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The Fanboy Planet Preview Spotlight 03/01/06
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.

Batman: Secrets #1
writer and artist: Sam Kieth

A quick survey of Sam Kieth's work reveals a whole lot of quirk. Take The Maxx, Zero Girl or last year's werewolf tale for DC, Scratch. All of them feature the grotesque made strangely beautiful, with narratives that often left a reader convinced that he must be missing something - like a chance to walk around in Kieth's head.

So it should be no surprise that Sam Kieth would turn his attention to Batman, a character often surrounded by the grotesque. Logically, too, the Joker would have to make an appearance. Fans could expect a ride through a dark Wonderland, hallucinogenic even in its more lucid moments.

But it's not. Batman: Secrets is riveting, haunting and at times, even with the Joker, beautiful. It's also an extremely focused story.

That's not to say that Kieth reveals all his secrets with the first issue. Beginning with an apparently reformed Joker on a talk show, it's clear that things are a bit off-kilter in Gotham City. The Joker even finds it hard to smile anymore.

Of course that's a lie, and lies drive this first issue. A character who might become Harley Quinn has cooked up a plot with the Joker, the machinations of which are still unclear. When the Batman gets involved, it turns sour with the click of a camera. The Joker knows what lies a picture can tell, and knows how to play to it.

Running along this is a flashback to Bruce Wayne's childhood, involving a gun and an older kid named Mooley. Whatever happened in that meadow clearly had an impact even before the Waynes died, and unlike most heretofore untold revelations, this one feels natural.

As in Hush, this previously unknown Mooley shows up as an adult in Gotham City. But it's the event that's important, not necessarily the relationship, which is why this doesn't feel forced.

For some reason, newspaperman Mooley looks a lot like Will Eisner's Commissioner Dolan, but the similarities quickly fade as Mooley has far fewer ethics.

We can rest assured it will all tie together as smoothly as Kieth's layouts. This may be one of his most artistically controlled efforts, with each exaggeration of form clearly a function of camera angle and mood, not just whim. The Batman here seems much more a man than the near-gargoyle that he appeared to be in Scratch. Even the Joker has humanity under the insanity.

The story itself takes to the forefront, not the method of telling it. In this way it more closely resembles Kieth's underrated Four Women. No matter what method he uses, though, he's brilliant. It's just that Batman: Secrets is something that Kieth fans, desperate to share, may have despaired of seeing from him: accessible.


Ex Machina #18: Terrorists attack a political rally. Or do they? The fact that people jump to conclusions is enough to cause chaos in Mayor Hundred's New York City. Yet of course, Brian K. Vaughan also throws in his usual zingers to remind us that no story is simple; for just a moment, we even get both (rational) sides of the issue on the war in Iraq, even though it hasn't actually happened in the context of this story. Month after month I say it -- Ex Machina actually challenges us to think. Damn it.

Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #5: Another Spider-Man story in the aftermath of "The Other" that doesn't even begin to want to touch on the events of "The Other." A classic one-off Peter David tale, this issue focuses on a woman that believes the wallcrawler stalks her. It's an interesting character study, reminding us that David keeps climbing back to the height of his powers as a writer. And then you get Wieringo hitting a stride with Spider-Man.

Jonah Hex #5: One of the character's original artists guests on this issue, the great Tony DeZuniga. Inking himself, the work is a bit darker and scratchier than in the seventies. But it's also still got power. The story by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray proves another grim morality tale, continuing a solid run that clearly gets what Jonah Hex should be about, while still doing it all in a stand-alone fashion.

Justice League Unlimited #19: Even though we may be shortly losing the animated series, we can have hope that DC can keep this "children's" title afloat so we can get our fix. A pseudo-sequel to "The Once and Future Thing, part 1," this issue focuses on the history of the Vigilante and nods to, yes, Jonah Hex. Told with all the complexity of the animated series, this story by Adam Beechen should still be straightforward enough for kids to enjoy. Keep this book alive, folks; it's worthy.

Ms. Marvel #1: On one hand, this book isn't so much because we demanded it as Marvel wants to keep the trademark alive. On the other hand, it's a decent read. The whole "hero with an inferiority complex" bit could get old fast, but the approach here seems to leaven it with Carol Danvers' legitimate struggle to envision herself as a great hero. She's right; with her abilities, she could be the greatest in the world. The only real weak point here, and it's quibbling, is a too glib approach to the elsewhere morally conflicted Jessica Drew, aka SHIELD/Hydra double-agent Spider-Woman.

Nextwave #2: Warren Ellis always provides something worth reading. Warren Ellis writing Fin Fang Foom already sounds fun. And Nextwave does have more than a few moments. Yet it also seems forced. Everything plays out with tremendous energy, but underneath this allegedly affectionate send-up of superheroism seems to be resentment that this is what Ellis has to do in order to continue working in comics. Yet even if he is bored, Ellis still does a heck of a job with previously shallow characters, and then there's that Fin Fang Foom thing. It's so entertaining it's worth mentioning twice.

X-Factor #4: I have so little new to say on this moody and utterly clever book. The only thing worth noting is that this is unfortunately Ryan Sook's swan song on the title; others will carry on with aplomb, but you should catch this perfect match of artist and material now.

War of the Worlds: Second Wave #1: Boom! Studios has gotten a lot of media attention in the past few months. Why? Because they keep doing everything right. Take this book, for example. Though not related to the Steven Spielberg movie (the story is in the public domain), Second Wave fixes the mistakes the film had, while retaining that overall feeling that if aliens attack, we're actually pretty screwed. The end result is frightening and then exhilarating as the plot gets rolling. We're not getting any trite lessons about humanity bonding, or menaces going away after failing once. Oh, no -- Second Wave will show us the best, perhaps, but it will not turn a blind eye to the worst in human nature.

Sight Unseen:

Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #40 Alphabetically, this would be the first of the "One Year Later" books. With the team of Kurt Busiek and Jackson Guice, it also has to be a cool book in its own right.

Batman Annual #25: The secrets of Jason Todd revealed at last!

Infinite Crisis #5: What can this book do to top the twists and turns of the last issue? The suspense is killing me.

Marvel Zombies #4: Oh, the shame. Yet I'm there.

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

Derek McCaw

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