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!

The Adventures of Superman #606
Culture Shock
writer: Joe Casey
artists: Duncan Rouleau and Marlo Alquiza

In the second chapter of Return To Krypton II (Return To Krypton Returns?), we still don't get an explanation as to how this new/old version of Jor-El and Lara can exist. Nor is there an answer for why everyone from Krypton now seems to be descended from Jay Leno. But that's probably just a byproduct of Rouleau's riff on early Todd McFarlane.

Casey does introduce a potentially cool villain, Xon-Ur. If you connect the dots on this religious zealot, more pieces fall into place as to why Rao may be a shunned god in the universal pantheons. The character still has little more than potential, though, as the art team portrays him inconsistently. Is his armor metal, or quasi-biological? Depends on which panel you're reading.

There's also a hint in the art that Jor-El may not be telling the whole truth to his "son." This could be an inking mistake, but after six modern appearances by the classic version, we still don't really know enough about him to make the call, accepting that because he calls himself Jor-El, he must be. Though Rouleau is more consistent in perspective than Carlos Meglia, he still seems more like an artist comfortable doing big splash pages than storytelling from panel to panel. (The last page, a splash, is even just a redraw of the last panel on the previous page.)

By re-introducing the classic Krypton, and building a mystery into it, DC and its super-teams have the potential for something really cool. But so far, all we've been given are vague hints designed to not give us answers. It's rapidly degenerating to the same level as Origin or TV's The X-Files.

I'll say it now, either reveal a cool solution soon, or we're going to just chalk it all up to Hypertime and move on to something else.


Alias #12
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artist: Michael Gaydos

Outside of a dream sequence for Jessica, no actual superpowers get used in this issue. And yet, Bendis manages to start digging deeply into the true impact that the very existence of extra abilities has on the common man. Certainly they have an impact on the sheriff, as a blurry morning after scene implies that Jessica has super-sexual abilities as well.

But aside from the slight titillation factor (nowhere near as intense as Jessica's encounter with Luke Cage), this issue offers more insight into the current arc's mystery, and definitely focuses on the characterization that has made Bendis' reputation. Oh, I'd like to believe high school kids aren't as blunt when dealing with hot substitutes as the football captain is here, but that's just a product of having been gone too long from high school. And the casual cruelty of high school is captured deftly.

Unfortunately for the vanished Rebecca Cross, that casual cruelty lies endemic in the whole town. While the girl probably isn't actually a mutant (despite her white hair, a Marvel Universe shortcut to "otherness"), it doesn't matter. Her reputation as one preceded her wherever she went.

Think this seems a little out there? Substitute "Arab" for "mutant" right now, and I'd bet this scenario would play out all too similarly in some places in America. The best of these stories uses mutation as a metaphor for racism, and keeps it simple. Bendis keeps it simple.

In a nice touch, Gaydos gives the dream sequence over to Mark Bagley. The result makes Jessica's abilities even more jarring. We've been told she was once a superhero, but somehow, until Bagley penciled it, it wasn't quite believable.


Batman: Gotham Knights #31
writer: Devin Grayson
artists: Roger Robinson and John Floyd

Once he finally decides that Bruce Wayne is innocent, it takes Batman only one issue to track down the framer. One issue.

On one hand, it goes to prove that he really is the world's greatest detective, and the rest of his team operates in his shadow. On the other hand, through no fault of writer Grayson, it also proves how completely stupid the layout of this crossover event has been.

An integral piece of the puzzle falls into place, including a none-too-subtly hidden actual answer as to who did it. Grayson, Robinson and Floyd all do a bang-up job of proving what a badass the Bat is, particularly in a confrontation with a black ops team. For its sheer determination, the scene comes close to that classic JLA moment when Batman left the note for the Hyperclan - "I Know Who You Are." It's chilling, and thus all the more frustrating in the larger context of the storyline.

Let's replay the song: Batman has let all of his "family" agonize over his possible guilt, and one member go to prison for life, when all along he of course knew he was innocent. The editorial team has created a character flaw this huge just to make a plot work. We've been cheated, and so have the writers and artists who all along have been struggling valiantly (and occasionally successfully) to make us not notice how flimsy all this is.

In the back-up slot, Scott Peterson and Danuel Zezelj deliver Hands, a good, quick look at Batman's sense of justice. It's a bit of a disturbing story in the best sense. In fact, most of the back-ups that have been running through this madness have done a good job of keeping the flame alive. Read it and it will give a taste of why Bat-fans deserve better than they've been given the last few months.


Daredevil #35
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artist: Alex Maleev

To prove himself "The Man Without Fear," Matt Murdock contemplates a pack of savage reporters outside his office, and almost appears in uniform without his mask. Clearly, the events of the last couple of issues have got him acting more foolhardy than fearless.

Worse, with the alleged revelation of his secret identity, super-villains now know where to go calling with revenge on their minds. It's times like these that it's good to have friends like Spider-Man. Who else would understand the cathartic necessity of beating up Mr. Hyde?

Bendis has pretty much eschewed the time-jumping that set up this arc, but he is still moving pretty slowly. Despite how it may sound, that's not a bad thing, as we have time to really feel Matt's confusion, Foggy's pain, and have a quiet moment with Spider-Man. Not enough writers take advantage of that friendship, but it makes perfect sense that the loner superheroes still find camaraderie with others of their ilk. In the Ultimate universe, Spidey and DD aren't friends, but Bendis allows that their relationship makes sense as things have played out in the old continuity.

The digital artwork of Maleev gets better and better with each issue. Appreciate that Maleev is one of the few artists that makes Matt Murdock believably blind, not just a guy who wears dark glasses for a fashion statement.


Derek McCaw




All comics were reviewed by Derek McCaw unless otherwise noted.

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