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.

Hey Kids! Comics!

Crux #9
writer: Mark Waid, artists: Steve Epting and Rick Magyar
reviewed by Charlie Wentling

Crux continues the strong story from last month. The Atlanteans have discovered the fate of the human race, but Capricia seems strangely agitated about it. The explanations are not enough for her, and she seems jealous of Samaka, the woman who tells them the tale.

Stories featuring time travel are tough to do well, but so far Mark Waid has done a great job with this one. A new type of Negation warrior appears here, and he seems much more formidable and interesting than the bugs that have appeared so far in the series.

Geromi gets some good moments, which is a change from normal when he would only dispense information to the other characters. The ending is a bit surprising, and leaves me wondering how permanent the change we've just seen will be.


Daredevil #28
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artist: Alex Maleev

In the wake of the Kingpin's apparent execution, someone has put a bounty on Matt Murdock's head. Of course, Murdock has two things going for him: super-senses and a warning from someone (likely Elektra) that the bounty is out there.

Because this is the Marvel Universe, he also doesn't have ordinary hitmen after him. A plain-clothed but still masked Boomerang shows up and panics, and Matt believes he catches a "glimpse" of Bullseye, the man who killed two women Matt loved. Never mind that one came back.

Working within the confines of 'Nuff Said month, Bendis delivers a story that stays within his current arc without making us feel like we have to miss anything for it. The real credit should go to Maleev, who demonstrates great story-telling skill. Even though the story is action-packed, his panels carry such richness that the absence of sound effects is welcome.

Within three weeks we should get the other part of this cross-over with Elektra (#6?), which will also be part of 'Nuff Said month. On this one you cannot blame the creators; Bendis purposely put Elektra off-schedule out of sensitivity for the events of September 11. And that's more important than getting your funny books on time any day of the week.


Gotham Knights #24
The Devil You Know
writer: Devin Grayson, artists: Roger Robinson and John Floyd

Devin Grayson steps into some dangerous story-telling territory with this issue. Many writers have flirted with it, but this may be the first time the Dark Knight manifests as a truly split-personality.

To be fair, it could just be residue from that bizarre self-hypnosis stunt Wayne pulled on himself, making him forget that he was Batman. Either way, he is stunned to receive a phone call telling him that his gun purchase has gone through, a purchase he cannot remember making. Nor does he want to have made it.

His alter-ego confronts him on the issue. It seems that though Batman understands Wayne's aversion to guns, it must be confronted in order for them both to be more effective crime-fighters.

This could go either way, but we have to trust Grayson, an excellent writer, that she knows what she's doing here. Things can't be as simple as Bruce Wayne really is nuts. Right?


Green Arrow #10
Father's Day
writer: Kevin Smith, artists: Phil Hester and Ande Parks

And so Green Arrow's whirlwind tour of the DC Universe comes to a close, in grand fashion. About to be possessed by Stanley Dover (the first), the hollow Oliver Queen gets a brief respite with the appearance of Connor Hawke. While Connor struggles against hordes of demons, the hollow contacts his soul in heaven, pleading with him to rejoin his body.

Smith takes advantage of off-screen moments that must have happened somewhere. His Connor seems a lot bolder than he was in his original run, but then it's also not every day that you get a chance to bring your father back to life. Running true, too, is Connor's friendship with Kyle Rayner, which has been ignored for quite a while.

Just as Smith neatly captured Hal Jordan's motivations, he cuts to the heart of Oliver Queen's. For all his talk about social responsibility, Queen always evaded personal responsibility, and that extends to the afterlife. His soul has not achieved enlightenment so much as ultimate denial. It's a cool touch, and we can only hope that whoever follows Smith (still unknown) on this book will not drop that aspect.

Overall, Smith and Hester have created a book that pays tribute to the best that superhero comics can be. They have even managed to give Stanley and His Monster a dark undercurrent without invalidating any of the silly stories that appeared before. More writers should take a page from Smith's book and remember that at heart, comics are fun.


JSA #31
Making Waves
writer: Geoff Johns, artist: Peter Snejbjerg

Sooner or later every popular super-team in the DC Universe must be judged by Batman. This month the "new" JSA gets the honor, as they investigate the murder of Shakedown, a former member of the Masters of Disaster.

Coincidentally, he and his partner New Wave had just kidnapped the daughter of a formerly wealthy Gotham industrialist. (As if their being archenemies from the pages of Batman and the Outsiders wasn't enough connection.)

Approaching them with cold arrogance, Batman tries to warn the team away from the case. But Mr. Terrific quickly shows him up, not something you see happen to Bats every day. A grudging respect forges between the two men; it would be nice to see that picked up on somewhere else. And Johns does plant seeds for it.

Though the book serves as a jumping on point, Johns also makes sure it doesn't exist in a vacuum. Black Canary is clearly no longer enthused about her relationship with Dr. Mid-Nite, and though she doesn't quite spell it out, the return of Oliver Queen has to have thrown her for a loop romantically. (We'll just ignore that whole dating R'as al Ghul thing, okay?)

This issue also gets guest work from Peter Snejbjerg, who finished up James Robinson's Starman series. His work shows an affinity for Golden Age heroes while still having a modern feel. If JSA needs a new artist, Snejbjerg would be a welcome choice.


New X-Men #120
Germ Free Generation, part three
writer: Grant Morrison, artist: Igor Kordey

As much as I enjoyed Ethan Van Sciver's fill-in, Kordey makes a better fit as Frank Quitely's alternate. His style may be a bit cleaner than Quitely, but its energy and physicality makes a dead-on match. Maybe some of you didn't even notice the difference.

But you will notice the ugliness of the action (and that's not a criticism). With Cyclops and the White Queen about to be eviscerated, and shock troops descending on Westchester, how could things not be ugly?

Worse, they broke the White Queen's nose. When that happens, you just know somebody has to pay.

Morrison also throws a new wrench into the proceedings, reviving a very dangerous concept. How dangerous it will be now remains to be seen.


Peter Parker: Spider-Man #38
Make Mime Marvel
writer: Paul Jenkins, artists: Mark Buckingham and Wayne Faucher

This may be the best of the 'Nuff Said efforts, because it embraces the built-in potential for stupidity.

A heretofore unseen gang of evil mimes bemoans their various defeats at the hands, feet, and webs of Spider-Man. Since they're mimes, this bemoaning comes mostly in the form of charts and exaggerated facial expressions. And it works.

Jenkins, Buckingham and Faucher cheat a little bit under the strictures of this month by still supplying thought balloons with pictograms, but that doesn't get in the way of a funny story. While Peter ends up chasing the sexy neighbor's dog (who has stolen a clothesline full of her lingerie), the mimes hatch a scheme to defeat the webslinger once and for all.

It involves trickery right out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, and Spider-Man falls for it. But the mimes still don't count on his cleverness in the face of danger.

The whole thing wraps up with a dose of poetic justice that gave me a good smile. This was just fun. If you want to quibble, some of the mimes are rather grotesque in shape, and it seems out of place. (One looks like a walking whale, but not walking in the wind.)


Scion #19
writer: Ron Marz, artists: Jim Cheung and Don Hillsman II
reviewed by Charlie Wentling

Scion keeps getting better and better. Without a doubt, it is the best and most consistent of CrossGen's original four titles. Issue #19 makes a good case for this being the best book they publish.

The character development is especially strong. Ethan's decision to stay out of the war with the Ravens angers his brother Kai. Both of them feel like real people to me. On the Raven side, there is tension between Bron and his brother Kort. Family bonds are being tested, and parallels exist between the Herons and the Ravens. Ashleigh and Ethan are stuck in the middle of the whole mess.

A minor character dies an unexpected death, and an interesting new character is introduced. Nadia Thindi is a traveler from parts unknown that Ethan saves from a wyvern. Her mechanical hand underscores the mixture or fantasy and science fiction in the book.

I want to single out colorist Justin Ponsor again for special praise. The colors add so much to the art, which is already excellent to begin with. The first page should be hanging on display somewhere.


Supergirl #65
Louder Than Words
writer: Peter David, artists: Leonard Kirk and Robin Riggs

For the first four pages, you might want to go back to the cover and check the publisher. In either coincidence or acknowledgement to Marvel's special December event, David writes a story that could have been told completely without dialogue. Unlike more than a few of the Marvel books, he also gives a logical reason for it.

Supergirl saves a deaf boy from being hit by a truck, and much of the story is viewed through his eyes. Luckily for Supergirl, Buzz knows ASL, and can communicate with the boy. (Why not? The devil speaks all languages; a few demons must share that ability.) Unfortunately for Supergirl, Buzz also tends to add in a lot of editorial commentary.

A factory in town has been leaking poisons into the environment that have caused many defects in the local children. In fact, an entire school has been founded to help these locals with different abilities. Though the school has won a lawsuit against the factory, the findings have been tied up in countersuits and legal delays.

Not for much longer, though, for as Buzz comments, Supergirl does tend to act rashly and try to force solutions.

Once again David offers up a story that may shake up some opinions on the way our society works. More importantly, he has Supergirl reach a solution that we would do well to remember: heroes aren't really about force, they're about inspiration.


Superman: The Man of Steel #121
Diamonds and Steel
Writer: Geoff Johns, Todd Nauck and Lary Stucker

Every big city has gang trouble. It's simply a fact of modern urban life. So when one moves into Metropolis (which has had problems with Intergang), it should come as no surprise. But Johns has taken an old DCU stalwart criminal gang and given it a chilling street twist.

The Royal Flush Gang has long had a rotating membership, at least for Jack, Ten and the android Ace. Now it seems that even the King and Queen are new, as the Royal Flushers have become a franchise. The costumes are badges of honor and leadership in a larger organization. Though fictional, this does echo with real-life gangs.

Told from the point of view of a Ten, the story itself ends up being a long chase and fight sequence. But in this case it's character that makes the difference, and Ten's desire to hurt Superman (and her eventual success) drives you to keep turning the pages.

How this diamond ends up cutting steel provides yet another great insight into the character of the greatest hero of all, all of it ably brought to life by Nauck and Stucker.

If an opening were to come up in the Super-stable, it would be great to see Johns get a regular berth, except that would mean the loss of some other title.


Ultimate X-Men #13
You Always Remember Your First Love
writer: Chuck Austen, artists: Essad Ribic and Livesay

As a character, Gambit has always seemed more a marketing decision than a believable hero. He showed up just as America's fascination with Cajun culture had started to wane (still, better timing than the Disco Dazzler), intended as a roguish mystery man whose background inexplicably got darker and darker, culminating in his being responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Morlocks. This is a hero?

Thankfully, the Ultimate Marvel Universe has the freedom to drop the more uncomfortable elements of any character it wants. Lo and behold, the recreated Gambit looks to be a much better character. He still has the duster, but not the ridiculous blue and purple suit. And yes, he is still a rogue, but on a much smaller (and more forgivable) level than before.

In short, I like him.

No other X-Man shows up this month, but guest writer Austen does bring in the Ultimate Hammerhead, who has orphaned a little girl. The girl wanders the streets, crossing paths with Gambit, who gets by doing street magic and other minor cons. David Blaine should be so effective.

Austen gives him an inner decency that shines despite his best efforts to quell it. If he meets up with the X-Men, he would make a good addition to the team, but with Ultimate Rogue still being evil, it may not come to pass.

Still, this fill-in turns out to be just as entertaining and interesting as regular writer Mark Millar's work.


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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