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!

Alias #7
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artists: Michael Gaydos and Bill Sienkiewicz

In a book dealing with the fringes of superhero society, it's only a matter of time before Jessica Jones crosses paths with a sidekick. And who better than Marvel's ultimate sidekick, Rick Jones? They might even be related; at least that's what Jessica's new client thinks.

But the client also thinks she's married to Rick, and though she has some details right about his life, she also could just be a loony who read his book titled (what else?) Sidekick.

So once again we're in a grey area with the MAX line: those who read Captain Marvel are probably shouting she's a loony. But Bendis doesn't have to play with established continuity. So I don't know.

What we do know is that Jessica seems to be making better peace with her superhero past, even as Rick (if it is Rick) seems tortured by it. Along the way we get a glimpse of her relationship to her mother, which is like a lot of mother/daughter relationships. It's the little details that make this book feel so real, even if it does have people in spandex in it.

Gaydos' usual solid work gets a little boost from Sienkiewicz, who provides spot illustrations for a couple of excerpts from Sidekick. Has Peter David written any bits of Rick's memoir before? Bendis does an excellent job with it, begging the better question - is there room for somebody to actually write a complete Sidekick, or is that just way too geeky to be worth publishing?


Batgirl #26
writer: Scott Peterson, artists: Vincent Giarrano and Jesse Delperdang

Last month Batgirl did the unthinkable by defeating Lady Shiva. Such an act of sacrilege cannot go unavenged, especially with a shrine to Shiva smack dab in the middle of Gotham City.

The only problem is that Batgirl has barely been conscious in four days, watched over by an anxious Spoiler and a bemused Oracle. When one of Shiva's acolytes takes a hostage and demands a confrontation, only The Spoiler can step in.

In some ways, this tale defies logic. Stephanie Brown has not been training her whole life, and it's only been a few months since Batman fully accepted her into the circle, yet she boasts to Barbara that this is what she has been trained to do.

Oh, sure, she has her private doubts, manifested by a ghostly Batgirl who alternately advises and taunts her. (The two have an uneasy partnership, forced upon them, it seems, simply because they're both teenaged girls.)

We know where the story is going to go, because it has nowhere else to go. It's a bit fun, with mostly more excuses to let Giarrano draw splashy fight scenes (inexcusably wasting the first three pages on two panels that he had already drawn last issue). Guys, stop letting the idea that a young girl can kick your ass be enough to draw attention to this book. There has to be more, and all too often, there isn't.

When did comics move from the "bad girl" phase to the "little girl" one?


Detective Comics #768
writer: Greg Rucka, artists: Steve Lieber and Mick Gray

It's a whole new era for Batman. No longer bothering with a secret identity, he can devote himself full-time to crime. And in our first glimpse, Rucka gives us a crime that seems rooted in the real world, as Batman tackles a drug ring.

Somebody has not only brought a fresh supply to the Gotham heroin trade, but they're also poisoning it. Batman does what he can, and even stops to show compassion toward a junkie. He has not severed his ties to the old life completely, but already the suspense is building toward whatever point he realizes he needs Bruce Wayne as much as Superman needs Clark Kent (okay, okay - so the big guy in blue questioned that a couple of plot lines, too…).

The Lieber and Gray team give us a clean, spare look to the Dark Knight and his surroundings. They're also one of the few art teams to make it look like Batman's costume is some kind of cloth, and not just paint sprayed onto his body. It's a welcome change for the book, though their style may hit a bump when it comes to drawing meta-humans. Just check out the last page.

Winick and Chiang's back-up, Josie Mac continues to be a high quality piece, and certainly whets the appetite for the just announced GCPD book from Rucka and Brubaker. Hopefully, they'll let Winick play every now and then.


Doom Patrol #6
writer: John Arcudi, artist: Tan Eng Huat

With a quick legal complication, everything we know about this new Doom Patrol so far has been thrown up in the air. According to Metamorpho, Robotman died four years ago, and upon receiving the news, Cliff Steele simply vanished into thin air.

Unfortunately for the readers, so does Metamorpho, his only "appearance" here being in the form of an e-mail. With Cliff gone, so are Jost's rights to the team name, and so "his" Doom Patrol quickly disperses, since the funding is gone.

And frankly, it's out of character. Yes, Dr. Light has always been characterized as preferring to stay home with her children rather than be a hero, when she's been characterized at all. (Why does DC bother using her when every appearance ends on the same note?) But Ralph Dibny loves a mystery, and this is one big one. Not only that, Ralph married an heiress, so money is not an issue for him. Or shouldn't be.

Right now the book has become a little bit arcane, referring to a Smoky Mountains adventure that ended up with the second Doom Patrol dead (as opposed to the first team, which also died). There's nothing in this title right now that makes it an easy recommend to a new reader, and that's a shame.

Even if this all turns out to be a side trip to an alternate reality, as has been standard for Doom Patrol incarnations, Arcudi makes it seem like you should know a lot about the team's past - as well as the irony of using Metamorpho, who is dead.

Most sincerely dead, in fact, like this book is going to be if it doesn't somehow make the weirdness accessible.


Exiles #11
Play Date
writer: Judd Winick, artists: Jim Calafiore and Eric Cannon

A few issues back, Winick did a wise thing by alluding to a lot of missed adventures. This makes a perfect excuse for fill-ins, and already, he's using it. Guest artists step in to illustrate this tale of the Exiles in Acapulco.

Because it's essentially the Exiles on vacation, Winick takes the opportunity to build up their characters in repose. Some poignancy goes along with this, as last issue the team lost Thunderbird.

But mostly it allows for Calafiore to draw Sunfire in a lot of lingerie, while Morph ogles.

Actually, these two get the most character development, and it's somewhat interesting. Sunfire has a shocking confession to make to Morph. Okay, it's not shocking, especially since we haven't had that much chance to get to know these characters in the first place. And it's also one of those things that has gone beyond startling in comics, and has now simply become trend. A shiny nickel for the first to guess what Sunfire's dark secret is, knowing Winick's background.

Still, it's a good read for a book that has been surprisingly solid. Calafiore has never been an artist that I've responded well to, but he has his fans, and they'll want this book.


The First #17
writer: Barbara Kesel, artists: Andrea Di Vito and Rob Hunter
reviewed by: Charlie Wentling

Pyrem is being held captive by the forces of House Sinister. Trenin and Yala decide to mount a rescue operation. They cross the Eidolon Rift despite the fact that they are much weaker in Sinister territory. Mayhem ensues.

Seahn shows his true colors in a clever scene that illustrates his shifting loyalties. We also see a blatant connection to Sojourn for all of those people who have been ignoring obvious clues over the past months. Persha is finally successful in her quest to locate Altwaal. Now the question becomes "Will Altwaal care about anything she has to say?"

Gannish makes an appearance after being missing in action for a while. This time he discovers the existence of the Negation, which should have a large impact on the future direction of this book.

The only thing that rubbed me wrong about this issue was the ending. We see what looks like the death of a major character, but I think Kesel is being intentionally misleading. The art on the last few pages is also a bit confusing.


Hawkman #1
First Impressions
writer: Geoff Johns and James Robinson, artists: Rags Morales and Michael Bair

The Winged Wonder is back! Okay, so he's been back for several months over in JSA, but fan excitement has been building for so long for this solo book that it deserved an exclamation. The big question remains: is it worth the wait?

Oh, yes.

Johns and Robinson nicely lay out all the basics of this series, so anyone not reading JSA (who are you, and what are you doing on this site?) can still get up to speed fairly quickly. Hawkman fights alongside the team. Hawkgirl has a pressing mystery in the city of St. Roch. Despite the similarity in names, the two heroes are not getting along well. And anything else you might need to know about Carter Hall gets subtly recapped by a museum curator.

In addition, this book has already begun exploring what makes Hawkman more than just a guy who flies and talks to birds. (Actually, he hasn't really done that since he returned, has he?) For some, he's just an aerial Aquaman. But that's selling the guy short.

It's clear that Johns and Robinson have a lot of twists and turns ahead, and they're matched by the superb team of Morales and Bair. A long time ago, Morales made a brief splash with The Black Condor, and few people draw winged heroes with the majesty he brings. And okay, he just rocks, with a layout style reminiscent of Ditko, encased in a Gene Colan-like crispness. Maybe I've reached too far for the analogy. Trust me. It's good stuff.


Mystic #22
writer: Tony Bedard, artists: Fabrizio Fiorentino and Matt Ryan
reviewed by: Charlie Wentling

Corrupt cop Manion meets with a mysterious man identified only as the Duke. Something about Giselle has drawn the Duke's attention, and he wants to be introduced to her. At the same time, Giselle is approached by Devereaux, another police officer who is investigating Manion.

I'm not sure what all the police are doing in a comic about a mystic. And for that matter I'm not sure where all the magic has gone. This series should be playing more to its strengths, the supernatural elements. The few times Giselle does use magic it seems more like a Green Lantern power ring.

The villains aren't very threatening. Without some sense of danger or suspense things start to get a bit dull. Giselle does consult briefly with the spirits of the Guild Masters, and this is the best scene in the issue. These characters are more interesting than the rest of the supporting cast.

The current story line with Giselle struggling against her dark side needs to pick up the pace.


Powers #18
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artist: Michael Avon Oeming

The pressure is really on. I need to write something pithy in hopes I can get quoted on the cover. All I can really say is that this may be the book I look most forward to each month.

Not only does Bendis write some of the best police dialogue around, mixing it seamlessly with the superhero milieu (fancy word, Bendis, COME ON!!), but he also has the best letters page ever.

In the first few issues, I ignored it, but now I can't. He makes me laugh out loud with the letters page every month, and now I'm afraid to e-mail in and get that interview he promised last summer in San Diego and at WizardWorld Chicago. He'll mock me in his pages. And I'll deserve it.


By the way, there's a nice wrap-up to the latest storyline this issue, too, raising the issue of what happens when the police work with a superhero to solve a crime. The legality isn't explored (yet), but you can bet there must be some annoying bureaucracy involved. What Bendis and Oeming focus on instead is a tragedy for Christian, once more sneaking in characterization so cleverly you didn't see it coming.

So for gosh sakes, buy this book.


Superman #180
The House of Dracula
writer: Jeph Loeb, artists: Ian Churchill and Norm Rapmund

As those who read our interview with Loeb know, he has become closely involved with a certain vampire slayer. So he can be forgiven for combining obsessions this month, and for all the in-jokes. Besides, Jimmy Olsen is right: "Where Do We Go From Here?" really is a catchy tune.

What shouldn't be forgiven is that once again, Superman has to be pretty much an idiot in order to make the story work. Yes, it's in homage to Bram Stoker, but still - even alien Superman should think something might be wrong when his host has marble-white skin and red eyes. Maybe the anthropomorphic wolves roaming the mists could be a clue.

At least Lois has the good sense to call him Superman even when in an hypnotic state. The secret must be kept, after all.

Okay, it's meant to be a bit silly, and as such it works as a good change of pace after the last few really grim issues. And Loeb does manage to drop a line furthering the Lois subplot which had me so annoyed. It turns out to be a pretty big (and logical bombshell); please, writing team, don't bobble it.

Filling in once again for Ed McGuinness (who still delivers a cool cover) is Ian Churchill. It's solid work, but haven't we all tired of the Image look?


Ultimate Spider-Man #20
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artists: Mark Bagley and Art Thibert

Okay. The Crocodile Hunter? Campy fun. Kraven The Hunter? Creepy. Can the Ultimate Marvel Universe figure out the difference? Apparently not, and it's a pretty big false note ringing throughout this storyline.

While Peter takes on Dr. Octopus, Kraven tapes the introduction for the coming battle between him and Spider-Man. Because Spider-Man's location is so public (he interrupted a press conference), Kraven has chosen to forgo the hunt, and just savagely beat Spider-Man the second he sees him.

In the course of this issue, Bendis plants the seeds for some important turns. Most of Spidey's battle has been caught on tape, and he is seen going out of his way to protect the press from Doc Ock. The police may still distrust him in the future, but he should gain some media allies. Conversely, because of this being broadcast, Mary Jane actually sees the danger Peter puts himself in for the first time, and she does not look comfortable with it. (Credit Bagley and Thibert for making this so clear.)

Aside from being a solid book, notice how economical it is. Bagley and Thibert cram a lot of panels into each page, rarely giving in to the urge to splash. Not just a way to bring new readers in, Ultimate Spider-Man is laid out the way comics used to be on a regular basis, proving that some guys can make them like they used to.


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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