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Hey Kids! Comics!

Peter Parker: Spider-Man #51
writer: Zeb Wells
artists: Francisco Herrera and Wayne Faucher

First, the bad news: Kevin Smith's debut on this title has been delayed due to Hollywood obligations. (Actually, that's not really a surprise.)

Now the good news: Zeb Wells is one heck of a fun writer, with a skewed perspective on the wallcrawler that so far has batted a thousand.

Then the bad news again (for me, anyway): Mark Buckingham apparently has left the building for fabled pastures, to be replaced by an Humberto Ramos wannabe. It's a style I can barely tolerate, but Ramos makes it work. Herrera, however, has all the distortion without the strong composition. Guys, heads are not hourglasses. And Peter Parker does not have Groucho Marx's eyebrows. And why does everybody look like they're wearing rubber masks? And…oh, never mind.

Back to Wells: focusing on The Shocker (article optional) and Hydro-Man, the story examines the real reasons behind becoming a supervillain, and what happens when one realizes he can't remember them. Wells proves the adage that there are no bad characters. Except maybe Typeface.

It's a great story (or at least the beginning of one) that almost redeems the art.


Rising Stars #21
writer: J. Michael Straczynski
artist: Brent Anderson

Straczynski manages a rare feat in every issue of this book. Just when you think you have it all figured out, an unexpected and yet totally logical twist pops up ahead.

With this issue, JMS sets up mysteries and excitement for the future. Most (but not all) of The Specials have gone into hiding. One, the erstwhile Darkraven, decides to run for president, while his half-brother John, the Poet, works on a project that could (drumroll please) save humankind or destroy it.

The reasons for that lie in a question that JMS has kept us too busy to think about for a while: just what exactly was the fireball that gave these people their powers in the first place?

We're left with a pseudo-cliffhanger involving who killed Kennedy, which feels a little clichéd. Yet because it involves the real downside of being able to talk to the dead (John Edward never seems to have this problem), the situation has a freshness to it, aided by Anderson's sure artwork.

If nothing else, this book should have you rabid for Anderson's Astro City return.


Supergirl #77
writer: Peter David
artists: Ed Benes and Alex Lei

Criminals in Leesburg would do well to leave town now that two Supergirls are on the job. In a strange parallel to Buffy The Vampire Slayer, both have located at the local high school, one as an art teacher and one as a student. But the girl who believes herself to be from Krypton is having a hard time fitting in, as she can't seem to use her powers in a way that will either not attract attention or have devastating side effects.

All those years of Superman using x-ray vision, and not once did he ever interfere with a pacemaker's function. It's a tragic consequence, and a nice startling "real world" one as well.

Meanwhile, Peter David gives us a few more clues to who Kara really is. Unfortunately, it involves villains that could have come right out of Jack Kirby's later years in the way they think and speak; sure, they're evil, but they're more concepts than characters.

Benes and Lei deliver another great art job, though a real high school administration would probably send Kara home with the length and tightness of her skirts. But if cheesecake is what it's going to take to vault this book up a few notches on the sale list, I'll regretfully deal with it.

Is my wife still reading this column?


Ultimate Spider-Man #33
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artists: Mark Bagley, Art Thibert and Rodney Ramos

Okay. I was fooled.

A few issues back, The Green Goblin's hallucinations led me to believe that Ultimate Venom would have something to do with Norman Osborn's experiments. The truth lies further in Peter Parker's past, and in Bendis' hands will likely have a more tragic resonance than we could have imagined.

As usual, this book hums when dealing with Peter more than Spider-Man. All the scenes between he and Aunt May have a good air of reality, dealing with long-gone tragedies that never really quite go away.

One key difference between the Ultimate and original recipe Spider-Men is that Bendis' version does remember his parents. And in going over his memories, he stumbles across an Eddie Brock very different from the version we know. Though the cover features Venom, we don't get there yet. And in Bendis' hands, we don't mind the wait.


Ultimate X-Men #26
writer: Mark Millar
artists: Ben Lai and Ray Lai

Already this issue qualifies as a "Marvel Must Have," which makes sense: it really serves to get readers up to speed on the mutant rights issues that drive Ultimate War, the flagship of the next Must Have reprint. And only in comics criticism can we utter the phrase "mutant rights issues" with a straight face.

Millar jumps around in history, showing us the crumbling of a dream - Xavier and Lensherr united in their efforts to save mutantkind. Interestingly, he shows us the aftermath of certain key events, but with clearly subjective interpretations.

The truth may yet to be shown us, but what we have at least does explain the huge philosophical differences between the two men, and the layers of betrayal that they both believe the other has built. How it gets to the point of the climax hinted at in Ultimate War #1 remains to be seen, as does the real reasons behind Pietro and Wanda's defections.

Filling in for Andy Kubert, the Lai brothers do a competent job, but with a different feel than this book usually has. If anything, it makes this issue look like a refugee from Wildstorm.


To read more reviews of this week's books, go here...

Derek McCaw


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