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Comics Today's Date:

Hey Kids! Comics!

After the Christmas rush of books, it was kind of a relief for the stands to only have four books I wanted to buy this week. Wow. Think about that: only four books. It's that much more money to waste on HeroClix.

Batman: Gotham Knights #37
writer: Scott Beatty
artists: Roger Robinson and John Floyd

For a couple of months, it has seemed like everybody forgot about Stephanie Brown. It's not a glaring plotting problem, as there are just a heck of a lot of members of the Batman Family. Anybody know where Harold is?

In this issue, The Spoiler comes roaring back into the spotlight, as Batman fires her in the most painfully jerkish way he possibly can - by holding out hope. Unfortunately for Stephanie, The Bat plays a rigged game whenever he possibly can.

Beatty lays down a couple of interesting twists. Rather than al Qaeda being the terrorist bugbear in Gotham, it's Kobra. Depending on how you feel about our national situation, the search for a terrorist in Gotham could be riveting or tasteless. I fall in the former, especially because Beatty makes it suspenseful and plays fair with the clues, even if Batman doesn't.

There are also seeds for the future: a quick vignette of a lawyer showing interest in Bruce Wayne's legal file, and the return of Checkmate to Gotham City. As far as I'm concerned, that can only be a good thing; pitting Batman against the government still seems ripe for a lot of good plot riffs.

Robinson and Floyd continue with their slightly stylized approach. With echoes of Miller and Jansen, they still portray the DCU as recognizably such, though they portray a Metamorpho more realistically human than usual. (Would somebody please get around to explaining how he's not dead?)

In the Black + White backup slot, Mike Carey and Steve Mannion pit The Bat against a well-worn enemy with a medieval twist. Though the ultimate theme of the story has been done before, it's still fun, and stands out as one of the better black and whites.


Green Lantern #158
writer: Judd Winick
artists: Dale Eaglesham and Rodney Ramos

DC has sure dumbed down the Guardians of the Universe. These guys used to command a vast army of soldiers in the service of good, and understood exactly what was going on in the farthest corners of the cosmos. And now, look at them: all but one are toddlers, and the remaining immortal, Ganthet, has decided to settle into dotage.

And of course, their main soldier in the service of good, Kyle Rayner, keeps making the same mistakes over and over, without any real chastisement on Ganthet's part.

To be fair, the little blue guy does momentarily cluck over Kyle's choice to leave Earth for a while in the hands of John Stewart, until reminded that yes, John Stewart is a good Green Lantern, and there's still a whole bunch of galaxy left undefended.

Once again, Kyle blunders into an alien situation and takes one race's word for what's going on. Jade tries to introduce a different point of view, but Kyle shuts her down. Come on, for all her power, Jenny really hasn't had much experience dealing with other worlds…

We finally got past Kyle having feelings of inadequacy, to now just being an idiot. Some days, you kind of wish Hal would just wake up from a terrible dream in which he went insane, blew up Oa, reignited the sun, and became The Spectre.

The real waste in this book is that Eaglesham and Ramos do some of their best work on this title, just in time for Eaglesham to jump over to CrossGen.


New X-Men #136
writer: Grant Morrison
artists: Frank Quitely and Avalon Studios

In the midst of a riot a-borning at the Academy, Morrison spends the bulk of his time with "The Special Class." Not necessarily students that have a hard time learning (one is nothing but a brain), these seem more to be the ones who have trouble adjusting. Of course, that sort of labeling is ironic with The Omega Gang stirring up trouble while seeming to fit in with the larger mutant society.

Lurking on the edges are the U-Men, with Morrison clearly planning a colossal clash of all the social forces he has built up in the last year. Starting with an Omega Gang raid on a U-Man funeral, the action shifts over to the "third species" stalking the special class on a camping trip. Led by their teacher, Xorn, the special kids gain new insight into their own abilities and a valuable lesson in self-reliance.

In Morrison's hands, it's not nearly as "very special episode"-ish as it might sound.

The only problem with this group of mutants are their practicality. On the surface, they sound cool. But a character like Dummy would have died upon discovering his mutant abilities. A sentient gas, Dummy has no internal cohesion, and requires a special suit to stay together. Mostly it's an excuse for the joke that this character is, as Basilisk calls him, a smart fart.

And does No-Girl exist or not? We'll never know for sure, which makes for a fine game played on the readers' heads, but could get tiresome fast.

Editorially, it looks like some of the bizarreness is getting reined in. Quitely and/or Avalon Studios (are they inking or outright ghosting?) have made Beak look far less like a human chicken than he did originally. And only one Omega Gang member cannot pass for regular human. Whoever did what artistically, the results are the best Quitely has looked yet on this book. So naturally, rumor has it that he has left it completely.


Ultimate Spider-Man #35
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artists: Mark Bagley and Art Thibert

It's quite possible that by introducing Ultimate Eddie Brock, Bendis set us up with a great red herring. We know what we expect, but that's not what we're going to get. From the force of Venom's official appearance here, it seems like he just might not need a host at all.

Rather than being an alien symbiote, the black suit is a genetic experiment keyed to Peter's DNA. In far less time than it took the original Peter Parker to discover, though it gives the wearer what it needs, the suit has needs of its own. Or does it? What it appears to be doing is drawing from Peter's own repressed emotions. If anything, Ultimate Venom is a creature of his id.

And what a spectacular debut it makes. Bagley certainly did his time with the original Venom, but still makes this a different creation. Yes, Venom still has the ridiculous teeth and tongue, but in the back of his throat, there's still Peter Parker, looking terrified.

In some panels, it's clear that Venom and Peter are fighting each other, but Peter's expressions indicate he may be thinking that he is, after all, only fighting himself.

Bendis has gone on record saying that Venom is far from his favorite character, but he has managed to give the character a real shot at new life in this rebirth. Unless he reneges on another promise and gives us Ultimate Carnage, Bendis once again proves that he is one of the best writers working in comics.

Oh, heck, he could probably even make Carnage interesting.


Derek McCaw


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