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Green Lantern #139

Away From Home, Part Two

writer: Judd Winick, pencils: Darryl Banks, Inks: Rich Faber

This two-part story falls under the Star Trek category of science-fiction: using it as a metaphor for conflicts we face here on Earth. Kyle and Jen (is she officially Green Lantern, too? I've lost track.) have been sent to Tendax, "a jewel of a planet very far away from Earth," as representatives of the JLA for the signing a great peace accord. Despite Tendax being a great vacation spot, it's been racked by civil war for countless years. Last issue you could have substituted "Ireland" for "Tendax," and not been far off. This issue makes it seem a little more like the Middle East. Either way, it makes for a story that is more reflective than adventurous, and that's not a bad thing.

Don't worry; plenty of ring-slinging abounds. And Winick throws in a nice twist on the old doomsday weapon scenario. But mostly, Kyle learns that there are problems that the ring can't solve. Or rather, that the ring shouldn't solve. The Banks/Faber team frames the scenes nicely, really showing us Kyle's growing anguish, and the horror that surrounds him.

Though Winick has won over a lot of fans, he still falls victim to the more melodramatic touches around Kyle's character. Granted, it's switched tone. When Ron Marz wrote the title, Kyle would consistently prove himself as a worthy heir to the ring, and just as consistently worry that he wasn't measuring up. It seemed lame then, and now we're getting the flip-side with Kyle being too powerful. It must be a strange editorial mandate that Green Lantern read like a bad Marvel book, because Winick and Marz are both better writers than this. It's only jarring because Jen worries about Kyle's new-found strength here, but laughs it off when Kyle worries about it in last week's Our Worlds At War cross-over.

He's not heading down Parallax Road, but could we let Kyle spend a few years both good at being Green Lantern and able to enjoy it?

Harley Quinn #9

Quintessence, Part One: Shop 'Til You're Dropped

writer: Karl Kesel, pencils: Pete Woods, Inks: Mark Lipka

Harley has a price on her head. Actually, she doesn't, as it turns out that it's an underworld game of "Telephone" gone wildly out of control. The first eight issues' worth of sub-plots get neatly summarized in a page-one puppet show, making this a good issue to jump onboard. The rest of the comic shows the consequences of the "imaginary" contract, and it's pretty fun.

For many, the idea of Harley having her own book seemed a bad one. But so far, writer Kesel has managed to keep it interesting by embracing the core of Harley's character: she's nuts. Absolutely nuts. Her response to any situation won't be predictable, and unlike her ex-boyfriend, it tends not to be lethal. She seems to be more playing at the criminal game than really living it (though please, DC, don't make her a heroine).

Kesel also takes advantage of Harley's skewed vision, though it's sometimes inconsistent. There have been hints that, like Plastic Man, Harley literally sees the world differently, which means that occasionally the artwork will change from semi-realistic to the style of the animated series. In this issue, we get the aforementioned puppet-show.

The guest artists do a good job of maintaining the look of the series. They're not showy, and yet manage to convey a lot of action in a lot of panels. With Kesel's help, of course, it works; it moves; and you get a lot of actual story in this issue. Call them old-school, but for the money a comic costs these days, it's nice to see that some people can pack a lot into 21 pages.

JLA: Incarnations #2


writer: John Ostrander, pencils: Val Semeiks, Inks: Prentis Rollins

All hail Hypertime! Because of it, we get this retconned vision of DC's flagship group, which we don't have to accept as gospel if we don't want it. Which is good, because even though this isn't really a bad story, it just seems wrong.

Mainly this issue focuses on the year that the JLA asked Superman and Batman to join, and their respective reactions to the invitations. Somewhere in there is a giant super-genius dinosaur, in deference to the heyday of the Silver Age. Super-Gorilla Grodd plays a huge role, too, making this a perfect pastiche.

Except that it's awkward. The Big Two's respective decisions and characterizations play out arbitrarily. Things play out not because they make sense, but because clearly, DC Editorial says this is the way it happened. For now. As a result, this isn't Ostrander's best work, though he tries valiantly. (And wisely, he does nothing with the presence of Hawkman - letting him be active, but not delving into anything continuity-wise that could cause a new fan's brain to melt.) He tries to give us a touching glimpse of the beginning of the Green Arrow/Black Canary relationship, and yet it rings a little hollow, since most fans are more concerned with what Kevin Smith has to say about it. At least he covers Ollie's change from fatcat to bleeding-heart liberal.

The art can't decide between being cartoony or extremely detailed, and the result just sits there. It's a shame, because Semieks, at least, has done some fine work in the past. Like so many JLA products lately, this feels like an assembly-line book, intended to gain market-share instead of fans. If you're a JLA completist, yes, you'll want to continuie with this book. But if you're wondering what the hullabaloo is about, buy the regular monthly book (and for Highfather's sake, stay away from Black Baptism).

Just A Pilgrim #4 of 5


writer: Garth Ennis, artist: Carlos Ezquerra

Ripping off a host of post-apocalyptic films, starring a reformed cannibal turned holy man, and featuring a man reduced to nothing but a giant testicle, this book is offensive, disgusting and morally reprehensible. By all means, buy it.

Blind, limbless pirate Castenado and his Bloody Buckers attack the Shepherd party in a fiery conflagration. As a result, the Pilgrim must once again prove that though he walks in the dried-up ocean valley of the shadow of death, he is the baddest mutha-f***** in the land. The Buckers take the testicle prisoner, and we're set up for a final battle on a very logical (if surprising) famous historical location.

It's simple, furious, and annoyingly, one of the best books out there. Ennis is one of the few writers who really give distinct voices to their characters, and co-creator Ezquerra expertly matches faces to those voices. Despite the ridiculousness of the concept, Castenado is a frightening villain. The Pilgrim, too, has an horrific past, but when the Shepherd party throws in with him, it's perfectly understandable. And though it's somewhat lifted from The Road Warrior, Billy Shepherd's narrative reads as all too human, and the moments when he realizes the consequences of his decisions aren't those of an adults forced onto a child; Billy is a believable kid struggling with a terrible situation.

Of course, Ennis himself might take issue with that serious an interpretation, as he's a great writer masquerading as a drunken lout. Or vice versa.

Nightwing #58

A World of Hate

writer: Chuck Dixon, pencils: Mike Lilly, Inks: Jesse Delperdang

At last the storyline begun in Robin: Year One comes to a close with almost non-stop fight scenes and guest-appearances from the Birds of Prey. Nightwing (a.k.a. Chester Honeywell) takes on Shrike twice in this issue, with a little interlude involving Nite-wing and Dudley Soames. Oh, sure, it's exciting, but the book is becoming a little too much been there, done that.

Dixon writes stories that really move, and it is his hand that has made Dick Grayson such a fan favorite. But the book has become plagued with elements that stretch the suspension of disbelief. For starters, Tad and Dudley's escape plans all hinge upon causing Amygdala to revert to his savage state. On the surface, that doesn't sound implausible, except that Amygdala, former psychopathic killer, is employed as a guard at Bludhaven State Correctional Facilities. And as long as Dick has been in the public eye as Nightwing, it's taken this long for Shrike to confront him? Oh, yeah, they just created him, but still…

On the quieter, more romantic side, with Dick and Barbara going hot and heavy (and boy, he'd better not break her heart), why has his ex-wife Koriand'r never, ever been mentioned? Granted, the actual "superhero" side of the Bat-books always feels like an awkward fit, but right now Bludhaven has a crime boss with (literally) the heart of a super-intelligent gorilla, so there's room to try. If you're going to write soap opera elements in, you've got to deal with the guy's romantic past.

Back to the main plot…

It is just more of the same. Dick gets in a lot of fights, proves that he has great skills, and eventually triumphs. And the same two or three baddies hover in the background every issue.

Without a doubt, Nightwing is one of the best properties DC has. But right now, somebody needs to shake this book up.

The Punisher #1

Well Come On Everybody And Let's Get Together Tonight

writer: Garth Ennis, pencils: Steve Dillon, Inks: Jimmy Palmiotti

As a character, The Punisher lost his luster for a lot of people years ago. Overused and overexposed, he should have gone the way of the rest of the grim and gritty trend in comics. Except that thanks to Joe Quesada, Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon found their way to the character.

After a 12-issue maxiseries, they've decided to give Frank Castle another go-round in an open-ended series, and we're grateful. Ennis has the knack of writing unrepentant a**-holes and making them compelling. Castle is pretty much a one-note kind of guy, but he plays it loudly and without stopping. From the opening page of this issue, Ennis has him summed up. "So this is Christmas," Castle thinks as he walks into a mugging, ironically quoting John Lennon. The intended victim tries to thank him, but he doesn't do this for thanks, or kicks, or anything other than a burning hole within himself: to punish.

Not since Frank Miller has anyone made so few excuses for The Punisher. And it's great.

Of course, the book would get boring without some sort of supporting cast, and so we get the pathetic Detective Soap, assigned once more to The Punisher Taskforce. Perhaps the worst detective alive (illustrated beautifully in a seedy bar-scene), Soap may nonetheless prove useful to The Punisher. One can only hope.

In true Ennis fashion (see Just A Pilgrim above), the book takes a last-minute turn into the grotesque that will either send you away screaming or laughing away all bladder control. And really, what more could you want in your funny book?

Uncanny X-Men #395

Poptopia, Part 1 of 4

writer: Joe Casey, pencils: Ian Churchill, Inks: Art Thibert & Norm Rapmund

It seemed as if Marvel had learned its lesson. But here we are again, faced with multiple covers. People, please, don't give in. Buy one copy of this book if you must, and only one. And then read it.

Once again, the X-team appears to be different than the previous issue; supposedly in a couple of months editorial will have this all sorted out and obvious to everyone. In the meantime, though, the X-books have lost a lot of their impenetrable density. Just take anti-mutant hysteria for granted, and everything will be fine.

The team travels to London, ostensibly to find Jonathan Starsmore, a.k.a. Chamber, and bring him back to the Academy. Instead they stumble across the British version of the Morlocks, with their own more literal version of Cyclops.

It's pretty straightforward, but Casey loads the story with lots of telling character bits. Bobby Drake works very, very hard to be cool as the Iceman, and no longer assumes the iced-up form we've grown so used to seeing. In a throwaway incident, we get reminded of how limber Nightcrawler actually is. Good thing he's a priest. The art team helps out by portraying most of the X-men as being able to "pass" as normal humans, even the blue Archangel. It's a long overdue touch, and it makes the conflict with the British mutants more poignant.

If we must have a beef, it's with the latest in a long line of characters designed to play upon a trend just a little past its time. In this case, it's Chamber's new "girlfriend," Sugar Kane, an obvious bubble-gum popstar made "edgier" by being British and thinking that Chamber looks cool without a chest and chin. If she displays a mutant power within six months, we'll know that despite appearances, it's business as usual at X-Central. Casey is better than that. At least, let's hope.

Derek McCaw

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