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The Fanboy Planet Preview Spotlight 06/01/06
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Each week we look through the upcoming releases to offer our two cents as to what's hot and what's not. You can agree with us or not, but spend your money wisely.

Hero Squared #1
writer: Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis
artist: Joe Abraham

Right now, it feels as if Keith Giffen has been secretly replaced with a talented android writer that never sleeps. How else could he be in the midst of Marvel's Annihilation, DC's 52 and writing three or four books for Boom! Studios?

Granted, in this case he's co-writing or mindmelding with long-time collaborator J.M. DeMatteis, himself no slouch in the constantly working department. Together, they make a formidable opponent - the Master Blaster of Comicdom.

Be that as it may, Hero Squared has had its fits and starts. Beginning as a one-shot, then offering a mini-series, it finally gets what Boom promises is an ongoing series. Though it feels like they're recycling the cover.

As a relaunch, you might think that it has a lot of catching up to do. Much has happened in the earlier issues, but Giffen and DeMatteis deftly drop hints throughout the dialogue that gets new readers up to speed.

And this book should have new readers. The last bastion of the writers' "bwaa-ha-ha" style, Hero Squared doesn't abuse the privilege. Instead, it's very much about dealing as realistically as possible with its ludicrous premise.

Milo Stone lived a pretty ordinary slacker life, actually about to let it slip through his fingers, when an other-dimensional version of him popped into existence. At some key moment in his past, Milo had the opportunity to become a superhero, but of course missed the boat. The Milo that did, now calling himself Captain Valor, has been a paragon of virtue and righteousness but somehow still managed to hurt his girlfriend so badly that she became a super-villain.

Now calling herself "Caliginous," Milo's wrathful ex-girlfriend Stephie has destroyed countless dimensions. What could be confusing to Milo and the readers is that, of course, he's still happily with Stephie. Then things go horribly wrong.

Exactly what Captain Valor did to tick his Stephie off has not yet been revealed. But it doesn't feel like a cheap narrative trick. Plenty of clues get dropped along the way through that subtle art called characterization. Already Captain Valor has proven that his sense of valor might take precedence over things like loyalty and right (not righteousness), the elements of human behavior that require delving into grey areas.

The book is still funny, and artist Joe Abraham has a style that carefully walks the fine line between standard superhero fare and a simpler cartoonishness. He handles the close-ups and "takes" that Giffen and DeMatteis developed as a hallmark of their style with Kevin Maguire without copying Maguire. That's a pretty good skill.

Should you need action, that's here, too. But really, Hero Squared should be picked up because it handles superheroes in a way that really calls attention to their humanity, while letting us laugh at it. And wince, because it's not afraid to deal with the consequences of its plot.

Also on the Shelf:

Doll and Creature #3: The bad news is that this is only a four-issue mini-series. The good news is that it's a good one. Rick Remender writes true graphic novels, albeit pulpy frothy ones, versatile in his narrative techniques and unafraid to walk away from a story when it's done. Though some of the societal elements here are still a bit fuzzy (I haven't found the first issue yet - maybe that explains things better), Doll and Creature whips along at a pace that never lets up on the action or the fun.

The Incredible Hulk #95: Marshall Rogers steps in to pencil a few pages of the Silver Surfer, a cool trip down Marvel Memory Lane. But it wouldn't work without the story, fortuitously calling to mind obscure Hulk trivia while continuing an arc that redefines the character. Marvel has anointed a few writers as their next big thing over the years - Greg Pak is finally the one they promised.

Lucifer #74: When this book is finished, I'll have to go back and reread it all again, because I know that I'll find even more nuance from Mike Carey. This issue focuses on the Women of Heaven and Hell, wrapping up a few storylines but leaving a central question open. Gently, Carey prods at the nature of being God, and whether you believe or not doesn't matter. He makes you think about it.

Sea of Red #10: See earlier comments about Rick Remender. This book bears little resemblance to the style of Doll and Creature or Fear Agent. Its story nears its conclusion, and honestly, at this point, if you're not involved already, you should get the trade. Some of the narrative feels cramped and rushed, but that may just be because this is clearly only a chapter in a well-written whole that needs to be appreciated from its very beginning. Besides, it's vampires and pirates. Really - how could this not be good?

Son of M #6: Delve deeper than that great cover painting. David Hine proves that Black Bolt is the most powerful character in the Marvel Universe. And this series really will have repercussions. It's brave to deliver exactly what it promised. Now if only editorial will let it stay like this.

Second Wave: War of the Worlds #3: Still clever, with nice moody art that's enhanced by the black and white. There also may be a new and interesting way for the Martians to die.

The Spectre #1: This holds a lot of potential. The Spectre's new host has a different approach than Jim Corrigan did, a more methodical detective with a strong sense of justice that may be more easily tempered with mercy. Cliff Chiang makes a good art choice and Will Pfiefer's writing carries us through a lot of origin exposition so we can get to the action. However, things are already conflicting with events portrayed in Infinite Crisis and beyond an origin, there's no clue as to where this book will actually go. At least we've got a different look -- not the Spectre Lantern thing Hal had -- now the Spectre has a cool goatee. Okay, it's actually kind of silly.

The Thing #7: Dan Slott has to hurriedly start wrapping up this series unless sales drastically improve. Buy the trade. Prove to Marvel that there's a market for this book. Ben Grimm goes back in time to find the Venus de Milo, and hilarious hijinks ensue. Really. Slott combines comedy and action with a rare gift.

Top Ten & Team: Part of America's Best Comics' series of indexes, this book actually stands pretty strongly on its own, at least in the first half. The "back-up" story proves too whimsical for its own good, but the story that will take you through Alan Moore's superpowered cop show does exactly what it promises - and then some, giving a good rundown on the status quo in Top Ten while still being a good read.

Sight Unseen:

Abadazad Books 1 and 2: Disney snuck this one back out onto the market - the first of CrossGen to be resurrected and aimed right for the kids' market without compromising its sense of wonder.

The Blackbeard Legacy #1: Alias Comics pulls a classic bait and switch with a beautiful cover of a hot pirate lass, played by model Traci Bingham. Inside, however, the artwork makes me want to lose a hand in battle, replace it with a hook, then accidentally rub my eyes with it during an allergy attack.

Liberty Meadows #37: Come back, Frank Cho, all is forgiven! We missed this book so danged much…

Ultimate Extinction #5: The Ultimate Galactus trilogy continues - and should continue to be great Warren Ellis while still geing distinctly Marvel.

Ultimate Fantastic Four #30: Those pesky zombie versions of the team escape and join forces with …Doom!

Hey, write to us and let us know what you think, or talk about it on the forums!

Derek McCaw

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