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The Fanboy Planet Preview Spotlight 11/01/04
brought to you by Brian's Books of Santa Clara

Once again, we take a look at some of the books coming out this week, paying careful attention to one that deserves your attention and your hard-earned shekels...

JLA: Classified #1
writer: Grant Morrison
artist: Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines

You can't go home again. In Grant Morrison's case, that's a good thing. Even when he returns to territory he has seen before, it isn't what it was before. Give him credit; his writing may be strange and weird and wonderful, but it's never the same strange and weird and wonderful twice.

In case you've forgotten, it was Morrison's take on the JLA that restored it to its former glory after years of meandering. Though mind-blowing plots seemed to be his focus, the writer had a great way of somehow just tossing off characterization without tossing it aside. Action came first, but interaction followed closely. In a distant third came coherence.

And now he has returned home. On the first page of JLA: Classified, "Island of the Mighty," Morrison picks up a plot thread from his earlier run. The International Ultra-Marine Corps makes a splashy entrance with the rhetorical question, "who needs the Justice League?"

There wouldn't be much point to the story if the answer was no one, but this entire issue goes by without an appearance by the world's greatest superheroes. Scratch that. One Leaguer does appear, the one that Morrison somewhat improbably considers the most powerful of all, and somehow managed to make us believe it: The Batman.

As Alfred disdainfully phrases it, Batman's "…flamboyant allies are …indisposed," leaving Batman to team up with a youthful Squire. (It's a continuity nightmare, the kind Morrison loves to cause, as Batman recalls himself and Dick Grayson teaming up with the original Knight and Squire well over a decade previously.)

As the fledgling heroine (and communications expert) calls upon the League for help, Batman grumbles, "…they got lost saving somebody else's universe. Typical." (Off-hand, later, Batman also calls it "the infant universe," another Morrison throwaway idea that makes me think the JLA has been turned into babies.) Then, calmly, he puts on a suspiciously Kirby-esque glove and begins saving the day.

How he does it - well, that's the surprise. And it really is surprising and again in perfect keeping with Morrison's characterization of the Dark Knight. What should further surprise you (or not) is that once again, Morrison gives us superhero comics that are flat-out fun, even when the stakes are incredibly high. It's almost possible to forget that they're fighting, among others, the newly savage Gorilla Grodd. After some horrific visuals by Ed McGuinness, we're still swept up in the fun of it all.

Though some loved Howard Porter's work with Morrison, seeing McGuinness here makes one wish he had been with the writer all along. He really has a way of capturing all of Morrison's mercurial moods. With The Knight in action, you've got sprawling yet controlled splash pages, filled with futuristic detail. When things go sour, and Morrison describes Grodd as "savagery …crowned king," McGuinness makes you believe it. Then he switches to a panel of Batman and Alfred that perfectly sums up their relationship before Morrison switches gears again to move the story into more cosmic territory.

What I have for review is a black and white Xeroxed copy. There's no doubt that I will be buying, bagging and boarding this book.

Fans knew it would be good. We just didn't know how good.


Astonishing X-Men #6: But you knew this, right? The first arc comes to a satisfying close, while laying the groundwork for the next one. John Cassaday continues his beautiful work on this series, and Whedon's plotting and dialogue is so good, it's time to start beseeching him to sign on for more than twelve issues.

Avengers #503: Okay. So Wizard has already spoiled who the master villain is, but I won't tell you. Instead, I will say that while earlier issues felt a little rushed, Bendis ties it all together neatly. The revelation may or may not come as a surprise, but the logic is all there. A third-act appearance by another major villain falls flat, mainly because the Avengers seem to just stand there while a guy they should all think is dead cleans up the mess. Sort of.

Exiles #54: The future of an Earth all hinges upon a cheese Danish. I knew it.

Spider-Girl #80: Normally, I don't read this book. But normally in the future, I may continue. It quietly accomplishes what all the louder Marvel Age crap keeps trying to do - tell a decent story about a high school girl trying to deal with the abnormal problems of her life in a way that is absolutely appropriate for young readers without being patronizing. Please skip the Marvel Age books this week, which try to update Lee, Kirby and Ditko but end up sacrificing wit and intelligence. Spider-Girl #80 makes it easy to jump aboard, and tells a story all in one issue, but with enough soap opera elements to hook new readers into following with #81.

Swamp Thing #9: Joshua Dysart takes over the writing on a book that has so far been a good concept without a direction. Hopefully, he will have some time to figure it out, as he has done a good job with this issue mucking up the status quo. Yes, it features the return of a long-time foe, because you knew it had to, but at least Dysart has given the character a slight sense of freshness. Enrique Breccia, so far the only stable thing on this book, continues filling the pages with absolutely disturbing imagery. Hell hasn't looked so disgusting since, well, the days of Moore, Bissette and Tottleben.

Stop Hurting America:

Marvel Age: This week it's both Spider-Man and Fantastic Four. Actually, the Spider-Man one isn't that bad, but that's because it veers the least from Lee and Ditko's original work. And if that's what makes it palatable, why not JUST GIVE THE KIDS LEE AND DITKO'S ORIGINAL WORK!?!? Cripes.

Venom and Carnage #4: The computer-generated artwork has some possibilities, but it's so dark and muddy that - aw, hell. This just sucks. And as a result, we've got yet another symbiote running around, except this one's a straight-up good guy. Named Toxin. The Marvel Age that most of us truly hated is back. Those that loved it grew up and stopped reading comics. Or, apparently, started writing them.

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

Derek McCaw

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