Best Shots for 08/04 - Thor #10, Trinity #9, More

Best Shots for 08/04

Your Host: Troy Brownfield

Greetings! Welcome back to the big column. First, links to our Best Shots Extra from this week . . .

Justice Society of America Annual #1

And now, regular reviews . . .

Thor #10

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski

Artist: Oliver Coipel

From: Marvel Comics

Reviewed by: Richard Renteria

Much like his work on Squadron Supreme, J. Michael Straczynski is taking a slow-burn approach to reintroducing Thor into the Marvel Universe. Rather than focusing on his role in the wider shared universe, JMS has instead narrowly focused his story on Thor’s attempt to recreate Asgard and the dangers that lie within. Utilizing Oliver Coipel’s emotive art to great effect, JMS weaves a tale of powerful gods coming to grips with their new status quo as one of their own sows the seed of discord utilizing an even greater power than lies – truth.

Anyone who has been following the monthly Thor title knows just how sinister and cunning the new female Loki has become under the talented writing skills of JMS. Much like his writing of Loki’s handling of Lady Sif (Loki has ensured her entrapment in the form of a sick and elderly woman), JMS begins to add further layers to the character as Loki begins to manipulate Balder by revealing a truth long hidden from him and all of Asgard.

By freeing Loki of the shackles of her previous life, JMS takes the reader on an emotionally tense ride to reveal the true nature of Balder and Thor’s relationship. I really enjoy how JMS brings in pieces of Norse mythology and infuses them into his overall narrative in an original manner, while still being respectful to the source material.

JMS is not afraid to take license with Norse myth and by utilizing Balder’s role in Ragnarok (Twilight of the Gods), he is able to rationally explain how and why Balder was never told of his princehood. I’m completely enjoying how JMS is writing Loki; by changing the nature of her being, it allows the character a fresh start and allows the reader to believe that she is no longer the prince of lies, but something much more dangerous.

Not content to focus solely on Asgard, JMS does shift gears a few times in the issue to break the tension and allow the reader to see how much of an impact the gods are having on the citizens. The first one worth mentioning is when Bill tells the story of his visit to Asgard. The wonder in the way he told his tale was quite fascinating, but the true impact of the scene happens when a patron basically tells Bill to stop dreaming about something that will never happen. Taking a lesson he learned from his own personal life, JMS reminds Bill and the readers to never let “the tyranny of reasonable voices” dictate your actions and be true to yourself. The scene was a well-thought moment that could have read like an after-school special but manages to come across as sincere and non-preachy.

The other non-Asgard scene that I thought really stood out was the final closing moment. Shortly after Balder tells Loki that she has earned his trust; Loki stares down at a young boy who is looking at her through a telescope, the absolute fear that child felt when Loki saw him was a perfect ending and perfectly captured Loki’s evil nature. The scene also reinforces the absolute brilliance of the title’s artist Oliver Coipel.

Coipel adds a dimension to this title that helps to engage the reader in the story from the opening pages. Coipel’s handling of Loki throughout this issue is masterful as she moves from scene to scene in an almost serpentine manner. Coipel takes great pains to render an astounding range of emotions that fleet across Loki’s face from panel to panel that are very telling. It becomes clear to the reader that Loki is doing a lot of “acting” as she tells her tale and Coipel captures those scenes effortlessly.

From beautiful women to dangerous creatures, Coipel utilizes a mix of panel layouts, splash pages and double page spreads that perfectly delineate each scene. Unfortunately the title does suffer on the art front due to having four inkers sharing duties as the shifts in style are somewhat jarring. Thankfully the title has a colorist that manages to tie the varied styles together so the distraction is minimized. Laura Martin’s stunning colors and realistic palette combined with a mastery of lighting adds to the issues overall excellence.

With some of Thor’s best writing to date and an artist who seems to get better with each issue, J Michael Straczynski and Oliver Coipel continue their amazing run on one of the best titles currently published.

Trinity #9

Writers: Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza

Artists: Mark Bagley and Art Thibert & Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens

Published by DC

Review by Corey Henson

After nine issues, DC's latest weekly series is chugging along dependably. Seemingly random subplots are starting to tie together, and the overall plot is beginning to take shape. Kurt Busiek's encyclopedic knowledge of superheroes is getting an extensive workout, as he's smartly adding more and more characters to the story so that Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman don't need to carry the plot all by themselves. Naturally, Busiek has a perfect handle on all the characters he's writing, especially the eponymous Trinity. Perhaps the best part of the series is Busiek's exploration of the relationship between Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, and of how outsiders perceive them. His character work is the heart of the series, and it gives the book a depth that you might not normally see in stories involving all three at once.

If one wanted to nitpick, one could say that after nine issues, there haven't been any truly exciting, "Holy crap I can't wait for the next issue" moments as of yet. (It is a 52 issue series, so naturally, the plot is bound to progress rather leisurely. Slow and steady wins the race.) However, with the introduction of the Crime Syndicate into the mix, business, as they say, is about to pick up.

Trinity earns its $3 a week commitment on the strength of Mark Bagley's artwork alone. Through his work on New Warriors, Thunderbolts, and the thousands of Spider-Man pages he's drawn, Bagley has cemented his place as one of the premier superhero artists of his generation. It's terrific fun to see him drawing some of DC's most important characters after spending his entire career at Marvel, and Busiek has filled Trinity with a wide range of characters beyond the three leads. Bagley's renditions of Superman and Wonder Woman are fantastic, and if his Batman seems a bit generic, it's mostly because there's a long list of legends like Neal Adams, Jim Aparo and Frank Miller who've drawn definitive versions of the Dark Knight. Bagley's versions of the supporting cast, such as the Justice League, are also great. I'm particularly fond of his Robin, which is darn near perfect.

This issues back-up story features Nightwing's showdown with Swashbuckler, a swarthy villain who's been going around swiping various DC character's trademark artifacts. The last page cliffhanger is rather silly though, and I'm not sure if Busiek and co-writer Fabian Nicieza can make it work without coming off as entirely ridiculous. It's always a treat to see Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens drawing the back-up stories, though. McDaniel's storytelling can occasionally get a bit wonky (the page where Swashbuckler snags Nightwing's mask isn't entirely successful due to the way the former's sword intersects with the preceding panel), but his layouts and action scenes are always dynamic and exciting.

It's one thing to obsessively collect a monthly title, but it takes a strong commitment to follow a 52-issue mini-series. I didn't even make it to the halfway point of 52, and I didn't even bother with Countdown. (Based on what I've heard of the series, I'm glad I didn't.) But with a strong creative team and a focus on DC's most important characters, I think Trinity is going to be much easier to follow over the course of the next year.

The Core

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Kenneth Rocafort

Published by Top Cow

Review by Sarah Jaffe

The Core is one of the last of Top Cow’s Pilot Season, where six books are debuted and readers vote on which ones should get their own ongoing series. Writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Kenneth Rocafort have created a sci-fi tale of a sort of intergalactic Special Forces unit, welcoming its first human member.

This issue focuses on the induction of Asimov Dedeken (there’s a clunkily obvious reference for you) and his training with a group of extraterrestrials who all have their own reasons for distrusting the kid. He’s exuberant, though, and when his team is sent on a rescue mission, he manages to prove himself to those around him—and, of course, to his dad.

Kenneth Rocafort I loved from Madame Mirage, and he’s great here as well, with pages that quite often do away with traditional panels and set glowingly human faces against staggering spaceships. If you’re into futurism and space travel, you’ll want this book for the art alone.

Hickman’s The Nightly News was excellent, but here he seems stifled a bit by sci-fi conventions. This feels equal parts Blood of Heroes (yes, I did just reference a terrible 80s Rutger Hauer flick), B.P.R.D., and Star Wars, with a rather unremarkable plot twist at the end and a thoroughly hollow female lead. “Failure is forever, so we do not” is a little too close to “Do or do not, there is no try,” for me.

The inter-planetary intrigue and double-dealing going on in the background while the pretty-boy hero is innocently learning the ropes of his new life is standard issue, and I’d like to have seen a little more risk-taking on a book like this, that’s essentially a chance to float whatever kind of crazy story you’d like to do and see if it takes with the fans. The Pilot Season idea is a good one, and it could be better used testing out unusual pitches to see if they’ll work, rather than having fairly established creators knock out books they could probably get published on their own.

And, well, I love how the female character goes from finding the lead completely useless to, well, “teaching” him a few things in the space of a few pages. I don’t ask for female leads in every story, but when there is one, can she please not end up being just the love interest all the time?

I wanted the story to live up to the art, and so far here it hasn’t. It’s not a bad comic at all—it’s fast-paced and you get a full story in the 32 pages, plus a teaser for more if this one does make it through the voting process that is Top Cow’s Pilot Season. It’s certainly worth a look. But I expected more originality from the guy behind The Nightly News than this.

Freedom Formula #1

Writer: Edmund Shern

Artists: Chester Ocampo and Kai

Radical Comics

Review by: Jeff Marsick

If an alien observer came to jot some notes on their Phase II clinical trial called “Earth”, they would likely make the judgment that Man’s propensities are to make war and to race. Humans will race anyone in anything at any time. From the hundred meter-dash to Fox’s “Man Versus Beast” to connoisseurs of fine Budweiser astride John Deeres running perverse versions of the Daytona 500, there’s not been a beast or vehicle humans haven’t tried to ride or race in a giddy up against other humans. Of course, the more dangerous or outrageous the effort, the more people are drawn to racing’s supplemental sport of spectating.

Therein lays the foundation of Freedom Formula. In the aftermath of a global meltdown called the Great Government Wars, humanity tries to reunite and celebrate freedom of oppression by creating the Formula Infinity racing series. In the Infinity series, weapons of war called Vicious Cycle Exosuits (or VX), are driven by genetically modified pilots across long-distance course. The vehicles are gorgeous, a cross between a Vari-Tech fighter and a Zentraedi battle pod from Robotech, and the racing is pure Formula One. The problem is, give Frankenstein the keys to a Ferrari and the devastating consequences should be expected.

A delivery boy named Zee, riding a Yugo-like dusthopper across the race course discovers firsthand how destructive the VXs can be when the pilot develops a mind of his own. In the aftermath of the incident, Zee hops a helicopter flight to Los Petropolis to hand off his package on behalf of his estranged dead father to a shadowy figure and biological abomination called the Rev. Unfortunately, the Rev’s never heard of Zee’s father, and that doesn’t bode well for Zee’s life expectancy.

This is the year’s most gorgeous book. The action leaps off the page with such force that when the pit truck crashes into a busload of spectators over a two-page splash, you’re inclined to duck so as to avoid flying debris. The visual storytelling is fantastic, without large leaps from scene to scene or massive decompression so as to allow for money-shot scenes that readers can ooh and ahh over. The art team uses several different display techniques throughout the book that the story seems almost to morph with each turning of the page. I would love to see this art team tackle Iron Man or even the Transformers.

The story itself is fascinating, especially to this fan of auto and air racing. The elements of Formula One racing are all there, which lends a nice verisimilitude to the mix. For example, when the VXs need to pit, they ride up onto a mobile pit box called the Pit Bull, just like KITT would do with his support semi. Fuel and repairs are effected at ludicrous speed, and then the racer is released and running. Racing stories are usually fairly linear and it’s probably easy to suss out where this first issue’s events are heading. Still, the reader can appreciate how much fun the upcoming issues are going to be, and why this book has been optioned to be made into a movie.

I’ve been a Radical Comics fan since their debut with Hercules: The Thracian Wars and Caliber: First Canon of Justice. Freedom Formula is their best production so far. Everyone should be reading this.

Wildcats: World’s End #1

From: Wildstorm/DC

Writer: Christos Gage

Art: Neil Googe, Trevor Hairsine

Review by Jamie Trecker

Wildcats #1 is a new comic book. It is not to be confused with the Wildcats #1 that came and sank back in 2006. Nor should it be mistaken for WildC.A.T.S. #1, Wildcats #1 (V2) or Wildcats Version 3.0 #1.

Despite the ordinal number, this book isn’t really a “#1”, because the series follows a “reboot” of the “WildStorm Universe.” This might remind you of — but it isn’t related to — the “WorldStorm” event a couple years back, or the reboot that followed after WildStorm (the company, not the universe nor the comic) got bought by DC Comics a few years back.

Sound confusing? We haven’t even begun! Apparently, to understand this book, you should have been reading (deep breath) the “Number of the Beast” miniseries, the “Captain Atom” mini and the “Armageddon” and “Revelations” titles. So, arguably, from a reader’s point of view, this is really the twenty-ninth issue in a series of recent books.

For my money, any book that purports to be the first in a series or, as we like to say, a “natural jumping-on point,” but requires arcane and convoluted knowledge to figure out what the heck is going on is a bit of a gyp. Reboots are supposed to make things easier, not more complex, yes?

So, I’ll save you the $100 bucks: In a nutshell, the Wildstorm universe done got itself blowed-up again, and Earth is now a post-apocalyptic dystopia with lots of super-powered folks behaving badly.

In this book, Gage’s writing is serviceable at best. It’s hard not to feel that he’s just going through the motions with a group of characters that have never really gained depth or individuality. It’s worth noting that the perkiest character in the book’s lineup— Maxine Manchester, the somewhat sociopathic cyborg — was created by Alan Moore back when WildC.A.T.S. was being penned by a suite of stars. But “Ladytron” is now better known for lending her handle to a deft techno band and as a character, she hasn’t really developed.

Neil Googe’s art is lazy as well. He’s unable to give the “standing around talking scenes” in the book pizzazz and his characters’ faces all lack definition. Trevor Hairsine’s work on the backup story — a four-pager about Team 7’s “Lynch” — has personality but looks muddy. Neither artist’s work is good enough to advance the story without dialogue.

Since I did happen to read the aforementioned twenty-six books, I can tell you that Chris Sprouse’ work on the ill-named “Number of the Beast” mini is superb, and that if you’re looking to jump on board with the WildStorm universe, that would be the place to start.

Joker's Asylum: Two-Face

Story by David Hine

Art by Andy Clarke

Published by DC Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

This is the last issue of the "Joker's Asylum" one-shot series, and I'm kind of disappointed in it. While it does have an interesting concept, it just seems a little too hoaky when it's actually pulled off. It's almost like something Two-Face would have done...forty years ago. I really don't have a problem with the set up, just the execution. It just seemed a little too difficult for Harvey, where things should always be simple, since everything he sees is just black or white.

The art of Andy Clarke (Superman/Batman, Face to Face) reminds me of Kevin Maguire, especially how he uses facial expressions so well. However, it sometimes looks as if the characters are going stiff. The movements are as fluid or human as I would like them. It's complete hit or miss with the panels. The coloring is alright, though I think the real problem maybe in the inking. Just SOMETHING did not mesh well for me, which surprises me since Clarke is no stranger to drawing Harvey. In the other "chapters" of this mini-series, Joker is drawn from anywhere to a mod style looking alien, to true sinister clown. Clarke tones it down and makes him appear rather plain and not all that menacing.

The interesting part of the story is that while I was reading it, I felt as if I've seen this story before. Then it hit me. It's similar to the story "Cut" on 3...Extremes . Well, that's how it seems to me anyways. At the end though, Hine finds a clever way to end the issue, I won't spoil it, but it's very open-ended. Have a coin ready.

True Believers #1

From: Marvel

Writer: Cary Bates

Art: Paul Gulacy

Review by Jamie Trecker

A long time ago, Cary Bates was the young turk at DC Comics, selling cover ideas to Mort Weisinger and Julie Schwartz when he was 13 , and moving on to pen Justice League, Legion and assorted Superman comics within four years. A DC fixture for two decades, he was the hysterical longhair of the company, penning storylines that veered from polemic to nonsense. Famously, he even inserted himself into a Justice League storyline is one of the most groan-inducing “Crisis” crossovers of the 1970s.

But Bates is probably best remembered by fans as the man who “destroyed” Barry Allen, writing the infamous series wherein Allen’s wife is killed and the Flash is framed for the murder, setting him up to be bumped off in the “Crisis On Infinite Earths” series. (Recently, DC’s Bob Wayne joked that it was the “Slowest Story Ever Printed.")

The True Believers limited series marks Bates’ return to comics and it picks up pretty much where he left off: the titular heroes are a group of self-styled “revolutionaries,” adept at computer hacking and gifted with a seemingly unlimited tech budget. Their mission? To plumb to sleazier side of the Marvel Universe, ferreting out the misdeeds of heroes and politicians paparazzi style.

How is it? Pretty darn good.

This is a textbook “first issue” with a taut framework. In 22 pages Bates has introduced a slew of new characters, set up possible motivations and pitfalls, placed the story firmly in the center of the MU and steers clear of his weakness for hammy dialogue. The book is sleek and efficient, and very entertaining.

Paul Gulacy’s art is an acquired taste — “distinctive” is an understatement — and his long faces, odd noses and moody fills aren’t for everyone. On this book, I think it works well. Each character is immediately identifiable by face alone and Gulacy’s breakdowns and pacing are masterly.

Subsequent issues will see just how the True Believers came to be (it involves Luke Cage and the Venom symbiote, according to Marvel’s solicits) and if the next five issues are as attention-grabbing as this one, Marvel might just have a clever new team on its hands. As it is, issue one is certainly worth a look right now.

Ordinary Victories vol. 2: What is Precious

Written & Illustrated by Manu Larcenet

Colored by Patrice Larcenet

Translated by Joe Johnson

Published by NBM

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

Ordinary Victories is basic human drama, the life story of a photo journalist Marco, who struggles through the aftermath of his father’s suicide, including discovering secrets of his father’s wartime past and witnessing the economic shutdown of the industrial shipyard that supported their community for a generation. All of which is simply prelude to Marco’s own turn at fatherhood.

Larcenet, a fast-rising name in Europe, has been acclaimed for his four-book Ordinary Victories series, the final two of which are included in this English-language edition, and it’s easy to see why he’s gained such a following. At turns philosophical, human, sad, funny and always intelligent, Larcenet’s book is a meditation on the daily foibles that make up our lives. Marco’s wife tells him that it’s not important for him to be right when the couple’s daughter, Maude, argues with them; it’s important that Maude be made to understand why she’s wrong – that simple daily discovery is the sort of human complexity is showcased throughout the book.

From Marco’s somber and resolute mother carrying on in the aftermath of tragedy to shipyard veteran Pablo’s social and economic pontificating, each character’s voice is distinct and carefully crafted. With each new personal interaction, Marco is subtly affected, yet his core personality, his brusqueness and hostility, his righteous indignation, remains throughout. Even the comfortable ease with which Marco and his wife discuss – or argue over – elements of their lives reminds readers of an actual couple who’ve had this debate before and know the quirks of the other’s strident demands.

Loose and lively, Larcenet’s artwork captures the emotional and physical realities of his characters without any pretense at a “realistic” style. The character acting carries the scenes, and Larcenet’s ability to play with shadows and blacks makes the contract between day and night, as well as between rural and urban settings, as much a part of the narrative as the characters’ dialogue.

With the door to the American market seemingly kicked down by their Japanese comic book brethren, European creators seem to finally be establishing a beachhead in the U.S. comic market, with companies like NBM leading the way. When a book is as intelligent, philosophically sound, and astutely humorous as Manu Larcenet’s Ordinary Victories, the quality should be the only consideration not the country of origin. The quality is high, so hopefully readers are paying attention.

Bluesman

Written by Rob Vollmar

Illustrated by Pablo G. Callejo

Published by NBM

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

Lem and Ironwood are traveling bluesmen, moving from juke house to juke house, eking out a living on the road. When Ironwood’s liaison with a young black woman puts them afoul of a bitter white man, Lem winds up on the run, accused of a murder he had no part in.

Vollmar’s script is a good one. He’s able to capture dialects without resorting to heavy-handed phonetic spellings that bog the reading down. The characters each have their own driving motivation, coming across as a fully realized being with their own sense of morality and humanity. Strong twists keep the story moving briskly, and the tension is palpable when Lem, barkeep Shug or the sheriff runs into trouble. Some of the incidental characters, such as well-meaning furniture salesman/music talent scout J.L. Dougherty, are intriguingly multi-faceted, though a few supporting players (Lem’s fellow refugee Simon, for example) feels as if they’re filling a proscribed role, rather than being individual characters unto themselves.

The book’s biggest obstacle is simply the wealth of quality material about the struggle of minorities in the segregated, post-Civil War South. Colonel Bilyeu, racist bastard that he is, pursuer of a man he only wishes were his son’s killer, is threatening to Lem, but at no point does Bilyeu come across as anything other than a token upper-class, Southern bigot. Similarly, the sheriff fills the role of the sympathetic white, there to protect the oppressed black man. Bluesman’s big finale also leaves a slightly awkward taste in the mouth. Though Lem’s familiarity with religion and faith is established early and supported by an engaging flashback, Lem’s true love always seems to be his music. Thus, the religious faith he displays in the finale, in the face of a (apparently literal) deux ex machina storm, may knock readers out of the narrative.

 

With a woodcut look, the art by Pablo Callejo captures the rustic quality of life in the 1920s. The drawbacks to the style are slightly stiff characters and occasional muddy panels from the overlapping lines, but Callejo’s strong character designs and nuanced body language and facial expressions easily overcome the occasional sticking point. Each character is easy to identify, just as each is immediately recognizable as black, white or Indian without any ethnic caricaturing. Adhering almost always to a three-tier page layout, Callejo’s storytelling is strong throughout, and he’s able to use camera angles and zooms to add drama and tension at the appropriate moments. It’s tremendous work and Callejo is a talent to watch for.

Bluesman doesn’t quite transcend its inspirations, but the importance of its story isn’t at all diminished. Filled with recognizable characters struggling against society’s biases, Bluesman is an engagingly told comic book about an important time in American history. Supported by the power of Pablo Callejo’s illustrations, Rob Vollmar’s script captures the fear of persecution and the nobility of spirit of many persecuted minorities.

The Essential Batman Encyclopedia

From: Del Rey Books

Written by: Robert Greenberger

Reviewed by Tim Janson

Normally when you see the words “Essential”, “Complete”, or “Indispensable” in the title of a book, it’s a sure sign that it is anything but those words. However in the case of “The Essential Batman Encyclopedia” it is right on the money. This Del Rey book’s release is not just a fluff piece put out to capitalize on the new Dark Knight film but it is an extremely comprehensive guide to Batman’s world. Don’t expect lots of full-page illustrations with a paragraph of information, this is just the opposite. The oversized trade paperback features nearly 400 pages of entries from the major characters to no doubt many you have never heard of before.

Greenberger doesn’t limit his scope to modern day Batman or even Batman of Earth 1. He covers the caped crusader from his earliest days of the golden age right up to the present with a look at allies, villains, storylines, weapons, gadgets, vehicles, and just about everything else. Greenberger also duals his entries meaning that there will be an entry for Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne, but more extended entries for their more well known guises of Two-Face and Batman. In the case of most of the characters, Greenberger notes in what issue the character made his first appearance. Again these range from the minor such as Catspaw Carlin who made his first appearance in Batman #29 in 1945 to major players like Catwoman and Joker.

The book is laid out in alphabetical order and concentrates on the fictional batman world. By that I mean the encyclopedia does not include entries for artists or writers who have worked on the various Batman titles. Now I know that there are people out there that love to pick apart books when they boast a total that includes THOSE words. And I’m sure there might be characters that Greenberger omitted or perhaps information that was not entirely accurate. I say perhaps because I certainly didn’t find any through my perusal of the 400 plus entries. Still, the word is Essential and I found Greenberger’s research and writing to be first rate and definitely befitting of the Batman’s long legacy. The art is taken directly from the comics and there are literally dozens of artists whose work is showcased, everyone from Neal Adams to Mike Zeck. This also includes two 16 page color inserts. This all adds up to a must have book for Batman fans.

PELLET REVIEWS!

Ms. Marvel #29 (Marvel; Reviewed by Brian Andersen): Is this a Ms. Marvel comic or “Chesty La Rue Goes to War?” Not only is this happy-go-lucky, cleavage-flaring cover not representative of the story inside – Ms. Marvel’s continues her bloodthirsty battle with hordes of super-Skrulls – but it just screams “look at these boobies!” With Ms. Marvel knee-deep in the fight of her life, taking out Skrulls left and right with abnormal ease (with only the occasional side-comment telling the reader how “tired” she is), this issue’s cover is a smack in the face to any effort to legitimize the heroine as a bona fide superhero worthy enough to stand next to Spider-Man or Iron Man. All the reader can see is “Boobs! Thar’ be boobs in this book.” Well, that and - once you read the story - wedgies, oh yes, there be wedgies too. Joy! And as for the aforementioned bloodthirsty part? Well, it’s pretty much out of character; this isn’t Ms. Wolverine after all. Although to be fair, Ms. Marvel doesn’t have much of a character to begin with. Perhaps before the series ends she’ll stumble upon one? We can only hope!

Double-Shot Pellet: Justice Society of America Annual #1 (DC Comics; review by Rev. O.J. Flow): If nothing else, this annual is a sublime tribute to the works in the 1980s of writer Roy Thomas. And I do have to say, "Justice Society Infinity" is a brilliant, if not altogether obvious, name for this "new" generation of JSA. The name makes all the sense in the world. A continuation of events in the regular title's main storyline, Power Girl is granted her hearts desire, and it is a classic case of "careful what you wish for." Kara is whisked away to what appears to be her old familiar Earth 2, yet there is many an indication that it is an Earth unlike anything we've ever seen. Geoff Johns can pretty much do the Golden Age characters and all in his sleep these days, but what really sells this whole annual is the gorgeous art of Jerry Ordway (with polished inking by Bob Wiacek). It's like 1985 all over again, and it's the awesome equivalent of Perez doing Titans or Giffen doing the Legion. Aside from tackling characters like the Infinity Inc. and Dr. Fate, Atom and the Hawks like he never left, Ordway gets to take on an old villain that was a welcome surprise. Although I do wish that Justice Society of America Annual #1 answered more questions than it opens up, nothing is addressed here that's needless or uninteresting. You knew that Power Girl wasn't going to find herself back in her old world and everything be wine and roses by any means, but who saw the plot twist Johns threw in at the end? The only thing predictable about the "Earth 2" saga is the fact that I'm following it until the very end, whatever the outcome may be.

Ultimate Spider-Man #124 (Marvel; by Troy): Spider-Man faces a foe that he cannot . . . banter with? The central action of this issue is Spidey’s inaugural contact with the Ultimate Beetle, and it’s a lot of fun. The taciturn villain does his level best to ignore Spider-Man, and never speaks to him, all of which forces Spidey into constant prattling. Bendis, Immonen and the rest do the usual great job, and the best Spider-Man book in the land keeps chugging along.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT . . .

Daredevil 107-109

From: Marvel

Writers: Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka

Art: Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano w/ Matt Hollingsworth

Review by Jamie Trecker

What is it about Daredevil? This title consistently attracts some of comic’s best creators, and yet it seems to fade in and out of public view. Every once in a while when a new creator takes the reins — whether Kevin Smith or Joe Quesada or current writer Ed Brubaker — the book gets a little bump, then the title seems to quietly drift away, like the fog that surrounds Hell’s Kitchen at dawn.

The problem with the title is that it’s one-note: Blind guy, consumed by inner torment and with anger management issues, beats up people. Artists love the title because it's kinetic, offering them a chance to draw broad cityscapes and knockdown brawls. Writers, on the other hand, struggle because not only is Daredevil a second-rate Batman clone, he’s a second-rate Spiderman clone. Who wants to be upstaged by a creepy teenager?

It also doesn’t help that the greatest period on the book might well have been twenty years ago when Frank Miller played up Daredevil’s Catholicism in what was a daring move for a medium that has had a difficult relationship with faith.

Mercifully, Brubaker changed that when he came on board, retooling the title into a hard-boiled crime procedural that reflected his passion for the great era of pulps. Out went the ninjas, in came a supporting cast that included Ms. Tree rip-off Dakota North and a cast of dozens of dimly-remembered D-list villains, now “grown up” and either in need of a good lawyer, or en route to the pen.

The current storyline, “Cruel and Unusual,” is a four-part arc that sees Brubaker paired with thriller writer Greg Rucka for a story about one of those D-listers, “Big Ben” Donovan and a gruesome crime he might not have committed.

Donovan, a one-note foil who appeared ages ago in Luke Cage: Power Man, is taking the fall for a multiple homicide that seems to involve both the Feds and the Mob. The twist? Donovan insists he’s guilty, and DD’s interest in the case is driving the man batty… just as batty as DD’s poor wife Milla, recently confined to an institution. (Ladies take note: Your gender fares badly in this title on a regular basis.)

So, while our scarlet knight tries to punch away his grief, his pals North and Cage try to distract him with is a seeming futile crusade to free a not-so innocent man in a case no one wants solved. Of course, as in any whiskey-soaked pulp, the sad-sack dicks on the case will get their lights punched out more than once.

Brubaker and Rucka take us on a fairly good romp from Sing Sing to the dockyards and of course, over New York’s rooftops. Their dialogue is snappy and sharp, and Michael Lark’s pencils, as always, are deceptively simple and flat-out gorgeous. The writers’ take on North as hardboiled is a nice change of pace, and after seeing Cage put through chatty paces by Brian Michael Bendis, it’s nice to read the terse dialogue.

Yes, the plot is clichéd. Do I need to point out that it’s also a given in any thriller that the villain will end up being some hell-spawned fusion of the Man and the Mob? Or that the ending will be tragic as well as wildly improbable?

If you find the above off-putting, then this isn’t the book or the genre for you, for this is diversion, not Dorothy Parker. If, on the other hand, you like your crime books leavened with government goons and refreshingly ninja-free, give it a hot. Brubaker’s companion title “Criminal,” which sells 30,000 fewer copies, is also a must-read. But that’s another tale.

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