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The Amazing Spider-Man #45 (496)
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artists: John Romita, Jr. and Scott Hanna

Quite a few pages get devoted to borrowing (okay, outright stealing) a rule from Lee and Ditko's run. Just in case people have forgotten the strength of Peter's courage, drop a building on him and watch him struggle to lift it all off of himself. The only thing new JMS adds is dialogue from …The Dark Knight Returns?.

It's a shame, because this run has had moments just an iconic. But this issue marks a bit of a low point for the current creative team, as Peter runs to L.A. only to find that nothing has changed in the current status quo. Despite wavering last issue, Mary Jane remains nebulously selfish. The way JMS writes it, it makes a little sense, but then if that's the way she is, she shouldn't have gotten married in the first place.

At least now Aunt May knows that her ex-fiancee tried to kill her nephew dozens of times. And notice, fans, that there's not a hint of heart trouble. JMS handles May better than any writer before.


Batman #607
Writers: Ed Brubaker and Geoff Johns
Artists: Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens

Once again, it's David Cain versus Deadshot, with Batman caught in the middle. So, too, are the characters caught between the excellent plotting of Brubaker and the masterful characterization of Johns. Why does it work so well? Because Geoff Johns remembers to keep everybody focused on their goals. Even when a character like Cain seems lost, the trick works. While it may seem improbable to us that he can work on reconciling with Cassandra (she was, after all, actually stolen from another couple), it makes perfect sense that Batman believes in it.

As a side note, I just noticed that the monochromatic look has vanished. The colors are still muted, but we're back to four.


Fantastic Four #61 (490)
Writer: Mark Waid
Artists: Mike Wieringo and Karl Kesel

Two issues gone by, and not a whiff of supervillainy. That seems heretical. Instead, Waid, 'Ringo and Kesel grab us with the all-too human comedy of a Thing with a pie in his face. Though it seems a shame to unmask the Yancey Street Gang, Waid's revelation here just goes to prove that this run will be about family dynamics and conflicts, bringing this most cosmic of books into a very relatable scale.

Okay, and just to satisfy those who need something bigger, something horrible is happening in the nursery. But that's another story. Mostly, The Thing and The Torch rampage down the street. Sure, it's another nod to classic moments in the book's history, but here it's done with wit and originality instead of just aping what has come before.


The Flash #190
writer: Geoff Johns
artists: Justiniano and Walden Wong

Because little of this issue takes place in Keystone City, it makes some sense that we need a guest artist. Regular penciller Scott Kohlins has become typecast as his landscape. For the fill-in, the single named Justiniano proves competent, with much of the book looking like an early '90's Image title as drawn by Mike Zeck.

Rather than having "Times Past," Johns has created "Rogue Files." It's a smart move. Though this is a book about a legacy hero, its rogues really are the heart of that legacy, and Johns writes Barry Allen's archenemies extremely well. Finally, The Pied Piper gets cleared of murder charges, and along the way, we see just what he can do in a new, Ragman-like outfit. Johns also gets us up to speed on Heatwave and the original Trickster, picking up on seeds planted years ago in the "New Year's Evil" fifth-week event. It's about time.


JLA #72
Writer: Joe Kelly Artists: Doug Mahnke and Tom Nguyen Should there be a HeroClix Martian Manhunter, I vote he should have the power displayed here: the ability to make his opponents feel Aquaman's despair. Kelly tapped into one cool use for telepathy there. Beyond good character moments, including a nice fevered monologue from Batman, Kelly finally starts coalescing the storyline.

We see Manitou Raven having doubts about the nobility of his Justice League's role in history. When our League encounters Mera, she confirms those doubts. The ancient heroes aren't just acting out of ignorance; they are being actively misled by the witch Gamemnae, who also had something to do with Aquaman's transformation into a reflecting pool. Kelly has also come up with a pretty simple solution to the conflicts in Atlantean history. The history books lied. Did anybody tell Peter David?

It's turning into a pretty good adventure. The only problem with the explanation given here is the implication that Tempest knew what he was doing. That pretty much conflicts with everything else he has said and done in this story. Clearly, the earlier books lied.


The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, vol. 2, #3
writer: Alan Moore
artist: Kevin O'Neill

The most shocking thing about this issue lies on the cover. Look closely (then again, not too closely) and you'll notice that the denizens of Wonderland have been expertly stuffed and put on display. Yes, the English probably would do that. (Americans would just blow them up.)

Once again, Moore blends the events of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds with, at this point, a behind-the-scenes look at England's extraordinary response. The Invisible Man's collusion with the Martians reveals itself in horrific fashion, and Moore continues making Mr. Hyde into a surprisingly poignant and likable character.

Not enough time, however, is spent exploring that museum.


Violent Messiahs: Lamenting Pain #1 (9)
writer: Joshua M. Dysart
artist: Tone Rodriguez

For some of you, it's been a long wait. For the denizens of Rankor Island, it has only been a week since Citizen Pain and The Family Man disappeared. But in that week, a heck of a lot has happened.

The specter of Pain still has the city's fascination. To pick up the slack, a new killer has risen, while activists don approximations of Pain's "costume." Reluctantly, the city's administration calls in Cheri Major, herself still trying to sort out the implications of what has happened.

As promised by the Hurricane team, this book has a different vibe than the original arc. More than any previous issue, this story seems more interested in exploring the effects of violence than the violence itself. Though new "violent messiah" Scalpel does make for an interesting image, her actions here are almost beside the point. Any killer would have done. It's the people alternately living in fear and galvanized into action that hold the reader's attention. When Hollywood inevitably comes calling, one can only hope they don't miss the point.


Wildcats, Version 3.0 #2
Writer: Joe Casey
Artists: Dustin Nguyen and Richard Friend

Casey has found a pretty original take on the concept of the super team. It's also perfect for the times. We can only hope that, being an android programmed for good, Halo CEO Jack Marlowe really does have noble intentions. Of course, we also know what they say about the road to Hell. Good thing he employs two huge cynics in the form of Grifter and Agent Wax, who gives the reader a cool rundown of why corporations are not to be trusted.

Unfortunately that paranoid aspect to his character ends up feeling like an excuse for little rants. Casey throws in an arbitrary dig to our current political situation which seems forced, regardless of whether or not you agree with it.

The book is also undone a little by the art. Nguyen has a cool style, but not a great sense of storytelling at this point. Many panels have cool compositions just for the sake of being cool instead of moving the story along. Of course, so do a lot of Hollywood movies, so maybe it can be forgiven. Casey's story just deserves better treatment, and maybe as the book settles in, Nguyen will be able to give it.


Derek McCaw


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