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!

Action Comics #790
Man & Beast, part 2
writer: Joe Kelly, artists: Duncan Rouleau, Keron Grant, and Marlo Alquiza

At least Hippolyta is still dead. Guy Gardner returns from hell in a surprisingly Guy-like way, though it seems out of character at first. Baiting a perfect trap for Superman, the now-demonic Guy has a terrible proposition for the big blue boy scout.

After a brief rundown on what changed Guy (and at least one word balloon must now be omitted from reprints of Our Worlds At War as a result - Guy could not have been retrieved and needed Vuldarian plasma), Kelly does a skillful job building the suspense. As skillful as one can, anyway, when everything is bathed in a bright, hellish, orange.

The arc annoyed me last issue, but I should have trusted in Kelly's skills. Though this still isn't the Krypto tour de force promised by the cover, the prominence of the superdog and Kancer make more sense.

Alquiza does an excellent job of maintaining a solid look over two pencilers. It ends up being a gradual shift from Rouleau's chaotic style to Grant's more traditional one, making this the first time that the art in Action did not serve as a distraction.


Batman #602
Turning The Town Red
writer: Ed Brubaker, artists: Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens

"Sorry, Commissioner. Looks like we've got another freak on our hands."

Yes, we do. One determined to bring down the entire city of Gotham. Only time will tell if Brubaker's contribution to Batman's sideshow will have staying power, but as designed by McDaniel and Owens, Nicodemus at least looks pretty cool.

If only the story were a bit stronger. It's not a bad thing when we can keep pace with Batman, but the secret identity of Nicodemus is so obvious from the outset that clearly Batman just isn't thinking straight. Of course, without the benefit of being Bruce Wayne anymore, that could be part of Brubaker's point. And this issue isn't really about detective work; instead, it's Batman in a standard action film situation, rescuing the mayor from getting blown up on the front of a train.

In some ways, it's a throwback to the pulse-pounding days of the seventies, when you'd open a book, see a thrilling set-up, and then backtrack to how they got there as a matter of course. And in the age of slightly bloated storytelling, it's nice to see Brubaker pull it off in two issues.

If you missed last issue, however, Brubaker makes it easy to catch up. This is a solid, if not particularly memorable, book.


Captain America #1
writer: John Ney Rieber, artist: John Cassaday

The stark and quiet opening page immediately grips us. "It doesn't matter where you thought you were going today," the first panel warns. As Cassaday pans down an airline aisle, ending with the flash of a boxcutter, it continues, "You're part of the bomb now."

More than six months after the events of September 11, the true Marvel Universe features the tragedy, and gives it a context. Forget Amazing Spider-Man #36; that was knee-jerk and, understandably, emotionally overwrought. With a little distance, Ney Rieber and Cassaday can give it true weight.

And they do. Instead of the star-spangled avenger digging through the rubble, we get the man, Steve Rogers, desperately trying to find survivors, desperately trying to make sense. Spider-Man doesn't swing by, Doctor Doom and Magneto don't join forces to have a good cry. Instead, a man just tries to do the right thing.

When he finally dons his uniform, it isn't to seek vengeance. It's to assert righteousness, and remind people what it means to be an American.

The result makes Captain America more immediate, more necessary, than he has been in a long time. Granted, the book fictionalizes a culprit, so that Cap will be able to get the justice that has eluded us in the real world. (At least it won't be some masked villain.)

Without a lot of the sturm und drang usually associated with Captain America, this Marvel Knights re-launch makes for the best book of the week.


Elektra #9
writer: Greg Rucka, artist: Joe Bennett

Something more is going on here than meets the eye. Elektra has apparently turned one of Ione Katamides' women to her side. Though the story ends in this issue, it's clearly not over, and Rucka has made it just interesting enough to keep us going.

Clearly, even if Ione assumes too much about their similarities, she and Elektra are of the same coin. The difference lies in how they perceive justice, with the assassin having a greater sense of mercy.

Guest-artist Bennett underscores this in flashbacks to the actual crime committed against Katamides. The major difference between the two women appears to be how many curls lie on their foreheads. It's clean art, and laid out well. But, at least with females, the faces tend to blur into one.

As a story, though, it's satisfying, somewhat cruel, and compelling. Just like Elektra.


The Flash #185
Hide And Seek
writer: Geoff Johns, artists: Scott Kolins and Doug Hazlewood

Infected by The Rogues, beset by The Thinker. What is a Flash to do? Stay alive first. The Thinker allows it for reasons of his own, and as Wally verbally spars with him, we realize the horror of his situation. One city is in the hands of his worst enemies, and the other is all plugged in to a formerly pretty ineffective villain.

All but two of his allies have been incapacitated. (Coincidentally, those two are Johns' creations. Go figure.) With no one able to leave either city, the day may just be saved by two cops too ornery to die. But it wouldn't be Geoff Johns if he didn't throw in an extra wild card. Not surprising to some, to be sure, but still a cool twist.

As always, Johns, Kolins, and Hazlewood take us on one heck of a ride. There are no good moves The Flash can make, so it's only appropriate that salvation may (and let us stress may) come from the working class. This book has long since left being much about the powers; it's all about the people. They prove interesting month after month.


Meridian #23
writer: Barbara Kesel, artists: Steve McNiven and Tom Simmons
reviewed by: Charlie Wentling

After more than a year and a half away, Sephie finally returns to the island of Meridian. This was both inevitable and long overdue. Sephie and her friends begin rounding up the Cadadorian invaders, who don't put up much resistance. She seems taken aback by their notion that she is the villain, rather than Ilahn. She's also quite distraught over the damage that has been done to her home while she was away.

Ilahn's minion Reesha poses as an innocent bystander and gains the confidence of Jad's father. Jad remains suspicious, but Reesha is able to see where the people of Meridian are gathering. I have a bad feeling that Jad will be taken hostage and Sephie will have to swoop in and rescue him.

The issue builds to the confrontation between Sephie and Ilahn. In some sense this is just the prelude to next month's battle, but it's satisfying nonetheless. McNiven's art continues to get better every month. A major turning point is approaching soon, making this a good jumping on point for new readers.


The Path #2
writer: Ron Marz, artists: Bart Sears and Mark Pennington
reviewed by Charlie Wentling

At the end of last issue, the Emperor Mitsumune ordered Obo-San to end his own life in ritual suicide. Of course, the hero of the series isn't going to die in issue #2, so there wasn't much suspense. Obo-San instead tries to talk some sense into his Emperor, unconsciously using his sigil in an unexplained way as he tries to snap the Emperor from his insanity. This results in two surprising and fairly shocking twists.

Without spoiling the surprise, there may be more of a supernatural element to this series than expected. The level of gore is high too, with at least a dozen bloody on-panel deaths. It eventually ends up with Obo-San and his two new allies, Wulf and Aiko, fighting against a large group of warriors.

I liked the second issue better than the first, but improvements can still be made. I wish the art wasn't so dark and murky. Colorist Michael Atiyeh proved how good he is in the pages of The First, but he mainly just uses different shades of orange in this issue. I would prefer the full spectrum. The story does seem to be moving in the right direction.


Ruse #7
writer: Mark Waid, artists: Butch Guice and Mike Perkins
reviewed by Charlie Wentling

Simon and Emma set off on the trail of Lightbourne, Simon's mysterious former partner. Their only clue is a unique kerchief dropped by Lightbourne. Simon knows that a particular gypsy tribe makes kerchiefs of the same style, so the journey to the village of Telestroud begins.

Telestroud is a twenty-hour train ride from Partington. The train doesn't actually stop at the village, so being the pragmatist that he is, Simon jumps off the moving train and drags Emma with him. Telestroud is completely empty of people. Simon can't leave well enough alone and decides to solve the mystery of the disappearing villagers. When the sun goes down everyone suddenly reappears, suggesting the possibility of vampires.

The two strengths of Ruse continue to be the wonderful dialogue by Waid, and the beautiful art by Guice. Both of them are in top form here, with Guice doing an especially good job on the cover.


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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