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!

 By popular demand, this week marks the beginning of Fanboy Planet's ratings system for comics. Could we do a scale of 1 to 10? No. That would be too easy. Rather, we shall judge books this week by a sliding scale based on the women of Archie Comics.

Big Ethel: The awkward, snaggle-toothed woman with a crush on Jughead. If someone caught you on a date with Big Ethel, you would try to hide. Same thing goes for a comic book rated Big Ethel.

Midge: Moose's girlfriend. Sure, she looks attractive, but you know better.

Betty: Nice, solid, dependable. You can't go wrong with Betty, but you may wish you could.

Veronica: What's not to like? Hot, smart, and wealthy, she'll hurt you and make you love every minute of it. Sort of like most Warren Ellis books.

Cheryl Blossom: The tartiest woman in Riverdale, and thus, the one you want the most. This will be Fanboy Planet's highest honor.

Alias #2
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artist: Michael Gaydos

Well, we can say this much for the Max line. They sure swear a lot.

But aside from that, they also deliver some really good stories. With Alias, Bendis has the freedom to explore plotlines that cannot fit in the candy-colored mainstream Marvel Universe, but you know have to happen to heroes.

Jessica Jones has been royally set up, but whether it's to bring down Captain America or herself appears unclear. We still don't get to know all that much about Jones, but the first issue implied that she had formerly run with The Avengers. Bendis implies that it was not a very amicable parting, because Jones flounders in her attempts to contact the star-spangled avenger. If, indeed, it was he she saw leaving a tryst with a woman murdered just hours later.

This seedy corner of the Marvel Universe feels very dark, very cold, and like Jessica, very alone. Gaydos' artwork perfectly fits the bill, full of shadows and huge empty spaces.

For the mystery alone, this issue rates a Veronica.

Amazing Spider-Man #35 or 476
Coming Out
writer: J. Michael Straczynski, artists: John Romita, Jr. and Scott Hanna

At last, rather than running or standing still and taking a beating, Peter uses his head. Of course, we knew he had to defeat Morlun eventually. The actual method reminds readers that, oh yes, Peter is supposedly one of the smartest guys around.

And after completely turning fanboys' heads around with the new question of where Peter's powers came from, Straczynski settles the issue. It may disappoint some, but it perfectly balances the status quo while still leaving story ideas for others to follow. Even while wrapping up the adventure, he still provides a thrill that will rock the book for a long, long time.

For whatever reason, Romita has really been doing some beautiful work with Straczynski. It's not just hype; The Amazing Spider-Man has returned to being one of the most solid books on the market.

Rating: Veronica

Doom Patrol #1

writer: John Arcudi, artist: Tan Eng Huat

Fans of every previous incarnation of the Doom Patrol will find something to like here. From the original, Cliff Steele goes back to being a blue-collar goofball stuck in a robot body. The Showcase revival and pre-Vertigo version contributes the idea that these guys may not actually be all that likeable. And in a nod to Grant Morrison, a couple of these guys are really freaks.

Of course, Morrison himself has been exploring that quite nicely over in New X-Men, and many consider the Doom Patrol to be a knock-off of the Marvel concept. It's more than that, and less.

Instead of being hounded by society, the freaks of the Doom Patrol tend to be able to fit in rather well. When this book opens, Robotman has a job at a chemical plant, being able to withstand temperatures and fumes that ordinary humans can't. The rest of the new team are on a payroll, training to make a public debut as a super-team.

It isn't until their mysterious financial backer decides to license the Doom Patrol name from Robotman (the last surviving original member - until Arcudi figures out how to bring others back) that the team really gels. As much as he hates it, Robotman plays superhero very well.

Arcudi has brought an interesting, if not yet really vivid, cast together. Malaysian artist Tan Eng Huat brings a new style to DC, and it really works. The kid can tell a story with great cinematic flourishes without letting his obvious manga influences overwhelm things.

Give him some time, and he may just be the next guy everybody rushes to copy. Right now, it's just intriguing.

Rating: Betty

Exiles #5
Up North And In The Green
writer: Judd Winick, artists: J. Calafiore and Mark McKenna

After putting his team through the wringer by re-living the Dark Phoenix Saga, Winick changes gears a little. Only a little.

The Exiles materialize in a version of Canada, with no word from the Tellus as to what they have to change. As they banter (appropriately, they're like The Real World: Mutant Nation), The Hulk bounds into their midsts.

He's not happy; they're not happy. But despite the violence and rage, Winick and his art team make it all funny. To top it all off, they encounter a Wolverine (with Alpha Flight in tow) who has mastered his savage nature completely. Amongst his team is a version of John Proudstar in a completely unexpected role.

Instead of just filling in the alternate histories of his cast, Winick can finally start building character. The two Proudstars have an interesting exchange, and the team dynamics start to really come out.

For a book I swore I would not buy, I'm having a surprisingly good time.

Rating: Veronica

Iceman #1
The Iceman Cometh
writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, artists: Karl Kerschl

Bobby Drake travels to Hong Kong in order to find his son. At the airport he gets attacked by mutant mutant-haters (no, really, they say "Burn, mutant, burn," even though they apparently take orders from one themselves). It seems that somebody wants a genetic sample from Iceman for nefarious purposes, and they involve his infant son, too.

Thankfully, the last few years have seen Bobby Drake grow as a character; the applications for his powers have come a long way. (Leaving ice duplicates of himself? Nice trick.) But no matter how hard Abnett and Lanning try, this still just feels tired. Stick DC's Arsenal from a few years ago in here, and the story would hardly change (minus the mutant angle, of course).

And despite an appearance from the new, improved Beast, the overwhelming mutant hysteria in the other X books has not yet really reared its head. Once again, it's a mini-series that we know will have no impact, even with the pretty art of Karl Kerschl.

Rating: Midge

The First #12
The Choice / Mentor's Counsel (back-up story)
writer: Barbara Kesel, artists: Andrea Di Vito and Rob Hunter
Reviewed by Charlie Wentling

If you just read the first eight pages of this story, you might think that it was an issue of Crux rather than the First. The cast of Crux guest stars, but it is unusual in that there is not really any interaction between the First and the Atlanteans. After this, we jump around and get three or four pages spent on each of the continuing subplots. It seems like this series is all subplot and no plot, but I am sure that someday everything will build up to an amazing climax. The characters are interesting enough that I don't mind the slow pace.

The art is good for a fill-in issue. Which is a relief since a few months from now this will be the permanent art team. We also get a back-up story focusing on the Mentor characters. Good art here by Andy Smith and Andrew Hennessy, and we get more hints at the motives of the mentors. The use of color here is nice as well; CrossGen uses the whole red/orange/yellow thing to their advantage.

Rating: Betty

The First #12
The Choice / Mentor's Counsel (back-up story)
writer: Barbara Kesel, artists: Andrea Di Vito and Rob Hunter
Reviewed by Daryl Tay

Summary of events:
Gannish is on the Planet Earth, home of Crux, where he watches the 6 sigil-bearers fight the Negation while staying etheral, despite almost being noticed by Verityn. He makes many accurate observations of the cast of Crux, including the fact that they may have existed before the First, thus reducing the status of the First to secondary. Meanwhile, Yala interrupts the daughter-father pair of Persha and Pyrem, reporting that another sigil-bearer has vanished. Ingra summons Orium to find Persha, and realises that her spell over her has been broken, by an unknown person. Meanwhile, Seahn and his parti of... persuaded members of the First get ready to take over House Dexter from Pyrem by force, with Enson's help. Over in the backup story, we see that Wyture is much more than she appears, even stronger than Ingra herself, and Persha's protector.

Initial Thoughts:
My thoughts about the First being the least interesting and impressive comic has totally vanished. The pieces are all falling into place, and definitely the execution alone makes it worthy of the Most Impressive Comic of the Week. While not Best of the Week, it has much surpassed all my previous expectations and has turned into a truly spectacular read. As I've said before, the Seahn/Ingra dalliance as well as the meetings with Pyrem and Persha are just intruiging, each party having their own agenda, and of course, Enson and Wyture and working their manipulations as well, to a rather good effect.

The Good:
Andrea Di Vito didn't do too much of an impressive job over on Scion when he took over once, but his work is much suited to the First, and manages to make all the characters look recognisable. He draws the same kind of powerful males and slender females Bart Sears draws, but without making them overly exaggerated. I liked the backup story too because of Wyture's standing up to Ingra and a display of perhaps a mere fraction of her powers. There seems to be a link to her and the characters of Meridian as well as Enson, but since I don't read Meridian I can't really comment. Barbara Kesel has paced the book perfectly. While I wouldn't have minded the story being a little clearer from the start, the way the everything is coming together masterfully is pure genius. I'd like to see how Seahn's little rebellion works out, as well as Persha's plant to try contacting Altwaal.

The Bad:
Sheesh. I think Gannish's thought font is just too damn hard to read. I had to squint to make out every word he was thinking. Somewhere towards the middle of the book, where we have a spread-page of Persha and Wyture at Atwaal's Obelisk, Persha seems to have some weird fungal disease at the back of her skirt and rear end, it's only after flipping the page do we realise that it's actually the back pattern. Seriously, do something about the coloring, inking and the art.

In Conclusion:
I still don't care for the amount of crossing over that the First has. They have practically crossed over to every CrossGen book, and this issue has about 1/4 of the book focused on the characters of Crux. I also think Gannish's conclusion is wrong; the Crux members are technically not older than the First, they only have woken up 10,000 years later due to cryogenic freezing, not that they existed for that long. No more waiting for the TPB for the First, and I think Sojourn is gonna take the new place as the weakest Crossgen book that I collect.

Frequency Rating: 8/10 High Frequency

Legends of the Dark Knight #148
Bad, Part Three
writer: Doug Moench, artist: Barry Kitson

The noose tightens around gentle giant/psycho killer Jordy and his "Bad." Still trying to understand, Batman does everything he can to keep a terrible disaster from happening. And by the time writer Moench throws in his plot twist (or does he?), all interest we might have had is lost.

In all three parts of this story, Batman has spent a remarkable amount of time conferencing with the hot psychologist, really just re-hashing the same points over and over. Instead of entertaining us, it becomes a pedantic dialogue on the nature of evil. And of course, the answers are as vague as they always must be.

If DC could please remember, the title of this book is Legends of the Dark Knight. Give us stories that readers might talk about for a while, instead of fillers outside of continuity.

Rating: Big Ethel

Ultimate Spider-Man #14
Doctor Octopus
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artists: Mark Bagley and Art Thibert

Once again, Bendis reminds us that a lot of classic origin tales are actually pretty disgusting. This month, Doctor Otto Octavius awakens after a three month coma, to discover that his robotic arm harness has fused to his flesh. Or to be more apt, into his flesh. His eyes, too, have been severely damaged, and they ain't no picnic to look at, either.

Horribly scarred and grotesque to look at (it was so much cleaner when Ditko drew it. Thanks, Bagley.), he has no choice but to begin a homicidal rampage. All without leaving his hospital bed.

Peter has no idea that danger awaits, blissfully enjoying finally having shared his secret with Mary Jane. As the two teens grow closer, the Ultimate Gwen Stacy appears, hot, blonde, and punk. Let the soap opera begin.

Rating: Veronica

Ultimate X-Men #10
In The Heart of Darkness
writer: Mark Millar, artists: Adam Kubert and Art Thibert

Under government control, the team formerly known as The X-Men invades an Indian stronghold to rescue Nick Fury, destroy a genetic weapons experiment, and coincidentally push their ethics to the limit.

Millar may have chosen an unlikely country for this sort of attack, but his characterization remains sharp. Jean Grey makes a terrible choice, and we know the consequences will be far-reaching without being summarized by interior dialogue. Rogue's loyalties may be changing, but Millar is content to tease us with just a panel and a simple sentence that speaks paragraphs.

Kubert and Thibert do their usual bang-up job, simple when they need to be, but capable of Kirbyesque complication.

And just a nice touch: Iceman has to wear a rocket pack. None of those silly and physics-defying ice slides in the Ultimate Universe. For now.

Rating: Veronica

Uncanny X-Men #398
The Clash
writer: Joe Casey, artists: Sean Phillips and Ashley Wood

Chamber's romance with Sugar Kane gets exposed for the fallacy the rest of the X-Men knew it was. Nightcrawler gets to pontificate, and Wolverine throws down with Mr. Clean. Ultimately, all this arc has done is establish Chamber as an X-Man.

Each issue under Casey has had a sameness to it. The British Morlocks distrust normal humans and flashier mutants. (Though this month, Iceman gets to whine about knowing how rough it is for the ugly ones - this in a storyline in which he has not iced up once.) Sugar's agent expresses hatred for mutants. Ho hum.

The big difference comes in the art. Ashley Wood inks over Sean Phillips in a bad Sienkewicz pastiche. Phillips has the tendency, but manages to pull back from being nothing but hard lines in inking himself (see Wildcats). Wood shows no such restraint. Even the flames are angular.

Especially when held up against Ethan Van Sciver's beautiful art in last week's New X-Men, this book just looks as ugly as those underground mutants.

Rating: Midge

Wildcats #28
Door Prizes
writer: Joe Casey, artist: Sean Phillips

And now on to the flip-side. As boring a job as Casey has done with the X-Men, he has consistently delivered a compelling book with Wildcats. Maybe it's because this team doesn't have a lot of baggage. What little there was sucked in the first place. He has room to play here.

The former Voodoo gets a lesson in her half-Daemonite heritage from one of the last survivors of that race, while Maul learns to accept that he really does sort of like her.

With this issue, Casey and Phillips bring their run to an end, though set the stage for whatever form the title will take next year. It's quiet, even when dealing with the more ridiculous aspects of its continuity (Daemonites, Kherubim - does Jim Lee duck his head in shame?).

And Phillips, strangely well-suited for talking heads, delivers a beautiful book, brimming with emotion. Don't let his work on Uncanny X-Men turn you off. He is a top-notch artist, and he and Casey make a great team, under the right circumstances.

Rating: Veronica

Wonder Woman #174
The Witch And The Warrior
writer: Phil Jimenez, artists: Jimenez, Lanning, Strucker, Alquiza

Circe makes her move. While the world recovers from an intergalactic war, she gathers all the villainesses on Earth and makes Manhattan their hunting ground. Their prey? All the superheroes and some of the supervillains, partially transformed into animals. Oh, Batman makes one sorry snake.

Of course Diana cannot stand for this, and gathers all the superwomen to her side. Despite being devoted to peace, Wonder Woman does not just have a strong warrior side - she makes a great commander. Jimenez has created the perfect scenario to prove it.

Mostly, this issue serves to marshal the forces and draw the sides. Next issue will be the real brouhaha, unfortunately coinciding with The Last Laugh, so it may not be as purely fun a story as Jimenez had intended. Come on, DC, how much crazier does Circe really need to get?

As usual, the artwork is lush, though I've lost track of Zatanna's costumes. Jimenez puts her back in her JLA Detroit duds. Someone please remind me when she lost the fishnets.

Rating: Veronica

X-Force #120
writer: Peter Milligan, artist: Michael Allred

The front cover also serves as the first panel of the story. Tying this book loosely into regular X-continuity, Wolverine makes a guest-shot. It may seem gratuitous at first glance, but it really serves the plot well.

And of all the X-Force members for him to have a past with, it seems oddly cool that he knows Doop.

Granted, the book does not have much of a status quo, but Milligan again upends what little there is. At the same time, unlikely leader The Orphan grows more likely.

A lot of people still hate this book, but Milligan has written an all-too likely scenario. We just don't want to admit it. Even with Allred's cool flat look, we can still see the ugly backsides of the characters.

Except for Doop. He remains a mystery, but with this issue becomes even more compelling.

If you want to wait for the inevitable trade paperback, okay. But do not miss it, because this is the book that has truly given a jolt of energy to the X-franchise.

Rating: Cheryl Blossom


Derek McCaw




All comics were reviewed by Derek McCaw unless otherwise noted.

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