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!

Batman: Gotham Knights #21
writer: Devin Grayson, artists: Roger Robinson and John Floyd

Devin Grayson delves deeper into the psyches of the original dynamic duo with this tale of Dick's grandfather re-appearing in his life. Except, of course, that in a good Batman story, nothing is as it seems.

In what appeared to be a low-key human interest tale, a surprise villain appears, and the only other person who has done this kind of justice to the relationship he has with Batman is Mark Waid. More I will not say, except that Grayson really, really has a great perspective on what makes Batman and Nightwing tick.

Robinson and Floyd do some great lay-outs; however, Bruce and Dick appear to be the same man. Page 15 would make one great pin-up.

In the Black & White story, Mike Carlin tells a pretty vague tale of the original Batgirl fighting Poison Ivy. To completely save it, however, former Archie artist Dan DeCarlo brings his touch, with inks by Terry Austin. After reading it, you may miss those cinnamon buns Barbara used to wear. Every now and then, it's nice to remember that comics can be fun.

Crux #6
writer: Mark Waid, artists: Paul Pelletier and Mark Farmer

Having left the ruins of Atlantis behind, our heroes set about exploring the amusement park that was once Earth, with the holographic help of the last man to leave the planet, Geromi. While the others explore some pretty neat technology (including new sci-fi favorite, the tesseract), Verityn attempts to use his second sight to determine why mankind abandoned the planet in the first place, with devastating results.

As far as the overall plot goes, Waid has been moving this along glacially. We long ago discovered Galvan's secret, though the others have not. But with the huge scope of the story's setting, Waid continues doing a bang-up job of focusing on character. Despite their occasionally obvious names (almost Kirbyesque, really), the Atlanteans have grown, and clearly are struggling to be more than their powers.

Pelletier and Farmer continue their stellar work, with some greatly poignant panels. Remember, kids, that artists can tell the story, too, and not just provide great splash pages.

Crux #6
writer: Mark Waid, artists: Paul Pelletier and Mark Farmer
Reviewed by CharlieWentling

Capricia gets the idea to use Verityn's seer abilities to try to find out what happened to all of the humans. This doesn't work out quite the way that she hoped. The stress finally pushes her over the edge and she takes it out on Danik. She also believes that the team has lost faith in her leadership abilities, and she may be right.

This is a solid issue, but not quite up to the high standard set by issue #5. I did like the use of the science fictional bits of technology. We also get another clue in the mystery of what happened to the humans. Hopefully this won't be something that is dragged out for years and years. The art is excellent for a fill-in issue. With someone like Pelletier around, there is no drop in quality from Steve Epting.

Scion #16
writer: Ron Marz, artists: Jim Cheung and Don Hillsman II
Reviewed by CharlieWentling

Ethan clashes with Exeter again in the Underground's hidden sanctuary. Things quickly settle down, then not much else happens plotwise. There is plenty of character development though, particularly for Exeter, who has gone through some changes since his last appearance. Ethan also chooses a new path by deciding to help Ashleigh in her quest, at least for the short-term.

The art here stands out, and much of the credit must go to colorist Justin Ponsor. There is a six page flashback sequence told from Exeter's point of view that makes stunning use of grays and browns. The story ends with four pages taking place at sunset, with beautiful red coloring. The last page would have made a good cover.

There is no status quo here, the characters are changing and the story continues to move. Definitely worth reading.

Daredevil #24
Ruminations Over Manhattan
writer: Bob Gale, artists: Dave Ross and Mark Pennington

Bob Gale's storyline has one more issue to go. It continues being fun, though without anything resembling a super-hero battle. Instead, this is all Bochco-style law show, an aspect of the book which does not often get its due.

It also gets a plot twist right out of an old World's Finest story, leaving readers with the tantalizing question: who is the mystery guest-star? In two weeks we get the answer, and it's nice to be reminded that superheroes have friends, too.

Elektra #3
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artist: Chuck Austen

Without completely side-stepping continuity, Bendis writes a believable modern SHIELD/Hydra skirmish, eschewing costumes and unbelievable gadgetry for cool intrigue. It turns out that both sides want Elektra to accomplish the same thing, leaving her with no real way to satisfy her honor. The question hangs in the air: does she even want to?

Austen turns in another gritty art-job, perfect for the current storyline. Set in a middle-eastern country, it feels sweaty (which also helps the unbelievable amount of sexual tension that Bendis has injected). Inside the book Elektra wears far less clothing than even Greg Horn's intentionally erotic covers suggest. No wonder Maxim has chosen Elektra to be one of the world's sexiest women.

Thankfully, the story is good, too.

Infinite Justice
writer: various, artists: various

With all due respect to the tremendous work our government has done this week, the name of our anti-terrorist operation deserves this…

In this week's Marvel/DC cross-over, Osama Bin Laden turns out to be Monarch after all, and then Adam Warlock absorbs him into his soul gem.

Not enough of that tatoo is showing.
JSA #28
writer: Geoff Johns, artists: Stephen Sadowski, Christian Alamy, and Dave Meikis

A new villain (okay, she appeared in Secret Files) with mysterious ties to the past has captured the JSA. Roulette's scheme? Clearly nothing but commerce, done through the tried-and-true method of bread and circuses. Individual members get pitted against each other in clever contests, although the match-ups play conveniently along the lines of tension Johns has been building up for months.

It still provides some excitement, and may clear up that pesky Black Adam problem once and for all. Roulette's arena features in its audience a who's who of second-rate villains, sadly without a scorecard. (Though someone needs to explain why Deathstroke The Terminator would be there - when did he get re-villainized?)

As usual, Johns' skill with characterization shines. He is determined to make Mr. Terrific cool, and this issue may finally tip the balance. Roulette seems pretty interesting, making a lot of vague allusions to her past. But come on, who here thinks The Gambler is her grandfather? Who here remembers The Gambler? Yet that's too obvious for Johns. I think.

The only real problem with this book is that it ends on a cliff-hanger that we know must be interrupted by the annoying Last Laugh cross-over, so we have to wait two months before we get to see how it ends.

Just imagine all the books released this week were good.
Just Imagine Stan Lee's Superman
The Beginning…
writer: Stan Lee, artists: John Buscema

This book may be the terminally ill John Buscema's swan song. Ponder that for a moment, and decide whether or not to buy the book on that merit alone.

Lee's "re-imagining" of Superman really adds nothing new or different to the myth. Still an alien, his powers work for much the same reason as the Golden Age Superman's did, and he still ends up being Clark Kent. The biggest difference may be that this version is kind of a jerk.

A cop with an inferiority complex, Squadman Salden works out obsessively, being the only officer who has not been genetically altered. Why? Because it provides a reason for him to have an inferiority complex. Again, Lee writes like a really good parody of himself, instead of providing the real magic touch he used to have.

Right before her death, a character actually says, "Salden should be home any minute now. If only I could shake this awful feeling of danger, of impending disaster." Wow. How did she know the book would only get worse?

Worse still, Superman decides that no one must know he's an alien, and that he needs to have a secret identity. So not only does everyone in the book refer to him as Clark Kent (because he never wears anything but his uniform), but in the back-up story by Michael Uslan, a comic book company figures they can publish his adventures because, as an alien, he has no rights. (And Lois Lane, his agent, waits months to take legal action. Thank heavens she's gorgeous, because as an agent, she sucks.)

Next month Lee tackles Green Lantern, the first book in which he claims to have gotten away from the legends. Let's hope. If not, these books still provide a laugh. A very expensive laugh.

Star Wars: Infinities #3
A New Hope, part 3
writer: Chris Warner, artists: Al Rio and Neil Nelson

This series has the luxury of using the most beloved characters in the Star Wars Universe without having to worry about anyone complaining about their fate. By altering key events (okay, playing "What If?"), anything can happen.

Unfortunately, it has yet to actually take advantage of it.

Instead, we get warped versions of events as we know them, though drawn really nicely. Look - here's the cantina scene! Look - it's the tree with the dark side! Look - it's Leia in black leather! Okay, we haven't seen that before (officially). It will be intriguing to see Luke and Leia face each other in battle, but it's also clear that it will end up with family redemption. At least there does not seem to be a way for the Ewoks to appear.

Knock on wood.

Star Wars: Jedi vs. Sith #6
part 6
writer: Darko Macan, artists: Ramon F. Bachs and Raul Fernandez

Pretend for a moment that this isn't a Star Wars book. Instead, look at it as a fantasy epic all its own. Will it stand or fail on its own merits?

Clearly, Dark Horse asks this question, because these "spin-off" books have yet to disappoint. Dealing with characters that have no chance in hell of affecting "established" continuity, Jedi vs. Sith explores the origins of that menacing phrase "there are always two."

And who the two end up being may surprise you.

Macan has spun an engaging story that may merit a sequel, writing believable kids and frightening alien menaces. And the concept of the "thought bomb" makes perfect sense. Just wait for Lucas to pick it up for Episode 3.

If you did not buy this series, we recommend the inevitable trade paperback.

Supergirl #62
Two For The Show
writer: Peter David, artists: Leonard Kirk and Robin Riggs

Back on track this month, Peter David gives us further insight into the character of Buzz. Of course a demon in human form would have spent time with DC's super-villains. And of course his apparent betrayal by Supergirl would send him right back over the edge.

On the side of justice, Supergirl gives her opinion on The Batman, which does much to explain why she will venture into Gotham looking for Buzz without contacting The Dark Knight. And she also dresses up like a cheerleader, completely taking advantage of the fact that deep in our animal hindbrains, a lot of us had hoped that someday she would dress up as a cheerleader. The shame runs deep.

And yet David keeps it in context. It works, even in our shame. Kirk and Riggs keep the cheesecake factor low, focusing more on telling a good story.

It even leads naturally into the Last Laugh cross-over, an amazing feat considering David's well-publicized disdain for such events (he eventually left The Incredible Hulk over Heroes Reborn). It may turn out to be one of the few issues of the cross-over that even make sense. Nice going. If only David could avoid the bad puns; his writing and his humor go best when unforced.

"Million Mime March." Geez.

"Whoa. It's just like being in one of those trippy lightning balls."
Superman: The Man of Steel #118
Time and Punishment
writer: Mark Schultz, artists: Doug Mahnke and Walden Wong

Doug Mahnke gets the pleasure of drawing the new versions of The Linear Men, as they appear to call Kal-El on trial for crimes against universality. And yes, they are now as grotesque as they are consistently stupid.

This is one of those time-killing issues in which mostly we are meant to nod our heads sagely at how great a hero Superman is. Well, yes, he is. But the very same point was made more movingly last week. And the week before that.

Schultz does what he can, but editorially right now we have a lot of supposedly intelligent characters running around just doing stupid things. Once again, say it with me so Steel can hear it: Apokolips = BAD. NO GOOD CAN COME OF THAT STUPID AEGIS THINGIE. You know it, I know it, The Linear Men know it (even Waverider, a being of pure energy who agrees with the others that it's less taxing to appear as a brain with hands than in a human form). Why doesn't Superman?

It all wraps up with semi-theological mumbo jumbo so ill-conceived that even J.M. DeMatteis must be shaking his head. "The age of predestination is OVER! Superman signals the coming of an era of free will…" Hey, wasn't that predestined? So what's the big deal? Head…hurt…must read…Archie comic…

Has it also occurred to anyone that if the Big Three had just told The Linear Men about Hypertime, they wouldn't be so anal about the timestream?

Okay, logic quibbles aside, the book looks beautiful, and does have a last page that sets up a chilling subplot. I almost never say this, but buy it for the art alone.

Ultimate Marvel Team-Up #7
Daredevil, The Punisher, Spider-Man
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artist: Bill Sienkiewicz

That sneaky Bendis. Spider-Man barely appears in one panel. Instead, Bendis has used this book to shoehorn in his interpretation of one of Marvel's most (in)famous characters, while essentially just transplanting the regular Daredevil into the Ultimate Universe.

In this telling, mobsters didn't kill Castle's family. No, though still an accident, Frank was the intended target all along. Let's just say that more than ever, The Punisher sees himself as more moral (whether we agree or not) than in his other incarnation.

Matt Murdock does have some slight differences: he seems older, does not appear to be partnered with Foggy, and he has little love for Spider-Man. Oh, and Karen (so far) isn't a crack whore.

The story and art move along at a grim pace, just like The Punisher, and it all heads toward a final show-down next issue. Maybe, just maybe, Spider-Man will be involved.

And if he isn't, that's okay, too.

Derek McCaw




All comics were reviewed by Derek McCaw unless otherwise noted.

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