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!

The Adventures of Superman #603
Baby Talk
writer: Joe Casey, artist: Carlos Meglia

There's a big baby with almost limitless power posing a problem for Superman. For once, we're not talking about Lex Luthor, though he does make a quick appearance upfront to remind us that he now knows Superman's secret identity. (And where is the scene where he kicks himself for rejecting that explanation back in 1985?)

Instead, it's an actual baby with a suspiciously familiar "S" curl who floats in mid-air and discharges ever more powerful blasts of energy. Wisely, however, Casey and Meglia play this as an actual newborn (even has that weird white slough that they never show you on ER) who, quite naturally, has no control over his powers.

Though I've never liked Meglia's style, it works here. Maybe it's his inking himself that works, or perhaps we've all become accustomed to people drawing the super-books in an exaggerated cartoony style. The only character that doesn't really work is Luthor, drawn far too much like the Kingpin for comfort.

And just like last week, there's a last page secret villain revelation that wins my applause.


Batgirl #27
writer: Kelley Puckett, artists: Phil Noto and Robert Campanella

Once again, movement in the overall crossover happens here, and not in an actual book starring Batman. Luckily, this issue proves pretty nifty, and worth the attention.

Cassandra discovers a vital, if gruesome, clue to the mystery, with Puckett laying the groundwork from the opening pages. Whoever decided that Batgirl and The Spoiler should hang together made a good call; they provide perfect foils for each other in very real ways. So vocal in her conviction that Batgirl broke her jaw, the chatty Spoiler earns a quiet plea from Oracle: "next time, really break her jaw." Aside from wearing costumes, both girls seem like real girls.

Throwing The Spoiler in the mix allows Puckett to excel at characterization, and allows his storytelling to stand out in relief. Appropriately for this title featuring a girl with speech problems, much of the action occurs in silence, and guest artist Noto rises to the occasion. His animation skills are welcome, as this book often suffers from overkinetic and often incomprehensible fight layouts.

The only drawback is in Campanella's inking; it's solid work, but it restricts Noto's lush pencils (as demonstrated on Birds of Prey covers). Clearly, editorial fiat has declared that all Bat-books must have a sameness to them. Gee, too bad Vince Colletta isn't around today…(and that joke just made me seem really, really old).


Green Arrow #13
writer: Kevin Smith, artists: Phil Hester and Ande Parks

Last month's love fest between The Hawk and The Arrow was too good to be true. Angered by Ollie's bedding of Black Canary, Carter Hall does his best to rip Green Arrow a new one. Thankfully, he left his mace back in his quarters.

Smith shines to the chance to use political epithets, and the heated exchange between the two heroes is some of the best, if most infantile, dialogue he's used in this series. Of course, all of this serves as an excuse to awaken Dinah Lance and let Hester and Parks draw her in the altogether. ("Hee, hee! Black Canary's nekkid!" drooled a Fanboy Planet editor who is not me.)

And all of that segues into Smith's real final arc, as the villainous Onomatopoeia continues killing small-time masked vigilantes. From the second an off-camera Regis Philbin fondly describes Green Arrow as such, you know he's bound to become a target.

This touch has also allowed Smith to create some clever throwaway heroes, throwaway because they die within panels of their first appearances. A lot of DC writers have been playing with this idea in recent months, that their universe is chock full of small-timers no less appreciated by their citizens even if we don't read about them. It makes sense.

Appropriately, it seems that Smith will be leaving with a bang. And perhaps a pfffffftttttt. And maybe an a-OOO-gah.


Green Lantern #149
Hand of God, Day Four
writer: Judd Winick, artists: Dale Eaglesham and Rodney Ramos

Things sure have gotten quiet with Ion around. Too quiet. And though the cover of this month's issue features a rather p.o'd Superman, Winick depicts him as more saddened by Kyle's power surge than anything else.

It's not because the JLA gets a kick out of beating up the bad guys. (Well, maybe Plastic Man and Batman do…) It's because in both the comic book world and the real world, heroes should be inspiring, but not necessarily inspirational. As the title of the story suggest, in only four days Kyle Rayner has become god to far too many people. (Oh, how I'd like to see Winick tackle a story or two about these actual cults.)

No real action takes place. Kyle even turns back an alien invasion without so much as twitching an eyebrow. But Winick and company spend 22 pages in a thought-provoking examination of the meaning of brightly-costumed heroes, and what it might really mean to be one of them.

#150 promises one heck of a ride.


Harley Quinn #19
Going Out With A Bang
writer: Karl Kesel, artists: Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson

With all the signs of a book axed with little notice, Harley Quinn comes to an end. It still delivers everything we've come to expect from the book: wacky (if psychotic) humor, fine-looking (if psychotic) women, and a psychotic (if psy - er) sense of fun.

It just feels rushed. In just a couple of panels, Poison Ivy gets dispatched by The Thorn, with none of the exploration of either character that their confrontation promised. Superman appears in an act of deus ex machina to wrap things up. And we see far too little of the Bizarro Harley, though granted, her character might have worn thin given more time.

But we'll never know. Just two weeks ago Michael Goodson and I marveled that this book had reached 18 issues. And now, with the 19th, it's gone.

Alas, Harley, we hardly knew ye. But by now she'd tell me to shaddup already.


Just A Pilgrim #2
To The Stars By Hard Ways
writer: Garth Ennis, artist: Carlos Ezquerra

From the beginning of the first Pilgrim mini-series, we had reason to think that this post-apocalyptic horror comic might impart a message of hope. We were younger then, more trusting. After having seen the end of that, it's hard to read this second series with anything other than a deep, deep sense of foreboding. We know damned well that just because we're reading another character's diaries, that doesn't mean that anybody's going to come out of this alive. Or any body, for that matter.

Oh, Ennis might throw us a curveball, but it doesn't look good. Even with a cobbled-together space shuttle, it's doubtful that this Garden of Eden will spread new life, unless you count the sliders.

But it's deliciously grotesque and disturbing, so I'm stuck. The Pilgrim remains a great character, little Maggy breaks my heart, and already, I'm afraid to eat sausages.


Lab Rats #1
Game Space
creator, writer, and artist: John Byrne

Once upon a time writer/artist John Byrne was the hottest of the hot. Everything he touched turned to gold. Few noticed the secret of his success: taking the best of what worked in "classic" comics and turning it upside down. When it became obvious, his star cooled while his ego remained big. (Head…still…reeling…from…Wonder Woman…run…)

This time out, Byrne seems to be stealing from his own Next Men concept, but that seems too easy a comparison. Instead, Lab Rats is more likely an updating of the old Simon and Kirby boy groups, with a couple of girls thrown in for modernity's sake. So far, no one actually seems to have any powers, they're all orphans, and they have a paternalistic mentor who trusts them more than they yet trust themselves.

So why isn't it better? Because they're not yet really characters; they're just odd names randomly assigned to drawings. When Simon and Kirby handed out names, it would be obvious why. Big Words used a lot of big words. Scrappy was scrappy. But the Lab Rat Poe is…doomed to die of consumption? It's hard to say.

These kids are being trained in a virtual reality simulator for vague military purposes, yet they're stuck in a scenario with dinosaurs because the computer has run amuck. In the virtual world, they do seem to have great mental abilities that don't translate to the real one, so how effective can they be?

Those who want to stick around for the next issue can find out as they face off against a monster in the real world. Let me know how it turns out.


Negation #5
writer: Tony Bedard, artists: Paul Pelletier and Dave Meikis
reviewed by: Charlie Wentling

Kaine and his companions are stranded on an icy world. They sent the lizard lady into a city to gather information. When she returns, her physical appearance has changed as she takes on the characteristics of an alien that she ate. (This strange aspect of Saurian biology was explained in the miniseries Saurians: Unnatural Selection.) Meanwhile, Komptin has arrived on the planet and taken over the search for the escaped prisoners.

The group sneaks into a spaceport and tries to steal a ship. In an amusing twist, they have trouble with the atmospheric controls and the ship fills with water. When Negation troops arrive they cause Evinlea to lose control of her powers with disastrous results. The strained relationship between Kaine and Evinlea continues to deteriorate, and we get to see Matua use his magic.

The pacing continues to be very fast. This is one of the most creative comics on the market today, both in terms of story and art, and it's worth reading.


Nightwing #68
Time & Motion
writer: Chuck Dixon, artists: Trevor McCarthy, Rob Stull, and Robert Campanella

Proof that Campanella is a talented inker: he almost makes McCarthy palatable. Unfortunately, he only inks three pages. The rest gets covered by Stull, and the combination makes this book almost unbearable. Actually, the artwork would be fine for a skateboard company, but not for a really well-written comic book.

Yes, Dixon once again works hard to shame those of us who wrote him off after Last Laugh. The pacing is tight, sensible, and Dick Grayson gets to prove that he is a worthy son and heir to Bruce Wayne. With Alfred getting to act like Alfred, instead of an offended old man, these two characters are really coming back into their own.

Better yet, another piece of the puzzle falls into place. It's almost as if DC would rather we buy these books than Batman or Detective Comics. Storywise, this was great. And thankfully, the controversial McCarthy is on his way out. But it still rankles that he was here at all.


Sigil #23
writer: Chuck Dixon, artists: Scot Eaton and Andrew Hennessy
reviewed by: Charlie Wentling

The Saurians have sent an asteroid plummeting though space on a collision course with the planet Gaia, the homeworld of the Planetary Union. Even worse, Zanniati is trapped on the asteroid. That is the simple setup for this issue. Sam must stop the asteroid before it hits the planet and kills billions of people.

The biggest problem for me is that none of the people on Gaia are continuing characters in the series, so the sense of suspense isn't there. The chain of events is interesting enough, but it almost seems like it doesn't matter what happens. Eaton and Hennessy try to add a cinematic feel to the art, with mixed results. Character development takes a back seat to the action.

Despite these qualms, this is still a quick, enjoyable read. The ending should affect things for months to come.


Sojourn #10
writer: Ron Marz, artists: Greg Land and Drew Geraci
reviewed by: Charlie Wentling

Last month Arwyn struck a deal with the dragon Shiara. Arwyn will turn over her magic bow to Shiara, and in return the dragon will kill Mordath. The deal seems simple and logical, but we all know that things can't be so easy.

Shiara begins her assault on Mordath's castle, and she manages to do some serious damage. Arwyn wants to see Mordath's dead body with her own eyes, so she and Gareth return to the site of their first meeting. Mordath's trolls struggle to stop the dragon, who stays safely out of reach in the skies.

Arwyn does find Mordath again, but the confrontation doesn't go how she planned, and it isn't resolved in this issue.

We also learn more about the trolls and how Mordath is using them to keep the Five Lands under his control. Greg Land gives each of the trolls a distinctive look, and they all have their own personalities.

Land is the star here, and he does excellent work, particularly on the dragon. Without the intimidating and majestic dragon, the story would falter. The cover is also excellent.


Ultimate Marvel Team-Up #15
Spider-Man and Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artists: Rick Mays, Jason Martin, and Andy Lee

So here we are. The penultimate Ultimate Marvel Team-Up. Framed by an alleged Chinese folktale, this issue wastes little time in getting to the action. Young sophisticated Leiko goes to Chinatown to visit a relative, only to immediately be mugged. The toughs in turn are stopped by a young grocery clerk who nobody on the street seems to want to acknowledge, though his fighting skills are formidable.

Peter and Mary Jane happen by as a Chinese gang returns to jump the clerk, but by the time Peter can find a place to change into Spider-Man (yes, the suit is still a little awkward to put on), the gangmembers have all been beaten. Oh, sure, we know that this young man is Shang-Chi, but for those unfamiliar with the character, Bendis builds a suitable aura of mystery and fighting competence. And the folktale makes for a quieter examination of Shang-Chi's motivations.

Mays and Martin's work smacks strongly of manga, no doubt purposefully. Were this story more humorous, it might fit a little better (and there are those who no doubt strongly disagree with me), but for a tale of intrigue and danger, it seems awkward. A lot of characters appear stunted and thus too comical. Andy Lee's brushwork on the folktale sequences, however, is beautiful, almost jarring against Mays and Martin, whose art is also not really promised by the David Mack cover.

It seems an odd storyline to purposely bring this series to a close, but we can give Bendis the benefit of the doubt; he's never let us down before.


X-Factor #1
The Mountaintop, part one: The Player
writer: Jeff Jensen, artist: Arthur Ransom

A young man hangs crucified from the Hollywood sign. On its own, that's an image wrought with symbolism, but the corpse also has the word "mutant" carved into his chest. News of the crime spurs the FBI into action, with its Mutant Civil Rights Task Force.

And so a new/old limited "X" title makes its debut. What makes this one worthwhile is that it actually has something new to offer. Our heroes are two normal humans, albeit "victims" of mutant violence. Catherine Gray apparently had a mutant daughter whose power triggered in infancy, immolating the child. Her partner, Aaron Kearse, had a run-in with mutants that withered his arms. Though they appear to be healing, it's still a slightly gruesome maiming.

Both of them try to shoulder past their grief and anger to do what's right, in this case investigating the death of the mutant boy. Except it turns out that he's not a mutant. If anything, he may have been a member of "The Third Species," humans who accept transplants of mutant organs in the hopes that powers will come with them.

It's an interesting exploration of the human/mutant tension told from a perspective that we don't often get. Though a couple of familiar faces pop up, they are completely peripheral, and only add to the mystery facing the FBI agents.

Jensen has laid the groundwork for an intriguing series; already his two protagonists are complex people without being over-complicated. It's a tricky balance, but Jensen maintains it. He's also thrown in some Biblical allusions, and the conceit works without becoming too heavy-handed.

Newcomer artist Ransom makes a spectacular debut here. His work blends Berni Wrightson with Alfredo Alcala, to gritty effect. Teamed with a relatively new writer, the result proves that sometimes Marvel is doing the right thing by exposing new talent on high-profile projects.


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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