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Alias #20
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artist: Michael Gaydos

Do you want a good reason why Bendis is not just one of the hottest, but one of the best writers working in comics today? Look no further than this issue.

Not content to show a human side to the spandex bunch, Bendis manages to give depth to J. Jonah Jameson. The Daily Bugle publisher's near-manic hatred of superheroes still seems somewhat irrational, but his fatherly affection toward Mattie Franklin makes perfect sense. And Bendis gives him a motivation straight out of years of continuity without making it seem the slightest bit soap operatic. Even Jameson's wife gets to live and breathe here, instead of the punchline she usually provides (offscreen) in the regular Spider-Man books. For a few pages, we might even understand how these two could be together. I can't remember the last time that happened.

As for Jessica Jones, at last paired with Jessica Drew, we don't get much more clue to her character, though this arc promises to set up something big. But she still works quite well as a soft hard-boiled detective working a truly revolting case.

Gaydos throws in an artistic masterstroke, too, worth mentioning. As if having her in The Hulk isn't enough, during this arc the role of Jessica Drew is played by Jennifer Connelly. If only she could consider actually playing such a part.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this was one of the best reads of the week.


Detective Comics #780
writer: Ed Brubaker
artists: Tommy Castillo and Wade Von Grawbadger

This book should work so much better than it actually does. Though it does have all the elements of a good Batman story, including colorful villains and, of course, a mystery, even in Brubaker's hands it feels kind of tired.

Part of it may be because the mystery killer Paul Sloane isn't just in the tradition of good Batman villains; he's an outright steal from a couple.

The intense actor who got too into his roles? Done in the late eighties as a Doug Moench creation known as The Film Freak - a rarity among colorful villains because he didn't just die, he stayed dead.

As for Sloan's predilection for playing monsters, that comes right from Basil Karlo's playbook. If the name sounds familiar, it's because Karlo was the original, non-amorphous Clayface, who used make-up to disguise himself and get revenge on those who had wronged him.

Maybe Brubaker is counting on us not knowing such old stories, and he may not be wrong. But for this old fan, the retread just isn't taking hold.

It also doesn't help that the book has the look of a previous editorial direction. Castillo's art is competent but cartoonishly spare. Contrasted with the work Jim Lee is doing over in Batman, and Detective starts to look like an afterthought.

One thing that works really well, though it may cause some controversy, is the sudden transformation of James Gordon into an old man. Of course he's injured, and should be using a cane, but there's more to it than that. His entire attitude towards Batman is now that of a wise old man, watching a protégé exceed him.

Everything about their exchange in the garden demonstrates a new dynamic, planting the seeds of real character growth. Time and time again, we see such developments shrink away in the Batbooks, but this feels like it just might stay. Good thing, because it feels real and satisfying.

As you might expect, though, the back-up story, "Spore," remains incomprehensible. Thankfully, it's now over, leaving us with a ridiculous image and a bad taste in our mouths.


Exiles #23
writer: Judd Winick
artist: Kev Walker

The group whose name is the title do not appear at all in this issue. Instead, Winick pares the book down to its core concept - a revival of What If -- ? In doing so, he posits a deceptively simple idea: what if one beloved hero was not the man we all thought he was?

From there, everything changes, naturally and logically.

That one beloved hero is Tony Stark, better known, perhaps, as Iron Man. Within the pages of his own book, just before the dark age known as Heroes Reborn, the powers that be tried to convince us that Stark was evil. Only the Clone Saga seems more reviled a plotline.

But Winick makes it believable with only 22 pages, aided by our knowing that it's not regular continuity. The ripple of Tony Stark doing everything as part of a machiavellian scheme to rule the world causes almost no characters to be who we thought they were. (Except, perhaps, for Dr. Doom, and being true to form does him no good.)

Artist Walker then has rein to redesign everybody, as many issues of this book have allowed. However, most changes follow a specific need of the story, not just to provide cool new looks. The Inhumans suffer some arbitrary alterations, but let me begrudgingly admit that Walker's version of Karnak and Gorgon make a lot more sense than (dare I say it?) Kirby's. Though Walker has a scratchy style, it suits the bleakness of this story well.

Have no fear. A time-lost team does show up to set things right, but it's still not the one we know. As a result, every page is a surprise, setting up the best arc of this already fine series.


Hawkman #13
writer: Geoff Johns
artists: Ethan Van Sciver and Mick Gray

Inkers have gotten a bad rap ever since Chasing Amy. With modern reproduction techniques, in fact, some comics don't use them at all. At the risk of inserting too much personal information here, I can also admit that my wife actually called Mick Gray a tracer to his face once. (If he reads this, let us let bygones be bygones…)

Gray, however, proves himself to be one of the most versatile and accomplished inkers in the business with this issue of Hawkman. Under his inks, Van Sciver's pencils cautiously declare their own style while still maintaining the usual feel of the book. The art is different from the Morales/Bair team, but still somehow the same.

And that's a good thing for a book with such a dynamic aura straight from the pulps.

Hawkgirl still has no memory of her many lives, but thanks to the Absorbascon, buried memories of this life have come rushing to the surface. Possibly providing a key to the mystery of who killed her parents, the knowledge may have come too late.

As the Hawks return to St. Roch, Kendra gets taken in for questioning in the murder of a police officer in Austin, Texas. But police chief Nedal knows differently…

The answer to one of this book's long-standing mysteries seems a little pat, but Johns throws a few twists to keep it fresh. As ever, the uneasy relationship between Hawkman and Hawkgirl adds spice, as well as how bad this incarnation of Carter Hall seems to be at humanity in general.

Some people may still perceive this book as a poster-child for messed-up continuity. Forget those fears. Hawkman delivers solid action and fun month after month. And the character does a lot more than just talk to birds, okay?


Derek McCaw


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