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The Fanboy Planet Preview Spotlight 02/23/06
brought to you by Brian's Books of Santa Clara

Each week we look through the upcoming releases to offer our two cents as to what's hot and what's not. You can agree with us or not, but spend your money wisely.

The American Way #1
writer: John Ridley
artist: Georges Jeanty

That 1961, it was one of the last good years. Kennedy sat in the White House, Elvis was still the King and Americans just burst with hope. Part of that hope and optimism came from faith in the American Way, and in John Ridley and Georges Jeanty's new book, that faith gets exemplified by the Civil Defense Corps.

A superteam that at first glance looks familiar, the Corps shows up for big disasters, but still finds time to help the little guy. But Ridley cannily opens the book at a car show - an event that hints at flash and glitter over substance. The key thing is to get Americans to buy it, whatever "it" is that is being sold.

In this case, American pride. Most of the members have names that tie in to some U.S. concept. The exceptions seem to be with the analogs to the three main archetypes: Pharos, Freytag and Secret Agent, though that last at least is a Western concept. Though you might spend the first few pages thinking you've seen them before, it's nice to realize that this isn't a straight-up Justice League riff.

Nor is it Astro City. Some of the names have the clever punning to them that Kurt Busiek has mastered, though it may make one wonder what the East Coast Intellectual can actually do. Perhaps he defeats criminals by writing devastating letters to the New York Times. We'll consider the size-changing Amber Waves to be a master stroke in naming, though.

The key member, and the key to the plot, is Old Glory. Dressed like a Revolutionary War soldier, he shows up when things look their darkest. When he delivers a key blow, the troops are rallied to defeat the Nazi Robot/Communist Dragon/Martian Menace.

Ridley could have simply been mocking the formulaic nature of too many beloved Silver Age stories, but this is no Silver Age. A cynical heart beats underneath this story, explaining just why the beats of a superhero battle follow a set pattern. Definitely fit for the Wildstorm label, The American Way (no truth and justice, necessarily) still has a sense that maybe doing the right things for the wrong reasons can still turn out right. Wildstorm confuses me so.

It's also packaged in bright shiny art to match its slightly tarnished vision of a superpowered superpower. Jeanty has dynamic layouts, though he frames some of them slightly askew. Perhaps that's a subtle hint that all is not what it seems to be. He has a strong, bold style, though not yet with a unique enough touch to make him stand out.

Let me stress the yet. Jeanty could very well be one to watch, and as this mini-series plays out, I suspect that it will ironically be the quieter moments in which the artist really hits his stride.

In the meantime, the book has a nicely skewed vision and strong overall storytelling that make it worth the time to flip through. Don't be fooled by its shiny surface; there really is something going on here.


The Amazing Spider-Man #529: The rumors are true. (Okay, in the age of the internet, rumors are proven all too soon.) Spider-Man has a new costume. Now that we're past "The Other," he seems to have an old attitude. In fact, all changes to his powers in this issue seem to stem from his suit, not from the last few months of arachnophobia. Sloppy, maybe, but more surprisingly, it's likable. As if you couldn't tell from the banner on the cover (though not on the cover image Marvel provided online), this helps set up the Civil War coming to Marvel, and though the event feels a bit forced, not planned out as far in advance as Infinite Crisis, it seems logical - and thankfully, interesting.

Batman #450: Judd Winick may not be the best writer to ever work on Batman; you don't want to take away all due props to giants like Denny O'Neill. But Winick has done something that previous high-profile writers could not convincingly accomplish: explain why Batman doesn't just kill the Joker once and for all. This issue also adds even more nuance to the Jason Todd thing, and though DC has some great writers in store this title, I think I just might feel the loss of Winick for a while. He gets the Bat. He really does.

The Book of Lost Souls #5: Every page by Colleen Doran is lush and romantic in the classical sense. That alone should attract readers, because though this series has potential and mysteries worth exploring, this current two-parter feels just a little too much like Sandman. It's mostly because of the dark figure with the teeth in his eye sockets, but it's also hard to avoid the comparison when J. Michael Straczynski keeps tapping into that same tortured pretty boy vibe for his protagonist. But again, with Doran's art, this guy is far prettier than Morpheus, which might be worth something. Swoon away, ladies.

Captain America #15: If you missed the whole Winter Soldier arc out of protest, you still owe it to yourself to jump on this issue. Captain America (and Bucky) only appear tangentially, in glorious chiaroscuro flashbacks. Taking a break from the longer storytelling, Ed Brubaker re-establishes the Red Skull's daughter, with a little help from the villainous Crossbones. They're still evil, but Brubaker does a disturbingly good job of explaining their motivations.

Green Lantern #9: Geoff Johns gets about every superhero but Batman. So I have mixed emotions about this issue, featuring a Batman who isn't just surly, but tends to be an out and out jerkwad. Somehow, this is the Bat I expected Judd Winick to write, which led to his tenure on Batman being an extra pleasure. Still, Johns keeps adding nice touches to the Green Lantern mythos, and the strong points of this run also clearly reflect collaboration between him and his artist, Ethan Van Sciver. These pencils show Hal in a light (literally) we haven't seen before, and it works.

Legion of Super-Heroes #15: It's true. I never thought I would see Tyroc again. So having him on the cover of Legion of Super-Heroes would have caught my eye anyway, even if DC hadn't hyped it. Inside the book, Stuart Moore pens tales of several different legions, positing them as different legends. Or perhaps not. With a Crisis looming, who can say what is actually legend? If these vignettes can be considered canonical, Moore just opened up a nice little loophole that will allow for something that (all together now) "…will crack the internet in half." It certainly made Andy Mead's brain melt.

Solo #9: Between issues, I worry that DC will run out of artists they really deem worth spotlighting. Then a new issue of Solo comes out and I realize that was a foolish fear. Scott Hampton paints beautifully, and writes intriguingly. The weakest point is an EC-style story that tries a little political commentary, but it's still an amazing art job. Republicans can still buy it and enjoy.

The Thing #4: As Dan Slott intended, this book feels like a throwback to a fun seventies book, but smarter. This is the kind of comic that enforces the feeling of wonder in the Marvel Universe, and would have gotten me totally hooked on comics if I'd picked it up at the 7-11. Plus it features Lockjaw, thus combining my passion for superheroes with my two-year-old's passion for puppies. Well played, Slott, well played.

The Warlord #1: Okay, die-hard fans of Mike Grell's Warlord may be upset that this concept gets an overhaul. But Bruce Jones has proven himself adept at sword and sorcery tales over the years, and this go-round allows for a little more believable savagery than Grell would have been able to do in an industry bowing to a stricter Comics Code. Then there's Bart Sears' art, which has changed into something smoother without losing any of the energy it had before. If you like Conan over at Dark Horse, you should pick this one up.

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

Derek McCaw

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