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!

I bet Lois gets tired of sewing buttons on shirts.

The Adventures of Superman #596
writer: Joe Casey, artists: Mike Wieringo and Jose Marzan, Jr.

In the aftermath of the war, Clark Kent sits brooding over his role in a world without innocence. When he finally does take action, Luthor sneers at how long it has taken "the alien" to help. But the president gets a lesson in humility and humanity from the construction workers Superman saves. And the timing on this issue could not be more appropriate.

Well, obviously this week we all wish there was a Superman. But rather than celebrate him, Casey reminds us what we can do, should do, and should be. It's awkward in some places, and its resonance only comes because of the horrific reality around us. But it works.

Good timing, DC.

The Authority #26
Transfer of Power, part four
writer: Tom Peyer, artists: Dustin Nguyen and various

My jubilation after last issue's revelation gets swiftly kicked in the butt. In a dimension of dreams, after all, things are rarely what they seem.

Peyer gave us what we expected and then pulled the rug out from under us. While the overall story works, this issue feels rushed, as Peyer has to restore his own status quo before the new regular writer steps in.

A variety of inkers work over Nguyen's pencils, some to good effect. Much of the book looks garish and vague at the same time. Though it might be fitting with the current storyline, we could really use some artistic stability.

While the current super-team is far from likeable, we have to stick around and see how they really get it.

Detective Comics #762
writer: Greg Rucka, artists: Rick Burchett, Dan Davis, and Rodney Ramos

Bodyguard Sasha makes her costumed debut, while possibly growing jealous over Vesper. While an uneasy triangle forms, dark deeds at the GCPD may offer long-lasting repercussions to the supporting cast.

Though at times this borders on the soap operatic, Rucka has been spinning some gritty stuff here. Of all the bat-writers, he seems the most interested in the police department, and Bullock, Montoya and the rest have rarely felt so real.

Guest penciler Burchett keeps the look of the book going nicely. He brings a pseudo-animated style which looks easy, but isn't. Many artists are trying it; few are succeeding.

In the back-up slot, Slam Bradley finally catches up to Catwoman. The results have me interested in her solo book, even though I'm not a big fan of the character on her own. Or maybe it's Slam Bradley who needs his own book.

Strike one.
The Establishment #1
Man In A Suitcase
writer: Ian Edgington, artist: Charlie Adlard

Less incoherent than The Monarchy, this book still has a "we're feeding off a trend" feel. Yet another shadowy organization that we never knew about before prepares for a battle with a shadowy organization that, at least, does have deep ties to the Wildstorm Universe. We just thought it was done.

A variety of vignettes attempt to add up into a cohesive story, but it isn't there yet. Edgington does write what does seem to be believable British gangsters, at least those portrayed in Sexy Beast. But we need more to make it interesting.

This book may make it to the Fanboy three-issue test, but it's not looking good.

Fury #1
Be Careful What You Wish For
writer: Garth Ennis, artists: Darrick Robertson and Jimmy Palmiotti

Ah, the old warhorse. He finally gets a book that makes him look like a real man again. What does a veteran of World War II and The Cold War do in a world with shades of grey and budgetary issues?

While actually we get little other than Nick Fury's frustration as he realizes how things have changed, Ennis uses this first issue as a great character study. The plot can come later. This may be the deepest character Ennis has written in years.

The art echoes vintage John Severinson, giving the book a nostalgic feel to match Fury's mood. A few pages look like they could be ripped out of a classic Tales Calculated To Drive You Mad. But in a way, isn't that what Ennis has been writing all along?

Fury is quite a ride. And it is deserving of its place in MAX. Unlike last week's Alias, editing out the explicit content in this book would rob it of a lot of its power.

Somebody get Ennis to write the next James Bond movie, please. The movies need him.

I love those cheese cake covers.
Harley Quinn #12
A Date Which Will Live In Infamy
writer: Karl Kesel, artists: Terry and Rachel Dodson

The first year of a book that I thought I would hate has come to a close. And I like it.

The book, I mean, not the close. Because it's not over, just the first long plotline. Kesel ties everything together with the Quinntettes, Jack Happi, and the Bat-team. In the process he spins it around and gives Harley a new goal. While not exactly villainous, keep in mind that she is insane, and her good intentions provide the signposts to hell.

If a fault must be found, it is that Batman has become grimly determined to capture Harley. For the past few issues, he had written her off as essentially harmless, or at least the least of the problems he had in Gotham. But that has all become just so much plot device. If you have to make a character act out of character in order for a story to work, use a different one.

But that's quibbling. The book is great, and the Dodsons continue icing the cake with some of the best art at DC.

Nightwing #61
Lethal Force
writer: Chuck Dixon, art: Trevor McCarthy and Rob Leigh

In both of his identities, Nightwing gets deeper into the corruption on the Bludhaven police force. More than ever, he finds his Grayson identity to be a hindrance as he struggles to keep a stick-up man alive to testify against the corruption.

Dixon has turned this book into a hard-boiled police drama without removing his central hero. Just a few issues ago DC could have cancelled the book and I would not have cared, but it has really turned around plot-wise. Each issue Dixon brings Dick's frustration to life; it's a shame to see him go to CrossGen (of course, not from CrossGen's point of view).

Unfortunately, Dixon does not get much in the way of artistic support. It's grotesque, with characters' features flowing like melted wax from panel to panel. So desperate does McCarthy seem to be to fuse an animated style to the gritty subject, it looks like he has traced storyboards from Disney's Aladdin. Really. Look at the last few pages and tell me that Dick does not look like Princess Jasmine.

It mars a great story. Get Burchett down to Bludhaven.

The Punisher #4
Dirty Work
writer: Garth Ennis, art: Steve Dillon and Jimmy Palmiotti

The timing probably could have been better. Frank Castle foils a plot to crash a 747 full of commandos and The Russian into an EU strategy meeting in Brussels. It may not be the best of plans (It's hinted that the commandos are strictly, unknowingly, a suicide gambit - only The Russian is unkillable.), but it is the kind of over the top bit that Ennis goes for. Unfortunately, somebody went for something like it in the real world.

And just as in The Adventures of Superman, we could wish for a guy like The Punisher to be real for just a little bit. No matter how grotesque Ennis writes, you cannot lose sight that he has a very strong moral code, if a sick sense of humor. Let General Kriegkopf's description of The Punisher speak for this book, and why you should be reading it, especially this week:

"I thought we were out of his league, thought he'd count himself lucky we only gave The Russian one shot at him, then go back to his war with the mob. But I forgot who we were dealing with.

Punishment. Vengeance. Retribution. That's all he ever does."

And we could wish for a little justice with that.

Ultimate X-Men #9
Return To Weapon X
writer: Mark Miller, art: Tom Raney and Scott Hanna

Millar introduces us to the Ultimate Nick Fury, and it's an interesting re-thinking. Too bad his General Thunderbolt Ross seems exactly the same.

Fury has uncovered genetic experimentation in India, and attempts to destroy it. When he fails, the government has no choice but to send in The X-Men. Except that The X-Men are essentially prisoners of the U.S., and not really going in of their own free will.

While again, Millar is not writing a children's book here (and this month's cover might bely that), he is writing a compelling one. And he provides one of my favorite moments of the week, calling Sabertooth a "poor man's Wolverine," and Sabertooth taking it.

Plus the Ultimate Nightcrawler looks cool.

U.S. War Machine #1
Book 1
story and art: Chuck Austen

Of all the new MAX books, this one is the most experimental and ground-breaking. At a lower price-point, it will be a weekly book. In addition, the artwork is computer generated.

Unfortunately, it pretty much sucks.

Forget what you know about Iron Man continuity (actually, all MAX books seem outside regular Marvel continuity). Tony Stark may or may not be Iron Man; it's unclear here. Jim Rhodes has worn the War Machine armor, but not with the career we've known.

Instead, he's not very good at it. And not being good at the armor leads to fatal consequences.

The story moves at a fast pace, but at the expense of really cluing us in as to who is who, though A.I.M. has something to do with it. The art has some cool moments, but occasionally it looks like Austen is fighting the urge to sneak in a King of the Hill character (he has served as a director on that series for a couple of years).

But hey, at least it's explicit. For some people, that may be enough. And it's the first legitimate effort at making an American comic run like a manga.

Sigil #16
writer: Mark Waid, artists: Scot Eaton and Andrew Hennessy
Reviewed by CharlieWentling

The battle that has been coming for the last few issues begins here. The Saurians have been given aid by one of the First, who thinks of the whole conflict as a game, and is using it as a test for Sam. The battle goes poorly for the humans until Sam starts using his Sigil. Just as things get interesting, he vanishes.

This issue has some similarities with issue #4, when Trenin of the First encounters Sam and is surprised by the level of his power. One of the things I like about Sam is that he makes more use of his sigil than the other sigil-bearers in other Crossgen titles. He really pushes the thing rather than being reactive like Sephie or Giselle. The cover of this issue is misleading; it features Zanniati, who doesn't appear anywhere inside. Her absence is kind of strange.

The artwork is fine, and the story continues to move forward. I loved the last page and the Quantum Leap ending.

Sojourn #3
writer: Ron Marz, artists: Greg Land and Drew Geraci
Reviewed by CharlieWentling

Not much happens plot-wise in this issue. It begins with Arwyn locked in Mordath's dungeon, and ends with her still trapped in the castle. We are introduced to the supporting cast of the book. First there is Gareth, who has been the narrator since the first issue but has not appeared until now. My initial impression is that he's a talkative fellow, a rogue in the tradition of Han Solo. We don't know much about his background yet. We know even less about Neven, who arrives on the last page. For people who follow the Crossgen line, she is one of the mentor characters with orange eyes.

The art is beautiful as always. Greg Land gives the backgrounds an almost photo-realistic appearance. Marz does a good job of anticipating a lot of the reader's questions, like why Arwyn was not killed immediately, and where her dog is. Sojourn is currently Crossgen's best-selling title, and it should only get more popular when the Fellowship of the Ring film is released this December. It helps that there aren't many other fantasy comics available, and none as well done as this one.

Derek McCaw




All comics were reviewed by Derek McCaw unless otherwise noted.

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