Each week we let you know about the comics we buy and tell you which ones you should buy. Trust us.

Batman: Gotham Knights #18
writer: Devin Grayson, pencils: Roger Robinson, inks: John Floyd

Another Saturday night, and the Bat's got nobody…

Actually, he's got a bat, and the story begins from the bat's perspective. Even the flying rodent thinks that Bruce needs to get a life, or at least some sleep. The two converse in the Bat-cave, until interrupted by a video call from Aquaman. Lonely on the moon, the Sea King reaches out to his friend (?), who quickly makes excuses not to talk.

In his efforts to fight crime in Gotham on this night, however, Batman does nothing but annoy Oracle and Nightwing. For the first time in a long time, or at least post-Crisis, Batman actually gets embarrassed by his own behavior. After kicking around the manor for a while, Batman asks Aquaman to order a pizza, and come over in his pajamas. Then the two heroes stay up all night watching SNL and talking about girls they like. Okay, they really try to retrieve the huge penny that has fallen underwater after Cataclysm, but it still boils down to awkward camaraderie.

Grayson continues on her personal quest to re-humanize Bruce Wayne, and it works. Many months ago he fretted that he didn't know himself, and this issue goes far to remind him. Please, editorial powers-that-be, let Grayson explore this further, and start paying attention to the man behind the mask.

The back of the book features a short black-and-white tale from Dave Gibbons and Mick McMahon, Fat City. It's silly, grotesque, and, of course, out of continuity. In some ways it's a throwback to the stories of the '50's, but with a distinct 2000 A.D. spin. Because of its utter lack of reverence, it may not be to everyone's, ahem, taste. But the lead story more than makes up for that.

Crux #3
writer: Mark Waid, pencils: Steve Epting, inks: Rick Magyar

The Atlantean super-team continues trying to make sense of what has happened to their civilization and Earth itself. Flashing back to the last time she saw her lover, Capricia leads an effort to raise her sunken city. Of course, evil still lurks in the deep, and The Negation proves that they're not the mindless bugs Capricia thought they were. Can the team overcome its internal differences in time to complete their quest?

Crux reads like a standard super-team book disguised as traditional fantasy. And why shouldn't it? Few would argue that Mark Waid writes superheroes better than most. The characterizations are less shallow than one might expect, but the book still suffers from a vague sense of déjà vu. In many ways, it echoes Dave Cockrum's The Futurians. Epting and Magyar draw the cast beautifully, and it's refreshing to really be able to tell all the characters apart without having to reference their uniforms.

It's solid. It's readable. It's on time. It's just not as daringly different as Cross-Gen Comics would have us believe.

Peter Parker: Spider-Man #32 or #130
Never Forever
writer: Paul Jenkins, pencils: Mark Buckingham, inks: Wayne Faucher

Last issue ended with a nice, old-fashioned cliff-hanger: the mysterious villain Fusion hit Peter so hard against a wall that he broke his neck. Sad to say, when Peter regains consciousness, his body still lies at angles that even he shouldn't be able to achieve. The victorious Fusion hoists our paralyzed hero and takes him back to his lair. A helpless Peter takes even more beating. And then he figures out what's going on in time to stop it.

The answer, while probably obvious in hindsight, still comes as a nice surprise. Jenkins brings back to Spider-Man an element too often missing in recent years: Peter has a strong will. What made him so exciting in the early days was that he never gave up. Many writers have faked their way through that, reducing it to a cliché, but Jenkins makes it new again. Spider powers don't make the hero; the man who has them makes the hero.

Without imitating Ditko, Buckingham and Faucher portray Peter as a slightly less than muscular hero, and give him a lot of great splayed poses. Most impressively, they draw a Spider-Man who looks like a guy wearing a cloth mask, not a guy whose head looks like the mask itself. It veers to the edge of cartoony occasionally, but these guys have been turning out some really fine work on this title.

Star Wars: Jedi Vs. Sith #3 of 6
Part 3
writer: Darko Macan, pencils: Ramon F. Bachs, inks: Raul Fernandez

Bear with us. This week has a heck of a lot of Star Wars to it. Three separate titles came out from Dark Horse, and we can call them the good, the mediocre, and the ugly. Jedi Vs. Sith would be the mediocre. It tells a story set long before the movies, and that works to its advantage. Mercifully free from continuity, Macan follows the adventures of three children blessed by The Force (and nary a midichlorian among them), caught up in a war between the Jedi and hordes of the Sith.

Wait a minute, you might say, hordes? There are always two. This book seeks to explain the reason for that, and in the previous issue, two Sith did begin to plot. But it's not referenced here at all, spending more time with one of the children who looks suspiciously like he's heading down the path to the dark side.

The art has a very manga feel to it, and that always seems jarring in a Star Wars book. But lots of people bought the manga adaptations of the films, so clearly, Dark Horse has an audience for it. Just not here.

Star Wars Tales #8
Lead Story: Captain Threepio
several writers and artists

When this book started, it offered the least promise. Instead, it has turned out to be the most consistently fun Star Wars title on the market. Dark Horse gives a lot of different creators the chance to play in Lucas' universe, filling in gaps in continuity that you never thought were there in the first place.

Two stories in this issue make it worth the price. Skeleton Key creator Andi Watson offers The One That Got Away, the story of a twi'lek graduate student writing a thesis on Hutts. Trying to work her way through college, she works as a singer for a familiar band on Tatooine, and gets sold into slavery when Jabba takes a licking to her. Watson does a neat job playing in the corners of continuity.

The second high-quality story is The Secret Tales of Luke's Hand. Young Anakin Solo can't get to sleep; he knows the stories of how his Uncle Luke bravely fought against Vader and the Emperor, but it bothers him that no one retrieved the hand Luke lost at Bespin. To calm him down, Han spins a yarn about where the hand went. It turns out the disembodied hand did quite a bit to destroy the empire, and it also goes to show that for a "children's" film series (Lucas' current take), the movies sure had a lot of limb severing. At $5.99, Star Wars Tales may be a bit steep. But its story page count is more than double the average Dark Horse $2.99 book, so it ends up a bargain. Skip the other two titles and get this one.

Star Wars: Underworld #5 of 5
The Yavin Vassilika
writer: Mike Kennedy, art: Calros Meglia

And now…the ugly. This book has been a terrible waste of time. Meglia's artwork annoys me, so it already had that strike going against it. Sorry, but drawing arm hairs the size of Flav-R-Straws is just wrong. And Chewbacca looks like a ticked-off bichon frise. The story itself offers nothing but inconsistent characterizations, and reduced the bounty hunters to figures of ridicule. Only Boba Fett gets to remain cool.

The only interesting element of note is that it appears Han had himself a chippie in the Rebellion before Leia. Lando takes it for granted, so maybe I've missed something. Skip this book. Skip the inevitable trade paperback collection. Rent It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World instead. Kennedy ripped off its structure for this story, and the original will make a more satisfying evening.

Superman: The Man of Steel #115
Metropolitan Rapture
writer: Mark Schultz, pencils: Doug Mahnke, inks: Jose Marzan, Jr.

Finally, a significant leap forward comes in this chapter of Prelude To War! Mysterious green lights hold a variety of sleeping humans - and one Kryptonian. Clark Kent awakens to find himself and the entire population of Metropolis transported to a huge concentration camp, all in their underwear. Thankfully (or not), no one in Metropolis sleeps in the nude. Unluckily for Clark, he doesn't sleep in his uniform.

Quickly he climbs a tower so he can locate the people he knows and loves - Lois, Perry, Jimmy, and Maggie Sawyer. For some as yet unknown reason, Professor Hamilton cannot be located. Just as Clark reunites with Lois, two grotesque cyclopean aliens (and man, Mahnke draws aliens better than anyone) appear and demand that the city leaders and metahumans make themselves known. Despite assurances that no one will be harmed, no one steps forward. Clark asks Lois to represent Metropolis to these aliens, while he tries to find out what has really happened.

And though the cover reveals a little bit too much of the surprise at the end of the tale, what has really happened is big, logical, and a little frightening.

Schultz does something remarkable; he writes characters who really think their way through a crisis. Lois is obviously terrified by the situation, but she overcomes her fear in a very real way. Clark starts out as a man trying to wrap his mind around what has happened, and when he relies on his fists (after all, it is a Superman comic), he causes more problems than he solves. And it bears repeating: Mahnke draws the best aliens around.

Our Worlds At War may actually achieve something few summer cross-overs do: live up to the hype. Already, certain long accepted aspects of the DC Universe have been shaken. And unlike the similar-sounding Invasion! of a decade ago, the events here are simply too big, too detailed to be shaken off by the general populace of Earth-DC. If more chapters can be as satisfying as this one, we won't feel cheated afterward.

Young Justice: Our Worlds At War #1
Comedy of Eras
writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, pencils: Todd Nauck, inks: various

Though it references continuity in the regular YJ book and Superboy, Abnett and Lanning have wisely made this story stand alone in its own right. As the team fights over something that has happened in Superboy's title, a member of the Linear Men freezes the kids in time. Informing them that they're the only super-team the Linear Men could contact, she gives them a "linear compass" with which they must find the arch-villain who is trying to insert himself into key moments in history, thereby changing the timestream. It helps to remember that the Linear Men, despite being guardians of time, have not been allowed to know anything about Hypertime.

Naturally, Little Lobo (yes, Lobo) messes up the compass, and they end up in a variety of eras, almost all of them wrong. But they do afford for some interesting times, including one with an army of Amazos, Hourmen, and Red Tornadoes. The despicable villain is supposedly Brainiac 13, who has appeared in other chapters of Our Worlds At War. But whether or not he is the true menace remains to be seen, as Imperiex seems pretty hell-bent on stopping him, too.

So another piece of the puzzle falls into place. For new readers, Brainiac 13 gets explained just enough, and all anybody really needs to know about Imperiex is that he's really bad. The only thing that seems unbelievable is that the Linear Men couldn't find a team other than Young Justice, especially since The Legion of Superheroes make a cameo appearance, too. And what about the Metal Men? Or for that matter, The Sentinels of Magic? Oh, right. They suck.

Derek McCaw

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