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The Fanboy Planet Preview Spotlight 03/14/06
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.

Legends of the Dark Knight #201

writer: Christos N. Gage
artists: Ron Wagner and Bill Reinhold

Since Gage has daylighted as a writer for Law & Order, it makes some sort of sense that he brings the detective procedural to Batman. In this case, they're nodding to Cold Case.

Despite a cover featuring Clayface III, the superheroics take a backseat to a pretty nifty set-up. Years before Batman appeared on the scene (as Alfred explains it to Bruce Wayne, "…when you were a boy and I had a full head of hair"), the Robinson Park Ripper killed four women in a case that was never solved.

Not the freshest of plot devices, perhaps, even when a journalist is about to publish a book naming Thomas Wayne as the killer. No, the pleasures come in how easily Gage adapts the style of one of television's hottest genres to a Batman story, and reminds us that the Dark Knight does have the title of "World's Greatest Detective."

Gage also characterizes Bruce Wayne as something other than the public idiot, perhaps because this is his father's memory he's defending. But that competence and fairness bleeds over to Batman, too - making his masked identity much less than the surly ass that Infinite Crisis has needed him to be.

In many ways, this story throws back to the days of Denny O'Neill's work on Detective Comics in the seventies, heightened by the work of Wagner and Reinhold. The pair have worked on Batman off and on over the years, and together their style is very reminiscent of Dick Giordano.

Though the story has such classic precedents, it's a little more complex than would have been done in the seventies.

Like the best of Gage's television work, the mystery plays fairly. It would have been easy to make this a screed against tabloid journalism, as Alfred's offended response to the allegations starts. But Bruce actually has respect for the writer accusing his father of murder, and wants to know the truth, perhaps more than he wants to protect a memory.

This could have turned out to be complex and intriguing without the presence of metahumans, but of course, nobody would buy a Batman book without that. So…yes, it's going to turn into something with fists, armor and possibly superpowers, but that's just window dressing.

At its heart, "Cold Case" is a good story, and a fitting beginning to the next 200 issues of Legends of the Dark Knight. This book varies in quality, but it's definitely worth looking at this arc.


Annihilation: Prologue: Marvel launches its star-spanning crossover that will redefine several of its space-faring heroes. If you know the characters well, then you'll be excited to read this. But too much of it reads as mere set-up to a series of mini-series (shades of Countdown to Infinite Crisis) without much coherence. Everybody gets a few pages of spotlight, but not even the Nova Corps Database pages in the back can make this make much sense. It's a disappointment, but once this set-up is out of the way, perhaps the ensuing series will have moments. After all, it's giving Nova back to the ranks of the competent heroes; at least, that's what I hope.

Birds of Prey #92: One year later, and Gail Simone has us hooked and a little surprised. Her mystery team member may be startling, but ultimately makes sense and ups the danger level in this book. The more these "One Year Later" books keep working in quality, the less I actually want to read 52. Figuring out just what changes have taken place has added an element that has been lacking for a while, even in a book as good as this one. How did we get here? I'd really rather wait for Simone to tell me in her own good time.

Elfquest: The Discovery #2: Just reminding people it's out there. This book is definitely its own special creation, and has its fans. It's also hard to jump in without going back and reading the myriad collections. The human woman moping around and deifying these elves has also started to bug, yet I suspect that she's a pretty accurate reflection of many readers' attitudes toward this book. That isn't meant as a satirical portrayal; Wendy and Richard Pini are earnest and honest in their storytelling, and that has to be what strikes a chord with readers and keeps this thing going.

Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #6: In what seems to be the first book to acknowledge the new costume since the new costume, Peter David nods back to Peter Parker's first fight. Instead of Crusher Hogan we have a super-powered luchador, challenging Spider-Man to a "mascara contra mascara" match. The narrative unfolds a little unevenly, and there's a strange assumption from J. Jonah Jameson about his son, but otherwise, David writes a decent story.

Generation M #5: Paul Jenkins has a mawkish side that occasionally takes over his good plotting. In the case of Generation M, the balance swings the other way. With this issue, Jenkins brings real heartbreak to the story that outweighs the pedestrian plotting, and makes the whole thing worth going back and reading in one sitting.

Planetary Brigade #2: Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis have made their so-called "Bwah-ha-ha" style of superheroics exclusive to Boom! Studios. With this team book functioning as a sort of prequel to the superior Hero Squared, the balance that makes that style work is a little off, perhaps because they've set up a villain that is not so much mysterious as utterly unknowable. The art chores also split halfway through, causing a tonal rift to match the dimensional one menacing the team. As a result, the first half reads much more strongly. It's also where the banter works best. Planetary Brigade has me intrigued to learn more about these characters; it just wasn't as thrilling as I'd expected after both being a long-time fan of the Bwah-ha-ha and loving Hero Squared.

Red Sonja/Claw: Devil's Hands #1: Artist Andy Smith must have been a Bart Sears protégé, because the Sears style screams out from panel to panel, though it's softened by his own touches and the subtle coloring from Wildstorm FX. By hooking the Red Sonja fanboys, the book provides a decent reintroduction of the character Claw from John Layman, though it looks like Chuck Dixon will be taking the ongoing solo series. If Sword and Sorcery is your thing, then you'll want to pick up this book.

Runaways #14: The Pride is back! Really, there's little more to say than that, except that of course Brian K. Vaughan does it in a way you won't expect. Or quite possibly understand - I can't be sure if I've forgotten a crucial character, or if Vaughan has twisted things in a totally new direction. Trust him, though. He won't steer you wrong.

Untold Tales of the New Universe: Justice #1: I'll admit it. Because Peter David wrote it all those years ago, Justice was the New Universe book I bought. I liked it then; I like it now.

X-Men: Apocalypse vs. Dracula #2: Frank Tieri's story is still better than it should be, though his Van Helsing seems a little spry and non-European. The biggest disappointment with the book is that its interior art doesn't really match the mood set by the cover. Inside, it's bright and competent but not particularly atmospheric. Both Dracula and En Sabah Nur work best in shadows, but can't seem to find any.

Sight Unseen:

Essential Godzilla TPB: SHIELD, Red Ronin and I think even the Champions take a shot at the big green lizard. This book won't exactly stand as a deathless classic, but it's campy fun and a good reminder that once upon a time, Herb Trimpe ruled.

Infinite Crisis Secret Files 2006: Promising to answer what has been going on inside that crystal dimension of Alex Luthor's for the past twenty years, this book might turn out to be the scorecard we need to keep the major players straight. Twenty years trapped in a crystal room - that's a lot of games of Uno.

Looking Glass Wars: Hatter M #2: A story set to the side of the upcoming novel Looking Glass Wars, this book is a violent look at Alice in Wonderland that reads much better than it sounds.

Teen Titans Annual #1: Last week's issue of Teen Titans actually let slip a major plot point, but hey - I think the cover pretty much gives it away anyway. Hopefully, it will all be done with taste, though probably not so much taste that it's worth $4.99. You be the judge.

Truth, Justin and the American Way #1: Scott Kurtz makes me laugh with PvP. Let's see if he has the chops to do it with another strip.

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

Derek McCaw

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