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Jason Schachat has a crush
on Ellen Dolan.

Jason Schachat's Occasional Breakdown

If you buy just one comic this week, make it Batman/The Spirit #1. This joyous oneshot merges the delightful styles of Darwyn Cooke and the late grandmaster Will Eisner to answer the question no one ever asked: How did The Spirit meet Batman?

Meshing together the two universes with little concern for continuity (Catwoman is a villain but wearing her current costume, Joker is flanked by Harley Quinn, the world is locked in the art deco fantasia of the 40s), this may not be a story you’ll ever expect a follow-up to, but oh, how you’ll crave it.

The plotline is from a simpler time: all the villains from Central City and Gotham City have flown the coop and converge on a police convention in Hawaii. Spirit has to get Dolan away from the seductive Poison Ivy, Batman has to save Gordon from P'Gell, Robin says things like “Holy Torpedo!”, and the Joker gets to be the clown prince of crime rather than a bloodthirsty psychopath.

Sure, you can call it nostalgic, but we need a dose of it every once and a while. As Cooke proved with DC: The New Frontier, nostalgic doesn’t have to mean hackneyed or boring. There’s no harm in bypassing a few retcons to recapture that sense of fun that used to define superhero comics.

Ten beers later -- same expressions.

But, when you have a team like Jeph Loeb and Darwyn Cooke handling it, the overly-expository 10-pager of days gone by fleshes out into the gorgeous 40-page story they give us here. It’s a great read for fanboys, kids, and newbies alike. If you’re looking for a no-commitment all-ages comic book stocking stuffer, Batman/The Spirit is the best candidate of the season.

Crossing Midnight #1 is a book that reminds us why we liked writer Mike Carey in the first place: he started out at Vertigo. Most of Carey’s Marvel work feels overly restrained or derivative, but, in the hands of editor Karen Berger, he starts a new story that immediately feels unique.

Much of this probably comes from where and when the story starts: Nagasaki after the atom bomb hit. But that doesn’t awaken ancient demons or imbue the survivors with powers. Instead, it re-awakens religious beliefs in a survivor. She begins to worship an old shrine given to her by her mother.

When her own son is about to have a child, she insists the young couple make an offering to the Kami, the spirits of the shrine. Not knowing any other way to appease the old woman, they say the words without thinking and find themselves parents of twins – rather than the single child they’d expected.

Still, nothing seems amiss. It’s only as the years go by that the children begin to sense the supernatural goings on that surround them and demand tribute...

Carey does a nice job pulling snippets from Japanese culture without making another wannabe manga ripoff. Of course, that may end up hurting sales more than anything else. Jim Fern’s pencils are quite nice (if not entirely consistent), but don’t resemble any of the familiar anime and manga styles. Is that a crime? No, but you can’t deny that manga sell damn well.

I think the other thing that makes me worry for the future of this book is the amount of setup Carey gives us. Nearly the entire first issue is told as a flashback, building up to the confrontation sure to come next month. While it makes for a good read, we really can’t tell if the story’s got legs.

For the most part, I’d say Crossing Midnight is worth a look. It has the same flavor that made Lucifer a hit. My only worry is that the aftertaste won’t be so sweet.

Half-midget, half-gorilla, all-Captain!

It’s pretty sad to see Jeph Loeb putting out Onslaught Reborn #1 the same week as Batman/The Spirit. If you ever doubted the importance of an artist’s contributions to storytelling, look no further than that comparison.

Where Darwyn Cooke is truly inspired and makes his relatively simple story sing, Rob Liefeld (AKA All-But-The Writing, Colors, Letters, Production– basically he’s just a damn penciller who inks now and then) takes a whole issue to say that Onslaught is back (turns out he was that cloud floating around the Earth after Wanda wished away all those mutants) and still wants Franklin Richards.

Liefeld spends about eighteen pages demonstrating how every character he draws will dislocate their jaw whenever they want to say something. Interestingly, he also somehow squeezes out two pages where we get a closer look at Franklin’s face and see much more nuance then we’d ever expect. I’m not sure if someone actually had the guts to tell Liefeld to re-do panels, but there’s something different here. And it works.

If only more than 1% of the comic were drawn that way.

The rest is the usual shallow power fantasy where we need some excuse, ANY EXCUSE to have some characters beat the snot out of each other for two dozen pages. There’s no plot, no development and no obstacles. We begin and end with Onslaught hunting down Franklin Richards.

My advice is to save your money for more worthy aftermath stories that aren’t coming a decade after they’ve lost their relevance.

Where common sense would dictate that Ultimate Power #2 should explain how and why Squadron Supreme has crossed over into the Ultimate Universe, all you really get is nineteen pages of brawling and one page of justification.

I almost hesitate to say Bendis is really involved with this book, since the only traces of his style are certain go-to lines of dialogue and onomatopoeias. It’s really just a collection of Greg Land artwork. That’s both where it succeeds and fails.

Somewhere in this cover everyone can find
an image worth a little "me" time...

No one will dispute that Greg Land is a talented artist. He’s achieved what so many consider to be the peak of the form: realistic representation of the human form. Sure, his work is painfully photo-referenced and clearly borrows from images in other media, but it’s pretty. That’s what sells.

However, when you put it all together like this, the feeling is definitely more of a collection than a flowing story. His big compositions feel static and bring any fight scene to a screeching halt. When the Blur speeds off to keep Hyperion from falling onto a crowd of innocent bystanders, it just doesn’t feel FAST. We’re confused by his mis-steps that find him in Indiana and Liberty Isle. The transitions are just too haphazard.

As I said of Liefeld earlier, there are just too many panels where characters have their mouths hanging open like humpback whales hoping to scoop up schools of krill. If only three people in a panel are talking, why can we count the teeth on all of them?

It makes for a nice bunch of poses and explosions, but there’s no flow and no meaning to it. Too many of the views are head-on, the feeling of movement is lacking, and readers will have a hard time following characters through the fight.

Sure, that won’t matter to people who just want some “pretty” art slapped together to make a comic book, but anyone hoping for a story or just a good fight scene should look elsewhere.

Jason Schachat

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