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.

Adventures in the Rifle Brigade, Operation: Bollock #3
Spit Or Swallow
writer: Garth Ennis, artist: Carlos Ezquerra

Subtlety is not this title's strong suit. If anything, Ennis has become even more obvious with the sniggering sex jokes, although it could simply be because the Nazis didn't really know from double entendre.

Ennis has placed his beloved Brigade at risk of becoming eunuchs. Luckily, the Nazis confiscating their weapons mistake The Piper's set of bagpipes for a musical instrument. Just when you thought this book could not go any further over the top, Ezquerra shows us a man ripping his own face in half in order to escape a jaunty fling from the Highlands. It's horrible; it's grotesque; it's funny.

The only downside to the book is that it gets too busy parodying established riffs instead of surprising us. After Maryland Smith returns to these pages, the story follows the beats of an Indiana Jones film, right down to the ending. And a page bogs down making fun of Ennis' own brilliant work on Enemy Ace.

Rather than be its own special creation, Operation: Bollock is just the pornographic version of MAD.

Rating: Betty

Agency #4
Electric Avenue
writer: Paul Jenkins, artists: Kyle Hotz and Matt Nelson
reviewed by Daryl Tay

Agency has been one of the best reads I've had for the past 3 months, but this issue really doesn't meet up to previous issues, and is a huge disappointment to me. Hardly any of the characters are highlighted this issue except Virch, and most of them don't seem to understand how big a threat God's Man is, and he's surprisingly a large threat, able to neutralise the team so quickly.

I didn't like Kyle Hotz's work on Hulk the last time. But this time round, on a darker book like the Agency, it definitely is able to bring across the terrors and stuff of the world across very well.

Where the hell did this little world in Virtual's head come from? I really doubt God's Man has the ability to take care of all of the Agency, especially Kerrick, so easily and quickly, it doesn't make sense. I think what really lost me was the technicality of the search engine in Virch's brain, I couldn't understand what in the world was going on and why whatever happened, happened.

I hope it was only this issue which is a major disappointment, 'cause as far as I'm concerned Paul Jenkins and Kyle Hotz have been turning in some great work so far, I'll give it a couple more issues or until the God's Man story is done to make my final decision. Maybe the Agency will be one of those books which will be made much better if read in a TPB format so everything can be followed at the same time, I wouldn't exactly know until the TPB comes out, but I'd highly recommend ths first 3 issues to anyone sick of conventional comics.

Rating: Midge

Alias
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artist: Michael Gaydos

For quite a few pages, this month's Alias looks an awful lot like Powers. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Letting Bendis put a Powers spin in the Marvel Universe makes for fascinating reading.

Bendis uses the interrogation set-up to finally give us more insight into Jessica's past as a superhero. Where it differs from Powers is that, as attorney Matt Murdock tells Jessica, Marvel police still like to talk about superheroes.

The issue still does not shed any great light on the ongoing mysteries. Who hired Jessica, or rather, who set her up? Was that really Captain America? But at least Luke Cage gets a little redemption for his out of character behavior in the first two issues by calling in Matt to get Jessica out of police custody. (Though I thought they weren't friends - I knew I dropped Marvel Knights too soon.)

Gaydos' art continues providing the gritty feel this book needs. Though no one is particularly attractive, everyone feels real.

Rating: Cheryl Blossom

Batgirl #22
Crunch Time
writer: Kelley Puckett, artists: Damion Scott, Robert Campanella
reviewed by Michael Goodson.

David Cain has taken a nuclear weapons facility hostage and a mystery assassin has been hired to execute one of the Bat clan. Must be another issue of Batgirl.

Like other issues, this one moves quickly. Batgirl never takes me more than 3 minutes to read. I guess not having all that troublesome dialogue helps. Still at the end of the issue I think what I've read is pretty cool. If you're a fan of Batgirl, then this issue is issue is a good as any other. If you've never read Batgirl, you're probably not missing much.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #149
Grimm, Part One: I Encounter A Strange Girl
writer: J.M. DeMatteis, artists: Trevor Von Eeden and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

Narrated by Dick Grayson years after the fact, this issue introduces us to a villain right out of the old TV show, or the silly Batman stories of the fifties. Writer DeMatteis wants to play it both ways, with Dick calling Mother Grimm "a throwback to an earlier time."

Mother Grimm employs some colorful fairy-tale henchmen, and hurts no one. (Both Dick and the reader have to agree it's nice to have a Gotham villain who isn't a psychopathic killer.) The real trouble comes for Dick when, as Robin, he encounters a female pickpocket who gives him a strange stirring in his utility belt. Of course, all is not as it seems, and the two seemingly unrelated elements have more to do with each other than you'd guess. All this and a cliff-hanger right out of the TV show, had it had a modern-day effects budget.

This issue provides welcome relief in three ways. First, after the crap that occupied the last few issues, it's nice to have a storyline that may or may not be in continuity and still actually interests us. That DeMatteis has not yet brought in any of his trademark pseudo-spirituality also keeps me going. And finally, the Von Eeden/Garcia-Lopez art team just draws pretty pictures.

This is what this title is supposed to be.

Rating: Veronica

Doom Patrol #2
The Wrong Way To Do Right!
writer: John Arcudi, artist: Tan Eng Huat

The new new Doom Patrol has its first few public missions, and Robotman Cliff Steele has greater misgivings about them. His feelings don't improve as corporate backer Jost seems to have quite a marketing plan in place for the team. All this and Negative Man makes a surprising return to the team. Sort of.

Arcudi takes a (by now) tired premise and does what he can with it. Robotman has long had a difficult relationship with hero-dom, and at least the writer tries to refine that issue and finally make a stand. As a plot device, though, these misgivings may have come a little too soon, since the other members of Doom Patrol are too new to us to impress us with their opinions. The only dramatic tension comes from Ted, still convinced that he actually leads the team.

The layouts have an appropriately quirky feel, and Tan Eng Huat seems more assured this time out. Faces have a lot greater consistency, with a touch of former Doom Patrol penciler Richard Case haunting their expressions.

While solid, this book will have to do something really attention-grabbing soon if it hopes to survive.

Rating: Betty

Exiles #6
Up North And In The Green, part two
writer: Judd Winick, artists: J. Calafiore, Eric Cannon and McKenna

For a book with such a high concept, Exiles turns out to be chock-full of what brought the X-titles acclaim in the first place: character.

Stuck on a world in which Logan never left Alpha Flight, the Exiles have to capture The Hulk and prevent the Canadian super-team from dying in the attempt. But really, it is like looking for a needle in a haystack, so they spend a lot of time hanging out and getting to know each other.

Somehow, Winick manages to do more with the Thunderbird legacy in one issue than any other writer has in twenty-five years. Even though we really don't know these characters, Winick uses his two alternate-universe John Proudstars to pull us into an intriguing debate on identity, and shed light on the Hulk's persona to boot.

Without warning, this has become far more than a riff on the What If? series. Once again, darn Marvel for injecting such life into the X-franchise. Darn them all to heck.

Rating: Veronica

The First #13
writer: Barbara Kesel, artists: Bart Sears and Andy Smith
Rating: B
reviewed by Charlie Wentling.

As is normal in The First, four or five subplots are advanced here, but none of them gets a whole lot of space. We learn more about the relationship between Ingra and Gannish, and why Gannish is willing to go along with her. We see Pyrem retrieve one of the seven weapons of Altwaal (Arwyn's bow in the Sojourn title is probably another of these weapons, and a third will appear in The Path early next year.) We see Seahn rallying his troops to grab power in the Dexter high council. And both Persha and Ingra are seeking out Altwaal.

There is also a backup story with art by Andy Smith, John Dell, and Drew Geraci. Like last month, it deals with the Mentor characters, and it didn't make much of an impression on me. The overall issue is good, and I am guessing there will be a climax to some of the plots next month.

Joker: Last Laugh #6
You Only Laugh Twice
writers: Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty, artists: Rick Burchett, Mark Lipka, and Dan Davis

At last the long national nightmare is over.

And in this wildly uneven series, this issue stands as one of the better ones. Actually, it pulls the reader into the action so quickly that it could even stand alone.

The Bat-family makes a final confrontation with The Joker (who never gets told here that he isn't actually dying - details, details, details). Thinking that a Jokerized Killer Croc ate Robin, Nightwing goes over the edge, and they all end up beginning the kind of soap operatic soul-searching that will annoy us in thought balloons for months in the regular titles.

But meanwhile, Shilo Norman, Dina, Multi-Man and Mr. Mind continue trying to get The Slab out of its singular prison, and these sequences really fly. Note to DC: let's see Resurrection Man and Multi-Man face off in a duel to the deaths sometimes. The ultimate solution seems so obvious, but only in hindsight.

Despite being dragged down by tedious sub-plotting and ignored ramifications (what happened to the Joker Rain? Details, details, details), this issue was kind of fun. It helps this week's penciler Burchett never does a bad job. Somehow having things in a tight, quasi-animated style keeps us from thinking too hard about the flaws.

And dang, cover artist Brian Bolland draws the best Joker ever. Had he done any interiors on this series, we might all remember it more fondly.

Rating: Betty

Liberty Meadows #22
story and art: Frank Cho

If you have never picked up Liberty Meadows the comic or caught the strip in your local newspaper, now is the perfect time. On the cusp of doing the comic only, Cho coincidentally (or not) has gotten around to reprinting strips that recap the status quo.

Taking readers on a tour of Liberty Meadows, Cho the Monkey-Boy representation reminds us why these critters are such great creations. Once the tour is done, Cho the actual creator proves the point.

Look deep into my eyes. You will buy this book. You will buy this book.

Rating: Cheryl Blossom

Lucifer #20
The Thunder Sermon
writer: Mike Carey, artists: Dean Ormston and Sean Ormston
reviewed by Daryl Tay

I know why I liked this story so much. It reminded me alot of 'Seasons of Mist' from Sandman volume 4, which I recently read. Whether Mike Carey did it as a knowing tribute or on his own, it definitely was good. Dean Ormston's art has never been a favourite of mine, but he manages to do a passable job this time. I love the idea of Lucifer as someone who's always in control and totally ignores his enemies, knowing that he will be able to triumph over them in the end. I wonder if that's gonna continue to hold true, or will the Morningstar be in for a bad shock sometime in the future.

Lucifer's character speaks volumes this issue. His total disregard for the Lilim, his indifference to the children and obvious hatred for God were all traits we haven't seen so strongly before. It shows that even though last time Lucifer admitted to God that he did create a beautiful sunset, he still hates him and will not listen to him in anyway.

Ormston's art does hurt the book. Honestly. I can't remember who the regular artist is, Peter Gross I think, and his work is much better than this. Ormstom gives a ghostly feeling to the book, true, but it somehow can't convey the true feeling of the book. I wonder why it isn't explained why the girl had such an attraction to Lux, it isn't explained to us at all, and that would have made the book more convincing.

Mike Carey is seriously an underrated writer, I mentioned him to someone online before, and the guy said 'who?'. I think to be able to take a character created by the great Neil Gaiman and write it in an astounding way is truly amazing, and he should be given credit for that.

Rating: Cheryl Blossom

Mystic #18
writer: Tony Bedard, artists: Brandon Peterson and John Dell
rating: B+
reviewed by Charlie Wentling.

Tony Bedard does a great job with his first issue. The transition is so smooth that I wouldn't have noticed the new writer if I hadn't been watching the credits. If anything, the dialogue and pacing are better than they have been in the past.

Darrow sets out to free Animora from captivity in the main storyline, and Giselle poses for a portrait for Thierry. The humor worked for me here, and the art was excellent. This issue sets the stage for the rematch between Giselle and Animora, which will be coming in the months ahead.

Negation Prequel
writers: Tony Bedard and Mark Waid, artists: Paul Pelletier and Dave Meikis
rating: A
reviewed by Charlie Wentling.

Wow, this is my favorite Crossgen first issue so far. Ruse got a lot more hype last week, but Negation outdoes it. Or maybe my expectations for Ruse were too high? Either way, this makes a great read.

A lot of this is because of the main character, Obregon Kaine. He is a man with no special powers, but he does have military training and a fair bit of intelligence, and he makes a good leader. Most of the other CrossGen books have coming of age themes in them, and the main characters have been given sigils that they do not understand. Kaine has none of this indecisiveness or confusion; he knows want he wants and goes out and gets it.

The premise of the series is that someone in Negation space, which is some sort of parallel universe, has transported 100 people to a prison planet. Things in Negation space don't work they same way that they do in the normal universe. The stars are black, and one member of the First incinerates himself when he can't control his powers. The 100 people are being studied to see how they react to different situations and challenges.

Kaine is the only one to realize what is going on, and he doesn't like feeling like a rat in a maze. He manages to convince Evinlea, the most powerful among the prisoners, that they need to do something about their situation.

The art is good, and special mention should go to James Rochelle's coloring. There are a lot of darker blues and purples, but the art never looks murky. The prison planet looks creepy and alien. This comic is another winner for CrossGen.

100 Bullets #30
Contrabandolero! part 3 of 3
writer: Brian Azzarello, artist: Eduardo Risso
reviewed by Daryl Tay

After a confusing start to Contrabandolero, the story keeps getting better and better, and the conclusion didn't blow me away as much as it could have, but it still was a very decent and good read. This storyarc seems a little funny by itself, but I think when the final pieces are put in play, the puzzle will all come clear under the capable hands of Azzarello and Risso.

Look at that cover! How many fanboys went into the store and bought this just on the cover, hm? Jeesh, they did a good job in getting Johnson to do the covers. Risso's work continually shines here in the book , continually uses black images of the face or something with only the eyes showing and that is one effect I truly love in this book. Unlike in books like the MAX books, Azzarello doesn't make sex or the violence gratituous, and most of the time suits the story just fine, which is how all mature stories should be made. Look at Sandman, they didn't have swear words until #51 and it was still a solid read.

The whole scene where Eightball and Dizzy knew each other was totally not explained and I didn't quite get it, neither did I get the ending where the sex craved girl has some credit card, I wish this was more explained. This is one of the little things that Azzarello does, both here and on Hellblazer. Subtlety is good, but not too subtle, or you lose the story. I also was slightly disappointed that Wylie didn't turn out to be a Minuteman just like the others did, but then again, you'd never know.

With Sandman and Preacher gone, 100 Bullets will be Vertigo's next flagship title. However, they aren't publishing the TPBs fast enough, and that's a huge shame, 'cause I started this series late and only got into it after I read the first 2 TPBs. I wonder if any spin-offs are going to come out from this book, maybe on the previous days of the Minutemen. Considering how many Sandman spin-offs and limited series there are (Age of Magic, Lucifer, Dead Boy Detectives, The Dreaming and now the Thessaliad), this may not be too far fetched an idea.

Rating: Cheryl Blossom

Superman #176
A Little Help
writer: Jeph Loeb, artists: Ian Churchill and Norm Rapmund

When I mentioned this issue's premise to co-editor Michael Goodson, he replied, "how Sopranos." Foolish, foolish man. It actually goes back to Peter David's short run on X-Force. But saying that sells Loeb's creative abilities short. By sending Superman to a therapist, he sheds new light on aspects of the character that we tend to take for granted.

Clearly, it's pretty hard to be a big blue boy scout.

In the aftermath of the war, Superman really has not yet climbed out of his depression, while still putting on a brave face that gets harder and harder. He has violent fantasies, magnificently illustrated by Churchill and Rapmund. What he has forgotten, though, is that despite his innate alien-ness, Clark really does get by with a little help from his friends.

Would that we could all remember that. And for this entertaining, thought-provoking tale, we can only hope that Loeb returns to this well again. He leaves us with the implication that Superman will regularly seek counseling, which could be quite interesting. If not that, let me suggest that Loeb write a series based on the therapist; she implies that she sees a lot of "masks."

Rating: Veronica

Superman/Tarzan: Sons of the Jungle #1
writer: Chuck Dixon, artist: Carlos Meglia

What a great concept this is. So good, in fact, that DC actually did it in an Elseworlds annual a few years ago. If only Dixon weren't convinced he could do it better (or at least more legally by actually using Tarzan), because now we won't actually get to see somebody do it right.

Actually, some elements do work. Dixon's ape name for Kal-El pays tribute to both mythologies. The discovery of his spaceship also nicely melds the two.

But almost everything he does to take the actual Tarzan out of the picture seems like cheap contrivance. Pirates take the landing of Kal-El's ship as a bad omen, and therefore do not maroon the Claytons. Yet somehow young Lord Greystoke grows up in England a wistful lad, feeling somehow incomplete.

Yes, the theme must be (as too many Elseworlds end up being) that these characters have a destiny, and will always end up being the ones we know. Well, to put it in the vernacular, I say "poppycock and balderdash." This English lord not raised in the jungle cannot logically become the Lord of the Jungle, King of the Apes, and Powerfully Thighed in a Loincloth. Nope. Not gonna happen.

Worse, and I admit this is personal prejudice, Meglia's art just makes the whole thing unnecessarily cartoonish and annoying.

Rating: Big Ethel

Ultimate Spider-Man #15
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artists: Mark Bagley, Art Thibert
reviewed by: Michael Goodson

Brian Michael Bendis continues his excellent run on Ultimate Spider-Man with another fine issue this month. Like a good chess player, Bendis has been taking his time to set up all the players before the big show down. This month we learn more about Gwen Stacy, Captain Stacy, Ben Urich, Doc Ock and Kong. The issue lacks real action but still moves the story along and provides some excellent character development. This is the best book out of the "Ultimate" line and after 15 issues, still a blast to read.

Rating: Veronica

Ultimate Marvel Team Up #8
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artist: Bill Sienkiewicz
Reviewed by: Michael Goodson

When we last saw our teamed up heroes, The Punisher had a gun to Daredevil's head. That's such a nice way to start an issue. Daredevil tries to convince Frank to stop his vigilante killings of the cops responsible for his family's death. The Punisher responds with gunfire, and mayhem ensues.

This is another solid edition of Marvel Team-up and begs the question "when will Brian Michael Bendis screw up?" So far he's delivered solid storylines and great character development. Despite using characters that are over 30 years old and telling origin stories we all know, he manages to keep it fresh and entertaining. I'm not crazy about Bill Sienkiewicz's art. It seems very rough, which may be his intent, but it just doesn't do it for me. Then again, artists really not a big deal to me unless it's Alex Ross (love him) or Frank Quitely (hate him.)

If you only read one comic book a month, buy Powers, but if you buy 20-30, this should be one of them for sure.

Rating: Veronica

Young Justice
Petal to the Metal
writer: Peter David, artists: Todd Nauck and Larry Stucker
reviewed by Daryl Tay

Why am I the only reviewer on the net who's actually reviewing Young Justice? This is easily one of the best superteam books out there and no one's reading it? I think the stars of the show are really Red Tornado and Traya this issue, the parent-child bond there is really strong and totally interesting, nothing like what the remaining members of Young Justice have, though I predict Robin will be back sooner or later.

The first few pages are hilarious for anyone who's reading Captain Marvel at the same time, where Snapper Carr is talking to Rick Jones and how Rick lost an arm, great stuff! David's writing is always funny, but never loses the true feeling of the book. I like the fact that Slo-bo has gone out of his self depressed state to a little more like the normal Lobo, I think that proves to be more of an interesting read.

Snapper Carr?? Are you kidding me? I predicted Damage or someone based on the drawing last issue, but Snapper Carr? I mean come on, this guy doesn't even have powers himself and stuff like that! The team's already down to Slo-bo, Empress, Wonder Girl, Secret and Superboy and you throw in Snapper Carr? Come on!

Buy this book! Buy this book! David's writing is so good I feel like getting Spy Boy just for the sake of reading his stuff. I think he's another of those underrated writers around. I mean look at YJ, Captain Marvel or Spy Boy, any of them top 20 books? Nope, but at least YJ and CM deserve to be. Go give this book a try, this is a good step on issue.

Rating: Cheryl Blossom

 

Derek McCaw

 

 

 

All comics were reviewed by Derek McCaw unless otherwise noted.

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