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!

The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius #6
Monkey Tales
story and art: Judd Winick

As Winick admits in his letters column this month, this particular arc has been far more personal and in some ways more serious than we expect from Barry Ween. The results may be a little bit unsettling, as we see the consequences to what would normally be comedy.

Best friend Jeremy pulls his usual spanner in the works act, with devastating results as Barry fights to free an alien people and rescue his now-adult "girlfriend" Sara. The balance between super-genius and super-idiot has always had its charm, and the reason for their friendship makes sense. But it may be hard, in future Ween adventures (if there are any), for Barry to forget the events of this issue, even though it all works out all right in the end.

So it has a darker flavor. Winick never forgets that this is comedy, and even though he ventures into new waters for these characters, he never lets the reader down. The future of Barry Ween is uncertain due to schedule though Winick intends to do a Ween/Frumpy The Clown cross-over. Maybe the idea has played itself out, but it has also matured. A little. Jeremy still does his best to keep things puerile.

But that's okay. Winick dedicates this issue to the comics writers he admired, and with it he begins staking his claim to being influential on those to follow.

Rating:

Batman: Gotham Knights #26
Innocent Until
writer: Devin Grayson, artists: Roger Robinson and John Floyd

While it seems pretty clear to fans that Bruce Wayne could not be a murderer, Devin Grayson explores the idea that it's not so clear to those around him.

That seed of doubt drives little wedges in the Bat-family, and Bruce's silence on the issue doesn't help things. Nightwing will not tolerate it, and chews out Robin for even wondering. But as Jason points out, Dick has not been around to see the scope of Batman's anger growing and growing over the last few months. When even Dr. Leslie Thompkins has doubts, you have to wonder. Maybe Devin Grayson's point of view has merit.

Because of Grayson's grasp on Nightwing's character, this issue makes one of the most compelling chapters of Bruce Wayne: Murderer? Nobody really gets to fight; instead, they have to talk. They have to think. They have to reach conclusions without reaching for a batarang.

The artists match the sobriety of the plot with clean and spare art. Though Floyd inks a little darkly, that seems to have become the editorial style for Bat-books. Robinson gives Alfred an eerie resemblance to Christopher Walken, an idea that we could only wish Hollywood would come up with for the next film.

There's a weird little back-up contributed by Chris Bachalo and Cy Voris, set in Arkham Asylum. It has a nice Twilight Zone twist which would be better if it also hadn't happened in Batman Forever. But the art alone is worth your attention.

Rating:

Birds of Prey #40
Switchback
writer: Chuck Dixon, artists: Rick Leonardi and Jesse Delperdang

Cleverly, this sweeping Batman crossover ends here, in a title you might not expect. But then, the intention of having crossovers in the first place has worked, because I'm hooked.

In this, the last title Dixon will be writing for DC for quite some time, he has managed to perfectly balance the needs of the cross-over with the needs of the book. While Black Canary and The Spoiler confront Cluemaster and The Riddler, Oracle and Robin try to piece together who framed Bruce Wayne. (Well, Barbara at least has to believe it was a frame-up.)

Even with all that, Dixon manages to throw some attention on the forcibly retired Blue Beetle, skillfully moving all the plotlines forward without skimping on any. Where was this talent during Joker: The Last Laugh?

Delperdang inks with a lighter touch than the previous issue, allowing Leonardi's fluid style to come through. A good thing, too, because Leonardi excels at drawing teen heroes. Both The Spoiler and Robin look their best.

Under another great Phil Noto cover, this book suddenly vaulted to the top of my must-read list. Hopefully, DC won't let the quality slip when Dixon leaves for CrossGen.

Rating:

CrossGen Chronicles #6
writer: Barbara Kesel, artist: Esteban Maroto
reviewed by: Charlie Wentling This is a strange issue. What little story there is focuses on The First at the time just after Elysia was split into two sections by Altwaal. Unfortunately, many of these events have been covered before in the pages of their own title. Granted, new details have been added, and scattered bits of background information have been laid out in chronological order.

We are shown how Pyrem and Orium came to lead House Dexter and House Sinister. I think this is also the first time that Altwaal has been shown interacting with the other First after he "retired". We also see the birth of Persha. One of the things I was expecting was that the parentage of Seahn would be explicitly revealed, but no such luck.

In some ways this would be a good starting point for people not familiar with The First. But the large number of characters can get confusing, and there isn't much of a story.

This issue may be worth buying for Esteban Maroto's art alone. He has a distinctive flowing style. Sometimes Maroto quits using panels for several pages, and the images all run together, but it is never confusing. I haven't seen anything from him since DC's Atlantis Chronicles so this was a nice treat.

Rating:

Crux #11
writer: Mark Waid, artists: Andy Smith and Mark Farmer
reviewed by: Charlie Wentling

Here we have the classic time travel conundrum. Suppose you could travel into the past to the time of a great tragedy. Should you try to change history? What would the repercussions be? Mark Waid isn't exactly treading new ground here, but this is a solid story.

Danik and Verityn have traveled back 100,000 years into the past, to the time just before Atlantis sank. One faction of Atlanteans is attempting a Transition to a higher plane of existence, as seen in Crux #1. Verityn wants to try to stop the Transition, which was responsible for the destruction of the city. Danik disagrees, saying they would be foolish to try to change things, and it may not even be possible to do so.

This issue is really more about the characters than the plot. Danik shows as much personality here as he has in the past year combined. It is always nice to see the arrogant brought down a notch or two.

The artwork is by Andy Smith, who normally works as an inker, but will be penciling his own series later this year. His pencils are so good that Steve Epting is not missed.

Rating:

Exiles #10
A World Apart, part three
writer: Judd Winick, artists: Mike McKone, Holdredge, McKenna & Wong

While this book has given us a lot of alternate versions of favorite heroes before, this issue pulls out all the stops to give us just about everybody. Anytime an artist has an excuse to draw Woodgod, you know you've stepped into ultimate geek territory.

The Exiles, teamed with the best the Skrull Arena had to offer, finally have their big showdown with Galactus. In the process, we get quick glimpses of this world's Peter Parker and the Banner Beast, who seems a lot like Peter David's classic take on the character. On top of throwing practically everybody on Earth against Galactus (which likely would have happened back in the 'sixties if Fantastic Four weren't "The World's Greatest Comics Magazine!"), Winick manages to not use the Ultimate Nullifier. (Where is this Earth's Watcher, anyway?)

It's an original take on a classic story, and even with all this Winick keeps the title characters in the fore-front, reminding us of the dark underpinnings of the concept. If it has any faults, it's that as fun as it may be, these characterizations are almost too much like the heroes we already know. Without Ben Parker to raise him, why would Peter be the same minus a costume?

McKone and company once again deliver great art, maybe one of the best underpraised teams in the industry right now. They don't get a lot of attention, but it's only a matter of time before that changes.

Rating:

JSA #33
Wish Fulfillment
writers: David S. Goyer and Geoff Johns, artists: Giffen, Milgrom, Kirk and Champagne

How can Goyer and Johns have a classic DC villain take over the world without it being a company-wide crossover? Perhaps it's disrespect for the writing team, but it's definitely a blessing. These two great writers are free to play with everybody else's toys without anybody's permission.

Keith Giffen and Al Milgrom provide a prologue that could easily have been drawn by Kubert or Infantino in the '40's, a nice nod to the JSA's past. Whether or not the sequence holds a key to the overall resolution seems unclear, but it's also good to acknowledge that Sand misses his mentor. As cool as the character may be, his modern incarnation has been pretty much just dumped on readers; how he got from being The Creature In The Velvet Cage to being Sand has been largely off-camera.

So this arc holds promise. Sand must team with The Icicle to take down the Ultra-Humanite and dismantle the villain's dystopia built by the Thunderbolt. Thankfully, the 5th Dimensional genie also spared Jakeem Thunder, allowing Johns to continue giving long overdue focus to the character.

Standing against these unlikely underground freedom fighters? Some of the world's most powerful heroes (and villains). At least Captain Marvel remains free of the Ultra-Humanite's mind-control, and another Johns favorite can be snuck in.

It's a fun read, though by the nature of the story's scope, we get too many maddeningly brief glimpses of heroes. A new Hourman pops up as promised, likely to be Rick Tyler, but reduced to just sitting on the last page looking pensive. With him comes a new and unexpected legacy, and it would have been nice to have an extra page or two of them, if only for their attitude.

Rating:

Peter Parker: Spider-Man #40 or #136
Codename: John Hancock
writer: Paul Jenkins, artists: Mark Buckingham and Wayne Faucher

"You know the problem with super-villains? They multiply."

So true. And with that opening quote Jenkins once again gives us a great take on the title character, able to find dark humor in hopeless moments. Pinned by Doctor Octopus while taunted by Fusion, Spider-Man has accidentally tumbled into the solution to the mystery he had been tracking.

And while it may not seem very heroic to have it happen that way, it's very, very Spider-Man. A scientific genius? Yes. A great detective? Not necessarily. He works as a photographer, after all, not a reporter.

For those wondering about Doctor Octopus' strange behavior (a pet squid?), all will be revealed. It's clear that Fusion reads too many comic books (though, oddly, Peter seems to have forgotten how Fusion's power works). And Jenkins fills his plot with some blackly funny moments that still fit.

What seems out of place, though, is J. Jonah Jameson's continued resistance to actually breaking a real story in his newspaper. Hopefully, Jenkins will play with this further, developing this subplot into something pointed about American mainstream media. Or maybe it's just jumping on the bandwagon.

Rating:

Robin #99
Where The Road Ends
writer: Chuck Dixon, artists: Pete Woods and Andrew Pepoy

Last issue left me feeling suckered by the cross-over, but Dixon makes up for it by tying this in closely with Birds of Prey. We get a nice chunk of the investigation into clearing Bruce Wayne's name, while Tim uses Oracle's computers to solve a mystery of his own.

Along the way, he reunites with The Spoiler, at least in a crime-fighting capacity. From this sample, it seems like this is a fun book, though (sensibly) aimed at younger readers than some of the other titles in the Bat-stable.

Pete Woods swings over from Nightwing, and though he still draws a little too loosely for my taste, it fits better over here.

Overall, if you miss this book you will not be left with a gaping hole in the Bruce Wayne: Murderer? arc, but unlike last month, you won't kick yourself if you end up buying it.

Rating:

Scion #21
writer: Ron Marz, artists: Jim Cheung, Brandon Peterson, Don Hillsman II, and others
reviewed by: Charlie Wentling

After building up for nearly a year and a half, the relationship between Ethan and Ashleigh finally turns a corner. They have journeyed to the underwater city of Haven in search of a refuge for the lesser races. They plead their case before the ruling council of the city, who are a sort of cross between jellyfish and butterflies. Though the council is sympathetic, Ethan doesn't get the answer he was hoping for.

Other subplots involve Exeter rallying support from the lesser races, and the Heron army being lead into a Raven trap. But the focus of the issue is Ethan and Ashleigh finally admitting their feelings for one another.

The art is rather mixed. Jim Cheung fractured his collarbone and wasn't able to draw the entire issue. Luckily for CrossGen, when all of your artists are there in the same building, this isn't such a problem. Brandon Peterson penciled eight pages of the story, and six different inkers contributed. So the art is solid even though not so consistent, and the issue shipped on time.

Rating:

Supergirl #67
Rhyme and Reason
writer: Peter David, artists: Diego Barreto and Robin Riggs

What happens when a demon possesses a demon? The world may never know for sure, but Peter David characterizes it as an uneasy balance between the two personalities. Guest-demon Etrigan has always been more fun-loving than most in the DCU, but it's still jarring to see him sit down at a craps table, a victim of Buzz' more earthly sense of fun.

That's not to say that things are all light-hearted. With this book David has managed to tame his worst humor impulses, turning them into believable sources of danger. Buzztrigan fries the leader of the Leesburg Coven before going off to sample Vegas, and back in Leesburg itself, Bizarro Supergirl threatens Linda's friends.

As a result of all the demon stuff, we continue seeing Buzz' sad ambivalence toward the new Supergirl. Sad because she seems so oblivious to it. In the beginning of this series Linda was a bad girl, but now her experiences seem to have made her more na´ve. For someone drawn to be attractive, she seems utterly unaware of it. Actually, she seems more and more like the Earth Angel with every issue.

Hmm.

Rating:

Superman: The Man of Steel
Everyone Wants The Aegis
writer: Mark Schultz, artists: Yvel Guichet and Dexter Vines

Buildings in Metropolis have begun mutating, growing weapons and pseudo-pods out of their sides. All of it is the result of the B13 technology, and aside from the concern that the buildings are alive, it seems the most pressing issue is who will ultimately control this tech.

On the side of the bad guys, we have new player The Overmind and its cybermoths, and on the side of the, er, other bad guys we have Lexcorp. Thankfully for the writers of these books, the average citizen of Metropolis are either blissfully unaware of these huge tentacles waving around at random, or just have that much faith in Superman to figure it out.

The police are aware, and in an unprecedented show of unity, have allied with both John Henry Irons and Superman. Unbeknownst to them, John Henry is getting cyber-psychic messages from Talia concerning the cybermoths, who have kidnapped Natasha.

This is becoming like a bad violent soap opera.

Almost everything involving The Aegis (which is also a goal of The Overmind) has been handled poorly. Despite its obviously evil nature (it even looks evil), it has been kept around just to be a plot complication. And its very presence has made Steel act like an idiot, to the point that he can't seem to remember that his friend Superman is a reporter in his secret identity (even though he calls him Clark), never putting it together that the environmental protest group he thinks he's secretly working with are also feeding information to Kent the reporter.

It's just a mess, made more so by Guichet's too constipated artwork.

Rating:

Ultimate Spider-Man #19
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artists: Mark Bagley and Art Thibert

Serendipitously, we get two Doctor Octopi in the same week. The Ultimate version seems just a little bit smarter, or at least savvier, but no less homicidal. It's the one thing that Peter seems not to really have dealt with emotionally; he's up against killers.

And that includes Kraven The Hunter, who tapes a segment of his show at Peter's high school, since many Spider-Man sightings happened there. Bendis takes this opportunity to bring in Betty Brant, but in a role that seems even more surprising than the revamped Gwen Stacy.

As for that troublesome blonde, she clearly sees something in Peter, and the attraction is mutual, even if he doesn't know it yet. Where does that leave Mary Jane? Believably, understandably ticked off.

It may seem like soap opera, but in the hands of Bendis it plays out with an honesty and insight to just how stupid a 15-year-old male can be, even with the best of intentions. Both as Spider-Man and himself, he's stepping into worlds without any sense of where he's really headed. And breaking Mary Jane's heart may be worse than getting the crap kicked out of him by Kraven.

Rating:

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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