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!

The Adventures of Barry Ween: Boy Genius Monkey Tales #5
Our Little Girl's All Grown Up
story and art by Judd Winick

Pulled into an alternate dimension in search of their lost friend Sara, Barry and his friend Jeremy the walking hormone have been surrounded by human-like warriors. Leading the tribe, of course, is Sara, ten years older, with bazoobies and a booty that makes J. Lo look like Jeremy's Aunt Rosa after she gave up the Slimfast.

All of it has happened at the behest of Bezeruul, the super-intelligent ape Barry helped in issue #1. And all of it makes Barry very, very bitter.

Thankfully, even when bitter, Barry is hilarious.

Winick continues this strange mix of South Park and genuine intelligence. Some of it moves slower than the usual Ween, mostly because he's adding in real plot and continuity. Whatever. It's still one of the funniest books out there.


Alias #4
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artist: Michael Gaydos

The mystery continues, though Jessica gets a little closer in the chain. Who really hired her to find the woman who may or may not be Captain America's girlfriend, and did they kill her? We still have to wait another issue, but at least Jessica's lawyer can offer her a clue.

Bendis also spends some time putting things in a political perspective, which seems a little awkward. The President is under fire for spending too much time hobnobbing with heroes. Granted, it's obviously part of a larger agenda, but Bendis has also established a regular citizenry in awe of the Marvels.

Be that as it may, it does give the story a larger resonance. Despite Jessica's having turned her back on the hero lifestyle, it's clear in this issue that she has tremendous respect for it. And not just Captain America.

We've come this far; we've got to see where it goes.


The Authority #27
Brave New World
writer: Mark Millar, artists: Arthur Adams and Tim Townsend

After taking out a familiar-looking futuristic teen super-hero group, the new state-sponsored Authority relax on The Carrier. Of course it's part of Millar's point, but these new "safer" heroes are far more decadent than their predecessors.

The homophobic Last Call, for example, spends his leisure time torturing the defeated Apollo. It turns out that despite appearances, all but one member of the original Authority have survived, each being given their own unique punishment.

Ah, that one member. That one member would be The Midnighter, and as the Batman analogue for the team, it would be foolish to count him out, especially since no one has actually found his body.

Without a doubt, The Midnighter will prove far more dangerous than the Cosmic Hemophilia caused when The Carrier crashed so many months ago.

Millar continues to twist this book inside out, working his way back to status quo just in time to leave it. This time out he gets matched with the great pencils of Adams, who really doesn't work enough. It's his choice, but still. Adams pulls off the unique trick of making The Authority look fun.

And you know what The Midnighter would have to say about that.


Batgirl #23
Little Talk
writer: Kelley Puckett, artists: Damion Scott and Robert Campanella

"Say hello to my little friend."

Somehow that quote loses something when translated to comics. It comes from a guy who has strapped a bomb to himself, a bomb that Batgirl must defuse with the help of Oracle.

Actually, it's only a macguffin, giving Puckett an excuse to get old and new Batgirls to sit down and talk. Barbara reminisces about her early days, and as Batgirl goes off to train, Barbara snaps into Oracle mode to conference with Batman.

Despite Batgirl's best efforts to keep it secret, Batman and Oracle know about her impending death-match with Shiva. Puckett drops hints that Batman may even have orchestrated it. Can he be that machiavellian? We will find out soon, because it has loomed too large over the last couple of issues to wait for DC time.

Scott's penciling still bothers me, but his layouts have become much easier to follow over the last few months. From a book that I read out of habit, Batgirl has managed to work its way up a couple of notches in quality.


Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight
My Adventures Underground
writer: J.M. DeMatteis, artists: Trevor Von Eeden and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

When Robin first appeared on the scene back in 1940, characterization was a lot simpler. By the time we as readers demanded something deeper, Dick Grayson already had experience, so complex tales of his early days remain in short supply.

This leaves DeMatteis with quite a bit of room to play, and so far this storyline, Grimm, has proved pretty interesting. A villain(ess) who acts like she just stepped out of the Batman television show has become the toast of Gotham.

With this second chapter, it turns out that she runs an underground orphanage-cum-amusement park called Dreamland. With this kind of fun, Gotham kids must be begging to be abandoned. In fact, a fledgling Robin abandons Batman for it, an act that Bruce Wayne can hardly blame him for.

Before you roll your eyes and call this a Devin Grayson rip-off, remember that really, Bruce Wayne was emotionally unprepared to take care of a kid, no matter what Bob Kane thought. Grimm explores territory that needs mining.

And it's good to have Von Eeden and Garcia-Lopez back. The combination looks a bit like the classic Dillin-Giordano team, but with a modern feel. This storyline has rescued LOTDK from being just bat-filler.

Rating: Four Planets

The Dark Knight Strikes Again #1
storyteller: Frank Miller, colorist: Lynn Varley


Okay, now that the visceral reaction is out of the way, the real question is, how is it, really?

A lot has changed since Miller created The Dark Knight Returns and truthfully changed a lot about the way people see Batman. Society has changed. Technology has changed, in ways that he could not have predicted. And somehow Miller absorbs it all without blinking, integrating the changes (and satirizing them well) into his story without having to re-write the past.

What may disappoint some (fools!) is that Batman acts more as an unseen presence in this story. Instead, as promised, Miller's business now is about reviving the fun of the silver age heroes through his kaleidoscopic vision.

We get a clearer view of why Superman seems so fascist, and disturbingly, see that he still has powerful heroes on his side with Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, looking suspiciously like his Uncle Dudley.

Most impressively, Miller gives us an Atom that kicks butt. Writers always make Ray Palmer crucial in big events like this, and yet the guy cannot hold his own book. Perhaps he is just best in small doses, but in Miller's hands you want more.

Varley works in a much brighter color palette than she did in the original, reflecting the brighter tone of the book. It's beautiful work, as was to be expected.

The events in the story may be horrific, but clearly, Miller isn't just headed towards good triumphing over evil. Good will completely tan evil's hide.

Climb in and enjoy the ride.


Doom Patrol #3
Grudge Match
writer: John Arcudi, artist: Tan Eng Huat

The team has moved into an abandoned nightclub, but they haven't done much to bond any further. They're still saddled with the new Negative Man, whose chief asset in a fight seems to be that using his abilities deeply disturbs his foes. And we still really barely know who they are.

Crashing their party comes a wanna-be supervillain with motivations unclear. He talks a good game, and he looks big enough, but nobody seems to have ever heard of him. But he has a nifty leather mask that makes him look like "The Butcher" from the game Diablo.

I'm all for letting a story develop, but already this feels too slow. Take your time, Arcudi, but still please reveal information to us. Even out of Jost's shadow, we know more about the tycoon than we do about the team.

Huat proves himself to be the right artist for this team of freaks. His work has an unpredictability to it, cartoonish but with a fine eye for detail. But it's not necessarily enough to justify buying this one.


Exiles #7
A Chance To Dream…
writer: Judd Winick, artists: Mike McKone and Mark McKenna

It's 'Nuff Said month at Marvel, in which the writers and artists have been challenged to create stories in which no words are necessary at all. Screw the letterers.

Okay, that's flippant. Winick and the art team rise to the challenge quite handily here, giving us insight into the dreams of the Exiles. Some are fantasies, some are nightmares, but all are interesting. (Though I'll admit I was mostly confused by Nightcrawler's daughters dreams.)

Morph also once again proves that he enjoys being a girl. Granted, it's meant to distract a hotel clerk from noticing that Morph's credit card is fake, but he still seems to take terrific pleasure from it. It would not work if not for the excellent layouts of McKone and McKenna. The dream sequences may not call for much in the way of narrative ability, but the framing sequence does, and their work speaks volumes.


The First #14
writer: Barbara Kesel, artists: Bart Sears and Andy Smith
reviewed by Charlie Wentling

The long-term story arc that Kesel has been building is starting to pay off. I thought that this issue would bring a turning point for the series, but that is still ahead. I have no complaints though, this is one of the best issues to date. I am anxiously awaiting issue #15.

The conflict that has been building between Pyrem and Seahn for the past 6 months finally boils over. I get the feeling that one of them will be killed off soon. The interesting thing is that I am not sure which one it will be. One of the advantages of having such a large, interesting cast of characters is that all of them are expendable.

If I had to choose who I think will win, my money would be on Seahn. He is clearly not planning a fair fight, and his alliance with house Sinister will play a big role. But I hope I am wrong, Pyrem has developed into a more interesting character. This is Bart Sears' last issue on this title, and he will be missed.


Fray #5
writer: Joss Whedon, artists: Karl Moline and Andy Owens

Whedon once again proves that he holds no character sacred. Somebody close to Melaka Fray gets killed as a message to the Slayer. It's done in such a way that it puzzles Urkonn, her discomfited Watcher.

Faced with certain doom, Fray comes clean to her sister and tries to make sense of her new role. As Urkonn pointed out previously, there have never been twins born with the power, so it split between Melaka and her brother. Trouble is, he's a vampire.

The story also has frustrating clues as to the ending of the actual Buffy saga, which makes one hopeful that Whedon is not pulling a Twin Peaks on his fans and just making it up as he goes along.

It's headed for a showdown, and you really want to be there.


Liberty Meadows #24
by Frank Cho

Most of this issue covers Dean the Pig's attempts to pick up women, alternately at the Treetop Tavern and the local gym. All of them fail spectacularly, and all of them will make you laugh.

One of the main reasons Cho has decided to go for just comics is that he has the freedom to give you the punchlines he wants. Seeing his repaired (after newspaper syndicate censorship) strips bodes well for Cho's instincts. The man is funny.

And his books are always worth it.


Mystic #19
writer: Tony Bedard, artists: Brandon Peterson and Joe Weems
reviewed by Charlie Wentling

Mystic reads a lot like an action movie this month. It takes a simple premise and runs with it. Animora brings the planet of Ciress to its knees in an attempt lure Giselle into a confrontation. We don't yet have the full picture of what she is planning, but she obviously doesn't care about Ciress. Her plan may just be for revenge, or possibly something more sinister.

Either way, the action moves a lot faster than in a typical CrossGen comic. Bedard manages to inject humor into the story without losing the serious tone. Peterson gets to draw a bunch of giant creatures beating the crap out of each other. His art is good as always, but inker Joe Weems is not as polished as normal inker John Dell.

Overall, this series is moving in the right direction.


Superman #177
Metropolis E-Mailbag
writer: Jeph Loeb, artists: Ed McGuinnes, Kevin Maguire, and Cam Smith

An annual tradition in Superman, the Man of Steel meets up with Perry White to answer letters people send in to the Daily Planet, hoping that Superman can help them. No man can do everything, but he chooses as many as he can. Unfortunately this year, a new supervillain has come to town.

Luckily, the new Toyman (made in Japan) only has eyes for Metallo. For some reason he believes that Metallo's technology was stolen from his family generations before, and so he must assume a mecha disguise to get it back.

It's a neat trick on Loeb's part, giving us action while still allowing Superman to perform his annual good deeds. As long as the two villains only beat on each other, he can leave them be for a while.

Just don't ask about the giant Pokemon.

As usual, the requests for Superman are poignant and in keeping with the season. As a result of the war, I'd say doubly so. We could all wish for a Superman to help make the little things right.


Ultimate Marvel Team-Up
Man-Thing and Spider-Man
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artist: John Totleben (with assist from Ron Randall)

Bendis has the coolest job at Marvel. He gets to revamp just about anyone and everyone to fit his whims on this book. This month, he even gets to play an odd nostalgic game by having famed Swamp Thing artist Totleben take a whack at Marvel's version. (Go ahead, e-mail your protests.)

Rather, Ultimate Marvel's version, for this Man-Thing in just a couple of pages seems more intriguing than Manny's last few regular MU appearances.

We also get the new improved Curt Conner, whose plight has no connection to Spider-Man except that Peter simply has a strong drive to do good. With all due respect to J. Michael Straczynski, between this and Ultimate Spider-Man Bendis has managed to winnow Peter down to the core of what made him such a compelling character in the first place. This kid is a hero because he chooses to be. And that's pretty good to see.

With a little smoothing, I suspect, from Ron Randall, Totleben's art looks beautiful. His re-imagining of The Lizard provides some real chills, but of course that's why Bendis asked him to do this issue. The man draws horror well.


Ultimate X-Men
Return To Weapon X
writer: Mark Millar, artists: Kubert, Derenick, Miki, Hanna, and Stucker

In Philip Jose Farmer's classic novel A Feast Unknown, the writer poses the question, "why don't superheroes have genitalia?" He comes up with the same answer Millar does here. And it's a doozy. Guys, cross your legs when Wolverine takes on Sabertooth.

Elsewhere in the ongoing saga, alliances shift, sides change, and it may very well be that nothing is as it appeared to be. And finally, I'm really cool with it.

Though he brings this arc to a close, Millar has set up a lot of interesting food for thought, and to describe almost anything would ruin it. Just suffice to say that even with the coming of Gambit (who annoys me), I can't wait for next month.


For alternate views and more books, check out Daryl Tay's site, Unique Frequencies.

Derek McCaw




All comics were reviewed by Derek McCaw unless otherwise noted.

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