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!

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.

No, that is not Hitler's lost testicle.

Adventures In The Rifle Brigade: Operation Bollock #2
The Pearls of Arabia
writer: Garth Ennis, artist: Carlos Ezquerra

Describing the plot of this book would be to miss the point. In a nutshell, the Rifle Brigade, a crack British regiment most of whose members are little more than catchphrases, travel to the Middle Eastern country of Semmen in search of Hitler's lost testicle. The errant bollock has mystical powers, and whosoever controls it will win the war. The Americans want it, the British want it, and of course, The Nazis want it.

And of course, really, it's just an excuse for a lot of bad sex jokes disguised as a war story. If you're a fan of Ennis, it works. But really, this book is little better than what used to run in the late Penthouse Comix, albeit with a little more howzyerfather than Americans would normally read.

Ezquerra rises to the occasion. The setting allows him to really go wild, and his work is both evocative and hilarious. Admit it, Carlos, you've always wanted to draw an elephant mating with a troop transport.

Rating: Veronica. A very, very guilty one.
Smile and the world smiles with you.

Batman: Gotham Knights #22
Bugged Out
writer: Devin Grayson, artists: Roger Robinson and John Floyd

Grayson borrows heavily from the old Stephen King movie Creepshow, in what may prove to be the most unique tie-in to The Last Laugh. Cockroaches get Joker-ized, and infest the body of one of the most prominent exterminators in Gotham. (How the Joker Toxin teaches cockroaches about irony gets left unexplained.) Soon the roaches move out into the city, shambling in the form of their victim.

While Batman has his hands full with other Joker-ized villains, he calls in The Spoiler to keep an eye on things, and this turns into a very special episode of Batman, as Bruce and Stephanie reach out to each other.

Pfeh. As enjoyable and spot-on as Grayson's work has been here, this just doesn't cut it. It hinges upon Oracle's assertion that Batman has alienated everyone in the Bat-family. That just doesn't ring true, especially since Grayson herself has so carefully been building Batman's awkward attempts to prevent alienation.

It seems, perhaps, that Stephanie Brown has been included in the Bat-family by editorial fiat, leaving writers scrambling to explain it. It's just a shame that Grayson needed to negate her own work to do it.

Robinson and Floyd do a great job with atmosphere, with just a hint of Aparo in their work. The back-up story, though done in a cool style, ends up making no sense, either, though it does involved The Joker.

Rating: Betty

Midge Fury #2
Apocalypse Shortly
writer: Garth Ennis, artist: Darick Robertson and Jimmy Palmiotti

Picture a warrior in repose. Reduced to taking his dorky, if not outright semi-retarded, godson to the zoo, Nick Fury can only imagine acts of violence. And god, how he misses them.

Luckily a former Soviet agent of Hydra has made good on his promise to stir up trouble. If Fury can wade through the bureaucracy, he will be needed again.

Using only a few crumbs and cursory nods to Marvel continuity, Ennis paints an intriguing picture of the Howling Commandos long past the point where howling makes sense. He sacrifices none of his twisted sense of humor to do it, either, adding up to an unexpectedly great book.

Even if you do not particularly enjoy stories of S.H.I.E.L.D., you should check out this offering from the MAX line. Once again, Marvel has managed to deliver on the hype, and then some.

How long can this go on?

Rating: Cheryl Blossom

Joker: Last Laugh #2
Siege Mentality
writers: Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty, artists: Martin, Farmer, & Lopez

Oh, sure. We avoided this book like the plague last week. Still, we're young and foolish here at Fanboy Planet (foolish anyway), and took a look this week.

So here it is: as a cross-over, this stinks. The set-up is still not done, while the rest of this month's books are already having to deal with its repercussions. (And, as this month's Superman proves, it's a stretch to fit those in.)

As a story on its own, however, Joker: Last Laugh actually has turned out to be kind of interesting. Seeing him interact with non-Batvillains and easily out-think them is something that we haven't much seen happen, other than the occasional odd encounter with Luthor.

Dixon and Beatty have also used this to throw a lot of attention on Shilo Norman, the boy who would have been Mister Miracle. The staff of The Slab get to be real people, and their efforts to deal with this crisis are compelling. It's the superworld out there that just does not hold my interest.

Despite that, this story is built on a false premise: The Joker thinks he's dying. I'll explain why that's false in the next review…

Rating: surprisingly, Betty

Joker: Last Laugh Secret Files
A Clown At Midnight and others
writers: Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon, artists: Pete Woods and Cameron Stewart

Victim of the vagaries of shipping, this book should be the first Last Laugh one you read. Unfortunately, it didn't come out until this week.

Instead of being filler, or broadening the horizons of the event, this comic serves as the first full chapter. Of course, if you read it first, you'll understand the flaws underlying this whole event.

The Joker has been called in to The Slab's medical facilities for a complete examination. Orderlies marvel at how his brain structure is nothing like they have ever seen before. It's physically wrong. (Is it possible? Eh, it's The Joker. It's a good bit if nothing else.)

Examining the results, the medical chief thinks he recognizes a tumor. Flawed Premise #1: The Joker's brain does not look like a normal human brain. Why would a tumor be recognizably a tumor? (When you see the art, you'll understand.)

Against security chief Shilo Norman's orders, The Joker gets released into the general population, the theory being that since he's dying, he may want to reach out to others in his last days. Flawed Premise #2: They release him into genpop before they tell him he's dying; he clearly begins orchestrating his escape and his Jokerization of everyone before he receives his alleged motive - the brain tumor.

As if it matters. You know DC will never kill The Joker anyway.

One of the supplemental stories achieves the rare state of not being a throw-away. Though tied in to the overall cross-over, Touched by Johnson, Williams, and Gray, could easily stand alone. If DC still reprinted their best stories of the year, this would be a strong candidate.

Touched follows a DEO agent as he interviews survivors of encounters with The Joker. They range from innocent to criminal themselves (including Harley Quinn), and the interviews form a particularly chilling study of the Clown Prince of Crime. Quiet and quite frightening, this story sneaks up on you exactly as The Joker wouldn't. And Williams and Gray put their own unique stamp on the character, adding one thing I'm not sure I've ever seen on The Joker: scars. Of course he would be scarred. Of course.

If only you could just buy the Secret Files…

Rating: Veronica

Mystic #17
writer: Ron Marz, artists: Fabrizio Fiorentino and Matt Ryan
reviewed by Charlie Wentling

Just like last week in The First, we have a guest art team that will become the permanent art team a few months from now. Fiorentino shows promise, but he is still several levels beneath Brandon Peterson. His drawings of facial features seem slightly off to me. On the whole though, the art still gets a passing grade.

The story focuses on Genevieve with only a small appearance by Giselle. Gen faces an assassination attempt as she meets with guild masters from three ancillary guilds. Ron Marz uses a relatively quiet story for his last issue as writer. I get the feeling that this will be the last self-contained issue for a while. The four original CrossGen books are all starting to build up to climaxes for their 25th issues.

Rating: C+ (guest-reviewers are not bound to the Women of Archie Rating System)
The Night-copter?

Nightwing #62
Midnight Madness
writers: Chuck Dixon, artists: Staz Johnson and John Lowe

When last we left Nightwing, he was getting ever closer to exposing the bad cops in Bludhaven. So naturally this month he's…hang-gliding into The Slab. That's the problem with these cross-overs; story arcs come to a dead stop.

This issue provides the flip-side to events alluded to in Joker: Last Laugh #2. Dick fights his way in, but ultimately fails because there are still four more weeks to the cross-over.

Since Dixon actually has a hand in the big picture, this ends up being more interesting than it could have been. And Johnson and Lowe deliver the best artwork Nightwing has seen in months. All in all, the character comes off as cool as ever.

This just wouldn't give the casual reader a true taste of what the book is like - yet another problem with cross-overs. Why give a false picture?

Rating: Betty

Powers #14
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artist: Michael Avon Oeming

Returning to a straightforward comic book style, Bendis and Oeming wrap up the mystery of who killed Olympia. As usual, the answer, though making perfect sense, is unpredictable. But then, if you're here to solve a mystery, you've come to the wrong book.

What makes Powers rock is the atmosphere and the dialogue. Oeming's cartoony style feels more real than many drawing more naturalistically. And Bendis may be the best dialogue writer in the business.

The only complaint I have this month lies in its letter column. Bendis stole my idea for this week's mail column, and now I can't use it. Crap.

Rating: Cheryl Blossom
Mmmm grainy.

The Punisher #5
No Limits
writer: Garth Ennis, artists: Steve Dillon and Jimmy Palmiotti

The timing probably could have been better for this final chapter in Ennis' grand guignol satire. But you have to hand it to Marvel for having the bravery to publish this anyway, and the good sense to know that really at this point, the people reading The Punisher get it.

What am I talking about? Well, last issue Frank Castle foiled a plan to use a 747 as a terrorist weapon, and this issue he has to stop a nuke with the same purpose. Putting that aside, however, Ennis thinly veils the identity of the secret villain behind the first five issues, and the revelation could prove controversial. Thankfully, the guy doesn't read anything other than The Very Hungry Caterpillar anyway. As usual, it's cool. It's harsh. It's Ennis.

Rating: Veronica

Suicide Squad #2
writer: Keith Giffen, artists: Paco Medina and Sanchez

After last issue's non-stop slaughter, Giffen slows things down to establish how this new Suicide Squad really works. Sgt. Rock gathers a new Easy Company to form the core. All four of them must figure out how to work together, and then figure out how to live with themselves as they essentially set people up to die in the service of liberty.

Though John Ostrander explored that topic with the previous series, this promises to be more wrenching. As long as we ignore the rest of DC, it's possible that we will see a lot of death in this book. (Already, though, at least two of those killed in the first issue have popped up again elsewhere.)

More importantly, Giffen promises to explore such issues as how the heck Sgt. Rock and Bulldozer can still be vital espionage agents in 2001. They both have to be (at least) in their eighties. Please, please explain.

Time will tell if the Medina and Sanchez team really work for this book. For such a grim premise, a cartoony look seems inappropriate. But they may have surprises in store.

Rating: Betty

Superman #175
Doomsday Rex
writer: Jeph Loeb, artists: Ed McGuinnes and Cam Smith

Can you believe it has been 100 issues of Superman since Doomsday killed him? Why, this calls for a double-sized issue as poorly structured and full of huge fight scene splash pages as that first confrontation! Luckily, DC delivers.

Nominally a Last Laugh tie-in, this issue revives Doomsday with Joker Toxin. How that actually affects him remains unclear, except that maybe he never smiled before, and maybe he's smiling now. But with that face, who can tell?

Doomsday invades a White House press conference, and Superman goes toe to toe with him for page upon beautiful page of McGuinness art. No, seriously, it's good; it just feels like a cheap excuse for a lot of pin-ups.

Stuck with a double event (anniversary and cross-over), Loeb does what he can. He continues using a narrative speech, this time writing one of his own for Luthor to have delivered in the wake of the war. And he does a better job of explaining how Doomsday returned than any other writer the last few times the monster showed up. Credit Loeb also for finally giving the thing an evolutionary step that makes sense while also legitimately weakening him.

Maybe, just maybe, the next time Doomsday appears, he can be an interesting villain, instead of an ugly Hulk.

Rating: Veronica (only because the artwork really is cool, and I'll never admit that again.)


Derek McCaw




All comics were reviewed by Derek McCaw unless otherwise noted.

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