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Powers #29
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artist: Michael Avon Oeming

It started as a routine super-hero murder investigation. Indeed, Bendis lulled us into a false sense of security, calling this arc by the innocuous title of "The Sell-outs" and liberally spoofing Superfriends.

Welcome to the end of the world. There's not a damned thing the characters we've come to know and love can do about it. Except, perhaps, swear and cry.

The world's greatest superhero, Supershock, has decided that it's time to finally end all the injustice and hypocrisies that he has witnessed. Most of Utah has been leveled in a nuclear explosion. The Vatican burns, as punishment for its silence on child-molesting priests.

And the fate of Iraq might make our president stop smirking for a bit.

Bendis and Oeming only offer glimpses of the powers in action. Appropriate, as the story has shifted from violent romp to despairing view of our helplessness in the face of disaster, all we see are normal people panicking. Only Deena Pilgrim has the guts to say out loud, "I am freaking the f*** out here."

It's a brilliant and sobering turn of events. If you've been fantasizing lately about how the world could use a superman right about now, the Powers team offers up that old warning: be careful what you wish for.

The only disappointment with this issue is that extra pages of story knock out the brilliant letter-column. So, really, it's still great; it's just that even if other comics still ran letters columns, this one would be the only one worth reading.


Spider-Man: Blue
writer: Jeph Loeb
artist: Tim Sale

You can count on Spider-Man: Blue getting a lavish treatment in its imminent hardback release (cheap plug: though not yet actually available, it's 30% off on Amazon). On the surface, at least, it would seem worth it.

Once again, the Loeb and Sale team have delved into a flagship character's past, and delivered something gorgeous. Sale's art perfectly straddles Spider-Man's transition from a Steve Ditko-drawn character to the fuller renderings of John Romita (the senior).

As an artist, Sale just gets stronger and stronger with each outing. For his work alone, this mini-series has been worthwhile.

However, despite the usual strong characterization from Loeb, there's nothing else really here. Yes, he makes Peter Parker and company come alive, but honestly, so has J. Michael Straczynski, and at least JMS has brought something new to the character.

To take Loeb's title metaphor to its fullest, Blue is like a high school jazz band doing a Coltrane chart. Every note from the original is there, but it never quite takes off and becomes its own unique thing.

Part of the problem lies in the vividness of Loeb's source material. Even though this time period of Peter's life was no longer being done by Ditko, it still had Stan Lee chronicling it. Say what you will about the quality of some of Lee's work, The Amazing Spider-Man still stands out as incredibly strong. All Loeb can do is a little awkward updating to explain Flash Thompson's military service without the tensions of Viet Nam behind it.

When Loeb and Sale explored Batman and Superman, they poked into corners of those heroes' lives that hadn't existed before. There's something so larger than life about the DC icons that writers can keep expanding the mythology. Even Daredevil has the creative advantage of being a character whose past most people ignored the first time around.

But Spider-Man? In some ways, he's smaller than life, and the minutiae of his day to day existence has always been integral to the character.

It also doesn't help that Loeb has stolen a structure from himself - the message to the dead lover that he used in Daredevil: Yellow. Though we are all in some ways prisoners of our past, it would be nice to see Loeb explore a character not commenting with the benefit of hindsight. As eager as I was for Hulk: Gray, it occurs to me that Bruce Banner, too, has a dead lover, and I just don't want to see this same conceit again.

If you ignored Daredevil: Yellow, or are just a Loeb/Sale fanatic (understandable), the collection will be worth your time. It's just not the best collaboration between the two. Of course, something like Superman For All Seasons is pretty darned hard to top anyway.


Ultimate Spider-Man #37
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artists: Mark Bagley and Art Thibert

Let's dispense with the terrible brown-nosing that has to be done toward Bendis. It's been done enough this week in these very reviews.

Instead, put Ultimate Spider-Man in context with the overall Ultimate line. Ignoring the limited series, or maybe because of the limited series, there's a strong sense of anything can happen. Characters we think can't die just might. And there's a strong sense of a whole to this universe that Bendis leaves humming in the background of this particular title. It's always there; we just get to ignore it for a while.

Just as Peter would like to be able to do.

Despite my hopes otherwise, Eddie Brock has been overtaken by the symbiote Venom. But at least his hatred of Peter, though still irrational, has to do with far more important history than "Spider-Man stole my job." Here, Spider-Man stole what Eddie sees as his legacy.

And unlike the regular continuity Venom, this one is psychotic and dangerous right out of the gate. Somebody is going to get killed, and there's not going to be an uneasy reformation of the character to match his popularity.

A few issues ago, Nick Fury left Peter with the chilling prophecy that when he turns 18, he will belong to SHIELD. For the first time, Peter is starting to think that won't be a bad thing, at least for society. Because of Venom, even Peter thinks he himself might be a menace.

Oh, yes - and he and Mary Jane have a heart-breaking talk about their relationship. As usual, it's real, it's honest, and it contains enough emotion to power an entire season of Smallville. There's a place for teen angst, and Bendis knows how not to overplay it.

This is the stuff, man.


Derek McCaw


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