble Men and Elves, armies moving and fighting in "turns", all profanity being replaced with the word "boop" (it's much funnier than it sounds)... and there's no shortage of amusing moments scattered about. But once the titular battle actually gets underway, ERFWORLD turns into a tightly-plotted war story that reads like an exercise in strategic thinking: we get to see Parson's tactical plans both before and during the siege, and Balder and Noguchi have a great knack for setting up the dominoes and tilting them over at precisely the right moment. An EXCELLENT start to what I'm sure will be an epic series.

* Ursula Vernon's DIGGER used to be restricted to paying subscribers over at Graphic Smash, but it went "public" a while back and I figure I'd give it a try. The art's lovely, but I thought the story was a bit too formulaic: to wit, a wombat named Digger accidentally tunnels into a distant, magical landscape and has to find her way home. It's done competently enough, I suppose, but this sort of story tends to hinge on an attachment to the characters, and I never warmed up to Vernon's cast. OKAY.

* The opposite is true of BOBWHITE: Magnolia Porter's characters are instantly likeable, though admittedly they're based on some very familiar archetypes (Marlene's the eccentric film student, Ivy's the disinterested artist with no ambition, and Cleo... Cleo needs Ritalin. Lots of Ritalin). So why is this VERY GOOD where DIGGER isn't? I think part of it has to do with the genre: you have to work a lot harder to make the inhabitants of a fantastic/magical world accessible to readers (especially if they're non-human characters), but "slice of life" comics like BOBWHITE and OCTOPUS PIE derive their strength from verisimilitude. I've had conversations with my friends that were a lot like this one. And that's probably why I've enjoyed what Porter's been doing so far.

* DUBIOUS TALES has been over for almost two years now, but it's still worth flagging, because Andrew James does some pretty interesting things in the space of five "books" (one of which is a text-only piece). At first glance, DUBIOUS TALES is a soap opera about a bunch of quirky college students living together somewhere in England. Darren's got a Greek tragedy mask stuck to his face, Caitlin claims to be a demon hunter, Gwilym has some pretty unorthodox ideas about theatre... they're all unusual, and James develops the complicated web of relationships even as he keeps the plot moving at a fairly rapid pace. What I enjoyed most about this series was that you never quite knew what to expect: the gang could be dealing with a perverted landlord one second and fleeing two-dimensional tin-foil demons the next, followed by brainwashing hypnotists from the Soviet Union. And while I would've loved to see more, at least James ended the story on a high note. VERY GOOD.

* It says a lot that even after nearly 150 strips, THE NON-ADVENTURES OF WONDERELLA still makes me laugh on a weekly basis. Whether it's guest-starring Patrick Stewart or Morgan Freeman, or exploring the profound question of what makes mankind unique or showing us the many, MANY flaws of time-travel, Justin Pierce keeps the funny coming. EXCELLENT.

Diana Goes Digital #600: The Water's Rising But I Know The Course

Are you still trying to figure out how a man who once tried to sacrifice his nemesis to Magical Goblin People now seems to control the American government? Have you been stunned speechless at the sight of Bat-Signal Jazz Hands? Do you have the distinct impression that this is your daddy's Flash? If the answer to any of the above is "YES MY GOD MAKE THE HURTING STOP", then you probably understand my current near-total apathy towards mainstream comics. And that's really why I haven't been as active here as I should be: every week I take home a bunch of comics, and I read them, and I find myself with absolutely nothing to say. We've even passed the point where creative failures are interesting enough to merit discussion: I had a lot to say about CIVIL WAR #7 despite it being one of the worst comics Marvel published that year, but Wolverine's Sword of Otaku? What-ever.

And so we return to the Webcomic Review! I let this project lapse a while back on account of Too Much Damn Work To Do, but in the words of Mark Hammill: "I'm tanned, I'm rested and I'm ready to give this town a wedgie again!" Let's start with SKIN HORSE, the latest from webcomic mastermind Shaenon Garrity. Some of you may recall my high praise of Garrity's previous series, NARBONIC - one of the best webcomics I've had the pleasure of reading - and I'm glad to say that SKIN HORSE retains a lot of those strengths without feeling like a rehash.

As with NARBONIC, SKIN HORSE derives its humor from its delightfully madcap premise: the title refers to a government task force that deals with "nonhuman sapients", such as human/lion hybrids and opera-singing silverfish. The team consists of Sweetheart (a genetically-engineered canine), Unity (a zombie) and Tip (a crossdressing heterosexual therapist), and they constantly find themselves having to quell an uprising of Canadian werewolves or to placate a sentient attack helicopter addicted to "World of Warcraft".

It might take a while to warm up to the characters, because Garrity has avoided using the archetype of the "straight man" as a way of easing us into this world; even Tip, arguably the most grounded member of the cast, has his quirks and isn't at all phased by the rampant weirdness. But once you jump that hurdle, I defy you to not be amused by Sweetheart's penchant for goblin erotica or the misadventures at the Department of Irradiation.

The series has been running since January 2008, but every storyline so far has been self-contained (unlike the "Uber-Arc" that ran throughout NARBONIC). Obviously, this strategy has pros and cons: on the one hand, every arc is theoretically accessible on its own, so if you're pressed for time you could just start with the currently-in-progress Dead Dogs and fill in the backstory at your convenience. On the other hand, my #1 favorite moment of NARBONIC was that exact moment where all the pieces started fitting together, where Garrity's long-term plan was finally revealed. Now, it might be too early in the series' run to completely dismiss the possibility of a "bigger picture", but so far there haven't been many plot elements carried over from one storyline to the next.

Still, those are minor quibbles given the consistency of Garrity's artwork and her fourth-panel punchlines. A lot of craft goes into this comic - check the filenames of each strip and you'll find the Secret Origin of Tip Wilkins - and that's no small feat given its daily format (story strips are posted Monday through Saturday, with Sundays set aside for sketches and fan-art). An EXCELLENT series with plenty of potential to get even better over time.

Give me something to sing about: Diana gets nostalgic, 4/9

Here's an interesting bit of synchronicity: just as I'm feeling a bit tired of comics, two of my old favorites stage a comeback. Insert Al Pacino/Godfather reference here... EXILES #1: I may have mentioned that EXILES used to be one of my favorite series back when Judd Winick was writing it. I liked the Tony Bedard run too, warts and all. But then Chris Claremont took over, and... well, I'm pretty sure that if you hold his first issue in your hands and listen closely, you'll hear an eight-man band playing "Nearer My God To Thee". It was that bad.

Enter Jeff Parker, relaunching the book with a new #1, a new team, and a familiar premise with a new twist. I think the most important thing Parker brings to the table, right off the bat, is subtlety; after the electric-jackhammer stylings of his predecessor, it's refreshing to see simple narrative devices like foreshadowing being used effectively - for example, there's a mystery in this issue (hint: somebody might know more than they're saying), but Parker doesn't hang a neon sign that reads HERE IS A MYSTERY OMG.

Being the debut issue, there isn't much here by way of characterization: with the exception of the Panther, the Exiles seem more or less consistent with what you'd expect. But there's plenty of leeway for maneuvering, and Parker's track record leads me to believe he just might pull this off. I'm actually looking forward to the next issue, for the first time in a long time. GOOD.

TIMESTORM 2009-2099 #1: So that other favorite of mine? Marvel 2099. Well, half of it, anyway. I adored Peter David's SPIDER-MAN 2099, and DOOM 2099 was sort-of-okay during the John Francis Moore run but really took off with Warren Ellis, and X-MEN 2099 had no Wolverine (seriously, I want you guys to just stop for a second and imagine a X-Men series running for over two years with no feral Canadians at all), plus it put together an interesting and diverse bunch of mutants without ever doing the Great-Great-Grandson of Scott Summers bit.

So the line had a great run for a while, until it quite literally drowned in editorial interference and that was pretty much the end of it. Well, unless you count Robert Kirkman's attempt to revive the franchise in 2004 (which I don't because my God it was AWFUL but that's neither here nor there). And now it's 2009, and Brian Reed is trying to bring it back. Sort of.

Marvel's traditional stance on future timelines (especially dystopias) is that even if you avert whatever event created the World of Suck, said World will still exist in an alternate universe. From a marketing standpoint, that's a sensible approach: you can keep mining the popularity of those timelines long after the present-day story's moved on (case in point: "Days of Future Past" and the many, many, many spin-offs it's generated since 1981).

I mention this because that's not what Brian Reed does here. The 2099 of TIMESTORM has some familiar elements: Tyler Stone's still running Alchemax, Miguel O'Hara's around, Shakti Haddad is still Cerebra (though she's been boldly - and disturbingly - redesigned), etc. But the furniture's been rearranged too, and normally a writer would just handwave this as being a "different 2099" (which is what Kirkman ended up doing for the Marvel Knights story). Reed does one better: Tyler Stone is using time travel to rewrite the past, and every change causes a ripple effect that alters the "present" of 2099. Frankly, it's a very clever twist - it lets Reed rewrite and reconfigure whatever he wants while maintaining that sense of nostalgia, because as far as we readers know, anything that isn't consistent with the original is a result of Stone messing with the timeline.

Points off for using Wolverine, though. So... GOOD, and I hope this does well enough that we get an ongoing or two out of it.

Okay, so you're a rocket scientist: Diana on 3/12

Mr. Kyle Baker, you got some 'splainin' to do. I hate to start reviews with that God-awful cliche "I liked his old stuff better!" but for context's sake, WHY I HATE SATURN still makes me laugh. I say that because I think I picked up and read SPECIAL FORCES expecting the same kind of manic energy you'll find with Anne Merkel and her crazy sister, or with Larry running amok in the streets of New York in I DIE AT MIDNIGHT.

SPECIAL FORCES #4... did not make me laugh.

It may be that I'm just sick of politics-via-comics in general: in a medium where subtlety is the exception rather than the rule, I can't think of many instances where political/military criticism didn't come off as awkward and simplistic, where valid points are submerged under a wave of bile that aspires to be clever and falls far short of the mark (pick a Millar comic, any Millar comic).

Or it may be that SPECIAL FORCES seems to be making contradictory points: on the one hand, Felony and Zone represent an implicit accusation that the United States Army recruited people for the Iraq war who had no business on the battlefield. Baker helpfully attaches news articles describing the recruitment and eventual dismissal of an autistic teenager to demonstrate that there's a bit of truth in this fiction.

On the other hand, these "unfit soldiers" turn out to be as capable (if not moreso) of getting the job done. Doesn't that suggest that the Army was right to enlist them in the first place? If an autistic kid succeeds where entire squadrons of trained soldiers fail (in pretty embarrassing ways), that sends a very different message and doesn't quite match the critical tone Baker's aiming for.

But there's something more essential that's missing here. The situation in Iraq is no laughing matter, and yet I can't help wishing that SPECIAL FORCES had exhibited more of Baker's snark and wit - as it stands, it's pretty much just an EH story that tries to send a message far too aggressively to be successful.

X-MEN: NOIR #4 also came out this week, wrapping up Marvel's first foray into what seems to be a rising Noirverse (although I'm still curious as to how DAREDEVIL: NOIR will distinguish itself from Ed Brubaker's DAREDEVIL: POORLY-LIT URBAN CRIMEFIGHTING WITH FEMME FATALES, CORRUPT COPS AND CRIME SYNDICATES).

This sort of thing can be very tricky to pull off: the last time Marvel tried to import its universe to a different historical period/genre, we got 1602 and its spin-offs, most of which was spent playing Spot The Analogue.

Fortunately, Fred Van Lente avoids this trap by putting together a rather clever string of adaptations: I liked the idea of mutants being swapped out for sociopaths, with the Xavier/Magneto ideological schism taking on a decidedly more realistic dimension. I loved Van Lente's take on Anne-Marie (Rogue) and the resolution to her storyline. The Bolivar Trask/Sentinels prose story ends up with a different moral than you might be expecting.

In fact, the only problem I had with this miniseries is that the X-Men aren't the protagonists: the story's focalized through and narrated by a completely different character (who may or may not be an analogue for a mainstream Marvel figure, it's rather difficult to tell), and that leads us to a confusing last-minute twist ending that didn't really work for me. It's still VERY GOOD, though, and one of the few examples of a cross-genre experiment that successfully adapts superhero characters into other molds and conventions.

All My Senses Dislocating: Diana on 15/2

NEW SAVAGE CRITICS #1Written by Brian Hibbs Art by Kate McMillan Cover by Blogspot

A new epic begins here! Witness the rebirth of a super-team as Stonetuck, The Hyacinth, Uzumeri Yojimbo, Shan-Ti and Chris Eckert join the Savage Critics! The revelation of Norman Osborn's natural hair color in GOTHAM UNBOUND: THE GREAT PIE HEIST has rocked the universe to its core; as other thrilling secrets come to light, the Savage Critics reunite to unmask the true mastermind behind recent events. Who will live? Who will die? Who will receive the dreaded ASS Rating? Nothing will ever be the same again!

On sale Feb 14 • infinity pg, FC, $0.00 US

Welcome aboard, guys!

And now, a review. ANGEL: AFTER THE FALL #17 brings the "sixth season" of ANGEL to a close. I was never a big fan of the series - David Boreanaz is about as sharp as lime Jello, and the later seasons had an awkward habit of getting all their female characters pregnant, crazy and dead (not always in that order). But I thought it'd be interesting to see what Joss Whedon had had in mind if the show hadn't been cancelled.

As it turns out, ANGEL: AFTER THE FALL makes for an interesting companion to the current "eighth season" of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER over at Dark Horse, in that the two series have taken the same premise - continuing the Sunnydale Saga past its conclusion - in very different directions.

BUFFY, for example, suffers from an overabundance of "cool" ideas: whether it's Joss Whedon or Drew Goddard or Steven DeKnight writing, what we get is a rapid sequence of interesting concepts - many of which couldn't have been televised even with a substantial CGI budget - but none of those ideas are explored in-depth. An average story arc of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER is so compressed that it just runs from plot point A to plot point B, and I don't think there's enough characterization - Buffy, Willow, Xander and the others are just sort of there.

On the other hand, ANGEL: AFTER THE FALL has spent seventeen issues essentially telling one story: Los Angeles has been sucked into Hell after the events of the series finale, Angel's crew has scattered and the civilian population finds itself hunted in the streets by demons and vampires. Angel himself has become human, at the worst possible time.

Brian Lynch has basically taken the opposite approach to the BUFFY teams: seventeen issues on one storyline, no matter how expansive, is a bit much. In fact, despite the fact that the actual LA-in-Hell bit ended last issue, the emotional denouement in this epilogue still gets co-opted by Angel's ongoing feud with the demon lord Bruge. It wears a bit thin.

All that said, I still think Lynch does a better job with Whedon's characters than Whedon himself in recent months; in this issue, you've got Angel coping with his newfound popularity, a lovely posthumous moment for Fred and Wesley, Spike doing what he does best (and yet, at the same time, Lynch finally, mercifully moves past the juvenile "You Touched My Stuff" Angel and Spike routine), and Gunn... well, no spoilers, but there's some dramatically powerful closure there too.

Odd bit of trivia: both the BUFFY and ANGEL comics, either independently or by design (though how likely is that given that they're being produced by different companies?) have now done away with the whole secrecy angle, exposing the supernatural to the world. So Angel's an LA celebrity, and Harmony has turned public opinion against Slayers simply by being an undead Paris Hilton, etc. It's such a paradigm shift that I have to wonder whether Whedon was planning to do that during either series' run; it would've redefined everything.

So I'm going to go with a GOOD for this epilogue and a high OKAY for the series, because it really did take way too long to get where it was going.

A long, long time ago...

I can still remember, how the comics used to make me smile... These days it's mostly just yawns or facepalms (or, in the case of FINAL CRISIS #6, both at the same time). I promised Brian I'd step up my contributions to the Savage Critics, which, given that I've had the consistency of Damon Lindelof lately, that's totally fair. Except I then spent two weeks scouring the new releases, looking for anything interesting enough to talk about; hell, I'd settle for some controversial news items, but all I've got is JEFF PARKER'S ON EXILES:



And I seriously doubt anyone cares about that except me.

It may just be that January's a slow month, and the only noteworthy new launches tie into either DARK REIGN or FINAL CRISIS, and I'm pretty much just waiting for them to be over at this point. So rather than analyze a specific issue in depth, I'm going to run some old-school bullet points this week. UNCANNY X-MEN ANNUAL #2: You know, ever since Matt Fraction went solo on UNCANNY X-MEN, the book's felt a bit... flat to me. It's basically turned into a string of unrelated subplots that don't seem to go anywhere: Magneto teams up with the High Evolutionary, then they disappear for six months while Madelyne Pryor resurfaces and starts putting her own team together, only no one seems to care about that because Colossus has gone AWOL and Emma's having a Moment of Angsty Introspection (tm Tom Welling). It all amounts to a rather disjointed Big Picture, which is pretty much the same problem with this Annual - the story's a sloppy mess even by X-Men standards, constantly jumping back and forth to retcon a link between Namor and Emma Frost (ostensibly because of the whole PURPLE REIGN thing), and it's just... I have no idea what Fraction's trying to do here. Maybe it's an attempt to make White Queen-era Emma more sympathetic, but I've had enough frou-frou apologia from the nice folks over at HEROES. And the dialogue... "You're not my prince. Do you always smell like that?" "Yes. Do you?" I say thee EH.

X-FACTOR #39: Peter David gets a cookie for thinking up a rather inventive way out of the whole parenthood storyline. Unfortunately, the end result takes us to a rather conventional place, a place that's become such a tired cliche in the superhero genre that I can't help thinking it would've been a gutsier, more creative move to see things through, so to speak. Even the sharpest character moments, like Siryn's reaction immediately after the Big Twist, are muted because they're so familiar, bordering on tedious. So that cookie has to be, I don't know, bran or something like that. Not as much fun as chocolate chip, but it's OKAY to chew on for a while.

WAR MACHINE #2: Wow. This... really hasn't gotten any better, has it? I mean, I was willing to write the first issue off as a fluke, because I still think of Greg Pak as the guy who wrote PHOENIX: ENDSONG and that cute WARLOCK miniseries with the surprise ending. But this is just... page 7, that splash of War Machine with half of North America's arsenal strapped to his back? That's straight out of the Dark Ages, people. We're talking Rob Liefeld pecs-out-to-there guns-guns-guns Dark Ages. And then on page 17, War Machine... turns into a tank? I have no idea. Though that makes it a nice tie-in to the TRANSFORMERS movie, which was also about stuff getting blown up and not much else. AWFUL, because I can understand Golden Age retro and I can understand Silver Age retro, but why anyone would want to go back to the days of tin-foil radioactive sub-atomic tri-fold variant covers is beyond me.

STARSLIP: Technically not a new release (or, you know, a comic) but I'd like to point out that Kris Straub has just one-upped DC with his latest storyline by: A) destroying the universe, B) permanently displacing his cast into an alternate timeline two years in the past, which means everything you know is not wrong because it did happen and the characters are now scrambling to rewrite history, and C) blowing up the universe actually had a purpose, as it gave Straub an in-story reason to go from this to this. (Okay, that's technically a three-up.) And to top it all off, he's kept me laughing the whole damn way. EXCELLENT.

The Funk of Forty Thousand Years: Diana is Back, 11/12

Obligatory 'splanation for my month-long imitation of Susan Richards: I'm writing my graduate thesis, which means less Ed Brubaker on my desk and more Jack Kerouac. And while there's probably some merit to comparing ON THE ROAD to SECRET INVASION/FINAL CRISIS, I'd much rather keep my studies and my fun-time separate. Anyway, I finally clawed my way out of Limbo, though it seems I may have accidentally unleashed a great evil back into the world:

So, you know, sorry about that.

And before I get to reviewing: House to Astonish. Why? Because Paul O'Brien and Alistair Kennedy, that's why. I laughed, I cried, it was better than Katz.

Comics time! There's really no way I can talk about BATMAN: CACOPHONY #1 with anything even approaching a straight face, so without further ado:

Oh my GOD. Becky, look at that dialogue. It is so BAD. It sounds like one of those Millar books. But, you know, who understands those Millar books? They only buy it because the women look like total prostitutes, 'kay? I mean, his dialogue is just so BAD. I can't believe it's so dumb, it's like, OUT THERE. I mean, gross! Look! It's just so... CRAP!

Do us all a favor, Mr. Smith: get thee to a nunnery. Or at the very least go back to film so we can press the mute button and not have to watch Batman channel G.I. Rabbi. Honestly, I know it's fashionable to dislike Kevin Smith these days, and the last thing I want to do is look like I'm jumping on the Hate Wagon just because I feel like it, but this comic... ye Gods, this comic. It's tired, it's cliched, it's downright horrific (because there are some things in this life I never want to see, and the Joker getting bummed by another supervillain is way up near the top of that list). It's the sort of thing that makes you stop and wonder: how the hell did this reach publication? Did no one, at any point in the long and complex process of creating a comic, stop to think that charging four dollars for this piece of dreck is not going to help DC or the comics industry?

And I realize this reaction may be a bit over-the-top for a book that isn't Frank Miller-bad or Chuck-Austen bad, but dammit, we've allowed the mainstream to reach a point where quality and price aren't just detached from one another, they're inversely proportionate. $3.99 for mediocre tripe? Why?

This comic made me think of Kevin Smith as the pushing-40 dad asking today's kids "what's hip". And unfortunately, these kids are precisely the type of idiot that thinks Mark Millar is a pinnacle of talent. So that's exactly what we get: shallow "shock"-oriented scenes like Zsasz's Final Frontier of Self-Mutilation, and dialogue that's completely realistic if you happen to live next-door to a playground for psychotic toddlers.

My only consolation is that the Vegas odds have the rest of this comic disappearing into the night before Smith really gets his groove on. But in the meantime, Brian, I suggest you keep this comic far away from ALL-STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN THE BOY WONDER. Together they could tear another hole in the universe, and next time it'll be the Backstreet Boys making a comeback...


I've Changed My Mind, I Take It Back: Diana Looks At Some Not-So-Fresh Starts, 1/10

So... does anyone remember Ye Olde Days when Issue #1 meant a start, rather than a restart? Yeah, me neither. TERROR TITANS #1: As is usually the way with DCU titles, I have absolutely no idea what's going on here, so strictly in terms of the grade I'll go with NO RATING. What I can tell, based on the content, is that we're looking at more evidence of Embiggened Bloodening - teenage superheroes are abducted by teenage supervillains (who seem to be descendants of previous villains, which I'll admit is a nice twist on the original Titans), drugged and thrown into an arena where they fight to the death. Why? Damned if I know, though it's connected to FINAL CRISIS (I know, what a shock, right?). But more to the point, the thing that really got me about this issue is something I've seen pop up more and more often in DC books: the sense of brutality for its own sake. TERROR TITANS #1 isn't as bloody as, say, a Geoff Johns comic, but it's not much fun to read either. And what's more, it feels tacked-on somehow, like there's a sign over Dan DiDio's office door that says "Your Body Count Must Be This High To Write This Comic."

TOP 10: SEASON TWO #1: Okay, so BEYOND THE FARTHEST PRECINCT didn't happen? I can live with that. Even though the original TOP 10 was one of my favorite miniseries, it's been a while since I read it, and I had to go back and refresh my memory because Zander and Kevin Cannon pick up pretty much exactly where Alan Moore left off almost eight years ago - the mess with Commissioner Ultima is referred to as "recent trouble", Irma is still grieving for her dead partner Sung Li, Smax and Toybox are still on Smax's homeworld. I had my doubts about this one - conventional knowledge says it's never a good idea to follow Alan Moore on anything unless you're Neil Gaiman or possibly Jamie Delano. But I'm very pleased to see that the Cannons have captured the spirit of TOP 10 perfectly: at its core, it's a series that takes human problems and pokes fun at them by applying superpowers, so you get "crossover-dressing" where superhero Top Flight secretly dresses up in a different (very, very scary) costume and calls himself Green Bolt; an old man is selling Shazam-esque Magic Words to kids; and, of course, we have the Big Picture murder mystery, much like the Sentinels case in Moore's run. Now, based on all the comparisons I've made, it's easy to see how SEASON TWO could be considered derivative, but changing the basic formula isn't necessary here: it's enough that the Cannons come up with new concepts (like the aforementioned Magic Word peddler) that run along the same lines as the Galactapuss/Cosmouse Secret Crisis War of times past - that's the sort of clever game that makes this issue a VERY GOOD sequel.

NO HERO #1: You might think this doesn't belong in a post about #1's that aren't really First Issues, but so help me, if I have to play another round of Spot That Ellisism, I'm going to scream and vent my rage like the guy on the cover. Look, a bunch of "superheroes" wearing gas masks! And they fight crime! Violently! And they got their powers through DRUGS! And there's a bunch of historical quotes so it all looks So Very Relevant and Important! And our protagonist is So Damn Mad about the State of the World that he punches out his litterbox! That's how mad he is! And there's a Super-Suicide Girl who prefers texting to talking! AWFUL, because I've seen Ellis do this routine so many times it's not even funny anymore. It's like perpetual deja vu by now.

Diana's 50 Favorite Moments In Comics

Because all the cool kids are doing it! In no particular order, my 50 favorite moments in comics:

1. SWAMP THING #56, "My Blue Heaven": Stranded on a distant planet, the Swamp Thing recreates his hometown and is content to live an empty fantasy until a replica of John Constantine starts voicing some inconvenient truths. It's even creepier when you realize that every character on the Blue Planet is really just Swamp Thing throwing his voice.

2. BOX OFFICE POISON: Towards the end of the book, Hildy tells Ed about her little sister Marlys. It turns out the reader has already met Marlys in an earlier, seemingly-unrelated part of the story... a part that becomes incredibly tragic once the missing context is in place.

3. WHY I HATE SATURN: Anne sets out for California to find her sister, only to get hit by the Deluxe Edition of Murphy's Law. If it can go wrong, it will. If it can't go wrong, it will anyway.

4: NIKOLAI DANTE, "Amerika": After a decade of watching Tsar Vladimir commit atrocity after atrocity, Nikolai reaches his breaking point and stabs the Conqueror, only to be struck down a moment later by Konstantin.

5. SPIDER-MAN 2099 #25, "Truth Hurts": One of the better examples of the "everything you know is wrong" plot twist - Miguel learns about his mother and Tyler Stone, and the whole story gets turned on its head.

6. FANTASTIC FOUR #524, "Tag": The Fantastic Four are racing across Manhattan to reclaim their lost powers, but Reed has sabotaged Ben's equipment, intending to become the Thing himself and leave Ben human. But Ben figures it out and swaps his gadget with Reed's, unwilling to let his best friend take the fall for him.

6. STARMAN #80, "'Arrivederci, Bon Voyage, Goodbye": Jack Knight leaves Opal City.

7. CATWOMAN #19, "No Easy Way Down": Still reeling from the aftermath of the Black Mask's attack, Selina gets drunk and decides to rob a museum, until Batman talks her out of it.

8. RUNAWAYS #16, "The Good Die Young": Alex is revealed as the Pride's mole. Quite literally the last character I suspected.

9. INCREDIBLE HULK: FUTURE IMPERFECT: The Hulk defeats the Maestro by sending him back to the gamma bomb detonation, turning Bruce Banner's entire history into an ouroboros.

10. DAREDEVIL #182, "She's Alive": Convinced that Elektra faked her death, Matt digs up her coffin, expecting it to be empty. It isn't.

11. FRAY #8: Melaka kills Urkonn, her mentor and friend, when she realizes he murdered Loo to get her to accept her destiny.

12. DEADENDERS #16, "Smashing Time": Even after the universe rewrites itself, Noah (formerly Beezer) has a moment of distant recognition when he finds an abandoned scooter in the middle of the road. For a split-second, he can almost remember the friends and the life he left behind.

13. BONE #37, "Harvest Moon": In a genuinely creepy scene, a disoriented Thorn pulls her cloak over her head, looking exactly like the defeated Hooded One. It was ultimately a red herring, but that doesn't change the "brr" factor.

14. BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS: Jarred out of a vegetative state by the return of his nemesis, the Joker's first words are "Batman. Darling."

15. SPIDER-GIRL #41, "Funeral For A Fiend": Normie Osborn (Harry's son) stops by the hospital to visit Mary-Jane Parker. As he turns to leave, he bumps into Peter - and for a moment, Peter only sees the Goblin and Normie only sees Spider-Man. Then Peter offers his hand; a moment later, they embrace, finally laying the past to rest.

16. TOP TEN #11, "His First Day on the New Job": This is such an Alan Moore thing to do: Joe Pi, the latest officer to join the Neopolis police department, is a robot. He's also the most human character in the series. When Joe realizes Irma Geddon's kids were attached to the late Sung Li, her previous partner, Joe decides to cheer them up with a trick of his own.

17. NEW X-MEN #149, "Phoenix In Darkness": In many ways, I see this as the quintessential post-Claremont Magneto story - "I am your inner star, Erik. I am the conscience you can never silence. I will never let you be."

18. HELLBOY: THE RIGHT HAND OF DOOM: Igor Bromhead has bound Hellboy using his true name, Anung un Rama; moments later, the demon Ualac steals the Crown of the Apocalypse off Hellboy's head. Things seem pretty bleak until Hellboy is informed that "Anung un Rama" quite literally means "he who wears the crown" - that no longer applies to him, so it's not his name. The spell is broken, and much butt-kicking ensues.

19. DEADPOOL #11, "With Great Power Comes Great Coincidence": Deadpool and Blind Al time-travel into a Stan Lee/John Romita Sr. issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. The whole issue's hilarious, but special mention goes to Deadpool's reaction to Harry's (and Norman's) "unique" hairstyle.

20. ASTONISHING X-MEN #15, "Torn": Cassandra Nova turns Wolverine into a six-year-old girl. Awesome.

21. THE AUTHORITY #12, "Outer Dark": The death of Jenny Sparks.

22. GRAVITY #5: His nemesis, the Black Death, has been defeated, but Greg Willis still doesn't feel like a superhero... until Spider-Man stops by to congratulate him on a job well-done.

23. ULTRA: SEVEN DAYS #8: Having been told by a psychic that she would find her true love in seven days, Pearl reaches the end of day 7 alone. When she realizes it's not going to happen, she maintains her composure until someone asks her for the time, at which point she starts crying.

24. BIZARRO COMICS: Mxyzptlk browses through the Hall of Superman Spin-Offs.

25. VEILS: Vivian discovers the truth behind the story of Rosalind and the Sultan.

26. WATCHMEN: The whole book is one big Favorite Moment for me, but if I have to pick a scene, I'll go with Ozymandias' revelatory monologue in the penultimate issue, coupled with the immortal "I did it thirty-five minutes ago." I'll bet you guys anything the studios will rewrite that "downer" ending so that Rorschach and the others save the day.

27. Y: THE LAST MAN #30, "Ring of Truth": Hero faces her demons.

28. COMMON GROUNDS #4, "Time of Their Lives": Forty years after their last battle, Blackwatch and Commander Power meet again. But they're not who you think they are. That last panel with the newspaper clipping turns the whole story on its head.

29. ALIAS #28, "Purple": It's a complete deus ex machina, but I can't help smiling whenever I see that double-page spread of Jessica punching the Purple Man square in the mouth.

30. SANDMAN #37, "I Woke Up and One of Us Was Crying": Barbara defiantly crosses out Alvin's name on the tombstone, and - in Tacky Flamingo lipstick - writes WANDA instead.

31. SUPERMAN: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE MAN OF TOMORROW?: With the Fortress of Solitude under siege and Superman preparing for his last stand, Jimmy and Lana sneak out to fight the gathered villains themselves. "We're only second-stringers, Jimmy, but we'll show 'em... Nobody loved him better than us. Nobody!"

32. ASTRO CITY #0.5, "The Nearness of You": Michael's decision to remember Miranda puts your typical Crisis-esque multiversal time-travel epic in a completely human context.

33. FABLES #55, "Over There": Having heard the Snow Queen's plans for the conquest of Earth, Pinocchio lays out a surprisingly vivid counter-scenario where the human race unites with the Fables and tears the Adversary's Empire apart.

34. H-E-R-O #4: Jerry finally does something heroic, after losing his superpowers.

35. EXILES #34, "A Second Farewell": Mariko gets another chance with Mary.

36. DOCTOR STRANGE: THE OATH #5: Doctor Strange and Night Nurse get together. Aww, they're so cute!

37. MY FAITH IN FRANKIE #3: "You've broken Commandments One through Three, Seven and Nine. I'm taking you down, Frankie."

38. THE ADVENTURES OF BARRY WEEN: MONKEY TALES #6: Barry jumps into the past to save Sara's life; when he realizes he's succeeded and everything's back to normal, he heads into the kitchen and promptly bursts into tears. It's a powerful reminder that, despite his intellect, Barry's still just a kid.

39. EMPIRE #5: Golgoth realizes his daughter Delfi has become as corrupt and monstrous as he is. So he snaps her neck.

40. MARTHA WASHINGTON: GIVE ME LIBERTY: President Howard Nissen tears down Cabrini Green at Martha's request.

41. THE BIRTHDAY RIOTS: Troy Adams' death shakes Max to his core - when the rioters surround his car the next day, Max just opens the door and lets the crowd beat him, in penance for his betrayal.

42. SUPERGIRL #79: Seconds after she decides to live Kara Zor-El's life, Linda Danvers chafes at all the "secret weapon" talk and goes public, changing everything.

43. LOKI #1: It's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it thing, but Rob Rodi suggests a different angle on the Loki/Thor rivalry: in a flashback, we see them as teenagers, and Loki idly carves a heart in the dirt as he watches Thor.

44. MAUS: Not so much a "favorite" moment as one that haunted me for a long time; Vladek describes a particular instance in the Nazi purges where they murder crying children. Despite the fact that it's cats and mice - or maybe because of that - it's an image that stuck.

45. THE SURROGATES #5: Rather than face the reality outside her apartment, Greer's wife kills herself. The real world has a price.

46. ZENITH PHASE 3: Everyone's pretty shocked that the self-absorbed, spoiled superbrat Zenith sacrificed his life to save the Multiverse. Turns out he didn't: that was his mirror-universe double Vertex, the guy who actually was a hero.

47. CRIMINAL #5: For a split-second, you think Leo might have made it in time to save Greta. But, of course, he doesn't.

48. I, JOKER: The unnamed protagonist finds the last recording of Bruce Wayne prior to his death.

49. V FOR VENDETTA: Valerie's letter.

50. WE3 #3: 1 starts howling and wailing for 3 as it goes off to face 4 alone. Breaks my heart every time.


I'll Make A Brand New Start of It: Diana Has A 2005 Flashback, 6/8

Oh, NYX. You came and you took without giving. So I sent you away. Fat lot of good that did. Even after three years, NYX is still on my Top Five Embarrassing Marvel Moments list: a 7-issue series written by the EIC himself, with delays between issues that varied from nine months to over a year. The jokes would practically write themselves: it took Lance Bass less time to come out, we'd have to send our grandchildren to pick up NYX #8, Quesada was retconning every issue as he wrote it... the whole thing was one big fuster-cluck.

And now, here we are with NYX: NO WAY HOME #1, and all that baggage is... well, still around, really.

So what do we have here? It's a six-issue miniseries by Marjorie Liu and Kalman Andrasofszky. While this is (as far as I know) Liu's first work in comics, she wrote an X-Men novel called "Dark Mirror" a few years ago - it was kinda-sorta okay but lacked any real connection to the characters. It's pretty much the same here, but before we get to that...

Okay, here's the thing. NYX, at the time, was part of a whole movement at Marvel to deliver "edgy" variations on familiar properties. The high concept for NYX, as I recall it (it's been three years and, quite frankly, it's not worth the few seconds it'd take me to research - again, we'll get to that in a bit), was a different perspective on the Marvel Universe's mutant population. Not even street-level, like Bendis' ALIAS; more like gutter-level, as far below Charles Xavier's watchful eye as you can get. Of course, Marvel isn't very good at being deliberately edgy, so you got things like X-23 being a prostitute.

So Liu's not starting out from a great place here. And, more importantly, Marvel's not exactly into "edgy" material anymore. You can tell as much from page 6, where Kiden seems to be injecting invisible heroin into her arm (although, bizarrely enough, two panels later we get a full-frontal shot of Kiden slicing up her arm like an emogirl who's just discovered that Penance used to be Speedball).

Now, the research thing. You know, I've gotten pretty used to recap pages as a quick way of getting up-to-speed on any given series. And I'm honestly surprised there isn't one here: again, these characters haven't been around in three years, and that's assuming someone was still reading when NYX #7 came out in 2005. I'd certainly given up by then. Liu tries to give us a brief summary of what happened, but that doesn't tell us about any of the other characters. And because I don't know anything about the other characters, and there's no room in 22 pages to reintroduce all the players, I'm pretty much not interested in the cast.

(In fairness, this is a problem Liu had before - "Dark Mirror" ultimately failed to really get into the characters' heads, they were all written in a very generic and middling tone, which is pretty much what we get here as well. The characters are just sort of... there.)

Now, it's altogether possible that Liu and Andrasofszky will carve out a halfway decent story from this mess - they've got five issues to go, and the set-up is ostensibly finished (as opposed to Quesada's run, in which six of the seven issues introduced new characters to the "team"). But we're off to a EH start, because I think what this comic really needed was a reason to care about these specific characters and to be invested in their story, and it doesn't deliver that.

It's Not All About Cash (Hell No): Diana Aborts-Retries-Fails, 11/7

Every now and then, I go back to books I've dropped and re-evaluate them. It's my way of trying to keep an open mind, because as a critic (especially a comics critic) it's way too easy to go from this: To this:

So with that in mind, I found myself picking up the latest issue of a series I'd stopped reading over a year ago. The nice thing about Marvel comics in general is the handy recap page that kicks off every issue of practically every series. Case in point: I hadn't even been remotely interested in the events of NEW EXILES since I dropped the book, but even though we're eight issues into the reboot, the plot was totally accessible. Well, insofar as it pertains to the series itself, anyway. I'll get to that in a bit.

NEW EXILES #8 is part two of a story where the French and British Empires are at war, and and the Exiles intervene because this particular reality is crucial to a whole section of the multiverse. Meanwhile, Psylocke is having dreams of Slaymaster killing about two dozen alternates of herself. And then she meets OGUN (emphasis Claremont's).

Yes. Ogun. The magical spirit guy that likes to possess women's bodies. Last seen in 2001, but, of course, it's really Ogun from the 1985 KITTY PRYDE AND WOLVERINE, written by... well, I'm sure you can guess.

Strike one: obscure characters busting out of the Claremont Historical Archive to remind us all why we were happy to see them leave the first time around.

We abruptly jump into a five-page monologue by an Atlantean Gambit who sounds like a preteen Aquaman on speed. It's absolutely painful to read: dense, overly verobse, obvious, using a hundred words to beat into the ground a concept that could be communicated in ten. So much of comics is about "showing", but Claremont seems to think he's getting paid by the word here, because all he does - all he does - is "tell". Atlantean Gambit just goes on and on about how lovely the water is, and how weird New York technology is, and how he's lucky his body is super-strong so he can survive cannon fire... ugh.

Strike two: Blah, blah, blah. Yes, Psylocke, I can see Ogun got the drop on you, Tom Grummett's art is helpfully depicting him whooshing behind you and grabbing your arm - I don't need a mid-chokehold thought bubble telling me "He moved so fast, I never even saw him coming!"

Now, I'll give Claremont credit where it's due, since that happens so rarely: it's nice to see an alternate reality scenario that takes its cue from "real" history as opposed to Marvel history - the high concept here is that the French won the Napoleonic Wars. Oddly enough, such a huge change in the history of the world has nevertheless produced Storm, Ka-Zar, Emma Frost and "Force-X" (eww).

Strike three: to quote Maxwell Smart, missed it by thaaaat much. Claremont can occasionally come up with seeds of interesting concepts, but they never, ever turn out to be everything they could've been.

So... yeah, the reasons I dropped the book are still pretty much in effect here, and there aren't any visible signs of improvement on the horizon. CRAP, and I guess I'll just wait for the next guy to come along.

We Don't Need No Water: Diana's Cruel Summer Continues, 25/6

It's Marvel's turn in the hot seat... IMMORTAL IRON FIST #16 wraps up the Ed Brubaker/Matt Fraction run (though Brubaker apparently checked out two months ago, because he wasn't credited for this issue or #15). As I've said before, IMMORTAL IRON FIST made a big impression on me, mainly because I'd never been interested in Danny Rand or the kung-fu-comics genre he represented until now. There was something new and intriguing about this particular interpretation, and I think a lot of it has to do with the way Brubaker and Fraction expanded the concept of Iron Fist into a trans-generational, trans-national identity. And something else began to emerge: not only was Danny Rand not the only Iron Fist, but pretty much every predecessor (with the possible exception of Orson Randall) did a better job of it than he did. The stories of Bei Bang-Wen and Wu Ao-Shi aren't just there to parallel Danny's life, they reposition the present-day Iron Fist as a neophyte, as someone who isn't the master expert of kung-fu mysticism in the Marvel Universe. The whole dynamic of the character - as I saw him, anyway - changed, because suddenly he's got so much to learn and there's actually a direction he needs to follow, and there's room for the character to grow and change.

Which he has, and this issue finally hits the pause button on the non-stop face-kicking so the dust can settle and the characters can come to the forefront. In the aftermath of the Ultimate Tournament of Fiery Bone-Crunching, Danny's re-evaluating his life and his relationships with Luke and Misty, and there's an appropriate sense of melancholy attached to that because this is both an ending and a new beginning, in that this issue also sets up the upcoming Duane Swierczynski run very clearly: the Living Weapons are running across New York, the question of the Eighth City is still up in the air, and there's a rather nasty prophecy uncovered at the very end that will probably play out in the coming months.

So... VERY GOOD, because the timing was impeccable: this series really needed a calm character piece in-between the crazy action sequences, and now that we've had it, we can move on. Will I be checking out IMMORTAL IRON FIST #17? Not sure... Swierczynski hasn't exactly knocked my socks off on CABLE. We'll see, I guess.

We are now leaving the realm of anything even remotely connected to The Good. Don't say I didn't warn you.

The last time I reviewed a Joss Whedon comic, I really tried to avoid discussing the lateness issue, despite the fact that it could (and probably did) affect the way you'd read the comic in question. I'm not going to cut RUNAWAYS #30 the same slack, because there's no doubt in my mind that the delays played a huge part in how crushingly disappointing this finale turned out to be.

See, here's the thing: Joss Whedon's run, in the final analysis, amounts to six issues of an absolutely mundane and unimaginative storyline, in which there are X-Men and Punisher and God-knows-what-else analogues in 1907 for no clear reason that I can see; New York is apparently blown up but gets all better in the future; a new kid joins the Runaways and good lord she's more annoying than the original Bendis version of Layla Miller. And at the end of the day it all goes back to normal.

I'm in "dude, what the hell?" mode here. I may have had problems with the way ASTONISHING X-MEN ended, but there was plenty of good to offset that. Here... well, honestly, there's that one crack Molly makes about Klara's "marital duties", and that's about it. I'm having issues with Whedon's characterization of the Runaways, with the vast number of disposable secondary characters, with the anticlimactic ending (so, wait, it was all about that Irish ditz after all? Boo-urns!). And, yes, in this case the delays really aren't justified, because I can't see anything here that would require a six-month story to last over a year. CRAP.

And finally, YOUNG AVENGERS PRESENTS #6 is a perfect example of how the number of chefs is irrelevant when none of them are willing to turn to the next page of the cookbook.

Here's the deal: I loved Heinberg's YOUNG AVENGERS. The high concept of legacy characters stealing other legacies was wonderfully subversive, because it twisted around the whole "Teen Titans" formula - Teen Hulk is really linked to Captain Marvel, Teen Thor to the Scarlet Witch, Teen Captain America to Isaiah Bradley rather than Steve Rogers. No one is who you expect them to be.

And then Heinberg did what most TV/movie writers do when they get into comics: he disappeared. And here we are, cooling our heels two years later, waiting for Godot to turn up.

Now, on the one hand, I can certainly understand Joe Quesada's reluctance to continue the story without Heinberg. He did a really good job with the characters, it was a great run, and Heinberg had some interesting ideas for the "second season". Plus, there are so few writers at Marvel who'd really be up to the task of handling this particular book. On the other hand, conventional knowledge says the longer these kids are in publishing limbo, the less popular any future appearances will be. So what we've been getting for the past two years is a series of meaningless filler that doubles as exposition infodumps just in case you've forgotten (or never knew) the basics.

And this is exactly what neutralizes any possible interest in YOUNG AVENGERS PRESENTS. Despite the impressive list of writers and artists involved, all we had here was a strict, formulaic pattern applied again and again with virtually no change: a Young Avenger meets someone connected to their origins, they have a long and meaningful chat, the end. Patriot talks to Bucky about race in America; Hulkling gets to meet his "father"; Wiccan and Speed look for Wanda in all the wrong places and find Master Pandemonium instead (don't ask because I don't know) and so on. It's all very dull, because by definition, these writers can't do anything that could potentially conflict with Heinberg's intentions (I get this mental image of Quesada doing the whole Sitcom Mom routine where he stares out a window for hours, and when Heinberg walks in he starts screaming "Where have you been?! Do you know what time it is?! I was worried sick!").

The problem with that is YOUNG AVENGERS only ran for twelve issues, and to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, there's not a whole lot of there there. So YOUNG AVENGERS PRESENTS and the other place-holder miniseries are just spinning their wheels in a very, very small circle. Do you know what reading over a hundred pages of familiar exposition can do to a person?

So, yeah, I'm going to go with AWFUL because at least they're trying, whereas it looks like Whedon was totally sleeping on the job.

I'd Like To Sup With My Baby Tonight: Diana Sweats To The Newsies, 25/6

More evidence that the '90s were made of LIES: summertime has arrived, and contrary to the Fresh Prince's promises, there is no groove, nobody looks good in 125% humidity, and if you're dumb enough to dance in the open while the sun's up, you deserve the inevitable dehydration and/or dissolution into a puddle of skin-colored goo. As if that weren't enough, June was a seriously weird month for comics - I read nothing but 2000AD for three weeks (new Nikolai Dante story), and suddenly almost every single series I'm following has an issue out on the 25th. To which I say:



CROSSING MIDNIGHT #19 marks the unfortunate end of the latest ongoing series by Mike Carey and Jim Fern. I liked this one - Vertigo's done a lot with British and American mythologies, and it was a nice change of pace to apply that same exploratory approach and lovely artwork to the Japanese mythscape. Of course, the direct market being what it is, there was no way this series could've lasted more than two years; that said, it's still disappointing that CROSSING MIDNIGHT ends on such an unsatisfactory note. It's pretty much the same pattern most premature cancellations follow: we get a compressed finale that skips through the last act, sacrificing any emotional resonance or genuinely surprising plot twists for a quick, straightforward wrap-up. Only in this case, there is no wrap-up because we get a last-page cliffhanger, and that's the sort of thing that really gets on my nerves - the axe dropped on this series months ago, and the least Carey could've done was deliver a real conclusion to the story. Writers have a responsibility to provide closure for those readers who stuck around to the very end; it doesn't even have to be good closure (see: HARD TIME). But if I'd known CROSSING MIDNIGHT would fizzle out with an OKAY non-ending, I wouldn't have kept buying it for nineteen months.

Sticking with Vertigo, Matt Wagner and Amy Reeder Hadley kick off a new ongoing with MADAME XANADU #1. I wasn't quite sure what to expect here: Wagner's done some amazing work (recent Hunter Rose stories aside), and I didn't know anything about the titular character, so it was worth checking out. And... well, I'm underwhelmed. Something about this issue just doesn't work: the dialogue's stilted even by Arthurian standards ("Grant me this boon, oh generous elm! Thanks be for your sacrifice, leafy grandfather. May the winds spread your seeds far and wide") and there's a guest appearance by one of the most irritating characters in the DCU, the Phantom Stranger, whose entire purpose in any story is to hang around and drop cryptic comments before disappearing. I came away feeling like I'd seen all this before, from the druidic tree-hugging to Merlin doing his Mrs. Robinson thing with Nimue, and while I'm aware that it's only a prelude and that the main story moves out of the Arthurian setting, I honestly couldn't find anything here to make me continue reading. EH and better luck next time, I suppose.

Let's Break Out The Booze and Have A Ball: Diana Slays A Giant, 5/28

You know, there are times I recall - quite clearly - how excited X-Men readers were at the news that Joss Whedon would be succeeding Grant Morrison on NEW X-MEN. Granted, that's not exactly how it went down, but thematically, ASTONISHING X-MEN was very much the next chapter in the story Morrison had started. And Whedon's run had plenty of high points: Colossus' comeback was simple and touching, "Torn" was one of the best team-wrecking exercises I've read, and Whedon's characterization was spot-on for his entire team. And now here we are, at the end of a twenty-five issue run, precisely four years to the week that ASTONISHING X-MEN #1 came out. I've just finished reading GIANT-SIZE ASTONISHING X-MEN, and I don't want to talk about delays, or continuity issues, or projections regarding the upcoming Ellis run. I want to talk about the story. So, obviously, here be spoilers. It's difficult to avoid comparing ASTONISHING X-MEN and BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, despite the fact that it's been done ad nauseum. I'm not suggesting it's a one-for-one analogy, as if to say that Kitty is Buffy and Peter is Angel and so on, but rather that my expectations of the story were based on the typical Whedon season structure: there's a Bigger Picture behind each individual arc and we can't see it until the very end. That's part of what made BUFFY so interesting to me during its early years, that end-point revelation where all the pieces fit together. It's easy to get used to that, to the extent that when the pieces stopped fitting together in the series' later years? Diana smash.

But what happens if the pieces fit, and the Bigger Picture just isn't compelling? Well, you get GIANT-SIZE ASTONISHING X-MEN.

Here's the thing: on a purely technical level, GIANT-SIZE ASTONISHING X-MEN does what it's supposed to do - we get callbacks to earlier emotional points (that last shot of Peter with his hand on his chest), we get the Chekhov principle where various guns introduced in earlier acts go off (the Sentinel from "Dangerous", the end of Hisako's rite of passage, the "truth" about Abby Brand). But it's all so underwhelming, not very "Giant-Size" at all. Everything more or less adds up but the sum just doesn't impress.

Well, that's not quite true, is it? Because Danger just disappears after an obligatory cameo, and Cassandra Nova is presumably still on the loose, and Kitty Pryde is written off in an incredibly open-ended way... I'd think it was all set-up for the next writer, but Warren Ellis doesn't have the best track record for picking up where his predecessors leave off, and even if he did, there's more set-up here than closure.

And on top of that? It's not even good set-up. Kitty is written out in one of the most contrived, convoluted scenarios I've ever seen, with some technobabble about being fused to a giant bullet, the sort of scenario that pulls you right out of the story because it doesn't make any kind of sense. What's worse, Whedon falls into the same trap that's made Joe Quesada's career of late, as once again "magic" proves to be the bane of storytelling. Shockingly, Dr. Strange fubars the juju and everyone drops into a fantasy sequence that would've been effective if it had meant the return of Cassandra, but ends up being backlash because the Retaliator is magically shielded. Somehow. In a way that may or may not have something to do with Illyana Rasputin. This is the point where I just shrug my shoulders and move on.

So here we are, after four years of waiting for the story to play itself out. Was it worth it? Not really, no. ASTONISHING X-MEN turned out to be an OKAY run with some VERY GOOD moments and an EH finish, but sadly, I don't think it ever went farther than that.

Stone Cold Sober as a Matter of Fact: Diana takes on 4/30

Well, I can't stay away from the Big Two forever, so let's check in and see what Marvel and DC have for us this week! I must've been possessed by the Great Cornholio to think I could make sense of DC UNIVERSE ZERO. Never in my entire life have I ever felt so excluded by a comic book - they might as well have stamped "THIS IS NOT FOR YOU" on the cover. Look, maybe it's me. Maybe I'm the only person who expects a #0 issue (not even #1! #0! Before the beginning!) to actually present the starting point of a story, as opposed to trailers of stories that are already in progress. Is that an unfair expectation? I mean, am I wrong to think DC wants to attract new readers? Because the message I'm getting from DC UNIVERSE ZERO is that, if I haven't been following the 80-something-part storyline that's been threading through the entire DCU line for the past... what's it been now, two years? Three? If I haven't been doing that, I've got no business reading DC comics for the foreseeable future. CRAP, because I'm sick of wasting time and money trying to figure out the DCU for the sake of a decent story.

THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST #14, on the other hand, is a textbook lesson on the benefits of accessbility. "The 7 Capital Cities of Heaven" wraps up after six issues, an annual and a one-shot, and you know what? I loved every minute of it, despite having never read an Iron Fist comic before. I thought Shou-Lao was that guy on MORTAL KOMBAT who laughs when you kick him, and Yu-Ti had me thinking I'd picked up a GI JOE comic by mistake. But none of that kept me from understanding - and enjoying - the Brubaker/Fraction run. A big part of why it works so well is because, aside from meeting the standard head-bashing things-go-splody violence quota, what we have here is an intricate storyline spanning generations, from Danny Rand to his father Wendell to WWI Iron Fist Orson Randall. Iron Fist has become the center of an epic, in the true sense of the word, and that's no small achievement in a year's time. The fact that this specific storyline also contains a martial arts tournament, an exploding bullet train, a gender rebellion and flashbacks to a Golden Age incarnation of the Heroes For Hire makes it all the more impressive. Of course, it's sad that this is more or less the current creative team's swan song, but this is a VERY GOOD, very high note to go out on.

X-MEN LEGACY #210 is a mixed bag. On the one hand, we're still neck-deep in Ye Olde Continuity, with a cover straight out of late-'70s Claremont. And yes, this is a book that's undoubtedly geared towards readers already familiar with a relatively large portion of X-Men history: if you can't recognize David Haller by sight, or you don't know what that excerpt from "The Little Matchgirl" is meant to evoke, you won't find out here. On the other hand, I think it's still possible to "get" what's being conveyed, even without the specifics - this is something Mike Carey does very well, referencing continuity without hinging the entire plot on the assumption that his readers know that continuity. For the purposes of reading X-MEN LEGACY #210, it's not vital that you know what went down between Xavier and Voght; if you do, you get a little something extra out of their last exchange, but if you don't? You still walk away knowing what you need to know. The big development in this issue deals with something Paul O'Brien has called attention to in the past - after a start that lacked any visible long-term direction, we now have what seems to be a concrete premise for the series, at least for the immediate future. Potential downside? The way it's set up, I'm not entirely sure Carey intends to move out of Ye Olde Continuity any time soon, and while I trust his storytelling sensibilities, there's entirely too much nostalgia in the mainstream these days, especially with the X-Men, and it'd be nice if everyone just took a big step forward someday. Let's go with GOOD and see what happens next.

Shifting over to Vertigo, JACK OF FABLES has taken a rather unusual turn. Much like its parent title, this comic occasionally steps away from the present-day plotlines to visit secondary characters or tales from the protagonist's past. Last month, the Pathetic Fallacy tried to stage a production of "Hamlet" that went hilariously wrong, and this month, we're in the Wild West, exploring Jack's first encounter with Bigby Wolf. Now, Jack's always been characterized as a bit of a douche, but Willingham and Sturges usually balance that out with a kind of roguish, immature charm that makes him mildly sympathetic. He's written as overbearingly full of himself, but it's played (quite effectively) for laughs. Not so with "The Legend of Smilin' Jack" - as the last page openly acknowledges, this isn't a funny story. At all. There's no redeeming element in Jack this time: he's cruel, he's murderous, he's a Black Hat straight out of a Clint Eastwood western. It's such an extreme change, in fact, that I'm betting there's something else at work here. A GOOD start, though I'd advise Willingham and Sturges to watch their step - there are certain lines not to be crossed if you want to keep your character likeable, and Jack's been on the edge for years now.

Diana Goes Digital #5: You Spin Me Right Round

Sorry for the hold-up, but I've been locked in a cosmic battle between good and evil for the past few weeks (I'll let you guys decide which side I was on). No quarter was asked, none was given, and mark my words, I will get Vista off my computer. If I made it through Rob Liefeld's heyday without having my eyes poked out by Cable's pointy feet, I can beat my husband's fascination with transparent windows... Anyway, I thought we'd take a look at spin-offs today. It's hardly a foreign concept in the biz: every X-MEN eventually begets a NEW MUTANTS (though, like Pringles and Lolcats, it rarely stops with just one). When they're done properly, spin-offs are a welcome extension/continuation of a great story - of course, that concept is problematized in a mainstream where most stories never actually end (case in point: you have to wonder what would've happened if NEW MUTANTS had supplanted X-MEN rather than supplimented it).

But webcomics can be - and often are - finite, which leaves the door open for the question Peter Milligan put best in ENIGMA: "And then what?" Aeire's QUEEN OF WANDS was an early favorite of mine; I discovered it during its second crossover with SOMETHING POSITIVE in 2004. It was an easy jump to make; QUEEN OF WANDS had a similar tone in its heavily-cynical approach to geek culture, and if Aeire wasn't as vicious as R.K. Milholland, the guest appearances by Charles Darwin and the Grammar Nazi still amused. QUEEN OF WANDS also had a much smaller cast, allowing Aeire to create a consistent focus on her protagonist, Kestrel, and the people around her.

My memories of QUEEN OF WANDS are mostly GOOD: the art was eccentric, but enjoyable, with marked improvement over the years. And if Aeire had an occasional tendency to overdo the flashbacks within flashbacks and the melodrama, she balanced it out with plenty of light-hearted moments. But what I remember most about QUEEN OF WANDS is the way it ended - in a medium where stories can just stop cold when the writer loses interest, it was a real treat to see Kestrel's journey of maturation and self-discovery come to a kind of natural conclusion. And the day after QUEEN OF WANDS ended, Kestrel appeared in SOMETHING POSITIVE, where she became a recurring character in typical Milholland fashion. And that's a sort of spin-off there, because Kestrel's story goes on after the last panel of QUEEN OF WANDS, even if she's now in the hands of another writer.

Two years later (an eternity in net-time), Aeire teamed up with Chris Daily to produce PUNCH AN' PIE, a QUEEN OF WANDS spin-off featuring the hyperactive, childlike Angela in the lead role. It's a very different webcomic, not just artistically but also in terms of the story, and to be totally honest, it hasn't quite clicked for me. I realize that rehashing QUEEN OF WANDS would've been completely derivative, but at the same time, PUNCH AN' PIE takes a long, long time to start "moving" (as opposed to that oh-so-fitting first page of QUEEN OF WANDS, which pretty much sets the tone for the entire series), and six months in, I just wasn't feeling the same kind of energy that had made QUEEN OF WANDS so enjoyable. That's not to say it doesn't have its moments, but... well, part of the problem might be that I never really liked Angela to begin with, and that's crucial when it comes to spin-offs: it's the same reason why, despite my deep appreciation of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, its sister show ANGEL never held my interest for more than a few episodes at a time - I wasn't fond of Angel (to say the least), so the prospect of an Angel-centric series had me about as thrilled as a diabetic trapped in Willy Wonka's factory. And that's likely why PUNCH AN' PIE just didn't rate beyond OKAY for me.

Having sung the praises of Shaenon Garrity's NARBONIC, it should come as no surprise that I'm recommending LI'L MELL AND SERGIO, a spin-off featuring the irrepressible Mell Kelly in first grade, with brainy nerd Sergio replacing Dave Davenport in the "straight man" role. I don't know why it surprised me to see how perfectly Garrity captured the essence of Mell's character - she did create her, after all - but it's as funny and unpredictable as its parent series. Unlike the QUEEN OF WANDS/PUNCH AN' PIE schism, LI'L MELL AND SERGIO does feel like an extension of NARBONIC in some capacity, and it's especially fitting that Mell is the star, given how perfectly the story of Helen and Dave ended.

Let's move on to the works of K. Sandra Fuhr, an interesting case study in how the malleable nature of webcomics can work to one's advantage. Fuhr's first comic was UTOPIA, a sci-fi comedy which featured, among other characters, a trio of vampires: Mikhael, Harley and Tybalt. They were eventually spun off into their own series, THIS IS HOME, by all accounts the biggest maelstrom of teen angst, rape, murder and melodrama since Laurell K. Hamilton. And when that didn't work, Fuhr took her lead characters, stripped away the pseudo-Gothic trappings, and BOY MEETS BOY was born.

Then she deleted UTOPIA and THIS IS HOME. Poof, not a trace of it left anywhere online. And believe me, I've looked.

The reason I find this so interesting is because you don't have that kind of total dissolution in mainstream comics: even the most massive reboot I know of, CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, was never able to completely excise everything that had come before it. That pre-history may not have been in continuity anymore, but it still existed, people still talked about it and - most importantly - they could still access pre-Crisis material on a regular basis. Eventually, DC had no choice but to acknowledge pre-Crisis history again. But with webcomics, you push a button, and as far as the average reader is concerned, the comic never existed. Fuhr was essentially able to retcon her own bibliography. And if traits belonging to earlier versions of the characters bled through... well, how would you know?

Getting back to the actual comics for a bit: BOY MEETS BOY is pretty much your textbook yaoi manga, with an added dose of pop culture that, unfortunately, has become a touch dated by now. The premise can pretty much be summed up in a single page. Still, it's cute enough that I appreciate it on its own terms: for example, you have the gag and its requisite counter-gag, various breakings of the fourth wall and so on. GOOD stuff, all the moreso for being unpredictable with its storylines: you may think you know where the story's headed, but there's usually a twist just around the corner.

A year into the series, Fuhr imported Fox and Collin, formerly of UTOPIA, into the story. Introduced as college misfits and nemeses to Harley and Mikhael, they ended up becoming rather dominant characters, to the point where entire storylines revolved around them. I don't think it came as any surprise to Fuhr's readers that when BOY MEETS BOY ended, Fox and Collin were spun off into their own series, FRIENDLY HOSTILITY, which kicked off with a storyline that fleshed out the wacky Maharassa clan.

I should note that both Fuhr's writing and her artwork undergo a massive evolution as time goes on: if BOY MEETS BOY has some awkward aspects and the art can generously be described as rough and inconsistent, FRIENDLY HOSTILITY hits the ground running with smoother artwork, stronger dialogue, and less of a reliance on the histrionics native to the yaoi genre. In fact, I'd argue that FRIENDLY HOSTILITY leaves yaoi and its conventions behind altogether: it's much more realistic (the occasional demonic cameo aside), more in the vein of a romantic comedy than the out-and-out chaos of its predecessor. It's only right that FRIENDLY HOSTILITY be graded VERY GOOD, in recognition of the author's vast improvement over a relatively short amount of time.

And finally, technical notes:

* QUEEN OF WANDS ran from July of 2002 to February of 2005, followed by a "rerun" of the series from March of 2005 to November of 2006 with commentary by Aeire. Full color. The series archive has a "Storyline" option but it only goes up to 2004; you're on your own after that.

* PUNCH AN' PIE is ongoing, in black and white. The series started at the end of February 2007, and updates Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Unfortunately, the archives are woefully out-of-date, making navigation a real challenge.

* LI'L MELL AND SERGIO is ongoing, in black and white. Girlamatic used to charge subscription fees to read the series, but it's now free of charge. It updates on a weekly basis, featuring multiple artists.

* BOY MEETS BOY ran from September 2000 to January 2004, in black and white. The very last page featured Fox and Collin inviting the readers to check out FRIENDLY HOSTILITY...

* ... which is ongoing, in black and white; the "Problematic" storyline began concurrently with the end of BOY MEETS BOY, while the series proper started in August of 2004.

Papa Don't Preach: The Toughest Review Diana Ever Wrote, 3/26

During my (admittedly short) time as a comic book critic, I've reviewed comics that made me happy, or sad, or violently ill; works by writers I can't stand, or admire, or wish would try just a bit harder because they're capable of so much more (you know who you are). But there's one comic I've never talked about, and likely never will:


To be totally honest, WATCHMEN intimidates me. It's too great a work for me to discuss, and it's such a central part of comics discourse that I doubt there's much I could say that hasn't been said before, by greater critics than myself.

And I'd be content to let sleeping dogs lie, except the comic I'm about to review can't be discussed outside the WATCHMEN context, and that puts me in a rather uncomfortable position. So I'm just going to take a deep breath and see where things go from here. More after the jump. One of the perks of being a Savage Critic, aside from the company, is that we occasionally get advance copies of comics that have either just been solicited or, on very rare occasions, haven't actually been announced yet.

So when I got a PDF from DC Comics titled MINUTEMEN, I figured it was some colonial-era historical drama, perhaps with some dinosaurs and time-travel thrown in just so we wouldn't forget it was a comic book.

I certainly wasn't expecting a 48-page WATCHMEN prequel by Leah Moore and Dave Gibbons, due for release in July.

Needless to say, I ended up having some deeply conflicted feelings about this comic. So let's start with the positive aspects first: the most obvious pro, of course, is that this one-shot constitutes a return to a world that had been previously self-contained. Granted, it's a prequel, and Alan Moore had already covered most of this the first time around, but the effect on me as a reader is like opening a favorite book for the twentieth time and finding a whole new chapter that I'd never seen before. A sense of the new and the familiar, all the more powerful because WATCHMEN changed the way I read comics.

And Leah Moore delivers a good story, for the most part. Her previous project, ALBION, had left me rather indifferent, but here she really shows a knack for small, silent, understated scenes that drive a huge emotional spike through your heart: Ozymandias handing Mothman his first glass of bourbon with a knowing grin was absolutely chilling, because there's no dialogue, no narration, and yet you just know what Moore's trying to imply.

Obviously, it's the artwork that sells these sequences, and Gibbons deserves a huge round of applause here for sticking so closely to WATCHMEN's character designs. It contributes a lot to that feeling of connection I mentioned - that this really is an organic companion to its parent text.

However, I can't help feeling like the whole project is unnecessary on some level. Part of WATCHMEN's appeal is that it doesn't spell everything out, and we don't necessarily know every detail of what happened in that world Moore and Gibbons created all those years ago. We knew Silhouette and her lover were murdered - did we really need to see it happen? Doesn't that take away from the mysteries of the original, the things left in the shadows? A lot of what Leah Moore does is basically confirm, explicitly, the things her father left to our imagination: yes, Hooded Justice and Captain Metropolis were lovers, and the Comedian found out, and Dollar Bill thinking about adding a cape to his costume comes with all the ominous foreshadowing you'd expect...

And when she does add to the mythos, the contributions are questionable at best - nothing in MINUTEMEN technically contradicts anything in WATCHMEN, but there's a hint of that familiar "everything you know is wrong" vibe that annoys me on principle these days (so you can deduce my feelings towards SECRET INVASION too).

Still, in lieu of the Great Bearded Warlock making a comeback, I could settle for this. In short, I'd give it an OKAY if it weren't an early April's Fools' joke.




Number One With A Bullet: Diana Quick-Shoots 5/3

Let's get right in there, shall we? BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER #12: Here's my $0.02 on The L Thing, from the perspective of a series-long fan. Do I believe Buffy would sleep with a woman? Yes, provided the woman is a Slayer - that was, after all, the subtext of her dynamic with Faith (especially in "Bad Girls"). However, I thought the execution here was a bit problematic for two reasons. Number one, as Chris Sims points out, the whole "post-coital reveal" really is a cliche these days. Number two, and this is something that bothered me a lot during the show's final years, there's no subtext or ambiguity in the Buffyverse anymore. That was a huge pet peeve for me, because the first three seasons were great at being subtle (ie: you never knew exactly what Angelus and Drusilla were up to behind Spike's back, which left your imagination running on overtime), and afterwards everything was in-your-face-with-a-can-of-mace (I'm thinking here of the near-rape in "Seeing Red" to name just one egregious "geez, what happened to my show?" scene). It could've been more interesting to be ambiguous about Buffy and Satsu, to drop teases and hints, rather than pull the old Wile E. Coyote anvil-to-the-head maneuver. I wasn't at all surprised to learn that Drew Goddard wrote that Season 7 episode when Spike's mother goes all Freudian on him, because that's exactly the kind of bluntness (which, in all honesty, could very easily be attributed to sensationalism) we get here. All that said, this is still a VERY GOOD issue, and Goddard deserves kudos for the abundant humor, to say nothing of the main reason I'm enjoying Season 8: new variations on canonical threats. The vampires in this issue are linked to an enemy Buffy's faced before, and that's precisely the sort of internal continuity mixed with innovation that makes the story even more interesting (and I didn't even like that particular enemy when he turned up).

CABLE #1: Cable, as a character, greatly benefited from MESSIAH COMPLEX: if, in earlier appearances, he either drifted around aimlessly or played at being Robo-Jesus, he's now a soldier with a clear mission and a nemesis who thematically parallels his own situation (after all, Bishop is also a soldier with a clear mission). What isn't apparent by the end of the issue is where Duane Swierczynski wants to go from here, big-picture-wise: is this series set in the New Jersey of 2043 we see here? Or will Cable and the baby be jumping through time with Bishop on their heels? It could go either way, and both options have potential (though I think we need a bigger supporting cast, because Cable monologuing as the baby cries could get old very fast), but we're off to a GOOD start. Special props to Ariel Olivetti for that look on Cable's face when he has to change the baby's diaper. Verily, a fate worse than death... and if this baby turns out to be Jean Grey, we can look forward to the inevitable argument where they both scream "I CHANGED YOUR DIAPERS!" at each other.

LOGAN #1: With Y: THE LAST MAN complete, I've been feeling the lack of Brian Vaughan in my monthly readings (don't ask about EX MACHINA). Now, I'm not a Wolverine fan. At all. But there's a handful of writers who can get me to check out anything they do, and Vaughan's one of them. (Carey's another, which no doubt explains why I feel like I've already passed my Wolverine quota for this year.) So imagine my disappointment when LOGAN #1 turned out to be a rather dull comic. Where is Vaughan's trademark unpredictability? Where are the twists and turns? This issue reads like WOLVERINE FOR DUMMIES, a standard (and standardized) fusion of stock tropes I've seen a hundred times already. EH, because I honestly don't care.

Postscript: The second I finished posting this, I saw that Douglas had beaten me to it.



I call the right side!