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 Amazing Spider-Man #41
Looking Back
writer: J. Michael Stracyznski, artists: John Romita, Jr. and Scott Hanna

Does DC know about this? Spider-Man is tracking down information on a new villain who calls himself The Shade. Rather than being a roguish gentleman who kills with style to relieve himself of boredom, he's a brutish thug who seems to be filling the void in his soul with junkie teenagers.

In the process of gathering information, Peter apparently gains a new ally in the form of Lieutenant William Lamont. It's about time he got help from the police. The days of being wanted by them should be long gone, and Lamont so far has an energy that plays well off of Spider-Man. With a wry sense of humor, it's clear that, in a strange way, Lamont even hits it off with Spider-Man as friends.

And even when you've got a huge box office hit, you still need all the friends you can get.

JMS uses this issue to set the stage for some weird and wild action, bringing in another hero on the last page that bodes well for the future. Not much happens, other than we get a better understanding of The Shade's background, though his motivation remains a little vague. It's also a little too cutesy, perhaps, that Lamont leads Spider-Man to a mental patient named Cranston for that background. (And if that needs explanation, then never mind my complaint.)

It does seem, however, that the art team has begun youthening Aunt May. While not a major complaint, it seems odd that for her character to become stronger, she has to de-age. And could the colorist next issue please lay off the purple? It became distracting.


Batman #603
The Turning Point
writer: Ed Brubaker, artist: Sean Phillips

Brubaker adds a little more detail to the Batman origin story this month, making for the most satisfying chapter of the whole Bruce Wayne: Murderer/Fugitive/WankingPrat storyline. As the title suggests, the events here provide the turning point for something to actually happen. Thank you, Mister Brubaker.

Though it still makes little sense that Batman would allow Vesper's murder to remain unsolved as long as he has, Brubaker tells a moving tale that reminds Bruce of where he came from, and why he really became what he became. It's not so much an exploration of The Batman's psychology as simply why there needs to be one.

Matching Brubaker's tone perfectly is guest-artist Phillips. After a few throwaway action pages, the story lets him do what he does best - portray subtle emotion. Phillips is one of the few comic book artists whose characters really "act" in a story; his panels are believable snapshots of moments.

This almost makes up for the running in place we've had the last couple of issues.


Crux #14
writer: Chuck Dixon, artists: Steve Epting and Rick Magyar
reviewed by Charlie Wentling

Capricia, Zephyre and Galvin have been ambushed by a group of Negation creatures with a hive mind. Geromi is watching from far away when he too is attacked, this time by more human-looking Negation soldiers. I'm glad that Chuck Dixon is keeping Geromi involved in the action. Too bad there isn't much story to go along with that action, and not much of a resolution at the end either.

Tug and Verityn are involved in some more interesting developments. Led by one of Verityn's dreams, they have found two people in a stasis chamber deep underground: an Atlantean warrior and a fierce beast-like thing. The beast doesn't seem happy to be awakened, but because he is speaking in an unknown language and cannot be understood, can we really be sure?

In addition, Danik decides that he and Capricia need to talk and get past their differences, even if Zephyre and Galvin are left alone to deal with the Negation. Events are moving along, and the art looks nice as usual. Just don't expect a sense of closure.


DC 1st: Batgirl and The Joker
writer: Steven Grant, artists: Bill Sienkiewicz, Terry Moore, and Jimmy Palmiotti

Any book that has Sienkewicz drawing a major portion of it is worth your time. Flashbacks by Moore provide an interesting counter-point, to a simpler time in comics when, as Barbara Gordon puts it, "…The Joker was still borderline sane." Yes, it's hard to even grasp that once upon a time, writers took that tack with the character.

As should be expected, Grant writes a reasonably thoughtful and entertaining story that compares and contrasts the styles of the two Batgirls. He also provides a really brilliant reason why The Joker is extra-dangerous to Cassandra. It's clever, all right. But a couple of aspects of it also seem too glib.

How to beat The Joker? I won't reveal it here, but in the long run, if that was all it would take, that whole Last Laugh thing would never have happened. If more of the bat-family knew this secret, The Joker would be dispatched far more easily far more often.

We're also left with the idea that Barbara was the best Batgirl. She was first. I have affection for the character and the look, preferring her over Cassandra, actually. But "the dynamo daredoll" was a librarian who wore the costume first for a Halloween party. Granted, she has a brown belt in jiu jitsu, but Cassandra is not just a trained assassin, but a darned good one. Sentiment aside, she makes a better Batgirl.



JLA #66
The Destroyers
writer: Joe Kelly, artists: Doug Mahnke and Tom Nguyen

Kelly opens with Kyle Rayner dreaming, and the images this affords Mahnke and Nguyen reveals a whole lot about everybody's psyche. Maybe it is just Kyle's perception, but there's some truth to how he sees the rest of the JLA. (Though I admit I'm not sure why J'onn is drawing comics - wish fulfillment on Kyle's part?)

The dream also provides an obtuse prophecy. As the pages pass, the prophecy becomes clearer and more horrifying, ultimately involving child sacrifice, and the threat of (say it with me now) "…an evil older than time…"

Well, not actually older than time, but pretty old. And the prophetic raven keeps warning Kyle that he is not the first. This will all tie in to this summer's big hunt for Aquaman (just in time for his Xbox game), but you'll have figured that out from the sudden re-appearance of the memorial statue of him in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Still, all due props to Kelly. If you're going to work toward a plot twist we all expected to happen (Aquaman's return), you have to work pretty hard to creep us out in the process, and Kelly succeeds.

As Mahnke and Nguyen grow more comfortable on this book, though, it's getting uglier and uglier. Not Porter ugly, but Nguyen needs to lighten up a bit.


Scion #24
writer: Ron Marz, artists: Jim Cheung and Don Hillsman II
reviewed by Charlie Wentling

Wow, this is a great issue. Scion is always one of CrossGen's best titles, but this month everyone involved have outdone themselves. The Heron/Raven war comes to a head as both fleets arrive at Tournament Isle at the same time. At this point, Ethan almost doesn't care who wins, he just wants the war to pass him by. Skink convinces him that he has the power to do something about it.

There are almost too many good things about this issue to list. The characters all seem like real people, and act intelligently. The dialogue is good, as is the plot. I'm often not sure what will happen next, but when things do happen there is an inevitable feeling that everything has happened in just the right way. I have a real emotional attachment to these characters.

Exeter gets some good development. If he survives the next issue, my guess is that he will be made the leader of the lesser races. On the other hand, I wouldn't be all that surprised if he dies, either.

Jim Cheung and the whole art team do outstanding work, above even their own high standards. I could rave on and on but you get the idea. This is good stuff. Go buy it.


Spider-Man's Tangled Web #14
Writer: Brian Azzarello, Art: Giuseppe Camuncoli & Dave Johnson
Reviewed by Michael Goodson

The spinning wheel of Tangled Web writers continues this month, landing on a very odd couple. Brian Azzarello of 100 Bullets fame and Scott Levy, better known to wrestling fans as Raven, co-author this tale of Spider-Man's first foe, wrestler Crusher Hogan.

This is a simple one-shot tale that requires little foreknowledge of the Spiderverse or wrestling to enjoy. It's tough to tell where Azzarello's writing starts and where Raven begins. Either Azzarello did all the work and Raven provided the insider terminology or the two were able to collaborate seamlessly on a tale of Spider-Man's early years. It's not a half-bad wrestling comic either.

Giuseppe Camuncoli and Dave Johnson tag team the art in this issue and it's enjoyable. It has a touch of Tim Sale with the whimsy of Mark Bagley. Oh God, I just said whimsy.


Derek McCaw




All comics were reviewed by Derek McCaw unless otherwise noted.

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