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Action Comics #800
writer: Joe Kelly
artists: various

Anniversary issues are always a dicey proposition. Usually, editors arrange storylines so that the big event can stand free, and then the story that does make the anniversary issue ends up being little more than a tribute to the character. You get some nice pin-ups in the bargain, but for some of us, that's not much consolation.

But when the grand-daddy of superhero comics reaches its 800th issue, even the most cynical fan has to at least give it a look. Yes, Action Comics #800 fulfills all the stereotypical expectations, though it does have the decency to build the pin-ups into the story.

Maybe it's the times, though. Spending a double-sized issue extolling the virtues of a man who strives to do what's right at all costs, who inspires others to do right, both in a fictional realm and perhaps the real world, well, I needed it.

Kelly runs with the book's sixty-five year history, weaving that in and out of the narrative. As various people speak of the impact of Superman on their lives, it's obvious that continuity has been thrown to the wind.

It's okay. Matched with some really great art, including the obligatory Alex Ross appearance, the narrative does a good job of dissecting just why Superman has lasted. If every creative team could remember this on a monthly basis, we'd probably be reading more of the books regularly.


Aquaman #3
writer: Rick Veitch
artists: Yvel Guichet and Mark Propst

Something is rotten in the state of Atlantis, but that should come as no surprise. Such a state of affairs plays to Guichet's strengths as an artist, and Veitch really lets the penciller run through the dark world of magick that now rules the sea.

Though a few writers, notably Peter David, have run Aquaman through sword and sorcery paces before, Veitch has a fresh take, and not just in terms of the water that Aquaman now depends upon. In three issues he has firmly established a new status quo, successfully changed Arthur Curry's uniform, and still left us with questions that we're willing to wait to see resolved. Best of all, he has gotten rid of the savage sea-king thing. Now we have an Aquaman somewhere between the two extremes. Maybe this one will work.

The King Arthur connection still works, too, because Veitch isn't overplaying it. Yet. Through Aquaman, he seems to be ready to explore older myths of Camelot and its predecessors, so if we're not careful, we might learn something of historical value.

If the rest of the Justice League stays away for a while (though Veitch has proven he writes them well, too), you might just forget this is a superhero book, and get wrapped up in a decent fantasy.

I know, I know - aren't they all supposed to be that?


Astro City: Local Heroes #1
writer: Kurt Busiek
artist: Brent Anderson

Several years ago, Busiek launched this series with a voice that brought a truly fresh angle to the superhero genre. Pick up any of the trade paperbacks, and you'll find a story that makes you think of something you never thought about before. It raised the bar for what could and should be done in comics on a regular basis.

And then Busiek got sick. It made his output on the series spotty, and then finally stopped him for two years. He and artists Alex Ross (covers and character design) and Brent Anderson have returned, but in their absence, others picked up the gauntlet. Is there still room for Astro City to be hot and daring?

From this first issue in a series of mini-series (a wiser and more honest approach to publication), the answer is probably no. Busiek re-introduces the reader to Astro City, and reminds us who the major players (if it could be said to have such) are. The trouble is, almost everybody picking up this book already knows.

We've already seen the common man's viewpoint, masterfully given to us by Busiek himself years before. The narration of Pete Donacek, hotel doorman, has a bit of sameness to it. Though Busiek delivers a slight twist, it doesn't really go as far to explain Pete's love of the city as the writer thinks. We're also in a time when comics have fallen all over themselves to laud everyday heroes.

You can understand the impulse. A fresh launch, with a lot of industry attention, probably will bring in new readers. If this is your first visit to Astro City, then enjoy. Anderson is a solid long-time artist, whose work never disappoints. Busiek is a master of characterization.

It's just that a lot of other writers have caught on, and are doing what Busiek was doing all along. Now he needs to set a new level. Hopefully, future issues will.


Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #164
writer: Dwayne McDuffie
artists: Val Semeiks and Dan Green

For the return engagement of an unexpectly popular minor character, McDuffie wisely changes up genres. When we first met Lee Hyland, he was a small-time con man with a great gift. Though blind, he could see through the eyes of whoever he had last touched.

Then, the story involved Lee helping Batman bring murderers to justice. And now the tables are turned a bit, as Batman seeks Lee out for help breaking up a baby-kidnapping ring, but discovers that the government has found out what the blind man can see.

Anybody who has followed the recent Checkmate contretemps in the regular books knows that Batman and government agents just don't get along. And perhaps we all wish it wasn't believable that a government agency would just hijack an American citizen as it does Hyland. Sure, it's for the public good. But it's still sweet to see Batman "persuade" two agents to give up what they know through a unique joy ride.

Some might call it a good old-fashioned keel hauling. But that's splitting hairs.

McDuffie writes a good Dark Knight, grim, determined, but still with a sense of justice and more importantly decency. Sometimes that gets lost in the regular books. Matching him with a good sense of action is Semeiks, though his style is inconsistent. At times he seems to be riffing off of Joe Staton, not bad in itself, but he bounces in and out of a more realistic style.


Daredevil #43
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artist: Alex Maleev

On the week that he makes his big-screen debut, Daredevil spends an issue of his own comic without a single super-villain. Instead, Bendis devotes most of this book to an examination of Matt Murdock's character, and it's quality stuff.

Working from a seed of arrogance that has been part of Matt's personality, we see a man absolutely sure of the rightness of his actions. But this issue is all about shaking up that surety.

The blindwoman Milla has tumbled onto his identity so easily. Too easily, really, for Matt's comfort. And yet he finds himself strangely enjoying the sparring of alternately denying and subconsciously confirming her findings. His enjoyment ends quickly, however, in a confrontation with Luke Cage.

Cage has never been a character I much responded to, but Bendis uses him to make some interesting arguments. For the first time in this arc, we see Matt blow up in righteous anger, and also for the first time, it's clear he's not too sure he's actually right. Some people want to be masters of the world, and they can't even be masters of their own backyard.

Running in the background of all this is the brilliant idea of MGH - Mutant Growth Hormone. This deadly designer drug sparks users into temporary fits of (only sometimes) mild superpowers. In the closest thing we'll get to a crossover, Jessica Jones is also battling its presence on the streets. You don't need to read Alias, but it is providing an interesting perspective on the story. Over there, Jessica admitted to herself that she may be in love with Matt Murdock.

Knowing her character, she may never admit it, and it won't cause problems in this book. But then again, it might. Just when you think you have Bendis figured out, he might do something unexpected by doing the expected.


Fables #10
writer: Bill Willingham
artists: Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha

And so it's all over but the trials. Luckily for Fable Town, the revolution failed. Willingham spares us the suspense by letting us know what happened up front, because he's in a hurry to introduce more interesting concepts.

In the previous issue's cliffhanger, Snow White had her head blown off, but awakens a few weeks later hospitalized but well on her way to recovery. Through a confrontation with her sister Rose Red, we learn something new and interesting about the Fables, and perhaps just why they are so long-lived.

Along the way Willingham also drops a little commentary about how our culture has streamlined and in many ways defanged these stories. Wisely, he does it without judgment, and we can make up our own minds. But it's definitely something to chew over.

Now we have a new status quo, and though Willingham as said as much in interviews anyway, a greater sense of the overall Fables story arc. All stories must come to an end, but Snow White at least leaves the door open for their finale to be a long way off.


Derek McCaw


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