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!

Action Comics #785
writer: Joe Kelly, artists: Duncan Rouleau and Marlo Alquiza

Which is more annoying to translate: Bizarro's speech or Zatanna's spells? Actually, Joe Kelly has raised the bar by writing an entire story backwards.

I lasted three pages before finally risking looking stupid and just reading the book from back to front. Thanks, Joe.

Inside lies the story of a resurrected Bizarro, wandering the forests of Pokolistan while General Zod hosts a global conference of unity. Reeling from Lois' departure, Clark agrees to cover the conference, but quickly becomes terrified that Zod will realize that Clark Kent and Superman are the same man.

In other words, war has made Superman into Superwuss. Afraid of his own rage? Moping around because Lois took some time to travel with her mother? An interesting story would involve Superman struggling to confront these things, not doing everything he can to avoid them. It's a misfire from Kelly, almost salvaged by a poignant return of Bizarro, convinced that Superman has died and mourning as best he can.

Except that no one can seem to agree on the rules of Bizarro-speak; not one character does it consistently, including Bizarro himself. The highlight of the issue lies in Rouleau and Alquiza's strangely consistent rendering of Bizarro to resemble Bill Clinton in white-face; it explains so much.


Angel And The Ape #4
Deus Ex Machina
writers: Chaykin & Tischman, artist: Philip Bond

In fine retro-seventies style, the cover proudly blares: "Who Done It? WHO CARES!" At least the book is honest. By the time you sort through all the cast of characters and keep straight who knew him by what means, it really won't matter.

What Chaykin and Tischman hope is that you had fun. But this odd mixture of revisionism and burlesque has left a strange taste. Many of the characters have a very tired feel to them, especially Angel and Sam's midget secretary. And the resolution to the mystery may truly revolt you.

Still, Bond has a light style that makes this book appear more readable than it actually is. With his renderings, the two detectives' unlikely merging of naivete and street smarts becomes believable. Should Vertigo bring back Angel and the Ape (as the closing captions hint, in a nod to seventies DC Comics), Bond had better be on board.


Batman #597
Crooked Miles
writer: Ed Brubaker, artists: Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens

While fleeing from Batman, a couple of thugs crash their car into a brick wall. Out of that pops a carpet-swaddled corpse, and with that, of course, comes a mystery.

The Dark Knight must track the corpse's identity and unrecorded criminal career, and Brubaker skillfully ties this into his ongoing storyline. Thankfully, he also remembers that Bruce Wayne has Sasha watching over him, and uses that to underscore the emotional climax that must be coming soon.

By using Sasha, also, Brubaker has a chance to acknowledge that his book does not exist in a vacuum. We don't need to get mired down in continuity to enjoy it, but since each title comes with its own angst for Bruce, it is nice to see his actions in one book color his reactions in another.

And as always, McDaniel and Owens manage to give the book a distinctive look without being distracting. It's solid, dependable art that has found a good groove.


Bloodstone #2
Mummy's Girl
writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, artists: Michael Lopez and Scott Hanna

It's hard to read this book and beat down that voice in your head screaming, "It's BUFFY! It's BUFFY!" at the same time. (I know, I know: she's a monster hunter, not a vampire slayer…)

And its shameless pandering to those who just like the thought of young girls bouncing around in skimpy skintight clothing doesn't help. A full-page shot of Elsa trying on her new "uniform," pulling it tightly across her chest while acknowledging "…this feels really pervy," does nothing to make this seem above board. Nor does the Frankenstein Monster wringing his hands in the background and repeating "Pervy? Pervy??" do it. At least Abnett and Lanning clearly establish that Elsa has, um, reached her majority.

Accept that Marvel does not admit to understanding irony, and move on.

What Abnett and Lanning are secretly doing is giving new readers a quick tour of the supernatural status quo in the Marvel Universe. And really, isn't it more fun through the eyes of young Elsa Bloodstone than that creepy Dr. Strange guy?

It is. The dialogue has snap, the Frankenstein Monster as mystical manservant is a great idea, and if the art team has a tendency to draw Elsa in unlikely Playboy-like poses, well, don't show the book to your girlfriend or wife and enjoy it anyway.

Rating: a guilty

Catwoman #1
Anodyne, part one
writer: Ed Brubaker, artists: Darwyn Cooke and Mike Allred

Spinning out of Brubaker's Slam Bradley back-up in recent issues of Detective, Selina Kyle gets a well-deserved re-launch of a book that had gotten wildly out of control.

Here only a few people in Gotham even know that Selina Kyle is still alive. She goes to one, Dr. Leslie Thompkins, for therapy (Leslie seems to be an expert in all fields of medicine). And, as she discovers, she may never get too far away from the shadow of the bat.

Selina asks herself the same questions that readers do about her. It has been a while since she was really a villain, so what is a Catwoman to do?

This journey of re-definition has begun in the capable mind of Brubaker. With the help of penciller Cooke, Selina has cast off the purple-suited hottie that Warner loves to license. The black leather outfit Cooke and Allred now have her in seems more in tune with the cinematic vision of Catwoman, but for the goggles. Somehow, it makes her look more like a throwback, a roguish adventuress straight out of classic pulp fiction.

Which must be the intent.

Brubaker has brought her back down to the street. As Selina starts investigating the disappearance of some of the girls she protected in her early days, it's clear that this is where she belongs. If you're smart, you might not want to get too close, but you will want to keep reading.


CrossGen Chronicles #5
writer: Ron Marz, artists: George Perez and Pablo Marcos
reviewed by Charlie Wentling

The world of Mystic is the focus of George Perez's final issue of CrossGen Chronicles.

Overall it makes a good read if nothing spectacular. The story is set roughly 500 years before the regular series, and deals with Animora's first attack on Ciress. At that time there were eight major guilds rather than seven, so we know right off the bat that the "lost" guild is going to bite the dust here.

We also learn why each guild has an eternal spirit that inhabits the current guild master. A doomed love story between two of the guild masters works well. As expected from Perez, the art is wonderful. This issue is worth buying for the art alone, including the coloring.

This series is switching from a quarterly schedule to bi-monthly with the next issue, which is more good news for CrossGen fans.


The Flash #180
writer: Geoff Johns, artists: Scott Kolins and Doug Hazlewood

The revived and amped-up Rogues' Gallery still lurk somewhere in the background. This month, however, The Flash is more concerned with rescuing some of them, from Fallout, seen powering Iron Heights in the special of the same name, to a newcomer whose motivations give even the hotheaded Wally pause.

While visiting Linda on campus, Wally and the newly transplanted Vic Stone encounter Peek-a-Boo, a somewhat drably costumed young woman who teleports upon contact. She makes off with a human kidney, and despite Brian Bolland's eye-catching cover, Peek-a-Boo clearly does not enjoy either her crime or her ability to commit it.

As always, Johns does a great job of letting us into Wally's head. And few people have mastered the art of the final page cliffhanger as well as he has. Johns never cheats to keep us on the edge of our seat until next month.


JLA #60
Merry Christmas, Justice League - Now Die!
writer: Mark Waid, artists: Cliff Rathburn and Paul Neary

Waid, the master of DC's Silver Age, appropriately leaves us with a story that blends the best of those oftimes goofy tales of the sixties and seventies with a modern sensibility. (Neron would never have bedeviled the League in the olden days.)

A tale told by Plastic Man to put Woozy's nephew to sleep on Christmas Eve, this adventure inducts Santa Claus into the League. To reveal any detail would be to ruin the surprises, but trust that this book is great. Mark Waid's run has been full of suspense, mystery, action, and even horror, and now he gives us fun.

Guest penciller Rathburn does a good job, especially with the Plastic Man cast. Somehow the usual grotesquerie of the Winks family seems smooth here, and if Plas himself looks out of perspective, well, he's the one hero who probably would be.

And from page one, isn't it nice to see that even the DC Universe has DC Direct?


Meridian #18
writer: Barbara Kesel, artist: Derec Aucoin
reviewed by Charlie Wentling

This issue continues the story from last month. Sephie raids another Cadadorian trader while her friends test out some new gliders. The island of Torbel starts its inevitable plunge from the sky. The good guys race to save as many people as possible before impact with the ground. Sephie learns that she can use her sigil to create wind, which is a useful talent when you have a fleet of ships.

Events keep slowly building but there is no real beginning or ending. Guest artist Derec Aucoin is a good match stylistically for Steve McNiven. CrossGen continues to get good work from their guest artists. Often with Marvel or DC the guest artists suck, but not here.


New X-Men #119
Germ Free Generation, part two
writer: Grant Morrison, artist: Igor Kordey

Whether a year and a half too late or a year too early, Morrison has made this book into something that fans of the movie can relate to. Costumes have become beside the point, and as Morrison has loftily claimed, this book really is all about ideas.

Specifically, the idea that in a world of mutants, jealous humans would want to get in on the act. If nature will not take its course, science will take over.

All this will not be without a price. From the first page, you can see the soullessness behind it. The leader of the third species presents a helpless Cyclops and White Queen with the disembodied brain of his resident telepath. To "Man Plus," mutants are just livestock, to be vivisected and harvested for mutant organs.

When introduced in this year's annual, we only saw the results without thought to where these organs came from. Now it has become horribly clear. Every page of this book has me riveted.

Guest artist Kordey gives it a great layout, too. Though his figure drawing looks a lot like Bart Sears' work, they leap from panel to panel with a cinematic feel. Wisely, Marvel will not let this book fall into hack hands.


Nightcrawler #1
Rising Dark
writer: Chris Kipiniak, artists: Matthew Smith and Mark Morales

On the flip side, this new "real" X-Men take has hurt Kurt Wagner. The character became popular by being light-hearted despite his demonic appearance, charming in a thirties kind of way, and overall being the most fun of the X-Men.

And now…he's positively grim. Still capable of a wise crack or two, but as rendered by Smith and Morales, he mostly broods.

Granted, the adventure concocted by newcomer (to comics) Kipiniak would wipe the smile off of anyone's face: modern-day slavery. Kurt and his priest/mentor dine out at a Thai restaurant where a young woman throws herself in their path. Though she speaks no English, her message is clear: she needs sanctuary.

Kipiniak also throws in darker hints that a brisk slave trade is being consolidated under one hand, and that hand belongs to a mutant. While Kurt struggles to understand this new inhumanity, he may be running out of time to save the girl.

The touch that rankles most, and it is not Kipiniak's fault, is that Kurt uses his image inducer to walk among men. The happy-go-lucky Nightcrawler of the early days discarded the device after deciding that he would not hide his nature. As a reader who left the X-books for a few years, this development bugs me.

However, Kipiniak should be lauded for having a Catholic character finding his mission in his faith without glossing over it in vague terms. At times the dialogue gets a little stagey, as befits such coming from a playwright, but that will smooth out the more Kipiniak writes in this medium.

But as with the other "Icon" mini-series Marvel has produced, the only thing this book represents is a means of separating you from your $2.50.


Out There #6
Abandon All Hope
writer: Brian Augustyn, artists: Humberto Ramos and Sandra Hope

The good people of El Dorado City have reached a crossroads. At last their bargain with Draedalus has come due, and as is often the case with deals with the devil, they really didn't understand the cost.

Standing in the way of utter destruction (and a rather disgusting absorption and re-cycling of the populace's flesh) are four blessed teens. Unsure of their abilities, or why they have been chosen, they still demonstrate great courage against the face of evil.

And it's not over yet.

With this issue, Ramos and company "end book one." A few strands have been left dangling, but the subplots were introduced so skillfully that it doesn't feel like a cheat. You could probably stop reading the book here and feel satisfied, but chances are, you'll want to see where they go next. That's good comic book work.


Ruse #2
writer: Mark Waid, artists: Butch Guice and Mike Perkins
reviewed by Charlie Wentling

I want to like this series more, but I don't know if it is going to happen. All of the things that I disliked about the first issue are present again. The story has even less of a mystery than last month. The focus is still on Emma Bishop rather than Archard. In fact Archard is MIA for half the issue, with none of the confusion from last month cleared up.

That's not to say that it's bad. The sense of place is very well developed. Archard is an interesting character. He is the Bruce Wayne who never witnessed his parents' deaths or started wearing a costume. The idea has a lot of potential.

The art is strong, but I do have one complaint with it. Guice does unusual layouts on just about every two-page spread. The panels spill across the middle of the pages. This distracts me from the story and disrupts the flow. Maybe it's just that I'm not used to what he is trying to do, but in any case I wish he would stop it.


Spider-Man's Tangled Web #8
Gentleman's Agreement, part two
writer: Bruce Jones, artists: Lee Weeks and Josef Rubinstein

Charlie's deal with Spider-Man becomes clearer with this chapter, though Jones has wisely left the mystery as to how exactly he knows Peter Parker's dual identity. Up until the brain tumor hit, the cabdriver had always used the secret for good, and has clearly been a little more than he seemed himself.

But now his agonizing over how to make enough cash to save his life is over. Jones fills us in on the little details of this man who has not been too good at life, desperate for a second chance to be better. But what does it profit a man to gain the world if he loses his soul?

In an already great series, this arc has shaped up to be a moving, memorable story, especially with the art of Lee Weeks, which recalls classic artists along the lines of Alex Raymond. It's a beautiful book. Buy it and see if Charlie can discover that life can be beautiful, too.


For alternate views and more books including The Avengers #48, Captain Marvel #25, and Hellblazer #168, check out Daryl Tay's site, Unique Frequencies.

Derek McCaw




All comics were reviewed by Derek McCaw unless otherwise noted.

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