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 #8
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artists: Michael Gaydos and Bill Sienkiewicz

Once again, Bendis has provided a premise that can only lead to a slap on the forehead and a "but of COURSE!" from fans. Many years ago the Supreme Intelligence unlocked Rick Jones' dormant mind powers (details are hazy in my memory, but it may have been all of humanity's power) and ended a galactic war.

And this was after Jones was at Ground Zero for the origin of The Hulk, and had spent time as Captain America's sidekick, but before meeting Captain Marvel and Rom The Space-Knight (though nobody likes to talk about that). So if you'd gone through all that, it just goes to reason that you might not be so much well-adjusted and perky as terribly paranoid.

By dipping into the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe, Bendis (and collaborator Gaydos) have shaken this book nicely. How does the average man on the street deal with people altered by cosmic rays, or who have hob-nobbed with alien races? If you want to read the best answer so far, then you have to pick up this book.


Detective Comics #769
Purity, part 2
writer: Greg Rucka, artists: Steve Lieber and Mark McKenna

An alter ego-less Batman faces a vicious drug war in Gotham City. Also working to stem the tide of drugs are two mysterious figures whom the Bat would just as soon not have around. One is a former ganglord hideously mutated by R'as al Ghul, the other is, well, just mysterious.

And as Batman struggles to defeat both the drugdealers and the mutant, he has a little time to pay lip service to the concept of family, a concept that he has obviously rejected himself. It doesn't play out quite as bluntly as it sounds, which stands as a tribute to Rucka's skills.

It also doesn't play out too interestingly. That's not so much the fault of the creative team here; at almost any other time this storyline would be interesting if not compelling. Pay attention to the cover, though. It says that we're reading a chapter of "Bruce Wayne: Fugitive," and not only does Bruce Wayne not appear (which we can expect and forgive), but Rucka reduces the real players in that saga to little more than cameos that repeat information already delivered in the previous issue.

Yes, Batman is driven. True, he was initially annoyed to have Sasha forced upon him. But what drives Batman is a need to protect the innocent. If only to clear the innocent Sasha, why isn't Batman trying to find out who killed Vesper? Rucka writes an off-hand comment that Wayne has left Sasha to rot in prison, and that's the only reference to this recently crucial character.

Batman fans will buy this book. But if you really are interested in this series of "crossovers" foisted upon the readership, it seems that you're best served by buying Birds of Prey. It's the only title in which characters seem to be working on the mystery.


Doom Patrol #7
O, Captain! My Captain!
writer: John Arcudi, artist: Tan Eng Huat

The most amazing thing seems to have happened, character-wise. Without Robotman, the team seems to have pulled together. Even stranger, re-assuming leadership of the group has made the new Negative Man actually …positive. Annoyingly enough, though, the personality change has all happened in between issues.

Still, it's good to see the group dynamics move forward as they try to salvage Robotman. The only cipher seems to be Changeling/Beast Boy, whom Arcudi treats as if we all already know all about him. Luckily, Huat's ever more assured artwork lends character to the jolly green polymorph.

Bigger mysteries abound, though, as Arcudi teases us more with the slightest of clues as to who the other surviving Doom Patrol member is. My money would be on Dorothy, the ape girl with the menstrual holograms (the Morrison years were weird), because pulling Rita Farr out as the survivor would mean that every single member of the "dead" superteam actually lived. That would be too big a cop-out.

Once again, the book has kept me intrigued enough for another issue.


Double-Shot #1
writers: Garth Ennis and Rob Haynes, artists: Joe Quesada, Danny Miki, and Rob Haynes

It's an interesting idea to revive this style of book, which could be used to try out fledgling talents and takes on characters. On the other hand, it's not much of a gamble when you launch it with two of Marvel Knights' flagship characters and a return to penciling by your editor-in-chief. If you have friends you've wanted to get into Daredevil or The Punisher, but who fear continuity, this would be the perfect book to hand them.

All it is is a little fun.

Ennis delivers a great little tale for Quesada to illustrate, all from the point of view of a mobster's mouth. (It makes sense, really.) You don't need to know anything about The Punisher except that he's a bad-ass, which he quickly proves on his own.

The Daredevil story by Haynes is light-hearted and fast-paced, a far cry from DD's own title right now. As I've discovered that a surprising amount of people don't know who Daredevil is (even Ben Affleck, starring in the film, has described it as "an obscure comic book"), I'll be using this story to get them hyped up for the movie. We'll explain why the Kingpin is white in the comics later…

For future issues, I hope that Marvel gives us some takes on characters that we haven't seen.


Exiles #12
Another Rooster In The Henhouse
writer: Judd Winick, artists: Mike McKone and Jon Holdredge

Oh, Marvel wants to throw off the gullible with this month's cover, featuring a completely different team. It might work, too, if we hadn't already seen them once before and been thinking sharply.

As always, it's interesting to see different takes on beloved characters. This inter-dimensional "Weapon X" features a Spider-Man who bears an uncomfortable resemblance to Carnage, and yet many of the Exiles are distrustful of their Sabertooth, because he's evil in all of their realities. They can accept a black Heather Hudson as Sasquatch, but not a good Creed? (For the record, we can consider this Sabertooth trustworthy, as he comes from Blink's Age of Apocalypse reality.)

Don't let the cover fool you; what's going on here is a mission so big that it requires two multi-dimensional teams to set it right. But as usual with this book under Winick, it's the characterization that matters more, well-done with some, and frustratingly underdone with others, particularly with Nightcrawler's daughter.

If this book has a major weakness, it is that the cast, as fun as they are, has become unwieldy. If a character isn't a direct reflection of an already existing well-known one, it's hard to keep hold on their personalities and even code-names, which is weird since Winick sacrifices so much action for reflective quiet times. (Here, the two teams take out Sentinels in an alternate "Days of Future Past" world, and it only occupies a couple of panels. In any other X-book, the procedure would be the point of the story.)

On the art side, new inker Holdredge meshes nicely with McKone, who, if you haven't noticed, is providing some of the most consistent, dynamic pencils in the business.


The First #18
writer: Barbara Kesel, artists: Andrea Di Vito and Rob Hunter
reviewed by: Charlie Wentling

This may not be the best starting point for new readers, as several ongoing storylines are advanced. And strong ties to the series Sojourn are made evident.

At the end of last issue, we were led to believe that Pyrem had been killed. As expected though, it was only lesser god Gracos that perished. Pyrem is a bit beat up but still alive. The five surviving members of House Dexter are under assault by the forces of House Sinister. Trenin tries to deal with the traitor Seahn, but he is whisked away to safety. Finally Ingra tries to put an end to all of the conflict.

Persha's quest to find Altwaal comes to a close, but she only finds an old man who identifies himself as Ayden. Though not what she was expecting, Ayden plants the seeds in Persha's head for what she must do next.

More than any other CrossGen title, The First ties into all of the other series to one degree or another and rewards people who read the whole line. It takes time to catch onto all of the plot nuances, but once you do this is a unique series. Start out with the trade paperback and go from there. It is worth the effort.


Hawkman #2
Into The Sky
writers: Geoff Johns and James Robinson, artists: Rags Morales and Michael Bair

Johns and Robinson have tapped into an aspect of Hawkman that's both obvious and long-forgotten: he's a hero perfectly suited to globe-trotting adventure in a way that bigger guns just aren't. Without forcing the issue, the writers have begun tying Hawkman to a museum background (though not necessarily as curator), and sent him to the Far East with Hawkgirl where they're about to encounter…well…that would be spoiling it.

It seems almost a shame that they have already given us the requisite appearance of The Shadow Thief (and possibly The Gentleman Ghost), but the rest of the story moves along with such a sense of wonder that it doesn't matter. There's also a nice touch in that showdown: from Carter's acknowledgment of The Shadow Thief's origin, the villain probably assumes this is the Hawkman he knows, and that gives Carter an edge.

What gives this incarnation of the title an edge is its paradoxical homage to the past while neatly encouraging us to ignore it. These Hawks have the best of everything that ever made the concept work, and so far none of the weaknesses. It even has a great tension going on with Carter still so clearly trying to make Hawkgirl remember their fated love. Even with the reincarnation angle, it feels like a very real male thing to do.

And if you think that globe-trotting with a pair of wings strapped to your back seems silly, the art team of Morales and Bair make you forget that. The Hawks fly with a strange grace, even in the jungle.

What was once the poster-child for continuity headaches is now on track to be one of DC's flagship books.

Rating: 4.5

Meridian #22
writer: Barbara Kesel, artists: Andy Smith and Mark Farmer
reviewed by: Charlie Wentling

The main story this month continues the fight between Sephie and Rho Rhustane of The First. Sephie draws Rho out of his killer ship, and the two of them proceed to beat the crap out of each other in typical comic book fashion. Fortunately, Rho is presented as an intelligent and experienced foe rather than just a big goon. He uses his power to cloud Sephie's mind then attacks with a viciousness that surprises.

Sephie's contact with Samandahl Rey back in issue #20 comes into play, but not in the way that I was expecting. Rho has his own reasons for being on Demetria, and we see a few glimpses of the larger picture at the climax of the fight.

The relationship between Sephie and Jad is explored a bit more. Right now it is in a holding phase that could stretch off into the foreseeable future. Kesel may be afraid the tension will be gone if the two of them are ever happy together. Hopefully I'm wrong, and things will move forward soon.

The guest art is by Andy Smith who does a decent job, if not quite as good as his work on Crux last month.


Mystic #23
writer: Tony Bedard, artists: Fabrizio Fiorentino and Matt Ryan
reviewed by: Charlie Wentling

The Eternal Spirits stuck inside Giselle's head are finding her recent behavior just as unseemly as her sister does. Even LeCavalier of the Nouveau Guild is beginning to lose his faith in her. Genevieve and Thierry find Giselle in a bar drinking, with broken furniture and unconscious men surrounding her. Unfortunately they aren't able to shake her out of her funk.

Her behavior is either directly or indirectly the result of her last fight with Animora. Soon another member of The First arrives to speak with Giselle, but she doesn't trust him after her experiences with Animora and Darrow. She starts sucking the energy out of him, and he agrees to take her to Ingra. Giselle somehow knows who Ingra is even though no one has ever mentioned her before.

The big conflict for next month is established as Ingra confronts Giselle. Ingra seems to know what is going on though, so I expect there will be a peaceful solution after the requisite fighting ends. This issue is much improved from the past few months. The sense of danger is back, and events seem to possess more meaning.


The Path #1
writer: Ron Marz, artists: Bart Sears and Mark Pennington
reviewed by: Charlie Wentling

The first issue opens with a confusing flashback. Todosi is still alive, and he demonstrates his skill by taking on seven swordsmen by himself. I'm not sure what the point of this scene was, but for me it emphasized that the most interesting character in the series was dead before the story began.

Back in the present, Todosi's brother Obo-san is reminiscing with Ryuichi, an old friend who inherited the position of Warlord when Todosi was killed. They debate the sanity of the Emperor and the fate of the weapon that Obo-san gained when members of The First fled. Then the funeral of Todosi begins.

Emperor Mitsumune attends the funeral, and triggers the real conflict. First, Obo-san refuses to go along with the traditional funeral ceremony because he has lost his faith in the gods. Then he refuses to turn his weapon over to the emperor. Then the issue ends on a silly note of false suspense that I won't spoil here.

The art is disappointing as well. I am a fan of Bart Sears' work, but the style he's using here doesn't appeal to me. Inker Mark Pennington is giving it a rougher look than Andy Smith did. Sears is using the same annoying layout that Butch Guice normally uses in Ruse, and it looks just as bad here as it does there. The coloring is also (intentionally) very dark, which doesn't work as well as it could.


Peter Parker: Spider-Man #42
Fifteen Minutes of Shame
writer: Zeb Wells, artist: Jim Mahfood

For a book making a total mockery of Spider-Man, this issue sure is a lot of fun. Wells goes from giving us "Streetclothes Spidey" in Tangled Web to the infamous "Beachfun Spidey" here. And it works.

A popular and puerile music channel has set up its annual Spring Break special coverage at Jones Beach in New York (yeah, like THAT would happen). Unfortunately, it looks like this is no ordinary beach, but actually The Sandman. While the network tries to cover up the disappearance of its talent, Wells and artist Mahfood take a few shots at pop culture, and a feverish Peter Parker tries to investigate without upsetting the broadcast. (Not his choice, of course.)

It won't add up to much in the end, and nothing here will change Spider-Man's life forever, except perhaps for discovering that somebody has been making Spider-Man Swim Trunks. But it does make a great change of tone from the sturm und drang of Straczynski's work over in Amazing Spider-Man.


Ruse #6
writer: Mark Waid, artists: Jeff Johnson and Paul Neary
reviewed by: Charlie Wentling

Ruse continues with another strong issue, one which would make a great template for the series as a whole. The story is mostly self-contained, but it fills in some background about Simon Archard and leaves a few plot threads that will draw readers back next month. There is action and humor, but none of Emma's time-freezing abilities.

Simon and Emma are invited to see a magician. Simon thinks the whole thing is amateurish and gets his kicks out of explaining how all of the tricks are done. Soon, however, a member of the audience is murdered by the magician. Of course nothing is as simple as it first appears. Simon is convinced that his mysterious former partner Lightbourne is behind the murder.

Waid adds a lot of nice bits, including Simon's anger at having to be rescued by Emma, but my favorite has to be the villain's stereotypical curled mustache that is only visible after his latex mask comes off.

The artwork is by new CrossGen employee Jeff Johnson. It is by far the best work I've seen from him, and his style works very well on Ruse. The Way of the Rat will be worth a look in May for the art alone.


Superman #181
The Mirror Crack'd
writer: Jeph Loeb, artists: Ed McGuinness and Cam Smith

It's April 1st, which traditionally causes headaches for The Man of Steel. Luckily for the readers, this year proves no exception.

On said morning Kal-El wakes up in Bizarro's body and vice-versa. A lot of wacky hijinks ensue as the two try to straighten out the confusion, and surprise, surprise, many of them are actually entertaining. As to who is responsible, it's a last minute revelation handled well enough that even people not deep in Superman continuity can accept and understand.

Moreover, it's a good choice for a recurring menace, if handled properly. Superman needs more enemies that can get take advantage of his not so obvious weaknesses.

A Bizarro story can be a headache to wade through, but Loeb handles it well and keeps the thought processes fairly easy to reverse. Best of all, despite its overall ramifications, the story stays self-contained, just as I've been complaining that too many of the Super-books have gotten too complex. Nicely done, and once again, well, shave my poodle.

As always, McGuinness delivers a great job, particularly well-suited to this more humorous tale. Too many artists over-complicate Bizarro's look, but McGuinness resists that temptation.


Transformers #1
Author: Chris Sarracini, Pencils: Pat Lee, Inks: Rob Armsstrong.
Reviewed by Michael Goodson

When G.I. Joe came back to comics a few months ago and sales took off like a rocket, you knew it was only a matter of time before someone tried to resurrect the other '80s cartoon icon, Transformers. Dreamwave has given us 20-something fans what they really wanted, too, by bringing back the "Generation 1" robots in disguise.

Simply put, the comic kicks booty. The art is incredible and the story is awesome. Issue #1 picks up years after the Transformer movie. The Transformers are thought to be extinct by the citizens of Earth. Even if you never watched Transformers the cartoon or saw the movie, the book is easy enough to jump into. There is also a quick back story explanation at the end.

If you were a fan of the Transformers in the '80s then this book is well worth getting. Like us however, the book has grown. Don't expect the G-rated Transformers as the book has more of a PG-13 edge to it. If you were never a fan, them pick up issue #1. It's worth the money to see if you like it.


Ultimate Spider-Man #21
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artists: Mark Bagley and Art Thibert

All of that build-up, all of that insensible acceptance of Kraven coming to town to hunt Spider-Man, and Bendis gives us the perfect confrontation, and the only resolution that really makes sense. Bear in mind that this version of Kraven is a freak in the celebrity sense, not in the scary mutant sense.

Instead of a book-length battle royale, Peter is given an unexpected chance to set the record straight. Hopefully this means a different vibe for this Spider-Man than that of misunderstood hero. In 1962 that played well; in 2002 it only works as soap opera. And Bendis is better than that.

Once again, this proves to be one of the best books on the stands.


Uncanny X-Men #405
Ballroom Blitzkrieg
writer: Joe Casey, artist: Sean Phillips

A few months ago, I dropped this book out of financial necessity and general lack of enthusiasm for the work Casey was doing. Last week the title snuck its way back into the pile, and made an impression.

Even though this issue is part 3 of a 4 part story, Casey made it fairly easy to pick up on what was going on. And he's made some interesting choices with the characters. Because Banshee spent some time as an Interpol agent, his trying to form a paramilitary mutant outfit almost makes sense, though how he got to this from kindly teacher of Generation X is unclear. But that's more Marvel's fault than Casey's; in a prior administration Generation X had become unreadable and therefore highly droppable.

Casey has woven in an arc of tragedy, too. How easily former X-Men become the very thing they despise, without even knowing it. It's a very fertile idea.

Matching Casey in visual eloquence is Sean Phillips; had I known Marvel would finally let him ink his own work, I might not have dropped the title. Now I just may have to go back.


X-Force #126
As I Die Lying
writer: Peter Milligan, artist: Mike Allred

The team has been forced into a public relations nightmare: go battle a group of federally-mutated superbeings in space, and lose. That would be unsettling enough, but the core of the team has got itself convinced that one of them is going to die.

Not one of them thinks that bringing an already dead teammate will take care of that situation.

Milligan and Allred do a great job with the pacing of this issue, nicely intercutting the unfolding origin of Dead Girl with the battle on the space station. Even a few personal revelations get dropped along the way (though, really, could Billy-Bob be any more like Eminem?).

Once again, this proves a book to look forward to reading.


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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