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!

 Dead Again #5
writer: Steve Vance, artists: Leonard Kirk and Rick Burchett

Okay. So now we get to know what this book has really been all about. The voice Deadman thought was Rama Kushna, despite knowing full well that Rama Kushna had been destroyed, turns out to be The Spectre. A new/old supporting cast member gets introduced, and Deadman's ongoing mission gets established.

Oh, yeah, and DC now tries to offer a somewhat lame excuse for Hal Jordan going mad all those years ago. Or all those months ago in DC time. Message boards, prepare for angry Hal fans again. DC, just let it go. Maybe everyone will forget.

As a mini-series, this really disappoints. A few plotting quirks do get explained away (barely), but Vance has the new sidekick, Max Loomis, know way too much about cosmic events. Would Neron's battle in Underworld Unleashed really be public knowledge?

At any rate, the ongoing series in a few months may still prove interesting, and it will still be light-years ahead in quality of the current plans for the TNT series, in which Boston Brand will inhabit the body of his nerdy brother. (It's The Fugitive meets Mr. Peepers!)

Bonus Trivia Question: In pre-Crisis continuity, Boston Brand did have a body he could regularly "possess." Who was it, and where has that character appeared in recent continuity? If the first person who answers is Mark Waid, I'll be astounded and gratified.

Fantastic Four 1234 #2
Staring At The Fishtank
writers: Grant Morrison, artist: Jae Lee

This issue focuses on Sue Richards, The Invisible Woman. Feeling rejected by Reed, Sue gets Thai take-out and visits the blind Alicia Masters in order to dish. While she hashes out her relationship problems, a human Ben Grimm wakes up in a V.A. ward, missing an arm. And all the while Dr. Doom waxes eloquently and obtusely about his plans.

Morrison and Lee have combined forces to bring something rarely touched upon in FF stories: their powers as metaphors. Heavy-handed in some places, it still serves as a cool effect. (Johnny tends toward being literally hot-headed, and Sue may be only visible to the blind Alicia.) After reading it a second time, this story may not "actually" be happening at all; a few clues in the opening pages hint that we may be in an exercise in post-modernism.

Regardless, this book has me completely hooked, even if I do have to do my typical blinking past unclear Morrison plot points.

The Flash #177
Event Horizon
writer: Geoff Johns, artists: Scott Kolins and Doug Hazlewood

Johns brings back an old friend of Wally's, long missing from the book. The big man himself, Chester Runk a.k.a. Chunk, comes back just in time to get shot. But Chunk does not bleed like any ordinary man, oh, no. Instead, the bullet rips a hole in his personal singularity, and all of Central City may get sucked in if Wally cannot find a way to heal it.

Along the way Johns stops to give us an interlude with his favorite, Captain Cold. The two storylines appear to be heading for an interesting collision, as both have something to do with the new Rogues' Gallery revealed at the end of Iron Heights.

Much has been made elsewhere of Kolins' and Hazlewood's art, which remains cool. But a key ingredient to the feel of this book is the coloring by James Sinclair. It really gives the twin cities of Keystone and Central a worn look, not necessarily dirty, just lived in. In lesser hands, the atmosphere would not be as effective.

Green Arrow #7
Hard Traveling Heroes
writer: Kevin Smith, artists: Phil Hester and Ande Parks

The moment some waited for has happened. Oliver Queen and Hal Jordan meet again, and at last we understand just what was happening in those first few pages of issue one. You'd think Superman would do a better job of laundering the uniform.

At any rate, after dancing around Hell last issue, Smith tours the DCU Heaven. Along the way, he makes the Hal Jordan/Spectre concept seem far cooler than it is. Yep, he's that good a writer. And it frees Hester and Parks up to do some of the best work of the series.

Buy it. Everyone else is doing it.

JLA #57
Mind Over Matter
writer: Mark Waid, artists: Mike S. Miller and Paul Neary

J'onn J'onnz gets to be far more effective, interesting, and heroic in this one issue than in thirty-six issues of his own series. Temporary artist Miller also makes him look like the tough hero he should be. Granted, it's a plot complication as a result of his being captured by the White Martians, but still.

Waid winds down his run with a terrific story here. It continues to be creepy, and without feeling like Waid will pull a deus ex Morrison, I have no idea where this will go next. For years writers have claimed that J'onn has a keen mind on par with The Batman's; for the first time, you can believe it.

And the most disgusting scene in DC comics this month goes to…Plastic Man getting vivisected by White Martian vision. Somebody really needs to take a serious look at just how Plastic Man's powers work.

Out There #4
Blood Is Thicker
writer: Brian Augustyn, artists: Humberto Ramos and Sandra Hope

The dark lord Draedulus has two of our heroes cornered, but some force keeps him from being able to act against them. Instead, he will have to enlist humans to do his bidding, and suddenly citizens of El Dorado City will no longer be able to convince themselves that only bad people are getting hurt in this deal. Of course readers know that such deals rarely work as advertised, anyway.

To top it all off, Bill Gates, er, Nick Bridges senses a deal he wants in on, and if the Department of Justice cannot stand against him, what hope does a devil have?

Despite my being a huge vampire fan, Crimson left me cold. It seemed to move at a far too frustrating and repetitive pace, and I had a hard time reconciling the horror elements with Ramos' cartoony artwork.

But here, it's all working. The kids feel real, thanks to Augustyn. As each question gets answered, new ones arise, but at a decent clip. The only fault may be that Ramos' mothers and daughters look to be about the same age. Mentally add a few wrinkles, okay?

Supergirl #61
Mondo Bizarre
writer: Peter David, artists: Leonard Kirk & Robin Riggs

A bizarre and horrible-looking creature scavenges the ruins of Topeka. As it steals items from corpses, it also obligingly eats the bodies. A frustrated Supergirl encounters it, and the battle turns into a lengthy discourse on the morality of war, and the futility of so-called heroic behavior.

David probably meant this to be funny.

Instead, it just comes across as grouchy. The creature turns out to be rather fussy, despite its appearance, and Linda seems too easily swayed by its arguments. In the end, she does something that completely undercuts what the last few issues have been all about.

And really, if you have been in contact with both angels and demons, as Linda definitely has been, why would a cynical alien be able to change your philosophy?

Top Ten #12
Court On The Street
writer: Alan Moore, artists: Gene Ha and Zander Cannon

It's been so long since the last issue came out, you could treat this as a one-shot. And maybe that would be best. A long simmering plot line comes to its end (as does the illusion that this is a monthly ongoing series), but it stands well enough on its own as a story.

Moore likened this book to Hill Street Blues, which seems accurate. He looks in on the personal lives of his cops, and provides just enough information for new readers to not be too lost. Let's repeat that: not too lost. But lost they may be.

However, Top Ten is not so much a story as a vibe. Cannon and Ha pack this book with so much that you have to read it at least twice just to absorb the detail. And as always, Moore's characterization skills are so sharp that even if you don't understand who these people are, you know them.

All that's missing from the book is a blackout, and the credit "produced by Steven Bochco."

Uncanny X-Men #397
A Complete Unknown
writer: Joe Casey, artists: Sean Phillips and Mel Rubi

Nothing really new happens. Chamber continues riding the celebrity high (paralleled in Ultimate X-Men a couple of issues ago) in London, while English Morlocks continue hiding from Mr. Clean. And still Nightcrawler and the rest of his team try to convince Chamber to become a superhero again.

Despite some opening razzle-dazzle, this has been done. Again and again. Casey has given us more of the same old same old, only setting it in England. At least he has Wolverine allude to events in New X-Men, but it only makes one long to be reading that book twice a month. Elsewhere Casey has proven himself a talented writer, but it just doesn't click here; this is starting to feel like bad Claremont.

For some reason, Sean Phillips really does not get to fit in here, either. Check out his style over in Wildcats; I was really looking forward to see him tackle the X-Men. Instead, Rubi inks him in a style that fits in with pre-relaunch X-Men; competetent, but nothing particularly exciting.

The point of all the X hype was to give us new looks at the characters. In this book, it's not happening.

World's Finest: Our Worlds At War #1
writer: Jeph Loeb, artists: various

The history lesson this month comes in quotations from Douglas MacArthur's final speech to Congress. It provides a poignant counterpoint as Loeb takes us through the various grieving processes of the heroes left standing in the aftermath of the war.

Except that really, most of these are false. Batman worries about Robin, but we know that he still lives. The JLA and the Titans memorialize Aquaman, but completely re-cast what happened to him. We were meant to think him dead, but everybody in the DCU realizes that Tempest simply sent the seaking and all of Atlantis to another dimension.

At least Sgt. Rock gets laid to rest, and gets given tribute by the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., despite the apparent absence of Access.

To be fair to Loeb, the end of this cross-over feels very editorially driven, and he does a good job making the tragedies seem real, if only for this month. Some of the art in this book is truly stunning, in particular reminding readers that Bill Sienkewicz should really play in the DC sandbox on something more substantial than an occasional two-page guest shot.

You made it this far; you have to buy the book.

X-Force #119
What's One Life?
writer: Peter Milligan, artist: Zane Michael D. Allred

While Allred offers no explanation for his name change, he turns in yet another snapping job this issue. His work is so evocative that if comics came with a mute button for word balloons, you could still not only tell what was going on, but what every character was feeling. This is beautiful stuff.

Of course, Milligan has a hand in it, too, providing a great story. The Orphan makes some terrible sacrifices this issue, as he discovers that his mission to rescue a young mutant will last far past the point that his overseers said it would.

This book turned a lot of people off in its "first" issue. To those I say "come back!" Now that they've gotten the shock out of their system, X-Force may be one of the most strangely realistic and mature books (in a real sense) on the stands.

Derek McCaw

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