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 #788
Jikei Keitsuki
writer: Joe Kelly, artists: Pascual Ferry, Scott Hanna, Mark Morales, and Keith Champagne

Last issue Superman acknowledged having encountered a meta he called Tokai. The villain returned recognition with destructive force, knocking the man of steel for a loop and announcing that he's changed his name to Sakki. Oh, and yes, the former Tokai is now a homicidal maniac.

Whatever his powers actually are, it seems that they are either fed by anger or Sakki just really, really gets off on corrupting his opponents. As he himself must once have been corrupted - the issue opens with the implication that he and Clark were once friends. If only Clark had stopped him when he first went rogue, the current destruction in Tokyo would not have happened. That includes the bloody anti-crime rampage of Superman's current "allies," Gunshin and Byakko.

Ah, that pesky code of honor. It's an issue usually debated in the pages of Batman; how much more tragedy happens because our heroes won't take life? It makes for an exciting read. Even though we don't get much information on this new Japanese past for Clark Kent, it promises more to come.

Kelly counters this with Clark's unknowing troubles with Lois, who subconsciously blames her husband for her father's death. Though the subplot still seemed to have come out of nowhere, it now makes a little sense, and their conflict gets handled realistically. Or at least as realistically as can be done between a globe-trotting reporter and an alien.

Beating up super-villains? Easy. Being married? Very, very hard.


Batman #600
The Scene of the Crime
writer: Ed Brubaker, artists: Scott McDaniel, Andy Owens, and various in the back-ups

Yes, the mystery of who killed Vesper remains open. Instead, Brubaker opens up a whole new can of worms, raising more questions than he answers. He also skillfully recaps how a lifetime of playing games with his own identity has almost inevitably brought Bruce Wayne to this point. And the result is the most satisfying Batman comic in a long, long time.

Without my giving away too much, Brubaker sends the character on a new exploration that will undoubtedly raise a lot of ire in fandom, just as it does in Batman's supporting cast. There are a few mis-steps, such as Batman counting on Alfred's loyalty above all (this being the character that, arbitrarily or not, abandoned Batman a few months ago). But by acknowledging the coldness in the character that Brubaker did not have to retcon, even if you hate what's happening, you'll understand it.

And that's just the lead story.

Because this is a big anniversary issue, Brubaker tries to put a modern spin on Silver Age practices, and provides two "reprint" stories from different eras of the Bat-books. Though they purport to be old unpublished inventory stories, there are tell-tale details that give them away as new. (One would be the prominence of a black hero in a story supposedly from the fifties - sadly, that marks it as a phony.)

The third back-up comes from stand-up comedian/actor/writer Patton Oswalt, drawn by Sergio Aragones. Telling a disco-era tale of Batman, the story (purposely?) whets the appetite for a PLOP! revival.

If you haven't guessed by now, the complete package makes this the best buy of the week, if not the month.


Daredevil #30
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artist: Alex Maleev

Reports of The Kingpin's death have been exaggerated. But not by much. The overeager Silke makes his move to take over crime in the city, aided by the man once known as The Rose. And Daredevil tries to figure out if every mobster in town knows his secret.

The answer might surprise you, as Bendis makes it so offhand. Even though it seems like he's running the same events over and over, flashing back and forth in time, new pieces of the puzzle show up. So believable, so convincing is this, that it wouldn't be shocking if at the end of this run, Daredevil were to get rid of his costume altogether. Bendis has made so good a case for planting The Kingpin and his men in reality, that the actual star of this book seems out of place.

Maleev's artwork once again provides the right gritty touch. Every character has the look of someone who has seen just a little too much to be truly happy, and his layouts provide a strong anchor for the asynchronous story. It's probably too late to affect things, but if Fox borrowed heavily from this for the Daredevil film, they would be making a smart move.


The Flash #183
writer: Geoff Johns, artists: Scott Kolins and Doug Hazlewood

Last month in the pages of Wizard, Johns offered tips on how to update a villain. Proving that he practices what he preaches, he offers us a new take on The Trickster. If your old villain has reformed his evil ways, have a new guy take on the mantle. And if he happens to have even less morality than the previous guy, well, that just fits right in with the new, improved (and far more dangerous) Rogues' Gallery.

The new guy has the same sense of fun, but not the sense of consequence. And through him we get to see just how dangerously networked the more formal Gallery actually is. As has been building for many issues, it's clear that Wally is in for a hell of a lot of trouble, sooner than later.

More and more of his supporting cast is being neutralized, too. Though he may be the fastest man alive, Wally is not exactly the swiftest runner in the race, and Johns uses this to advantage. For such an impatient character, Wally figures things out maddeningly slow.

As usual, Kolins and Hazlewood deliver excellent work. It's not the prettiest stuff out there, but it fits this book well, and deserves more attention that it gets on a monthly basis.

In a weird bit of synchronicity, the cover of this issue also works as tribute to Chuck Jones. Though obviously unintentional, it serves as a reminder that comics should be fun. And even at its darkest, The Flash is fun.


Green Arrow #12
Feast And Fowl
writer: Kevin Smith, artists: Phil Hester and Ande Parks

Despite the antagonistic cover, Green Arrow and Hawkman reunite quite easily. Political affiliations may die hard, but not so much after you've actually died. Too bad that promised conflict disappears after a few pages.

In his remaining issues, Smith seems determined to redefine all of Ollie's old relationships. Even though Black Canary has been dating Doctor Mid-Nite in JSA, she still has a connection to Green Arrow that has to be explored. Maybe, but it seems like it's more due to a pairing in fanboy minds than actual characterization.

To be fair, Smith acknowledges that. That doesn't make it any better or less awkward. (Ollie had, after all, abandoned Dinah long before he actually died. Actually admitting it to her face really shouldn't be the thing that melts her heart.) And the conclusion Smith writes feels like he took the easy way out. One might think that a guy having just returned from heaven and remembering what it was like there just might have more on his mind than nookie. But then it's the rare Smith book that doesn't have a Jay stand-in, no matter how suave the disguise.

And pity the poor Riddler. Never that imposing a character anyway, he has become the Peter Brady of the DC Universe, only showing up in a book to be quickly dispatched. (And, come to think of it, Black Canary kicked his butt last week, too.) Leave it to Brad Meltzer to actually deal with the mess, I guess. But after the strong start of this revival, it seems a shame to just go back to the way things were twenty years ago. These characters aren't the same, so let them be different, no matter how much it hurts.


Howard The Duck #2
Endangered Species
writer: Steve Gerber, artist: Phil Winslade

This is kind of like The Dark Knight Strikes Again. A revered creator comes back to a title that made him famous, and after a strong start (based largely on fanticipation), falters in his second at-bat.

Not much happens with this issue, other than Howard's DNA proves to be unstable. As he and Bev take a shower, he undergoes a variety of transformations, perhaps linked to his emotional state.

If you're looking for social commentary, it's not here. There's none of the satirical touch that made the series infamous. Instead, we get a lot of reminders that "hey, this is a MAX series!" And as great a writer as he truly is, Steve Gerber has problems when he's allowed to run free like this.

After complaining that the "adult" black and white magazine version of Howard completely missed the point by giving Bev and Howard a sexual relationship, Gerber gives us the aforementioned shower scene. Oh, it may be innocent, but by the way, each shot of Bev in the shower is unobscured from the front. And Howard becomes an anteater, with his nose going…oh, you get the point. I can hear Bill Jemas giggling.

A few cheap transformation gags later, all someone reading Howard for the first time would think is that he and Bev sure swear a lot, and neither one of them are very likeable characters. With that going for it, few would want to read it a second time.

As a die-hard Howard fan, I'm in it for the long haul, but it had best stop being so clever, and start being smart.


JLA #63
Golden Perfect, part two
writer: Joe Kelly, artists: Doug Mahnke and Tom Nguyen

A judge lets Killer Croc go on his own recognizance. The Atom can't stop trying to make two plus two equal three. Perry White has become J. Jonah Jameson. And, as we've all known for decades, the Earth is the center of the DC Universe.

It gets worse from there, in a mind-twisting tale from the new creative team. Because Wonder Woman's golden lasso broke last issue, she herself, the Goddess of Truth, no longer really understands what the truth is. And if she doesn't…

The concept is worthy of original writer Grant Morrison. But unlike a Morrison story, Kelly doesn't just tell you to hang on and enjoy the ride. He takes the time to explain how the ride works. Your head will still spin, but it probably won't hurt as much.

Even with a monumental story, the creative team doesn't skimp on characterization. How this situation affects Plastic Man, for example, is nothing short of brilliant. If they wanted to take some time for a Plastic Man mini-series, it would be welcome.

As it is, if we're lucky, Kelly, Mahnke and Nguyen should stay on this book for a long, long time.


Meridian #21
writer: Barbara Kesel, artists: Steve McNiven and Tom Simmons
reviewed by: Charlie Wentling

After the last few issues, this month's story takes a step backwards. Sephie and her friends are attacked by Rho Rhustane and his new super-ship. Unfortunately, the ship looks more like a metal blimp, which is disappointing after being built up like it has been. Jad serves as a distraction for Sephie, and it seems like the two of them are being artificially kept apart, just to keep the tension level high.

Nothing gets resolved here. If you skipped from #20 to #22 you wouldn't miss much at all. Just repeated scenes of ships getting shot by a cannon, Sephie healing people, and background characters chatting among themselves. The knowledge that Sephie gained from Samandahl Rey last month is put to good use, but is already being used too often. The art is quite good, except that the coloring is a bit too dark.


Midnight Nation #10
writer: J. Michael Stracyzynski, artists: Gary Frank and Jonathan Sibal

As good as this story has been, it feels like it's been taking forever to get to the point. Finally, David understands the secret of the men with no souls, finally we learn something about Laurel, and finally we get a glimpse into the heart of the adversary.

Except we got that last issue, too.

Still, because JMS has such skill with words, you hardly notice the repetition. Each character reveals a little more, and in lesser hands this would be maddening. But his take on the devil (or is it?) has a nobility and reasonability that is almost persuasive. Laurel's sad and endless fate has achieved a circularity (even though we knew it would).

Part of what makes this so compelling comes from Frank's pencils. Every shot of The Men struggles with dynamic tension, and the war within David is beautifully apparent.

And it's still not over. Maybe that's the annoying dichotomy of this book. Not only does it feel stretched out (and makes us forget that fact as we read it), but now we have to wait another month. Or two. Or three. Or four, depending on how tightly Top Cow keeps it on schedule.

Damn JMS for making it worth it.


New X-Men #123
writer: Grant Morrison, artists: Ethan Van Sciver, Tom Derenick, Townsend, Miki, Hanna, Florea

Bad times are coming for the X-Men, which makes this a perfect time to stop and take a breath. Cassandra Nova looms somewhere in the solar system, ready to spring on the Earth and take her revenge. In the guise of her genetic twin, Charles Xavier, she revealed the existence of the academy to the world. Couple that with their rather public battle with the so-called "Third Species," and our favorite mutants have an uncomfortably high profile.

So what else to do in this day and age but hold a press conference?

Bringing the press onto the campus also provides a good opportunity to recap just who all the players are right now. (And in some cases, simply explain.) Morrison has really made the school into a school, peopling it with so many mutants that he can't possibly know them all. Okay, it's Morrison, he knows exactly who they are.

The whole book has an inviting feel, even with a deadly cliff-hanger, that should win over the last holdouts against this book and even bring in people who just glaze over when you mention The X-Men. Sciver and Derenick provide dynamic pencils, and the team of inkers meld together smoothly.

In short, the whole creative team remembered that every comic book is somebody's first, and when was the last time you could say that about an X-book?


The Path Prequel
writer: Ron Marz, artists: Bart Sears and Mark Pennington
Reviewed by Charlie Wentling

This prequel issue tells the origin of the monk Obo-San, though these same events were seen by readers of The First more than a year ago. The Warlord Todosi is given a sigil. He leads the armies of Nayado (an analog of Japan) against the much larger country of Shinacea (an analog of China). Even with his sigil, Todosi's men are so badly outnumbered that they are on the brink of defeat.

Todosi calls out to the gods, and his prayers are answered. But instead of receiving aid, Todosi is killed. His sigil transfers to his brother Obo-San, who swears an oath of vengeance against The First.

The twist this time is that the story is told from the perspective of the Emperor of Shinacea. This helps prevent redundancy for people who already know what happens. Much of the art is done using splash pages, and the narration gives events an epic flavor. Bart Sears uses a more realistic style than he did on The First, and it works.

Shinacea will be the setting for the upcoming CrossGen book The Way of the Rat, so people looking forward to that series might want to pick this issue up. It's a bargain with 32 pages for the price of 22. And for the really tightly budgeted people out there, this issue is available for free in CrossGen's new comics on the web program.


Ruse #5
writer: Mark Waid, artists: Butch Guice and Mike Perkins

Reviewed by Charlie Wentling

This is the best issue of Ruse to date. For everyone who was disappointed that the book was not strictly a mystery series, here is the issue for you. All of the magic and gargoyles and sigils are gone, leaving a nice self-contained murder mystery.

Simon Archard is gone as well, and Emma is trying to find him while keeping up the appearance that he is still around. Whenever the criminal element of Partington knows that Simon is gone, the crime rate goes up. With the assistance of many of Simon's agents, Emma tries to solve the murders of four prostitutes. She also hits it off with Detective David Kingsley, who is assigned to the case.

The reader does not have enough information to solve the case before Emma does, but Waid provides a few clues which make it fun to try to figure things out. Lots of information about the setting and the characters is cleverly inserted into the story. Simon's disappearance is really just a device to let Waid focus on Emma.

The dialogue is excellent and the art beautiful. You really should be reading this.


Spider-Man's Tangled Web #11
Open All Night
writer: Darwyn Cooke, artists: Cooke and Jay Bone

Cooke's work isn't to everyone's taste. Here he uses an even more cartoony style than usual, which may turn some readers off. But it's only fitting because for this Valentine's Day tale, Peter Parker might as well be Archie in a spider-suit.

While once again finding himself in battle with The Vulture (The Riddler of the Marvel Universe, methinks, only he keeps beating Spider-Man), Peter is blissfully unaware that he has plans for Valentine's Day. Quickly knocking Spider-Man unconscious, Cooke focuses on the relationships at the Daily Bugle.

An intern finds the awkward beginnings of a romance with a bold barrista, while two intrepid girl reporters both prepare for dates with Peter. By cartoon standards, these two are smokin'.

It all makes sense, and works out well in the end for a fairly charming change of pace. So charming, in fact, that for 20 pages I almost forgot that I'm still irritated about Mary Jane leaving. It's been a good month for Spider-Man to be fun again.


Ultimate Marvel Team-Up #13
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artist: Ted McKeever

For whatever reason, I missed reviewing the first part of this story last month, so let me begin by saying that the Ultimate Dr. Strange may have the key ingredient to making the character work. He legitimately doesn't know everything there is to know about being Sorcerer Supreme; he simply inherited the title.

Without invalidating anything that has happened to "our" Dr. Strange, this one could be dropped in to the regular MU and maybe hold onto a series. Or at least our interest.

That said, Bendis also manages to introduce a Dr. Strange without once mentioning Baron Mordo. And a Wong who isn't inscrutable, or any more knowledgeable than the new Doctor. All of it also stays true to the young kid in the red and blue suit, utterly freaked out that they took off his mask, even though he really has nothing to fear.

McKeever's art fits the story perfectly, as almost all of these Team-Up stories have. It will be a shame to see the book disappear outright, but maybe Marvel can coax an occasional special out of Bendis and whichever creators he deems fit; it will be one book worth waiting for.


Ultimate X-Men
It Doesn't Have To Be This Way
writer: Mark Millar, artists: Andy Kubert, ? Miki

Before launching into the next major storyline, Millar and company take an issue to pause, reflect, catch new readers up to speed, and remind us just how different these Ultimate guys are from the ones we used to know.

It's a worthy effort, and this issue could nicely ease a fan of the movie into reading the book. Framed as an article by Charles Xavier, we see his "dream" forced into curriculum in a way that somebody should have thought of before. Of course if you want to prove mutants can be useful members of society, you don't dress them up in spandex; you have them volunteer.

Sometimes we get so bogged down in the action forest we lose sight of the character trees.

There's also a disturbing ease with which The Brotherhood and The X-Men interact. If you see them as being like political parties rather than good and evil (or is that an oxymoron?), it makes a weird sense. And though we really haven't seen much of this version's past, it still gives a chill to hear Pietro and Wanda call Charles "Uncle."

Yes, as more than hinted before, something very machiavellian is going down with this Xavier, and watching it unfold is far more interesting than it has a right to be. For some, this might be heresy, but it's intriguing to see Charles be a little gray without becoming Onslaught or even Cassandra Nova.

Sometimes people are bastards with the best of intentions, and nobody writes those guys like Mark Millar.


The Ultimates #2
writer: Mark Millar, artists: Bryan Hitch and Andrew Currie

If you missed the first issue, don't worry. Any and all important information gets recapped on the first page. Even though it was a good Captain America story, the only part that affects this issue is that whole attacking the missile thing, and we all know that one.

Now we see General Nick Fury, cleverly disguised by Hitch as Samuel L. Jackson, gathering scientists around him to create new super-soldiers. Appropriately enough, he means by any means necessary, which explains why Bruce Banner hulked out for a while, and why Henry Pym has the okay to experiment on himself.

With the world situation being what it is, Millar's explanation for this group forming is not only reasonable, it almost makes one wish it could really happen. Almost.

Despite seeming to start from scratch with these characters, Millar does not invalidate what Bendis established with The Hulk and Iron Man. Instead, he makes these logical next steps in their lives. If he can actually maintain the sense of morality that they seem to have, The Ultimates will be able to side-step comparisons to The Authority. 'Tis a steep slope, though, that they walk on with Millar.

As much as it keeps drawing the comparisons to The Authority, Hitch's work is so welcome. He has really moved away from being another Alan Davis, into a style with scope of its own.

Once again, Marvel has knocked one out of the park. For the sake of our budget, they've got to stop doing that.


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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