Best Shots: Uncanny X-Men, Air, Scalped, X-Factor...

Best Shots: Uncanny, Legion and More

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

Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds #1

As for the rest, let’s start in San Fran with Marvel’s mutants…

Uncanny X-Men #501

Written by: Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker

Art by: Greg Land

Published by: Marvel Comics

Reviewed by: Brian Andersen

The X-Men are back! After years of confusing subplots, divergent storylines, and a sea of loser “new” team members (Maggot anyone?), Marvel’s Not-So-Marry Mutants are back to being interesting, engrossing, and dare I say it, X-citing. This issue starts and ends with two violent beatings – one that is as brutal as it is shocking and the other that is as shocking as it is sexy.

Writers Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker are able to take this once floundering, stale X-Title and boldly move it into the 21st Century, while smartly looking back at the classic past of the X-Men. From the return of Empath (not seen since who knows when, and who I think was supposed to be dead), to the new and very deadly Hellfire Cult, to a new S&M leather-clad Red Queen (Jean Grey, is that you?), this issue has a lot going for it.

With the X-Men now in San Francisco the status quo has been updated for the better - their mission now is to protect and provide a sanctuary for displaced mutants, not so much teach them and provide them with a school – which manages to not throw the mutant baby out with the bathwater. This new direction is not so crazy radical as to come off like a cheap marketing ploy to lure in new readers, it feels as fresh and normal as anything that has come before.

By far the best part of this issue is the superb writing. Fraction and Brubaker seem to be winking at the classic X-Men writing tone set by long-time x-scribe Chris Claremont while adapting the style and sprucing it up for today’s modern comic readers. Fraction and Brubaker have infused this story with a literary voice that is able to push the comic into a near-novel like prose style as opposed to falling back onto the usual hyperbolic exposition we often find in comics. On top of this, Fraction and Brubaker sink lots of wit and cleverness into the story, primarily seen in the hilarious and succinct characters descriptions.

The terrific character descriptions alone are worth the cover price. Most of the characters in the X-Men have had such long and confusing back stories that the humorous and dead-on two line character descriptions made me laugh out loud while also making me marvel at how true and honest they were. My two favorite descriptions; 1) Warren Worthington’s “Skajillionaire” line and 2) Nightcrawler’s “generally looks like a Demonic Pirate Elf”. Brillant!

Now that the X-Men are in San Francisco it’s about time they bring in a gay character or two. Hail, hail the dramatic return of Karma - the mutant mind-possessing lady who likes other ladies! Awesome! Bring on the diversity the X-Men have always celebrated! For the first time in years I can say I am excited for the next issue! Now that is a successful comic if I do say so myself.

Double Shot!

Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds 1 (of 3)

From: DC

Writer: Geoff Johns

Artist: George Perez with Scott Koblish (Colors by Hi-Fi; letters by Nick Napolitano)

Review by Jamie Trecker

Here’s the deal: This book is the best superhero title of the year, bar none, and you should run to your local shop and buy it. This is a modern classic in the making, and twenty years from now, it will be talked about in the same breaths as Crisis on Infinite Earths and perhaps even Watchmen. It’s that good. I won’t blame you if you don’t read the rest of this review in favor of reading Legion of Three Worlds four or five times instead. After all, I did.

For those of you still here, and for those of you who might think that teen superhero teams begin with letter “X,” it might come as a shock to find out that 1,000 years from now, the greatest heroes in the universe will converge upon a clubhouse shaped like a rocket ship and save all of us from disaster umpteen times over.

The Legion of Super-Heroes have been a DC mainstay since their first appearances in Adventure Comics, just over fifty years ago. Initially created as throw-away foils for Superboy, the Legion became a sprawling group of the galaxy’s greatest heroes with a rabidly devoted fan base, rather like another group of heroes, published across town.

Now, before we go any further, a disclosure is in order: I am not an unbiased reviewer when it comes to the Legion. In fact, I am one of those rabidly obsessive LOSH fans given to using acronyms like “LOSH.” I know my Rimbor from my Colu, and can dissemble for hours on which Keith Giffen run was greater. I have even tried to justify John Forte.

Like dog with water, I’ve shaken off the umpteen attempts at rebooting the Legion, blissfully ignoring the confabulations and contradictions that have kept the Legion a sort of “niche” property. Yes, it grates that a certain “other” group of heroes has enjoyed all the pomp while my li’l Legion lurches from cancellation to cancellation. (And boy, don’t even get me started on the Titans’ popularity…)

Of course, there have been times when you just want to grab those snot-nosed kids by the collar: Wolverine? But, but, we have Brin Londo! And Karate Kid! And Ultra Boy! And… well, sputtering Legion fans tend get kicked out of a lot of comic book shops.

The point is, this kind of obssessiveness has conspired to make the Legion one of DC’s great properties… and, though it pains me to admit it, one of its most opaque and least popular. All the things that people seem to love in the X-Men — the never-ending continuity, the soap-opera dynamics, new characters coming out of the woodwork — have worked against the Legion.

So, the Legion has been rebooted at least three times (I say “at least” because Giffen’s second run on the book was arguably a reboot of sorts) and little has changed. Each time the core fans grumble about something out of place while the title glides on under the mainstream radar. Which leads to the collar-shaking.

As a result, I approached this particular book with no fair amount of anxiety. FC: LOTW has lofty aims: The book not only has to tie into a major event, but on a smaller scale, this miniseries must also reconcile the Legion’s messy past history, while not being so jumbled that readers lured by Final Crisis just walk away shaking their heads. But, still, I was nervous.

I shouldn’t have been. Geoff Johns and George Perez have hit one out of the park. Simply put, this may be the best Legion story ever. And it is the best superhero comic book you’ll read this year.

As Troy said earlier this is how you do an event comic. Johns, who has made a career out of reviving DC’s moribund line, has pulled out all the stops, crafting a book that longtime LOSH fans will revel in, while making it easy for newbies to jump on board. (And, as mentioned, we’d love to have you.)

Where to begin?

With Johns’ cunning parody of the Superman origin that ends with a nasty twist? With that exquisitely terrifying panel on page 13, in which Perez makes Superboy look like the wrath of God, all eyes and gaping maw? Or the still at the bottom of page 18, where Braniac 5 looks on in horror as General Zod tries to escape from the Phantom Zone… and then the following page, where he is equally horrified that Lightning Lass fries his lab? (“You know, I could have just turned it off!”)

How about the one-page set-piece that sums up a lifetime of continuity in ten panels while introducing a new edge to both Polar Boy and Sun Boy? Or the three panels that perfectly convey the desperation and destructive power of the Legion of Super-Villains?

I don’t want to give too much away, but I don’t think I’ve seen a book that shoehorned as many concepts and all-out action, with as much grace and skill, since the first issue of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns And there certainly haven’t been as many visceral moments under one cover since Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke.

Yes, it’s that good.

X-Factor Special: Layla Miller

Writer: Peter David

Artist: Valentine De Landro and Andrew Hennessy

From: Marvel Comics

Reviewed by: Richard Renteria

For a character most readers assumed was a throw-away dues ex machine created by Brian Michael Bendis for House of M, Layla Miller, under the stewardship of Peter David, has become one of the more interesting characters to inhabit the world of X specifically and the Marvel Universe in general. From his work on the character in the X-Factor on-going title to this special one-shot that follows-up on Layla’s status post-Messiah Complex, David has managed to create an interesting character with a very distinct voice.

The opening of the story is probably the strongest moment from the issue. Never has the phrase “the calm before the storm” been more expertly captured in such a short amount of time. The scene opens with some prison guards at a mutant interment camp discussing a bet that involves a silent mutant, Layla, standing in the same spot for over a week. The guards are taking bets on how long she will last and on the tenth day they decide to put an end to her silent sentry act and learn a lesson about knowing stuff that they will take to their graves. From the moment the word “Stuff” is uttered in Layla’s hoarse, cracking voice, David manages to shift the tone of the scene almost imperceptibly.

As the scene plays out, Layla explains to the guards a random fact about space junk. Just as a guard gets bored with the seemingly irrelevant factoid and the words “What’s the point, mutie?” emanate from his lips, the point to Layla’s story is made crystal clear as she makes a less than dramatic escape. One of Peter David’s strengths as a writer is his strong characterizations and the ability to make even a seemingly mundane character come across as real and important, and with Layla he has developed a complex character with an attitude that comes across as uncaring, but is really something more.

Layla’s voice throughout the story maintains a seemingly uncaring characteristic. From her sardonic wit to her lackadaisical tone, David manages to really imbue Layla with a realism that is engrossing and engaging in a manner that escapes a lot of writers. The emotional weight that Layla seems to carry throughout the issue is handled effectively not only in the writing but the art as Valentine De Landro’s and Andrew Hennessy’s bring a natural realism to the title that perfectly compliments David’s emotionally driven script.

As the story progresses, Layla’s attitude seems to become a character in itself as she progresses to her ultimate destination, a rendezvous with one Scott Summers. Upon finally reaching her destination, the immense pressure that is hidden behind Layla’s stoic façade finally comes to a boil in a scene charged with the emotions of a scared and scarred teenage girl looking for an inner strength momentarily lost. As with the rest of this issue’s unique character moments, the visuals are fluidly rendered and give the scenes the weight necessary to appropriately convey the story.

Throughout the issue, De Landro and Hennessy provide a consistent look to the characters and adeptly capture the intensity required from panel to panel. What little action to be found in this issue is handled proficiently by the art, yet the strongest visual moments of this issue come from the scenes that require the most emotion. De Landro and Hennessy’s art is highlighted by the subtle colors of Jeromy Cox who employs a natural palette that seems to brighten as the story progresses.

From the first moment we see Layla to her last moments in Manhattan, the shift in the character’s attitude seems to take a complete 180 degree turn; thanks to the talents of Peter David, Layla’s change of attitude seems like a natural progression of the character rather than a forced change. DeLandro and Hennessy nicely capture the juxtaposition of the two moments in their art. While the story gives no definitive answer to Layla’s return to the mainstream MU, as she reminds Scott she knows “stuff, not everything”, the story does a good job of moving Layla forward on an emotional level and adds another layer to her complex nature.

If you are a fan of X-Men lore and are on the fence about this issue, I have two words for you: Summer’s Rebellion. Peter David gives a definitive take on the start of the much talked about moment in X-history when mutants and humans unite against a government gone mad. It was a nice use of established continuity while relaying the overall importance of Layla Miller in the world of X.

Air

Written by G. Willow Wilson

Art by M.K. Perker

Published by DC/Vertigo

Review by Sarah Jaffe

The world of air travel changed on September 11. We all know that. But even before that it had gone from being something fascinating to something tedious. Airports are hideous and bland, and you spend all your time on the plane wishing you could just land already. I hate flying.

Air changes all of that and makes an airport a romantic destination again, and a source of adventure. It brings back that nervous anticipation before your first flight, the excitement of leaving the ground behind and landing in a few hours someplace totally different. But it incorporates too the extra fears that come from flying in a post-9/11 world, coupled with the usual feeling that flying is just not something humans were meant to do.

It’s the story of Blythe, blonde and pretty, working as a flight attendant in the all-too-familiar days post-college with a useless degree. (Again, a symptom of post-9/11 life.) To complicate things, Blythe is acrophobic and has to medicate herself just to do her job.

She has an uneasy interest in a passenger she sees over and over again, with a different name each time, and she’s got to deal with the Etesian front, a sort of Minutemen-in-the-sky anti-terror vigilante group, who want her to act as a courier for them.

Zayn, the possible terrorist, could be any ethnicity. He provides Pakistani, Spanish, Greek and American identification but all you know for sure is that drawn by Perker he’s dead sexy, with vaguely olive skin and longish dark hair. You can see why Blythe falls for him despite all sorts of suspicious behavior, and he makes her question her assumptions—and along with her, the reader.

“You tasted like the sky” is a strange compliment coming from an acrophobe, but it makes sense—Blythe both desires and fears him. The love scene in the hospital may seem a little much, but Wilson skirts the cloying declarations of love and gives us just the simple acknowledgment: you’re there when I need you.

Blythe seems naïve, but each time she ends up at the center of a mess and has to choose who appears to be the good guy, the one who rescues her, she reacts faster and faster. As the story goes on she does more and more of the rescuing herself, until the end, with its implicit assumption that now she has to go out on her own. She moves from being the typical female comics character, the ingénue or love interest, into someone we can trust to be strong and take care of herself.

The comic relief comes in the form of Fletcher, Blythe’s lanky-goth coworker and foil, who looks like he hasn’t seen the sun in years. He looks, in other words, like many of us feel when we get out of a day in the airport.

The whole book has a soft, pastel cast to it, with delicate lines and angles that feel cinematic. Blythe is pretty but not overwhelmingly so, and the characters’ faces are all uniquely detailed. Despite the boring settings here—everything takes place either in an airport or in an airplane—Perker manages to make it all feel slightly magical, so when we get to the last panel and step out of the real world into the fantasy, we’re ready for it.

The plot here starts off as a generic who’s the bad guy story, but quickly escalates to something stranger. Air is about space and time as much as anything else. The flashbacks and forwards are a little hard to follow at first, but then it starts to flow together and you fall under Wilson and Perker’s spell. Each re-reading reveals more, and yet opens up more questions for the rest of the series.

A few moments seemed off, jarred suspension of disbelief a bit—hijacking plans with the title written on them? A letter with an address that doesn’t exist? But they can also be explained in the story if you look deeply.

This oversized first issue packs in a lot. This story could easily have been stretched over several issues, leaving cliffhangers each time, but that’s not how Wilson writes. Instead, she offers us a pilot episode of sorts, and then invites us to follow along or not, to come with her and Perker on their journey off the map.

I’m looking forward to the trip.

Scalped #20

Written by Jason Aaron

Art by Davide Furno

Published by DC/Vertigo

Review by Sarah Jaffe

Scalped is a masterpiece of nonlinear storytelling—which is hard to do in comics, they necessarily move forward in time spatially. Because of this it reads easier in trade, which is a shame since that seems to lead to the death of ongoing series when everyone decides to wait for the trades.

It’s intricately plotted, with cliffhangers as good as any in Y the Last Man, but you have to wait for the payoff longer because the next issue may not start exactly where the last one left off. But it has a deep understanding of even its most loathsome characters. It’s a dark, twisted book but it’s deeply human and that’s why I really love it, tricks with timing and plotting be damned.

One of my only complaints with Scalped had been its lack of development of its female characters. Gina was interesting, but Carol seemed like nothing more than a cliché.

But here goes Jason Aaron proving me wrong yet again, showing us Carol’s inner life along with Dash’s, and opening up a complicated relationship between two people much more complicated themselves than they first appeared.

The whole world is falling in on Dash, who never wanted to admit needing anyone in the first place, and Carol is realizing that he isn’t going to save her. What could have easily been a sappy moment in the hands of a lesser writer instead becomes far deeper, showing us the harm people can do even to those they care about, and how fear and loss leave scars that never heal.

Children are the key to this story, the only thing that sets off human feeling in Dash and reminds Carol of all that she’s lost. While it’s still a bit of a cliché that she’s mourning a lost baby, you can feel her hurt through the pages here. (Though in the flashbacks, I have to quibble with the realism, since Carol’s stomach wouldn’t be so perfectly flat if she just lost a baby as big as she’d been carrying.)

The last few pages are some of the most heartbreaking stuff I’ve ever seen in comics. Have you ever lain in someone’s arms, knowing they’re hurting and that they’ll never even tell you why, let alone let you help? Davide Furno surely has, because he’s captured it perfectly here. I love R. M. Guera’s work on the series as a whole, but Furno has added another layer to these characters.

Scalped has been criticized for ‘violence for violence’s sake’ but here it really moves beyond that and into common territory. Comics are at their best when they take outsize situations and characters and use them to show us ourselves at both our best and our worst. Scalped does this, and what we see may not be pretty, but it’s true. This book belongs with the very best of the Vertigo titles.

Zombie Tales #4

Writers: Christopher and Terry Morgan

Cover Art: Marco Rudy, Mink Oosterveer, and Andrew Dalhouse

Interior Art: Gabriel Hardman, Mink Oosterveer, and Jason Ho

Colors by Cris Peter

Letters by Marshall Dillon

From: BOOM! Studios

Review by Lan Pitts

Previously contributed to by creative forces such as Mark Waid and Steve Niles, the next installment of the Zombie Tales series comes to your stores soon. Zombie Tales #4 is penned by Christopher Morgan, co-writer of Salem: Queen of Thorns and screenwriter of Wanted as well as his brother Terry Morgan. Zombie Tales publisher BOOM! Studios is known for having a strong hold on the horror comic genre, especially with its Cthuhu titles.

This edition covers a span of 261 years, as we experience the story of Toshiro Hiraoka, a soldier defending his family and community from millions of zombies taking over the world, beginning with Japan and moving westward, leaving death and destruction in their wake. And of course, creating more and more zombies. Or "the zaambi," as they are referred to through out the chapters.

We first meet Toshiro as a young boy, as he trains and tests to join the guild of men defending their people. The first chapter introduces us to his father and the characterization of their relationship is a strong story element through the rest of the chapters. As the chapters progress, the full effects of the zaambi, as well as the dangers of other mortals with less than beneficent intent are clear as the soldiers continue to lose loved ones and members of their own group.

Peter's coloring and Dillon's lettering tie together the chapters of this book seamlessly. While each chapter does have its own art style-- all of the chapters heavily reflect a traditional Japanese style. Hardman's drawings invoke a wood cut block style, Oosterveer's chapter opening landscape is reminiscent of one of Katsushika Hokusai's classic works, and Ho's lines look as if they could have been produced with a calligraphy brush. The story flows well, through panels that sometimes mimic the pattern of shoji screens, rich colors, and well balanced segments of dialogue followed by action scenes.

For those that are a fan of the genre, or want to learn more about the series, earlier this summer BOOM! Studios launched a web comic feature on their website releasing many of their popular titles at a rate of one page per day, including the first installment of the Zombie Tales series.

This fourth segment of the continuing series is well worth a look. It's a fresh look at a popular genre. The unique art style, combined with the well developed story continuing through the chapters makes this a book you'll read in one sitting, but likely go back to savor in time

Goddess of War Volume 1

By: Lauren R. Weinstein

From: PictureBox Inc.

Review by J. Caleb Mozzocco

You wouldn’t know it from the state of the headlines, but the goddess of war is getting awfully sick of her job. At least according to her biographer, art teacher, rock and roller and cartoonist Lauren R. Weinstein, who recently launched an ambitious new series about the titular goddess deciding to take her first personal day in 175 years.

If you’ve never heard of the goddess of war, and thought the war deities tended to be male like Ares and Mars, don’t worry; she’s an original invention of Weinstein’s, a character she sometimes sings about with her band Flaming Fire.

Her goddess is named Valerie, and she used to be a valkyrie in Norse myth, until she worked her way up the divine ladder by devoting herself to her work, while her sisters Brunhilde and Gudrun got distracted by messing around with humans (see Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen for more on that sordid affair).

Despite the nod to classical mythology, Weinstein’s cosmology is decidedly postmodern. Valerie lives in The Headcave on her own planet, a castle shaped like a monster head, with an interior somewhat resembling Barbarella’s spaceship. She answers to Brainstein, a large bespectacled brain that works for god-like being No. 2 and tells her which appointments she needs to keep. Her best friends are her dog Fafnir and Nebulon, a giant tentacled blob “universe eater” that she only calls when she’s drunk. Among her past lovers is 19th century Apache chief Cochise.

Val’s dissatisfaction with her job seems to come from how messy and indistinct war-fighting is in the 21st century, as she considered World War I a high-point of her career, and the meeting she misses is with a suicide bomber named Faheed with designs on detonating himself in New York City.

Opting to stay in and get drunk on a bottle of sacrificed virgin blood Mayan supplicants once gave her, Valerie gets nostalgic and eventually determines to visit Cochise in the past. The back half of the book shifts to a pretty straightforward historical account of Cochise and Geronimo’s conflicts with the Americans, and the role the goddess played in its escalation.

Weinstein’s artwork is on the rough and primitive punk side of the spectrum, with a somewhat shaky line and scratchy human figures that help her achieve the surprisingly difficult aesthetic of polished, professional quality work under an amateurish looking veneer (It’s rather evocative of the work of underground comix luminary Gary Panter, who shares with Weinstein a publisher in PictureBox Inc.).

That art style is made especially easy to appreciate given the attention-demanding format of Goddess of War Vol. 1. It’s a good old-fashioned folded, spine-less comic book rather than a graphic novel, but it’s a giant comic book. Fifteen inches high and ten inches wide, it’s almost newspaper sized, with plenty of room for 25 panels per page, and huge, highly detailed and delicately rendered black and white etchings, devoted to maps of the universe and poster-like splash pages calling special attention to certain events, like Valerie and Cochise’s first meeting.

The huge size makes for a highly immersive reading experience, transforming readers to little kids with the funnies page spread out before them, but does present some problems once the book is finished: Just where the hell do readers store a spine-less comic that’s a good 50% larger than the rest of their comics?

After 9/11: America’s War on Terror (2001- )

Written & Illustrated by Sid Jacobson & Ernie Colon

Published by Hill & Wang

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

When the 9/11 Commission issued their 600+ page report detailing their findings about the timeline of events and failures of intelligence leading up to the terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2001, veteran cartoonists Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon felt that the report’s vital information could be presented in a clearer fashion. Consequently, they adapted the Commission’s complex text, authoring The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation. However, Jacobson and Colon didn’t stop there; their new book is a piece of comic book journalism, a compiling of facts, figures and historical persons tracking the course of the United States’ war on terror in the seven years since September 11.

Possibly the most impressive part of After 9/11 is how effectively the authors avoid editorializing such controversial material. Facts are presented cleanly and precisely, making effective use of the comic book’s visual dimensions. Important people are drawn with photo reference – occasionally digitally manipulated photos are used rather than line art – enabling readers to visually identify the important players in the international drama quickly and easily. Borrowing from textbooks, pie charts and graphs are interjected to provide visual representations of facts and figures, including a breakdown of world religions and the split of Sunni and Shiite Muslims throughout the Middle East. The text is precise and direct.

The art acts more as an illustrative complement to the text, rather than as a function of the storytelling. Colon’s ability to capture likenesses is a huge asset to the book, as readers familiar with the news will quickly and easily identify the players in the world drama. Charts and maps are rendered effectively, conveying information without any confusing or muddled graphics.

If the book fails on any count, it is sometimes too precise and direct. Despite being a factually accurate journalistic piece, the creators don’t make full use of the comics medium to make the information more relatable or visceral. The prose is clear, yet blunt to the point of sometimes being lifeless. Almost like reading excerpted lines from random newspapers, the storyline in After 9/11 tosses out reams of information, but it uses the comic book form only to support the statistics and facts. The narrative doesn’t use the comic book form to engage the reader on a more direct level.

As a piece of journalism, the book succeeds. It is not particularly entertaining and won’t appeal to readers who aren’t questing for this information, and many such readers will probably already possess most of the knowledge anyway. Still, as an overview of America’s international conflicts during the last seven years, a peek inside the religious make-up of an important region of the world, and a roadmap of the major players shaping the direction of our world today, After 9/11: America’s War on Terror (2001- ) is a worthwhile venture. If nothing else, it should be placed in every high school library in the country, because the information is unbearably important and the format is immediately accessible.

PELLET REVIEWS!

Legion of Super-Heroes: An Eye for an Eye (DC; by Mike): The classic Legion of Super-Heroes vs. Legion of Super-Villains arc finally collected into a single book, and impressively, twenty years has not dulled the power of this epic in the slightest. Paul Levitz deftly handles a massive cast, playing them off one another to great effect and capturing nuances of character in a single line of dialogue, while artists Keith Giffen, Steve Lightle and Joe Orlando breathe life and imagination into the 30th century setting. The only thing that could improve this book would be to include the Invisible Kid/Wildfire adventure that is referenced as happening simultaneously (which appeared in the sister title Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes), because it’s just plain jarring when the characters start referencing a storyline that isn’t there.

CBLDF Presents: Liberty Comics #1 (Image; by Mike) – With short stories including a riveting Criminal by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips; a sardonic The Boys by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson; a sly Elephantmen by Richard Starkings, Moritat and JG Roshell; original shorts by Darwyn Cooke (slick), J. Bone (amusing), Mark Millar & John Paul Leon (flat) and Scott Dunbier & Shawn McManus (effectively sarcastic); and enlightening “Tales of Comic Book Censorship” by Mark Evanier & Sergio Aragones (plus pin-ups by Mike Mignola, J. Scott Campbell, Arthur Adams and Rick Veitch), you really should buy this comic just for its quality. However, your three bucks also goes toward the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, so really, there is absolutely no good reason to not buy multiple copies of this excellent and valuable little treat.

Superman/Batman #51(DC; Reviewed by Andersen): In the grand tradition of Marvel’s X-Babies and DC’s very own way cute, way awesome Tiny Titans comic, Superman/Batman go child-like adorable! And what a fun, funny, and terrific read this comic is too. The script by Michael Green and Mike Johnson has plenty of clever moments, the best being all the grown up characters seeing and acknowledging the cartoony hearts and kissy lips swirling about the kiddie heroes. Great stuff! And as great as the story is the real standout in this comic is the lively art by Rafael Albuquerque. From the rolly-eyeballs on Li’l Batman’s bat emblem, to Li’l Batman’s three furry pet bat creatures – whose faces and reactions are hyper animated and make playful asides and reactions to the main characters, to Li’l Vixen channeling a Teddy bear as she attacks grown-up Batman, to Red Arrow’s plunger arrows, the art is so expertly detailed that it is impossible not to see and appreciate Albuquerque’s storytelling talent. Excellent read, a truly enjoy story!

Incredible Hercules #120 (Marvel Comics; Reviewed by Richard): Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente wrap up their Secret Invasion tie-in with a glorious battle. This was an action packed issue that really delivered a fun story. I’m not quite sure how the overall tie-in affects the main title, but if the “He” (Kly’bn) in “He loves you” is dead then what is there left for the Skrulls to fight for? Amadeus Cho’s sacrifice to free Hercules of his inhibitions was a nice touch to build upon their relationship. As much fun as this issue was in relation to the Skrull event, it was the end of the issue that has me even more intrigued as a seemingly dead god takes over for a now deceased Kly’bn. For those keeping track Kly’bn’s death coincides with Reed Richards escape, which was a nice touch to further tie the issue into Secret Invasion. The art of Rafa Sandoval was a bit inconsistent at times, but he skillfully captures the intensity of the issue and maintains a consistent look to his characters.

The Punisher #61 (MAX Comics; Reviewed by Richard):vA new era begins for Frank Castle as Gregg Hurwitz is tasked to write the first post-Ennis arc of The Punisher. The first thing that is noticeable in the story is the shift in the voice of Frank. There is something a little more human about it, less haunted. As the story takes place on the 30th anniversary of his family’s deaths it probably makes sense in the context of the story but it was still a bit distracting. Laurence Campbell’s art has a gritty feel to it that really captures the mood of the story of a small border town whose women are being systematically kidnapped and murdered. Through the course of the story Hurwitz holds no punches and Campbell does a commendable job of portraying the horrors that are being inflicted on the citizens of Tierra Rota. I give Marvel credit for not trying to do a different take on the Punisher with Ennis’ departure but instead building upon the mythology that he so painstakingly built over the last six years, it really adds a nice continuity to the title.

Justice League of America #24 (DC Comics; review by Rev. O.J. Flow): I think there should be a rule that this title should never have a fill-in artist who is a relative unknown. That rule is broken this issue with some supremely average pencils by Allan Goldman. Who? Exactly. My biggest problem with this book right now is that is feels like everything covered in this issue was done so a year ago. Vixen's still trying to reclaim her proper powers, Red Tornado wants to be whole again, and the cover suggests a story inside that doesn't really happen (at least not for another issue). There's regrettably little to love about this issue. This title, not to mention this stellar lineup they're currently using, deserves better. I can't even remember the last time this book actually excited me.

Brave and the Bold #16 (DC Comics; review by O.J.): I jumped off this book when the George Perez/Jerry Ordway era ran it's course, but I like that the current setup allows for occasional visits in the form of more accessible "one & done" issues. The two stars here don't lend themselves to frequent collaborations, so my curiosity was certainly piqued, and Mark Waid and Scott Kolins rewarded it with a pretty delightful yarn here. "Tempted" keeps it light and breezy with just the right mix of humor, action and mystery. I did find it curious that they seemingly played it like Superman here and Catwoman have just met for the first time since I can think of at least a couple of occasions in the last decade alone where they ran into each other (Prometheus' debut in the last volume of JLA, and the first "Hush" storyline in Batman). Regardless, both characters are well represented in this teaming, and it's something I'd happily revisit.

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