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The Fanboy Planet Preview Spotlight 12/14/04
brought to you by Brian's Books of Santa Clara

Some good stuff, some not so good stuff, and Identity Crisis finishes up. I'm on pins and needles.

Batman: Gotham Knights #60
writer: A.J. Lieberman
artists: Javi Pina and Francis Portela

Maybe this was in the plan all along, but it seems like in the aftermath of "War Games," all the Bat-books have gotten a little jolt of creativity. Ironically, they all seem to be ignoring "War Games" entirely.

Let's not give A.J. Lieberman short shrift here; he had quietly been crafting solid Batman stories month after month for quite a while before he got sucked in to the crossover. More impressively, those stories also often added depth to the glitzier high-profile "Hush" storyline. Freed from the constraints of making sure a superstar artist gets to do what he does best (huge panoramic panels of people posing beautifully), Lieberman gets to do the most important thing a comic book writer should do: tell a great story.

That's not to slag on Pina and Portela, this issue's art team. They've got a clean style, easy to follow with a good layout sense. Their Batman has a functional look without losing his superhero conventions. As Lieberman's script dictates, they also draw an Alfred with a sense of age, yet not forgetting that he spent time in MI-5.

It's an important point, as Hush pushes Alfred to the limit. As much the butler's adventure as it is Batman's, this issue moves along at a good clip. Lieberman's characterization of Batman and Alfred may not be all that deep, but he has a good grasp of their basic character.

What has made these revisits of Hush worth reading, though, is that Lieberman has an excellent grasp of that new villain's character. As fun as the Loeb/Lee run on Batman was, there just wasn't that much depth to it. Lieberman has exposed more of the psyche of Hush, and with this issue provides some surprises to it. Extra credit has to be given for also bringing back Prometheus, an anti-Batman created by Grant Morrison in JLA and then largely forgotten.

The two villains together make a more creditable foe than Bane ever did, and they also have far more patience. Their dalliance with torturing Alfred seems more a distraction, with Hush hinting that he has long-range plans to make Batman's life miserable without actually destroying him.

See? This is how you get readers to buy into that whole long-range planning thing - by making it clear all along that that's the bad guy's plan. If it turns out that Hush slept with Vicki Vale, then maybe you can all make me eat my words. Then again, nobody ever really accused Vicki Vale of being purity personified, either.

Best of all, this story stands on its own. Lieberman gets you right into the action, and though he does make occasional references to earlier stories in his run, none of them are germane to getting the story. But that's how he has structured this entire arc; most of the stories could be read and appreciated on their own, but lock together for a bigger picture. You can take it either way. But I recommend you take this one.


Ex Machina #7: This series just gets better and better. If it weren't the middle of an arc, it would be the spotlight book. Once again, Brian K. Vaughan mixes politics and superheroes in a way that challenges you to think without attacking you. While provoking your thoughts, he also throws in great plotting with a twist involving subway graffiti that is just brilliant.

Madrox #4: The Multiple Man tries to solve his own murder. It makes sense if you know the character, and Peter David clearly does. He also makes sure that we get swept up in Madrox, clarifying what it means for a guy to be able to split himself up, and the consequences of compartmentalizing his personality traits. All that and a nice subplot with Wolfsbane, too. It's an X-spin-off worth your time. Ocean #3: Finally, this book veers away from works like Solaris to firmly stake its own quirky claim. Warren Ellis may never actually reveal what's in the coffins in an alien moon's ocean, but it doesn't matter because he has us so riveted by the ongoing war in our own humanity.

Trigger #1: Vertigo releases this interesting dystopian book by Jason Hall. The problem is that it seems like Vertigo has a lot of dystopian books, with pot shots at our existing culture getting ever more thinly veiled. Here, society is ruled by a corporation called Ethicorp, which has a unique method of taking care of its problems. Apparently, any of its employees can be "triggered" into becoming the perfect assassin. Trouble may rear its head when one of them also has dreams of being a pulp writer. It's actually cooler than it sounds, and worth taking a look. Hall worked on last year's massive rethink of The Creeper, a book that really tried to be different.

Sight Unseen:

American Splendor: Our Movie Year: Harvey Pekar comes to a strange sort of full circle by telling the story of his life in the wake of being involved in a movie about his life. If there's an annoying interviewer character in there trying to see if he'll go off on a rant, know now that that would be me.

Birds of Prey #77: Gail Simone takes her team into a whole new era, Gotham-free. It begins here, and it will be absolutely a great read.

Identity Crisis #7: Everything will be revealed here. I may have to break into the comic book store at midnight just to find out.

What If Classic vol.1: Marvel reprints the first five issues of the original run, which includes "What If Spider-Man Joined the Fantastic Four?" and "What If The Hulk Always Had The Mind Of Bruce Banner?" You've got some classic artists working on simply fun stories that hopefully still hold up today.

The Worst Drawing of The Thing EVER:

Marvel Age Fantastic Four #9: So powerful was its lame-itude, I could barely bring myself to read the story within. A re-telling of a classic Lee/Kirby story that involves Namor and Reality TV, it proves how prescient these guys were back in the sixties. And sorry for the continued ranting but hey, between the just bad writing this book gets and the datedness of the originals, let's still just take the originals, okay?

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

Derek McCaw

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