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The Fanboy Planet Preview Spotlight 12/07/05
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.

Hard Time Season Two #1
writers: Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes
artists: Brian Hurtt and Steve Bird

Maybe creating an entirely separate imprint was a bad idea on DC's part. For some reason, fans in the last decade tend not to support a subset suddenly arising out of the mists of DC. Witness their graveyard: Piranha Press, Helix, Impact! and now Focus.

No, readers want to get into a book, not a line. (Vertigo, for example, grew organically when a few of DC's books were deemed too intense for regular readers - meeting a need, not trying to market a demand.)

Out of the late and underrated Focus one book has licked its wounds, regrouped and returned under the regular DC banner for a "Season Two." That book, Hard Time, is well worth this second chance.

Though writers Gerber and Skrenes likely have to catch a lot of readers up to speed, they open with a prison death. Who the players are, what may have caused prison rivalries, take a backseat to a particularly nasty scene of violence in the laundry room.

After grabbing our attention, then the book can explain to us just what the heck is going on. Readers that got this the first time around may not find this book as riveting, but the recap sure works for newcomers.

Hard Time talks pretty frankly about teen-age alienation, and Gerber has long been a master at writing about alienation. The protagonist Ethan Harrow is, at heart, a good kid who made a dumb decision with fatal consequences. In truth, though, things might not have turned deadly if his nascent superpower had not kicked in at a crucial moment.

As a result, this outcast teenager has been sent to prison for life. What's a potential superhero to do in a case like that? From the looks of things, not much.

In fact, the beginning of "Season Two" only lightly touches upon the idea that Ethan has any powers; it's a factor in his incarceration, but it's also something he's definitely trying to keep hidden. Instead, he goes deeply into his high school circumstances, explaining it all to a well-meaning lawyer who may be seeking a new trial.

This extended flashback proves Gerber and Skrenes' ability to understand. It's a realistic portrayal of those at the bottom of the social ladder, especially in its unflinching acknowledgment that Ethan turned on those lower than him whenever he could. This is the dynamic of high school, captured in a way that pulls no punches even as it seems unrealistic to those that were higher up.

The art by Hurtt and Bird has a vaguely cartoony quality, but it really helps emphasize just how out of place Ethan is among more hardened prisoners. At times a bit reminiscent of Daniel Clowes' work, the book features a rich panoply of high school faces and bodies, strangely realistic in its stylization. The muted coloring also underscores the general tension of the book.

Give Hard Time a look this second time around. You could call it OZ meets Smallville, but giving it a high concept does a disservice to a unique book. Pick it up. It's good.


Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #3: Mike Wieringo's art seems an odd fit with this storyline, but it helps soften the blow of some of the turn of events. Overall, I'm not quite happy with what's going on with Spider-Man, but I admit I keep reading. And despite the covers for the next few chapters, this story surprised me and went some place I really didn't expect. Some place rather grotesque, in fact. If that intrigues you, then be my guest…but isn't it odd that a book called "Friendly Neighborhood" should start off with such a grotesque storyline?

Jonah Hex #2: The first issue of this book was simply everything that I remembered Jonah Hex being when I was a kid, only better. Then I went back and realized that it was a beat for beat redo of the first issue of Jonah Hex back when I was a kid. With this issue, the creative team starts telling something that's their own, but it's still Jonah Hex. That's a good thing. Hard-bitten but not immoral, Hex deserves some more time in the sun.

Marvel Team-up #15: The Legion of Losers cometh! Robert Kirkman continues his pattern of creating a new cosmic menace with which to spawn a long arc, but at least this storyline clearly shows where it's going. A tyrant from the future wipes out all the important superheroes, which leaves mostly third-tier characters behind to liberate the Earth. Can these losers do it? Of course they can. The fun will be in finding out how.

New Excalibur #2: Okay, it's here because, well, it's fairly well-written. Yet on the heels of House of M, a parallel Earth story that drastically alters and reduces the status quo, what does Marvel let Chris Claremont do? Set up a mini-series that barely acknowledges those events and pits surviving mutants (including Dazzler - DAZZLER GOT TO KEEP HER POWERS?!?) against alternate universe versions of the original X-Men. Why buy this series when we really want to know what's happening with this universe's heroes? Well, maybe not this universe, but…oh, you know what I mean.

Superman Secret Files & Origins 2005: Ordinarily, I eschew these things, but there's quite a charming lead story in here about who's the cooler hero, Superman or Batman, from a unique perspective. Why should I be surprised? It's by Devin Grayson, who does have a cool way with characterization. Everything else helps establish a status quo that in truth doesn't seem all that different from the previous status quo, but it's still probably a good thing to have around for reference. In case some really gorgeous woman (or guy, let me be fair) asks you about Superman's status quo. It could happen.

Swamp Thing #22: Joshua Dysart, the man with the hardest job in comics, continues making it look easy. This book has carved its own little corner of creepiness so effectively. Part of it is the hard-edged work of Enrique Breccia, but a lot of it comes from Dysart's mix of disgusting ideas, reasonable presentation and the heartbreaking humanity of a muck monster fighting hard not to be a force of nature and just be.

What If? Featuring Captain America: Tony Bedard and Carmine Di Giamenico spin an origin story of an alternate Earth that ends up having more promise than actual delivery. Let's call a spade a spade: this is a Marvel Elseworlds, and for some strange reason the powers that be have created a new Watcher - a framing device so silly it begs for mockery. And yet, the book ends up being fun. That promise? That maybe we'll see some of this Civil War-era Captain America's adventures fleshed out instead of glossed over.

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

Derek McCaw

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