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The Fanboy Planet Preview Spotlight 12/21/04
brought to you by Brian's Books of Santa Clara

I'm filled with the milk of human kindness this week, and don't even mind that this is traditionally a week in which comics kindly try to milk us.

Astonishing X-Men #7
writer: Joss Whedon
artist: John Cassaday

If you haven't picked this book up yet (and if you haven't, who are you?), issue #7 offers a good jumping on point. A new arc begins that will surely keep readers slavering for more.

Why have fans gone ape over this book? It's not just because of the crackerjack plotting, though there has been plenty of that. It's not just because John Cassaday may very well be the best comic book artist working today, though that would be reason enough. Perhaps.

It may be because Joss Whedon and Cassaday keep creating a book that seamlessly blends the things that fanboys love with high quality accessibility. Case in point, last issue's never named "fastball special." With this issue, Whedon takes the notorious introspection of the characters and keeps it from falling into stereotype. Just as we get drawn in to the characters' self-doubts (all the while they're fighting one of the Mole Man's monsters), Whedon hits us with a great but quiet punchline. Our expectations get a little tweak, and the book just keeps sucking us in.

One of the motivations for the X-Men to get back into costumes was to be more overtly superheroish in the Marvel Universe, but the first six issues did not quite afford them the opportunity. Here, they rub shoulders with the Fantastic Four, in a far more believable and dignified fashion than the recent piece o'crap X4 #1.

The combination of the shunned superteam with the family in the spotlight works really well. Whedon acknowledges the "mutant tension," but also makes it clear that the Fantastic Four know full well how heroic the X-Men really are. Except possibly for Johnny, but Wolverine sets him straight with a nice bit of repartee.

As you'd expect from the guy who created Buffy, Angel and Firefly, the dialogue in this book crackles. Unlike some episodes of those series, though, it has yet to feel particularly forced. Not every character is a smart-ass, and even the couple that do tend to crack wise still have unique voices in doing it.

But back to that great Cassaday art. He takes a somewhat tired set-up, the umpteen-copied battle with the Mole Man's monster from Fantastic Four #1 (the first one), and somehow gives it new life. The creature looks familiar but different, with a real sense of rage. What makes the artist so effective is his ability to switch from widescreen action shots to beautiful emotional tones, and somewhere in between, such as The Thing and Colossus playing a giant game of Whack-a-Mole. Trust me, it works.

Though there are lots of great books on the stands right now, and even some other interesting ones set in the world of the X-Men, Astonishing X-Men is currently the best book out there.


Black Widow #4: To be honest, as time has gone by, it's hard to keep track of what exactly Black Widow's history is. She's clearly now too young to have been born in the thirties, as once was posited. She may very well be older than heroes like Hawkeye (he'll be back) and Daredevil, with whom she has dallied. But there's no reason to assume she's near immortal like Nick Fury. Finally, novelist Richard K. Morgan addresses these issues, but buried in a taut spy story. There's no need to bring in the rest of the Marvel Universe here, but you really should be seeking out this mini-series if you like simply good storytelling. The Greg Land covers don't hurt, either.

Richard Corben Solo: This second "Solo" book isn't quite as strong as the first featuring Tim Sale, but only because Corben takes most of the writing chores himself. As an artist, he's disturbing, unique and visionary. The writer has to take a backseat to that, and isn't as clever as the sumptuous art needs him to be. At least he provides himself several different milieus to illustrate, proving his versatility. The one story that may attract the casual DC fan is one written by John Arcudi, which hopefully will build more interest in the original Spectre, Jim Corrigan. Creepy (all the more so because of the art), it also begs the question: why hasn't somebody put Corben on The Spectre before?

Wolverine #23: We're in the middle of a Byzantine plot where Wolverine may not actually appear much, but his influence is felt on every page. Mark Millar also shows us just how cold-blooded Elektra can be - and needs to be to do her job. "Enemy of the State" continues to be what Stan Lee used to promise all the time, "pulse-pounding action" and if I may, "fantasy as you like it," while not compromising on just how dark the comic book world has become.

Worth Noting, If Not Reading:

Excalibur #8: In typical Claremont fashion, this book has a sprawling cast and is hard for new readers to acclimatize themselves. The very notion of Magneto walking around alive irks me because of the undoing of Grant Morrison's great work on New X-Men. However, many will want to at least glance at this book because it follows upon the footsteps of The Avengers, bridging into the upcoming House of M mini-series scheduled to shake up Marvel in 2005. Surprisingly, you'd have no idea of that from the cover. So consider yourself duly alerted and/or warned. It's not a great book, but completists will want to know.

Ho, Ho, Ho Please....

Punisher: Red X-Mas: No, it's not a warm tale of redemption. Instead, it's just a lump of coal in our stockings. Mark Texeira does some of the worst art of his career (and I have some of his work on T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents) to illustrate a mess of a story. Please, skip it. Rent the movie again instead.

X-Force #5: You know what hurts me most? Madrox is a limited series and X-Force isn't.

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

Derek McCaw

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