Each week we take a critical look at some of the best books on the stands, courtesy of Big Guy's Comics (the unofficial comic book store of FanboyPlanet.com). If you publish a book that you want us to be covering, contact us. Or contact Derek. He doesn't have enough to do.

Hey Kids! Comics!

Alias #5
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artist: Michael Gaydos

The mystery of the first story arc comes to a close, in a manner somewhere between satisfying and not. As tends to be the case with Bendis' more personal work, a nourish feel of unease still hangs over the whole thing.

Maybe it's just that in some small way, the writer has brought heroes down to our level. Yes, they still have fantastic powers (even Jessica herself, as she proves against Man Mountain Marko and later bluffs). They still tend to wear ridiculous costumes. But their foibles and weaknesses here aren't over the top, as someone like Morrison or Millar might make them.

Nobody has made Captain America seem like so ordinary a guy, or so real a propaganda tool. And so I can understand why this series has outraged some people. Luke Cage was never somebody I paid much attention to as a kid, so his MAX revision didn't push any buttons.

But Captain America. Bendis does not make him bad, just human. For some reason, that will bother me for some time, especially as Jessica tells him that she quit heroing because she did not have what he has. Either she actually does or it's all a sham.

Lobbing that little thought out there so well makes this book worthwhile.


Batman: The 10 Cent Adventure
The Fool's Errand
writer: Greg Rucka, artists: Rick Burchett and Klaus Janson

This book falls under a difficult category. Its primary reason to exist is not to give fans a break, but to draw more people into reading the adventures of Batman. As such, it needs to get new readers up to speed, reviewing the current status quo (which will confuse somebody coming into a shop for the first time - dealers, how many of you have heard "Where's Robin?" from a new customer? How many of you have had a new customer?).

It also starts a major cross-over, so fans cannot skip the book. Luckily, at only a dime plus tax (in California, anyway), you don't have to feel too ripped off. Just know that it will cover a lot of old ground for you.

Sasha narrates, giving her dimestore psychological evaluation of Batman, and dropping a few rehashes of recent events. Not one week after I expressed hope that Sasha would not become a love interest, she confesses to the reader that she loves Bruce. I am shamed.

DC picked a good team to launch this. Rucka, of course, has proven to be a great Bat-writer, and since he also novelized No Man's Land, he may have higher name recognition to a non-comics reader. Rick Burchett's pencils look enough like the animated series to draw others in, and Klaus Janson's inks are far less intrusive than usual.

It's an average book, but it may do the job.


Daredevil: Yellow #6
Against The Ropes
writer: Jeph Loeb, artist: Tim Sale

With this issue, Loeb and Sale make a pretty good case for the change in tone for DD, from fun-loving vigilante to the grim red avenger we usually see today. And all without relying on the Kingpin.

After defeating The Matador, thankfully between issues, Matt gets called in to defend The Purple Man, a villain with an "aura" that allows him to control minds. Clearly, this story occurs before anyone thought of The Vault, because if you think about it, his escape is ridiculously easy. But it was an innocent age. No one thought of these things.

Being blind, Daredevil is immune to the mind control, and his rage in taking out the villain marks a contrast to the previous issues. Suddenly, with Karen Page being in real danger, this is no longer a game.

Of course, Loeb has also told this entire story as a flashback for Matt, dealing with his grief at having lost her forever. Once again he proves a master at writing "between the lines" and getting to the heart of the character. This Matt Murdock is not at odds with the one being written by Bendis right now; instead, despite the more innocent tone, they complement each other nicely.

And Sale makes even The Purple Man look not quite so silly.


Doom Patrol #4
Blink…And It's Gone
writer: John Arcudi, artist: Tan Eng Huat

Free of having to establish the team, Arcudi finally pits his new Doom Patrol against an appropriate villain. Mysterious and disturbing in look and action, this new enemy has just the right quirkiness, though he seems to be only the harbinger of something worse on the horizon.

Since things can never go easy for Robotman's crew, they have also lost the right to use the Doom Patrol name. Former backer Jost has hired a new bunch, all of whom will be familiar to DC fans, and one of whom was in the original run of the book. If all nine heroes stay around for a while, even antagonistically, Arcudi will have successfully suckered me in.

Yes, I thought the title has been okay but not stellar, and then they slap Metamorpho on the cover. Back from the dead? It's not really clear if this is Rex Mason (but who else could it be?). Only Beast Boy/Changeling acknowledges knowing Cliff Steele.

At any rate, I have to stick around as long as Metamorpho does.


Exiles #8
A World Apart
writer: Judd Winick, artists: Mike McKone and Mark McKenna

Stuck on an Earth completely ruled by the Skrulls, the Exiles have separated, with most forced to fight in a superhuman coliseum, bread and circuses for their new shape-changing masters. Only Morph and Blink roam free, but neither has enough real power to fight an empire.

Winick has taken an interesting tack here, by starting the story from a position of hopelessness. No, we have not missed an issue, but the writer glosses over a series of adventures (and one-panel gags) that could be re-visited in later issues or not. The device allows us to accept that a lot happens in these lives that we don't need to see.

Take it as a positive and daring experiment. These heroes might just age in something closer to real time than Marvel time as a result.

At any rate, the fun of this book lies in the scenarios spinning alternate histories, and Winick has yet to disappoint, aided of course by a great art team. It's a fun book, and that carries a lot of weight.


The First #15
writer: Barbara Kesel, artists: Andrea Di Vito and Rob Hunter
reviewed by Charlie Wentling.

This month's issue focuses on Pyrem. Rather than taking The First's normal approach of spending a few pages each on 5 or 6 different subplots, the entire issue revolves around Pyrem's battle with Seahn for control of House Dexter.

Both Pyrem and Seahn bring surprises to the conflict. Seahn has formed an alliance with House Sinister, and he is backed up by dozens of others in what should have been a one-on-one fight. But Pyrem has Altwaal's gauntlet of victory, so it is not immediately clear who has the advantage.

This is a very good issue right up to the end, when it stops just short of greatness. Andrea Di Vito is now the regular artist for The First, and while he is not as good as Bart Sears was, he does a nice job.


New X-Men #121
Silence: Psychic Rescue In Progress
writer: Grant Morrison, artist: Frank Quitely

Oh, how Morrison cheats in this book. Ostensibly part of the 'Nuff Said collection, this issue starts out following the rules, then starts using pictograms and, at one point, telekinetic lettering instead of word balloons. Finally, Morrison can take it no longer and has Jean speak.

But that's okay, because if Marvel has a book that has no need for gimmicks, it's this one. With Quitely's artwork, in fact, it could have used a little more wordiness to guide us through.

Quitely has imagination, great layouts, and dynamic figures, but he has designed Cassandra Nova and Professor X to look too much alike. Their faces are interchangeable, and that makes some of this issue too hard to follow, taking place as it does on a mental plane. Only by reading Morrison's script pages in the back does it become clear.

Unless Morrison is pulling a fast one on us, and Jean, too, is meant to be confused. We'll see. There are some revelations here that will have long-lasting ramifications, and yet they do not feel as cheap and forced as Onslaught did.

Thankfully, there will be dialogue next month to move it right along.


The Power Company: Josiah Power #1
The Power Company: Striker Z #1
writer: Kurt Busiek, artists: Keith Giffen, Al Milgrom, Ramon F. Bachs and Raul Fernandez

'Twas The Power Company extras that filled me with dread
As visions of Bloodpack and Global DC danced in my head
Fifth week or annual, new heroes rarely succeed,
Often failing with logic that makes my nose bleed

But Josiah Power is actually not bad
With wilder monsters than Joe Simon had
Giffen and Milgrom produce some good art
That gives this whole crossover a decent start

Power makes sense as having been around
By not practicing heroism, staying underground
The character also makes DC more diverse
And all things considered, the book could have been worse

Like Striker Z, which I'm sorry I read
Perhaps Busiek wrote it on too much Sudafed
The character himself may prove to be all right
If he stops telling his life story in the middle of a fight
It's boring and hackneyed, taking place in Hong Kong
With a Japanese villain, which somehow seems wrong
This week more of these "extras" are coming forthwith
And I promise not to rhyme as bad as Kevin Smith.

Josiah Power:
Striker Z:

Saurians: Unnatural Selection #1
writers: Mark Waid and Tony Bedard, artists: Andrea Di Vito and Rob Hunter
reviewed by Charlie Wentling.

CrossGen's first miniseries is here, and bucking the industry trend for lateness they have released it a week early. The Saurians are the lizard race that appear every month in the pages of Sigil. One of the cast members of Negation is a Saurian as well.

The lead character here is a Saurian warrior named Terchac. The story takes place 400 years before the regular Sigil series, at a time when the Saurians are being defeated regularly by the humans. Terchac is the one who indirectly turns the tide in the Saurians favor.

Terchac is stranded on a jungle planet and has been separated from the rest of his squad. He is being hunted by a group of human soldiers. The writers make Terchac a much more sympathetic character than the humans, and this gives the story an interesting dynamic.

The story works well for both new readers and those familiar with Sigil. In fact it might be better for new readers since they will be surprised by the final plot twist, which was revealed some time back in Sigil. Normally a two issue miniseries might be better off being published as one double-sized issue, but here the length is fine, and the issue ends in a good spot.

The artwork is excellent, easily the best work by Andrea Di Vito published to date.


Ultimate Spider-Man #17
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artists: Mark Bagley and Art Thibert

And the classic villains keep on coming. Bendis introduces the Ultimate Kraven The Hunter, now recast as, sensibly enough, a television personality. Think The Crocodile Hunter gone insane. Or dangerously insane.

In order to boost his ratings, Kraven has decided that he must hunt down this "spider-man" the New Yorkers keep reporting. Only then will his show last long enough to go into profitable syndication. Bendis knows Hollywood; this is almost too plausible.

Before Spider-Man can tackle Kraven's challenge, he has to face down Doctor Octopus, who blames Justin Hammer for his current state. It turns out that Hammer is also to blame for Electro, and has a Sandman waiting in the wings.

If the villains all seem to be inbred beyond reason, remember that Lee and Ditko worked Spider-Man this way, too. At least J. Jonah Jameson isn't funding any of the criminal research.

Bendis also has Spider-Man once again coming into conflict with the law. They don't fear him, nor do they think he's necessarily a freak. But he does seem to keep interfering with police business, and doesn't always handle it well. This approach works better than the seeming knee-jerk reaction the regular Marvel Universe Spider-Man gets.

Even as the Ultimate team covers familiar ground, they always bring something fresh to it, and that keeps this book worthwhile month after month.


For alternate views and more books, check out Daryl Tay's site, Unique Frequencies.

Derek McCaw




All comics were reviewed by Derek McCaw unless otherwise noted.

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