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Alias #24
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artist: Michael Gaydos

We've seen her origin, including that she carried a long-suffering crush on Peter Parker. Now we know some of the pain of Jessica's past. This issue sees more of that pain brought up, possibly into the reasons why she stopped being a superhero. That it should involve a villain considered to be rather lame, The Purple Man, only proves the adage that there are no bad characters, only bad writers.

Without even actually showing us The Purple Man, Bendis has rendered him absolutely chilling. And though it's as yet unclear as to what the villain did to Jessica Jones, Gaydos' art does make clear that it was bad.

These are the scenes behind the scenes we used to read in the 70's and 80's. Few writers and artists can make it seem like something more than posturing at relevance. Luckily, of course, Bendis and Gaydos are among those few.


The Amazing Spider-Man #54 (495)
writer: J. Michael Straczynski
artists: John Romita, Jr. and Scott Hanna

JMS wraps up the Digger saga with a few moral questions that have been turned over more than once already in this arc. Despite the story having been stretched perhaps one issue too many (ah, that writing for the trade…), Digger himself has been an interesting character. Better yet, Spider-Man's defeat of Digger reminds us that Peter is as much a brainy hero as a brawny one, an aspect that JMS has labored hart to bring back to the fore.

Once again, JMS drops a couple of ominous story hints for someone else to pick up. Like Waid's Batman in JLA, Spider-Man and probably a lot of heroes in the Marvel Universe have formulated plans on how to take each other down in event of possession or simply going rogue. After the Heroes Reborn saga, it sure makes sense.

Has anyone noticed, though, that despite some pretty decent complex superhero story-telling, this title's covers have really been all about playing up the public's perception of Spider-Man? From the covers, this is all about Spider-Man and Mary Jane's romance. At least neither character has been ordered to look more like Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, as has been rumored to have happened with Wolverine.

But boy, if Kevin Smith ever finishes the Spider-Man/Black Cat mini-series, he may have a lot to answer for with the hints of infidelity.


The Authority #3
writer: Robbie Morrison
artists: Dwayne Turner and Sal Regia

After all the crap this book has gone through editorially, what remains seems to be just a shadow of its former self. It's still a solid book with some charm to it, but really, what can you do once you've killed and resurrected the team? How many more times can you find a reality-menacing foe that seems new?

Morrison's attempt has a been there done that quality. A little bit of Mojoworld mixed in with the oddity of Alans Moore and Davis' run on Captain Britain, except with a lot more blood and guts. Perhaps because of prior controversy that made DC look bad, the writer seems to have been allowed a little more leeway with Apollo and The Midnighter - and look, the relationship, though committed, seems a little dull. But then, that happens with long marriages.

That and the strangely realistic portrayal of Jenny Quantum - despite her incredibly dangerous abilities - mark the only thing that feels fresh about this book. It became famous on the strength of its "wide screen" approach, and ironically, now it's the little moments that are keeping it going.


Detective Comics #784
writer: Ed Brubaker
artists: Patrick Zircher and Aaron Sowd

In a city firmly established as being home to one of the most powerful beings on Earth, you just don't see the original Green Lantern too much. So anytime a writer tries to bring Alan Scott into the proceedings of a Bat-tale, it's welcome. If anybody can meld the fantastic with the gritty that usually accompanies Batman, it's Brubaker.

And, naturally enough, it's also a murder mystery. Bodies are being found with the phrase "made of wood" carved into their chests. While the retired Commissioner Gordon may not know what that means, it definitely sets off alarms for Batman. Delving into local history, he discovers that this isn't the first time that warning had appeared on corpses. To his shame, Alan Scott never caught the killer.

What's so strong about the best of Brubaker's work on this title is his remembering that it's about detective work. The costumes, the more fantastic elements, are strictly secondary to tense plotting. We don't need to worry so much about the Bruce/Batman dichotomy, and we don't care.

Backing it up is a welcome return of Winick and Chiang's Josie Mac. Unfortunately, it's just a tease to get us into Gotham Central #9.


Exiles #29
writer: Chuck Austen
artists: Clayton Henry and Mark Morales

The "What Ifs?" meet the "Who Cares?" as writer Austen combines this book's concept with the one he regularly writes. Supposedly this is the in-continuity Uncanny X-Men, center of a task for The Exiles that revolves around an evil Havok ghost trying to possess the "real" Havok.

Even though each month this book sets up new realities, for some reason this particular move is annoying. When dropped in the middle of continuity, it just points out how completely complex the so-called streamlined X-Men have become…again. At least Austen has thrown a wrench into things by establishing a menace that the Tallus apparently didn't anticipate. It's a classic maneuver, to put our regulars in between two enemies, and it proves somewhat interesting.

With Austen has come a strange manga influence, which is extra irritating after the great run by Mike McKone, and other recent guest artists that were at least trying something different. For the first time in this title's history, it looks like any one of a dozen other X-titles.


Formerly Known As The Justice League #1
writers: Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis
artists: Kevin Maguire and Joe Rubinstein

The eighties nostalgia wave in comics has finally begun feeding on itself. Now we're seeing revivals of simply great comics, not toy lines that somehow had decent comics attached. So welcome back, Justice League, with a mighty bwaa-ha-haaaa.

That heartfelt greeting is more for the overall concept of this mini-series. The first issue, however, suffers a little bit from reunion specialitis. Everybody's here, except for Batman and Guy Gardner, focusing more on the tail end of Giffen and DeMatteis' run on the original book than the beginning. We've got the villainous Manga Khan (yes, Giffen's infamous joke - an archenemy whose name really means ComicCon) approaching Earth just as Maxwell Lord gets the bright idea of gathering the old troops together for one last hurrah.

And so it's a formulaic where are they now, with Lord lying and manipulating his old "friends." At least the creative team acknowledges the changes made in them, some for the better, and the promise of seeing how a formerly goofy character like Blue Beetle deals with the changes in his health should prove interesting.

On its own, this issue is mostly a tease. But trust me; this is going to be good stuff.


JSA All-Stars #3
writers: Geoff Johns, David S. Goyer, and Darwyn Cooke
artists: Barry Kitson and Darwyn Cooke

The threat of Legacy continues…but really it's an excuse to throw focus on the newer members of the JSA without bogging down the regular book. This issue explores Dr. Fate without referencing the larger threat, and it's possibly the best spotlight the character has had in at least two decades.

Johns and Goyer have taken the character's name to an extreme that's only logical, but potentially devastating for Hector Hall. As far as inner turmoil goes, it's far more understandable to see him struggle with knowing how everyone around him, including himself, is to die than to worry about his own emptiness.

Artist Kitson has also taken the interesting step of drawing Hector as looking rather middle-aged, not just white-haired. It could make an interesting character bit, that physically, he's older than his father.

In the back-up slot, Darwyn Cooke contributes a slick tale of the original Dr. Fate which plays more as parody of '40's comic book stories than anything serious. Cooke has a personal mission to remind us that old comics were fun. Normally I'm all for it, but it's quite a different tone from the Hector Hall version of the character.


Derek McCaw


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