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From Box Four 01/07/08
brought to you by Illusive Comics and Games of Santa Clara

"Why can't you just let it go?"

That's a question my wife asked me when I told her that Buffy the Vampire Slayer "Season Eight" was appearing in comic book form. A subtle attempt to get her to read a comic book, it didn't work, nor did the promise of an Angel sixth season or even a fourth season of our beloved Veronica Mars. So why did this book become one I had to pick up when I'd steadfastly ignored every other Buffy book?

Obviously, Joss Whedon is all our master now, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer #11 helps explain why. After a great side trip to redefine Faith, the book returns its focus to Buffy and her Big Bad for the "season." Whedon also takes a step or two in a direction to reconcile the continuities of his classic television series and his original future sequel, Fray.

Taking a breather to check in on everybody's status, Whedon also pits Buffy against a vampires' nest, which should be a cake walk. Instead, it gets interrupted by a new player in the game, a masked character that probably could not have worked on television simply because he looks like a comic book villain.

As with Dawn's status as a giant, this new character has all the rhythms and recognizability of a Whedon character, but plays absolutely to the strengths of the comic book format. And yet, Whedon writes so smoothly, understands comics so well, that one scene blurred the line between media so well I thought I heard musical underscoring. Georges Jeanty laid it out so well it could have been a scene from the show.

And that's why I can't let it go.

However, there's a point to be made in that like many comics fans, I pick up books for the sake of completion, not always for the sake of enjoyment. Such was the case that DC counted on with Countdown. After nine months of mindlessly buying the book and thinking "it will get better," it sort of actually did.

Countdown to Final Crisis #12 kicks free of the multiple Earths dilemma and places the action almost purely on Apokolips. The story has streamlined, gaining some focus at the cost of ignoring a few subplots for a while. They come back into play for a few pages here, and because Paul Dini and Adam Beechen have settled on a direction, Karate Kid, Trickster and Mary Marvel don't feel like distractions. It's all coalescing over Darkseid's strange game of HeroClix (or maybe Heroscape) with the Monitor named Solomon.

It's still not a book for the casual reader to pick up and understand, but finally hardcore fans can get rid of some of that bitter taste in their mouth and not regret the extra $12 a month this title has cost us.

The casual reader, though, should enjoy the heck out of Detective Comics #841. As most of Paul Dini's stories have been for this title, it's a stand-alone that combines some faux-detective work - you can't guess the Gotham City geographical clues - with some of Batman's more colorful villains. It also hints at the strange relationship the Dark Knight has with his enemies. It's not quite affection he has for Jervis Tetch, the Mad Hatter, but in Dini's hands Batman remembers that he isn't working for vengeance; he works for the redemption of his foes. Dustin Nguyen pencils in a style that brings a good cartoonishness to the proceedings. Though a little bit violent for younger readers, it's still the kind of book you could give to a kid 10 and up and share a moment of, yeah, Batman's cool.

Not as cool, however, as Ambrose the Good Prince. Fables #69 concludes a storyline that not only held surprises about the man Fabletown once called Flycatcher, but marks even more of a major turning point in the book's overall throughline than you could have expected. A sense of melancholy suffuses the cover and first few pages, but writer Bill Willingham could never settle for that. Within one issue, it's a roller coaster ride of emotions, and if there's any real melancholy to be had here, it's that it does feel like Willingham must be readying Fables for a close. After 69 issues, a couple of specials and a hardcover graphic novel, the guy has not produced a disappointing story yet.

Justice Society of America #12 doesn't disappoint, either, but it's not as thrilling as it has been. Geoff Johns and Alex Ross spend most of the book introducing a handful of new legacy heroes, also remembering that Jakeem Thunder was here. It's becoming almost unwieldy, and bizarre that so many have been operating unknown until such time as the JSA realized they should be training new heroes.

Retconning yet another daughter for Black Lightning, Johns is developing an almost unwieldy cast of characters. Though the last one introduced in this issue has an interesting resonance, he also comes out of left field in more ways than one. Meanwhile, it would be nice to see exactly what the plot of this book is.

Full of strong characterization, Justice Society of America reads well and stays fun. It's just not quite showing much direction.

And yet J. Michael Stracyznski manages to juggle his new super team while still moving his plot forward. The Twelve #2 continues the promise of the first issue, cleanly continuing its man out of time theme, commenting on the Marvel Universe's current state of affairs and deepening the mystery of one of "The Twelve" being murdered in the as-yet-unseen third act.

Chris Weston provides sharp clean art to match Straczynski's dense plotting and characterization, and ultimately, it doesn't matter that a few characters haven't had the spotlight yet. The Phantom Reporter deserves to be the break-out character in what I'm already predicting will be my favorite series this year.

Derek McCaw


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