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.

Action Comics #784
Whose Mind Is It Anyway?
writer: Joe Kelly, artists: Rouleau, Alquiza, and Stucker

Penciler Duncan Rouleau makes a cameo appearance on page five, asking the plaintive question: "Am I on drugs?" That's one of those in-joke questions that just should never make it to print, because after reading this issue, one can only hope.

The Joker's toxic rain has fallen on Metropolis, leaving many (but not all - it's confusing, or perhaps just not really well thought out) citizens as Jokers themselves. Worst of all, somehow (and mercifully off-camera) Green Lantern has been infected. Luckily, Batman has stopped by to help Superman. Never mind that all three heroes had a different plan going on in JLA this week.

These are the kind of continuity collisions that cause aneurysms.

Joe Kelly has remembered what many critics have mentioned about this event: hey, it hasn't been that long since Emperor Joker. So naturally, even though Superman has made it through three weeks of the crossover without thinking about it, now he is completely plagued by the memory, and near-traumatized in his fear of seeing Batman get mind-raped again.

When Batman finds out that Superman took away his memory of the event, he gets ticked. Except that neither one remembers that actually, Superman did not absorb Batman's memories - he gave them to The Joker. Here comes another aneurysm…

The art, appropriately enough, runs pretty inconsistently, though it shows a creative interpretation of Kyle working the ring. Rouleau draws Batman way too much like The Midnighter to be comfortable, so that even Batman complaining that Superman does not have the "authority" seems like a bad joke.

Only one more week of bad crossover…poit.

Rating: Midge

Batman #596
City On Fire
writer: Ed Brubaker, artists: Scott McDaniel and Aaron Sowd

In the midst of madness, Brubaker makes the wisest choice. Sure, Batman would be distracted by all of his most insane enemies running loose at once, but other criminals wouldn't be. After all, Zeiss still has a mob contract to fulfill.

Luckily for Batman, the crazies are everywhere and unwittingly run interference. In this case, it's a potentially tasteless villain named Santa Klaus, a German nutball in a Santa suit.

McDaniel and Sowd do a bang-up job, and the whole thing moves quickly, cleanly, and entertainingly. The only jarring moment in the book occurs on the last page, which feels tacked on in the wake of September 11, and out of character for Santa Klaus.

Rating: Betty

Bloodstone #1
Blood Runs Thicker…
writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, artists: Michael Lopez and Scott Hanna

One can just imagine the meeting on this one. "Hey, that Buffy show sure has a nice young demographic. Who do we have like that?"

The answer, after some twisting by Abnett and Lanning, comes up Bloodstone. Not Ulysses Bloodstone, who lurked in the Marvel Universe in the seventies (and looks like it, as gets pointed out), but his heretofore unknown daughter Elsa Bloodstone.

Heir to the Bloodstone fortune, Elsa has disturbing dreams in which she hunts vampires. Any resemblance to characters living, dead, or in between on UPN is purely coincidental. And actually, kind of petty to point out.

Despite its obvious reason for existing, it's kind of fun in its own right. And Elsa will be dipping into an already established mythology, supported by mysterious characters that lurked in those same '70's Marvels that her father did. As to what's actually going on (and how in the heck an immortal monster fighter died in the first place), this book looks to be worth following for a while.

And besides, as drawn by Lopez and Hanna, Elsa looks far more like Britney than Buffy.

Rating: Veronica. A very, very guilty one.

Bone #45
story and art by Jeff Smith

Smith provides one of the most foreboding covers of the series, perfect for Halloween. Vedu guards loom over the Bone cousins, as their presence haunts them in the story within.

As usual, this book walks the tightrope between high adventure and cartoony fun. New players get introduced to the equation, and suddenly the Bones are faced with a conspiracy inside a conspiracy. But there's still time for Phoney Bone to start working an angle to be the richest Bone in town, while Smiley pursues his forbidden friendship with Bartleby, the only smart (and kind) rat creature.

The story feels close to its ending, which I look forward to with anticipation and sadness. But then, there's always whatever Smith will do next.

Rating: Cheryl Blossom

JLA #59
Bipolar Disorder
writers: Chuck Dixon & Scott Beatty, artists: Darryl Banks and Wayne Faucher

Of all the vaguely frightening villains the DCU has, Dr. Polaris has always seemed to have a lot of untapped potential. Fittingly for this book, Dixon and Beatty reveal some of it, as Polaris starts changing the Earth's poles.

This looks like a job for the JLA. It's just too bad that all this gets stuck as just another chapter of The Joker: Last Laugh.

Okay, maybe that's unfair. JLA has become a title of sweeping arcs, so it's jarring to have a one-shot story that fits in as part of a company-wide cross-over. The team interaction works well, and Dixon & Beatty play up Plasticman's role, which is always a good thing.

But how do these guys have time to team up when they're so busy fighting Jokers in their own book?

Rating: Betty

JLA: Incarnations #6
writer: John Ostrander, artists: Val Semeiks and Prentis Rollins

At least this version of the JLA had no choice but to be full-time. Ostrander sets his sights on the post-Giffen era team; still funny, but starting to slide into overkill.

The leader of Bialya has turned the country into a haven for super-criminals, so Booster Gold and Blue Beetle decide to pose as villains, sneak in, and discredit the government in a scheme that's just so crazy it might work. Except it's the team once known as Blue and Gold. And they hardly ever do anything right. (It's no accident that neither has an active career in the present-day DCU.)

Their motivations, however, are pure. All they want to do is make Batman like them, and who couldn't understand that?

Ostrander captures the silly tone without sacrificing logic, and the art team actually looks like a lot of what got done for the original book. Unfortunately, it serves as a reminder that DC just has not given this era enough respect. We need more reprint volumes.

The back-up story relates the collapse of Extreme Justice, for better reasons than sudden cancellation. In it Ostrander back-hands books like The Authority, a theme that has run through DC's books of late. Don't they know that technically DC publishes those books?

At any rate, this issue provides a taste of two very different but still entertaining eras in JLA history, and should clear your mind of that whole Detroit thing.

Rating: Betty

Joker: Last Laugh
mad, mad world
writers: Chuck Dixon & Scott Beatty, artist: Ron Randall

Finally, this book gets some decent art. The various Jokers have become distinguishable. The story even gets a dramatic twist to it, even though again, little inconsistencies pop up that will make your head go poit if you think about them too hard.

Most of this issue splits its focus between the Bat-cast (which is where it should have stayed instead of spilling out into the rest of the DCU) and Shilo Norman. Both provide tension, broken a little by the ridiculous and still disgusting Mr. Mind. If the previous couple of issues had had this quality, the cross-over might not have ticked me off so much.

But they didn't, and worse, despite it being both last week's cliff-hanger and this week's cover image, the book does not actually deal with the Joker Rain. The most chilling aspect of the whole story, and Dixon and Beatty forget about it.

That leaves you, the reader who cares, to hunt down which books this week acknowledge that such a problem exists. Assuming that you, the reader who cares, exists yourself.

It also leaves me with a question: when did Guy Gardner come back from the dead and become an inmate of Arkham? The first reader to explain it to me gets a prize. Or at least my gratitude for the week.

Rating: Betty

Meridian #17
writer: Barbara Kesel, artists: Steve McNiven and Tom Simmons
reviewed by Charlie Wentling.
rating: B-

Sephie gathers more allies in her quest to create a new coalition of trading states. She is finally reunited with Jad in a nice romantic moment. But the future does not look like it will be quite so happy. There is a dangerous love triangle that is sure to cause problems, and Ilahn seems willing to let an island fall from the sky just to show his power.

Steve McNiven's art is getting better and better. Sometimes it reminds me of Todd McFarlane, from back when he actually was drawing comic books for a living. The story moves along nicely. My biggest complaint is that there are too many supporting characters and none of them is getting much development.

New X-Men #118
Germ Free Generation
writer: Grant Morrison, artists: Ethan Van Sciver and Prentis Rollins

Morrison and his art team open with a pretty stark image: a teenage nerd holds his school assembly hostage, ready to get revenge for all the petty slights he has endured. While we've unfortunately seen this many times in real life, it's never had this twist: the boy buys into "The 3rd Species" rhetoric introduced in the New X-Men annual, and plans to alter himself into mutancy.

Though the boy gets killed quickly, his dream does not, and Morrison sets the stage for a long struggle between The 3rd Species, or U-Men, and the X-Men themselves.

Not much actually happens; instead the book devotes its space to vignettes offering new looks at how each character acts, and how their powers work. All of it gets beautifully illustrated by Sciver and Rollins. Though Frank Quitely still provides the covers, his work is not missed inside.

Last week Morrison touted his getting rid of the classic superhero activity in this book. Though still in transition, it is apparent that the New X-Men is shifting. After almost four decades of talking about Xavier's dream, somebody is finally talking about how it would actually happen.

It's refreshing; it's exciting. And it's as worth $2.25 as anything else on the stand.

Rating: Cheryl Blossom

Powers Giant Sized Annual #1
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artist: Michael Avon Oeming
Reviewed by Michael Goodson

This is the first ever Giant Sized Powers Annual but it should really be called "You Paid for Giant Sized and We Gypped You on Art." The story opens in the interrogation room with Walker and Pilgrim questioning a superhero about an unusual death. That lasts for 13 pages and the rest of the book is all written transcript of the court trial. If I wanted several pages of typed words with the occasional picture thrown in, I'd read Maxim.

The story itself is good, but not good enough to justify buying it. If you are a regular Powers reader then you can skip this one shot and not miss much. Only the true Powers enthusiast should go here. On a positive note, the Powers mailbag is quite funny this month. Bendis asked some of his peers in the comic world to send him their most entertaining pieces of hate mail. Bob Gale, Paul Jenkins, Greg Horn, Jim Mahfood all deliver. If nothing else, read that while standing in the comic book store.

Rating: Betty

Ruse #1
writer: Mark Waid, artists: Butch Guice and Michael Perkins

CrossGen introduces the city of Partington, which would look suspiciously like an idealized Victorian London if not for one thing: all the gargoyles flying around.

Actually, the gargoyles only serve as a touch of whimsy (so far). The real star is Simon Archard, master detective. A little bit Holmesian, he has the most keen analytical mind on the planet, at the expense of things like manners and personality. Assisted by the beautiful Emma, Archard solves crimes when the police cannot.

All is well for the two until a mysterious woman from the Eastern land of Kharibast, Baroness Miranda Cross, sets her sights on Archard.

Except that that's not really what this book is about. Oh, Waid has fun with Archard, but tips his hand to the vague overall CrossGen arc too soon. Emma has been specifically placed to watch over Archard by some mysterious powers that be, and she demonstrates the orange glow that has appeared on many CrossGen worlds.

It's a shame, because he writes the master detective so well, though he cheats. The opening mystery plays as farce, with unrelated clues that the readers would have no hope of adding up and never get explained. It may just be a joke, but why not really provide a mystery for Archard (and the readers) to solve? Ah, yes, that whole techno-supernatural arc thing.

Guice builds a beautiful convincing world here, peopled by a wide variety of types and expressions. Strangely underrated by fandom, his work alone would make this book worthwhile.

CrossGen has launched another quality book. Go figure.

Rating: Veronica

Avengers #47
In the Heart of Battle
Writer: Kurt Busiek, Artist: Manuel Garcia, Inker: Bob Layton
Reviewer: Daryl Tay

Initial Thoughts:
I think I expected much more out of the Avengers book, and this is easily the most disappointing of the issues. The story content was marginally related to the story, and hardly interesting at all. To have a team book focus on only 1 member of the team, is really... just not a good idea, especially when the team is right smack in the middle of an all out superhuman war against someone who's arguably one of their toughest foes.

The Good:
Manuel Garcia is still, in my view, a very capable and competent artist, and he really handles the Avengers well, and his version of the Scarlet Centurion is rather good. I'm gonna give Busiek credit for doing a character driven story, but unfortunately it isn't as good as it tends to be on his other stuff, mainly Astro City, which totally rocks balls.

The Bad:
Warbird is, at best, a 2-D character who used to be a drunk. Kang's son is a non-introduced character. Put them together for a whole story and what do you get? A book that reeks of boredom. There also isn't much focus on the other Avengers this issue, and mainly on these 2 boring characters.

In Conclusion:
Well. When a story drags on for about 10 issues, you just know some issues are gonna be weak. This is one of them, but I hope future issues will pick up the pace, and I'm sure it is, since Busiek looks to be combining the Triune Understanding's evil with Kang, which should end with a bang. This would be a bad jumping on issue for anyone, and I don't recommend you get this.. though waiting for the TPB may be a bad idea too.. but I think most readers could pick up next issue and still understand what's going on here.

G.I.Joe #2
Reinstated! Part2 of 4
Writer: Josh Blaylock, Artist: Steve Kurth, Inker: John Larter
Reviewer: Daryl Tay

Summary of events:
Cobra continues acts of terrorism while under Destro, and a seemingly insane Cobra Commander is in something somewhat like an asylum. Meanwhile, the Old Joes meet the new Joes. During the interaction, it seems obvious the new Joes are somewhat better than the cocky older Joes and they realise they have lots to learn from each other. The Joes, both new and old then storm CObra's base, but Scarlet and Snake-Eyes are captured, raising the stakes exponentially for the remaining Joes under the command of Gung Ho and Wild Bill.

Initial Thoughts:
It's great that this book was pushed from bi-monthly to monthly, 'cause it really is good. Though I'd appreciate a little more detailed explantion of what the individual characters do, so far Blaylock is doing a respectable job. I personally prefer Cobra Commander to Destro, so I hope they put him back in charge ASAP. The new Joes are a nice bunch, but I think introducing them this early is a bad move. New readers like me just barely can keep track of all the Joes and Cobras involved, and we have to handle new recuits? No thanks.

The Good:
While all these little details aren't very well explained, the general flow of the story definitely is going well. Joes are back in action, Cobra's back in action, it's shown the old-timers aren't all that great as they themselves think, and even Snake Eyes and Scarlet can get captured. Very quickly Jinx and Paige Adams, the girl who shot 6 bullets into 2 holes, are becomming my favourites, though I expected Snake Eyes to be my favourite in the book. It's interesting how previously the Joes didn't have much cannon fodder as CObra had, but that changed this issue, and I think it makes it much more realistic than a handful of men and women who can take down hundreds of Cobra troops, worthless as they may be.

The Bad:
Jinx is a girl? Man I read the whole of last issue twice and I never could tell she was a girl. I personally think Kurth's art isn't as suited to the book as J. Scott Campbell's.. but if it means the book is gonna ship on time.. okay. While I'd love to know what each Joe specialises in, I'd like to know what the Cobras do as well.. like the twins, Zartan and all, I don't know much about them at all.

In Conclusion:
Chances are, if you're someone who grew up on these characters in the '80s, there's no way you'd be missing this book, unless you didn't know it existed. For all the newcommers, I assure you, you won't be left in the dark if you pick up this book. 'Reinstated!' looks to be the typical 'gathering of the troops' line, but I'm sure it'll turn out to be much more than that soon.

Swamp Thing #20
Writer: Brian Vaughan, Artist: Giuseppe Camunocoli, Inker: Cameron Stewart
Reviewer: Daryl Tay

Summary of events:
Tefe, Pilate and Wish head for the Tree of Knowledge, which apparently is the same tree from which Eve ate from in the Bible. They meet a whole bunch of ape men who render Wish and Pilate unconscious, and capture Tefe and take her to the Garderner, the link between humans and animals, just like Tefe is the link between plants and humans. She then is allowed to bite the apple, which shows her two extreme versions of what would happen if her life was used for good, or evil. She leaves deciding she will choose neither.

Initial Thoughts:
Okay... I didn't expect Swamp Thing to go out with a bang... but definitely not a whimper that this book went out on. Wish had the potential to be a great character, but has been wasted. Pilate has hardly developed from the story at all, and Tefe's father is hardly even mentioned.

The Good:
I must say Camunocoli has captured the feel of the book well... tinges of horror and humanity all together. Vaughan has managed to make the main protaganist Tefe rather likable as she really wants to do what's good for both the Green and humans, which of course, deep down is what many of us want to do, make the world a better place.

The Bad:
Now basically this issue has Tefe with 2 possible decisions, and she ends up chosing neither. Hasn't this been here before? Where Tefe had to choose between the Green and humans, and she ended up doing things her own way. Though the character herself has definitely grown along the way, if the basic idea is still of that, I think the series has been disappointing.

In Conclusion:
If you want a series that ended with a bang, pick up Maverick from about 3 years ago from Marvel, great series. But I digress. Anyhow, Swamp Thing has really been a story about the maturing of a character from a confused one, to one that is really concerned about both humans and the Green. This transition wasn't easy, and while by no means is Vaughan a bad writer, but I suppose he just didn't have enough of a fan base to get this book going, which really is a shame.

Ruse #1
writer: Mark Waid, artists: Butch Guice and Mike Perkins
reviewed by Charlie Wentling.
rating: B+

First impressions: not exactly what I was expecting, but it does have a lot of potential. My biggest concern is that the fantasy elements will overwhelm the detective stories. I thought that since there were no sigils here, we would only get regular people.

The main character is Simon Archard, an investigator so good at what he does that he is easily bored. Mark Waid obviously modeled Archard on Sherlock Holmes, and that includes a Dr. Watson-style narrator, Emma Bishop. Bishop comes with a hidden agenda and the power to stop the flow of time.

Archard investigates the murder of a retired sea captain. Despite attempts to throw him off the trail, he quickly ties together seemingly unrelated clues and uncovers a drug smuggling operation. But he hasn't yet made the connection to Miranda Cross, a Baroness with whom he is destined to match wits. The issue ends with a nice cliffhanger, but I hope this isn't something that happens every month.

Guice's art is gorgeous, and well-suited to this type of story. He marvelously captures the look and feel of Victorian England with a few twists, including gargoyles that are alive. The entire issue has the Victorian feel, including the fake newspapers before and after the story, and the photographs of the creative team in period costume.

This first issue has ten extra pages without an increase in price, so if you are interested, now is the time to check it out.

Spider-Man's Tangled Web #7
Gentlemen's Agreement
writer: Bruce Jones, artists: Lee Weeks and Josef Rubinstein

New York Cabbie Charlie Clemmens has a couple of dangerous secrets. First, he has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, which apparently causes him blinding seizures. Second, somehow, he knows who wears the mask of Spider-Man. The wallcrawler has never come after Charlie about it, and in turn, he apparently tips Spider-Man off to crimes in progress.

But when Charlie Clemmens gets offered an expensive operation that could save his life but cannot afford, the two secrets seem to be on a collision course.

Jones has begun an intriguing and strangely quiet story here. It helps that Weeks and Rubinstein provide quiet work. Though it looks vaguely like Romita, Jr., the art serves the background people better. After all, that's the stated focus of this book: the background people.

In Clemmens, we have an ultimate background person who finds even his time in the foreground cut short. Jones does not rush into the story; instead, as we might ourselves, Clemmens agonizes. For a comic book devoted to him, he agonizes for an awfully long time.

As he does, we really get to feel his circumstances, his family, and his growing sense of despair. It's almost cinematic. This looks to be an extremely moving story, and I can't wait.

Rating: Cheryl Blossom

War Story: D-Day Dodgers
writer: Garth Ennis, artist: John Higgins

Sure, we fall all over ourselves for Garth Ennis stuff. But he's a good writer, dammit. So when he turns toward something serious, how can we not love it?

When it comes on the heels of hour upon hour of HBO's Band of Brothers, it can get hard. Ennis tells the story of a platoon of British soldiers fighting in Italy, and even though there's real wit and pathos, it has a feeling of been there, done that.

The real twist for American audiences, though, is that D-Day Dodgers is British military history. We tend to make ourselves the heroes (and the victims); it is good to see another perspective. And not an elephant mating with a jeep in sight.

Higgins' artwork has some rough lines to it, but that makes the battle scenes strangely effective.

Overall, this book tells a worthy story and tells it well enough. But for $4.95, it would be nice to have a little more.

Rating: Betty


Derek McCaw




All comics were reviewed by Derek McCaw unless otherwise noted.

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