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From Box Four 11/11/08
brought to you by Illusive Comics and Games of Santa Clara

Final Crisis: Resist
Accepting that there's just no such thing as an event book that actually can get its entire story told in its own pages, Resist proves to be pretty good. Now, if you are instead incredibly ticked that you have to buy more than just Grant Morrison's Final Crisis and even that's not only delayed but it won't even be one artist finishing it, well, you're still probably going to want to buy this book.

Far better than the Revelations mini-series, Resist covers the last shreds of Checkmate making a final stand against the forces of Darkseid. Almost all the superheroes have been overtaken by the Anti-Life Equation - evil math in the form of unstylish helmets.

In the Arctic, a handful of characters including Mr. Terrific huddle together for warmth and try to figure out how to outwit the Lords of Apokolips. Along the way, Rucka plays fast and loose with characters' continuities, but not with the characters themselves. As a member of Checkmate, Mr. Terrific stands out as a leader in a way he doesn't quite get to do with the Justice Society.

Former JLA mascot Snapper Carr gets a lot of focus, a nice nod to the Silver Age and one of those continuity things - the guy has gained powers, had his hands cut off, regenerated them, shepherded the Hourman android from the future and…just maybe it was at that last phase that he gained the powers of teleportation. It seems to me that for a while when he snapped his fingers he made things go boom.

Now his heart goes boom when he encounters the Cheetah, who has a catlike libido in the face of doom. Actually, that's not fair to cats.

It's a taut issue, and the plan that Mr. Terrific and company put into motion makes you believe that yes, all this continuity chaos might really have been planned several years ago. But then, with Rucka and by extension Grant Morrison, patience is almost always rewarded in exactly this fashion.

Justice Society of America #20:
Though only vaguely part of the Final Crisis situation, this issue does its best to explain the current DC multiverse in a way that all the other books have either shied away from or ignored. A piece of it might tie in to the Legion of 3 Worlds book that Geoff Johns also has on his plate.

The action temporarily sidesteps the Gog and Magog question, to finally focus on Earth-2. In a lot of ways, it's just the way Earth-2 was before the first Crisis. In fact, it's too much like it, to the point that they already have a Power Girl of their own, much to our Power Girl's dismay.

Johns and his artistic co-creators give us a doorway to a potentially fun world that should please old-timers. But he also gives it an underpinning of melancholy, as we see characters grapple with counterparts and relatives in different fates. Though old JLA/JSA crossover stories would occasionally deal with this issue, here Johns really makes the pain palpable without going overboard.

It's nice to see the JSA I grew up reading in the All-Star revival and Adventure dollar comics. The versions created to fill the void after Earth-2 was banned always seemed a bit hollow in comparison.

It's also nice to see Johns finally address Mr. Terrific's beliefs (or lack thereof) in a more direct reasonable fashion, giving the team a glimpse of a Michael Holt whose life took a very divergent path from that of superhero.

Though even Superman himself comments on the absurdity of teams meeting, misunderstanding and beating the snot out of each other, the story feels fresh and the continuity may prove fairly important. This is one of those books that everybody who likes superheroes should be reading. Plus, there's that great straightening out of the multiverses…until five years from now.

The Sandman: The Dream Hunters #1:
Never having read the original illustrated story (I know, I know, sacrilege, this book comes as a surprise and a bit of a revelation. P. Craig Russell's art pops beautifully off of the page, and his adapting skills are every bit as impressive as Neil Gaiman says they are in his own little afterword.

Russell plays with shadow and light in a way few other artists can capture. Thus he captures mood with a rare flexibility, and he can dance from grotesque to classically beautiful in one panel. Of course, this fits Gaiman's work perfectly.

The character of Morpheus makes one of his hidden appearances, in a story hinting at reality being greater than mankind can imagine. Or rather, what mankind imagines actually is, and we're pretty small in it.

Fashioned as a Japanese folk story - sprung, as Gaiman has apparently had to defend for years, out of the author's own head and not out of an earlier source -- The Dream Hunters feels classical and post-modern at the same time. Gaiman completists will want it, of course. Though it may not be the best introduction to The Sandman, it's still a wonderful piece that might be fun for kids, too.

Secret Six #3:
Forget the Joker. Forget Darkseid. Gail Simone's mind has birthed the absolutely most terrifying villain in the DC Universe - the creature called Junior. I suspect he might be somehow related to the Six's Ragdoll, but that's only because I want there to be some connection that the team can exploit against him…or it.

Otherwise, they're toast.

If you're not reading Secret Six, you're missing out. Each mini-series has been a great story, with growing characterization and a believable turn of Catman as one of the baddest asses in the DCU, and yet we still don't know the whole story. What I just noticed this month is that finally this is an ongoing series. Welcome news, because Simone has created her masterpiece with this team. And after her incredible run with Nicola Scott on Birds of Prey, that's saying something.

With this issue, conspiracies come to light, and the Macguffin is literally one hell of a great idea, even as it's just a little bit silly. This is delirious fun dealing with supervillains, some unrepentant and some trying to wrestle with the question of just where they stand on that whole good/bad thing.

Scott's artwork here continues to be outstanding, and though for some reason she hasn't broken out as being a huge fan favorite yet, she should. Her pencils are always solid, and she actually lets them serve the story, instead of stopping to be flashy and…ah…that's why she's not a fan favorite. She actually tells the story instead of draws poster images.

Keep going, Six. Glad to have you back for the long haul.

Superman/Supergirl: Maelstrom #1
And so I end with a sort of flipside to Final Crisis: Resist. This book relies entirely on what Grant Morrison called "consistent characterization," meaning it doesn't matter where it fits; what matters is that the characters behave with the traits you have come to expect.

Of course, with the new Supergirl, it's hard to know. Apparently she will be stuck for some time in the Kyle Rayner zone of always being just on the verge of being a super-competent superhero, if only she'd believe in herself more.

If DC is right and that Supergirl is a role model, or at least a character teen girls can identify with, I suppose that's not a bad place to be. They might be a little turned off, however, by the constant paternalism of her older cousin, Superman. As a regular reader of Superbooks, I might not be as cranky about this if it hadn't been played every single time I see Supergirl in a book other than her own. Oh, and her own.

While Final Crisis has a completely revamped Fourth World, this book utilizes the classic Jack Kirby vision of the characters. One of Granny Goodness' pupils, Maelstrom, dreams of becoming the Bride of Darkseid, and determines to do the one thing no one has ever managed to do to please Darkseid. No, not that. She's going to kill Superman.

It's a reasonably exciting story by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, even though it has no effect on larger continuity. Every now and then, that's a good thing. What caught my attention was the art by Phil Noto, an incredible penciler who somehow manages to invest sixties commercial art with a modern sensibility. He couldn't have existed in the Silver Age, but somehow his work evokes it as being a lot slicker than it actually was.

Let's also applaud the movement to portray both Kryptonians as actually fairly average-physiqued. A hypermuscled Superman doesn't make sense. When Noto draws him, he looks like the All-American Dad in blue tights and a twinkle in his eye. It's a nice take.

I'm going to give this book another try, though it's more for Noto's art than a sense of storytelling urgency.

Derek McCaw


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