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) and Brian's Books (the other 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 #782
Trial By Fire
writer: Joe Kelly, artists: Kano and Marlo Alquiza

At last the war comes to an end. Superman confronts Brainiac 13, aided on Earth by Luthor and his daughter. And like all good cosmic events, the seeds get sown for future villainous doings.

The responsibility for wrapping this up may have only landed on Kelly by a quirk of the calendar, but he (and, we must assume, the whole Superman team) has come up with a clever resolution. Even Luthor comes across as more complex than merely evil. His heroic (if Machiavellian) actions in this war may stave off that inevitable impeachment after all.

Still, this book suffers somewhat from a splintered narrative. Many characters get to tell their piece of the story (and boy, could someone please hurry up and tell Steel that Apokolips = Bad, end of story?). It has too much scope to handle in 22 pages. If you want to understand all that leads up to the climax, you have to buy this month's Wonder Woman.

But then, isn't that just all part of DC's clever plan…?

Angel and the Ape #1 of 4
Model Behavior
writers: Howard Chaykin and David Tischman, artist: Philip Bond

If you fondly remember the loopy series from the sixties, or at least Phil Foglio's attempt to revive it a few years ago, brace yourself. Chaykin and Tischman have largely "re-imagined" the setting, placing it firmly where Chaykin likes it best: in sleazeville.

That said, it almost works. For those who don't know, gorgeous and brainy clubgirl Angel O'Day teams with gorilla cartoonist Sam Simeon in a detective agency. The unlikely duo solve crimes and probably go where Mark Wahlberg and Helena Bonham Carter dared not.

In a nod to the original series, characters have outlandish names, such as Torso Van Morso and supermodel Bambi Dextrous. And it's okay, because how realistic can a comic be when your hero is a mute but talented gorilla?

The plot, such as it is, deals with the disappearance of Bambi. But really, it serves as an excuse to immerse us in a seamy but playful semi-porn atmosphere. As usual, Chaykin even slips an alter ego in, in the form of a police detective in love with Angel.

What really makes this book work is Bond's art. Reminiscent of Evan Dorkin, Bond creates a busy world with a legitimately diverse cast. Sam comes off as an apish Silent Bob, but we call that homage.

If you like sex and monkeys, this is your book.

Batman: Orpheus Rising #1 of 5
Mean Streets
writer: Alex Simmons, artists: Dwayne Turner and Danny Miki

Oh, those Gotham vigilantes. Someone is killing cops, but doing them far enough apart that the police have not really noticed the pattern. And neither has The Batman, until William "Billy" Littlefield goes down on the steps of City Hall. Littlefield survives, and shortly thereafter a mysterious masked man stalks the city.

Sorry. Even if we haven't seen it all before, it feels like we have. This kind of story could have been told in one issue, but instead we have to get drawn into an event.

On the upside, the artwork is great. Turner and Miki have an interesting style that leaps off of the page. For some reason, they draw a Batman closer to the classic licensed look than usual, and it works. Or maybe they just didn't bother to heavily stylize the whole thing. In this case, then, less is more. Thanks for giving me back the Batman I grew up reading.

If you must know where Orpheus comes from, so that you will not be left behind when he starts popping up in other books, buy into this. Otherwise, stick to the main books.

Sanctuary, Part Two
writer: Ed Brubaker, artists: Scott McDaniel and Karl Story

Give points to Brubaker and company for creating a cross-over tale that makes Batman believably co-exist with superheroic trappings. Unfortunately, they also go for the "trust us, something important happened" school of narrative to do it, while sacrificing much of the ongoing plotline.

A crash-landed alien has put two men into a coma, and hides in a Catholic church. The citizens are in an uproar, and government forces are moving in to contain or destroy the alien. Of course, The Batman cannot stand for that.

In the background, the enforcer Zeiss tries to put himself back together, and really, that makes for the more interesting story. The tale of the alien ultimately gets left up in the air. Kudos to the first reader who can tell me why his victims ended up in a coma, or how they recovered, or why we had this story for any other reason besides a cross-over?

Maybe a Bat-book just had to be sacrificed for the greater good.

Daredevil #22 or 402
Legal Questions
writer: Bob Gale, artists: Phil Winslade & James Hodgkins

The Jester may have the best post-criminal career yet. On the other hand, only in a comic book could a guy "pretend" to rob a bank in order to serve a summons, and only have to say he's sorry for the courts to let him go.

Gale also takes the opportunity to introduce yet another potential love interest, in the form of Daredevil's defense attorney. Despite the lightness of this story, it does cover some interesting territory that may be best left alone. Do we really want to see our heroes having to confront the icy terror of insurance forms?

Though a fun enough read, we're ready for Bendis.

Dead Again #4
writer: Steve Vance, artists: M.D. Bright and Rick Burchett

Stuck in Hell, Deadman can only watch helplessly as arch-villain Caldera attempts to possess the corpse of Superman. Except that he's not really stuck, as when circumstance allows, he immediately steps out of the soul cage.

Of course, we also all know that Superman has not been performing evil deeds since his resurrection, so a lot of suspense got sapped out of this issue. We do learn that Neron has a great plan at work, but for casual readers this may all add up to a big yawn.

The overall plot of the book keeps getting pushed aside to retell a story we either all know or have moved past anyway. Perhaps the biggest revelation for new readers will be that boy, Superman looked stupid with long hair.

It's too late, though. We have to see how it ends. Thankfully, that's next week.

New X-Men #116
e is for extinction, part three
writer: Grant Morrison, artists: Frank Quitely, Mark Morales, and Dan Green

Emma Frost formally joins the X-Men, and Frank Quitely gives her a physics-defying outfit to celebrate the occasion.

After picking through the horrifying rubble of Genosha, the X-Men analyze their new foe, and discover something quite shocking. Even more shocking than their finally acknowledging that she looks just like Professor X.

Morrison writes books that make the blood rush through your ears. You have no choice but to race through them, because even if you don't quite get what's going on, you have to know what happens next. I thought that would never happen with the X-Men again.

Ably adding to the excitement, Quitely shows he can draw something other than sneers, as in a panel with Professor X absorbing the devastation in Genosha stands out as strangely real. One panel. And yet it's as if Patrick Stewart acted the whole thing out. It helps that Quitely has inkers who soften him up a bit; his attractive women actually appear attractive this month.

And boy, can the White Queen pout or what?

Powers #13
Inside Information
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artist: Michael Avon Oeming

Bendis and Oeming mix up the format beyond the cover. This really is the tabloid gossip magazine that would exist in a world of superheroes. And Bendis runs with the format.

Some of it whizzes by; it's hard to register which feature stories may become important. The interview with the recently deceased Olympia ends up being more of a character study than an actual plot device, but the whole thing does provide a cool breather from the main action. And then come the last pages, in which the book becomes a comic again.

This book looks like it should be so simple, and yet Bendis and Oeming always have a curveball up their sleeve.

Rogue #1
In Your Hands…
writer: Fiona Avery, artists: Aaron Lopresti and Randy Emberlin

As good as the regular books have become, this mini-series stands as a throwback to the "good old days" of The X-Men. By good old days, I mean the days when Marvel knew we would buy anything that had the slightest whiff of X about it.

Though not really that bad of a story, this Rogue mini-series just has no point to exist other than to take readers' money. It goes back to her early days with the team, days about which new readers will have no clue or interest. And it's just terribly melodramatic, trying to shoehorn information given us by the filmmakers about Rogue into her regular continuity.

You don't need it.

Spider-Man's Tangled Web #5
writer: Peter Milligan, artists: Duncan Fegredo

After a shaky (or rather, more traditional) start, this book has finally justified its continued existence. Focusing on those around Spider-Man rather than on the wallcrawler himself, this comic can prove to be one of the most surprisingly thoughtful on the shelves.

The Rhino is definitely one of the dumber villains of the sixties, in all senses of the word. Stuck in a rhino suit for the rest of his life, he does not have a lot of career options. His situation becomes even more poignant when he finally begins to yearn for something more.

Though the arc title (Flowers For Rhino) provides a literary clue as to where the story is headed, Milligan still tells it without contrivance. It feels fresher than it could have been, and Fegredo's art pops it up another notch.

It just feels good to have an "extra" title actually be worth it, even if it means another monthly dent to the budget.

Star Wars #33
Darkness, part two
writer: John Ostrander, artists: Jan Duursema and Ray Kryssing

How can this be the same Ostrander who writes so slavishly to continuity in Martian Manhunter? Free to explore the Star Wars Universe, Ostrander's work here has all the excitement and suspense that his DC work of late has lacked.

Potentially disgraced Jedi Quinlan Vos continues his journey to recover his memory. Stuck on a prison world (your standard wretched hive of scum and villainy), he has to both break up an arms ring and confront his greatest fear, lest he give in to the Dark Side.

Lucas seems to have given Dark Horse a free hand in establishing all the corners of the Universe in this time period between Episodes 1 and 2. All the creators involved rise to the occasion, and tell a good solid story that has no need of any movie character other than Mace Windu. Please, please, please leave Anakin out of it, okay?

Wildstorm Summer Special
creators: various

Two Authority stories and a look at Zealot comprise the meat of this book, existing to celebrate the anniversary of Gaijin Studios. Though you may not have heard of the Studios, you will recognize the artists involved.

Still, does this justify an extra book? Warren Ellis returns to The Authority to write a character piece on Jack Hawksmoor. It feels good to have him back. (Ellis, not Hawksmoor.) Paul Jenkins contributes a story of sex and the single Engineer, which features several panels of The Midnighter ironing. For those who wondered, the answer is boxers. For that image alone, the book rocks.

The Zealot story did not do much for me, but then, I really don't know enough about Zealot. For me, the book scored well with a two out of three. But this summer has been so heavily loaded with pricey volumes that September had better be light.

Wonder Woman #173
writer and pencils: Phil Jimenez, inks: Andy Lanning

Poor Phil Jimenez. Somehow, it has fallen onto him to re-cap and make sense of the goings on over in Action Comics. With that pressure, he still has to move forward his tale of the Amazons. Luckily, Jimenez can handle it all. For a guy who only wanted to draw Wonder Woman, he sure turned out to be a great storyteller.

Though the first four pages do consist of "what has gone before" in Our Worlds At War, they help clarify a few plot points. Did anybody else realize that Atlantis got teleported to another dimension by Tempest instead of being blown up by Imperiex? Thank you, Phil, for letting me know. And now I have hope for Aquaman's return.

More importantly for Jimenez' plot, he gets to finally resolve that Amazons vs. Darkseid thing, in a manner that proves that violence really isn't always the answer. It's clever and appropriate, and I can only hope that other writers in the DCU pick up on it.

Buy this one. You can read it without having to read Action Comics, but not vice-versa.

Derek McCaw

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