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!
This cover is so cool, I can't even make a Super Fart joke about it.

Action Comics #783
The Gift
writer: Joe Kelly, artists: Brandon Badeaux and Mark Morales

Kelly contrasts two separate narratives from the same man. In one, Clark Kent a thought piece for the Daily Planet. Superman finds himself making the same speech over and over to different super-villains. Interestingly, Clark sounds a pessimistic note, while his alter ego once again (and rightly) symbolizes hope.

Serving perhaps as a prequel to Suicide Squad, with none of Giffen's archness, this issue also finds resonance in America this week. In some ways, I almost wish that we had been attacked by aliens. It would make more sense. And even more so than last week's Superman story, this one gives us a sense of redemption.

Guest-penciller Badeaux does some beautiful work here, though his version of Superman has an over-muscled face. Real kudos go to colorist Moose Baumann, who hues each encounter in different tones, finally bleeding into full color for the final grace note.

For those who wonder what Superman should be about, give them this book.

Batman #595
Out Of The Past
writer: Ed Brubaker, artists: Scott McDaniel and Aaron Sowd

Angry at some remarks from Sasha, Batman goes in search of the connection between his current case and his own family history. The answers surprise him some, and may surprise those obsessively devoted to pre-Crisis continuity.

And yet Brubaker does not insult what has gone before. He pays homage while still maintaining today's status quo. The only quibble one can have with this whole arc is the idea that Bruce Wayne could have blocked out so many vivid childhood memories. He has, after all, trained himself to have a stellar recall. Perhaps this plot point will be mined for further complications, but it still seems weak.

McDaniel and Sowd provide solid pictures, with some particularly interesting close-ups on the face behind the cowl. Not necessarily groundbreaking, but the image is striking.

Hey, Bat-fans! Notice, too, that on the back cover Warner is sponsoring a contest so that you could be in the next Batman movie! Nowhere does it mention that they don't know which one they're going to make. But if it's Year One, you could get a cameo as a pimp.

Fantastic Four 1234 #3
Darkness And The Mole Man
writer: Grant Morrison, artist: Jae Lee

Doom's twisted plan comes into clearer focus, as The Mole Man attempts to capture Johnny Storm. Both Namor and The Mole Man have struck alliances with the Latverian dictator, but Doom did not take into account the arrogance of his allies. Of course, that's due to his own arrogance.

And, oh yes, this issue features the world's biggest Doombot.

No matter what you think of Morrison, you have to admit that he has opened up superhero comics in an interesting direction. (See this week's JLA) He continues to give us stories that we could not get out of Hollywood. The sheer scale of his imagination can be boggling. Just don't get bogged down in little details like actual plots. Like early Moore, it's more about the experience.

Jae Lee, by the way, draws the coolest Human Torch since Alex Ross, and the most. Disgusting. Mole Man. Ever.

The Flash #178
writer: Geoff Johns, artists: Scott Kolins and Doug Hazlewood

A new business wants to move into Keystone City, one without unions. And Keystone is a union town. In the real world, that might be drama enough. In Keystone, however, things get complicated when that new business, "The Cage Factory," tries to prove their worth by transporting Gorilla Grodd to Iron Heights.

Magenta sabotages Grodd's prison truck, while someone else wakes up Grodd. What was that they said for King Kong Lives? He's back, and he's not happy.

Johns does a fine job juxtaposing politics with savage monkey action. The two collide when Goldface, not the police, call The Flash in, much to Wally's annoyance.

Thankfully, Kolins and Hazlewood do not bother trying to make Grodd look too human in expression. Grodd looks savage, as he should.

The one possible sour note is the destruction Grodd wreaks. Should comics back off for a time, while the country recovers?

I asked Johns last night how, if at all, he might change his writing style in the wake of September 11. He replied:

"A little. But more about heroes being heroic than anything else."

Amen to that.
If they make out, I'm never buying comics again.

Green Arrow #8
When Ollie Met Ollie
writer: Kevin Smith, artists: Phil Hester and Ande Parks

You know, as tragic flaws go, Hal Jordan always wanting to try and fix things makes a lot more sense than his being a drunken, irresponsible lout given too much power. Thank you, Kevin Smith, for crystallizing that.

As far as the answers to what's going on, this issue disappoints a bit. One mystery resolves exactly as we suspected, and for now, the answer to the mystery of Oliver Queen leaves a hollow (no pun intended) feeling.

But Deadman possessing Etrigan in order to make out with Black Canary? Priceless.

Those kinds of moments make this series. Like his films, Kevin Smith's comics really end up being more about amazing characterization than great plot (though they come close). For that reason alone, as great a job as Hester has been doing, it would be nice to see an artist a little better versed in quiet moments on this book.

Read it. Treasure it. And be grateful that Kevin Smith still slips in the occasional penis joke.
If Harley and Ivy make out, I'll never stop buying comics.

Harley and Ivy
Love On The Lam
writer: Judd Winick, artist: Joe Chiodo

Really, a Joe Chiodo book needs no more justification than his drawing cute, if cartoony, good girl art. Winick adds a bit of story to it, but he did not have to try.

As it is, the plot has been done before, a couple of times on the animated series. What Winick really does well is, yes, characterization. In just a few panels, he writes a Joker that would be nice to see again, providing little details that bridge the gap between the animated version and the homicidal maniac we keep getting.

The dynamic duo get short shrift, however, being very stereotyped in their brief appearance. And Poison Ivy seems curiously uninvolved, though Chiodo sure makes her look pretty.

And don't try to make this fit in continuity, because you can't. Just thumb through it, admire the art, and put it back on the shelf.

JLA #58
Dying Breath
writer: Mark Waid, artists: Mike Miller and Paul Neary

Terror Incognita wraps up on a tremendous (literal) global scale. While not quite as big a send-off for Waid as Morrison gave himself, this one actually makes sense. Granted, you still have to read it twice, but eventually you can stop muttering "right, right…"

While trapped in The Phantom Zone, the JLA has to watch the White Martians trample all the other heroes. (And is that a dig against Geoff John's Our Worlds At War special with the opening shot being an utterly crushed JSA?) While most of the JLA despairs, it all goes according to the plans of J'onn J'onzz and Batman. In this massive epic, they prove that it helps to think small.

Miller and Neary do justice to the scope of the story, and pull off the hard part of making Plastic Man look credible alongside the rest of the JLA.

And the ending? Perfect. As much as I like CrossGen, I'd still rather have Waid here than on Crux.

JLA: Incarnations
writer: John Ostrander, artists: Val Semeiks, Kevin Conrad & Prentis Rollins

Okay, I was wrong. Not even Ostrander can make JLA Detroit cool. But he tries.

On the plus side, he does more to explain what exactly the characters in the DC Universe think happened in the Crisis. Instead of a multidimensional disaster, it was temporal. And Vibe (who?) actually stopped it.

Two back-up stories also attempt to fill in more. A Flash tale with Norm Breyfogle art is pretty, and a decent recap of how noble Barry Allen truly was as a character. But the other story, involving the reporter who has flitted around this series, flashes back and forth without a clear touchstone in time, and mixes the Legends mini-series in, too. It's confusing for someone who actually did read all of it the first time around.

If this weren't the middle of a mini-series, we'd say skip it.

Spider-Man's Tangled Web #6
Flowers for Rhino, Part Two
writer: Peter Milligan, artist: Duncan Fegredo
Reviewed by Michael Goodson

You ever finish a comic a look at the price on the front and think, "wow, I paid 3 bucks for that"? I find myself doing that more and more often in these tough times. Right after I finished part two of Flowers for Rhino, which is basically a Marvel adaptation of the Flowers for Algernon story by Daniel Keyes, I looked at the cover and thought, "Wow, I paid 6 bucks for that." The story, while enjoyable, has been done before and done better.

Rhino had brain surgery in the last issue to make him smarter. The operation is such a success that he becomes the "Kingpin of a Citywide Crime Syndicate" and sweeps the girl of his dreams off her feet. The story has a nice twist on the tale, but ultimately eventually everything returns to the status quo. So, really I paid 6 bucks and nothing really changed. Flowers for Rhino is a good story with fine art, but not worth six dollars.

Save your money and go buy one of those six dollar burgers.

Meridian #16
writer: Barbara Kesel, artists: Steve McNiven and Tom Simmons
reviewed by Charlie Wentling

Meridian is a really fun series. There are too many characters for my tastes, and sometimes the politics of the islands get too much time devoted to it. But overall, it is just fun to read, and that is the most important thing. In this issue, Sephie continues to rally more people to her cause, and her reputation grows. Ilahn learns that she is still alive, and begins plotting out how he will deal with it. Jad goes in search of Sephie.

The art is good as usual. I am not sure why the romantic subplots are here, it seems obvious that Sephie and Jad will end up together. Like a lot of the Crossgen titles, this one continues from month to month, and just picking up one issue might be confusing. The recap inside the front cover does help, but to get the full enjoyment you need to read more than just one issue.

Ministry Of Space #2
writer: Warren Ellis, artist: Chris Weston

Ellis continues pushing the boundaries of comics with this alternate history. What if Great Britain got all the Nazi rocket scientists? For one thing, the British Empire would not have collapsed. And for some strange reason, British pluck pushes the space program far faster than the Americans did in the real world.

Without dipping into easy parody, Ellis writes a believable bastard of a protagonist in his legless Sir John. This could so easily have been farce like Garth Ennis' Adventures of the Rifle Brigade. Instead, it's intriguing, though not really all that exciting.

The artwork by Chris Weston, however, holds magnificent detail, and makes one wonder why we never designed ships as cool as the British, when these seem so possible.

At this point, you may want to just wait for the trade paperback, but be warned: these are thinking, but rewarding, comics.

New X Men
Danger Rooms
writer: Grant Morrison, artists: Ethan Van Sciver and Prentiss Rollins

This may be a very interesting era for the X-Men. Taking a cue from the movie, the school is finally really a thriving school, with a heavy population of mutant students. The Danger Room gets used to train people other than the actual X-Men, and Morrison has certainly come up with some great useless mutations without relegating them to Morlock status.

So far Morrison's run on this book has been much tighter than his famed JLA or The Invisibles. The balance between action and characterization has finally been perfectly struck. Not too much gets packed into an issue, just enough for us to swallow. And The X-Men feel more real than the soap opera characters they had become in recent years.

New artist/guest artist Van Sciver warms up nicely for his upcoming book with Geoff Johns, The Morlocks.

If for some reason you missed the previous arc, try buying in now.

Out There #5
Stain of Evil
writer: Brian Augustyn, artists: Humberto Ramos and Sandra Hope

Finally, some of the good people of El Dorado realize that making a deal with the devil means you've made a deal with the devil. It seems so obvious in hindsight.

The kids who have known all along, however, find that they have more strength than they realized. But just as things couldn't get any worse, they do.

It seems that this book is rapidly reaching a major confrontation that should be a conclusion. But Augustyn and Ramos are planting the seeds for different kinds of evil. All of it is just clever enough to make me interested in what happens next, despite not particularly caring for the manga-esque art.

Any book that equates Bill Gates with the devil has something going for it.

Peter Parker: Spider-Man #35 or 133
Heroes Don't Cry
writer: Paul Jenkins, artists: Mark Buckingham and Wayne Faucher

Young LaFronce has a terrible life. Forced to live with his junkie mother, barely finding enough to eat from day to day, he retreats into his room and his fantasy life as Spider-Man's sidekick. To do this, all he has to do is concentrate on his Spider-Man game card.

In short, this story feels like it would fit better in Tangled Web.

The real Spidey makes no appearance here, though the story does spark the question - what kind of stats would a Spider-Man card actually have in the Marvel Universe? (And despite no other superhero references, it seems that this is the regular Marvel Universe..)

Sadly, Jenkins tries too hard with this one. Like last month's tale, the deck gets too stacked in order to make the story work. Any social service worker in the real world would immediately take Lafronce out of his home, but then, he would not need to retreat into fantasy.

Instead of being moving, the story is mawkish and derivative. Skip this collection of clichés and hope that Jenkins gets back on track next month.

Star Wars #34
Darkness, part 3
writer: John Ostrander, artists: Jan Duursema and Ray Kryssing

Amnesiac Jedi Quinlan Vos descends further into the dark side, having already lost the Twi'lek paduwan he forgot he had. Am I too far gone a geek because I understand the previous sentence perfectly?

The lost paduwan, Aayla, has not only gone over to the dark side completely, but she serves a pretty disgusting villain. The only member of the Anzati to become a Jedi, he had to be placed in a force-forced coma. You see, the Anzati tend to feed on a weird amalgam of the life force they call "soup," the essence of what a being is and what they will be.

It's vague. It's zen. It's cool.

And it's such an Ostrander concept. Once again, these Star Wars books that can play without fear of continuity end up being the most satisfying. Former fan favorite Duursema illustrates this universe extremely well.

Avoid all titles that involve Anakin, but buy this one.

Derek McCaw




All comics were reviewed by Derek McCaw unless otherwise noted.

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