BEST SHOTS: Gotham After Midnight, Batman, Action & More

BEST SHOTS: Gotham After Midnight & More


by The Best Shots Team, courtesy of ShotgunReviews.com

Your Host: Troy Brownfield

Greetings! Welcome back to the big column. Lots to cover this week, starting with our

Best Shots Extra that you may have already seen in the past few days:

Zombie Tales #1 (from Boom! Studios; review by Tim Janson)

1985 #1 (from Marvel; review by Troy)

Final Crisis #1 (from DC; review by Troy)

Meanwhile, at ShotgunReviews.com: If you haven’t seen it yet, Episode 24 has Vince, Imoticon, Halcylon and The Viceroy waxing philosophical on the amazing phenomenon of Xbox achievements. Have they enhanced games or taken something away from the experience? After another rousing edition of Gatling Geek, offering the Shots in the Dark opinions on the latest pop culture news, the crew digs deep into the competitive world of Xbox achievements.

Also . . .: We’ve had something of an expansion draft going on lately in terms of ShotgunReviews.com and the Best Shots team. This week, we’re calling up regular Shotgunner Lan Pitts (who also has his own blog here). You’ll meet him in a bit.

For now, the regular reviews . . .

Giant Size Astonishing X-Men #1

Writer: Joss Whedon

Art: John Cassaday with Laura Martin on Colors

From: Marvel Comics

Review By: Lucas Siegel

Well, the wait is finally over. Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's journey with the X-Men has come to a close. We've been waiting. And waiting. And waiting, well, you get the idea. The wait was long, is the point. Some may say, unforgivable, but I have enjoyed the story thus far enough to shell out my five bucks and check out the finalé. Simply put, this book was fantastic. The story came to an amazing apex, with exciting battles, guest stars out the wazoo, and some incredible final moments for many of the characters involved. The writing was Whedon at the top of his game. In this issue, he accurately captured the voices of not just the characters he was used to writing, but also other members of the Marvel Universe. If this book didn't make you deeply desire a Whedon/Cassaday Spider-man comic, I'm not sure about your tastes. Storm appears, appropriately regal (I always believed Storm should be looked upon as one of the most beautiful women who's walked the Earth- and that's exactly how she's treated here).

Emma has more than one humanizing, touching moment. Agent Brand is fully fleshed out, and reveals some beastly fantasies. The Fantastic Four was pretty much there for some extra flair, but Spider-man's interaction with them was worth it. Colossus defeated Fate itself. Cyclops showed us all what sheer willpower really is; he could give lessons to certain green slingers across the street. And of course, then, there's Kitty Pryde. She showed the whole world that she's the real strongest one there is. Basically, every character had a moment to shine, and shined more than most have, ever, in any prior appearance. The art was Cassaday's finest on this book yet. He obviously took his time, but it was really worth the wait. Every single panel carried the weight of an entire issue, here. The characters were so emotional, the action so visceral, I sometimes forgot I was reading, and felt like a movie had started in my hands. Emma's facial expressions alone told an entire story, and added more to the character than anything else since she first showed up with the Hellfire Club to terrorize Kitty Pryde and the X-Men. The colors were likewise incredible. These are super-heroes, plain and simple, and the art reflects that at every turn.

Oh, and Greg Land? Take note. That is what Pixie looks like. So, was it worth the wait? Absolutely. I can't wait for the oversized hardcover to sit next to my Volume 1. This run had its ups and downs, to be sure, but the ultimate payoff was, well, Astonishing. Whedon and Cassaday have created something of a masterpiece, here, and I hope the stars will align for them to show off their creativity again in the future.

Double-Shot:

Giant-Sized Astonishing X-Men #1

Writer: Joss Whedon

Art: John Cassaday with Laura Martin on Colors

From: Marvel Comics

Reviewed by: Brian Andersen

A comic book has to really and truly be quite great to boldly proclaim that it’s “astonishing.” Thankfully, under the incredible writing pen of Joss Whedon (who is now my master) and with eye-poppingly amazing art by John Cassaday, Astonishing X-Men is every bit as astonishing as its title declares. Perhaps even more so. I would even go so far as to say that the entire run by Whedon and Cassaday should be re-titled, in the upcoming trade, as “Mother F**king Awesome Astonishing X-Men.” No writer since Chris Claremont’s heyday has so defined Marvel’s marry mutants, with as much seeming ease, as Whedon has so masterfully done over the course of this truly excellent series.

This fan-f**king-tastic issue has it all; X-Men galore, non-mutant heroes galore, the threat of the total annihilation of the earth (by a huge silver bullet of doom), and the final - so sad I wanted to cry - fate of Kitty Pryde. With all the X-Peeps running around I strangely found myself loving Spider-Man’s appearance the most – which is saying a lot since I have never been much of a fan of old web-head. Sure it’s an X-Men comic and they are and should be the stars but I totally, and surprisingly, found myself in full geek-out mode when I saw the glorious two page spread of Spider-Man swinging through New York. With these two pages of interior dialogue Whedon clearly, powerfully, movingly and hilariously cements who Spider-Man is better than many writers have tried to do in their entire runs on his solo series. Spider-Man is New York City, pure and simple, and aside from perhaps Carrie Bradshaw and the gals from Sex and the City, no other fictional character(s) better embodies NYC then he does.

The swinging two-page shot of Spidey wasn’t the only time artist Cassaday tried to fry my brain with his incredible art, as I again found myself utterly blown away when *Spoiler Alert* Kitty Pryde was able to save the entire freaking world all by herself by phasing the astonishingly giant bullet strait through the earth in a even more amazing two-page spread! I think I even uttered “wow” as I gazed at the phasing bullet slicing harmlessly through the city. You don’t get much better than this kiddies, truly this issue of Astonishing X-Men is a prime example of the comic book medium at its finest.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been so excited by a comic book and even longer since I have been truly surprised, shocked and moved by the pathos, emotional depth, laugh-out-loud humor, wham-bam action and rich characterization. Astonishing X-Men is a gold standard for storytelling and a gleaming reminder as to why comic books still exists today and why, despite all the various entertainment technologies battling for our attention, still matter. When a comic is as truly astonishingly great as this one it is a testament to the full-colored power of the comic book, and when a story is this terrific it proves that comic books are true literary treats filled with stories as vibrant and alive as any novel, movie or TV show. Astonishing X-Men is a good as it gets.

Batman: Gotham After Midnight #1

Story by Steve Niles

Art by Kelley Jones and Michelle Madsen

Published by DC Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

Batman has been part of the horror genre before; however, this time it's a double-shot of fright as Steve Niles (30 Days of Night, Simon Dark, Strange Cargo and Kelley Jones (Sandman, Deadman, Batman and Dracula: Red Rain team up for a twelve issue series. Entitled Batman: Gotham After Midnight, one can only assume horror elements will be involved if you aren't familiar with the author or artist. Jones is known for drawing Batman with a more demonic look, similar to Dave McKean and Todd McFarlane. The story starts out simple enough: Batman is following Scarecrow's trail to an antiquities shop where Scarecrow has found the Hand of Glory. This is where I became intrigued. Now, if you're not familiar with the occult or magical items, a Hand of Glory is a dried hand of a man who has been hanged for murder. It is supposed to have magical powers such as opening every door it comes across and immobilized all persons to whom it was presented to.

Though in typical Scarecrow fashion, he's beaten pretty easily and is quickly back in the custody of Gotham's finest. Though stealing magical artifacts isn't really Scarecrow's m.o. and when you really think about it, you would think Zatanna or Dr. Fate would intervene knowing such a powerful item is just hanging around in downtown Gotham. I digress though, there is a new horror-themed baddie in good ole Gotham: the Axeman. At first, I immediately thought of the villain from Last Action Hero, "the Ripper". Don't ask me why, I'm confused myself. The art, while some may find it "too pointy" the panels are easy to follow. Niles writes Batman as an eccentric detective while not quite over-the-top. Batman is not the most stable comic character and is often as crazy as the loons he locks up. He's not my favorite Batman voice (that would be Jeph Loeb) but, he still comes across as a man who knows what he is doing. Though, there is one scene where Batman confronts Commisioner Gordon on who should get the credit of bagging the Scarecrow. Batman seems arrogant and so intense, I thought I was reading All Star Batman and Robin for a moment.

It ends with a cliffhanger, and more than likely, I will pick up the rest of the issues just to see how things pan out. Twelve issues, for a story like this, is plenty of time to get a story across and I have faith that this horror dream team (or is that nightmare pair?) will come though with dark, flying colors.

New Avengers #41

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Billy Tan

From: Marvel Comics

Reviewed by: Richard Renteria

Continuing to utilize his Avengers titles as tools to expand on the larger tapestry of the Skrull invasion, Brian Michael Bendis flashes back to the first team-up of the New Avengers and their adventure in the Savage Land (which as you may recall created more questions than it originally answered). Assisted on art by Billy Tan, Bendis brings in the big guns of the Savage Land, Ka-Zar and Shanna, to explain to Spider-Man and the readers what was really going on during The Raft storyline as more pieces fall into place.

After being tossed some distance by the rampaging dinosaur that broke up the fight from Secret Invasion #2, Spider-Man finds himself in the presence of Ka-Zar, Shanna, Zabu and a handful of mutates. Initially assuming them to be Skrulls, Spidey goes into full-wit mode as he tries to ascertain exactly what is happening. After an initial non-violent misunderstanding, Spider-Man stops long enough to hear Ka-Zar’s story of their discovery of the Skrull invasion, which happened within days of the New Avengers confrontation with SHIELD. Stumbling onto the site, with Ka-Zar looking on, Shanna momentarily infiltrates the camp which ends in a hail of bullets. Deciding to take matters into their own hands, Ka-Zar gathers an army of mutates to confront the Skrulls but not before they witness the New Avengers assault on the camp moments before it is wiped out by a SHIELD Helicarrier. Explanations over, Spider-Man continues to be unsure about the true identities of Ka-Zar and Shanna when suddenly his Spider-Sense goes off. Moments later, they are confronted by a very-much-alive Captain America.

These glimpses behind the curtain of the events that are unfolding in Secret Invasion are a great way for Brian Bendis to reveal to readers exactly how things play out from different viewpoints. Although this may not be the strongest issue of the bunch, it does serve the purpose of answering some of the lingering questions left over from New Avengers #6. The only true revelation that takes place this issue is that a large number of SHIELD agents are Skrulls. Considering the level of infiltration Bendis is revealing within SHIELD, I would not be surprised to learn that there are a number of higher level agents have been helping to insert field agents. I hope we get further explanation as to just how deep the SHIELD infiltration really goes. Bendis’ use of Captain America on the final page cliffhanger should be shocking, but thanks to what’s been said about Ed Brubaker’s current run on Captain America, most readers “know” this is a Skrull, so ultimately it falls a bit flat.

On the art side, we have Billy Tan, whose opening dinosaur rampage scene quickly identifies exactly where we are and synchs up nicely to events in SI #2. For some reason throughout most of the issue, Ka-Zar really comes off as stiff; I’m not sure if Tan was going for a regal approach or just wasn’t grasping how to portray him. Either way, it was a bit distracting at times, but the overall work was quite effective. His Shanna was well defined (no pun intended) and moved throughout the issue more like a large cat than a human, which fits her character perfectly. Tan should also be commended on the ending scene. His rendition of Captain America was spot on, and even though the moment may fail story-wise, Tan’s art manages to capture the moment perfectly.

If you are enjoying Secret Invasion, you should enjoy this issue, but it is in no way necessary reading.

Hercules: The Thracian Wars #2

Writer: Steve Moore

Artist: Admira Wijaya

Radical Publishing

Review by: Jeff Marsick

This gorgeous series continues as the first issue’s slaughter of fifty Thracians and an imposter King Cotys turns out to be the first portent of back-stabbings and double-dealings that will plague Hercules and his merry band of mercenaries in the issues to come. The real King Cotys, now that our heroes have proven their worth and passed their surprise exam, hires Hercules to whip a weak assembly of Thracian conscripts into some modicum of an army and then march them, village by pillaged and burnt village, in a campaign to unite Thrace into a single realm for Cotys to rule. Hercules and his troop eventually tire of months of bloodshed (well, maybe not the cannibal Tydeus who is in his element), but continue to hunt down the resistance leader Rhesus and his dwindling army of rebels. Led by Cotys’s scouts into a tight hilly pass, yet another trap is sprung, and one has to wonder not only what part Cotys has to play in this but how much Hercules’s comrade, Autolycus (son of Hermes), can truly be trusted.

Stunning artwork completes a story that folds more elements of Greek mythology into the recipe as we learn more about Hercules’s band mates, especially Atalanta and why Meleager’s fawning over her is a long road to nowhere. Usually with a new comic book company all effort is sunk into the maiden voyage and the rest of the series is a steady downhill slide from there, but Radical defies the norm. Intrigue and action continue to enthrall, and the steady pace does not let up from the first issue. This is a series even Edith Hamilton would cozy up to and enjoy.

Caliber: First Canon of Justice #2

Writer: Sam Sarkar

Artist: Garrie Gastonny

Radical Publishing

Review by: Jeff Marsick

Let me put this out there first: Garrie Gastonny does phenomenal work, and this issue is probably even better than the first. But his Gwen should be the definitive Mary Jane Watson. In fact, Marvel should hire him just to draw MJ in every Spidey book from now on. (Is it wrong to fall in love with a two-dimensional rendering of a fictional character?)

Questions of my mental faculty aside, this King Arthur-meets-the-Wild West tale continues, and this issue re-imagines the famous sword-in-the-stone moment. It’s cleverly done, with Arthur’s cousin Kay competing in a local shooting contest while his uncle Hector goes about trying to legally acquire property that belongs to Arthur. The shaman, Jean Michel Whitefeather, has set up a carny booth with that mystical gun from issue one, inviting one and all for merely a dime to heft it and knock a can over. Of course, only the chosen one can get the dadburned thing to blam, and Jean Michel’s faith in his cause soon begins to wither as unworthy after unworthy fails the task. When Kay wins the tourney and his Cossack competitor cries foul and takes revenge, the pivotal moment in Arthurian legend happens, Jean Michel’s faith is restored, and Arthur Pendergon’s life suddenly becomes a whole lot more complicated. And what role will the lethal gunslinger Lance Lake play in the new mythology when he’s hired to find and kill Arthur?

This is a fantastic series so far and this issue, with its Tombstone feel, is action packed. Yet, while I applaud the creativity behind making work a re-telling of a legend in a different time and space, there were a couple details that I wish had been catered to in order to make it an even tighter read. For instance, when Morgan reads the Tarot cards for her mysterious stranger, the meaning of the cards shouldn’t be exactly face value; just because Death comes up doesn’t mean someone’s soon to put on the wooden overcoat, nor does Justice mean here come da Judge. It’s not Mr. Sarkar’s fault, really. Everyone does it. The occult though, especially Tarot, is a complicated tapestry to weave and I long for a day when a writer actually shows it. I also question why, if this is the Wild West, and knowing Arthur’s history with violence, how come he isn’t heeled? He’s certainly old enough. Nitpicky, maybe, since if he was sporting a wheelgun he’d never have reason to go to Jean Michel’s booth, but I thought it was a little out of place.

Don’t get me wrong: the book is certainly a wonderful read. Not as fluid in storytelling as Radical’s Hercules, since the scenes aren’t always clear as to what is going on or why (actually a product of the writing and not the art), and the distance between points A and B can sometimes be a little too wide a breach to broach on a first read, but it is beautiful and smart and innovative nonetheless. It is definitely worth adding to any mythologist’s pull list, even if the price tag has gone up from the initial buck a book to $2.99.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go cut out Gwen’s picture and put it in a frame.

Kirby Five-Oh!

From: TwoMorrows Publishing

Written by: John Morrow

Reviewed by Tim Janson

If you’re a fan of Jack Kirby’s, the last few months have been a boon for you. First we had the outstanding book ‘Kirby, King of Comics” published by Abrams Books and now TwoMorrows Publishing has delivered “Kirby Five-Oh”. This is actually a very special fiftieth issue of TwoMorrow’s Kirby Collector Magazine only this is no mere magazine. This is a treasury-sized trade paperback book, which is filled with Kirby artwork, much of it unpublished, or being seen for the first time in decades. As a fiftieth issue, Editor John Morrow presents readers with lists of the fifty best Kirby stories, covers, unused pieces of art, and character designs along with a fifty page Kirby art gallery, and fifty people who have been influenced by the “King”.

The fifty best stories is a bit misleading. Rather than pick the fifty best Kirby stories, the panel of Kirby experts chose the best Kirby story by year, starting with Jack’s first comic book work in Jumbo Comics #1 from 1938. It probably wasn’t easy picking a best Kirby story in the late 40s and into the 1950s. By that time, superhero titles had nearly all disappeared and Jack took work wherever he could. He found himself doing a lot of romance and western comics but in 1956 he did a story for Astonishing which represented his first Silver Age work for Marvel, called Atlas at the time.

It also had to be quite hard to pick a best Kirby story once you got into the 1960s because there was just so many to choose them. This decade featured so many great creations and stories but making the cut are “The Sub-Mariner Vs. the Human Race” from Fantastic Four Annual #1 (1963), The Galactus Trilogy from 1966, and the Madbomb Saga from Captain America #193 – 200 (1976). This storyline was Jack’s triumphant return to the character he helped to create 35 years earlier.

The lists are enjoyable reading but the real attraction is the bounty of Kirby art. All 50 of the best covers are reprinted along with comments from many notable comic artists and writers including George Perez, Russ Heath, Dave Stevens, and Alex Ross. There’s also a lot of great photos of jack from throughout his life, both working and also with his family. The book concludes with 50 short interviews, and comments from creators who’ve been influenced by Jack. Even people who are considered comic legends in their own right like Alan Moore, Alex Ross, and John Romita Sr., still revere Jack Kirby. Jack may be gone but thanks to publishers like TwoMorrows, his work continues to live on.

Living With the Dead TPB

From: Dark Horse Comics

Written by: Mike Richardson

Art: Ben Stenbeck

Reviewed by Tim Janson

This trade paperback collects the three-issue mini series published by Dark Horse Comics. Living with the Dead is kind of like Shaun of the Dead meets a Bob Hope & Bing Crosby “Road” picture, and if that reference seems dated then sue me for being an old fart. Essentially the story is a buddy picture about a couple of guys surviving as best they can amidst a zombie virus outbreak to which they are seemingly immune. Straw is named after the term given to Ex-Yankees Slugger, Reggie Jackson, who was often referred to as the straw that stirs the drink in New York. Whip—well, he can’t seem to remember how he got his name. The aspiring actor and chef is clearly not the brains of the duo, but he means well.

The pair has found a clever way to avoid the zombies - put on Halloween masks and go about uttering the word “Brains” in order to fool the real undead. It’s silly and clearly inspired by Shaun of the Dead, but still funny, particularly since the masks really don’t resemble zombies all that much. A well-placed wrench is thrown into their usual routines of food runs and electronics looting when they spot a girl, the first other human they’ve seen in a very long time. They arrive to her rescue, fending off a horde of zombies and getting her safely back to their home, and that’s where the real trouble begins.

Like the Hope & Crosby Road movies, it’s always a damn woman that comes between friends and gets them to start acting like jealous twits. It’s not long before each is doing his best to outplay the other for Betty’s attention. They resort to spiking drinks and leaving their buddy alone and at the mercy of the zombies, all so they can get some alone time with the tramp..err…Betty. Dark Horse Publisher, Mike Richardson, wrote the story and while not all of the gags work, I for one appreciated this spoof on old Hollywood “buddy” films and thought Richardson did a great job. One of the best things about the series was the art of Stenbeck, which had an old school, EC Comics flair. I anticipate that Dark Horse will be delivering more Straw and Whip adventures very soon. The book contains extras such as your own cutout masks (although the trade version is smaller than comic size so it’s only good for kids) and some of Whip’s favorite recipes.

PELLET REVIEWS!

Crime SuspenStories (Gemstone; by Mike): The EC crew, led this time by master storyteller Johnny Craig, are showcased in another six-issue, recolored hardcover compendium of 1950s, comics-changing tales. Craig's superb pacing and noir panels are the book's highlight, with his fellows including Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Kamen, Wally Wood and Graham Ingels, among others, only slightly off the pace. Certain of the stories may seem slightly predictable by today's standards, but you cannot discount how revolutionary these comics were at the time. Artistically, they remain among the best comics ever published, and text pieces by Max Allan Collins break down each issue's strengths and weaknesses honestly and intelligently.

Angel #1 of 5 (Marvel: Reviewed by Andersen): When I first heard about this book I thought, “Oh gosh, do we really need an origin story for the most boring X-Men of them all?” I mean really, Angel debuted like 40 years ago and we are just now getting a back-story? Was anyone clamoring for this? Angel has never been a very interesting X-Character, except maybe when he was blue and blade-y as Archangel. So I reluctantly picked up the comic, which I did largely out of devotion to the often poetic writing of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. So goodness gracious am I glad I did. The story was thoroughly entertaining and engrossing, but the art, by heavens, the art by Adam Pollina is simply superb! Pollina’s art is alive with energy, oh-so-creative, and visually stunning. I loved every panel, especially the art-y way in which Pollina used Angel’s scarf as an artistic flourish. Great story, even greater art!

Firebreather #1 (Image: Reviewed by Andersen): I was a huge fan of the original Firebreather series when it debuted years ago, along with Invincible. I picked up both books at the same time and have stuck by Invincible (all these years) while lamenting the fact that Firebreather ended not too long after it begun. So hip-hop hurray (and how happy am I) that Firebreather has returned with as much vigor and energy as I remember. You don’t have to have read the first story to dive into and enjoy this book. Firebreather is pure comic goodness, a superhero tale with a twist. It’s not every day we have a comic about a teenage hero who is the son of a giant, evil-ish dragon, and a normal, human mother (don’t ask me how that works, I can’t even image). I highly recommend this quirky series; it’s fun, it’s exciting, and it’s fresh. Can’t wait to see where the book goes!

She-Hulk #29 (Marvel: Reviewed by Andersen): Shulkie is still hanging out in prison, and bonding with her humorously straight-talking co-jail-buddy Monique, when we get the story of how the green-gal was disbarred from being a lawyer. Loved this issue! In a single issue writer Peter David somehow manages to weave as many twists and turns and character rich moments then most bloated comics develop in a six issue arch. It’s great to see a character’s internal moral and metaphysical struggle that isn’t forced or just another superheroic cliché. She-Hulk’s latest inner battles have been more powerfully real and rich than anything the character has possibly ever dealt with, and the shocking ending is so terrifically written that it makes the reader pumped for the next issue. If you aren’t supporting and reading She-Hulk then you are totally missing out.

Ms. Marvel #27 (Marvel: Reviewed by Andersen): Train wreck characterization of Ms. Marvel streams ahead in this Secret Invasion tie-in. I just don’t get why Ms. Marvel is such a major screw-up and why she is, more often than not, totally unlikable. Here we have a powerful female hero who is beset with failure after failure after big-time loser failure. Her choices are time and again idiotic and questionable and there doesn’t seem to be any signs of maturity or depth around the horizon. Why does writer Brian Reed insist on making this great character so totally sad? What’s up with this Marvel? If this character is supposed to be your “Wonder Woman” then let’s give the gal a little respect. Or at least a morsel of self-respect. But no, what we get is Ms. Marvel knocking boots with Wonder Man; someone she decided a few issues ago might be more like a brother/friend. Ugh. For real? I am all for the lady getting some much needed heat in the sheets, but does it have to be in a manner the character is going to only going to regret later? Time to remind us readers why Ms. Marvel is a superhero and not a super-screw-up. Oh, and please bring back artist Adriana Melo, the book, and Ms. Marvel, needs her!

Green Lantern #31 (DC Comics; Reviewed by Richard): As someone who does not know much about the history of Hal Jordan, I’m finding Geoff Johns current story arc quite informational. Unfortunately, it seems to be moving at a snail’s pace while, I assume, we wait for some more Final Crisis fall-out that will propel us into the next Lantern Storyline. I don’t mind this approach per se, but it would really serve the story better if there was a balance between telling Hal’s secret origin and expanding on the Green Lanterns current problems in the present. Ivan Reis continues to impress on the art front, but as this issue had very little action, his duties were minimized to more talking heads than anything else; in the hands of a lesser artist, this may have made the issue more pedestrian, but fortunately, even without page after page of action, Reis continues to bring his A game to the title.

Uncanny X-Men #498 (Marvel; by Lucas): BERSERKER RAGE!!!! Oh hell yes. We haven't seen Wolvie really cut loose in so long, it was refreshing to see it done here. Mike Choi and Sonia Oback are one hell of an art team, drawing beautiful women, strong men, fast action, interesting conversation, one scary-looking rendition of Omega Red, and the absolute coolest Nightcrawler teleportation I've ever seen. Oh, and there was that awesome, albeit brief, BERSERKER RAGE! The San Francisco plot didn't move quite as far along as some may have liked, but the Russia one made up for it, going full tilt. This was easily Brubaker's best single issue of Uncanny yet. He seems to have benefited more from the post-Messiah CompleX move than anyone else, and the comic shows that by getting better every month. Only one more until the big five-oh-oh. Can't wait!

Immortal Iron Fist #15 (Marvel; by Lucas): The run is almost over, and Fraction is making sure they'll be missed. We meet another old Iron Fist in this issue, and it reads like a story book. A beautifully illustrated, perfectly written story book, that is. Here we see Bei Bang-Wen's story, as he meets another earthly agent of the heavens, and journeys to overcome self-doubt and guilt. The story plays out with parallels, and shows how inner strength can be overcome by inner conflict; and vice versa. Khari Evans' artwork, like the writing, is dynamic and entertaining. For some reason, I'm always surprised by how good this book is. It usually sits in the dead middle of my pile. Yet, I come away from it every month feeling like I've read an all time great story. One more Fraction/Aja issue, then Dwayne Swierczynski has some HUGE shoes to fill.

Batman #677 (DC Comics; review by Rev. O.J. Flow): Not to say that this is a seminal issue in the legend that is the Dark Knight (Who knows? It may be when this story is all said and done.), but it may very well make you question your belief system with the character and his back story. In the race between questions and answers, questions are still enjoying a comfortable lead, and we're probably a good two or three issues away from some conclusive answers. In a good way, there were at least a couple of choice instances where I found myself saying to myself "You know? I hadn't thought of that before." The Black Glove, led by Doctor Hurt, finally takes the fight to Batman, and I'm still wondering if we're going to see Jezebel Jet in a different light by "Batman R.I.P"'s conclusion. Writer Grant Morrison keeps the energy manic, and he seems quite prepared to turn Bruce Wayne on his ear. Tony Daniel's definitely holding up his end of the bargain with some dazzling visuals. I'm not thrilled with the prospect of following "Batman R.I.P." via titles I don't normally pick up, but I'm confident that the juiciest parts of this story will be found in the main title here. I'm also looking forward to see the pace picked up when the Club of Villains really starts to unload on the Dark Knight and those closest to him. Things aren't looking to good for Alfred Pennyworth. Who's next?

All Star Superman #11 (DC Comics; review by O.J.): If you are a Grant Morrison fan, you had to be in hog heaven, as DC's resident mad genius saw three different books hit the stands this last week. Morrison could've had a DOZEN different books hit and I doubt any could've topped the penultimate issue of this spectacular series. Makes me borderline nauseous to think that we're only getting one more issue. *sadface* Again, Morrison, Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant render Lex Luthor deliciously wicked and it more than makes up for the fact that they never dug all that deep into Superman's rogues gallery. Since everything they've touched in this series turned to gold, it would've been pretty groovy to see their takes on Brainiac, Toyman, Terra Man or the Prankster. Though, to be fair, Solaris here kicked much ass. Issue #11 ends on a rather bleak and dire note, but I have no doubt that Morrison and company are ready to end things in awe-inspiring fashion.

Action Comics #865 (DC Comics; review by O.J.): Going off what we got last issue, I half wondered if the new title of this book was "Action Comics starring Batman." The Dark Knight gets as much page time as the Man of Steel, but it works for the most part. Geoff Johns continues his hot streak of breathing new life into Superman villains. Fifteen years ago, Dan Jurgens took one of Superman's less intimidating adversaries down a dark road from which he's never looked back, and Johns, with a quality assist from guest artist Jesus Merino, brings things full circle. There's been multiple "Toymen" buzzing around various books over the last couple of years, and it was nice to see some things consolidated. In a series of flashbacks told by Winslow Schott to the captive Jimmy Olsen, Merino's visuals bear a striking resemblance to Tim Sale's work, not a bad thing, really. When Johns worked on The Flash, he delivered some stellar one-shot stories spotlighting different Rogues. If he does those more often between the bigger multi-part epics like here, I will consider him my hero.

Shadowpact #25 (DC; by Troy): Shadowpact closes its run with an overly busy final chapter involving all the Shadowpacts from all points of time taking on the Sun King. Phil Winslade’s art is decent (though many, many pages are background-free), and credit writer Matthew Sturges for trying to sneak in a couple of more story seeds that other writers could pick up at some point. For the most part, Shadowpact was a fun idea that just didn’t click with the larger readership. I know that they’re appearing in Reign in Hell, but I’d actually like to see them get a breather and return in a mini that could maybe play to the characters’ strengths, rather than trying to shoehorn too much into the busy, meandering plots that plagued the run.

Ultimate Spider-Man #122 (Marvel; by Troy): This stellar stand-alone issue revisits one of Bendis’s favorite doormats from his run: the Shocker. Used primarily over the course of a series as joke villain that’s easily defeated by Spidey at every turn, the Shocker ends up having a lucky day and finding Spider-Man at his mercy. What follows is an interesting bit of character analysis as we see how his perennial loser nature formed and how it impacts him. This is smartly juxtaposed with MJ and Kitty Pryde working to save the wall-crawler. It’s a great single issue of super-hero comics that ends on a dark punchline. Fantastic work by all involved.

King-Size Hulk #1 (Marvel; by Troy): This is one of those examples of not-enough-killer and too-much-filler. The three small original bits that lead off the issue are quite good, and are actually the most incisive character work that writer Jeph Loeb has done on the Hulk book so far. The first two feature simply outstanding art by Art Adams and Frank Cho; Adams comes out ahead with his quirky reworking of the Wendigo. Herb Trimpe does the third part, and while it’s nice to see some old-school guys doing contemporary work, he was never a favorite of mine at the time. The rest of the special is padded out with the seemingly oft-reprinted two-part Wendigo tale that introduced Wolverine, and the Avengers issue with the Lady Liberators story. If this was done to reintroduce Valkyrie to readers (since we know that she was at least previewed for the forthcoming Hulk figure line), it’s an odd choice (considering that she’s revealed to be a masquerading Enchantress by issue’s end). So, the first three sections could have been a regular issue of the book, thus sparing expense to the regular readers.

X-Men Legacy #212 (Marvel; by Troy): Another great David Finch cover (really, this one is gorgeous) leads into Mike Carey’s Gambit rehabilitation project. I mentioned before that I like the idea of Professor X in the investigator role; I like Gambit as his sidekick even more (it’s like a mutant Streets of San Francisco; what is it with the X-books and San Fran these days?). Eaton’s doing a bang-up job on the “present-day” art, and he’s ably assisted this time on “flashback detail” by Mike Deodato. It’s good to see Charles actually dealing with some of his (much-deserved) guilt on a continuing basis, and I’m really intrigued by that last page. Good stuff.

Thor #9 (Marvel; by Troy): Straczynski lets the spotlight shift to some of the other Asgardians this issue. Loki is up to his . . . er, her . . . old tricks, sowing dissention with one of his/her favorite old targets, Balder. Volstagg toys with the idea of joining an Avengers team (yes, please), William visits Kelda, and some Frost Giants get mixed up with the wrong gods. Coipel and his armada of inkers make everything look top-shelf. Thor has quickly developed into a reliable read.

Fables #73 (Vertigo; by Troy): Great writing on great characters? Check. Terrific art? Check? Another exemplary chapter in one of the best ongoing series in comics? Check. This could go on five more years and still end too soon.

Advance Pellets

Red Sonja #34 (Dynamite; by Troy): Sonja’s river voyage comes to an end with a couple of big surprises. That there would be a test at the end is no surprise, but there’s a mild shock upon discovering the architect of the journey (and I don’t just mean new writer Brian Reed). The big change comes at the very end, and it’s quite a bold take for the character. It’ll be interesting to see how Reed mines this shake-up going forward. And it’s always great to see Mel Rubi on art.

The Boys #19 (Dynamite; by Troy): Ennis and Robertson dig in to more of the history of their world here as Hughie talks at length to the Legend. Inasmuch as the humor of the book is a big selling point, this issue throws the focus more on an intricate web of dark conspiracy. It’s a good balance to some of the outrageous stuff that we see regularly, and should help set the tone of several arcs going forward. It’s a tribute to Robertson that he can make all the discussion compelling, but Ennis also needs the tip of the hat for giving Robertson a smart narrative to work with in the first place.

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