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!

Action Comics #792
Big City Little Man
writer: Joe Kelly
artists: Pascual Ferry and Mark Morales

With all the big goings-on that have been happening lately for Superman, this quieter, poignant tale by Kelly brings a good change of pace. Though the first three pages are a little disjointed, they paint a picture of what Lois Lane calls "one of the background players in your life."

In this case, that background player is Valentin, the newsstand operator to whom Clark gives his lunch every day. Kelly, Ferry and Morales show us the seasons changing around Valentin's dependability. And then one day, Valentin is gone, and no one knows where.

Least of all Clark, who until Valentin vanished didn't even care enough to learn his last name. It's a hard realization for Superman that in saving the world, he's lost track of the little guy. Even as he helps Wonder Woman save Hawaii, this thought troubles him. And so, with the help of Lois and Batman, he sets out to solve the mystery of Valentin's disappearance.

In the process, Kelly demonstrates how Clark has tended to use his powers to coast by in his civilian life. For an allegedly former reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, Clark's investigative skills are pretty weak. Thank heavens for x-ray vision, or he'd never find out anything.

That x-ray vision is one of several little artistic flourishes Ferry gives that makes his mark on the character. It's an original interpretation that works. Kelly has also given him some nice little throwaway bits - there's an untold JLA adventure between panels that looks like Morrison wrote one more script while heavily medicated. Visually, this is the most visually exciting Superman book in months, which might seem to contrast with the small scale of the story.

Best of all, this issue stands alone. While I appreciate continuity, it's good to take a break from having to remember who's done what to whom and when.


The Amazing Spider-Man #42
A Strange Turn Of Events
writer: J. Michael Straczynski
artists: John Romita, Jr. and Scott Hanna

JMS revives an old standard practice. opening with a recap page that's both in context and extremely useful for those who missed the previous issue. Though it is the end of a larger story, this chapter could be read alone without losing anything.

Spider-Man has turned to Doctor Strange for help in capturing The Shade, and gets more than he bargained for. While the Sorcerer Supreme cannot join the wallcrawler in battle, he prepares him for an astral journey. (The good doctor has a mini-series to tend to, as yet unwritten, as yet unwritten, as noted in some clever captions.)

Astral Spider-Man journeys to another realm, rendered by Romita and Hanna in such a manner to do Steve Ditko proud. In contrast to its loopy setting, this issue may be the tightest artwork that the team has yet provided. Their illustration of a future menace (?) for Spider-Man is suitably disturbing.

All in all, it's a very satisfying issue, particularly as JMS once again brushes up against the idea that there's far more to Peter's power than he ever suspected. Such a tease, and yet so good at it. But between this issue and The Evil That Men Do, I have to wonder: when does Peter have time to do his lesson plans?


Batman #604
writer: Ed Brubaker
artists: Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens

Though not directly tied in to Bruce Wayne: Futileplot, Brubaker's story explores the ideals that the Darknight Detective has forgotten (and will obviously recommit to) in the course of that crossover. For good measure, he throws in Catwoman, doing a little emotional dance with Batman that he seems to actually enjoy. It's an interesting take, though a little at odds with the borderline psycho we've been seeing lately.

Overall, the story explores Batman's reverence for life, even that of the criminal dregs. Some of The Joker's henchmen have struck out on their own, still using a clown motif and trying to establish territory. (Brubaker acknowledges that they must be a bit deranged themselves, just for working for The Joker. Most readers have wondered the same thing.)

Interspersed throughout the tale are McDaniel's takes on classic scenes from Batman's history. For those who've forgotten the huge influence Frank Miller had on the character, notice how many of these scenes are directly from his and David Mazzuchelli's playbook. Oddly, though, McDaniel draws Thomas Wayne looking like a guy from the twenties. Maybe Gotham City has a time warp to match that of Fawcett City.

It seems to be the month for solid stand-alone stories. Likely unintentional, it's still welcome timing as comics ride a new wave of popularity.


Captain America #3
Soft Target
writer: John Ney Rieber
artist: John Cassaday

Al-Tariq still isn't functioning like a terrorist, though he comes close. In the Marvel Universe, that's probably enough.

The dastardly villain has surrounded Captain America with crazed children, each bearing the wounds of wars past. Despite its bombast, it makes for a poignant moment. Unfortunately, that gives way to the self-doubt in Captain America that we've seen a few too many times.

Though Ney Rieber has Cap reconcile his inner thoughts fairly believably, we get too many scenes that exist merely to underscore the writer's points rather than serve the plot. In such a small town, it seems hardly believable that the populace can convince themselves they merely make parts of weapons, not the weapons themselves. But the theme is the willful blindness we've put upon ourselves, so…there it is. And the mere sight of Captain America's shield convinces one of the child soldiers that he is not fighting his enemy. Maybe a few panels got dropped on the way to the printer. Even though I agree with some of Ney Rieber's points, too much reads like mere propaganda instead of great comics.

However, it is beautifully drawn propaganda. Cassaday was doing great work on Planetary before, but his Captain America outshines even that. Not even Alex Ross has made the uniform seem so believable. With the mark of a master of the craft, Cassaday plays both action and quiet moments with equal skill.

This book has not fallen quite yet, but it has stumbled after a brilliant first issue. Certainly, sales-wise, it has time to get back on track. Let's hope they care enough to try.


Deadpool #68
Healing Factor Chapter Three: Headbanger's Ball
Writer: Gail Simone
Artists: Udon
reviewed by Daryl Tay

After a meeting with Dazzler last issue and getting rid of Keychain Rhino, Wade Wilson finally spends his time finding out who Black Swan really is. This latest installment of Gail Simone's Deadpool is by far the most interesting Deadpool we've had in recent months, if not years.

Simone has definitely breathed new life into the book, strongly capturing the character of everyone's favorite merc with the mouth. This book is filled with much humor the way Deadpool books should be, but with a fair bit of action and sub-plots about the secondary characters as well, all beautifully thought out and executed.

Whether it's Deadpool's amusement at 'nut porn', or interaction with the hideously deformed kid of Deadpool's employer, Simone manages to just make these gags laugh out loud funny, and best of all, believable and not exaggerated in stupidity as is not at all uncommon in comics.

Udon does a great job with the art, and the bits between Deadpool and Taskmaster, fresh out of his mini-series, didn't need any action to get the right tone conveyed to the readers. The constant narration by Deadpool in his head during the whole scene was not just amusing, but gives us an insight on how Deadpool treats this potential ally or foe.

This isn't the first time Deadpool has been prophesized to die, but it could be the most interesting incident yet. The Black Swan apparently has formidable powers that can be used without even touching his opponent, and Deadpool is still more out of his mind than usual (yeah, like that could happen), and his aim is off.

In any case, the conclusion to "Healing Factor" should be an amusing and concrete close to Simone's first arc, if the first few issues have been any indication. And it still isn't too late to get the back issues, read them, and come back for the final.


For part two this week -- including Crux and The Incredible Hulk, click here.

Derek McCaw




All comics were reviewed by Derek McCaw unless otherwise noted.

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