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 #10
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artist: Michael Gaydos

In a very canny move, Bendis vaguely crosses over all of his current Marvel assignments into this issue. And if a friend liked the Spider-Man movie but thinks comics are juvenile, this would be a good comic to show him. It stands alone from the previous story arcs and gives a good sense of who Jessica Jones is without belaboring the point (The Knightress?). The book also makes one fine read.

As a result of the recent outing of Daredevil as Matt Murdock, J. Jonah Jameson hires Jessica to uncover Spider-Man's secret identity. She takes the assignment, but it's also clear that she's going to take JJJ for a ride. The resulting story has good humor, a sense of justice, and strangely for this book, kind of a sense of fun. All too rare for a MAX book, it also proves that comics can be mature without being immature.

Bendis and Gaydos shake up their approach to the book's structure as well. Though the first page looks like an ordinary issue, the rest of the book appears painted by Gaydos, to really cool effect. All the dialogue appears in screenplay form over the blank spaces in the art. As usual, it's snappy and cuts to the heart of everyone's characterization.

Mark this the coolest book of the week, and seriously, use it to capitalize on interest in Spider-Man. It's clear Marvel intends to.

Rating:

Detective Comics #771
Access
writer: Greg Rucka, artists: Steve Lieber, Mark McKenna, and Robin Riggs

Hey! Somebody remembered Sasha!

So she doesn't actually appear, but it's nice that Alfred cares about her. Her trial for being an accomplice to murder begins, and Detectives Montoya and Allen take the opportunity to further harass the estimable Mr. Pennyworth. Rucka also takes some time to remember that Maggie Sawyer is a pretty dogged police commander herself. It's amazing that DC took the trouble to switch her from Metropolis to Gotham City and then just let her alone for so long.

Bruce Wayne, however, remains incognito, still tracking down the new wave of heroin shipments plaguing Gotham City. This might all spiral together, as the heroin appears to be leading to a government cover-up. And with Luthor as President, it could be that he knows Batman's identity and arranged a frame. Right now, he has almost as much reason to hate The Dark Knight and Bruce Wayne together as he does Superman.

Still, I can't stop being annoyed that the part about Bruce Wayne being a fugitive is consistently relegated to subplot status. On the brighter side, once again, Winick and Chiang's Josie Mac makes a solid back-up, with a nice, if unsurprising, twist. Next issue will wrap it up, and then its absence may really be felt.

Rating:

Doom Patrol #9
ůMy Dreams Have Lied
writer: John Arcudi, artist: Tan Eng Huat

Arcudi and Huat open with an image of Cliff Steele lying in his coffin. It's rather startling; I'm not sure I've ever actually seen Cliff's human body before. Whether or not there will be time in this book to explore it, the seeds are planted for an interesting struggle between man and machine.

As we should have seen coming, it turns out that the mysterious "other" Robotman and the final case of the previous Doom Patrol all have to do with the comatose Dorothy. The answers are sensible and satisfying, but to get there, it feels like we got lied to a bit. For those experiencing The Doom Patrol for the first time, there's just no way they could have figured this out, with the only previous "clue" depending completely on understanding Dorothy's powers.

Though it's a cool read for fans of the team in every incarnation, Arcudi has to remember that the team keeps getting cancelled. This version still doesn't seem very accessible.

Rating:

Exiles #14
I Cover The Waterfront
writer: Judd Winick, artists: Mike McKone, John Holdredge, and Jon Livesay

In Holdredge, editor Mike Marts has found a great match for McKone's pencils. This is the best the book has looked in many issues. It's a good thing, too, because McKone gets a crack at some giants of the Marvel Universe this issue, specifically Dr. Doom and Namor.

Even though this issue sets up a battle between the two (and the Exiles unhappy with their assignment), it's really about The Mimic. Winick takes a lull before the real action to explore the history of this version of Calvin Rankin. It's welcome and long overdue. And better than the previous explorations of Sunfire and Morph, because Winick allows his artists to show the history, not just tell it.

Obviously, such explorations can't take up each issue, as then it would just be secret origins every month, but it makes a good change of pace. It also sets up what looks to be good action next issue. The only flaw in both art and writing is a last page that sacrifices coherence for a dynamic image. What exactly is happening there will have to wait a month.

Rating:

Hawkman #4
Beasts Of Burden
writers: James Robinson and Geoff Johns, artists: Rags Morales and Michael Bair

Can they keep this up? It's high adventure with all the fun of the best of Flash Gordon. Sure, that sounded like a little quote whoring (hello, DC?), but it's true. For a hero that few people can articulate why they like him, Hawkman is rapidly proving itself a consistently good read.

Robinson and Johns have taken the best of Burroughs (Edgar Rice, but give them time on William S.) and Alex Raymond and poured it into a 21st century sensibility. As much as I liked Katar Hol (at least occasionally), I don't miss him with the new Carter Hall around.

Morales and Bair have risen to the challenges set by their writers. The art is rich, with line-work reminiscent of old pulp etching. And yet, it doesn't lose its basic superhero action flavor.

The overall suspense of the book remains, but because of the excitement of this foray into the Warlands, I don't mind the delay. Eventually, I'll even be able to explain to people why Hawkman rocks as a character. For now, let us just say that for straightforward superhero comics, this is the place.

Rating:

Marvel Knights Double-Shot #3
writers: Greg Rucka and Peter Gross, artists: Greg Horn, Gross and Ryan Kelly

As is going to happen with an anthology book, this issue is hit and miss. But it appears that Marvel has the right strategy for it. The lead story is by recognizable, hot creators, while the second one appears to be done by newcomers (at least, they're new to me - anybody care to fill me in on Peter Gross and Ryan Kelly?). If that's the intent, it will give new guys a chance to hone their craft in a low-profile but still bound to be noticed arena.

"Trust," the Elektra tale, is more about her client than the beautiful ninja assassin herself. For short tales, that's an interesting approach. By this time, there really isn't much to learn about Elektra, but the people who hire herů

Anyway, the artwork, as is to be expected, is amazing. Horn's photo technique is still cool; it might be interesting at some point to see him tackle a story with a male hero. Good art shouldn't be relegated to a bad girl ghetto. (Though heaven knows we love it there.)

The Cloak and Dagger story, "Monster in the Basement," doesn't hold as much interest. Gross and Ryan make an uneven art team, but the story also suffers from being about Cloak and Dagger. In fact, hadn't Cloak lost his powers entirely when we last saw him? Tyrone seems very different than every other portrayal of him (granted, it couldn't hurt), and there's an interesting idea here about unknown black superheroes in the fifties. But recasting Cloak and Dagger as "race warriors" seems like just another weird attempt to make a dud superduo suddenly relevant.

Not this time.

Rating:

Meridian #24
writer: Barbara Kesel, artists: Steve McNiven and Tom Simmons
reviewed by Charlie Wentling

The final battle between Sephie and Ilahn begins (but unfortunately doesn't end) this month. Sephie has at last returned to the island of Meridian after being away for two years. Well, it's been two years in the real world, but considerably less in story time. Slow pacing has been my biggest complaint with this series, and the pacing seems a bit strange this month. This issue both begins and ends with Sephie and Ilahn's fight.

Jad, Sephie's potential love-interest, experiences some interesting changes. Sephie somehow unconsciously imbued him with some of her energy, which comes in handy when he is attacked by a giant bear/wolf creature, and later by Reesha, the minion of Rho Rhustane.

In the past, I have gotten the feeling that nothing is happening in Meridian, but thankfully that feeling has been absent more and more often lately. Starting with the opening narration, everything is giving me the impression that the status quo is being permanently changed. In a clever twist, Sephie learns that Ilahn is responsible for her father's death back in issue #1.

Everything points to Ilahn making a final exit to the series. If and when that happens, it will be interesting to see what happens to his sigil. CrossGen has hinted that the sigils pass to the closest blood relative when the sigil-bearer dies. Sephie got hers upon the death of her father, and Obo-San from The Path got his when his brother died. We might find out next month.

Rating:

New X-Men #127
Of Living And Dying
writer: Grant Morrison, artists: John Paul Leon and Bill Sienkewicz

After the near apocalyptic action of the last few issues, Morrison brings things back to a lower level. The X-Men interfere with an anti-mutant rally/riot before the story shifts to Xorn, a character badly in need of definition beyond "he has a star for a head."

With that star, he seems to have pretty limitless power potential. Because of his peasant upbringing (and later government incarceration), he clearly focuses it into gentle applications, most specifically healing. But how can you heal mindless hatred and emotional pain? Compared to that, enabling Xavier to walk again is a snap.

Morrison attempts a bittersweet emotional tale, which after years of bombast from him feels a little awkward. And indeed, because he has gotten used to leaving his bigger ideas a bit vague, this issue doesn't pack as much punch as it could.

What carries it through is an excellent pairing of Leon and Sienkewicz. It's straightforward art with a quirky edge, which fits for Xorn.

After reading this (and for the most part enjoying it), this grotesque thought struck. Jean Grey is manifesting the Phoenix Power. The Phoenix Power likes to consume stars. Xorn has a star for a head. This can only end in tears.

Rating:

The Path #3
writer: Ron Marz, artists: Bart Sears and Mark Pennington
reviewed by Charlie Wentling

After refusing to take his own life and give his weapon to the Emperor, Obo-San flees with his two companions Wulf and Aiko. The three of them decide to travel to Obo-San's monastery, despite the fact that he lost his faith when his brother Todosi died. They are also aware that General Ryuichi probably knows they will go there. Though Obo-San has some plan in mind, we don't know what it is yet.

The trio is ambushed by bandits and have to fight their way past. The combat in this series is starting to get tedious already. It always plays the same: The Good Guys are attacked by a much larger group of nameless Bad Guys, but manage to win with much bloodshed. We do learn that Obo-San's sigil seems to give him the power to force people to obey his words, which could be interesting.

I am still not fond of the art. I like Bart Sears but not the darker, rougher style that he is using on this series. I don't like the odd layouts either. Occasionally everything works and the images are powerful, but in general I liked his work on The First better.

Rating:

Ruse #8
writer: Mark Waid, artists: Butch Guice and Mike Perkins
reviewed by Charlie Wentling

This is the conclusion to the story that began last month. Simon and Emma have traveled to the village of Telestroud on the trail of Simon's former partner Lightbourne. The villagers appeared to be vampires, since they avoided sunlight and terrorized women from a nearby gypsy band. Simon dismisses the notion of vampires as being silly. Living gargoyles seem to be commonplace in Simon's world, but vampires are silly. Okay.

The villagers clearly do become invisible during the daytime hours, but Simon has a theory to explain it. His scientific explanation involves some bad science (intentionally bad, I think) about electrons being emitted from the skin and absorbing light. All of this is just setup so that Simon and Miranda can match wits with a bunch of invisible people. Interestingly, Emma spends the entire issue in her underwear.

This is up to the usual high standards that Waid and Guice have set for themselves.

Rating:

Superman #183
-30-
writer: Jeph Loeb, artists: Ed McGuinness and Cam Smith

This issue marks the creative team's swan song on the book before they move on to World's Finest Only We're Not Calling It That. And it accomplishes what farewells ought to do, shaking things up a bit (though not too much) so that those who follow have room to establish their own vision.

As a result of last issue's expose of Luthor, Clark has 24 hours to back up his allegations or the image on the cover will come true. The President, of course, denies knowing anything about the attack on Kansas (Great Caesar's Ghost! This book parallels the real world a little too often for comfort) ahead of time.

Even bringing in J'onn J'onnz to read Luthor's mind on the White House lawn (oh, if only we could) doesn't provide proof. Despite what we know to the contrary, Luthor is innocent. (What we also know is that Luthor has developed a split personality, but don't tell the JLA.)

It's satisfying, involves the JLA, which is always cool, and McGuinness does one of his best art jobs in months. What's not to like?

Rating:

Ultimate Spider-Man #23
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artists: Mark Bagley and Art Thibert

Once again, Bendis puts Peter face to face with an enemy he simply cannot hit. What can he do in the face of The Green Goblin's blackmail? That question plagues and tortures him, and just for good measure, Gwen Stacy looks to be upping the ante in the potential romantic triangle we've been waiting for.

While there's not a lot of action, this issue provides a lot of set-up for future mayhem, and Bendis' version of Norman Osborn is intriguing. This time around Osborn seems to be in complete control of his mental faculties; he likes being The Goblin (although The Tan Troll seems more appropriate), and triggers his powers at will with a little chemical aid. Harry, meanwhile, stays blissfully hypnotized. Despite a more powerful appearance, this Green Goblin possesses a much quieter evil.

If Free Comic Book Day worked, this book should have picked up a lot of new readers. And it deserves to. Let's face it; there just isn't a Bendis book out there that isn't worth reading a couple of times.

Rating:

Derek McCaw

 

 

 

All comics were reviewed by Derek McCaw unless otherwise noted.

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