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!
Action Comics #787 Jikei Ketsuki
writer: Joe Kelly, artists: Pascual Ferry and Walden Wong
As much as I like the style Pascual Ferry brings to the book, it does get troublesome that Jimmy Olsen looks an awful lot like Richie Rich's mean cousin Reginald. Other than that, the mix of Ferry and Wong brings a kinetic power to the pages, making them seem more like storyboards for some great Japanese Superman film than a comic book.
All of it illustrates an interesting story by Casey, who has been making an effort to put Superman in an international context. As Jeph Loeb pointed out last week, fighting for the American Way may be too narrow a credo (and under current global politics, maybe dangerous), and seeing both Superman and Clark deal with Japanese culture should provide some spark.
However, Casey also throws a weird curve in the Lois sub-plot. Issue after issue we've seen Clark and Lois make every effort to sneak a few moments away from her mother during the Lane world tour, with no hint of anything being wrong. Well, actually, last week there was a hint that Lois' mother caught her canoodling with Superman, but Casey ignores that. Instead, Mrs. Superman doesn't want to go home to her husband.
Whether it be mind control, super-villain replacement, or a desire to hang out with her equally flighty friend Mary Jane Parker, it just comes out of nowhere, and mars an other wise cooking arc.
Batman #599 From The Inside-Out
writer: Ed Brubaker, artists: Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens
Brubaker pulls as few punches as he can in a code approved book to depict Bruce Wayne's days in prison. Apparently in Gotham money does not buy special jail treatment, or at least Bruce's sense of ethics keep him from trying.
Unfortunately, the other part of Bruce has also been less and less in control of itself, and the disaffected playboy mask not only slips but shatters like the faces of the Aryan gangmembers who try to take on a Batman who has forgotten he doesn't have the cowl.
Long before this cross-over, Brubaker and other Bat-writers have been building this as a problem for him. It's nice to see a plot point happen naturally instead of just for the sake of injecting sudden drama. Acknowledgement even comes from Alfred, who, after getting instructions from Batman in a prison visit, asks if Bruce Wayne needs anything.
This crossover has been running pretty smoothly, although irritatingly enough, Sasha has a strange defense attorney. Not a big deal, as Barbara's acting as Sasha's legal counsel was left in the air. Still, it would have made an interesting dynamic that now is lost.
story and art by Jeff Smith
Thorn and the Bones must keep a low profile in the last human city, lest the Locust find her. Worse for Thorn, if she falls asleep, the evil madman might be able to track her in her dreams.
Staying out of trouble might be easy if not for Phoney Bone, determined to become a financial wizard wherever he is. Well, actually, even he would admit all he wants to be is stinking rich, no matter the local currency.
Thanks to a bullying other-dimensional bee, he has the chance. It may be short-lived however, as the Rat Creatures are amassing to lay siege to the city, with no dragons around to protect them.
Somehow, Smith manages to strike the right balance month after month between whimsy and compelling fantasy-adventure. I'd long for an animated adaptation, but that would only mean it would take longer between issues. If you think Bone is too far along, buy a collected edition. Now.
Captain America: Dead Men Running #1 Dead Men Running
writer: Darko Macan, artist: Daniel Zezelj
Deep in the Colombian jungle, a ragtag squad of American soldiers stumble through the undergrowth. Without food, without hope, it seems that they are desperately protecting two orphan children from rebels, trying to get the kids to safety.
Luckily for them, their last radio message got through, and a lone soldier parachutes in to help them out. You'd think that wouldn't be enough, but that lone soldier is, of course, Captain America. The men may not yet be saved, but at least now they have a fighting chance.
At least, that's what Cap thinks. But almost everything about his perceptions of the situation is wrong. This mistake may cost him his life.
Macan has set up a pretty interesting story, abetted by the appropriately gritty art of Zezelj. The two portray a complex situation, but this doesn't mean they're treating Captain America as a simpleton.
Instead, he's a man of great decency, willing to believe in the righteousness of his mission, and will undoubtedly set things right around him. Macan gives him a great moment as he scoops the "orphan" girl in his arms and sings her to sleep in Spanish.
It's easy to forget why we like superheroes, especially when faced with such grim settings as Dead Men Running proposes. Thankfully, writers like Macan remember.
The Dark Knight Strikes Again #2
As a bridge between issues one and three of this hotly anticipated book, this issue causes the story to sag a bit in the middle.
Maybe it's that Miller seems to have given in to the satirical side that hung around at the edge of The Dark Knight Returns. Certainly his character design seems looser than usual, cartoony with the feel of Mad Magazine's Jack Davis at points. But also, this doesn't seem to be that much about Batman. It seems disappointing, but it's not necessarily a bad thing.
In a lot of ways, Miller is having fun with himself. Some of the grim and gritty fates of former heroes and villains are just ridiculous extensions of a tone he helped set. (The Martian Manhunter gets no respect, really, but it is a logical future for the Silver Age version of the character.) He spends way too much time in an extended sex scene between Superman and Wonder Woman (please…no complaints of spoilers…it's the cover of the book). It smacks of fanboy fantasy (and pandering to it), but at least the sequence does set things up for an interesting denoument in issue three.
The most fun, though, comes from Miller's finding ways to handle characters few people know how to do right. Who would have thought that the dour Miller would "get" Plastic Man? (Or The Atom, for that matter?) But Plas serves a major role in this plot, and Miller's artwork frees up enough to look a lot like that of Plastic Man's creator Jack Cole. It's spontaneous. It's … fun.
Frank Miller can be bitterly satirical. He can be hard-edged. He can be funny. But he's not supposed to be fun. This is going to take some getting used to, and yet I already want to see more of it.
Groo: Death and Taxes #2
writers: Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier, artist: Sergio Aragones
reviewed by Charlie Wentling
Groo has made a vow not to slay anyone. It's a struggle for him to go against his own nature, but he manages. The surprising thing is how many other people this vow affects.
Morose the Undertaker finds his business has dropped off without all the death and destruction normally associated with Groo. The King levies a tax to protect his citizens from the barbarian, but soon the economy of the whole region goes bad without Groo's warlike tendencies spurring things on. Other famous swordsmen see Groo's vow as a chance to kill him and take his spot as the number one slayer.
The Minstrel makes an appearance. Whether this is good or bad depends on whether you like reading a lot of narration in verse form. The jokes are as good as they ever are, and the social commentary is right on target.
JLA #62 Golden Perfect, part one
writer: Joe Kelly, artists: Doug Mahnke and Tom Nguyen
The Goddess of Truth faces shades of grey. What a deceptively simple plot complication. In her eternal quest for justice, Diana seems helpless in the face of subjectivity.
A clay monster attacks one of the offices of Diana's foundation, trying to kidnap a woman and her infant son. Up on the moon, J'onn J'onnz tries some lasso therapy to work out his emotional kinks (once again proving that Mahnke has fascinatingly disgusting depths to his imagination). When the two storylines converge, the JLA discovers a hidden kingdom that is, quite frankly, a paradise on Earth.
Having sympathized with the attacked woman, Diana convinces herself that this paradise comes at a price too great, the suffering of an innocent child. As a result, Wonder Woman spends a lot of time arguing with the rest of the League as to the justice of her actions. The men on the team are pretty happy to take the word of the country's leader, Rama Khan, that things are what they seem. It helps that he offers them hot serving women as hospitality. (J'onn probably isn't swayed by this, but for the sake of fitting in…)
Kelly has a keen grasp of these characters. He keeps Diana stubborn but not unreasonably so, and he continues exploring the utter alienness of J'onn in a way that still feels accessible. And he remembers that Plastic Man is pretty much a creature of the Id.
The cover copy trumpets that "…the new era of greatness continues!" It's not as much hype as you'd think.
writer: Barbara Kesel, artists: Steve McNiven and Tom Simmons
reviewed by Charlie Wentling
This month's issue of Meridian is the mirror image of Sigil #20. Both
tell the same story, the meeting of Sephie and Sam. The same dialogue
is used for about 12 pages, and both issues were written by Barbara
Kesel. But Meridian is not simply a repeat of Sigil. Each of the issues
is strongly filtered by the narration of its respective main character.
Sephie has a childlike, innocent perspective, which makes a great contrast
to the jaded, experienced point of view seen in Sigil. The story itself
is rather straightforward, Sephie's ships fight off an attack from the
Cadadorian fleet. The interaction of the two characters is what makes
the story worthwhile. You don't need to read Sigil to understand what's
going on here. But if you do, the two issues make up a nice whole that
is greater than the sum of the two parts. CrossGen obviously isn't doing
this to increase sales, since the linkage wasn't advertised beforehand.
They are rewarding readers of both series with something a bit extra.
Out There #8 Stuck In The Middle
writer: Brian Augustyn, artists: Humberto Ramos and Sandra Hope
Fleeing to the town of Purgatory, the survivors of El Dorado City come face to face with demon halflings, stuck in a tortured existence as neither man nor beast. The remaining citizens of Purgatory cannot bring themselves to destroy them, as they were once their families and friends.
As all good religious quests should, their search for a solution takes them out to the desert, where Augustyn and Ramos come firmly down on the side of faith. They claim this isn't a Christian comic, but they could have fooled me.
What they may mean is that you can take or leave its theme and still have a good story, and no particular denomination gets favor. Instead, this book acknowledges a higher power (and a lower one), and that life just isn't meant to be easy. (Though if you're seeing demons, please, write in, because that's a little weird.)
The story moves quickly, especially in light of how slowly things seemed to move in the first arc. Augustyn has hit an economical stride, and if you're into this story, you'll get a lot of important information without feeling cheated. We know these kids already; it's good to see them actually get to do something.
As the writing gets tighter, the art gets looser. It looks a little bit out of control, though Ramos' sense of storytelling remains intact. It's just the proportions and dynamics that seem even more elastic than usual, and it sticks out.
The Power Company: Manhunter #1 A Well-Respected Man…
writer: Kurt Busiek, artists: Dan Jurgens and Bob Layton
This book feels so seventies. With a solid (but, and this is not an insult, older), somewhat stolid art team and a compact story, it almost feels like one of the cooler issues of First Issue Special.
It even resurrects a "hero" that had been resurrected the same way pre-Crisis, a clone of Paul Kirk, the original Manhunter. Running as a back-up in Detective Comics, Manhunter chronicled Paul Kirk's revival from suspended animation to discover that an evil cabal had created superior clones of him.
He set about battling both the cabal and the clones, one of whom decided to follow his original's example in a strange way. After Kirk died in one final battle, the clone let people think he was evil and infiltrated the Secret Society of Super-Villains, a kind of silly sequel to a tense, tight series by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson. Before the clone appeared, Batman was the only costumed hero to cross paths with the Manhunter's world.
Fittingly, Busiek chooses to have Nightwing cross this new Manhunter's path, in a time when Nightwing had been cast as a globe-trotting hero. (It's all pretty hazy…but it seems to be true.) There doesn't seem to be any forcing of retroactive continuity to achieve this meeting, either, so as an introduction to a new version of Manhunter, it doesn't grate.
The only odd note is that Nightwing recognizes the clone; certainly Batman makes his team go over photo files, but still, Dick never actually met Paul Kirk.
From here, the leap will be to see how the somewhat amoral clone joins up with The Power Company. Because we must be out of members for solo comics by now, the wait won't be long. That's good, because as diverting as this issue was, my interest really hasn't been piqued all that much.
writer: Mark Waid, artists: Butch Guice and Mike Perkins
reviewed by Charlie Wentling
Simon Archard has been framed for a murder he didn't commit. Unlike in the Batman books, this story won't stretch on for the next six months. In fact, this issue resolves some of the plot points introduced in the first storyline.
Miranda Cross has framed Simon to keep him away from her schemes. She has drugged five of Partington's leading citizens and will be using them for sinister purposes. After a chase through a hedge maze, Simon and Emma track down Miranda and try to rescue her captives.
For a detective series, there is still too much magic present. Waid makes it work though, and he also provides great dialogue and a lot of clever touches. Guice's layouts still don't work for me, but otherwise the art is excellent.
Saurians: Unnatural Selection #2
writers: Mark Waid and Tony Bedard, artists: Andrea Di Vito and Rob Hunter
reviewed by Charlie Wentling.
Just like last month, the second issue of this two issue miniseries has shipped a week early. And like last month, it contains a few surprises.
Terchac of the Saurians has discovered that by consuming human flesh, he can gain human traits. This revelation comes at a time when the Saurians are on the verge of defeat, some four hundred years before the present day of the Sigil series from which this story is spun off.
Terchac creates the Church of Transformation based on his experiences. Many Saurians, including the mainstream Order of Khyalhtua, consider Terchac's beliefs to be heresy. The two religions come into conflict, but Terchac has learned a lot of hard lessons and will not be so easily overcome.
The story does come to a nice ending, but it also gives a good idea what Sigil is like. Di Vito and Hunter do their normal fine job on the art.