Best Shots: War Machine, JLA, Hercules & more

Best Shots: War Machine, JLA & more

War Machine #1

Greetings! Welcome back to the big column.

War Machine #1

Writer: Greg Pak

Artist: Leonardo Manco

Colorist: Jay David Ramos

Publisher: Marvel Price: $2.99

Review by David Pepose

I will say this about War Machine: it certainly is a series that takes risks. I'm not sure if they'll pan out, but I do think that it made for a decent first issue.

As seen in the Secret Invasion tie-in issues of Iron Man: Director of SHIELD, James Rhodes went AWOL from the Initiative to pilot a stealth satellite to ward off the Skrull horde. Totally off the Starktech grid, Rhodes has been taking the fight to hotspots that have been avoided and ignored by everyone else. Of course, this means a graphic, brutal fight sequence, as he intervenes in the atrocities of Santa Marco.

For the last few years, ever since his return to active duty in The Initiative, the main question about James Rhodes has been -- what happened to him? When last we saw him, it was revealed he had somehow become a cyborg, perhaps thanks to spending longer and longer in the War Machine suit. Greg Pak reveals how Rhodey received his new armaments, as we see one of the few fruits borne from Tony Stark's futurist philosophies.

The main problem with the story, however, is that that backstory is also the B-story: the main storyline is War Machine taking down Santa Marcoan soldiers with bloody efficiency. To me, all this goes down just a little bit too pat: for example, when Rhodes dismembers a group of soldiers in front of a child, the kid doesn't react with fear or revulsion -- he simply flashes a peace sign and smiles "gracias!" I understand that this is to make our vigilante hero more sympathetic, but to me, it just felt a bit off. Meanwhile, other happenings such as the coercion of an arms dealer to become War Machine's "Microchip" also felt a little too convenient.

The art, however, is the most experimental part of the story. More often than not, it's a success. Leonardo Manco adds a gritty realism that I think will only become more iconic in time. Sequences such as Rhodes' rebuilding are especially eerie, and really highlight the series' main conflict: is the violence that has surrounded James Rhodes through the last year finally corroding his humanity? Of course, the problem with experiments is that they don't always work -- while Manco's faces are great, his poses feel awkward, and sometimes the page composition feels murky simply due to distance shots conflicting with too much detail.

I'll be honest, I'm not quite sure if this series will triumph or collapse, but I do think this is a valiant first effort. If War Machine can build up the stakes and turn the status quo into something with real tension, I think this could be an interesting mix of Iron Man and Soldier X. As for now, we'll just have to wait and see if this War Machine can kick off its rust.

JLA #28

Justice League of America #28

From: DC

Writer: Dwayne McDuffie

Art: Ed Benes

Review by Mike Mullins

Hardware is a butthead, almost a merger of Guy Gardner and Tony Stark. This truism is represented so accurately within this issue that it spawns a great deal of nostalgia for the original Milestone comics. Icon, another hero from a solo title in the Milestone, is a deep thinker and mentor. His depiction also resonated well with the character that was represented a decade ago.

For those who do not know, before Milestone stopped publishing in 1997, Milestone and DC had a crossover event titled Worlds Collide. Now that the Milestone characters have entered the DC universe properly, the JLA arc that introduces most of the characters is titled “When Worlds Collide.” While DC’s editor, Dan Didio, originally declared that the characters would be introduced into the DC Universe as if this was their first appearance, the similar titles suggest that statement might have been a bit misleading. This issue, at least, will make readers questions the veracity of that statement based on the interaction between Icon and Superman.

On the other hand, Batman knows nothing of the metahumans he, Black Lightning, and Firestorm battle in Dr. Light’s apartment. It is rather refreshing that Superman has the edge on Batman in the knowledge department for once.

Of course, a second fight erupts between the Shadow Cabinet (Milestone’s version of a team that is somewhere between the JLA and the Authority) and the remaining members of the JLA. For those fans who worried that the Shadow Cabinet would be able to defeat the JLA (a rather unlikely scenario given the vast difference in power level between the two teams), that possibility is well covered in this issue.

I haven’t picked up JLA in years and years and the only reason I decided to follow this arc was for the introduction of the Milestone characters. I also never read Shadow Cabinet so I am unfamiliar with many of the Milestone characters. Dwayne McDuffie has so far shined in issues #27 and #28 in that I have quickly learned a bit of each character’s personality, their powers, and the team structures. This has been provided without beating me over the head or relying on too much unwieldy dialogue. My only issue with the characterization from what I know of characters is that John Stewart seems a little too aggressive and militant based on his persona from Green Lantern, Darkstars, and Green Lantern: Mosaic.

While I have never heard of Jose Luis, his art is solid in the issue with smooth and fine inks by JP Mayer. I think the colorist, Pete Pantazis, propelled the art up a notch especially with characters that can be difficult to get right like Green Lantern, Flash, Gloria Mundi, and Twilight. My only wish is that DC would have chosen to use the rather unique coloration process that was the hallmark, from an art perspective, of the Milestone line.

I look forward to the next issue to see the mystery between Superman and Icon revealed. At least for this arc, JLA has me hooked.

Guardians of the Galaxy #8

Guardians of the Galaxy #8

From: Marvel

Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

Art: Brad Walker and Victor Olazaba (with Wil Quintana)

Review by Troy Brownfield

One recurring motif in positive reviews of Guardians of the Galaxy would be just how much fun this book happens to be. Frankly, it’s recurring because it’s true. Guardians comes equipped with an engine that’s part action, part humor, and part “why not the kitchen sink?” chaos. It’s fair to say that everyone in the book is, on some level, a smart-ass, including the raccoon. Especially the raccoon.

That particular sentient, Rocket Raccoon, presently has the reigns to the team after the first incarnation splintered. Said splintering allows Abnett, Lanning, and the gang to take us through multiple stories in this issue, notably the new team’s fight with the Badoon, Peter “Star-Lord” Quill’s ill-fated Kree Incursion, and Adam and Gamorra’s church visit.

A few words about the art: Walker and Olazaba prove to be great action stylists here. The overall look is clean and dynamic. They aren’t afraid to mangle panels to add some drama (as when Quill goes to the Negative Zone), and they actually parallel that look a bit with the sloping angle used to show the team in action with Rocket at the fore. It’s really great-looking stuff.

Overall, this is a solidly entertaining read every time out. Abnett and Lanning figured out early on that this should play like an old-school sci-fi serial, stuffed with crazy aliens, wisecracking heroes, and dandy cliffhangers. They deserve extra credit here and throughout their space events for digging out characters long-relegated to the sidelines and making them engaging and enjoyable.

Incredible Hercules #124

The Incredible Hercules #124

"Love & War Part Four"

Writers: Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente

Artists: Clayton Henry and Salva Espin

Colorists: Raul Trevino, GURU eFX, and Lee Loughridge

Publisher: Marvel Price: $2.99

Review by David Pepose

I'm really torn by this particular issue of The Incredible Hercules. I'm typically a fan of the writing, and I've especially dug the art by Clayton Henry and Salva Espin. But every arc has a weakest link, and I think this might be it.

If you've been reading the past few issues, the set-up is interesting enough: Hercules and his playmate Namora have been struggling to rescue the brainchild Amadeus Cho from a group of angry Amazons, who are about to activate a weapon of myth in the heart of Washington, D.C. In this issue, the Prince of Power seems to meet his match when the Amazons unleash the mighty Atlas, who is none too pleased that Hercules tricked him into holding up the world.

I suppose if this story has one flaw -- and it's still a good story -- is the art. As I've said before, I think Henry and Espin establish a phenomenal balance of comedy and action that really combines the best of the Dodsons, with some of Jimmy Cheung's compositions, with a dash of Kevin Maguire facial expressions. But the problem is that this particular issue doesn't showcase the duo's versatility. For example, there aren't many close-up shots of Herc in action, and unfortunately there are few humorous emotions in play (although a shot of Hercules' reaction to Namora's fondest wish is quite possibly the highlight of this issue). The color, however, is still top-notch -- despite a seeming overreliance of earth tones, everything pops off the page (especially the double-page reveal at the end), and really establishes a fun yet satisfying tone.

As for the writing, this is the part of an arc that also keeps Pak and Van Lente from this title's strengths: the action issue. Of course, the two writers do manage to get some humorous beats in (when a guard shouts, "the boy is getting away," Amadeus mutters to himself, "more like barely survivin a 'rescue attempt' by his so-called 'friends'"), but other gags, like Namora's dispatching of Atlas, fall a little flat. Meanwhile, Athena and Namora -- typically great characters to clash with Hercules -- don't get much spotlight in this issue, which hurts the great character dynamic that has been powering this series. The use of creative sound effects -- such as "NOGGN" and "BARRAKKAALCTO!" -- are hilarious, however, and as always, Amadeus steals the show by proving his worth in less than a page.

In other words: this isn't the strongest issue of Incredible Hercules, but then again, it doesn't have to be. With great issues leading into this one, and what looks like an interesting set-up for the conclusion of the arc (one word: She-Vengers), you owe it to yourself to keep up... because Hercules is the strongest one there is!

Final Crisis: Secret Files

Final Crisis: Secret Files

Written by Len Wein (supplements by Greg Rucka, Grant Morrison)

Art by Tony Shasteen (with Steve Lieber, J.G. Jones)

Published by DC Comics

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

As much as I've followed the main title (for good and for bad), additional books sporting the "Final Crisis" banner are not automatic sales for me, much to my local comic shop's consternation. Final Crisis has certainly picked up in the last couple of issues (though I still contend that one should not be required to "get it" to follow a major crossover), but the spinoffs require a couple things for me to pick them up. For one, a respectable creative team is a must. If this is the most important series in the DC Universe, the best talent better be involved. The two books Geoff Johns has been involved in have certainly met that requirement, Legion of Three Worlds and Rogues' Revenge. And the book really needs to serve a purpose that benefits the bigger story. Superman Beyond has been decent too, especially thanks to Doug Mahnke's eye-popping artistry, all one issue of it that is. To be honest, Final Crisis: Secret Files could've been a "pass" for me, but I'm a sucker for Frank Quitely's work, and his extraordinary take on the villainous Libra made this something I had to at least investigate. I will warn you that despite the publisher's own solicitation, the cover is the extent of Quitely's input for the book, but the main story makes up for it sufficiently enough.

Living legend Len Wein returns to DC after a long absence (seriously, I really want to know the last original work he did for the company) and he gets to revisit a character he actually created almost a whole other generation ago. With artist Dick Dillin, Wein created Libra for the first volume of Justice League of America back in 1974. Not having read the original stories he was a part of, I can't say how much Libra's backstory was fleshed out then, but Wein seemingly makes up for lost time with the rundown on how he became an old school JLA foe and how he came under the employ of Darkseid all these years later. If nothing else, it blew my theory out of the water that Libra was actually Desaad or another classic bad guy in an all-new identity. Turns out Libra was an average kid, Justin Ballantine, who suffered years of abuse and studied the stars as a means of finding a better life. Justin's father's fate taught him that "Life is all just a matter of balance." Eventually in college studying under Ted Knight, the original Starman, Justin stole his instructor's designs of cosmic rod technology to foster his own grand designs of universal omnipotence. Not surprisingly, things went awry back then after creating the Injustice Gang to assist in stealing the powers of the Justice League, and many years later after becoming one with the very stars he coveted, he became a top recruit of the ruler of Apokolips.

Wein's script is not as fantastical and mind-bending as the work of Grant Morrison (then again, save for Warren Ellis, who's is?), but it does the job in fitting in with the bigger Final Crisis picture. This is exposition of the highest order, though Wein's story and dialogue never feels outdated. The art here by Tony Shasteen is decent, that is when you can get past the fact that he reuses a lot of his imagery throughout the book. Can you say "copy & paste"? Early on in the book's first couple of pages, it makes sense when we're introduced to the balance-crazy Libra playing with figures of heroes and villains on a scale. It's obvious that Shasteen uses the same pics of Superman and Luthor for multiple panels, but it makes sense for the scene played out. Later when the technique is used again, it turned into a game of finding the duplicates of the figures he's drawn (see Darkseid in the last few pages). "Balancing Act" takes up the vast majority of Final Crisis: Secret Files, while six additional pages of supplements round out the book. It's little more than filler and does close to nothing to advance the main epic. Fortunately the main feature proves to be a worthy enough offering that makes the book an overall good grab and a perfectly functional component to Final Crisis.

Wolverine #70

Wolverine #70

Written by Mark Millar

Art by Steve McNiven, Dexter Vines, and Morry Hollowell

From Marvel Comics

Review by Brendan McGuirk

How do you break the world's toughest man? How do you destroy his will, quell his rage, and neutralize him completely?

You get him to do it to himself.

Wolverine's real-life nightmare revealed is the appropriate tragedy to end the masked hero's career. A story like Logan's will forever be bound to end in blood and tears. When he says, as he so often does, “I'm the best there is at what I do, and what I do ain't pretty,” he's talking about surviving. Because being the survivor isn't always all that pretty. When the Wolverine identity, and the claws that go with it, are put out to pasture, readers will understand why.

And holy crap is this issue a brutally hyperkinetic action sequence. Mark Millar is either the best action-sequence writer or the luckiest, because this issue delivers. Millar's comics are often identifiable by their widescreen quality, due to his page pacing choices. It isn't random, evidenced by this issue's titanic fight scene.

Wolverine's final battle is a combo sequence of three and four panel body-blows, dynamically composed by McNiven, with Wolverine at his best throughout. The entire action scene is bookended by two monumentous splash pages that serve to confound like cross-punches, until the whole flashback is concluded by the dramatic double-page spread, an uppercut knockout shot to the reader. McNiven's pencils are absolutely explosive, and together with Dexter Vines and Morry Hollowell are probably putting out the most vibrant comic pages in the biz.

After putting a great deal of pressure on that previously untold story, Millar and McNiven deliver on the promise of Old Man Logan. It was a lot of setup, but they pulled it off. Of course, this was only a fragment of the story of this dystopian future, and there is much yet to be revealed. The most eagerly awaited final reveal with be that of the Wolverine's claws, one last time. It is going to happen, it has to, but what will be so powerful a moment that it forces old man Logan's snikty hand? Will it be out of rage, desperation, hope?

The fun part of this story is how the creators have cast Logan as a sort of retired cowboy, as it accentuates his inherent Clint Eastwood-hood. It has explored his grief, as well as his resiliency. It has examined a provocative future, and slowly revealed how it came to be as it is. Finally, we know how the world's greatest killing machine became the world's greatest pacifist. Now all we need is to see the beast to arise from within, even if for the last time.

Punisher War Journal #26

Punisher War Journal #26

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by Andy MacDonald

From Marvel Comics

Review by Brendan McGuirk

This series ended just the way it was meant to, with Frank almost, but not quite, cracking a smile.

The War Journal series was about making Frank Castle someone who could mingle about the Marvel periphery. He is a part of the bigger world, but also lives alone in his own world of binary justice.

The No-Name bar, and the conversations of its idiots, dramatically defined this series shortly after it launched. Deodato and Fraction killed PWJ: 4, even if the characters they killed didn't stay dead.

The world got organized after Civil War, but Frank's war persisted. Cap was gone, Frank stood by his war. Hulk made a mess of Manhattan, and Frank's war went on. Skrulls, y'know. All along, this series has been a refreshing take on the Punisher against the backdrop of the Marvel universe. The art on this series has consistently been stellar, with many fresh, talented pencilers turning in great work. I've got to admit, I hadn't seen Andy MacDonald's work before this issue, but once again, I was impressed.

This finale, hilariously presents the rise of the Stilt-Man Gang, fitting given that the brutal murder of the original Stilt-Man was the Punisher's first act upon returning from MAX exile in the first issue. Even more fitting as a farewell was the Rhino's plea to Frank for Christmas charity. Can the Punisher be tamed like a common Ebeneezer Scrooge?

This book goes out on a high note, celebrating what it was able to do well for its entire run. The Punisher was always a non-traditional superhero, but in this book it didn't prevent him from experiencing the troubles of the traditional superhero world.

With Rick Remender taking over full time on the new series, there is no doubt that the Punisher will still be a raucous riot of vigilante brutality, with Frank now on the hunt for the the head of the world, Norman Osborne. But props need to be made for Punisher War Journal, because dude, they brought back the white gloves.

Batman #684
Batman #684
Batman #684

Batman #684

From: DC

Writer: Denny O’Neil

Art: Guillem March

Review by J. Caleb Mozzocco

Originally presented at Caleb’s Everydayislikewednesday.blogspot.com

The last issue of Batman featured the second part of two-part story "The Butler Did It." This issue features the second part of another two-part story called "The Last Days of Gotham," by an entirely different creative team. What the hell's going on? Well, this is the second part of a story that began in another title, Detective Comics. You're not likely to be confused, however, since you're the sort of person who reads about comics on the Internet.

Of course, you may be disappointed that this is basically just a time-killing, page-filling story about how Dick Grayson is insecure about filling Batman's shoes and how sometimes Batman doesn't answer the Bat-signal, and that makes Commissioner Gordon sad (Stories you've read a few dozen times before, basically). The solicitation seemed to promise something a little more dramatic.

Seriously, check this shit out: "In a world without a Batman, what happens when Commissioner Gordon lights the Bat-signal, in desperate need of assistance against the growing tide of crime sweeping his city? What does Nightwing do when his longtime partner fails to aid him in yet another of Two-Face's villainous assaults against Gotham? Without The Dark Knight to protect its walls, Gotham City may be facing its final days!"

Ha ha, joke's on you! A trio of jewel thieves knock over a jewelry store, and then try to dig up a bag of diamonds they lost in the great Gotham earthquake. That there's your "growing tide of crime" and, apparently, what is causing Gotham City to "be facing its final days." As for Two-Face, he's not actually in the issue, although one of the jewel thieves does dress up as him.

If you recalibrate your expectations from An Important Story About Post-"Batman R.I.P." Gotham By One Of The Most Influential Batman Writers Ever to An Okay Nightwing Story, this is a perfectly fine effort from Denny O'Neil, whose primary focus seems to be introducing a new character whose future is uncertain. Thanks to artist Guillem March, it is the very best Batman has looked since the Caped Crusaders left the island of Mr. Mayhew. What a difference mastery, let alone competence, at laying out a comics page or choreographing an action scene makes. Guillem March for all future Tony Daniel art assignments!

Why I Killed Peter

Why I Killed Peter

Written by Olivier Ka

Illustrated by Alfred with Henri Meunier

Translation by Joe Johnson

Published by NBM

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

At the age of twelve, Ollie lived with his beatnik parents in France, where the family was close friends with an easy-going, pleasant priest named Peter. Peter ran a summer camp for the kids, and his friend Ollie always got special privileges beyond what the other kids received. Unfortunately for Ollie, Peter used their closeness to manipulate the boy into an inappropriate physical encounter.

Olivier Ka lived through the experience, and Why I Killed Peter is his attempt to purge the experience from his soul. Ka does a truly brilliant job reaching back and understanding the experiences and memories of his childhood that led to the fateful encounter. He’s able to reflect on the combined and often contradictory influences of his parents, shiftless beatniks and free-love fans, and his church-every-single-day grandparents who tell him about the horrors of Hell. The family’s relationship with Peter is introduced innocently enough, so innocently that I really didn’t see the outcome until it was far too late and all I could do was wish that each successive page wouldn’t bring what I knew was coming.

As he becomes an adult and starts his own family, Ka seems to have compartmentalized the experience, but that’s only a temporary situation. The writing captures the tender curiosity of young Ollie, allowing you to understand why he looked up to Peter. Framing the experience from his own younger perspective, Ka never castigates himself for allowing it to happen, or imposes his adult values on his younger self’s innocence and naïveté. The confusion and rage that follow into his adult life are captured very well. The short, clipped phrases and skewed, red panels drive all the sanity out of the world, forcing everything through a warped, angry prism.

The illustrater, Alfred, and colorist Henri Muenier provide soft, open character designs that accentuate the youth and innocence of young Ollie, as they make his world appear simple and safe. The night of the molestation is depicted in heavily shadowed chiaroscuro, everything rubbed over in black ink with only highlights capturing the confusion. It’s truly a dark blot on the boy’s life. Alfred sticks with simple grids throughout most of the story, only altering the layouts later when adult Ollie is stricken by panic attacks and rage, at which point Alfred allows the world to collapse, ripping away the order and stability from the pages.

Why I Killed Peter is emotionally bruising, but powerfully told. Ka and Alfred provide a subtle collaboration, capturing the innocence and loss of a childhood, but it’s a powerful collaboration that hopefully exorcises Ka’s demons.

Against Pain

Against Pain

Written & Illustrated by Ron Rege, Jr.

Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

Sometimes, I wish I liked a book more than I did. I can really appreciate Rege’s anything-goes aesthetic. Against Pain is a collection of short comics done by Rege between 1986 and 2006, and it runs the gamut of content. Obsession with mathematical formulae, adaptations of stories, original fiction, collaborations and plenty more, Rege follows his creative muse wherever it travels.

Unfortunately, this collection just didn’t click for me. Too many of the strips seems to meander along, more intent on capturing a mood or mindset than telling a narrative, which would be fine if they were successful in their quest. Many readers, I’m sure, will connect with Rege’s experiments, but I suspect that most will find them disconnected, full of stops and starts, and frequently ending with a “huh?” moment rather than a “aha!” sensation.

The artwork is very kinetic, and the best drawn strips are frequently very well done. The simple clarity of Rege’s collaborations with Joan Reidy enforce the basic humanity of her scripts. In fact, the simple nine-panel anecdotes about life and relationships produced by the Reidy/Rege team are the book’s highlight. Other strips have lively artwork, and Rege works very well in color, which provides important depth to his artwork. Unfortunately, many of the black and white comics are cluttered and hard to read due to Rege’s unvarying line weight and the preponderance of details. Finding the focus of the panel becomes a challenge.

Outside of Rege’s collaborations with Reidy or his brief dabbling with mathematics geekery, too many strips seem to wander into range of an idea or feeling, but most simply don’t arrive at any conclusion. Or even leave the reader to wonder about possible conclusions. The art, despite its outwardly sloppy aesthetic and occasional clutter, is frequently laid out nicely, with interesting design elements. There are hints of really interesting ideas throughout the book, but Against Pain doesn’t follow through on them consistently.

PELLET REVIEWS!

Avengers: The Initiative #20 (Marvel; Reviewed by Brian Andersen): Full disclosure here; I haven’t read this series in months. I dropped the book around issue 7 or so and haven’t had much reason to look back. That is until this issue. The reason I returned? To read more about my dearly departed, always awesome Wasp - whose senseless demise is the lamest hero death in, perhaps, ever. This issue is a sort of beginning and ending, a good place for new and/or old readers to jump on board, as many characters depart, some assume new roles after the Skull infestation, and a mysterious character’s true identity is revealed (Mutant Zero, people!). For me the biggest plot twist has to be Tigra’s pregnancy. What the? Tigra is knocked up? Oh man, why does it seem that any time a writer doesn’t know what to do with a female character they either put her through an assault, make her go all slutty, or get her preggs. Oh, wait, all three have happened to Tigra over the last year. Lucky her. And what’s with the wannbe Bryan Hitchy art by Steve Kurth? Sure Kurth’s art is as pseudo-realistic and as unattractive as Hitch’s, but where Hitch’s work manages to come across only slightly ugly it has plenty of energy and vigor, whereas Kurth’s art is as limp and ugly as the characters he draws (why does every character have their heads tilted to one side?). Sadly, there’s not much here for me to want to pick up the next issue. And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Teen Titans #66 (DC; Reviewed by Andersen): Does this book have any relevance any more? Does any one really care? This is another comic I dropped months ago and only picked this issue up to see who’s gonna make the new team. Surpise! We have to wait another issue. Bummer. While we didn’t get new members we did get bunches of characterization and plenty of super-heroic melodrama, which is written quite well by Sean McKeever. Plus the art by Eddy Barrows is surprisingly superb; the panels are lively and dynamic. Since when did Barrows get so good? So what’s the deal with Teen Titans? Why doesn’t it rate? The story was good enough, the art is great, but something about the book just falls flat. Is it the lack of A-List teen heroes? The lack of compelling, engrossing stories? I think it’s a bit of both. The Titans need some pizzazz. DC has always had a long history of teen heroes and it should, like the JSA’s legacy heroes, have all these major teen heroes on the team. Even if they come and go, the key, I believe to the Teen Titan’s success is to have characters like Robin interacting with C list or D list characters you wouldn’t normally see hanging with the Boy Wonder. It’s like CNN pairing up Anderson Cooper with Kathy Griffin on News Years Eve - the A list reporter and the D list star, one serious, one funny and wacky. You stick them together, sit back, and watch the hilarity ensure. This is what the Teen Titans needs, the Anderson Coopers and the Kathy Griffins of the DC universe teaming up for full odd-ball effect. Until the Teen Titans can get their characters right, to match the writing and the art, I doubt this book will ever live up to its classic predecessor.

Double Shot: Justice League of America #28 (DC Comics; Review by Brendan McGuirk): It really bothers me how laborious Justice League of America is as a book. It was boring when Brad Meltzer launched this series, and it has proven to remain tediously boring throughout. Worst of all, despite a cast of DC's heaviest hitters, it has struggled to maintain relevance. The series ongoing penciler, Ed Benes, is so inconsistent that in this issue Jose Luis, who is either an understudy or hyper-advanced chameleon, draws the issue with a stronger through-line than would Benes himself. He has more nuance, too, even if it isn't saying much.

Even if one wasn't familiar with the Milestone characters before this story arc, besides Static, and maybe Hardware, but the one thing that this reintroduction did promise was a sense of scale. These characters did support a lot of books, not too long ago. The only problem thus far is, we still don't really know much about the Shadow Cabinet. Maybe much more will be revealed next issue, but that would only prove once again that this series lacked urgency. If the point of the book is to showcase all of the best characters you have to offer, they need to be the best stories you can offer. The bar is high, and too often this series has come up lacking.

Madame Xanadu #7 (Vertigo; Review by Brendan McGuirk): Madame Xanadu is so close to catching up with our familiar time period you can taste it. Or you could if you were Jack the Ripper. But given the amount of time that has overlapped in the seven issues of this book, a hundred some odd years is not that big a deal. When the Phantom Stranger and the Oracle of Xanadu's dysfunctional relationship brings them to the heart of the Jack the Ripper killings, it almost feels like a tiny nod to From Hell. That may just be a trick of the light, but I wouldn't put it past Matt Wagner. It also needs to be said that the costuming of this book is as vibrant and influential as you will find. The look of each character has so much detail that it easily sells the flamboyant scenery. Each and every era of this book has looked and felt honest. Also, the Madame herself may have the coolest fashion sense of all time.

Double Shot: War Machine #1 (Marvel Comics; Review by Brendan): My favorite memories of War Machine are from the Benson/ Kaminski and Gabriel Gecko 1994 series, where Rhodey basically became the defense branch of a small nation, so I thought War Machine #1 was full of logical developments for the character. I think the cyborg angle makes so much sense it is hard to imagine going back. Leonardo Manco does a great job capturing a gritty technological feel, and Greg Pak does a great job keeping the pace up. I think this series will be one to watch.

X-Men: Worlds Apart (Marvel; Reviewed by Andersen): Is there anything that Christopher Yost writes that isn’t interesting and filled with fanboy goodness? What Yost does so well is taking classic characters and ideas from the past and reinventing them with all the respect and honor these concepts deserve. Yost never talks down to the readers, nor does he crap all over forgotten, once treasured mutant lore. The Shadow King has been a thorn in the X-Men’s side, especially Storm’s, for decades. Yost welcomes and embraces continuity and allows what’s come before to spice up his stories. Great stuff. It’s also excellent to see a female character written with respect, one who is strong and brave and powerful without being dumbed down or getting tossed through the stereotypical female hero ringer: pregnancy, assault, extreme sluttyness. This is just Storm being Storm, the amazing former leader of the X-Men who stands up to her challenges as any hero would, with determination and courage. The art by Diogenes Neves is equally as engaging as the story. Neves art is clean and exciting and more then able to tell a strong story. My only problem with this limited series, and limited series in general now-a-days, is their pointlessness. Sure it’s a well written Storm story, but does it advance the character? Does it change her status quo? Does it have any lasting effects on the X-Universe? There was a time when Limited Series’ would mean something, would change the course of the character and have lasting ramifications. I fear this story won’t mean much more than what we read over the course of these 4 issues. I would like to see something major happen, something that X-Readers just have to run and pick up. Then this limited series will really hit big.

Double-Shot Pellet: Batman #684 (DC Comics; review by Rev. O.J. Flow): *sigh* Yeah, it's a bummer Batman's not running around Gotham City. That would appear to be the message behind the second and final chapter of "Last Days of Gotham." Yes, Nightwing is clearly being groomed for a big promotion, but writer Denny O'Neil comes up short in rationalizing the almost ethereal Millicent Mayne's presence, Dick Grayson still appears to have a ways to go although he finishes strong here, and the two-bit hood cribbing the look and methods was a concept that really went nowhere. No less than a week after a superlative "Last Rites" tale by Grant Morrison that set the table for a big next issue of Final Crisis for the Dark Knight, this felt like filler at best, a darn shame considering the quality creative team involved.

Superman #683 (DC; review by O.J.): Ohhhhhh, that's right!!! Kryptonians hate magic! Guess we'll have to wait a couple more weeks, though, to see where that takes things in "New Krypton." This penultimate issue was just a whole lotta fighting, this time Earth's heroes doing the inevitable, taking on the increasingly uncooperative Kryptonians. I do have to say that it was refreshing to see a big blowout away from the big city where collateral damage is unavoidable. What a concept!

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