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 Heroes (the other unofficial comic book store of FanboyPlanet.com, in Campbell, California). If you publish a book that you want us to be covering, contact us. Or contact Derek. He doesn't have enough to do.

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The Adventures of Superman #599
Borba Za Zhivuchest
writer: Joe Casey, artist: Derec Aucoin

I really wish I could read Russian, so I could mention how poetically appropriate the title of this story is. If anyone knows, please send e-mail.

Once again, a comic book manages to be sadly timely. Perhaps you missed in the news that in the past two months the Russians have been salvaging the nuclear submarine that sunk, all hands onboard, over a year ago. A similar accident occurs here, but of course, this is a world with a Superman.

As heroic as Superman's rescue of the sub is, the Russian captain, Gussev, demonstrates the true heroism. He shuts down the reactor, exposing himself to radiation but allowing time for Superman to rescue the crew. But that really isn't what this issue is about.

Gussev, you see, only took to the sea as a job, but his real love is farming. Superman visits him on his farm only to discover that the captain is dying. What follows is a gentle meditation on the value of life, one every Superman writer will be taking a crack at this season. Casey handles it beautifully.

Inking himself, Aucoin fills in great emotional shots, which is nice to see in an artist for the Man of Steel. It could be too easy to just get lost in action.

Yes, we need to see a confident Superman again, fighting the good fight. But these pauses, when done right, have great value.


Deadman #1
writer: Steve Vance, artists: Josep Beroy and Dan Green

After last summer's near pointless mini-series, you might be skittish of this title. But actually, it's pretty solid. Why bring Boston Brand back now? It's a pretty canny move on DC's part, as TNT has been developing a pilot for some time now.

To make things easy, DC has recast Deadman as more than just a wandering spirit; in a premise borrowed from shows like Time Trax and Brimstone, the ghostly circus performer has to track down the now evil denizens of a lost paradise.

Right out of the gate, Vance acknowledges his conceit, and then shoves it aside. This alone gives me hope for the title. After an interesting but still awkward attempt to recap everything for new readers, Deadman and his mortal partner get caught up in a smuggling ring through some of their friends from their old freak show.

This makes everything very TV friendly, and vice versa. If the pilot makes it to air, someone can walk into a comic book store and pick up Deadman without seeing something too different. For now, at least, the only supernatural element is Deadman himself; in Hollywood they call that a high concept. Beroy and Green deliver a slightly uneven look to the book, somewhere between Adams and manga, but nothing too annoying. Give it a look; you may be surprised.


Detective Comics #765
writer: Greg Rucka, artists: Rick Burchett, Jesse Delperdang, and Rodney Ramos

Narrated by Sasha (whom, naturally, Rucka has a great handle on), this issue covers a Batman who is apparently losing it. As his bodyguard comments, "he's going to hurt someone."

The likely candidate would be a small-time hood who has cleaned out Jim Gordon's home, so Batman's rage might be understandable. But Sasha's observation has merit, too; Rucka has been building up tension in the Dark Knight, repressing rage that has to explode. By the end of this story Sasha stops worrying, but readers shouldn't.

And by now, can we give Sasha a codename?

In the back-up slot, Winick and Chiang contribute another chapter to their tale of Josie Mac. She remains an intriguing heroine, and on the heels of Ed Brubaker's great Slam Bradley story, it gets easier and easier to forget all about The Jacobean, even if Mark Waid remembered him last week in JLA.


Elektra #5
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artist: Chuck Austen

Poor, poor Stanley. Not only does he discover that he is a terrifically advanced Life Model Decoy with a programmed crush on Elektra, but SHIELD has cut his power, too. Literally. He has just enough juice to confess that he would have liked to make out with her before shutting down.

Sure, every male reader would like that, too, but it's just such a detail that makes Bendis such a great writer. Not just good at plots, he adds very human touches.

Stanley's "death" helps Elektra to escape from Iraq, and through a series of convoluted events, avert World War III. In the process Nick Fury gets some nice character motivations (echoed but not necessarily confirmed in Ennis' take on Fury).

The only gripe with the book is that Austen makes Fury way too young. Yes, he has taken some sort of life-prolonging formula, but here he looks like he could have his own show on the WB. David Hasselhoff didn't look this cute in the TV movie.

Otherwise, Austen's art has grown on me. Occasionally his fighting figures look awkward, but then, real fights often do. But they get the job done.


Fury #4
See You And Raise
writer: Garth Ennis, artists: Darick Robertson and Jimmy Palmiotti

Gagarin introduces a powerful motivational tool: mess up and he lets F***face sleep with you. I still don't know if the panel depicting the aftermath strikes me as funny or outright terrifying. And you can bet that Ennis likes it that way.

Those wrapped up in Gagarin's plan are starting to realize what pawns they are, but it may be too late. Lest you think that Fury reflects that as Gagarin's opposite number, Ennis takes great pains to prove otherwise. A part of Fury may like the job, even knowing how dirty it is, but a part of him knows that he shouldn't. And that part will always win.

Though it still feels like a slightly more likeable Punisher, this book has a lot to offer, and not just the intricate work of Robertson and Palmiotti. If you need a reminder that underneath, Ennis has a strong sense of morality, here it is.

Please don't hurt us for revealing that information, Mister Ennis.


Green Lantern #145
Battle of Fire and Light
writer: Judd Winick, artists: Dale Eagelsham and Rodney Ramos

Despite a somewhat whimsical cover depicting Kyle surfing on a wave of his own creation, the stakes within are pretty high. Having absorbed "the Parallax Power," "the Oblivion Force," and of course, the Lantern's abilities, Kyle should be unstoppable. But somehow Nero taps into it, too, and the two fight in space to determine just who exactly gets to be god.

That may sound sacrilegious, and Winick never quite comes out and says it, but there it is. Back on Earth every other survivor who has worn the ring sits about helplessly, trying not to imagine how titanic the battle must be.

The artists give us glimpses, and it's pretty terrific. Some may argue that Kyle spends way too much energy on creating clever constructs, but it sure is fun to look at them.

In the midst of it all the Qwaardians pop up, with a strange new motivation. You may have to read it over a couple of times to wrap your mind around it, but Winick has taken a pretty good stab at re-defining these guys.


Harley Quinn #15
Metropolis Mailbag
writer: Karl Kesel, artists: Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson

Despite developing a pretty good legitimate career writing Chance@Love for the Daily Planet, Harley cannot help but continue committing crimes. The reasons are two-fold: she feels a strong responsibility to be the Cupid of Crime, and she wants to work her way up to irritating Superman.

She'd like to warm up on Thorn, but that heroine keeps a low profile this issue. It would be a nice touch on Kesel's part, though, if Thorn does return. She deserves more attention than she gets, even with at least one Metropolis-set title a week.

Until a costumed do-gooder pays attention to her, Harley will continue dispensing advice and plotting the death of Jimmy Olsen. It's bad enough that Jimmy gets fooled by Clark's glasses; having Harley fool him makes him look even more stupid. Whatever happened to Mister Action? Or does that just make me look old?

The last page of this issue doesn't quite end on a cliff-hanger, but it does promise a fun next month. DC has advertised Harley Quinn #15 as a perfect jumping-on point for new readers; they're right. Check it out.


Midnight Nation #9
writer: J. Michael Straczynski, artists: Gary Frank and Jonathan Sibal

Laurel has brought the soulless David to the end of his journey. The two enter a New York that looks close to being Hell on Earth, which Laurel hints may be the city's true form.

Facing the master of "The Men," David gets a little lesson in the history of life, the universe, and everything, desperately refusing to believe that he will pass on the return of his soul.

Straczynski makes a compelling argument for the viewpoint of Satan (but writers have been doing that for centuries), and now that we've literally reached the end of the road, we still need to know more.

Frank and Sibal really let loose with this issue, providing panel after panel of pure creepiness. And that look of sad acceptance on Laurel's face…when will a studio buy the movie rights?


Negation #1
writers: Tony Bedard and Mark Waid, artists: Paul Pelletier and Dave Meikis
reviewed by Charlie Wentling

This is a good follow-up to last month's Prequel issue. The focus is on the bad guys this time. We are given some interesting background about the CrossGen universe, the sigils, the First, and the Negation. Each tidbit of information raises more questions than it answers, but in a good way. Concepts from many other CrossGen series are used here, so Negation could be confusing to the casual reader.

Obregon Kaine is still the only character to get much development. His future teammates only get a few panels each, but the they do show potential. This is a prison story that is obviously leading up to the jailbreak. It will be interesting to see where things go once they group is off the prison planet.

The art is excellent. Pelletier does a good job setting up the one funny moment of the story. I also liked a line from inside the front cover: "One ordinary man plots the downfall of a god". This has a nice ring to it, similar to "With great power comes great responsibility."


Nightwing #64
On A Christmas Evening
writer: Chuck Dixon, artists: Trevor McCarthy and Rob Leigh

After a few weeks of space fillers from Dixon, he has to turn around and deliver this heart-felt Christmas issue. Even with clichés liberally sprinkled throughout, it hangs together in a compelling tale.

Each year the Bludhaven cops read all the city's letters to Santa to try to do what they can to make poor children's dreams come true. When rookie cop Dick Grayson comes across a letter from a girl begging Santa to keep her dad from committing a crime, his alter ego must race the clock to figure out where the letter came from and fulfill her wish.

Along the way we get to see how Nightwing fits in his adopted city (and how much of his old Robin person he keeps in his heart). All the characterizations are so believable that you can even forgive the stupid Joker angst Dick has been saddled with. Even McCarthy's art gets a pass from me this month.

This month.


The Punisher #7
writer: Steve Dillon, artists: Steve Dillon and Jimmy Palmiotti

Dillon takes over the reins entirely for "'Nuff Said" month, with mixed results. Of course his layouts are great, and you can certainly follow along with what's going on in the story. But instead of being silent, this story feels more like Dillon simply left the captions out.

Following Frank Castle as he tracks down a mob boss. Along the way his path keeps crossing two teens. Plenty of gunfire abounds, flaming brightly but making no sound. Maybe that more than anything else gives it the weird feel.

The writer Dillon may also be trying to make a sharp point about violence in our society, with seeming innocents suffering punishment while The Punisher goes free, but it, too, feels forced.

Still, Dillon's sample script for the issue (a staple of 'Nuff Said) has a few unexpected laughs. And the one-page preview of Heroes on the last page (is it running in other books, too?) will knock you out.


Sigil #19
writer: Mark Waid, artists: Scot Eaton and Andrew Hennessy
reviewed by Charlie Wentling

Sam helps his new barbarian friend Brath fight off an invading army. He also starts using his brain. It doesn't make much sense for him to be attacking with a sword when he has the seemingly limitless powers of his sigil. Sam also learns to recognize members of the First. Now he needs to find a way to stop them from teleporting him away to random destinations.

The Saurian War subplot gets fewer pages this month, which is a good thing. I wouldn't mind if it was dropped altogether. The art seemed better this month as well. Sigil is still too aimless for my tastes though. Hopefully this will change when Chuck Dixon takes over in February.


Sojourn #6
writer: Ron Marz, artists: Greg Land and Drew Geraci
reviewed by Charlie Wentling

This issue wraps up Sojourn's initial storyline. Arwyn decides that, yeah, she'll go on the quest to find the five arrow fragments. No big surprise here, we all knew that this series would focus on her quest. She spends much of her time this month crawling through sewers and posing like a centerfold.

The relationship between Arwyn and Gareth develops nicely. The narration by Gareth is consistently better than I expect, and it does a lot to set a good tone for the series. Greg Land's art looks wonderful as always.

The last four pages are a bit surprising. One of the mysteries that I expected to be dragged out for months or even years is revealed. The ties between Sojourn and The First are laid out plainly for those who read both series.


X-Force #122
Larry King Has The Flu
writer: Peter Milligan, artist: Michael Allred

Now that we understand Lacuna's powers, this issue has a better flow. Give Milligan credit for knowing when a trick has worn out its welcome.

The Force argues whether or not to induct Lacuna and Spike, and the decision gives us a chance to learn quite a bit about The Anarchist. Though these "heroes" may not be very likeable, Milligan and Allred make them very, very human.

All except for Doop; he remains maddeningly mysterious, though 'Nuff Said month (which is next month for this book due to late shipping - 'Nuff Said might last until summer at this rate) hints that Doop will be the focus.

This X-book provides the best forum for social satire, and does it well. Those who stopped reading in a huff might want to give it a try again; having shocked you, the book now has room to provoke thought and in the end, entertain.


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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