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!

Birds of Prey #42
Karen's Story
writer: Chuck Dixon, artists: Glenn Fabry and Sandu Florea

DC has been doing this book a great service in the last few months. Not only has it been given a hot new cover artist in Phil Noto and served the crossovers the best in terms of plot development, but now with this little break from the Batbooks, we get the rare treat of Glenn Fabry doing interior work.

This month reveals the "incident" that soured the relationship between Oracle and Powergirl, and true to most of Powergirl's appearances, one has to think that Karen Steele needs to get over herself. But then, when only Hawkman has a messier continuity than you do, it would be hard to get through the day. As usual, Powergirl gets overconfident in a difficult situation, with tragic consequences. However, Oracle has to shoulder the blame, for making a tricky political decision.

Dixon writes both characters very well, and if anything, this issue proves that somebody needs to take a close look at Powergirl and straighten her out. Maybe when the JSA gets out of that Ultra-Humanite-induced reality, Goyer and Johns can develop her. And I do mean her character.

With a TV series on the horizon, DC has made a wise choice in backing this book. Aside from the multimedia tie-in, this is one well worth the effort.


Black Widow: Pale Little Spider #1
writer: Greg Rucka, artist: Igor Kordey

Thank heavens that Greg Rucka is an excellent writer, with an eye toward serious examination of crime in Russia, or this book would make me feel really dirty. For those who are still staring at the cover by Greg Horn (mysteriously never hired to do a cover for, say, Deadshot or The Incredible Hulk), know that Kordey delivers some nice work on Yelena Bolova, the new Black Widow, in tight leather. But he also makes every character look Russian, which proves a nice eye for detail, and a somewhat different look than his work on New X-Men.

For those who picked up this book to read, know that Rucka has begun an intriguing, if seamy, tale. The Black Widow's mentor has been found murdered, which in itself would be terrible for Yelena. Worse, though, he died in a whorehouse, where it looks like he also may have been funneling secrets to any interested buyers. The answer to which secrets strikes close to home.

The previous mini-series with Yelena have both involved Natasha Romanov (the current "American" Black Widow) messing with her head, so it's good to see the new spider-lady on her own. Still she suffers from an inferiority complex in the shadow of Natasha, a complex which Rucka would do well to work her through. How much better did Green Lantern get once he finally stopped worrying about how Hal would have done things?

Maybe that's comparing apples and limes. But let's face it: if low self-esteem were actually interesting and attractive, there would be no time to run this website, so busy with drinking and wenching would we be.


CrossGen Chronicles #7
writer: Tony Bedard, artists: Rudy Nebres and Jeromy Cox
reviewed by Charlie Wentling

Obregon Kaine, from the series Negation, is probably the best character that CrossGen has created. So it should come as no surprise that an issue focusing solely on him would be one of the best issues they've published to date.

The story tells Kaine's history from his own point of view. Any ties to Negation come only at the end, and this would be a great issue to check out even if you know nothing about CrossGen. Kaine starts in basic training. His skills and leadership abilities show up early, and he is soon leading the Paladin platoon of the Frontline Guard. The army is trying to put down the rebellion of three colony worlds.

Although this could technically be considered science fiction, nothing happens that couldn't happen here and now. The plot is secondary to character. The relationship between Kaine and his best friend Gral Radim is explored, and it takes a sickening turn as events unfold. Other themes include why good men can do bad things in war and what motivates soldiers to kill each other.

The art by Rudy Nebres is excellent and perfectly suited to this story. This is a comic worth seeking out.


Crux #13
writer: Chuck Dixon, artists: Steve Epting and Rick Magyar
reviewed by Charlie Wentling

Chuck Dixon takes over Crux this month, and he does a good job of building on Mark Waid's first year of stories. This issue is clearly a transition, as can be seen in dialogue like "Where do we go from here?" Waid left at a good time though so this doesn't seem out of place.

I was a bit disappointed that more wasn't made of Tug's gruesome blinding at the end of last issue. It seems that he will be better soon. Are his eyes growing back or what?

The most interesting development is that Galvin is still in communication with his twin Gammid, who underwent the Transition a couple of months back. It seems that the Transition isn't all that it was made out to be. Some hints have been dropped that the Transition has to do with the connection to the Negation universe.

Verityn is having some strange dreams that lead him and Tug to an underground cavern. Danik doesn't appear at all, and it looks like there may at least one new regular character added. This is a good jumping-on point for new readers.


Daredevil #32
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artist: Alex Maleev

When this storyline started, we knew that Bendis was out to shake things up. The Kingpin became the bed-ridden invalid, while his wife, traditionally the one "kept out of the business," stepped up with a vengeance. As each issue unfolded, new revelations quietly surprised. And now this.

The depth of Vanessa's wrath is surprising, and, cleverly, played out passionlessly, off-screen. Instead, most of this issue is an FBI debriefing, in which some intriguing facts about Matt Murdock are unveiled to the proper authorities. And at the end of it all, that comic book hyping cliché is true: Daredevil's life can never be the same again.

In some ways, this storyline has been agonizingly slow, but that has only served to let Bendis bring its details into sharp focus. As in his early work, he takes the time to show us how things slowly spin out of control. This arc has a gritty, realistic feel to it, and will warrant reading a few times over again to truly appreciate it.

Once again, Maleev delivers some great art, with a strong sense of photorealism that still shows fine pencils.

After this issue, though, I have to wonder: has anyone in Gotham City ever superimposed a cowl over a photo of Bruce Wayne's face?


Gotham Knights #28
The Mortician
writer: Devin Grayson, artists: Roger Robinson and John Floyd

All due credit goes to Grayson for creating the creepiest villain in Gotham. Oh, sure, Black Mask had an unhealthy obsession with his own dead parents, and R'as Al Ghul once stole the corpses of The Waynes, but until now, no one has actually re-animated their own parents for criminal purposes. Or even benign ones.

So The Mortician officially gave me the heebie-jeebies. Granted, he may believe that he is doing a social good, but someone should talk to him about his methods. Luckily for Gotham City, someone is trying.

While that goes on, Tim Drake spends a lot of time doing the boring part of detective work, but with a potentially rich pay-off. While not making this a crucial chapter in the Bruce Wayne: Fugitive storyline, it's balanced so well against the main plot that you won't regret picking it up.

In the back-up "Black and White" slot, Dick Giordano proves that he's still one of the best storytellers in the business. His style may not have evolved since the seventies, but that's because there was nothing wrong with it in the first place.


JSA #35
Lightning Storm
writers: David Goyer & Geoff Johns, artists: Leonard Kirk and Keith Champagne

What gives this current arc a kick is that quietly, without actually calling it such, Goyer and Johns are delivering an old-style JLA/JSA team-up. The two teams are forced to fight each other, usually in a new reality for both of them, while new heroes arise to save the day. Yep. It fits the pattern. Call it Crisis on Earth-Humanite.

Also fitting the tradition, it focuses on a young boy who currently seems powerless. Though Jakeem Thunder has been part of the JSA for a while now, it has taken Johns some time to give the kid a chance to shine. (And also drop the stupid stereotypical characterization given him by Grant Morrison - that of having a mouth that would shame Ozzy Osbourne.) As befits the catalyst for this story, it's clear that Jakeem will be the one who makes things right, and because Goyer and Johns are such great writers, it won't seem forced.

Though Hourman is pretty much the character all previous appearances pointed towards him being, the new Crimson Avenger is a surprise. There's something really weird going on with her, and from her few cryptic statements, much more to the role of Avenger than anyone would have thought. (Though I'll admit it may bug me as much as the thought of The Crimson Avenger donning his costume after a vision of Superman's death. Who wrote that?)

For solid superhero action without any forced angst, this book delivers.


The Megalomaniacal Spider-Man #1
story and art by Peter Bagge

What if Uncle Ben had not really been the paragon of virtue that Peter Parker has built him up to be? A clever if unlikely question to ask.

But Bagge plays things a little more slyly than that. Using that as an excuse to get this bizarre book rolling, it quickly becomes obvious that he's really asking: what if Peter Parker had followed original artist Steve Ditko's path? And then gotten it wrong?

Yes, for what appears to be a funny book, this has a startling amount of depth to it. And for all Bagge's loose style, it also isn't that funny. There are a few laughs, some obvious and some not. But there's always a point to everything that's going on, following Peter from disillusionment to objectivism to becoming the CEO of Spider-Man, Inc., at no point being the hero we know. Some fans will probably be outraged.

Good. We need to be shaken up now and then. But more than that, we need to have it done without feeling like cheap shots have been taken. Bagge avoids that entirely.

And for the record: Megalomania = A psychopathological condition characterized by delusional fantasies of wealth, power, or omnipotence. I'm still not sure how much that fits, even as a joke title, but bless Bagge for making me ponder it.

It may not be the most outright entertaining book on the stands this week, but it is the smartest.


New X-Men #125
writer: Grant Morrison, artist: Igor Kordey

There has been some controversy over the past few weeks about how little the supposed regular artist Frank Quitely has actually drawn of this book. After reading Black Widow this week, it's apparent that Kordey has tried to make his own style resemble Quitely's as much as possible, keeping the book consistent to one vision. By now, though, Marvel really ought to let Kordey loose. Forget Quitely; New X-Men has a regular artist, and he's good.

Unfortunately, Morrison has not given him much new to work with. After a few pages in which Scott and Xorn free themselves (and possibly the Shi'ar Empire) from Cassandra Nova's influence, the rest of the book just bides its time until next issue. Morrison's JLA was almost too packed with action, brimming with new ideas every few panels. In his effort to make the X-Men more "real" (meaning so quirky they'd fit in a David E. Kelley drama except they're almost all too ugly), the pacing has suffered. (Kind of like that sentence after that parenthetical joke.)

Granted, the stage has been set for a spectacular showdown. It just feels like it still could have fit in this issue, too. Just cut The Beast's out of the, ahem, blue character revelation. (Is it meant to be shocking? All it really makes me wonder is why Beak looks so much like a chickenhawk.).

The dazzle has faded somewhat. Bring it back.


Scion #23
writer: Ron Marz, artists: Jim Cheung and Don Hillsman II
reviewed by Charlie Wentling

Ethan and his friends arrive on Tournament Isle and after a brief struggle manage to overpower the Raven forces that were in control. Ethan now has a sanctuary for the lesser races, but he knows that holding onto it will much more difficult than capturing it was. Ethan frees some imprisoned Heron men, but they quickly turn on him when they see that he isn't going to help his family against Bron. You can feel his pain when one of them refers to him as a traitor.

The war continues to build up to the rematch of Ethan and Bron. The entire armies of both sides are headed for each other, with Tournament Isle right in the middle. We also learn more about the mysterious Nadia. She will probably move into the spotlight after the current story ends.

The pacing continues to be a little bit slower than I would like, but things keep moving forward towards a definitive ending to the past two years of story. Jim Cheung, Don Hillsman and colorist Justin Ponsor show once again why they are the best art team working today.


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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