Tag Archives: IDW

Weekly Comic Review for 4/2/08

Abe Sapien: The Drowning #3 (of 5)

W: Mike Mignola

A: Jason Shawn Alexander

As happens with nearly every book in the Hellboy universe, there comes a moment when a whole bunch of stuff happens and you find yourself not exactly sure what’s going on.  This has nothing to do with the talent of the writers or artists involved with the project.  It just seems to be a narrative decision made somewhere back in the murky, swirling miasma of time.  And, everything gets cleared up eventually.  (I say eventually, because it might not be in that mini-series…you might have to wait until the next mini to get a concrete answer.)

Abe Sapien: The Drowning #3 is the issue where I found myself (if you’ll pardon the sea metaphor) adrift.  Partly, I think, it has to do with the lack of dialogue.  Many of Mignola’s characters are rather laconic, so there’s always the possibility that you’ll run into an issue where someone is so focused on the job at hand that they just don’t have time to blather.  (Interesting factoid: that is one of the reasons that DC pushed for the creation of Robin.  To give Batman someone to talk to.)  The centerpiece of this issue is Abe’s street battle with a giant eel monster, however the main mystery of the book remains the corpse of Dutch warlock Epke Vrooman, and how his creepy little gobliny goons are going to remove the Tibetan dagger from his heart.

While Mignola continues to craft a delightfully complex pulp-style story, Alexander backs him up with more-than-capable art.  And, if you think it’s easy to draw facial features on a fish-man, you need to get out of the house more.

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Angel: After the Fall #6

W: Joss Whedon & Brian Lynch

A: Tim Kane, David Messina, Stephen Mooney & John Byrne

Anyone who wants to find out what happens to the un-demony Fred who showed up on the last page of issue #5 had better settle down and grab a helmet.  In true Whedon fashion, the fans are made to suffer.

Starting with this issue, Lynch is delving into what happened the night that L.A. was sucked into hell.  Judging from the layout of this issue, it looks like Lynch will be using vignettes to show us what each of the main characters was up to immediately “after the fall.”  Issue #6 focuses on Connor, Spike and Lorne.  It’s funny, that spell that Wolfram and Hart used at the end of season four must have really worked, because I constantly forget all about Connor until he shows up again.

Of the three, Spike’s story is, in my opinion, the best.  The writing is good.  Messina’s art is beautiful.  And, it really captures where Spike is at the moment.  He’s survived two apocalypses and he’s pretty sure he’s earned some kind of reward by now.  But, until his reward arrives, he’s just as happy to beat the crap out of stuff.  Lynch even gives us a classic moment that could have come right out of an episode of Angel (actually, I think it might have): standing on a rooftop, surveying the city, Spike spots trouble on the street below.  Ready to jump into action, he turns, coat twirling.  We cut to the next panel, and Spike’s riding the elevator down while “The Girl from Ipanema” plays, lamenting that he should have just jumped off the roof.

Although not as good as the Spike story, Lorne’s story is befitting the character.  Told in Seussical verse and peppered with Lorne-isms, Lynch and Byrne tell us how Lorne went from killing Lindsey to being crowned lord of Silverlake.

Connor’s story has it’s moments, particularly when his memory starts coming back–did Wolfram and Hart do this on purpose or is it just something that happens in hell?–and he realizes that he banged his surrogate mother.  But, a lot of it is one long philosophical examination of the differences between Connor’s three fathers: Angel, Holtz, and Laurence Reilly.

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer #13

W: Drew Goddard

A: Georges Jeanty

It’s funny.  Last month, the news was all a-buzz with the uproar surrounding Buffy’s night of intimacy with a girl.  However, this month there wasn’t a single story about the adorably awkward homosexual tension between Xander and his former “Master,” Dracula.  Why is that?  Was it just too goofy to be spun into anything other than a fictional story told with pretty pictures?  That must be it.  Anyone who tried to use this issue of Buffy in their agenda of swirling infernal asinine rage would have been laughed out of the Bund meeting, or whatever.

Personally, I was never a fan of the Dracula episode of Buffy.  I thought that throwing in that foppish, over-romanticized Euro-trash kind of vampire undermined everything the show had done to make vampires back into the scummy, scavenging bottom-feeders they’re supposed to be.  Yes, there were some good moments.  Xander becoming Drac’s thrall and later proclaiming that he no longer wants to eat insects, get the “funny syphilis,” or be everyone’s butt-monkey.  But, as a whole, I’ve always thought it was one of the show’s weaker episodes.

However, all of that aside, this was one of the funniest issues of any comic I’ve ever read.  The scenes between Xander and Dracula were one great line after another.  Dracula repeatedly referring to Renee as Xander’s Moor and cursing the “filthy yellow swine” who stole his powers leads Xander to note that he didn’t remember Dracula being so racist.  And, what would an issue with heavy homosexual undertones be without an extended cameo by Andrew?

The rest of the issue revolves around Buffy and the Slayers tracking down the trio of Japanese vampires who stole the Slayer’s Scythe.  The bad news: these vamps have found a way to reverse the spell that Willow performed on the scythe, essentially deactivating all of the new Slayers.  Now, the question remains: are these three working with Twilight or on their own?

The only problem I had with this issue of Buffy was that I thought Willow drilling Satsu for information on how Buffy was in bed was a little too crass for our dear, sweet redheaded Wicca.

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Countdown to Final Crisis 4

W: Paul Dini & Sean McKeever

A: Jamal Igle

Hey, remember how happy I was when Mary Marvel kicked Eclipso to the curb and became good again?  Well, you can forget all of that.  The Challengers are back on their Earth for about a minute and a half and Mary goes home to find Darkseid chilling on her couch watching Judge Judy.  Darkseid convinces Mary to take her Black Mary powers back and work for him.  Super.  I understand that the set-up for DC’s upcoming Final Crisis event requires the Big D to be victorious and that would probably involve him actually getting his hands on the souls within Jimmy Olsen, but does it also have to involve Mary being evil again?

The bad news: it’s obvious that DC had absolutely no idea what they were doing with this series.

The good news: it’s almost over.

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Detective Comics #843

W: Paul Dini

A: Dustin Nguyen

I really love the work that Dini is doing on Detective Comics–which is odd since his Countdown gets worse every week.  Yes, I’m pretty sure a lot of it comes from the fact that my first full-time exposure to Batman came in the form of Dini’s Batman: The Animated Series.  But, let’s not ignore the fact that Dini’s usually a pretty solid storyteller.  One of the best decisions DC ever made was in allowing Dini to write shorter, one- or two-part stories with great villains like Scarecrow, Mad Hatter and (in this case) Scarface.  I also find it hard to fault Dini’s preoccupation with Zatanna, who makes yet another appearance in his Detective run.

Hey, I don’t fault Dini for wanting to put Zee in as many issues as possible.  She’s a leggy brunette with magic powers and an amazing fashion sense.  Plus, when she’s with Bruce, the sparks are obvious.  They have a long history together, Zee’s life in the spotlight balances Bruce’s life in the shadows, and there’s the trust factor.  Bruce has serious trust issues.  Zee monkeyed with Bruce’s mind and he’s forgiven her.  He still hasn’t forgiven Booster Gold for borrowing a batarang and not returning it, but he’s forgiven Zee for invading his noodle.

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Rogue Angel: Teller of Tall Tales #2

W: Barbara Randall Kesel

A: Renae De Liz

This issue of Teller of Tall Tales puts the narrative on hold to explain the back-story of Annja Creed.  I understand that the concept of a modern-day, skeptical archaeologist who also has a magical sword can be a bit to get a handle on.  Unfortunately, as someone who is familiar with the Rogue Angel novel series, this issue pretty much told me a story that I’ve already read.  Actually, I mean that quite literally, since the bulk of issue #2 retells the plot of Rogue Angel: Destiny.

And, while De Liz really captured how Annja is described in the books, the designs for other series regulars–like Roux, Braden, and Doug–don’t feel right.

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Quote of the Week:

“Oh balls.”–Dracula, upon remembering that he lost his powers to a trio of Japanese vampires while gambling on a motorcycle, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer #13.

Weekly Comic Review for 3/19/08

Angel: After the Fall #5

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W: Joss Whedon & Brian Lynch

A: Franco Urru

Before I talk about the actual issue, there’s something that’s been bugging me.  Who the hell is that white dude on the cover standing between Gwen and Gunn?  At first, it looked like Xander, except (a) no eye-patch and (b) what the hell would Xander be doing there?  Then, I thought maybe it was Lindsey…but, y’know, he’s dead.  So, any ideas?

This issue of Angel: After the Fall highlights exactly why I  love Joss Whedon (and, also, how well Brian Lynch understands the way things work in the Whedonverse).  Angel’s on his own, facing the champions of L.A.’s demon lords in an attempt to gain control of the recently damned city and protect its human population.  Even if Angel were still a vampire, it would have been a pretty hard battle, but he goes it alone.  There he is, knee-deep in demon champions, when the cavalry arrives unbidden.  That’s classic Joss.  I can’t count the number of times that Angel (or Buffy, or Mal) went off on their own because they felt a particular job was too dangerous for anyone else, only to find out that they’ve gotten themselves in too deep.  That’s when their friends swoop in and turn the tide.  And, so often, it’s not the bravest of them who rallies the reinforcements, but the one with the most heart–Willow or Wash or, in this case, Lorne.

And, lest you think Joss has given up on tormenting his fans, this issue ends with a doozie of a cliffhanger.  In the midst of terrifying demon warriors, crazy blue bitch-goddess Illyria suddenly and inexplicably reverts to Fred Burkle, in all of her awkward, willowy Texan glory.  Now, from a storytelling point, my guess is that the Senior Partners did it just to mess with Wesley, who received quite a talking to from his new paymasters.  However, for the readers, it’s a simple example of Joss messing with us.  Why?  Well, we’re not going to find out what the hell is going on for a bit, since the next few issues of Angel will be a flashback to what happened in L.A. the night it was sucked into hell.

I guess it’s true what they say: You have to be cruel to be kind.

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B.P.R.D.: 1946 #3

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W: Mike Mignola & Joshua Dysart

A: Paul Azaceta

Zombies, demons, ghouls, vampires, shape-shifters, and Nazis.  Yup, just another day in the world of Hellboy and the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense.

Professor Bruttenholm and his team (including pal Howard and the Dirty Half-Dozen) investigate the asylum, with the help of their Soviet counterparts.  We learn that, despite his purge of the mentally ill from Germany, Hitler actually kept this asylum fully-stocked with loonies so that he would have a herd of test subjects to choose from for his wacky vampire experiments.  The mystery of the Nazis’ plans for a vampire army deepen, as Bruttenholm discovers that one hundred of the one hundred and twenty frozen hybrids are missing.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much time to explore this mystery, since an army of pissed-off ghosts emerge from the shadows, J-Horror style, and fall upon the American and Russian soldiers, killing Howard in the process.

This issue also introduces Baron Konig, an albino chap who, most likely, is also a vampire.  He declares that “man” will pay for what happened to Giurescu and his wives.  He probably would have started his vengeance with Bruttenholm, if Varvara hadn’t stopped him with her creepy goat-headed demon mojo.  I’m curious to see if Konig will show up later in this series, or if he will simply be absorbed into the larger Hellboy mythos only to appear three or four years from now in a completely different storyline.

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Batman and the Outsiders #5

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W: Chuck Dixon

A: Julian Lopez

I’m going to be completely honest here, I totally forget about Batman and the Outsiders until I see the new issue at the comic shop (in my case, Cosmic Comics in NYC).  I don’t hate it.  But, it just doesn’t seem to make much of an impression on me in the long-run.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some pretty good things going on here.  Sure, there’s a pretty lame story involving some Euro-trash dude working with O.M.A.C.s to launch some kind of super bio-weapon into orbit.  But I get a kick out of watching Green Arrow trying to play with the Outsiders.  I mean, c’mon, Ollie, Captain Liberal himself, basically working with a black-ops military squad.  That’s hilarious.  Even better: Metamorpho giving Ollie a dressing down about referring to Batman as “Bats.”

But, what really got me jazzed about this issue is the long overdue return of the Dibnys.  We’ve all been waiting for Ralph and Sue Dibny, ghost detectives, to arrive on the scene since the end of 52.  If the Dibnys become a part of Bruce’s team, I just might lose my shit.  It would make sense, even though he hates the supernatural, Bruce does admire Ralph’s detective abilities.

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Captain America #36

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W: Ed Brubaker

A: Butch Guice & Mike Perkins

It doesn’t look like things are going to be getting any easier for the new Captain America any time soon.  Sure, Bucky regulates when he goes up against the Serpent Squad, led by Red Skull’s hot redheaded daughter, Syn, and her less-than-hot lover, Crossbones.  And, he’s got a pretty cool partnership going with the Black Widow.  But, it’s not all head-smashing and Russian she-spy goodness.

When Bucky appears before a crowd of rioters, imploring them to return to their homes and take care of their friends and loved-ones, how do they respond?  Well, if you said their hearts grow three sizes at the sight of America’s Sentinel of Liberty, you’d be wrong.  No, the crowd (based on their behavior, I can only assume that they were recently relocated from Springfield) throw beer cans and tell Bucky to “shut up” and that he “ain’t Captain America” because “Captain America’s dead!”  That would put anyone in a bad mood.  So, after slinking off into the night, Bucky gets a second piece of bad news.  Since his appearance on national TV, the Cap’s out of the bag, so to speak, and SHIELD has to distance themselves from Bucky’s actions.  That means that his really awesome partnership with Black Widow has to come to an end, but (fortunately for Buck) not before a little lip action.

And, for the “What the Hell?” moment of the week, we have to go to Red Skull’s top-secret underground lair.  Sharon Carter has managed to get herself free and is skulking about, despite the little voice in her head (which, I’m assuming, belongs to Doctor Faustus) telling her to quit it.  Sharon stumbles into a room and comes face-to-face with Steve Rogers.  Well, okay, not exactly.  He’s in some kind of suspended animation.  And, he’s probably another clone.

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Catwoman #77

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W: Will Pfeifer

A: David Lopez

I’m not really sure what the deal is with Adam Hughes’ cover for this issue.  With the exception of the Joker (who shows up on the final page) none of the characters “chasing” Selina are anywhere in the book.  Also, I’m not sure how accurate the tag-line “Run Catwoman Run” is.  Does she run in this issue?  I say: “Not really.”  In fact, not only doesn’t Catwoman run, but she’s almost tempted to stay in the crazy alien holodeck forever.

And, I’ll be honest, I don’t blame her.  Sure, the machine she’s in is killing her.  But, the alternate reality that it’s created for her is pretty sweet.  People fear her and give her free shit.  And, not only that, in this world, she can actually take out Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and Flash.  You don’t see that every day.  But, then Martian Manhunter shows up and throws a huge wet blanket on everything.  (It’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally learned to love J’onn’s new pointy-headed, all-business look.)  “You’re going to die,” he says,  “This world isn’t real.”  But wait, what’s J’onn doing there, you ask?  That is a very good question.  It seems that Bruce sent J’onn to the prison planet undercover in the guise of Blockbuster.  That Bruce, always thinking.

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Countdown to Final Crisis 6

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W: Paul Dini & Adam Beechen

A: Mike Norton

Told through the eyes of Buddy Blank, this issue of Countdown to Final Crisis seems to be a means to set up the reappearance of Kamandi into the DC Universe.  Sure, there have been countless hints and winks to Jack Kirby’s old DC series–from the return of the O.M.A.C.s and Brother Eye, to the Command-D bunker in Bludhaven–but this issue cranks things up to “11.”

We still don’t know if the Challengers are on a parallel Earth or if they’ve somehow been erased from the history of New Earth.  But, the answer might not matter.  Karate Kid is dead and the Morticoccus virus he’s been smuggling is loose.  It spreads across the planet, mutating due to Karate Kid’s advanced 31st Century biology.  This virus does something odd.  It not only infects man and beast equally, but it also alters the host’s DNA.  So, in other words, if the virus goes from a man to a dog, the dog’s DNA is made more man-like, and if it than jumps to another human, that human’s DNA becomes more dog-like.  A perfect way to explain the mutated animal-human hybrids seen in Kirby’s old Kamandi series.   So, is the “Great Disaster” that leads to Kamandi being the last boy on Earth the same “Great Disaster” that Ray Palmer just failed to stop?  Possible.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that, when Buddy Blank left Cadmus at the end of the issue (with Una in tow), he went home, grabbed his grandson, and headed off to the bunker in Bludhaven.

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The Flash #238

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W: Tom Peyer

A: Freddie E. Williams, II

What would happen if Scarecrow and Mysterio had a kid?  Most likely, that kid would be a little bit like the newest villain in The Flash: Spin, as in “media spin.”  All we know about this dude so far is that he works in television news, wears a TV screen on his head, and can somehow make the public’s biggest current fears come true.  Somehow he needs to use a naked dwarf trussed up in a multi-media gimp-suit to make his powers work right.  If I knew more about what was going on in Wonder Woman right now, I’d be able to make an educated guess about whether or not Spin’s prisoner is Doctor Psycho.

Spin is a pretty good villain for a hero like Flash, who happens to be one of the biggest media darlings in the DC Universe (probably second only to Superman).  So, when Wally is caught on camera telling a reporter that his biggest problem is that superheroes don’t get paid, the media machine runs with it.  And Spin “spins” it for his own purposes, somehow forcing Flash to rob a bunch of citizens.  Is Spin’s power simple mind-control or a mixture of mind-control, illusion, and/or reality manipulation?

This issue made me feel really bad for Wally.  He wants to be a good husband and father.  He wants to be a provider.  But it’s not easy finding a job, especially when you might be called on at any minute to zip off and save the world (although, in Wally’s defense, he could probably do that in the time it would take any of his potential co-workers to go to the can).  So, Wally’s at the end of his rope, financially speaking, and he snaps.  It’s just his bad luck that it’s caught on film.  And, Jay’s no help with that whole “the lightning bolt must never touch the dollar sign” speech.  Really, Jay?  How about a little understanding?  Wally’s got a wife and two kids to feed.

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Justice League of America #19

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W: Alan Burnett

A: Ed Benes

Hey, Justice League of America, what’s going on?  Umm…yeah…I really think we need to talk.

This is really hard for me, JLA.  I mean, we’ve had a lot of good times and all, but I think we need to break up.  No, no.  It’s not you, it’s me.  Well…actually, it is you.  We used to have so much fun together.  I used to look forward to our time together, but now…well, now I can barely stand to be in the same room as you.

I’m not sure what happened.  We’ve had some really good times in the past–“New World Order” and “Tower of Babel”, for example–and, I must admit, even in our recent rockier times, there’ve been some highlights.  You were there when Wally came back.  You let Roy put on his big-boy costume and become Red Arrow.  But that just isn’t enough for me anymore.  Maybe you’re going through some rough times, and I understand that.  I think we should both take some time to figure out what we both need.  And, who knows, maybe some time down the road, we can have something special again.

I’m sorry, JLA.  I never meant to hurt you, but it is for the best.

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Robin #172

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W: Chuck Dixon

A: David Baldeon

Robin’s life is never simple, is it?  He’s still tracking down Violet, a case that’s led him to Maxie Zeus’s casino.  On top of that, he’s been approached by Detectives Cavallo and Wise, two of the shadiest cops I’ve ever seen (and I’m a big James Ellroy fan), who want to from a partnership with the young crime-fighter.  Oh, and he’s having trouble with would-be girlfriend Zo.

Previous issues of Robin have hinted about the return of Stephanie Brown, and someone was hired by Penguin in the pages of Gotham Underground  to run around in the Spoiler costume.  The question has always been (at least to me) are they both the same person?  Well, according to the end of this issue, it looks very likely.  We finally see Spoiler with her mask off and it is Steph.  But, is she the same Spoiler who’s been working for Penguin?  And, if so, what the hell are you thinking, Steph?  Are you working undercover?  Is this all part of some weird super-plan dreamed up by Leslie Thompkins?  Was Leslie able to pull the wool over Bruce’s eyes for two years, or was he in on it?

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Quote of the Week:

“What the hell are you–?  Are you high?”–the tyrannosaurus demon to Angel, when asked if he was acting against his will, in Angel: After the Fall #5.

Weekly Comic Review for 2/27/08

Angel: After the Fall #4

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W: Brian Lynch

A: Franco Urru

This month’s issue of Angel: After the Fall strikes me as that most classic of story types: the “Catching Our Breaths” story. Lynch (and “executive producer” Joss Whedon) threw a lot of heavy stuff at us last issue. First, Angel challenges the demon lords of L.A. to personal combat for control of the damned City of Angels. But, the biggest reveal was that Angel, despite continuing to do the Big Damn Hero thing, is no longer a vampire.

Issue #4 begins with a flashback to the night L.A. was sent to Hell. In these first hellish moments, Angel realizes that he is, in fact, mortal again. Between reading issues 3 and 4, I actually went back and watched the fifth season of Angel, which raised an interesting question. Season 5 was something of a reboot, so it played to a lot of themes that the earlier seasons introduced. One of them being the Shanshu Prophecy, which stated that a vampire with a soul would fight in the apocalypse and be rewarded with renewed life. Essentially, Pinocchio gets to be a real boy. I’d forgotten about the Shanshu Prophecy–which would be an excellent explanation of how Angel became mortal, except that he signed away that destiny towards the end of the season. As it stands, Angel believes that the Senior Partners at Wolfram & Hart made him mortal just to screw with him (which, to be honest, would fit their M.O.).

While discussing After the Fall, a buddy of mine wondered where Lorne was. Well, we all got the answer in this issue. Lorne has become the “non-lord” of Silver Lake, which he’s transformed into a cross between Pleasantville and Toontown. In the series finale, Lorne said he was leaving town after one last act of violent heroism, but I guess he didn’t get very far before the entire city was sucked into Dante’s Inferno.

So, while Angel is preparing for his big battle (which includes assistance from Groosalugg–look him up!), the demon lords are looking to tip the balance in their favor by handing out the eight Hagun Shafts (magical dinguses that can be used to end the life of an immortal) to their champions to use in their fight against Angel. And, elsewhere, Vamp-Gunn blows up the remains of Wolfram & Hart, which causes Ghosty Wes to pull an Old Soldier and fade away.

While I still think Urru is doing a bang-up job in his rendering of Spike–and, as we see in this issue, his rendering of Lorne is just as good–the other characters just aren’t doing it for me. Sure, his Angel does, on occasion, bare a pretty good resemblance to David Boreanaz, but when it doesn’t work, Angel looks like a big, broody blob. Urru has shown that he can capture the essence of the characters without needing to copy the appearance of the actors–his Wesley and Gunn don’t really look like the actors who portrayed them in the series, but you know exactly who they are when they’re on the page. In future issues, I’d like to see Urru draw Angel and not David Boreanaz.

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Batman #674

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W: Grant Morrison

A: Tony Daniel

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this issue of Morrison’s Batman. This, of course, leads me to believe that Morrison has taken it upon himself to totally screw with my head. If he can write an issue like this, which (barring another unnecessary cameo by Bat-Mite) is a pretty tight Batman story, why does he continue to dredge up fifty year old continuity (The International Club of Heroes) or saddle us with annoying new characters (I’m lookin’ at you, Damian).

Picking up where the last issue left off, Bats is still at the mercy of the mysterious Third Man after suffering a heart attack on the roof of GCPD headquarters. Morrison weaves an intricate plot, revealing how the Gotham PD wanted to make their own Batmen in the unlikely event that the real Batman died. The Three Batmen were the result. One was trained to be an expert marksman; the second was dosed with Venom to create a Bat-Bane; with the third, the man in charge of the program (a doctor named Hurt, believe it or not) went the psychological route. Hurt theorized that the real Batman is driven by a personal trauma, so he kills the family of the third police recruit, providing the same drive that Bruce has. Pretty fucked up, right?

Last issue, we learned that Bruce once underwent a sensory deprivation experiment. Here, Morrison gives us the pay-off: that experiment was run by Doctor Hurt, as a means of getting a look at Batman’s psyche. Bats hates when people screw with his mind, so he’s understandably pissed when he learns that chunks of his memory regarding Hurt’s experiment are missing, which is all the incentive he needs to make with the fighting.

This would have been a great issue of Batman if not for a few scenes involving Bat-Mite (normally a scene or two wouldn’t be enough to ruin an issue for me, but I think the scenes with Bat-Mite really undermine the core of who Batman is). This weird little fucker made an appearance during Bruce’s hallucinations in the last issue, and shows up again in this issue. He seems to be insinuating that he’s some part of Batman’s psyche, here to help him remember the memories that Doctor Hurt monkeyed with. Personally, I didn’t think this was necessary. Batman doesn’t create avatars for parts of his psyche, that’s way too New Age-y for Bruce. I don’t care how long he was “dead” on that roof, it’s not something that Batman would do.

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Captain America #35

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W: Ed Brubaker

A: Butch Guice

What does it say when two of the handful of mainstream Marvel books I read don’t even read like traditional comic books?  Does it mean that I don’t really enjoy “super hero” comics?  Does it mean that Marvel can’t produce a classic, entertaining capes-and-cowl comic (say that three times fast)?  Or, does it simply mean that Ed Brubaker is the shit and can do no wrong?   Clearly, it isn’t the first one.  And, although the second option does have possibilities, let’s be honest, it’s most likely the unstoppable power of Ed Brubaker.

Brubaker understands that not all comic book heroes are created equal.  While the Fantastic Four should get embroiled in cosmic, space-and-time-spanning adventures, Spider-Man should not.  Daredevil is a noirish, street-level vigilante.  Captain America is a soldier, and the stories told in his book (no matter who’s carrying the shield) should reflect that.  Sure, there are guys and gals running around in flashy outfits and there are nefarious and hideously deformed villains, but Captain America is a lot closer to James Bond than Batman.

Bucky has barely gotten used to carrying the shield (and name) of his old mentor, and now he has to deal with a riot and a number of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents turned murderers.  Admittedly, this is all due to the behind-the-scenes machinations of the Red Skull and his cohorts, who seem to be coming pretty damned close to every super-villain’s dream: the destruction of the U.S. of A.

Let’s be honest, it would be a waste of a great character to have Cap (any Cap) just running around and beating up on your average run of the mill super-villain.  He’s the embodiment of America, and would naturally be used by the government to fight its enemies both at home and abroad.  He would, essentially, be the U.S.’s top agent.

Unfortunately for the new Captain America, his bosses have too much on their plate to be of much help.  New S.H.I.E.L.D. Director, Tony Stark, has a PR nightmare on his hands when a number of his agents–seemingly under the control of mind-fucker Doctor Faustus–open fire on a crowd of civilians.  With S.H.I.E.L.D.’s hands essentially tied, Stark sends Captain Bucky out into the field with the Black Widow as his only back-up.  What the new Cap finds is a classic scheme of Bondian proportions, involving countless shell companies, manipulation of the U.S. Senate, and bottled water dosed with mind control mojo.

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Countdown to Final Crisis 9

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W: Paul Dini, Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti

A: Tom Derenick

The good news is that, with everyone on Apokolips, this issue is one of the most cohesive of the entire series.  While 52 benefited from its multiple story lines, I felt that Countdown has suffered more than anything else.  The bad news: with about two months left to go, Countdown doesn’t seem to have a clear sense of story–is Brother Eye the Big Bad?  Are we given hints about what Final Crisis is going to be about?

Sure, as usual, there are a few pretty fun moments.  Jason Todd more or less steals the show as he fights an O.M.A.C.  Brother Eye gets his “hands” on Karate Kid and extracts the uber-lethal virus out of his DNA (I’m assuming this virus will be used by Brother Eye to eradicate all of humanity), and it takes the combined might of the Challengers, Ray Palmer, Mary Marvel, Harley and Holly to even make Brother Eye…um…blink.  It probably didn’t hurt that Jason managed to trick an O.M.A.C. into releasing Firestorm.

Now, what the hell is going on with Pied Piper?  Someone along the line decided that his powers stem from the Anti-Life Equation.  Is this an old idea coming back with the Multiverse?  Or is this a completely new concept dreamed up by DC?  I get Jimmy Olsen becoming a vessel for the souls of the dead New Gods–not only was he there when Lightray bought it, but it also provides a way to incorporate all of Jimmy’s whacky old transformations into current continuity.  But, honestly, Piper??  Ignoring the fact that I don’t think he’s an incredibly interesting character, it just feels like this came out of left field.  Maybe it was just a way to get Brother Eye off of Apokolips.

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Daredevil #105

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W: Ed Brubaker

A: Michael Lark, Paul Azaceta & Stefano Gaudiano

Like he does with Captain America, Brubaker has turned Daredevil into something more than your average super-hero comic.  Under his direction, this book has become a gritty crime series that benefits from being able to draw on the toys from the Marvel toy-chest.

This issue wraps up the arc involving Mr. Fear.  Fear has spent the last several issues systematically ripping Matt Murdock’s life apart, just because he “doesn’t like the guy.”  He orchestrated the war with Hood so that Daredevil would be distracted–I’m glad they cleared that up, because I couldn’t figure out why everyone had such a hard-on for Hell’s Kitchen.

If there was any doubt that Mr. Fear is a bad mother, this issue should remove it.  Fear goes head to head with Daredevil (after staring down the barrel of a gun aimed at him by the Hood) for no other reason than to gloat.  There is no cure to the fear gas that he used on Matt’s wife.  Whatever psychological damage the toxin has done must be cured through normal means, if ever.

Plus, this issue has one of the better conclusions to an arc that I’ve seen in a while.  Fear willingly goes to prison, where he’s treated like a king.  Inmates do his bidding.  Sexy C.O.s tear their clothes off at his approach.  Fear’s managed to internalize his fear toxins and can release them like pheromones (fear-omones??) whenever he wants.  He’ll rule in prison until he decides to leave, and then he’ll just walk out the front door.  That’s a pretty bad-ass ending, if you ask me.

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Justice Society of America #13

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W: Geoff Johns & Alex Ross

A: Fernando Pasarin

Kingdom Come and New Earth continue to come together in this new issue of Justice Society of America.  Gog (who, in the past, has tormented the Superman of New Earth) is behind the recent killings of meta-humans posing as demi-gods.  Gog can also be connected to Magog (the “villain” from KC Superman’s Earth), especially since Gog mentioned the destruction of Kansas, which happened on the Kingdom Come Earth.  Supposedly granted his powers by Gog, Magog, in essence, is a legacy villain, the perfect foil for a team of legacy heroes.

The chunk of this issue deals with another meeting between our Superman and Kingdom Come Superman.  KC-Supes has come to Metropolis to learn more about the Gog that our Supes faced a year ago.  This meeting is bittersweet, as KC-Superman encounters people–Lois, Jimmy, Perry–who are dead on his Earth.  After flying off to Gotham and fighting Hercules, who Gog failed to kill, the Supermen track their quarry only to have him teleport away.

Johns offers up another great issue of JSA.  After all is said and done, the best thing about the return of the Multiverse, will most likely be this arc.  Justice Society continues to be the one book that I can’t wait to read every month.  Unfortunately, the art this issue–by Fernando Pasarin–isn’t as good as the work that Dale Eaglesham has been doing on this title.

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Rogue Angel: Teller of Tall Tales #1

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W: Barbara Randall Kesel

A: Renae De Liz

Property comics–those that are based on television shows, movies, books, etc.–can be tricky.  A writer chosen for the project might not be able to capture the voice of the series (this, of course, can be easily avoided by hiring the writer(s) of the original series).  Also, something that works in one format might not work in another.

As a fan of the Rogue Angel series of novels, I was curious to check out what IDW was going to do with their comic adaptation of Annja Creed, intrepid archaeologist and wielder of Joan of Arc’s magical broadsword.  Although it’s hard to tell after just one issue, I will say that Barbara Randall Kesel seems to have a good grasp on the basic formula of Annja’s adventures: Called to Virginia City by an old friend, Annja soon finds herself on the trail of a valuable artifact (in this case, proof that Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn was based, in part, on the life of one of the town’s inhabitants), this artifact also attracts a certain violent element (which is where having a magical sword, and the enhanced abilities it grants, comes in handy).

I’m also very impressed with De Liz’s art, which has that stylized, almost cartoonish quality that I love so much.  Plus, Annja is drawn is almost exactly the way I pictured her in my head while reading the novels–as opposed to the model they use on the covers of the books, who looks like…um…a model, instead of an athletic woman who spends most of her time in caves, ditches, and tombs.

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Ultimate Fantastic Four #51

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W: Mike Carey

A: Tyler Kirkham

This issue of Ultimate Fantastic Four again shows what Mike Carey is capable off.  Carey keeps the unnecessary techno-babble to a bare minimum as the Fantastic Four faces off against Thanos and his army.  I’ve never been all that familiar with Thanos and what his deal is in the regular Marvel Universe, but the Ultimate version seems like a cold-blooded, single-minded sonuvabitch.  Y’know…a leader.  Carey doesn’t seem to bother adding extra layers to Thanos.  He wants the Cube.  He’ll get the Cube.  Done and done.

Kirkham’s art is also pretty damned good.  There are moments when he gets a little overly complicated–especially when trying to draw aliens or alien technology–but his work on the Four is pretty topnotch, even if it occasionally looks like Sue’s got a clump of straw on her head.   One of the more breathtaking panels I’ve seen in a while is the scene where Kirkham depicts Ben with an unexplained light radiating from deep inside of him, visible through the ragged cracks in Ben’s orange, rocky hide.

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Ultimate Spider-Man #119

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W: Brian Michael Bendis

A: Stuart Immomen

I’d like to propose something to the folks at Marvel.  Make Ultimate Spider-Man the center of the Ultimate Marvel Universe.  That would mean that anything that happened in this book, would have to be respected in the other books in the Ultimates line.  Why would I make such a bizarre request?  Simple.  I’d hate to have an otherwise awesome issue of Ultimate Spider-Man ruined by an incident that my brain has trouble rectifying against the information it’s been given by other Ultimate books.  Case in point: the appearance of Magneto at the end of this issue.

Peter’s friend, Liz Allen, is still coming to grips with her new mutant powers.  Of course, we’re just assuming they’re mutant powers, since her uncle’s a mutant and Magneto pops up.  There could be another explanation for where Liz got her fiery powers, but it looks like everyone’s willing to assume that she’s a mutant for now.  Of course, this leads to another lengthy discussion of the prejudice against mutants.  There’s also a really fun moment when Spider-Man tries to give Liz the “Great Power, Great Responsibility”  speech, only to have her interrupt him before he can even get the verbal ball rolling.  I was a little confused when Magneto showed up to tell Liz about her “destiny.”  Where the hell has he been?  When he popped up in Ultimates 3, I was confused enough (especially when Mystique was with him–wasn’t she masquerading as Magneto in prison?), but here he comes floating into Peter Parker’s life.  Sure, it makes sense for the story, but I was still taken aback.

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Quote of the Week:

“That was a very strange conversation, even for me.”–Spider-Man, after trying to convince Liz Allen that her life isn’t over just because she’s a mutant, in Ultimate Spider-Man #119.

Weekly Comic Review for 1/16/08

Angel: After the Fall #3

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W: Brian Lynch

A: Franco Urru

All I can say is this: Thank God for Buffy and Angel for giving me a regularly scheduled dose of Whedony goodness.  Sure, there’s Astonishing X-Men and Runaways, but I feel like it’s been forever since they’ve come out (I’m not saying they’ve actually been delayed, but it sure feels that way to me).

The first chunk of this issue focuses on the throw-down between Angel and Illyria (a former bad-ass elder demon now residing in the willowy body of Angel’s former comrade, Fred).  Angel’s gone to the Beverly Hills mansion where Spike and Illyria have been hiding out since L.A. was sucked into Hell, convinced that Illyria was responsible for the slaughter of one of L.A.’s demon lords.  I’ll admit that some of the fight was a tad confusing–at least to me–mainly because Illyria keeps time-slipping (a minor problem she faced when she was introduced in the show’s fifth season).  Although it was confusing, it did offer Lynch the opportunity to give us a glimpse of Puppet-Angel from “Smile Time.”  I have mixed feelings about Illyria, mainly stemming from the fact that I adored Fred in all of her awkward, gawky glory.  Joss enjoys killing characters and, other than Doyle, it was the death of Fred that probably affected me the most.

This issue of After the Fall also reveals that Spike, despite his outwardly hedonistic lifestyle, has actually been helping Connor round up and protect L.A.’s human population.  I think it’s funny that even though he began his existence as a “Big Bad”, Spike’s actually a much more heroic character than Angel.  And–unlike Angel–for a large chunk of the time, Spike was doing good without a soul.  Staying with Spike for a moment, I want to say that Urru’s depiction of our other vampire with a soul is amazing.  A lot of the characters in this book–Angel, Wesley, Connor, Gunn–are not that visually distinct, and an artist probably has a lot of leeway in how they’re drawn.  But, Spike is a different story.  I think if you aren’t careful, you could make Spike look too much like Billy Idol.  Urru does not.  Unfortunately, Lynch’s dialogue feels wrong.  Lynch does a great job with the other characters, but his Spike doesn’t sound right to me.

The big cliffhanger of this issue comes after Angel challenges all of the demon lords of L.A. to personal combat, with the control of the city hanging in the balance.  As Angel and Wesley leave to prepare for the fight, it is revealed that Angel is no longer a vampire.  No one specifies if he’s human again or something else, but the rest of the issue seems to be pointing towards the former (although it isn’t beyond Joss to throw us all a wicked curve ball).  Oh, and bonus points to whoever had the idea of including Teeth, the Shark-headed demon from the “Tabula Rasa” episode of Buffy, amongst L.A.’s new demon lords.

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Booster Gold #6

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W: Geoff Johns & Jeff Katz

A: Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund

When we last left Booster Gold, Rip Hunter had seriously screwed with him to teach him a valuable lesson about the immutability of certain aspects of the time-stream–I mean, sending Booster to save Barbara Gordon from getting shot by the Joker only to fail and watch the attack time and time again is pretty messed up, right?  Rip was trying to convince Booster that he can not go back in time and save his best friend, Ted Kord, from getting killed by Max Lord, because Ted was supposed to die (just like Babs was supposed to be shot, crippled, and become Oracle).  Booster might have come around to agree with Rip in time, but the arrival of three Blue Beetles (past, present, and future) kind of put an end to that possibility.

The Beetles have come to save the time-line by saving Ted Kord’s life, and they need Booster’s help to do it.  To make a long story short, Ted’s life is saved.  But, to make sure that no unnecessary harm is done to the time-line, Ted’s survival must remain a secret.  The issue ends with Booster and Ted, together again, ready to become the “greatest heroes no one’s ever heard of.”

Ted’s return is a bit tricky.  As much as I liked him, his death had meaning.  Like Barry Allen’s death, Ted getting shot in the head by Max Lord had resonance for those who knew him and for the DC Universe as a whole.  Now, even though no one knows he’s alive, does his death still have that same weight?  I don’t know.  Of course, there’s no guarantee that he’ll stay alive for any length of time–would Rip actually try to off Ted a second time to fix history?  And what the hell was up with the Blue Beetle of the 27th Century?  Is it me or is he seriously creepy?

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Catwoman #75

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W: Will Pfeifer

A: David Lopez

I felt that there was a lot wrong with this issue of Catwoman.  Just as some serious shit was going down in Selina’s life, Catwoman gets sucked up into DC’s horrible Salvation Run series.  So, now she finds herself 4,000 light years from Earth on an alien planet full of super-villains.  Do I care?  No, not really.  Sure, it was fun to see the Joker try to convince Catwoman that they should repopulate this new planet.  But that little gem wasn’t worth having to suffer through another issue where Lex Luthor proclaims how brilliant he is and how all other villains should bow before his superior intellect.  And, could Cheetah being any less attractive than she is in this issue?  I’m not sure if it’s Lopez’ fault or not (he’s usually pretty damned good), but the Cheetah depicted in this issue looked like a transvestite furry.

Now, the good news: Pfeifer doesn’t waste more time than he has to with this God-awful tie-in issue.  By the end, not only is Selina back in Gotham, but she arrives just in time to look up and see Bats pointing a gun at her.  Yeah…you heard me…Bats is packing.  He says he’s come to deal with Selina’s murder of Black Mask.  Is it really Batman?  Has Selina managed to travel to another Earth?  (A possibility, since her return to Earth was accomplished through the use of a wacky alien gizmo.)

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Countdown to Final Crisis 15

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W: Paul Dini & Tom Bedard

A: Pete Woods, Tom Derenick & Wayne Faucher

Okay…so the black-clad Superman from the last issue was Superman(boy)-Prime.  I probably should have guessed that, but with so many versions of characters running around, I couldn’t be sure.

So, we’re back on Earth-51, and Monarch’s forces are running rough-shod over the planet’s inhabitants (not to mention the combined forces of the Monitors).  This issue did seem to lag a bit.  We learn what Ray Palmer’s been working on since he arrived on this Earth (some twaddle involving a sentient virus and Ray-51’s blood being the only cure), but still no real revelation as to how Ray Palmer’s supposed to stop the Final Crisis (if, indeed, we are to believe what that back-stabbing skank “Bob” told us).  For me, the best scenes of the issue involved Jason Todd and Batman-51 chilling in the “Bat Bunker.”  We learn that the Batman on this Earth went thoroughly bug-nuts when his Jason was killed and took it upon himself to single-handedly “take care of” every super-villain on the planet.  Like he tells Jason, because of him, there is no Rogues’ Gallery, Legion of Doom, or Secret Society.  Of course, that also means that he spends most of his free time locked inside a cave that’s lead-lined, magic proof, and ring-resistant, staring at all of his pretty guns.  While all of this world’s other heroes hung up their costumes and led normal lives, this world’s Batman actually hung up Bruce Wayne.

Back on New Earth, a now powerless and repentant Mary Marvel is recruited by Hippolyta to help her rid Paradise Island of the fake Athena and her Female Furies-to-be.  I’m glad that my girl Mary is back on the side of the angels, having pretty much turned her back on the power that Black Adam gave her.  Lucky for her, she’s helping the Queen of the Amazons and, if anyone can help Mary reconnect with the powers of Shazam, it’s her.  Elsewhere, we seen that Brother Eye has all but absorbed Bludhaven, using the technology from the Atomic Knights as raw materials and using Firestorm as a nuclear reactor.  Moreover, it’s possible that Brother Eye has access to any alien technology that Desaad left behind when he hauled ass out of town. 

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The Flash #236

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W: Mark Waid

A: Freddie E. Williams, II

Sadly, this is Mark Waid’s last issue of The Flash, however it’s not a bad way to go out.  When this arc started, I questioned why a bunch of squad-faced aliens would attack Keystone City.  Waid, in all of his genius, explains it and makes it completely plausible.  Not only that, but he ties it into the back-up stories that have been running through the last few issues about the Flash-friendly world of Savoth.

Yes, it’s all a bit muddy, but here goes: the aliens attacking Keystone are the hyper-evolved descendants of a dude who attacked Savoth and was defeated by Wally and Bart.  That’s why they’re attacking Keystone.  Not only do they hate the Flash and his symbol, but they’re actually drawn to the key that the Flashes have used to travel between Earth and Savoth, and it’s that key that the aliens are using to travel to Earth.  Wally’s discovery of the truth comes when he realizes that the squid-alien tech is a lot like the technology that he and Linda use to keep Jai and Iris’s hyper-metabolisms in check…technology they acquired on Savoth.  To save Earth, Wally has to turn his back on the world that has been a safe-haven for Flashes since the beginning.  Does he?  Duh.  He’s a hero, kids, of course he does.

Finally, and I can’t say this enough, with each issue of The Flash that I read, I love the West family more and more.  It’s so rare to have a functional super-hero family these days.  For the time being, I think the Wests are it.

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Justice League of America #17

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W: Alan Burnett

A: Ed Benes

JLA has officially sunken to the bottom of my “To Read” pile.  Why?  Well, listen to this: in order to avoid the Suicide Squad, a bunch of villains (led by a blind Nazi chick and The Key) go to the Hall of Justice and ask the JLA for sanctuary.  What does that mean, kids?  Can anyone say Justice League vs. Suicide Squad?  It seems that DC sure as hell can.

This isn’t fair to Alan Burnett.  Burnett’s done amazing work on shows like Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, and The Batman.  But, like Dwayne McDuffie, Burnett’s skills aren’t translating well to JLA(again, not all the fault of the writers…I have a feeling that most of the blame goes to DC editorial).  However, McDuffie scores huge on the back-up story in this issue–“Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen”–where Vixen and Roy discuss the specifics of Vixen’s new human-based absorbing powers.  Does she absorb the abilities of regular humans?  Meta-humans?  Well, Superman isn’t a meta-human, and she can absorb his powers.  More importantly, she can absorb the abilities of a Green Lantern’s power ring.  Seriously, what is up with her?

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Robin #170

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W: Chuck Dixon

A: Chris Batista & Jamal Igle

There’s something fitting that the same week that sees Mark Waid departing The Flash also sees Chuck Dixon returning to Robin.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I don’t know if there’s another writer out there who understands Gotham City and its inhabitants as well as Dixon.

Dixon’s first issue back sees Robin on the trail of a new she-crook called Violet.  Violet’s knocking over bag-men all around Gotham.  She’s also a fan of purple, and a new purple-clad lady in his life has gotten Tim thinking about Steph.  Something else has Tim thinking about Steph, namely the fact that he’s positive he saw her pass him in the crowd at school.  Let’s be honest, whether he’s overly bereaved or not, Tim’s a damned good detective.  If he thinks a girl’s walking like Steph, then odds are she is.  Now, is it really Steph or is someone messing with our boy?  If you read these reviews every week, then you know how much I’d love Stephanie Brown to return from the dead, but let’s be honest, it’s just as likely that it’s all a clever ruse.  Perhaps it’s the Penguin behind it all…since our pudgy little crime-boss is slowly becoming one of Robin’s main rogues–honestly, is it me or do Robin and Cobblepot cross paths an awful lot?

On to the bad news.  Batista and Igle’s art is a bit stilted and static.  The fight scenes between Robin and Violet seem awkward and off-kilter.  The blocking of the panels feel weird to me, as well.  For example, when Tim and Zoanne meet Tim’s friend Ives (umm…guys, who the hell is Ives?) in the hall at school, they’re all squeezed into the panel in a way that no teenagers I’ve ever seen would stand.  I’m not a trained artist (unless you count cartoon animals wearing human clothes), and I wouldn’t begin to tell a professional artist how to do their job, but the art in this issue just felt off to me.

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Quote of the Week:

“When Fred Sonya is done, I want you to take that thing and get out.”–Spike, after Angel’s pet dragon crushes his fountain of blood in Angel: After the Fall #3.

Weekly Comic Review for 12/19/07

Angel: After the Fall #2 (Brian Lynch-writer, Franco Urru-artist)

Okay, I think the first thing that needs to be gotten out of the way is explaining what Gunn’s deal is.  Yes, he’s a vampire.  It seems that during the big battle at the end of the series finale, Gunn was jumped by a bunch of vamps and turned.  But, he fancies himself to be a “good” vampire.  In reality, unlike Angel and Spike (who have souls), Gunn probably isn’t good…just insane.  He’s taken it upon himself to destroy Angel as being a “pretender”, and to do that he’s rounding up and torturing as many demons as possible, including a rather wry giant-fish demon.

Elsewhere in L.A., Angel and Connor have a father-son reunion that isn’t nearly as awkward as Angel was expecting.  I was never a fan of Connor when he was on the show, at least not until he was erased from everyone’s memories and raised by a normal family.  But, Lynch actually makes the scrawny little bastard likable.  He’s completely non-plussed by the fact that Angel’s let L.A. fall into Hell.  Instead, Connor rolls with the punches and decides to help as many people as he can. 

Of course, the biggest scene in this month’s issue is the reveal of Spike.  Honestly, who doesn’t like Spike?  And Spike and Angel together is pure comedy gold.  They might be one of the greatest television pairings ever.  So, in After the Fall Spike’s managed to find himself in Beverly Hills (of all places), surrounded by a harem of scantily-clad human and demon women.  Spike entertains his bevy of beauties with tales from the “End of Days”, when he was the bravest of the brave and Angel was a blubbering ninny.  Pure Spike. 

Now, while all of this is going on, Angel finds himself drawn into investigating the murder of the demon lord that Gunn and his crew iced in the last issue.  It seems that this demon–one Kr’ph, by name–had in his possession some kind of mystical dingus called the Eye of Ramras.  Whoever killed Kr’ph (Gunn!) probably did it to get their hands on the Eye.  Furthermore, the crime scene is covered in a Primordial Sanskrit inscription written in blood, which only points to one being: Illyria.

Are Gunn and Illyria working together?  That would make an interesting kind of sense.  Gunn and Fred used to be an item.  It would make sense that the demon now controlling Gunn’s body would hook up with the demon now controlling Fred’s body.  If only the real world was so logical.

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Batman and the Outsiders #3 (Chuck Dixon-writer, Julian Lopez-artist)

I like Chuck Dixon.  I think, for the most part, he does amazing work, especially in Bat-books.  What he obviously can’t do is handle homosexual relationships.  Sure, Dixon’s gone on the record speaking out against “gay themes” in comic books.  Why, oh why, then did Chuck agree to write a book with two lesbian main characters?  The “relationship” scene between Thunder and Grace is the most awkward, uncomfortable thing I’ve ever read–although Dixon does get credit for injecting a jolt of heterosexuality into the scene in the guise of a naked, fresh-from-the-shower Cassie Cain.  Dixon also loses a few points for pulling a McDuffie (ie: making an intelligent, college-educated Black Lightning spout pseudo-Ebonics jive-talk during a battle.  Boo, Chuck Dixon.  Boo.)

The bulk of this issue deals with the Justice League crashing Bruce’s covert party and trying to shut him down.  It’s funny hearing some super-powered so-and-so telling Bruce that he’s trying to handle something that’s too big for him.  He’s Batman, dip-shit.  Nothing’s “too big” for him to handle.  He stopped an army of White Martians with a book of matches.  He created fail-safes to disable the most powerful members of the League if they ever went rogue.  If there’s anyone on the planet who can stop Brother Eye and the O.M.A.C.s, it’s Bruce.

Now, a brief discussion on comic book covers.  Most covers do a fairly good job of telling you what’s going to happen inside.  Every now and then, a cover appears on the stands that blatantly lies to you, displaying a scene, character, or incident that does not appear anywhere in that issue.  The cover of this issue of Batman and the Outsiders kind of falls into the latter category.  It shows the Outsiders throwing down with the Justice League.  Did this happen?  Yeah.  Did it happen as the cover leads you to believe?  No.  Finally, roughly half of the characters on the cover do not even appear in the scene being depicted. 

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Catwoman #74 (Will Pfeifer-writer, David Lopez-artist)

Well, we finally find out who that weird-o leather dude at the end of the last issue is.  He’s some dude calling himself “The Thief.”  He’s taking advantage of the sudden vacuum in Gotham’s criminal landscape to try and make a name for himself (but, to be honest, isn’t everyone these days?).  He’s fairly low-key and low-tech.  He’s not as flashy as some of the crazier denizens of Gotham’s underworld.  And, he wants Catwoman off the streets. 

After everything that “The Thief” and Calculator did to Selina, our girl has absolutely nothing left to lose, so she goes old School Catwoman on their asses.  She reverts back to her shorter hairstyle.  She finds a spare cat-suit in one of the safe-houses that Holly was using during her year as Catwoman.  I’m not sure how I feel about sending Selina down a darker road. 

Catwoman’s always been an interesting character, especially in the Bat-books.  She wasn’t insanely evil, nor was she super-noble.  She was the quintessential rogue, always out for herself.  That’s what made her, and her relationship with Bruce, so interesting.  One month, they’re working side-by-side on a case, practically choking on the sexual tension; the next month, they’re at each other’s throats, actually choking on the sexual tension.  What happens if they make Selina a real criminal again?  (This seems a real possibility, since the Suicide Squad shows up at the end of this issue to haul Selina off to Salvation Run.)

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Countdown to Final Crisis 19 (Paul Dini & Adam Beechen-writers, Jesus Saiz-artist)

If there was one thing this week that was close to the awkwardness I felt reading a Chuck Dixon homosexual scene, it was reading a scene where Jimmy Olsen makes out with a giant humanoid bug.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for freaky alien make-out sessions (I grew up watching Star Trek, okay, so sue me), but bug-girls?  I think I might draw the line at that one.  And, speaking of Jimmy Olsen, the little ginger bastard seems to have become a vessel for the Source.  Basically, Jimmy’s become a human Mother Box.  This could explain his powers.  This could explain why the dead New Gods aren’t returning to the Source Wall.  And, this could explain why Darkseid is so interested in Mr. Olsen.

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth (er…or should I say “New Earth”?), Pied Piper is dragging Trickster’s lifeless corpse through the desert.  Not only are they still chained together by Deadshot’s booby-trapped handcuffs, but poor Piper’s hallucinating that Trickster’s still talking to him.  The more time that Piper spends lugging Trickster’s decaying remains through the western half of the U.S., the more it seems that Trickster might be dead for real.

Halfway around the globe, Holly and Harley stumble upon a cave filled to the brim with ancient Amazonian weapons…not to mention an honest to gods Amazonian Queen.  Hippolyta explains that the Athena in charge of the Athenian Women’s Shelter is not the real Athena.  Furthermore, she charges them with going undercover and being her eyes and ears on Paradise Island.  Is DC heading for an all-out showdown between the New Gods and the Greek Gods?  That could be interesting.

Bob and the Challengers arrive on Earth-51, an idyllic version of Earth with no crime, poverty, or secret identities.  Bob is more or less certain that Ray Palmer is on this Earth.  It would make sense that Ray, after what happened to him during the Identity Crisis arc, would seek shelter on an Earth where heroes no longer had to hide behind secret identities.  It should also be noted that, given the number of Earths in the new Multiverse, Ray chose the next to the last Earth to hide on.

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Detective Comics #839 (Paul Dini-writer, Ryan Benjamin with Don Kramer-artists)

The final part of the “Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul” and I’m not sure how I feel about it.  Yes, there were stunning moments: learning that Ra’s al Ghul’s sycophantic, albino henchman, the White Ghost, is actually his son, Dusan; watching Bruce swing into action, ordering Ra’s to “Get the hell away from my son!” was cool; Bruce telling Talia that he expects Damian to stand and fight at his side, just like his other sons. 

Now, if there were stunning moments, there also had to be less-than-stunning moments.  The biggest let-down, for me anyway, was the nebulous conclusion.  After Bruce’s team and Ra’s al Ghul’s League of Assassins beat the ever-living crap out of each other, Rama Kushna declares that they must all leave Nanda Parbat forever.  So, in a scene similar to the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Bruce leads his team (minus Damian, who was cold-cocked and spirited away from danger by Talia) out of the sacred city, leaving Ra’s (now in the body of his son, Dusan) seemingly buried under rubble.  Is Ra’s alive or dead?  Does it even matter?  If he’s still active, will Ra’s go back to being Bruce’s greatest adversary, or will DC trot him out every few months until we’re all sick of him?

I do give this issue of Detective Comics high marks for ending with a scene where we see Bruce, Dick, Tim, and Alfred on the private Wayne jet, presumably heading home, enjoying hot cocoa and wishing each other a Merry Christmas.  It’s almost like Dini tore a page out of a Carl Barks Scrooge McDuck comic, which is always okay with me.

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Justice League of America #16 (Dwayne McDuffie-writer, Joe Benitez-artist)

This issue might be the nail in the coffin for JLA for the time being.  I hate to abandon the book, but I really have no interest in seeing what McDuffie is doing on this book.  I was certainly willing to give McDuffie the benefit of the doubt for a few issues (even though the Injustice Legion of Super-Doom Gang was pretty lame), but when I read this issue and saw that he was referencing DC’s Tangent Universe, I damn near almost crapped myself.  I’ve gone on record as being a fan of DC’s new Multiverse (which includes the Tangent Universe), but I wasn’t expecting to have to deal with refugees from some of DC’s lesser universes so soon.  Honestly, McDuffie, why couldn’t you have the Charleton characters from Earth-4 show up instead?  Now that would have been interesting!

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Metamorpho: Year One #6 (Dan Jurgens-writer, Mike Norton-artist)

I almost wish that this issue was really the third or fourth in the Year One story of Metamorpho, the Element Man.  This issue was a goofy throw-back to the days of rollicking ’60s comics. 

Rex, Stagg, Sapphire, and Java are on Stagg’s private jet (everyone in the DC Universe seems to have one of those) giving an interview to Clark Kent, when the jet is mysteriously drawn to an uncharted isle (and not a Billionaire or Movie Star in sight).  The group is soon attacked by Goldface (yeah, you heard me), who offers to cure Rex in return for Rex using his Metamorpho powers to help Goldface attain godhood.  Pretty standard super-villain stuff, really.  What really makes this issue stand out is how it suddenly takes a weird turn and becomes an episode of Scooby-Doo.  You see, it isn’t really Goldface on the island.  The Justice League set the whole thing up to test Rex and offer him membership in the JLA–all of Goldface’s “powers” were just Clark, Barry, and Ray taking turns masquerading as Goldface.  Who knew the League had such a wacky sense of humor?

In the end, Rex declines.  He can’t bring himself to stand next to folks like Superman and Batman looking like a freak (although given the twisted sense of humor that members of the JLA seem to have, maybe they’re the freaks and not Rex).  Rex opts to try and live a normal life, hoping for the day that he finds a cure and can be with Sapphire again.  In the meantime, even though he’s not going to actively pursue super-heroing, Rex vows to help anyone in need that he comes across.

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Ultimate X-Men #89 (Robert Kirkman-writer, Salvador Larroca-artist)

This issue is for all of you Storm fans out there.  Hope you both enjoyed it.  Okay, that was mean and uncalled for.  Honestly, this was a pretty good issue.  Kirkman explores a little more of Storm’s past, while also examining her present.

Before she was approached by Xavier (well, technically she was approached by that hot little Jean Grey telepathically posing as a Fed, but why nit-pick?), Storm led a less-than-law-abiding existence.  In the Ultimate Universe, Storm is friends with Yuriko (who will one day become Lady Deathstrike).  She was also friends (and lovers) with Amahl Farouk, a.k.a. The Shadow King.  During a particularly intense moment, Farouk is struck by a stray lightning bolt and falls into a coma.  While he’s comatose, Farouk’s telepathic powers increase, becoming the Shadow King.  He returns later (possibly telepathically summoned by Storm’s subconscious mind as she wrote a story called, of all things, The Shadow King) and totally messes with Storm’s head–he even brings along the Brood, who in this universe are not aliens, but residents of something called the Mindscape.

All of this is going on while Storm has to decide between old boyfriend Hank McCoy and bad boy Logan.  Storm realizes that she’s always had a thing for the bad boys, and wants to turn over a new leaf.  It doesn’t hurt that she noticed Logan’s interest in her didn’t peak until Hank returned from the dead.

The art in this issue might not have been the best–it was actually a bit confusing from time to time–but Kirkman’s script was solid, providing a stand-alone, character-driven story. 

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Quote of the Week:

“Immortality is overrated.  I finally figured that out.”–Nightwing in Detective Comics #839.

Weekly Comic Review for 11/21/07

Angel: After the Fall #1 (Brian Lynch-writer, Franco Urru-artist)

After the success of Darkhorse’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 series, it seemed almost inevitable that Buffy’s spin-off, Angel, would get the same treatment.  Like he did with the series, creator Joss Whedon is serving as “plotter” for Angel: After the Fall, giving the day-to-day writing chores to Brian Lynch.  The final episode of Angel found L.A. sucked into Hell and what’s left of Angel’s team about to face off against Hell’s demonic host (our hero’s final words: “Personally, I’ve always wanted to slay a dragon.”).

After the Fallpicks up a few months after these events.  L.A. is still in Hell and the more powerful demon lords have carved up the town into their own fiefdoms (not unlike what Gotham’s gangs and super-villains did after the city was hit by that earthquake).  It turns out Angel didn’t slay that dragon after all, instead he’s trained it to be his trusty steed–the way our boy figures it the dragon’s a lot like he is, they’ve both been used and manipulated by Wolfram & Hart.  Angel and his crew are doing the best they can against the demons that are infesting the streets of The City of Angels.  Angel’s son Connor, electric-gal Gwen, and Nina the werewolf are running a human safe-house in Santa Monica.  Wesley (who died in the final episode, “Not Fade Away”) has become a ghost, seemingly on the payroll of evil law firm Wolfram & Hart.  It’s hard to tell what Wesley’s deal really is.  He appears as his old clean-cut and suited-up self–as opposed to the rugged street-fighter look he’s sported since Angel’s third season–and we’ve seen how much the Senior Partners of W&H like this look (I give you Adam Baldwin’s Marcus Hamilton); he’s spouting off Wolfram & Hart edicts, first to the demons roughing up Angel and later to Angel himself; and, finally, he’s seen inside the “White Room”–which is usually how one contacts the Senior Partners.  But, despite all of this, in his chats with Angel, we get a glimpse of the real Wesley, so I’m not sure if we’re supposed to accept that this is the real Wesley or not.  And then there’s Gunn.  Gunn’s abandoned his super-lawyer path and returned to the world of grass-roots, street-level demon fighting.  “Team Gunn” busts into the gladiatorial arena of Kr’ph, “Lord of Westwood!  Dark overseer of everything west of Beverly Hills!”  Gunn’s crew saves the humans held prisoner there but…oh, what? holy shit…Gunn’s a freakin’ vampire!

After the Fall seems to be off to a pretty good start.  Even though Whedon isn’t personally writing the issues, Brian Lynch seems to have a pretty good ear for Whedon-speak, especially when it comes to Whedon’s classic “just-like-us” portrayal of demons.  The one problem I had with Angel(the series) was it’s scope.  Everything that happened on the show was a global apocalypse.  Whereas Buffy and the Scoobies were defending there hometown from the things that go bump in the night, Angel and his team were always trying to stop the end of the world…and, y’know what, it got old pretty fast.  Things got back on track when the show was rebooted for its fifth (and final) season, which included making Angel head of L.A.’s branch of Wolfram & Hart, bringing Spike into the fold, and (unfortunately) killing adorably shy physicist Fred Burkle.  As long as After the Fallkeeps things simple–and there’s no reason to think it won’t, if this is supposedly Whedon’s idea for the show’s sixth season–this should be an enjoyable series.

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Batman Confidential #11 (Michael Green-writer/Denys Cowan-artist)

“This is what happens when insanity goes insane.”  This is Batman’s near-poetic response when he comes face to face with the newly created Joker.  As much as I enjoyed this arc, I felt that it tried too hard to give us Joker’s pre-transformation motives.  But, now that Mr. J has been dunked in chemicals and emerged as the chalk-skinned, scarlet-grinned psycho we know and love, the storyline really hits his stride.

Green gives us an explanation as to why Joker runs around trying to transform his victims into mirror-images of himself.  In his own insane way, Joker is trying to help the people he’s killing.  He wants them to have their eyes opened like he has, to be able to see just how amazingly wonderful Gotham City is.  And, of course, the only way to do that is to expose them to the same kind of chemical bath he was exposed to.  It all makes sense in a creepy, psychotic way.

Green’s writing continues to be strong as he explores the early days of Gotham’s Dark Knight–for example, having both Alfred and Joker telling Bruce that he’s responsible for people like Joker solely through the act of dressing up as a bat.  Personally, I still find Cowan’s art to be a bit too sloppy and sketchy…not so bad as to distract from the story, but close.

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Catwoman #73 (Will Pfeifer-writer, David Lopez-artist)

What’s a reformed criminal to do?  Selina’s tried to go straight.  She’s tried to be a good mom to her little daughter.  But, no one seems to want her to succeed.  After faking their deaths and secretly giving her daughter up for adoption, someone decides to blow up Selina’s apartment.  Now, she has nothing.  Not even the stash she hid away in a locker at the bus station is safe, someone’s managed to break into the locker and clean it out.

So, Selina does what any of us would: she breaks into a store, nabs a new set of threads and some spending money, and goes to find out who’s been messing with her.  Maybe it’s just me, but I found Selina’s Converse and ski-mask get-up positively adorable, plus it added a bit of realism to everything that happened after.  With info gathered by Calculator (the evil version of super-hacker Oracle), Selina heads out to the mansion of Conrad Krupp to retrieve a spare mask.  It seems this guy Krupp has a major hard-on for super-villain memorabilia, including a Catwoman mask.  Once Selina gets her mask, Calculator sends her to a seedy bar where she should find the people responsible for blowing up her apartment.  Of course, it’s a trap, and Selina comes face-to-face with some dude I’ve never seen before.  He’s all decked out in black leather and straps, like Wildstorm’s Midniter, and he’s wearing some kind of groovy multi-lensed goggles. 

I liked what Pfeifer did here.  He took a very basic plot–they took my money and I want it back–and grafted it into the tights-and-capes world of DC Comics.  This issue was, essentially, no different than Point Blank or Payback, and that’s what makes it so much damn fun.

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Countdown to Final Crisis 23 (Paul Dini-writer, Tom Derenick-artist)

So, it looks like Superman-Prime may very well be the dude behind this “Final Crisis” everyone’s been talking about.  In his desire to get back to “his Earth”, S-Prime has been ripping apart the Source Wall.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, he’s the one responsible for kidnapping Mr. Mxyzptlk.  He’s holding Mxy hostage, the imp’s Fifth Dimensional magic sapped by the goth-inspired Annataz Arataz of Earth-3.  Superman-Prime wants Mxy to use his powers to erase every Earth in the Multiverse except his own.  I’m going to say this again in case DC missed it the first time: “DO NOT GET RID OF THE MULTIVERSE ONLY ONE YEAR AFTER BRINGING IT BACK!”  It would be a mistake.  It would be a Marvel-level mistake.

Elsewhere, “Black” Mary Marvel is having second thoughts about joining Darkseid.  She doesn’t want to help someone who’s evil.  Unfortunately, Eclipso is there to tell her that “evil” is relative.  People think that Mary is “evil.”  Is she?  People think Darkseid is “evil.”  Is he?  Just when you think poor, lost Mary is going to finally get her act together…

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Detective Comics #838 (Paul Dini-writer, Ryan Benjamin-artist)

“The Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul” continues in this issue of Detective Comics.  Damian and Tim are brought before the resurrected-but-corpsified Ra’s.  Tim tries to help Damian escape, but as soon as that little douche Damian can save his own skin, he bails.  This is when Ra’s tries to seduce Tim to his side of things.  Ra’s tells Tim that Bruce will inevitably choose Damian over him.  He will turn his back on Tim, just like he turned his back on Jason Todd.  Tim should join forces with Ra’s.  Ra’s has more money, more power, more influence.  Hell, Ra’s could even bring Tim’s dead parents back to life.

Bruce and Talia arrive in Tibet and they’ve seemed to have reached some kind of understanding.  Talia has stopped bitching at Bruce about his parenting skills and Bruce has decided to accept the new cloak and armor that Talia’s offered him.  Also in Tibet, Dick and Alfred are met at the airport by Ra’s al Ghul’s annoying man-mountain of a servant, Ubu.  Dick makes short work of some ninjas and Alfred sucker-punches Ubu. 

When Ra’s and Bruce finally come face to face–after Bruce uses echo-location to find the secret entrance of Ra’s’ lair–Ra’s tells Bruce that the reason he needs a younger, stronger body is to face the Sensei (some old Chinese dude who’s been running the day-to-day business of the League of Assassins).  Bruce says no, of course, and Ra’s gives Batman a choice: he must choose whose body Ra’s will inhabit–Damian or Tim?

Yes, this story is about halfway over, but I’m not sure it needed to be as long as it is.  And I’m pretty sure that it didn’t need to run every week.  Since a lot of the story seems to be a bit repetitive, I think we could have handled it only taking place in Batman or Detective Comics.  The reason people agree to read a story that spans several different titles is that they don’t want to miss anything important or exciting.  I don’t feel like I would have missed anything important if I didn’t read Robin or Nightwing.  But, that’s just me.

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The Flash #234 (Mark Waid-writer, Freddie E. Williams, II-artist)

This issue starts off with Wally surveying Keystone City after the alien invasion.  He’s amazed by the resilience of Keystone’s citizens.  Wally’s also amazed to learn that if he moves fast enough, he can sync up to his twins and pull them towards him.  It’s the perfect way to make sure that Wally and the twins never get separated during an emergency.  Jai–still in shock over what he overheard at the end of the last issue–doesn’t think it’s such a bad idea.  Iris, however, is insulted that her parents would ever use what she calls “the leash.”

The bulk of this issue deals with Jai’s sudden and unexplained mutation.  His body starts to bulk up…his arms become reptilian spikes…his legs resemble those of an ape.  He can’t control his powers, resulting in a near-fatal rock-slide.  At Iris’s urging, Wally uses “the leash” to find her brother and stop the aforementioned rock-slide.  After Linda runs some tests in the Wests fancy underground science-lab, she discovers that Jai’s DNA was vibrating and, essentially, travelling back through the evolutionary ladder. 

This issue again highlights the Wests strength as a family, partly due to Wally’s grounded, blue-collar background.  They can have “family meetings” and not seem square.  Wally can call the twins “kiddo”, “champ”, or “big guy” and not sound lame.  He can talk to Iris about Kim Possible and it sounds right.  Normally, the addition of children to a series is a death sentence (anyone remember Cousin Oliver?), but the West Twins are providing a shot in the arm to a character who doesn’t even need one yet–it’s these little changes to The Flash’s status quo (like when no one knew who The Flash really was, not even Wally) that keep the book fresh. 

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Metamorpho: Year One #4 (Dan Jurgens-writer, Mike Norton-artist)

This is the issue when Metamorpho actually does his first bit of superheroing.

Stagg is manipulating everything.  He tells Rex that there may not be a cure for his condition and then, as an olive branch, offers to use his private jet to fly Rex wherever he wants to go.  He also gives Rex a latex mask of his normal human visage, knowing that there’s no way a latex mask would pass through airport security (especially after someone calls in a tip about a potential attack).  When Metamorpho is forced to flee the airport, he ends up at the estate of someone who calls himself Doc Dread.  Dread uses the fear of disasters to manipulate economics and increase his fortune.  He’s also planning on gassing the airport and blaming Metamorpho.  This is one Metamorpho returns to the airport and plays hero.

So far, Metamorpho: Year Oneseems more like a series of one-shots, and not a cohesive six-part story.  I would think that there would be a limit to the number of times that Rex would fall for Stagg’s shenanigans, but every month he’s just as gullible as the month before.  Jurgens has two more issues, and I wonder if he’s going to tie everything up into a neat little bow or if he’ll continue on his seemingly aimless narrative path.

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Powers #27 (Brian Michael Bendis-writer, Mike Oeming-artist)

The search for the Dead Girls’ Powers Killer continues.   Deena–no longer a cop and actually a suspect–takes matters into her own hands and visits sleazy underworld club-owner, Lance.  She roughs Lance up until he agrees to use his criminal connections to find out who the killer is.  Lance’s “connections” include a small army of creepy little gobliny dudes called Simons, who bounce around the city beating information out of people. 

Meanwhile, Walker is visited by his old buddy Triphammer.  It’s been a while since Trip was around and I’ve missed him.  I’ve always thought of him as George Carlin in Iron Man’s armor…anyway, ol’ Trip is calling on his pal Walker because Trip’s thirteen year old daughter is missing.  It should come as no surprise that one of the dead girls in the basement of police H.Q. is, in fact, Trip hammer’s little girl.  To make Walker’s life even more complicated, Callista (spurred into action by the apathy of her peers) appears at the precinct in her Retro Girl outfit ready to “help.”  I can only assume that this new Retro Girl (a teenager saved by Walker, who has taken on the role of her Obi-Wan) is going to use herself as bait to lure the Dead Girls’ Powers Killer into a trap.

Again, Bendis is at his best when writing his own characters.  Powers never fails to deliver–even if it has a less than ironclad printing schedule.  It would be easy to throw action-packed issue after action-packed issue at us, but that isn’t Powers’s style.  This book has always been a gritty, street-level procedural that just happens to have people with super-powers in it–as if someone took an episode of Heroes and an episode of Law & Order, put them in a blender and made a delicious entertainment frappe. 

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Quote of the Week

“Look in your underpants and you’ll see.  You’re still a boy, ‘Clarky.'”–Mr. Mxyzptlk to Superman(boy)-Prime in Countdown to Final Crisis 23.