Best Shots for 12-22-08: Mighty Avengers, Robin, More

Best Shots for 12-22-08

Greetings! Welcome back to the big column. Here’s a look back at this week’s Best Shots Extras . . .

Impaler Volume 2 #1

Advance Look: Dead Irons #1

Mighty Avengers #20
Mighty Avengers #20
Mighty Avengers #20

The Mighty Avengers #20

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Pencilers: Lee Weeks, Jim Cheung, and Carlo Pagulayan

Inkers: Weeks, Cheung, and Jeffrey Huet

Colors: Dean White and Jason Keith

Publisher: Marvel

Review by David Pepose

I'll say this about Mighty Avengers #20: it started strong, and it ended strong.

But the middle just wasn't there.

I'll explain what I mean. As the epilogue for Secret Invasion, this done-in-one issue examines the return of Hank Pym, who had been replaced by a Skrull infiltrator prior to at least Marvel's House of M crossover.

Of course, the tone of the story isn't really set in the first two pages -- the Avengers books, understandably, have had the specter of Steve Rogers looming large over them for nearly two years now. As we flash back to Hank and his wife, the Wasp, discussing Cap's return from the ice in Avengers #4, Brian Michael Bendis' writing comes off as poetic. "Wail till he sees TV. Pop Tarts. And tin foil. Spider-Man. McDonald's. The Beatles." Priceless.

It's a really strong intro that subtly narrows in on what Bendis is trying to show: Pym's love of Janet, and his struggle to come to grips with her loss and his disappearance. When Pym asks, "can you imagine? You wake up and the entire world is different," you see the irony. He might as well have been talking about himself.

The scene ends with a surprisingly tender moment between Hank and Janet, given that most people view the Pym's through Mark Millar's Ultimate lens as an abusive couple. This is all based on the superb art of Lee Weeks, which is brought to its highest potential by Dean White and Jason Keith. In all seriousness, the coloring was fantastic for these early scenes, and really established a great mood for the story...

...Which abruptly fell flat. Remember that middle I was talking about?

The idea of Hank Pym suffering with the loss of his wife -- the wife he never got to make amends with -- is a great idea for a story. But that took a backseat to what I can only describe as a clip show. Out of 22 pages, five of these pages were just splash pages, with no words, basically recapping House of M, Civil War, The Death of Captain America, World War Hulk, and finally the Secret Invasion. Now, with prices going up in comics, this really turned me off for the story. I'll be honest -- it came off to me as lazy writing, letting Jim Cheung basically carry the burden in order to get a 22-page story out the door.

Unfortunately, there are other parts of this book I take issue with -- primarily at Janet's funeral. For many, Tony Stark has been the whipping boy of the Marvel Universe following his pro-Registration stance during the Civil War and the subsequent assassination of Steve Rogers. But to have Hank Pym stand in front of a crowd during his own wife's funeral -- despite that he has been MIA for months, or maybe even years -- and chastise Stark for both Janet and Steve's deaths came off as crass. This doesn't seem organic to the story -- it feels, honestly, like Bendis trying to appease anti-Registration fanboys by bashing on Iron Man some more. Combined with nearly two pages of nearly wordless art, and the scene just grates on me further.

Of course, while the execution was flawed, Bendis does manage to finish with a fairly strong dismount. Having Clint Barton and Norman Osborn spar after the funeral was a nice touch, and really sets the stage for Norman's Dark Reign of the Initiative. Again, Barton's barbs are the sort of energy that Bendis is really good with, and it sets up Osborn as a Lex Luthor-style power baron that could really upset the balance of power in the Marvel Universe. But that said, especially ending with another wordless page (for a total of nine nearly wordless pages out of twenty-two), it really comes off as too little, too late. The story of Hank Pym truly grieving for his loss will have to be a story for another day, as it feels that Bendis phoned it in to have more time for Secret Invasion -- perhaps when Dan Slott takes over the book next issue, he'll be able to give more attention to this book.

Uncanny X-Men #505

Writer: Matt Fraction

Penciler: Terry Dodson

Inker: Rachel Dodson

Colorist: Justin Ponsor

Publisher: Marvel

Review by David Pepose

Uncanny X-Men #505
Uncanny X-Men #505
Uncanny X-Men #505

If Matt Fraction could pack any more story into one comic, I would have to call this thing a trade. Building off of last month's story, this issue of Uncanny gives something for everyone, as the various subplots from across the X-Universe are coming into play.

Of course, I mentioned last month that I feel that Fraction is riffing on some of Grant Morrison's New X-Men run, and this month is no different. The story opens with the countercultural idea that somewhere in the Marvel Universe, mutants aren't feared and hated by their fellow man. In the face of the burgeoning Humanity Now Coalition, led by Simon Trask, the Mayor of San Francisco tells the X-Men: "Spread the word. In San Francisco, mutants will be welcome. From Ghirardelli Square to the darkest alley in the worst part of town so help me God." This idea that mutants are an acceptable subculture obviously isn't new -- Morrison played with it for years -- but is a welcome change from the constant gloom following House of M and "no more mutants."

Now, something I kvetched about last month was Peter Rasputin's reaction to an old Soviet villain. But in this issue, that subplot becomes much stronger, giving us a completely nihilistic yet somehow heroic reaction to this ghost from the past, tying completely with the heartbreak he's been experiencing the last few issues. The real tragic love story in the Marvel Universe isn't Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne -- it's the slow spiral of Peter Rasputin and Kitty Pryde. When Peter honestly asks someone, even a villain, "what if I just beat you to death with a barstool?" you know something is up. And because of his inner angst, I can't wait to find out what will happen next.

But wait! There's more! Rising from the continuity grave is Madison Jeffries, the technopath known as Box, who was last seen as a ruthless Mengele analogue during the now-forgotten Weapon X series. Yet Fraction manages to pull off a retcon of Dan Slott proportions as he attributes it to his analytic powers gone awry: Jeffries is a man literally trapped by his own genius. But while the tension rises to a fever pitch, in come the X-Men with Fraction's "Science Squad" subplot. I'll be honest, this is the sort of story I can't wait to bear fruit -- I see it being able to rival 52's Oolong Island squad in terms of wackiness, combined with sci-fi flair of Fraction's Five Fists of Science.

And what's great about this comic is that it doesn't end there. The main meat of the story is Scott and Emma, who are coming to a crossroads between their open relationship and the leadership of the mutant race. Scott in particular comes off as a profoundly sympathetic figure, as he worries about the fallout from last year's Messiah Complex storyline, in which his future son Cable escapes into the timestream with the so-called mutant messiah. "I'm packing up clothes for an imaginary baby that's running through time and who may or may not ever return, let alone return as an infant. What if she comes back as an old woman, y'know? Am I insane?" It's these moments that remind us why the X-Men are so viable as heroes -- they aren't black ops Nietzschian types whose ends justify the means. They're just human, optic blasts or not.

The sad thing is that there is much more in this issue, which I feel I have already said too much. The art by Terry Dodson is amongst his best, simply due to the emotion seen by characters like Pixie, Colossus, or Cyclops during the aforementioned scene. While the action in some scenes is a bit shaky, the effects are fantastic, such as Jeffries "conjuring" robots to defend him. Meanwhile, colorist Justin Ponsor does a fantastic job setting up the mood, whether it is with subtle flashbacks, or the happy pink background in the girl's dormitory. In all seriousness, a few questionable dialogue choices for Emma, I cannot praise this comic enough. While it's certainly unclear where the storyline will take us, we may be looking at the next Morrison-level X-book. Indeed, if Fraction keeps it up, we may start benchmarking future X-books with his name alone.

Robin #181
Robin #181
Robin #181

Robin #181

From: DC

Writer: Fabien Nicieza

Art: Freddie Williams II

Review by Mike Mullins

In the previous issue, Robin triggered an explosion at a warehouse. In this issue, we learn that he was pretty badly hurt in the explosion with severe burns over most of the back of his head. As such, Robin is working behind the scenes to control the attacks on Gotham. He is working with Jason Bard and Officer Vanessa Harper while trying to manipulate his adversaries into simplifying his tasks. As I read this story, I kept thinking that Robin is orchestrating his enemies in a manner reminiscent of Batman’s plan that triggered War Games (albeit, due to Stephanie Brown). Of course, Robin is doing this on the fly while Batman had spent years developing and refining his plan.

Freddie Williams II is as amazing as ever on pencils. He has proven himself over his two runs on Robin to be in the ranks of Tom Lyle, Tom Grummet, and Mike Wieringo when it comes to depicting the Boy Wonder.

Fabien Nicieza has shown himself as a writer who understands both Tim Drake and Robin and has fit in very nicely since taking over the writing chores from Chuck Dixon. His dialogue is in character and the twists and turns he provides within the story should keep readers turning the page. In this issue, I felt he crafted a nice hook as the reader never knew if Robin had identified the true villain he is facing or not until revealing the answer at the end of the issue.

The final page is a nice spread which should lead to a lot of discussion as to what role Tim Drake should fill once Battle for the Cowl concludes.

My only gripe with the issue, and this storyline, is the development of a software program to predict the future actions of Robin’s opponents. This is something that would be far more believable in Birds of Prey than in Robin. I want to see Tim solve problems and outwit his enemies, not a computer program. It hasn’t gotten to the point of Minority Report or Asimov’s Foundation series yet, but it is getting closer than I would like.

Invincible Iron Man #8

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by Salvador Larroca

Color by Frank D'Armata

From Marvel Comics

Review by Brendan McGuirk

Invincible Iron Man #8
Invincible Iron Man #8
Invincible Iron Man #8

It ain't easy rooting for the house. When someone becomes a Goliath, it is natural, as a reader, to wait for some David to come by and get to toppling. Given that inclination, it is a lot easier to root for Tony Stark than it was a year ago.

In the end, the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. era was a productive one, at least for sake of the character. He was Marvel Comic's most visible character at the exact moment he was also Marvel Studios' most prominent one. Sure, it was probably overkill for the character to be featured prominently in each and every Marvel title, but now the illustrious heights reached by that critical amount of exposure only serve to amplify the character's newfound ignominy. The guy was the world's most decorated top-cop, and then he allows one measly, complete and comprehensive infiltration of every facet of the global security system, and now he can't even be trusted to move rubble.

Simply put, it will be a lot more fun to watch Iron Man try and redeem himself to the world than it was to watch him run it. And could you really imagine a greater villain to take his spot than Norman Osborn? If Stark Industries represent all the positive potential for corporations, OsCorp has to represent the negative. Both men have demons, but where one represses his, the other celebrates it.

The other, more subtle bonus to the Green Goblin's new Dark Reign is that it allows for each and every Marvel artist to offer their interpretation of the flummoxing Osborn hair. The least likely coiffure in comics is now rests atop the nexus of power in the Marvel U, so readers should prepare to see each and every artist take a stab at the almost blank slate it offers. No one will ever quite get it right, because there is no way to nail its logic, so instead each rendition will offer a new take on Ditko's greatest conundrum. As you can tell, I'm really excited.

Now that Iron Man has essentially failed in his effort to responsibly manage just about everything on the planet, he has a much simpler goal. His new charge is to protect the Superhero Registration Database, the information pool that Stark deemed necessary and safe so long as he was in charge, from falling into the hands of the obvious ticking time bomb that is Norman Osborn. Tony has a typically genius hiding place for the gem of his Initiative, but that will only delay the inevitable clash with Osborn. Next time, it will be Iron Man who faces the long odds, and that will make for one hell of an adventure comic.

It wouldn't be Tony Stark unless he surrounded himself with beautiful women. Like Stark, Maria Hill is in position to truly blossom as a character now that she has had her position of power stripped. For as long as the character has existed, she has been at odds with the superhero populous. There's nothing like a bigger bad to give a girl some perspective. Pepper Potts is fast becoming the perfect foil to our fair mustached hero. Potts' technological dependency echoes the early struggle of Iron Man. Combine that with the loss of longtime third wheel Happy Hogan, and now a world against Stark, the two's relationship has never been more full of intrigue.

Now it's up to Iron Man, and his two devastatingly beautiful, but no less intelligent, capable lady-sidekicks Pepper Potts and Maria Hill, to protect the H.A.M.M.E.R. from dropping on the heroes that once swore their allegiance to the Iron Avenger. That's a story you can root for.

Deadpool #5
Deadpool #5
Deadpool #5

Deadpool #5

"Horror Business, Part Two: Raw Deal"

Writer: Daniel Way

Penciler: Carlo Barberi

Inkers: Juan Vlasco and Sandu Florea

Colorists: Marte Gracia and Raul Trevino

Publisher: Marvel

Review by David Pepose

Ah, Deadpool. How I love thee.

As you've probably seen in the last four or so years, zombies have been en vogue in the comics industry. Attribute it to the economy, the threat of terrorism, or simply bad hygiene, the corps of corpses have been headlining with comics like Marvel Zombies (and its two sequels), Ultimate Fantastic Four, and The Walking Dead. But one starts to get the idea that they've become... passé. Like they've lost their terror a bit. Disposable, even.

And that's why they're perfect for Deadpool.

Now, this isn't a perfect comic by any stretch of the imagination, but it does put the regenerating degenerate (I love that description) Wade Wilson in the perfect story vehicle: a place where he can kick ass, crack jokes, get captured, and come up with a crazy plan to escape while everyone else underestimates him.

The story is carried not by the plot -- thin as it is -- but by writer Daniel Way's humor. The very first page says it all: Deadpool wakes up, sans pants, strapped to a ye olden times medieval rack. And his first response? To shout out, "Safeword! Safeword!" This is why I love the character.

Unfortunately, this kind of kills the story past that point -- yes, there is something about a plastic surgeon whose patients become zombies, but it ultimately gets muddled by the sheer zaniness of Deadpool's personality. To make matters more confusing, the story jumps from flashbacks to the present, which really kills the tension and anticipation. Like the Schizoid Scoundrel (ooh, I made up another one!) himself, one starts to gloss over the exposition and go "blah blah blah blah zombies blah blah blah where's the jokes?" It's a matter of taste and readership -- you don't read a Deadpool story for the setup, you read it for the action and slapstick! Sadly, this is a character who does not work well for more convoluted multi-part stories.

The art, in this case, doesn't really help one way or the other. Carlo Barberi's cartoony style typically works for a character like Deadpool, but he has the tendency to make his women uniform in the buxomness and large eyes -- unfortunately, if those women are zombies, it really takes the fear and threat out of them, and makes the story seem tame. The script also hurts him, in this case, because there isn't the off-the-wall weirdness of the first arc, leading to a lot of static characters standing around. The coloring, however, was really good, although on the 17th page, they insert a really weird computer-generated castle that just takes out of the story.

It's a shame, really. It isn't a bad comic by any stretch of the imagination... just an unsatisfying one. Way really set up a strong storytelling formula in the first arc, one that I think he could perfect in time. But because he chose to riff on somewhat tired territory -- as well as crafting a solution that wasn't nearly as clever as the Deadpool vs. Skrulls arc -- it just felt a little light.

Courtney Crumrin and the Prince of Nowhere
Courtney Crumrin and the Prince of Nowhere
Courtney Crumrin and the Prince of Nowhere

Courtney Crumrin and the Prince of Nowhere

Story and art by Ted Naifeh

Published by Oni Press

Review by Lan Pitts

Wow. Just when I thought the world of Ms. Crumrin could not get any better, Ted Naifeh blew me away with this story. By the way, I guess I should mention, if you have no idea who or what Courtney Crumrin is, you are sadly missing out. To sum it up, take Harry Potter...now instead of an awkward, untidy-haired British boy, Courtney is an angsty young girl who is an outcast at school and ignored by her parents. She moves in with her Uncle, who is a great warlock himself, and she discovers she can do magic. It is simply beyond cool. While the premise seems simple and played out, there are many twists and turns along the way that is just great and intriguing tale.

I digress.

Courtney Crumrin and the Prince of Nowhere replaced "Twilight Kingdom" as my favorite in the series. Naifeh has kicked the art and story up every notch possible. On a visit to a castle of her heritage, Courtney meets a young boy named Wolfgang, though something is quite unnatural about him. Courtney doesn't care though, she's been lonely recently and a friend outside of her uncle and cats is what she feels like she needs. She continues seeing Wolfgang, and actually takes the initiative to give him a peck on the cheek. While, Courtney has had "love" interests before, she's never taken the initiative to kiss them. Of course we learn that Wolfgang is in fact "unnatural", and being around him threatens Courtney's life, yet she still yearns to see him.

Just like in any "Courtney" story, things are not what they appear to be. Naifeh is an excellent story-teller and having met the man a hand full of times, you can see the immense pride he has in his work. While my girlfriend has the first three volumes for her kids to check out in her library, the buck kind of stops here for the eleven and younger crowd. There is a discussion between Courtney and a nurse about Christian magic and old magic, before the word of the Lord came to Europe. In this conversation, Courtney out right says she doesn't believe in Christ, which could ruffle some feathers. Though if you have read the series, that really shouldn't come as a surprise.

There are gorgeous castle-scapes, wonderful panel constructs and Naifeh has a way of showing great expressions, even for his style, which is so simple and lovely. If you're a Courtney fan, you should not be without this book, and for those who haven't discovered her world yet, I suggest it's time you begun.

Amazing Spider-Man Family #3
Amazing Spider-Man Family #3
Amazing Spider-Man Family #3

The Amazing Spider-Man Family #3

Marvel Comics

Writer: Various

Artist: Various

Reviewed: Brian Andersen

There’s something for everyone in this always-enjoyable Spidey anthology. For lovers of traditional superhero stories you have the “Peter Parker High School Nerd” story by J.M. DeMatteis and Val Semeiks. For the pro-married (pre-Mephisto meddling) Spider-Man aficionados you have a touching tale featuring The Rhino and the forgotten Spider-Baby Peter and Mary Jane had (who would later became the star of the now cancelled, alternate-universe Spider-Girl series) by the underrated Tom DeFalco and Todd Nauck.

But for me the bright spot of this mixed-pot of Spidey tales always comes from the super fun, super cartoony Spider-Man adventures. This time around we get the great, delightfully sweet “The Amazing Spider-Ma’am,” a tale that dares ask - and answers - the never before explored question; “what if frail, old Aunt May put on the Spider-Man costume and fought crime?”

Written by indie comic sensation Abby Denson, with art by the always playfully talented Colleen Coover, this cutesy, slapsticky story is just pure, comic book goodness. How come on one has ever thought of giving Aunt May a heroic moment in the sun? Sure, she’s had plenty of everyday, non-superheroy heroic moments in her long career, but to my knowledge this is the first time we’ve seen her step up to the plate and actually take down criminals - all while sporting her nephew’s costume.

It’s great to see a comic bold enough to provide a breath of fresh air amongst all the gloom and doom in many mainstream comic stories today. So much death, mayhem, pain and gore are common place in superhero comics on the stands today that it’s almost shocking to read a story that is as good-naturedly innocent as it is both chuckle-worthy and clever. Truly this story is something new and different in a sea of ultra serious, hyper-stylized comics.

Here’s hoping Marvel can continue to give their reads such terrifically various, hodge-podge comic anthologies, because it’s these small tales that are winning reminders that comics can be still be fun and be powerful in their simplicity. It is possible to offer new sides to long-term characters without having to throw the Spider-Baby out with the bathwater.

Invincible #56

Writer: Robert Kirkman

Penciler: Ryan Ottley

Inker: Cliff Rathburn

Colorist: Fco Plascencia

Publisher: Image

Review by David Pepose

Invincible #56
Invincible #56
Invincible #56

Now this is what I'm talkin' about.

Last month, when I reviewed Invincible #55, I said that while Robert Kirkman and Company can make a comic head and shoulders above the rest, the last issue was lacking because it was all action and little characterization.

Not so with issue #56. Following last issue's bookend rendezvous between Mark Grayson and his super-powered paramour Atom Eve, we have the slightly awkward entrance of Mark's half-alien brother Oliver. As always, Ryan Ottley is a master of subtlety with his emotions -- Oliver's "what were you doing here" is pretty much encapsulates a teenage worst-case scenario.

Yet Kirkman is able to slowly turn the story down a darker path, as evidenced by the cover. When Mark receives a mysterious phone call, there is no contortion of rage, no sharp intake of breath -- just an ellipsis, and some very careful phrasing to get him out of the house.

As you see on the cover, this is Invincible unleashed.

While I won't spoil the reasons for Mark's fury, they are clearly personal, and 100% in character. The big reveal, of course, is superb pacing by both Kirkman and Ottley, who lead us up to a revelation that is all the more shocking because you didn't see the brilliant camera shots coming. But what I think is so smart about this is that Kirkman has been hinting for months about Mark's increasing temper -- going hand-in-hand with his increasing responsibilities -- and this takes that foreboding and puts it in a high-stakes but highly personal level.

Now, the great thing about all of this is -- the main story? Takes just over half of the twenty page count. While I said last month that that format made the story feel light, Kirkman packed so much story into this issue that the reduced page count reads as true artistic discipline. Oliver, or Kid Omni-Man, gets into a tussle of his own, and is slowly becoming a cold loose cannon not unlike Damien from Grant Morrison's Batman series. Meanwhile, Mark's mother Debbie has a few comedic beats, mainly dealing with her rapid acceptance that her Eve has been... spending the night.

In all seriousness, the man behind the mask is back in Invincible #56, and I couldn't be happier. Ending with a great -- although admittedly abrupt -- cliffhanger that ties together both the A- and B-stories, this is how good comics should be.

Skitzy
Skitzy
Skitzy

Skitzy

Written & Illustrated by Don Freeman

Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

Don Freeman was known for his illustrated children’s books, most notably Corduroy, throughout the mid-Twentieth Century. The new hardcover edition of his self-published book Skitzy, however much it resembles a children’s book, isn’t quite one.

What Skitzy is is a meditation on dreams and success, specifically on the balancing act required of grown-ups to pursue their dreams while meeting the responsibilities of their adult lives. In a largely silent book, our hero, a shy husband and office worker, splits himself in two for a day, sending one of himself to the office to toil through paperwork, unsympathetic bosses and rush hour cacophony. His other self skips off to an art studio, paints a portrait and sells the canvas. There’s a great twist that ties the two selves together in the end, defeating both of them, yet inspiring a dream that may bring together the hero’s dreams and his pragmatic duties.

All of which means that Skitzy isn’t quite a children’s book. Freeman’s sketchy art and fun designs will certainly appeal to kids, so it’s a book that children can enjoy, but it’s a book for grown-ups who still have dreams but whose lives limit the time and energy that they have to devote to their secret lives. As such, it’s a tremendously engaging, beautifully depicted saga.

Each page is a single image, and as I mentioned, it’s nearly silent, so the book reads extremely fast. The loose line art is frantic and lively, dancing merrily and humorously across the pages, capturing the exaggerated reactions of our hero and those who cross his path. The character designs are simply and clear, instantly communicating the essential core of each person.

Beautifully drawn in a children’s book style, with engaging characters and broad humor, Skitzy is a wonderful book, a book for dreamers bound by the gravity of real life. Don Freeman may no longer be with us, unfortunately, but thanks to publishers like Drawn & Quarterly, his influence is still able to affect our lives.

PELLET REVIEWS!

DC Universe Holiday Special #1, (From DC: review by Brendan):: Personally, I bought this issue for the delightful Frank Quietly cover. Anthologies like this one, with a centering gimmick that ties each tale together, are inherently going to be mixed bags. They can't all be gold. I found in this issue, though, that there were some real gems. Robin and Boomerang share a redemptive familial moment in the It's A Wonderful Life- centric It's a Wonderful Night story. If you know someone who cries each time he or she sees that movie, you'll dig that one. The Blue Beetle tale offers a new method of telling stories about legacy characters. The Teen Titans story was the best rendition of the characters in recent memory, and the Gotham-tale, A Day Without Sirens, tugs at the exact right heartstrings in the holiday season. I won't pretend that this special was in any way groundbreaking; telling a story about a holiday is about as conventional as serialized storytelling gets. But it works. It works because in our lives, things change every day, and every year, but holidays offer a rare opportunity to disregard the difficulty of our lives, and surrender ourselves to the comforts of tradition. Sure, it's a bit conventional, but sometimes convention hits the spot.

Hellblazer #250 (Vertigo; by Brendan): How can two holiday specials be so different? This anthology issue, a celebration not only of the holiday season but also of Vertigo's longest running ongoing series, is a reunion for some creators, but a celebration for all. Holidays offer the perfect juxtaposition for Constantine, due to his ability to represent both hope and hopelessness simultaneously. The various creative teams offer just about the full range of comic styles, and each perspective offered gives us another wrinkle, not only to Constantine himself, but also his world. If you've ever dug the character, it is worth giving this issue a look. It may not offer a conventional take on hope and the holidays, but it will give a few interesting ones.

Supergirl #36 (DC Comics; review by Rev. O.J. Flow): It's nice to have a Maid of Steel book that's readable again. I've hardly kept it a secret my belief that this character doesn't necessarily demand her own monthly title at all times like her more seasoned cousin, but this book is currently in very able hands with writer Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle, easily one of the best artists in DC's camp. As much as I've enjoyed "New Krypton," though, I'm looking forward to seeing this creative team get to tackle a storyline or two that gives the lead character a chance to grow without a bigger DCU crossover looming over it. As it stands, #36 is one of the more emotionally charged chapters of "New Krypton," a devastating tragedy undermining any potential peace between the native inhabitants of Earth and the Kryptonians. Good or bad, it's worth noting that this issue in particular is teeming with strong female leads, from Kara, her old ally Thara and newer allies Lana Lang and the mysterious Superwoman, to Alura, an antagonist who has all the likelihood of Lynne Spears or Dina Lohan of winning any sort of "Mother of the Year" award. Oh, and the Daily Planet's Cat Grant is always trouble. [u]Spoiler Alert:[/u] I found it very telling that Zor-El's parting words to his daughter were "Watch out for your mother..." His sentiment may have been altogether noble, but with Alura's Lady Macbeth-like machinations throughout this story, the reader can't be faulted for having a different interpretation of that. Either way, Supergirl is a damn fine bit of reading right now.

Suicide Squad: From the Ashes (DC; by Mike): It starts off a little slow, deluging readers with back story and one big “everything you know is a lie” twist, but once this book starts to move, it turns into a pretty fun little espionage, back-stabbing yarn. Writer John Ostrander does a good job capturing the voices of different characters, even those who have little page time, and each of the major players is sufficiently motivated to explain their machinations and betrayals. The art’s solid superhero art, the action’s clever and brutal, and the twists are well considered and fitting. If the original Suicide Squad series by Ostrander (which was ending when I got into comics, so I’ve never had a chance to read) was this good, DC really needs to start collecting that run (and not in those ugly Showcase volumes).

Drawn & Quarterly Showcase vol. 5 (D&Q; by Mike): A little something for everyone here. Or nearly everyone, I should say. The opening story, by Anneli Furmark, is a quiet contemplation of anxiety, familial expectations and the castigation experienced by homosexuals. Simple two-panel pages with clear, if sloppy, artwork make it a straight-forward narrative with an uneasy non-ending that doesn’t attempt to resolve complicated life issues. Though I didn’t personally care much for the other two stories, by T. Edward Bak and Amanda Vähämäki, each was much more beautifully drawn - particularly Bak’s, though his narrative wandered aimlessly and didn’t seem to conclude anywhere. Vähämäki tale of youthful adventurism and time travel left me cold, but I did enjoy her use of color and her jam-packed-with-panels pages.

Manhunter #37 (DC Comics; by Troy Brownfield): Andreyko and Gaydos appear to be celebrating this title’s pending (again) cancellation by rocketing the narrative forward a few years. Character has always been the primary focus of this book, and it’s the strongest part of this issue. The ways in which most of the characters have changed seem logical (Kate’s kinda worn, Ramsey wants to be a super-hero, Jade’s back and ohwaitthat’sObsidian’sdaughter), and the antagonists are fairly interesting. I enjoy Manhunter, and it’s too bad that it doesn’t look like it’ll get a reprieve this time. Can we get digital ongoings for this, Blue Beetle, and Checkmate, please?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #20 (Dark Horse; by Troy): Y’know, I think we missed a gem when it comes to the fate of the never-happened Buffy animated series. Jeph Loeb, who actively developed it, writes this issue, and he totally gets the tone of the first couple of seasons of the TV series throughout Buffy’s flashback/dream/animated-style tale. The real star this time around is Eric Wight; Wight did designs for the show, and he’s a criminally underappreciated comic artist. I hate that we won’t see the animated series that Whedon, Loeb and Wight (among others) cooked up, but this issue is at least a pleasant suggestion of what might have been.

Avengers: The Initiative #19 (Marvel; by Troy): Slott & Gage often excel at the humor, but this issue shows that they appreciate a bitter turn of irony, too. Amid great art by Tolibao and Ramos, the Initiative and Skrull Kill Krew tear their way through the Skrull agents of the 50 State Initiative as the battle in Central Park rages. Among the off-hand Skrull reveals we get are Razorback (Arkansas), Frog-Man (Kentucky), Grasshopper (Wisconsin), and Lobo (Red Wolf’s, uh, Wolf, Texas). But the real weight here comes from the story of Crusader, whose redemptive arc is finalized this issue. I almost laughed at the sick-joke shock of the twist ending, but really, it’s a tribute to these storytellers that they managed to surprise amid a sprawling event.

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