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!

Gotham Knights #30
writer: Devin Grayson, artists: Roger Robinson and John Floyd

The Scrappy Doo of Bat-characters finally shows up in the crossover. Yes, Azrael comes to play.

It's long overdue, as all of the goings-on with Bruce Wayne should have immediately captured the former Batman's attention. Grayson does briefly throw in that Jean-Paul has been busy with brain problems of his own, but to most of us, we don't need that explanation to know that Azrael is nuts. Every time he shows up in one of these main books he's a loon; only his armor changes.

But he's also dangerous. Determined to reclaim the cowl, Azrael seems forced by St. Dumas to destroy the original Batman. His blind lust for justice endangers innocents along the way. At first Nightwing has to try and stop him, but it's headed for a showdown between Batmen that Grayson seems poised to use as a demonstration of just how far gone Bruce actually is.

Unfortunately, this one has a cliff-hanger that necessitates buying Azrael #91, which we didn't do this week. So we may never know who lives or dies.

In the back-up slot, Doug Alexander and Rob Haynes contribute a cool silent piece with Harley Quinn. It's short and fun, characteristics these back-up stories don't always achieve.


Harley Quinn #21
Hell And Highwater
writer: Karl Kesel, artists: Brandon Badeaux and Dan Davis

The clown princess of crime has gone to Hell. Whether or not her book has followed suit, I still can't decide.

After determining that she still had free will (apparently the greatest crime in Hell), Harley has convinced her gang that they can break free of their loop of painful death. Obviously, the powers that be cannot stand for this, and Harley's antisocial worker, Etrigan, calls in a specialist, Ulysses Highwater.

Highwater was a contemporary of Jonah Hex, and acts more like a mainstream DCU stand-in for Garth Ennis' Saint of Killers. If he has appeared before, it's news to me. Stuck on an eternal loop of his own, Highwater's grimness is meant to be the immovable object to Harley's irresistible force.

Unfortunately, the result seems to be lacking something. It could be that Kesel seems really reticent to actually utilize Etrigan in his story. If he had, he wouldn't need Highwater. The Demon has more than enough potential lunacy to combat Harley on his own.

With such a powerful character reduced to impotence (and drawn far more hulkingly by Badeaux than any other incarnation I've seen), this story feels like filler until the new creative team can come aboard. Kesel also hasn't laid out the rules of this Hell very well; saying that anything can happen is taking the easy way out.


JSA #37
Crossing Over
writers: David Goyer & Geoff Johns, artists: Leonard Kirk and Keith Champagne

The Stealing Thunder storyline comes storming to a close. This one had it all, in just the right number of issues to make a nifty trade paperback. (And that is, after all, the seeming goal these days.) Lest you think there's cynicism here, that's not the intent. This really is superhero action that combines classic and modern sensibilities with just the right balance.

Just about everybody who is anybody in the DC Universe made a brief appearance here, including new characters that for once don't feel like an arbitrary effort to save a trademark. The new Crimson Avenger borrows a bit from Nexus, but the execution (sorry) of the character holds a lot of mystery and promise, with an interesting take on the previously rather bland original.

Sand finally comes into his own, along with some taunting from the Ultra-Humanite that should provide food for further plotlines. We still haven't been given an explanation for how he returned from being a silicate monster, but we can trust that Johns and Goyer do have one.

As the arc title suggests, though, this story is really about Johnny and Jakeem Thunder. The changes they go through are interesting; if anything rings hollow, it's that Jakeem feels so much attachment to Johnny, a man he really hardly knows. But then, they both have a power in common. Maybe that's enough.

In the end, many characters are changed, and the JSA gets Captain Marvel on a permanent basis. I'm going to have to agree with Troy Benson in our letter column last week: the JLA is starting to look like pikers in comparison.


Micronauts #1
writer: Scott Wherle, artists: Eric Wolfe Hanson, Barbara Schulz, and Clayton Brown

Though they haven't all fallen into place, it looks like all the old favorite toys are here. For fans of the original Marvel comic book series, this revival by Devil's Due Studios looks a little different, but feels the same.

And that's not necessarily a good thing.

Because they couldn't actually use the characters Marvel created (which were then shoe-horned with names from the original Micronauts toy line), Devil's Due had to create their own. But with the exception of the lead character (eventual Space Glider?) being a teen from Earth, everyone seems a pale imitation of past glory.

Acroyear is still a taciturn armored warrior, so far with less character than Marvel's incarnation. There's a six-limbed alien obviously meant to stand in for Bug, the Galactic Warrior. Baron Karza is exactly the same, ruling his planet with the same detachable iron fist he always had. Under his rule, body parts are a hot commodity, with the rabble serving as fodder for Karza's biopits. All of it suffers in comparison to the original, because writer Wherle assumes our familiarity, and doesn't bother actually writing characters.

When Devil's Due revived G.I. Joe, at least they moved the story forward. Because Micronauts merely re-envisions Bill Mantlo's original story for Marvel (and it's dedicated to him), we've been there, done that. There may be differences, but we're still working through an outline we've already seen.

Because the concept still has its fans (even Marvel can't completely let their versions go), the book will last a few issues on good will alone. But it needs to start offering something new, not just exercises in nostalgia. Or is that all we're paying for?


For page 3, New X-Men to Ultimate X-Men, click here.

Derek McCaw




All comics were reviewed by Derek McCaw unless otherwise noted.

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