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The Fanboy Planet Preview Spotlight 09/27/06
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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.

The American Way #8
writer: John Ridley
artist: Georges Jeanty

Some of the Spotlight rules will be broken with this one. Ordinarily, this coveted (?) top spot goes to a book that makes its debut or provides a good jumping on point to a really well-done series.

The American Way is a really well-done series, but this issue marks the ending of it. Yet its passing cannot go unremarked, because John Ridley and Georges Jeanty have brought this to an incredibly satisfying conclusion.

For years, the government has been developing superbeings, carefully controlling them for maximum public relations value. Not only do they sell the American Dream, they sell American superiority, with fake enemies that heighten jingoistic propaganda. Naturally, something had to go wrong, but this book isn't nearly as cynical as the shorthand might suggest. Ridley dares to remember that something ultimately could go right.

But this isn't some future dystopia - instead, it's America at the dawn of the Civil Rights movement. The Kennedys lurk in the background. The main schism tearing the super team apart is the presence of a black superhero, originally helmeted so no one would know.

There's a snake within the organization as well, but that only serves to accelerate a natural process. These super powers have grown beyond their original purposes, and as the country struggles to move forward into being more socially just, so do these metahuman showdogs.

Every issue has been a satisfying read, and putting them together makes for a great story. Ridley doesn't pull any punches, writing decent but flawed characters as well as complex "evil"ones. And something about his supervillain, Hellbent, is just way creepier than the Joker could ever hope to be. Maybe because in a weird way, Hellbent seems plausible.

As does the emotion behind the whole series, ably delineated by Georges Jeanty. His pages are packed with detail, but his characters are easily distinguishable. This is an artist on the rise.

Wildstorm seems to specialize in cynical views of heroism, an angle that may have run its course and force its massive reboot in the next few months. While The American Way has a remnant of that attitude, it's really looking forward, leavening the grim and gritty with the hope that too many posers keep forgetting should be key.

Also on the Stands:

Albion #6: Full of ideas and references to a graphic golden age, Albion seems stuffed to the gills. It's also confusing as all get-out, with throwaway characters that too many other characters deem important, with a feeling that we should recognize them all. Well, we would if we were British, but because we're not, we are not amused. Image's Jack Staff has been riffing on these same characters, thinly disguised, and taken the time to actually explain them to a new audience. Albion just assumed we knew, and now this final issue in the mini-series just limps to a close.

Batman and the Mad Monk #2: Foolishly, I just noticed that all of this falls under the title Dark Moon Rising, Matt Wagner's way of folding the original Detective Comics stories into some sort of Year One. It's working, getting better and better, though it's still weird that he felt compelled to utterly change up Julie Madison's characterization. While it may be too clear where Wagner is headed with Julie, he's added enough new details to the original story to make it seem fresh and new, and thus worth a look.

Invincible #35: As much a slice of life book as it is a superhero saga, both sides of Invincible prove compelling month after month. If you haven't checked this one out, go - get the trade paperbacks, then come back and be up to speed. Why does Marvel keep offering Robert Kirkman plum assignments? Invincible. And it's not even a Marvel book.

Jack of Fables #3: The only spin-off book that could have worked, maybe Jack of Fables won't have the longevity of its parent book. But don't tell Jack. He'd take offense, and this first arc argues that no, he's got a lot of adventures left in him. And when he meets another Jack, it's also clear he has a lot to learn. Will he? Buy the book and find out. Plus there's fairies and a nymphomaniac Goldilocks.

JSA Classified #17: Clearly, I've lost track of current Hourman continuity, and on New Earth, who can say for sure right now, anyway? Two generations of Hourmen face down Bane, a dangerously awkward character, because nobody seems willing to make up their mind about just what his alliances are anymore. Still, Scott McDaniel has always been a good artist for visceral fight scenes (which you have to have with Bane), and Tony Bedard wades well into a relatively obscure corner of the DC Universe.

Lions, Tigers and Bears #3: Mike Bullock gained a lot of attention with this charming concept, spinning it past its initial mini-series to this second arc with the same title (though a different publisher, Image). With artist Paul Gutierrez, he continues with a lot of charm, but not a lot of sense. This seems to be enamored of its hype a bit, and Gutierrez' layouts occasionally leave something to be desired in the way of storytelling. Pages shift focus abruptly, and not even a "What has gone before" recap page helps with the complexity. It's supposed to be a children's book, but it's starting to read like The Silmarillion.

Model Operandi #1: This graphic novel answers the question we've secretly asked ourselves for years: what if Bruce Timm did sex comedy? Once you get past the overtness of lead character Ann Lesbee's name, this romp through high fashion, Europe, and government conspiracies is nothing but pure fun. At only $5.99, it's also a steal with great art from Dennis Budd and Joe Caramagna. When is the mainstream going to perk up to the consistently good and interesting work coming from After Hours Press?

Ninja Scroll #1: It's the sequel to an extremely popular anime. It offers very little in the way of back story. For all that, Ninja Scroll worked pretty well, with Michael Chang Ting Yu using a style that bridges the manga look with something a little more Western. J. Torres' story must continue things fairly well, but it also stands pretty well on its own. Not a fantastic book, necessarily, but one that should really please fans of the original series.

The Trials of Shazam #2: If Mary Batson has been in a coma since before the first issue, why did Billy seem so jaunty before the final strange transformation of the lightning? Judd Winick moves Freddy Freeman up a notch, really playing up elements of his character that haven't been touched in a while, so that almost makes up for the Mary Batson thing. But he's also making changes to the mythos that feel more marketing driven and strangely pretentious, especially in Billy's dialogue. I guess true fans will always have Archive Editions.

True Story Swear To God #1: Tom Beland moves his brilliant autobiographical book over to Image, and to celebrate he treads a little water. To be fair, he had to bring new readers up to speed, and that's not necessarily going to turn off old fans. It just feels like he's rehashing instead of giving us a new insight. Now that he's gotten that out of his system, it's time to move forward in the second issue. Don't get me wrong; if you haven't read this book, take advantage of the Image label that is more likely to have brought it to a store near you.

Sight Unseen:

Justice League of America #2: Trying very hard to contain myself.

More Than Mortal Legend Reborn: Once upon a time, this book was a fan favorite from Image. Now it's coming from Avatar. Try not to hold that against this revival. Sharon Scott's story should be enough to get you hooked.

Snakes On A Plane #2: I want these m*#%ing movie tie-ins off my m$#@!ing Diamond invoice!

Stan Lee Meets Spider-Man: Do I think this will be a book I will treasure and read again and again? No, it's not going to be an Archie Meets The Punisher. But it will be fun, and hopefully a reminder of what made Stan's creations sparkle in the first place. Are my sights too high?

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

Derek McCaw

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