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Jason Schachat will one day be the ancestor of a loser superhero from the 25th Century.

Jason Schachat's Occasional Breakdown

DC’s 52 Week #18 lands the grand experiment in a bit of a pickle. Has the Tenth Age of Matic begun or not? Is Booster Gold DEAD dead, or just dead? What’s up with Ralph Dibny?

Trying to tie-in the ever-hanging thread of Dr. Fate’s fate, the Croatoan Society find Tim Trench dead, wearing Fate’s helmet. The body disintegrates into a fine powder, they wrap up the helmet and seek out Ralph Dibny because... well, he’s more of a B-lister these days, and they barely rate any list at all.

Back in Kahndaq, Black Adam and new bride Isis award shiny new medals to The Question and Montoya for foiling the pre-teen suicide bomber. Montoya’s busy drowning her sorrows in booze and poon-tang, however, so Adam crashes her party and nearly kills her before Question reminds them the real enemy is the group who set up the attack: Intergang.

Back at Booster Gold’s funeral, Clark Kent muddles over how the world turned on Booster so quickly that not only would no one attend but the only city willing to host was Cincinnati (and only because he’d never been there). Leave it to Skeets to find the silver lining and one of Booster’s ancestors. As next week’s cover foretells, Booster could be coming back one way or another.

Not really the best issue, though. Booster’s surprising death is still building up to future events, so we don’t expect much there. But The Question and Montoya have been on thin ice and the lack of plot development only makes it thinner. They remind us Montoya’s a drunken lesbian. And?

Black Adam and Isis need to embrace some new conflict ASAP. Hopefully, we’ll see the Ralph Dibny arc tie into theirs soon enough, but that brings up another problem: what the hell is going on with Ralph? Last time we saw him, he was a thoroughly broken man. Again. Logically, the next step would’ve been for him to relentlessly pursue methods to bring Sue back from the dead. Here, he’s cool as a cucumber.

Sue may be one of the only things driving him, now, but this rapidly changing characterization is just nonsensical. There’s only one term for a person who oscillates personas so quickly: insane. Through lack of continuity, DC have made Ralph a madman in the eyes of any loyal reader. The sad thing is it doesn’t seem intentional. They need to get their act together fast or just flush him down the toilet and be done with it.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto have an accident with the strawberry jam.

I don’t know about anyone else out there, but, until reading The Lone Ranger #1, I was pretty sure the new wave of cowboy comics had run its course. They’ve changed established characters’ personalities, sexual orientations, genders, and species. We’ve set Westerns in the future, distant planets, vampire-infested wastelands, and retro-steampunk dystopias.

But it always loses that core sensibility when people make it overly funny, scary, sexy, or bizarre. These are stories about a simpler era when people didn’t have time to consider the finer points. You either respected the law or you didn’t. Firing your gun was never in question, though how you felt afterwards defined you.

In this relaunch of the classic character, we finally get the origin story we never expected. At a deceptively rapid pace, we see the character grow to manhood, learning the importance of sacrifice, loyalty, and the rest of it. Just without the stereotypical shallow diatribes.

Then we also find out about the disaster that introduced him to his Indian friend, why he became a Ranger in the first place, and how a tragedy led to him being “lone."

Bret Matthews’ story takes one of the most ridiculed heroes in American pop culture, and turns him into a real western lawman. Sergio Carriello’s art is lovingly rendered and Dean White adds just the right amount of dirt to give it a well-worn texture. If this creative team can keep it going, they just might end up with one of the greatest Lone Ranger stories ever told.

While Outsiders #40 may benefit from Judd Winick’s dash of humor and kooky ideas, the plot development is pretty glacial. Of course, this book has mostly lived and died by whoever’s fleshing it all out on the page. Matthew Clark and Ron Randall’s styles match up with the standard weirdness you expect from this team, but you can’t help feeling like the overall production is a bit cheap. Still, when Winick’s writing feels dull...

This new arc (which is still wrapping up events of the last arc) opens with a brief explanation of Monsieur Mallah and The Brain’s cloning enterprise; the years they spent gathering blood and hair samples. It’s a good montage that feels just a bit too smart for this ultimately harmless duo.

Meanwhile, the thrill that Shift might be back is defused when he tells us he’s just another fragment of Metamorpho with no intention of being his own person.

Back at the holding/gloating chamber, Grace refuses to elaborate on what “her people” means. The rest of the team is pissed of by this secrecy, so Nightwing explains that she’d already told him. The suspense, it builds!

Yet the end of this issue can’t help but be a little drag-ass. Conflicts resolve and there’s a climax, but the reveal of a secret mad scientist partner is about as surprising as that research years back telling us McDonald’s food is fattening. Hard to remember a journey fondly when there’s a waiting room at the end.

Regular readers will get something out of this issue, but it’s not a good place for newbies to start.

In celebration of Peter Parker’s unmasking, Marvel belatedly gives us Spider-Man: Black & Blue & Read All Over now that we’ve nearly stopped caring. The issue features a new adventure as well as a reprint of Spider-Man #12... but does that justify the four dollar price tag?

Well, the new story written by Jim Krueger and pencilled by Drew Johnson does hit the right notes. It tells a pre-Civil War tale about a time when Spidey got tired of his burden (as he so often does) and decided to make a deal with J. Jonah Jameson (which is new). In exchange for a few pages of The Bugle to give his opinion, Spidey promises to reveal his identity on the front steps of the building.

Now, I know you’re thinking this is a rather go-nowhere premise. Civil War has made any story about Spider-Man’s secret identity anti-climactic. Now that it’s out there, who cares?

Well, this issue handles it better than the others leading up to the big reveal. For the millionth time, you really feel like Peter Parker was crumbling under the weight of his anonymity and needed to let it go. Sure, we’ve seen it many times before, but it’s something that defines the character.

Civil War never really dug into that. They just kinda treated Spider-Man like he was another schmo with a mask. You couldn’t really feel the stress and fatigue of all these decades of secret identity pulsing through the pages. Not so, here.

The reprint is, well, a reprint. Doc Ock unmasks Spidey! Whatever will happen?! Story be damned, the coloring is just painful to look at. Photo-copies of the originals would be better than these texture-less things any day of the week. Note to Marvel: If you’re going to recolor, just go for broke. These cheap recolors are eyesores.

Yep, Emma looks really tired of this whole Phoenix thing...

X-Men: Phoenix Warsong #1 is a tough read. You have to be that certain kind of X-fan who can forget what’s currently going on in Astonishing X-Men; somewhat recall the last few arcs of Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men; keep abreast of the Decimation, 198, and Civil War; and, most importantly of all, you should’ve read X-Men: Phoenix Endsong.

Endsong most of all.

The story follows the Stepford Cuckoos as they seem to hit their secondary mutation. Before you know it, they’re teasing a Sentinel with their new telekinetic flight powers. Emma, Logan, and Hank separate them to work on the problem from different angles, but the signs are all there: the Phoenix Force is rising in the Three-in-One.

For the most part, I really prefer to see Greg Pak working in the Cosmic. Endsong was a bit hard to get into because of the X-Men’s soap opera leanings. Pak seems to excel when the storytelling builds to epic proportions.

Warsong looks to be doing that.

Rather than letting Morrison’s uber-psychics disappear into the wings, he keeps bringing back the Stepford Cuckoos, Quentin Quire, and, as ever, the Phoenix Force. While other writers may have trouble with overpowered characters, Pak’s quite at home.

Still, I have little faith Marvel Editorial will let the Cuckoos breech containment. There’s nothing I want to see more than the Phoenix Force taking on these new Civil War Sentinels and bringing the Decimation/198/CivilWar junk to a thrilling climax– but too many other books are already heading there. None of them will make it very far.

However, with Planet Hulk going on, there’s a glimmer of hope they’ll let this miniseries tell a story rather then build towards yet another tepid summer crossover that last until the next summer crossover hits the shelves. Cross your fingers.

Jason Schachat

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