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The Fanboy Planet Preview Spotlight 03/02/05
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.

Lex Luthor: Man of Steel #1
writer: Brian Azzarello
artist: Lee Bermejo

This week marked a tough choice for main spotlight book. Howard Chaykin and the grand old man Russ Heath have done a remarkable job taking a look back at the roots of modern superheroism with Legend. In another week, that book would be my choice, hands down.

But then along comes another book I heard Chaykin himself praise to high heaven at last year's WonderCon, and it's better late than never, because Chaykin was right. This book has complexity, intelligence and an overwhelming disturbing undertone. Lex Luthor: Man of Steel does nothing to compromise Luthor's status as a villain, yet makes it absolutely clear how he could see himself as the hero.

Contrary to current media hype designed to make Smallville seem groundbreaking, the idea of that streak of nobility in Luthor has been around for quite a while. In Silver Age continuity, Lex and Superboy were good friends, until the accident that made Luthor bald. At one point, Lex also played the hero, albeit to an alien planet, a streak which kept being undone by his unreasoning hatred of the Kryptonian. When Byrne revamped Luthor, he hadn't committed anything more evil than your average big businessman, really, until Superman showed up to be a thorn in his side.

The creative team makes a good (though we know one-sided) case for that thorn being something Luthor resents for almost altruistic reasons. Almost. Artist Lee Bermejo has amped up the alien aspects of Superman.

What alien aspects, you might ask? Haven't you ever noticed those glowing red eyes? That can't be healthy. How about the way that skin as hard as steel occasionally catches a glint of sunlight? Maybe you haven't really paid attention to these things, but Lex Luthor has.

Bermejo portrays him with a look of grim determination, and despite his follicular challenges, an All-American mein (call it the Rosenbaum effect). If you look closely, you can even see warmth. Whether it's genuine or not is up to you. The decision may be hard to make as Luthor bonds with one of his janitors over the man's hopes for his son, then turns to ice when negotiating to give that boy a leg up in the world. The reasons may be right, and good may be done. But Lex Luthor is probably still a bastard.

This is the kind of Superman story we should be expecting from Brian Azzarello. It's morally ambiguous, and challenging to the reader. Despite Azzarello's attempts in the regular Superman title to make us think about bigger issues, there he is undone by the need to provide for Jim Lee's splashy style. Here he writes for an artist better able to serve the needs of the story.

Only one issue in, and this may be the best Lex Luthor story since a classic back-up by John Byrne almost twenty years ago. They're different takes on the man, but both make him far richer in character than what we usually have time for. This one left me feeling very, very satisfied.


Age of Apocalypse #1: A revisit that could have easily seemed simply cheap and opportunistic. Well, it is opportunistic, but it also brings Chris Bachalo back to art on Marvel's favorite franchise. It may be hard to remember what actually happened ten years ago - like, didn't that Earth just ...end? But the story moves along at a good clip with a sense of excitement that doesn't leave you room to ask such questions. (It looks like Marvel has a companion flashback edition coming to help with this problem.)

Armor X #1: JSA inker Keith Champagne once again takes a dip into writing, and has set himself no easy task. The protagonist may not be the most likeable picked upon teenager in comic book history - far from it, really - but he is one of the most realistic. There's rage here that is very close to being unreasoning. Couple that with alien weaponry and, well, it's off to a heck of a good start.

Deadshot #4: Unfortunately, Ultimate Falcon used Deadshot's best move here a week ago in Ultimate Secret. But Christos N. Gage still spins an interesting story of a hardened criminal going straight against his better judgment.

Exiles #60: More madness in the Age of Apocalypse. The Timebroker brings back Holocaust - wasn't the name changed to Nemesis? Still, Tony Bedard continues in the tradition of making the Exiles a fun book.

Legend #1: Chaykin writes for one of his artistic influences, the great Russ Heath. Inspired by Philip Wylie's seminal superhero novel Gladiator, the two produce a beautiful book that asks all the right questions about what a boy would do if he discovered himself to be much, much stronger than anyone else around him. If this were Clark Kent, we would know that everything will turn out all right. But it isn't, so we don't, and Chaykin isn't going to make it easy on us. Young Hugo Danner clearly hasn't made the final right decision. You should, though, and pick this one up.

Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man #1: For those who found Marvel Age Spider-Man too advanced, Marvel retells Lee and Ditko's classic origin yet again. But this time, it works. Peter Parker may look suspiciously like Harry Potter for quite a few pages, but at this point, whatever it takes to hook those eight-year-olds is all right with me.

Swamp Thing #13: Now that he's done with the obligatory Arcane story, required to re-set the saga of the Swamp Thing, Joshua M. Dysart can finally start telling his own stories, and seems off to a good start. Let it be no surprise that the most evil things in Houma would still be evil without the interference of the supernatural.

Sight Unseen:

Rising Stars #24: Take off your hats, boys, the Specials are passing by.

Shanna the She-Devil #2: In truth, so far this is more one for those of you that like your Nazis evil, your dinosaurs hungry and your voluptuous women extremely so. But that's probably enough for most of you. Honestly, the storytelling wasn't all that gripping in the first issue, but Frank Cho's art - niiiiiiice.

Ultimate Iron Man #1: Orson Scott Card takes his first step into writing comics. It seems so natural, it's a wonder nobody thought of it before.

Beating a Dead Horse:

If somebody (besides Joe Quesada) wants to defend Arana to me, the door is always open.

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

Derek McCaw

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