Best Shots: Wolverine, Animal Man & More

Best Shots: Wolverine & Loads More

Gotham Gazette: Batman Alive

Let's get right into it, shall we?

Gotham Gazette: Batman Alive?

Writer: Fabian Nicieza

Artists: Dustin Nguyen, Guillem March, ChrisCross, Jamie McKelvie, Alex Konat, Mark McKenna

Colorists: Guy Major, Guillem March

Publisher: DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

While Gotham Gazette: Batman Alive? isn't required reading for those picking up Battle for the Cowl, it's certainly a good work of characterization, as well as a who's who of artistic talent, as they examine the tertiary characters of the Batman mythos.

This book reminds me in a way of Devin Grayson's Gotham Knight series, which focused upon the secondary characters like Nightwing, Robin, and the Spoiler -- it not only emphasized characterization, but also showcased the criminally underrated artwork of Roger Robinson. Fabian Nicieza is the ringmaster of this particular book, which follows the Veil, Leslie Thompkins, Harvey Bullock, the Spoiler, and Vicki Vale -- and for an anthology-style book like this, Nicieza proves to be the humble thread between all of them, staying just invisible enough in his style to let the individual artists play to their strengths. With each of these tales, Nicieza gives us a tangential yet insightful look to this brand new Gotham City status quo, including Dick's transition to playboy and Tim's solidification (complete with eye scarring) as a Bruce-like brooder.

The first main story -- Harvey Bullock -- is a great partnership between Nicieza, Alex Konat, and Mark McKenna, as they give some context to one Nicieza's previous Batbooks, Azrael: Death's Dark Knight. While the art style for Azrael wasn't my cup of tea, Nicieza makes Bullock's pursuit of the unseen masked avenger into a really interesting cop drama, not unlike a taste of Greg Rucka's Gotham Central, combined with some great voices for the characters. "You knew our killer was the vigilante Azrael?" Bullock's partner Jamie asks. "Cauterized wounds came from a flaming sword. Four-story ninja jump equals Spandex nutjob."

Meanwhile, Nicieza allows the artists to flex their muscles in many of the other stories. While there are people who find Guillem March's work to be a bit too sexy for them, I think his contribution to this book was some of the strongest art, especially on a coloring side. It was certainly a brighter pallette than one would expect for a Batbook, but it really made the pages pop -- despite one gratuitous underwear shot, March has some great emotion to his pages, in a style not unlike Tim Sale.

CrissCross, meanwhile, has some great moments in his Spoiler story (especially some awesome strobing not unlike Scott McDaniel), which unfortunately was hampered by some extremely dark coloring. All things considered, I'm thinking this is less an error on colorist Guy Major's part and more of some kind of a printing error -- that's the degree in which some otherwise great art is muddied by too-dark colors. The artist who I was least keen on was Jamie McKelvie, whose faces and posing in the Leslie Thompkins vignette seemed a bit static, almost plastic with their emotions.

At any rate, Gotham Gazette: Batman Alive? isn't so much a purchase one would make for an earth-shattering story, or even as a necessary footnote in the Battle for the Cowl arc. But if you look at it for what it is -- a showcasing for some interesting vignettes and art styles in the Batman universe -- it's a fun diversion that measures up to something more than the sum of its parts.

Wolverine #72

Wolverine #72

Writer: Mark Millar

Penciller: Steve McNiven

Inkers: Dexter Vines and Jay Leisten

Colorists: Morry Hollowell, Nathan Fairbairn, and Paul Mounts

Publisher: Marvel

Review by David Pepose

I confess: when I started reading this issue of Wolverine, I was under the mistaken impression that this issue was it. Thankfully, Old Man Logan still has one more extra-sized issue to go, because I found Wolverine #72 more than a little hit or miss.

The story is fairly simple, as we meet the president of these twisted United States: the Red Skull. When I read these pages through Newsarama's preview, I was expecting to love this issue -- the Red Skull comes off as particularly ruthless and menacing, and his final send-off to Captain America is both fitting and disturbing. It's these sorts of cracked mirror future visions that I've loved in Old Man Logan: unfortunately, when Logan arrives, the story takes a distinct turn south.

Now don't get me wrong -- I love fight scenes. But the problem I had with this particular issue is that Wolverine... didn't really stand out as Wolverine. It's certainly doable to make a fight scene with Logan without claws, but I felt that it could have been anybody, fighting the Red Skull in a room filled with the cracked remnants of a superhero population now six feet under. After talking it over with my fellow reviewers, I concede that there's a riff to the end of Civil War, where Wolverine takes the kill shot that Captain America didn't, but it seems so obscure and unrelated to the rest of the story that it doesn't really hook the reader. Millar does give Logan a clever way to get home, but the conclusion of this issue -- as well as the motivation for Wolverine to finally pop those claws after all these years -- just doesn't hit with nearly enough weight.

Of course, I'd be remiss not to talk about the great artwork by Steve McNiven. He really draws the heck out of this book -- giving Cap a spectacular death scene especially -- even as I think this issue's a weak link in what has been a solid chain. But McNiven is really hurt by the trio of colorists in this issue, who overwhelm the page with variations of red -- a sword produces a showers of red-orange sparks, even against a panel with a red shield, red gloves, and a Red Skull. It's a motif that works in the initial pages -- that Newsarama preview which I enjoyed so much -- but by the end of the issue, the backgrounds really hurt McNiven's good work.

When you boil it all down, the main problem with this issue is easily diagnosed: because of the scheduling on this book, as well as the talent involved, you'd think that good things would come with this issue. And for all I know, the giant-sized final issue of Old Man Logan will tie up all these threads with aplomb, making Wolverine #72 a satisfying chapter in a larger trade. But as a single issue, this is a comic that really starts off really strong and then takes a sudden tumble from which it never really recovers. That said, delays and all, I'm wondering if the final issue of this series -- which seems to allude to a Wolverine vs. Hulk fight that mirrors Logan's first appearance all those years ago -- can bring some adamantium edge back to this story.

Last Days of Animal Man #1

Last Days of Animal Man #1

From: DC

W; Gerry Conway

A: Chris Batista/Dave Meikis

Review by Jamie Trecker

Twenty years ago, a young turk from Glasgow took a character so obscure it couldn’t even be called “Z-list” and turned him into a star. The writer was Grant Morrison, and the character, and book, was Animal Man. Buddy Baker holds a soft spot in many comic fans’ hearts for the simple reason that he is camp incarnate: Basically, he’s DC’s low-rent version of Spider-Man with equally creepy powers and a worse outfit. As drawn by Jack Sparling, A-Man fought against the Mod Gorilla Boss of Crime (!), palled around with B’wana Beast and remained impervious to shame.

  Morrison’s genius was in taking this bit of schlock and then tearing it to bits, showing that while the bones of the superhero comic might be ludicrous, the malleability of the medium, and the possibilities for serious story-telling, were there to be had.

  Morrison also had a genuine love for the era Animal Man sprung from: That brief period in DC history when comics tried to be “hip,” were graced with go-go checks, and read like the 1960s as filtered through a bunch of white, balding Jewish guys. Morrison wasn’t — as I suspect his editors thought he was — “deconstructing” an old character. In Animal Man — and companion title Doom Patrol — by playing it straight (Robotman as is as good a foil as A-Man, by the way) Morrison showed the true weirdness of 1960s comics, and hinted at many darker, sinister subtexts. It was a virtuoso performance.

  Now, Gerry Conway, a man who actually wrote some of those 1960s stories, is taking a stab at Animal Man. This should be cause for cheer for Conway is the guy that wrenched comics into the 1970s with the famous "Death of Gwen Stacy" storyline in Amazing Spider-Man. Conway’s new miniseries, set for reasons yet undisclosed in 2025, plops Mr. Baker in a situation all boomers fear: In what some might take as a thinly-disguised riff on impotence, Animal Man is losing his powers as he ages. Talk about speaking to the base.

  To make matters worse for AM, there’s a laughably-named villain in town. “Bloodrage,” a man who combines vampirism with mid 90s Dolph Lundgrenesque dialogue, has some grudge against someone and thus begins racking up the body count. I fear you won’t care, because like the folks Bloodrage kills, his story is two-dimensional. Have I mentioned yet that Conway has apparently based this book on the Kubler-Ross model? Yes! If that doesn’t want to make you put away your wallet, I don’t know what will.

  Fortunately, there’s Chris Batista, an underrated, and unflashy penciller gifted at conveying emotions and subtleties (or, he would if there were any) and the crisp inking of Dave Meikis. And, the book does come wrapped in a great Brian Bolland cover that slyly references the 1988 premiere. That alone might be worth the $3.

  In subsequent issues, things are promised to get a bit more Morrison and a bit less Marvel: According to the covers, we will get a whale Green Lantern and a daughter of Mirror Master to go along with a black Flash and a certain still-spry Tamaran.

  I happen to like whales, especially whales that can float between buildings, so I’m going to stick it out another issue. And I hope Conway can rise above the generic. After all, those guys from the 1960s did good and surprisingly complex stuff. Right now, this just isn’t one of those stories.

Dark Reign: Elektra #3

Dark Reign: Elektra #3

Writer: Zeb Wells

Penciller: Clay Mann

Inker: Mark Pennington

Colorist: Matt Hollingsworth

Review by David Pepose

Elektra's back, baby, and she's not taking any prisoners.

I've had a weird love-hate relationship with this book. I gushed over the first issue, marveling at its pacing both on a story and art level. The second issue, however, I wasn't as keen on, with some weird timing, a heap of flat exposition, and some art and colors that seemed to fight one another rather than make a top-tier product. Well, I'm pleased to tell you that Dark Reign: Elektra #3 is back to the standards of the first issue, giving some strong voices to a superb fight sequence.

The issue opens after Elektra had stumbled her way into the office of Foggy Nelson, Attorney at Law -- better known by some as the confidante of Elektra's ex, Daredevil. Waking up in the office of the Night Nurse (yeah, roll with the name), the hitmen introduced in the last issue make their move. While Elektra still isn't at 100 percent, she's still tough enough to kick some assassin.

I think the thing I love most about this book is that both creators get out of each other's way. What do I mean by that? You can tell that Zeb Wells has a clear grasp of all of the character's voices -- but what's so interesting is that the natural voice of Elektra, his lead, is... silence. Everyone else, however, picks up the slack, and gives us some strong characterization -- especially with Norman Osborn and Bullseye. "No no no... I'm the only imaginary god you have to worry about," Norman leers to some captured Skrulls. "Do go on." I see the Skrull angle will be fully explored, but with Wells at the helm, I'm actually confident that it will be played out nicely.

Inker Mark Pennington, meanwhile, is probably the most subtle and humble guy in comics, as it looks like he's not really overpowering penciller Clay Mann's artwork, just helping out with tightening up shadows and definition. Mann, meanwhile, choreographs the heck out of this fight scene -- as I mentioned before, it's a testament to he and Wells' partnership that these fights are largely silent, punctuated with just the minimum amount of dialogue -- and it never feels phoned in. And while the colors by Matt Hollingsworth aren't as organically psychedelic as in Issue #1, he manages to give clarity even to a nighttime fight

Anyway, I could go on and on about this book, but I should just leave it at this: now that the exposition is over, Wells, Mann and Company have made this series into a thrill ride that's worth every penny of admission. Even the slightly misleading cover is forgiven by this mixture of smooth action and compelling characterization -- you might even say that reading Dark Reign: Elektra #3 would bring a "sai" of relief to even the most jaded comics fan.

Ghost Rider #35

Ghost Rider #35

Writer: Jason Aaron

Artist: Tony Moore

Colorist: Dave McCaig

Publisher: Marvel

Review by David Pepose

Believe it or not, this is Jason Aaron's idea of a romance comic.

Jokes aside, the creative team continues to entertain with Ghost Rider, as Johnny Blaze gets a little unwelcome attention from Skin-Bender, a desiccated parody of a manga superheroine. It's tough to read this issue without comparing it to the last one -- which was very similar in terms of its premise -- but Ghost Rider is still a fantastic example of what comics can aspire to be.

While the last issue had a rip-roaring battle royale between Danny Ketch and the Highwayman, this villainess isn't quite as raw and compelling as the previous issue's. Yet that's not to say that the Skin-Bender is a poor villain: her motivations are sick, especially after the Ghost Rider reveals himself, yet are completely appropriate to the story. But whereas Danny Ketch was pretty silent during most of the last issue, Johnny Blaze has a great sense of humor that keeps the story going. "You have fire inside you. What are you?" Skin-Bender asks. "American," Blaze replies with a grimace.

Now the great part about this story is the fact that while it's a similar done-in-one to the last issue, is that the creative team make very clear stylistic choices to differentiate their work. The first thing you notice is that Aaron has switched up his pacing -- whereas the last issue was cranked up to 11 from the get-go, Aaron builds things up to a comparatively slow boil, as Johnny Blaze struggles to keep the Ghost Rider in check. But the conclusion is so satisfying, even as it only comes out with one word, as hellfire consumes Skin-Bender and her forces: "Burn." Dave McCaig, who lit up the pages with crimsons and magentas in the last issue, focuses primarily on yellows -- while I don't think this is as effective as choice as before, it does set up for a terrifying image of the Ghost Rider in all his glory. This is all tied with the same spectacular, quirky art of Tony Moore, who gives Johnny Blaze his own distinct yet mythic look.

It's sadly far too rare that you see a comic where you can tell that the creative team is taking risks and stretching their talents to the limit -- but I think that's what my favorite part about Ghost Rider #35. While I don't always agree with the direction taken -- and believe me, these times are few and far between -- I am confident that there will be plenty more who do. With some strong artwork, daring colors, and a story that builds up the off-kilter mythos of the motorcyclist with the flaming skull, Ghost Rider #35 is well worth the price of admission, both as a single story and as a chapter of a larger arc.

Power Up

Power Up

By Doug TenNapel

From Image Comics

Review by Brendan McGuirk

Despite the rigorous testing undergone to join the ranks of the famed Newsarama Best Shots crew, there are still plenty of comics that escape my all-seeing eye. So when I was explaining how geeked I was to find this original graphic novel by the creator of the beloved video game Earthworm Jim to my able and informed retailer, he made me aware that, hey, Doug Tennapel has been making comics for over a decade, where have you been? What, me ignorant?

I hadn't read any of Tennapel's previous works, but I was aware of at least one of them. Earthboy Jacobus' stark cover design had drawn my eye when I worked in retail myself. Still, having not made that connection, the primary draw of this book was the chance to see how the visionary behind one of the most visually engaging console games of my childhood held up as a storyteller and cartoonist.

Power Up left me impressed. Almost a modern-day fable, it tells the story of a Hugh, a dissatisfied printer/ copy store employee whose prayers of frustration are answered when he comes upon a mysterious, magical 8-bit video game console. An aspiring video-game creator himself, Hugh has an idyllic, loving family. He longs for a more fulfilling career, though, and lacks the self-confidence to take the big gamble necessary to test his mettle in his goals. That is, until he finds the magic console. Without any regard for the fourth wall, all the “power-ups,” that Hugh gathers within the side-scrolling game- from shields to warps to 1-ups- all travel through the T.V. into the real world, granting Hugh immense power. The transformation of his life through the magic of video-games provides all the trappings for a simple but heartfelt tale of wish-fulfillment and, ultimately (spoilers!) contentment with life.

Tennapel is a very strong, clear artist. A student of what Eisner dubbed “big-foot” comics, his style lends itself perfectly to this farcical but poignant story. His entire cast of characters are like the story itself- whimsical, upbeat, and overall, just likable. The plot never gets bogged down, and nary a page goes by without an effective sight-gag or slapstick moment. It might even be, to use a loosely-defined Hollywood terms, “inspired by true events,” because Hugh's video game opus is the familiarly titled “Earth-Dog Jim.” Thematically, Power Up speaks to the ills of escapism, and the importance of not allowing your life to be run by a video game system, no matter how mind-blowingly awesome it might be. As a story about a machine with the powers of a god, no one should be surprised, or disappointed, in its ultimate deus-ex-machina resolution. This book can be enjoyed by anybody.

Never taking itself too seriously, Power Up is a success in everything it aspires to be. Thankfully, the quirky flair of Earthworm Jim lives on, and somehow, somewhere out there we might have an all-powerful gaming system to thank for it.

The Collected Doug Wright

The Collected Doug Wright: Canada’s Master Cartoonist

Written & Illustrated by Brad Mackay and Doug Wright

Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

The Collected Doug Wright is a massive overview of the life of Canadian cartoonist Doug Wright, along with being a detailed collection of his long-running comic strip Nipper. Editor Brad Mackay devotes the opening 50 pages to a biographical essay about the cartoonist, replete with details about his professional dealings and, his marriage and family life. Twenty-five pages of magazine and advertising illustrations showcase the full range of Wright’s illustrations and incredible talent for composition. Finally, the last 160 pages is devoted to collecting Wright’s long-running comic strip Nipper, a cross between Dennis the Menace (particular the early, good Hank Ketchum strips) and Family Circus.

The portfolio section is a true highlight. Wright was a very moving illustrator, and his magazine covers and other pieces of artistry are absolutely beautiful to behold. Very open and cartoony, Wright’s work may remind today’s readers of perhaps Jeff Smith or one of the many talented artists to come from animation backgrounds. Wright’s art, however, has a rounder, more organic quality, a beautiful sense of comic exaggeration, and an excitable, kinetic sense of layout. It’s very easy to see why Wright’s work was popular on magazine covers, and I wish we’d see similar work on magazine stands today. The publishing business might be in better shape for it.

Nipper, which ran from 1949 to 1962, has a certain charm. Largely silent and devoted to the mischievous antics of young Nipper, the strip is saccharinely cute and perhaps the appeal will fly past many modern readers. The formula has been mined extensively over the ensuing decades, but Wright was among the first (predating Dennis the Menace by two years and Family Circus by eleven).

However, even if readers don’t love the strip’s contents, the beauty of Wright’s illustrations should easily surmount those considerations. Nipper is one of the most gorgeous comic strips I’ve ever read. With characters full of emotion and slapstick range, wonderfully detailed and realized settings, and a dancing sense of motion, Wright’s artwork is universally engaging. You’ll find few cartoonists who can match his illustrative or cartooning prowess.

Doug Wright isn’t as well known today as he should be, particularly in the United States, but hopefully this immense book from Drawn & Quarterly will turn the tide. Designed by Canadian cartoonist Seth, The Collected Doug Wright is a tremendous package. Wright’s life and art are both given a wonderful presentation, presented on massive pages that showcase the details of a true master cartoonist.

Young Liars vol. 1: Daydream Believer

Written & Illustrated by David Lapham, with Lee Loughridge and Jared K. Fletcher

Published by DC/Vertigo

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

Can I say one thing first: I didn’t suddenly pick this book up because of the news it’s been cancelled. This collection of the first six issues of Lapham’s Young Liars has been beside my bed for months, but various other demands and review copies mean that any books I buy for myself are often delayed several months before I can actually read them. But I finally cleared off some time and read this book, and here’s what I thought:

It’s really great. Lapham’s really channeling a great rock and roll – the old, dirty, blues-based, garage-rock kind, not that Nickelback crap – sensibility through the comics form. Sadie Dawkins, you see, has a bullet in her brain, and as a consequence, she’s basically living without inhibitions. When she decides that you’re a friend, and somebody threatens you, she beats the holy hell out of the threatener. When you propose an idea, no matter how outlandish, she embraces it with unreal zeal. Sadie is the ultimate in stylized excess – loyal, sexy and explosive. Danny Noonan’s some schmuck kid who wanted to play guitar, but could never stick to it long enough to succeed at anything. Until he found himself sticking to Sadie.

Young Liars is just over-amped fun. It’s violent and sexy (though not exploitively so on the sexy side), a high-octane thriller racing from one plot twist to the next. Lapham’s a master at pacing the saga of Danny, Sadie and their friends, never letting up the relentless churn of their careening lives, yet always allowing just enough time to explore the depths of Danny’s complex soul. Whether the group is being hunted by bounty hunters dispatched by Sadie’s rich father, brawling in New York nightclubs or racing across Spain in pursuit of a painting worth a fortune, Lapham keeps the pedal to the metal the whole time.

As midgets mutilate Danny and Sadie bites noses off club owners, Danny’s turmoil unfolds across the pages. Lapham’s greatest skill as a writer – a talent he’s been showcasing since the earliest days of his brilliant series Stray Bullets – is his ability to make completely reprehensible characters feel relatable. If anything, Young Liars shows that Lapham’s talent for examining the good intentions and courageous shortcomings of weak-willed losers is stronger than ever. Danny can be a total bastard, absolutely manipulative, staggeringly self-serving, yet there’s something about this poor schmuck of a kid. You can’t help but hope that he can pull himself together and figure it out, even though you know he’s not smart enough nor sufficiently determined to do so.

Lapham’s masterwork to this point, Stray Bullets, combined hard crime with introspective character study. Young Liars vol. 1: Daydream Believer works as crime story, character examination and relentlessly explosive action thriller. The series has been cancelled with its 18th issue, so we’ll probably get two more book collections, and they look like they’ll be worth the time and money. He’s rarely disappointed, but Young Liars is a new highlight for David Lapham’s career. It’s among the best comics out there today, and you really should check it out.

PELLET REVIEWS!

Wonder Woman #32 (DC; review by Brian Andersen): The knock-down, drag-out fight of the year is here as Wonder Woman throws down the gauntlet and takes on the vile evilness that is Genocide - and holy crap is it a fight to remember. There’s more punching, city destruction, and all around superpowered mayhem than you can shake a tiara at. I have to say that the creative team of writer Gail Simone and artist Aaron Lopresti - with underrated amazing inks by Matt Ryan – are knocking this book out of the park. As thoroughly action-packed and pulse-poundingly exciting as this epic throw down is, and boy-oh-boy is it a nail-biting battle to the finish, the most powerful scene isn’t in all the superhero fisticuffs (which is great), but in the moment Wonder Woman reveals her true feelings to her would-be paramour Nemesis. With the stolen power of the golden lasso under her control Genocide compels Wonder Woman to confess that she never loved Nemesis. What??? What an awesome twist! Genocide reveals that Wonder Woman actually intentioned Nemesis to be her “Adam” to help her repopulate her Amazon people. Holy smokes, what a shock! It’s character defining curveballs like these, amidst a fairly typical superhero battle, that elevated this book and make it a must read. Excellent job, Wonder team! Can’t wait for next issue.

Runaways #10 (Marvel; review by Brian Andersen): I must confuse, I stopped picking up this book after Joss Whedon left. Although, even with Whedon at the helm, the comic just hasn’t ever been the same since Brian K. Vaughan departed. So after all this time what prompted me to return to the book? I’d have to say the amazing cover was the first thing that caught my eye, and a quick flip through the book - seeing Molly hanging with the X-Men – pretty much sealed the deal. Man, am I glad I did pick this up. What a fantastic read! Funny, exciting, witty, clever, everything about this issue worked. Writer Christopher Yost has got to be one of Marvel’s most underrated talents, as he is always able to nail each Marvel character he writes, remain respectful to continuity and bring the past into the present. I love how Yost keep the same tone being used in Uncanny X-Men, he writes the same playful character introductions, and he infused the story with plenty of moments for all of the Runaways shine, despite this being a Molly-centric issue. I loved seeing the Runaways clubbing with the Young X-Men, loved Molly comparing all of the X-Men Tech to the Runaway Tech, and I adored the interaction between Wolverine and Molly this is a great reminder why Wolverine and a young female partner make for a great story, the chemistry between the two just sings. Kudos to artist Sara Pichelli for nailing the quieter character moments as well as the larger action scenes. Fun, fun, fun, a really enjoyable read. The small back up by writer James Asmus and Emma Rios proved just as enjoyable. Totally worth the extra $1.00. This is just the type of tale the Runaways need to make me pick it up month in and month out.

Northlanders vol. 1: Sven the Returned (DC/Vertigo; by Mike) – Brian Wood’s new series Northlanders is about Vikings, which is pretty cool. David Gianfelice illustrates this first storyline, and it’s beautiful stuff. Wood’s story is strong, though it seems he’s still finding the series’ voice here in this first book collection. Many writers struggle to write appropriately anachronistic dialogue when telling period pieces, and Wood seeks to avoid that pitfall by using mostly modern dialogue. Alas, the technique is just as jarring as mediocre “old” dialogue, with Sven’s observations often feeling too modern and cultured (yes, he did travel, but Sven seems almost too-cool hipster at times). Supporting character Thora’s fate should feel tragic, but since she is basically introduced as a pair of breasts (she’s buck naked on the first seven pages in which she has any dialogue, most of which revolves around carnal pleasures), you never feel much for her. Sven’s status as ultimate killing machine is a little OTT (okay, a lot over the top; Wolverine rarely slaughters as many villains as efficiently). Still, Wood does a good job unfolding Sven’s character arc, and the flashback to his time in Constantinople is well done and moving. There’s some promise here, lots of little flourishes in the life of the Norsemen and some great landscape illustrations by Gianfelice that added a nice flavor to the proceedings. I’m not sure if I’ll stick to Northlanders like I have to Wood’s other series, the very good DMZ, but there’s definitely some potential here.

Amazing Spider-Man #595 (Marvel Comics; review by Brendan): This is how you start a mini-event. Joe Kelly and Phil Jimenez pack this issue with “oh crap!” moments, nods to Spidey-history, and long-term payoffs. Jimenez' ornate pencil work has made him one of the strongest contributors to the web-stable of artists, and his involvement goes a long way in conveying the impact of this issue. Kelly's characterization of the entire cast is spot-on, and shows a deft handling of the Parker/ Osborn dynamic. Ever since his return at the beginning of Brand New Day, Harry Osborn has been more stable than we've ever known him to be. Despite a number of hardships to be dealt with (girlfriends, ex's, etc.), he has looked like a man relieved of the burden that's weighed so heavily on him throughout his history. Compared to Peter Parker's life of late, it's seemed he's had it easy. Well that's all passed now. With his father back in the forefront of the Marvel U, Harry can no longer swear off his Osborn legacy. This is not, as has been speculated, simply a “Harry-gets-drafted,” story, this is much more involved. This storyline has all the makings of being the most far-reaching storyline in the thrice-monthly era. The next chapter can't come fast enough, which is lucky, because we'll get it next week.

Madame Xanadu #11 (Vertigo; review by Brendan): After a lengthy opening arc that built Xanadu into the character we've known her to be, Exodus Noir sets our mystic heroine in New York's Greenwich Village, and casts her as an sort of investigator of the paranormal. Relieving Amy Reeder Hadley of her art duties for this arc is Michael William Kaluta, an artist more than capable of stepping in Hadley's Eisner-nominated shoes. His moody. lush shading makes the perfect match for this hard-boiled tale. This storyline is a new start for the Madame, as she has finally grown comfortable balancing her talents with the world around her. Through eleven issues, Madame Xanadu has been a book that's proven impossible to categorize- with genres as ranging as its timleine- and this new detective story pushes those boundaries further.

Rapture #1 of 6 (Dark Horse; review by Brendan): Comics' latest power couple Michael Avon Oeming and Taki Soma team up to tell this tale of a love torn asunder by an apocalyptic superpowered war. Soma's layouts and Oeming's artwork interplays naturally, and work well with the other stylistically varied bits sprinkled throughout the issue. My only qualm with this issue at first is that there are a lot of genres being amalgamated together in this book; between the love story, the dystopian post- apocalyptic survival setup, the musical underpinnings and the superheroic megawar. It's a lot, and I wasn't sure I thought it all meshed to make sense in one story. It seemed to me that it may be a story better told without the super-tropes, but by the issue's close I began to see how it could all work together effectively. I'm not quite sure what to make of this miniseries just yet, but I do know that if anything it might be a book with a multitude of ambitions, and for that it has my attention.

Justice Society of America #27 (review by Rev. O.J. Flow) So before the new era of Willingham, Sturges & Merino gets under way, the oft-reliable Jerry Ordway passes the time over the next couple issues that puts the faith the JSAers have in each other to the ultimate test. Atom Smasher still has his share of detractors coming off his former working relationship with Black Adam, and he's doing what he can to earn his skeptical teammates' trust and put their doubts to rest. Not helping his own cause is Obsidian, who's got the JSA headquarters on lockdown and holing up a select handful of teammates (his father, Green Lantern, included) due to hints of a looming spirit with evil intentions. It's not a coincidence that two prominent characters in this story, "Ghost in the Darkness," share a history as founders of the Infinity Inc. team, and that's underscored right from the very first page, but that whole aspect's relevance is still a mystery after the first chapter. It's like writer and artist Jerry Ordway might have an agenda with that super-team that he was instrumental in developing back in the 1980s, though he has yet to play his hand. Ordway's art, with inking assists by Bob Wiacek, is as polished and classic as ever. It's a serviceable story and it stands to reason that it will be of minimal consequence since you know the all-new creative team gets their chance to shine in a couple of months.

Superman #688 (review by Rev. O.J. Flow) Last issue ended on the cliffhanger of Mon-El losing his powers in a most inopportune moment, and we're brought back to that at the beginning of this issue. What surprised me more than anything was the diagnosis by guest star Dr. Light as to the cause of this power drain. There were hints that suggested that it was Mon-El's stalker responsible, the Parasite, but the reality is far more dire than anyone could have imagined. What's interesting is the way James Robinson is handling this unexpected (to us, at least) curveball thrown the Daxamite substitute for Superman's way. "The Fall and Rise of Jonathan Kent" actually ends on a downright whimsical note! The art by Renato Guedes & José Wilson Magalhães is luscious as ever, and the coloring by David Curiel is a lot more vibrant than the muted palette we'd seen in the last few issues. The pacing in Superman has been a little more methodical than the other titles catering to a "World Without Superman," and I would not object to seeing things pick up a little more. I like the book right now, but I would much more prefer to love it.

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