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The Fanboy Planet Preview Spotlight 01/04/05
brought to you by Brian's Books of Santa Clara

It's a new year. Thankfully, it's not the same old books.

Superman: Strength #1
writer/breakdowns: Scott McCloud
artists: Aluir Amancio and Terry Austin

There's a lot on the stands to be excited about this week, but Superman: Strength gets the spotlight nod for not just having a good pedigree, but actually living up to it. Scott McCloud, one of the quirkiest and savviest creators around, pens a story of two men trying to live up to their fathers' examples. Clark Kent has already learned moral strength (and weakness) from his father, while a new enemy, "Fido," struggles to prove his worth to his minor super-villain dad.

Sure, we've seen this sort of thing before, but McCloud makes sure the parallels aren't too obvious to get in the way of a fun story. He begins with a couple of pages of citizens spitballing what they think Superman's origin is. Everyone agrees on the Krypton part, but clearly, they don't know what happened afterward.

It's clear to Fido that Superman cannot have ever known a day of work in his life. Thus this physical weakling, with hints of an abused childhood, cannot himself understand a guy being selfless just because it's the right thing to do.

He tests Superman, and McCloud plays the sequence with a sense of cool. While over in The Question Superman faces foes keenly aware of where he will and will not go, Fido operates right out in the open, almost daring the Man of Steel. Even when the "myth" of Superman's super-hearing is proven true, the would-be criminal mastermind stays on an even keel. Fido knows Superman's real weaknesses: he won't fight someone that hasn't yet done something, and he'll always, always protect innocents before apprehending a criminal.

Though McCloud borrows elements of the regular Super-books status quo, he's also dealing in his own little corner of continuity. Superman's family situation is current, being married to Lois (too little seen here) and with both of his parents alive. But McCloud makes him seem a little older, old enough at least to be facing a second-generation criminal. And maybe I've lost a major historical moment, or maybe it is only Fido's bragging, but there's a significant reference to Superman having his arm broken. What a great story idea that is alone, and McCloud uses it as just background for this one.

Contrasting the main caper - and it is a caper, with a great, great visual consequence right out of the late fifties or early sixties - is a tale told by Pa Kent about Clark at age 10. "The first time he saw a city," Pa begins. What actually happened must wait for later issues, but it's clear that McCloud is setting up something involving Clark learning about grey areas, and trying to avoid them.

With McCloud providing breakdowns, Amancio and Austin give the book a strangely comfortable hodge-podge look. Some panels evoke the memory of Jack Kirby, while others have the crisp cartooniness of Joe Staton at his best. All of it is dynamic, and it's nice to see Austin, one of the best inkers in the business, back on a high profile project.

Strength won't fit into the regular events of Superman's year, but it is what a mini-series should be: a tale well told by one of the best in the business.


The Incredible Hulk #77: Peter David returns and proves that the trick to going home again is to not actually go home. Take yourself somewhere new with a familiar friend. The parameters the veteran writer is setting for himself and the Hulk have not yet quite coalesced, but this first of a proposed six issue run is strong enough for you to jump onboard now.

The New Avengers #2: I'm just going to quote Andy at Brian's Books: "You may not have liked what Bendis did to end the old Avengers, but if he hadn't done that story, he couldn't have told this one." It's a doozy. The fact that people seem to know who the Sentinel is does seem a little troublesome, but I'm willing to cut some slack because every other element of this story has me completely hooked.

Captain America #2: The first issue was in our spotlight a month ago, and if anything, Brubaker and Epting get even better with this issue. If you don't like Captain America, give this run a try anyway, because it's an arc people will be talking about for some time. Epting's art is stronger than his already great CrossGen work, and Michael Lark provides some work on flashbacks - or are they?

The Spectacular Spider-Man #23: Continue being outraged at JMS if you want (I still can't make up my mind), but at least his work on Amazing Spider-Man has some logical repercussions here in Spectacular. For Spider-Man's troubles fitting in to French nightlife alone, this book is worth a glance.

Spider-Man Unlimited #7: Using this title to showcase emerging writers has also turned this into a nice echo of Tangled Web. The stories here are more about the effect Spider-Man has on people than they are about Spider-Man, and both are well done. Though the solution to Bill Rosemann's story has a little deus ex machina about it, that seems more the result of a character disappearing from the otherwise nice artwork instead of the plot.

Sight Unseen:

Doctor Solar Man of the Atom vol. 1 Dark Horse has begun reprinting the defunct Gold Key's superhero work. Don't let that Gold Key fool you; despite a lack of major licensing, these are quality stories. Now if only somebody could wrest Valiant out of a legal morass so the updates could be reprinted...

Flaming Carrot #1: Ut! He's back and hopefully still on fire! Look for him under "I" for Image.


Breach #1: You might be tempted to pick up this new edgy quasi-superhero title from DC, and the Marcos Martin pencils make it all the more alluring. But this is just recycled, almost literally, from the origin of DC's version of Captain Atom. Bob Harras, a decent writer, still doesn't throw us any curves we can't see coming pages ahead of time. What makes it so edgy? Breach's final form looks like he's missing huge strips of skin and a lot of people die.

Hey, write to us and let us know what you think, or talk about it on the forums!

Derek McCaw

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