Media Relations / 2011 August 15 / in which La Robusta hits a few high notes ... and a few low ones

Pardon for the long break in reviews. I'd apologize and say it will never happen again, but we all know it will, so let's just move on, shall we? Let's shall.

This past week, DC began the roll-up of not one, but two comic book universes. Taking out the DCU in favor of DCnU gets all the attention, of course, but less noted is that they're also doing in the end of First Wave, their attempt at an alternate-earth pulp universe. It never got anything remotely resembling a reasonable promotional push, plus, let's face it, a universe with Batman Month One, the Spirit and Doc Savage, as well as unrecognizable versions of Black Canary and other heroes, was always going to be a hard sell. And, well, it didn't. Sell, that is. Pity; Doc Savage was fun and pulpy, as required, and the Spirit had several good issues. (First Wave itself, however -- that universe's version of Justice League -- had problems. Frequently.) Any road, let's look at the big guns first. (NOTE: Superman shut down this week, but since I don't read it any more and "Grounded" was an absolutely deadly storyline to go out with -- a truly ludicrous concept that should have been shot down before it got started -- I pretty much don't care.)

Oh, and I should say right now: SPOILERS, SWEETIES! I'll try not to give away anything too important, but I make no promises. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I'm going to have to spoil most of the final issues relentlessly, in order to talk about them at all. So I say again, FROM THIS POINT FORWARD, HERE BE SPOILERS!

Got that? Good.

Forward into the fray!

Questions? Comments? Cigars, cigarettes, cigarillos, information about Doc Savage?
In which DC begins its month of text-logo-free covers.

Reign of Doomsday: Steel #1 (one-shot; Steve Lyons/Ed Benes/Blond; DC)
Warning: this issue is about to be RELENTLESSLY SPOILED WITH SPOILEROUS SPOILERS EVERYWHERE. Not that there's that much to reveal, because there's just not much story.

As the first issue of the lead-ins to the big summer event in which Doomsday kills everyone -- again -- this issue is problematic. We have no idea whatsoever what Doomsday is even doing there; he just suddenly appears to wreak havoc, as supervillains do. The last we knew of him, he was stranded on the moon; I suppose the destruction of New Krypton must have released him somehow.

Any road, this is basically just an issue long fight sequence, at the end of which, it appears that John Henry Irons has been killed by Doomsday. The last panel echoes the cover of the Death of Superman issue from 20-odd years ago, scraps of Irons' cape blowing on the handle of his hammer. However, given that Doomsday carries Irons off when he flies away, one can but assume that Irons is still alive and ... well, OK, not alive and kicking, exactly, but not dead.

According to Lyons, the story we get in Steel was not in fact the story he was initially hired to write, or the story that he in fact initially wrote. I can only imagine what it would be like to have completed a script, handed it in, and then suddenly get told, "No, we're not going this way. Instead, you're going to write the first issue of our big summer event! And instead of Metallo, we want Doomsday! So can you fix it up a little?" Supposedly, the aim of this issue was to remind people of the essential qualities of Steel; I guess it mostly did that, but it didn't actually tell you anything.

OK; No recommendation, but hopefully it will actually turn out to mean something to the event.

Starman/Congorilla #1 (one-shot; James Robinson/Brett Booth/Norm Rapmund; DC)
An issue that exists purely to explain why Starman and Congorilla aren't helping out the rest of the JLA during their encounter with the Crime Syndicate. That said ... it's kind of fun, and manages to do something surprising.

We start with Congorilla finding Mikaal after he's gone on a drinking and sex bender. The story is quite direct about what he's been doing and whom he's been doing it with. (Unfortunately, since I didn't read Cry for Justice or JLA, it was the first I'd heard that Tony, Mikaal's partner at the end of the Starman series, had been killed.) Congorilla is understandably concerned about Mikaal and what he's doing to himself -- given that Mikaal's apparently been doing this for a couple years now, concern is quite understandable -- but they've got bigger fish to fry; Washington, DC, has been cut off from the rest of the world, trapping everyone, including the JLA, inside some sort of energy dome. The only way they can break the dome is to find Malavar, a gorilla scientist from Gorilla City who was doing work in transdimensionality. However, Malavar is off trying to help someone who was held captive with him by Prometheus, so they need to track him down. To track him down, they wind up involving Rex the Wonder Dog (no, really), as well as Animal Man (to talk to Rex the Wonder Dog, who no longer has the power of speech).

The story winds up involving a Lazarus Pool in a thoroughly unexpected place, and a truly profoundly unexpected resurrection. All I will say about that is that it will make some fanboys happy. (And the vast majority of them will be truly upset, which in this case will be a good thing.) I must admit, I do hope they don't go in the direction implied by the ending. (I'm vaguely tempted to read JLA to find out, but I shall resist manfully.)

I liked the story itself. However, and I know this is purely a matter of taste, I really am not fond of Booth's art style. The human characters are far too thin and angular for my taste. It's not badly done -- in fact, I think the art is actually very well executed. It's just not for me.

Good; Recommended

Azrael #16 (David Hine/Cliff Richards/Tomeu Morey; DC)
And on the third day, he rose.

Seriously, that's ... pretty much what this issue is. Michael's Suit of Sorrows had been drenched in Lazarus Pool chemicals, and they had been slowly infused into his body. It operated more slowly but just as surely as an actual Lazarus Pool. (Incidentally, the quite strong implication from previous issues is that the Shroud of Turin had also been soaked in Lazarus Pool chemicals, accounting in part for the resurrection of Jesus. I do love the way this story just goes headlong for the heresy without flinching.)

We get a few pages of Michael in purgatory as he walks toward the gate he needs to reach to take his suit back and wind up back in his body. He has to make his way across this space followed by all the people that Azrael -- all of the Azraels -- have killed. Those people don't really do anything; they're just ... there. Oh, and the still very flayed Father Grieve, of course. (Why the poor man would be condemned to purgatory without his skin, I have no idea.) We also get the background of what really happened to lead to Michael's "death". (Of course, once we see it, there's the utterly baffling question of why Batman and the Gotham police seemed to think, for even a brief moment, that Michael crucified himself. The forensics would have been very different. But I digress.)

In the meantime, Bruce and Dick are watching Ra's al-Ghul's place, where Michael's body rests. Knowing that Bruce is there, Ra's invites him in to see Michael's resurrection. Turns out that Bruce is a messenger designated by prophecy. (What prophecy, you might be asking. Hadn't the Book of Thomas, which guided the Order, ended with the flaying of Father Grieve, leaving the order without further guidance? Why, yes. Yes, it had.)

Once Michael rises again, it turns out that the Suit of Sorrows no longer speaks to him; the voices that drove him insane are now silenced. It now belongs to him alone. Which also means that he's the descendant of Jesus for whom the suit was meant. (But do not think for a moment that Michael is now sane, oh no no no no NO.) Bruce, for no reason that makes even a tiny bit of sense, tries to get Azrael to sign on for Batman Incoporated, and Michael refuses. Then there is ... an Event, let's say, that allows Bruce to see the message that he's meant to give to Michael.

Reportedly, there are only two more issues left after this. Issue 18 carried a "final issue" notice in Previews. What they've got left to do, I'm sure I don't know. He's back, he's bad, he's only slightly less insane, and he's a direct descendant of the only begotten son of God. What's left to do?

No recommendation, but man, it's fun to watch Hine and the artists working with him just head for the crazy with such dedication and commitment.

Purely a side note: the sneak preview DC's putting in everything for the comic they're making of DC Universe Online Legends makes it look like The Stupidest Thing EVER. I mean, in the first few pages, we have Lex apparently killing Superman, then being stunned and surprised and even hurt because Brainiac, who made that possible, has betrayed him. I ask you, does that sound like any recent version of Lex Luthor that you've ever heard of? The Luthor currently toplining Action Comics is neither stupid enough to ally with Brainiac for anything important, nor would he be surprised at being betrayed. It really looks awful.
A two-week catch-up in which I regain the teensiest bit of indie cred whilst still wallowing among all things Bat. (Seriously. There were, like, 75 Bat titles came out the last two weeks.)

Red Robin 17 (Fabian Nicieza/Marcus To/Ray McCarthy; DC): Well, DC can't have meant this to be the first title out of the gate to bear the Batman Inc. logo, but it doesn't hugely matter. Tim winds up in Hong Kong, locating Cassandra Cain. Oddly, while she keeps the suit that Tim gives her, she refuses to take up the title of Batgirl again, since Stephanie is both doing relatively well with it and seems to need it more than she does right now. (From interviews I've read, Cassandra Cain may be playing a larger role in the Bat Inc universe sometime soon. But I digress.) Back in Gotham, Tim purchases the buildings around Crime Alley, planning to live and work there. (Why this doesn't send Bruce into fits, I'm sure I don't know.) Tim also begins re-acquainting himself with old friends, like Ives. He also recruits his own technogeek support -- Lonnie, the kid who'd been held prisoner by Armstrong, and whose body no longer functions on its own. His brain, however, is top notch. (Now I really really REALLY want a "Network" one-shot, wherein the Bat sections technogeeks save the world. It would be awesome. Especially since it would need to be something where the heroes they work for had been disabled or were off elsewhere -- and something that could distract/disable Power Girl, Batman, Batgirl and the Birds, the Web and the others would be quite the event. But I digress.) Tim also continues the family tradition of getting involved with possibly criminally-inclined cat-themed women; he is, perhaps, the first to commit actual illegal acts to do so, breaking Lynx out of police custody. She thanks him in a very special way ... which Bruce has some eloquent commentary about. And the ending is... oddly delightful, in fact.
Very good; Recommended.

Ethan? #1 (Alessandro Apreda/Fabrizio Fiorentino/Giuseppe/BBox Boccia; GG Studio):
Another title from GG Studio Design out of Naples, Italy, apparently aimed at the American market. (Interestingly, the credits don't show a translator, so I'm guessing this is an English language original.)

Ethan Babylon wakes up after a sexual assignation, disoriented, confused, having had a beer or ten too many the night before. Not all that unusual, right? Except that it seems that he's in someone else's body. A serial killer's body, as it turns out, right before he gets captured by the Tokyo police. And Tokyo has become a bit more violent than it was in the past, to the point where they're actually willing to exercise the death penalty with a bit more regularity and emphasis. (Historical note: Japan actually does have the death penalty, and has used it. Japan is notorious for the capriciousness with which they actually execute people. Once you're sentenced, it could be weeks, months, years before the sentence is carried out; you have no idea when your last day will be. Not because of the appeals process, but because that's just the way they roll. But I digress.) Once the serial killer is executed, Ethan finds himself inside the body of one of the police observers of the execution, the previous occupant having been apparently evicted by the process.

It's essentially the same as the idea behind the comic Existence 2.0/3.0, with a bit less initial technological intervention. Whenever he dies, Ethan leaps into the body of someone nearby. Reincarnation gone horribly awry, in effect.

Fiorentino's art is very detailed and highly stylized and works well with the futuristic story. The story itself is intensely intriguing; I am curious to see exactly where this story is headed, what, if anything, will distinguish it. On the one hand, Ethan isn't a particularly appealing character, but the concept is interesting. What would you do if you discovered that upon your death, you would wind up in someone else's body, all of your memories intact and none of theirs, but you still had to live their lives? What if they were some sincerely unpleasant people? What would you do?

Good; Recommended for mature audiences due to some adult (and profoundly icky) themes.

Batman: The Return one-shot (Grant Morrison/David Finch/Batt/Ryan Winn; DC): In which Bruce's Batman Inc. concept begins to take shape. He dons a new variant of his costume, and begins to order about the other members of his team in some incredibly high-handed ways. Seriously, the man wants Stephanie to go to a girls finishing school in England -- the very idea that she would form a Batman Inc outpost in England would be highly insulting to Knight and Squire (WHO ARE BRITISH, SO VERY BRITISH, OH MY GOODNESS YOU WOULD NOT BELIEVE HOW BRITISH THEY ARE... Er, sorry. Read Knight and Squire #2 recently. Not bad, but it has ... an attitude, let's say. But I digress.). He's giving Barbara early and enhanced access to Waynetech's "Internet 3.0", also allowing her to redesign her online avatar -- but he's given her a starting-point design that looks like a technological version of her old Batgirl costume, managing to be incredibly insulting to both Barbara and Stephanie in one fell swoop. Now that he can be more above-ground with it, he's having Lucius Fox design all sorts of insane things at Waynetech itself, explicitly for use by Batman Inc. people. Oh, and there's a new villain, Leviathan, that looks like a very bad guy indeed. And finally, the Catwoman plot, in which Bruce asks her how she'd like to steal something, winds up being a direct lead-in to Batman Inc. #1 -- but we'll get to that. All in all, an interesting place to start ... but it's going to be interesting to see how things go. It'll be a while before his plans for Stephanie take shape, at least; she's got to finish out the current arc in her title before she can go anywhere, and it looks like that might be a bit involved. Anyway, the art by Finch et al is perfectly serviceable with the story -- although, that said, Dick frequently winds up with a somewhat featureless face, and Alfred looks like he doesn't have any teeth.
Good; Recommended

Mindfield #4 (JT Krul/Alex Konat/Jon Bolerjack/John Starr; Aspen): In which the attack unleashed by the bad guys -- whoever they be -- against the minds of Jessica the programmer and Connor the remote viewing (sort of) government secret agent continue. It's essentially an issue long fight sequence, except with a most unusual fight. Instead of taking place out in the open, wrecking Denver International Airport where their bodies are, it takes place entirely in Jessica's mindscape.The Project Cobalt backup story this month is about Kassem, the Muslim member of the group. Normally, the Project Cobalt files show the events in the life of the main character that rendered them susceptible to recruitment; in this case, I think perhaps a few pages got left out, because Kassem's story just stops. There's no traumatic event, no recruitment, just Kassem standing in the middle of a campus, ogling the behinds of the female students.
Good; recommended if you've been following the series.

Batman, Inc #1, "Mr Unknown is Dead!" (Grant Morrison/Yannick Paquette/Michel Lacombe; DC): In which Bruce goes to Japan to recruit Mr Unknown for the first extension of his Batman Inc. concept, talking Selina along to steal a jewel that isn't a jewel and that he doesn't want in the hands of its inventor -- said inventor being off making the lives of Power Girl and Justice League International a misery at the bidding of Max Lord at the moment -- or of any government, either. (But he trusts himself, of course. Mighty high-handed, this Batman Inc. concept.) Sadly, Mr Unknown has been, shall we say, permanently recruited by other forces, as the issue title might state. We also discover that Catwoman has a few unexpected talents that even Bruce didn't know about. And a new -- I think -- villain makes his appearance. Interestingly, while the Super Young Team is mentioned, they don't make an appearance, and despite the yeoman-like service they rendered during the last crisis, at the moment, at least, they don't seem to be a part of Bruce's concept. Odd, that. (Then again, he was being imprisoned and then dead for a while during all of that, so he probably simply doesn't know what they did.) The art and colors work for the story, which, for a Bat story, has some unexpectedly bright spots, quite literally. (Like many an artist before him, Paquette is quite enamored of Selina's bosom.) All that said, the last page of the story is truly odd; it has text between the rows of frames, phrased in a way that sounds straight out of the 1960s Batman TV series. Wonder why?
Good; Recommended. An intriguing start to the concept.

Morning Glories #4 (Nick Spencer/Joe Eisma/Alex Sollazzo; Image): In which the students begin to scheme to get out of their captivity, despite being observed at all times and in (mostly) all places. And in which we discover that the same is true of the evil faculty, as well. Casey uses her persuasive powers on the rest of the glories to get them to fall in with her plan, which involves Sane (as opposed to Mad) Science. It's an interesting story but I am beginning to vaguely hope that this is a mini/maxi series and not an ongoing. Not because it's bad -- I think Spencer's writing is excellent, and Eisma's art is very good -- but because we've now had four issues of an odd combination of setup and thwarting, and it would be nice to know what's being setup and why the thwarting matters, you know? Just the odd answer to keep us engaged.
OK; recommended, with reservations.

Batman #704 (Tony Daniel; DC): In which Bruce officially, if somewhat theoretically, cedes Gotham to Dick "while he's gone". He also takes extreme exception to Catwoman's new sidekick Catgirl, and tells Dick to "deal with her". Dick tries, but as Selina points out to him, the hypocrisy of asking her to keep a 15-year-old girl out of sidekick danger while he's dragging an eleven-year-old boy into dangerous situations willy-nilly is rather extreme. In the meantime, an Asian businesswoman wants to purchase Crime Alley from Wayne Enterprises and is trying to negotiate that with Dick. Given that Tim just purchased the area for his work, this is probably not going to go well. Later on in the story, we also see that the new Waynetech equipment lends itself to some ... interesting applications.
Good; Recommended

The One #1 (Giuliano Monni/Davide Rigamonti/Pasquale Qualano; GG Studio):
The first of the GG Studio Design titles I've seen that actually lists English translators, so this title was clearly intended for elsewhere before being brought here. And that said ... I have no idea what this freakin' thing actually is. It's some sort of sword and sorcery story, but beyond that, I have no strong sense of what's going on.

Masdhin, a "junior berserker" (...what?), is searching for Faras, a woman who broke his heart when she chose to go off to become a warrior herself. A few years in the future, Faras has been captured by Targhan, who seems to be an evil sorceror. He and his minion threaten her with being kept alive for their "amusement" -- they cut her breast and forehead with a sword to demonstrate what said amusement will be like -- only to be interrupted by the arrival of Masdhin, who had to fight his way out of his mother's palace to do so. (She would seem to disapprove of Faras.) And there ends the relatively coherent part of the story.

There follows a lot of fighting in very dark scenes, and apparently both the evil sorceror and his minion wind up dead, Faras gets rescued, and the priestess who set all this in motion gets annoyed. Strangely enough, we do find out what The One is, although not what it does. The artwork is insanely detailed, very stylized and unfortunately, very dark during the action sequence. The story, sadly, didn't grab me. It's not that it's bad, necessarily, but there wasn't enough character development to make me care about what happens to them next, and the story got so muddled in the middle that it's hard to care about the actual plot. I do realize that this is a first issue, but there needs to be enough character and/or story content for me to want to pick up the next issue, and right now, I really don't. And for perhaps the first time ever, I shall actually remark on the lettering: for the art and the amount of dialogue it's got to support, it's WAY too small and difficult to read. Unfortunately for good letterers, good lettering should be somewhat invisible; it should match the art, be appropriate to the story, but not generally call attention to itself. If it's too small to read comfortably, then that calls attention, and not in a good way.
OK; no recommendation.

Angel: Illyria: Haunted #1 (Scott Tipton and Mariah Huehner/Elena Casagrande/Walter Trono/Ilaria Traversi; IDW): In which Illyria begins to have increasing problems with her inner Fred, and seeks out ways to cope with it. She talks to Angel, but that winds up being sincerely unhelpful, and in any event, he's got issues of his own to deal with. She then seeks out Spike, which winds up being more useful. Oh, and along the way, any number of demons get squelched. An intriguing start to the miniseries; it's going to be interesting to see where they leave the character at the end, when the entirety of the franchise moves to Dark Horse.
OK; recommended if you're into Angel and Buffy and utterly impenetrable if you're not.

Azrael 14 (David Hine/Cliff Richards; DC)
In which Azrael returns to Gotham and his end game begins.

As usual, it's utterly impossible to discuss this story without thoroughly spoiling the end, so:


In short, the flayed Father Grieve reiterates that the Suit of Sorrows was made for the descendants of Jesus, and Michael should tell Father Day this. Michael not only refuses -- apparently he hasn't wrapped his brain around the whole Gnostic Gospel/Dan Brown heresy yet -- but he kills Father Grieve to keep him from saying anything more. Bruce and Dick begin to worry about Michael's sanity, since he really doesn't believe in justice even as much as they do (which is saying something). Bruce thinks he should be brought into the Batman Inc. group to keep him controlled -- a thoroughly demented idea if ever there was one. Dick as Batman goes out to make Michael the proposition, more or less immediately after discovering that Michael has been using the suit's swords to cut a swath through Gotham's criminal element, and, as anybody reasonable would expect, this does Not Go Well; in fact, he tries to kill Dick, and only just manages to stop himself. Ra's al-Ghul also comes back into the story -- turns out he's the true employer of the guy who is allegedly Michael's liaison to the Order and maintainer of the armor -- and manages to imply to the White Ghost that Michael himself is the descendant of Jesus for whom the suit was intended.

And, as we knew he would since the first issue of the series, Michael dies, in a way befitting a descendant of Jesus. And manages to do it in an apparently completely impossible way, at that.

I have to admit, I'm kind of in awe at the way Hine and Azrael's other writers gripped a certain angle of heresy with both hands and leapt into the story, utterly without restraint or fear. In all seriousness, if you're going to take this sort of tack, you have to commit to it and keep going, no matter what. I'm even more surprised that DC let Azrael's writers keep going this way. A lot of people could be pretty profoundly offended by the storyline, yet it's managed to keep itself out of people's view. (...Which probably wouldn't be DC's preference, come to think of it.) And I'm also impressed that Richards' art manages to keep up with the pure and utter insanity of the story, emphasizing and enhancing it as needed.

As usual, impossible to qualify or recommend, but utterly fascinating.
So, hey, three weeks of comics to get through. Better get to it, then. But first, a song! (Well, most of one.)

I submit that possibly that doesn't meet the villain's requirements as specified. I mean, who doesn't know that about Bats? Unless she was talking about his ability to sing, in which case, carry on.

And NOW we can really get to it. As always, possibly slightly spoilerrific, so use your best judgement.

Wonder Woman #604:

You know ... I'm beginning to wonder if perhaps, just perhaps, Straczynski ... isn't a good match for continuing series with DC characters. On the one hand, people (including me, the few issues I read) pretty much absolutely adored his The Brave and the Bold run, where all of the issues were one and done. On the other hand, the reviews I've seen for his run on Superman have been wildly mixed -- and there's already a fill-in issue because "Grounded" seems to be slipping a bit in the schedule. And then there's Wonder Woman, which ... honestly, he seems to be writing half-issues. Half of the issue seems like terribly unnecessary filler, and the other half is dynamic action that moves the story forward. And you could chop out the filler -- which, granted, this issue includes things like the origin of this particular villain, but it could have been much condensed, given that only one tiny bit of it actually matters. There's also the small fact that this is the guy who killed almost all of the Amazons and Diana disposes of him all by herself ... sort of. Oh, sure, maybe we'll discover that the particular trick pulled by another character is something he's capable of, and maybe he'll be back later ... but given that something resembling the previous status quo or a fusion of these two histories has to be the end game of this volume of WW, probably not. And if Diana is powerful enough to deal with him on her own, surely all of the Amazons, even though they were under attack by a large group of people, could have handled him. (Especially since Diana kind of ... doesn't. And no, I can't explain that without spoiling the one truly neat bit of the whole thing, even if it does make you want to say, "Now how in hell could THAT happen?")

Any road, the core of this issue is about Diana vs the villain who killed all the Amazons. There's also a bit about the lasso and rediscovering one of her abilities. There's also something to do with her mother which I will not reveal because, honestly, that particular device is kind of fantastic. But, again, almost all of that is the back half of the issue. The back half is Excellent; the first half is Meh. I suppose that all combines to an overall Good, though it kind of shouldn't.

Something of a side note: without that 80s styled jacket, the new costume is actually kind of ... bitchin'. I mean, yes, it would be nice to have a spangle or two starred here or there -- judging from the illustration below, they're apparently on the shoulders of that hideous jacket, but that's quite literally the only time I've seen them there -- but otherwise, it's a very effective redesign. Hopefully, she won't find that jacket again any time soon.

And another interesting note: turns out that Straczynski is no longer the principal writer for WW or Superman. Both titles had issues with delays and fill-ins as his schedule filled up with other things. He's being replaced on WW by Phil Hester. (Ought to be interesting. I have no real experience of Hester as a writer for corporate owned characters; I only know of him writing his own stuff for Image. And his stuff for Image -- principally The Athiest and its successor Antoine Sharpe -- were ... plagued by delays. To the point that the final issue of The Athiest simply never appeared; it was just incorporated into the trade of the series. And "Antoine Sharpe" vanished into the ether after its second issue, never to be seen or referenced again. That said, his most recent series, "Golly", didn't have too many delays, and the last issue actually came out, so there's that. I'm assuming and hoping that he's better with corporate titles than with his own; after all, a creator-owned title does give you the luxury of being able to do stupid things with the deadlines, and the only person you're really hurting is yourself.

JLA/The 99 JLA/The 99 1 of 6 (Stuart Moore, Fabian Nicieza/ Tom Derenick, Drew Geraci, Allen Passalaqua; DC/Teshkeel)

This story gets hamstrung out of the gate, and never recovers.

First, neither Teshkeel nor DC laid the groundwork for this issue properly. The 99 has had a miserable time getting distribution in this country -- I remember seeing and reading the first three or four issues, and then it disappeared, never to be seen again. For this story to succeed, you need background. DC should have helped Teshkeel print and distribute a trade of the first volume or two so that people would have gotten a grip on who these characters were, what their background is -- why they should care about or notice this team-up, in other words. And this matters very much near the end; it's clear that part of what happens with one character comes out of The 99 continuity, and it gets sorta kinda very briefly described ... but to the extent that it gets described, it undermines the story. (More about that in a bit.)

Second, it's set, to the extent that it matters, against DC continuity. Current DC continuity ... except not really. This means that we're dealing with the classic JLA, with the DC trinity: Batman/Bruce Wayne, Wonder Woman and Superman, along with the other usual suspects. Wonder Woman is shown in the costume she's got over in her own title (sadly, she seems to have located the jacket). The problem with THAT is first, the current JLA shouldn't know that this Diana even exists; she's been wiped from their memories, and she certainly wouldn't be doing something as high-profile as appearing at the UN with the JLA. (It's reasonably clear that DC must have a mandate that if you're going to use Diana in your title, it's going to be the current version, no matter how problematic that may be. Otherwise, they'd have let Teshkeel use the older version, which would be a better fit for the story anyway.) Second, if it's the current JLA, Superman is off going walkabout across the country and shouldn't be involved in anything the JLA is doing at this point. All pure continuity wonk stuff, I freely admit -- but only DC continuity wonks and Teshkeel fans are going to pick up this thing, and it's not improbable that a Teshkeel fan might look at that version of Wonder Woman and not have any idea who she is.

Anyway, the story itself: basically, a villain has done something to turn the world against superheroes. All nonpowered people are suddenly seized with a powerful and irrational hatred of superheroes, to the point where they'll cause near-riots to try to drive them away or attack them. At the same time, someone -- possibly that selfsame villain -- is causing various natural disasters to occur. Then we run across a former member of the 99, a teenager in a wheel chair. He's been affected by whatever it is that turns the world against superheroes. (A digression: each of the 99's powers were granted by something called a Noor stone, and the powers can apparently be invoked at will.) And whatever it is, it make his Noor-stone induced powers go insane ... except that, judging from the other members of the 99, simply having the Noor stone should immunize him against whatever the villain is doing. And even if it didn't initially, using the Noor stone certainly seems to protect against it, and the virus or whatever causes him to use his stone, which should block the effects of the virus which ... and so on.

No recommendation; I may or may not come back to this when/if DC puts it into a trade to see if it hangs together better than this difficult start would otherwise imply.

Zatanna 6 (Paul Dini/Jesus Saiz; DC): In which Benny Raymond's attempt to force Zatanna to marry him, so that she can be sacrificed to the demon instead of him, goes catastrophically awry, as we all knew it would. And Zatanna gets some help from her cousin Zack which enables her to turn the tables on Raymond. This is, I must say, a fun title to read. Dini is doing a good job of showing the vulnerabilities of what is potentially one of the most powerful characters in the DCU, and showing how she can overcome those vulnerabilities. (Let's face it: Zatanna and Dr Fate should pretty much never ever lose, as long as they're not taken by surprise. Magic users in the DCU are obnoxiously powerful.) Even with that sort of preordained ending -- Zatanna is simply not going to lose to the likes of Raymond -- Dini manages to make a story that you enjoy reading. It's not if she's going to beat the bad guy, it's how. There's even just enough of a recap of sorts that if this was the only issue of the arc you picked up, you could follow and enjoy the story. Saiz's art and John Kalisz's colors are a beautiful match for the story.
Very Good; highly recommended.

Life with Archie Life with Archie: The Married Life 4 (Kupperberg/Breyfogle/Pepoy; Archie Comics):
In the "Life with Betty" story, Mr Lodge's plan to make Archie and Betty's life miserable looks to be going slightly awry. He gets Betty fired by financing the loans that save Sacks from bankruptcy, but she winds up landing on her feet (for the moment), and helping Archie land on his. He gets Archie's friend Ambrose and his new club/bistro investigated by all -- and I do mean all -- of the relevant licensing authorities in NYC, in such a way that it not only gets the club shut down before it opens, but it also rouses the curiosity of a friend of theirs ... who, judging from his clothes and earpiece, is something like an FBI agent, so this will clearly not go well for Mr Lodge.

In the meantime, back in "Life with Veronica", Veronica and Reggie continue to innocently act in ways that lead people to think they're having an affair. Archie continues to try to investigate what Mr Lodge is doing behind their back, but Lodge is just barely one step ahead. (Interesting side note: this is the ringtone on Archie's cell phone.) Jughead and Midge are entering a marriage of convenience, ostensibly to get a small business stimulus loan -- apparently the application process favors couples over singles -- only to discover that they actually care for each other.

Reggie Mantle, obnoxious relatively well-off teenager of the past, is now pretty solidly something of a failure in both stories; he's certainly been humbled and become ... kind of a nice person, actually. In the "Life with Veronica" section, he's genuinely trying to help her and Archie, much to his own surprise at himself. In the "Life with Betty" section, his own father thinks he's become a gigolo/kept boy for the seriously depressed Veronica. This being Not That Kind Of Story, those words are never mentioned, and Archie's alleged audience would be utterly clueless as to what he's talking about.

I continue to be impressed at how dark the writers are willing to allow this story to get -- within limits, of course; this is still Archie, after all. I've seen the solicits for future issues -- some of which unfortunately give away key points -- and I do know that this continues at least through issue 7. I do wonder how far this is slated to go. And will we see whatever happened to Kevin Keller? Granted, he's a brand new character, but still...
Excellent, Highly recommended.

Invincible 75 Invincible 75 (Kirkman/Ottley; Image): "The Viltrumite War". An extra long issue in which the bulk of the actual war itself takes place. And it is Awesome. Major full page and two-page spreads throughout the issue showing what's happening. Sophisticated strategy and utter mayhem, side by side. Costly losses for characters we actually care about. A final ploy to end the war that is truly shocking ... up to a point. The alleged good guys, the allies, do something which would be ethically appalling under different circumstances. Still is kind of appalling, in fact. (And given the circumstances which obtain, I'm not at all sure what they expected it to accomplish other than getting the Viltrumites angry, and at that it succeeds magnificently.) Rathbun and Ottley draw the hell out of the issue, and FCO Plascencia colors the hell out of it. (Blood. Lots and lots of blood. In outer space. Grim. But colorful!) Even if you haven't read the issues leading up to it, you can mostly understand what's happening with this issue by itself, which is quite the feat, if you think about it. This is not true of the Science Dog backup, which is also loads of fun, and gets itself wound up into all sorts of wibbly wobbly timey wimey goofiness.
Excellent; Highly recommended

Bruce Wayne: The Road Home: (DC)
- Oracle (Marc Andreyko/Agustin Padillo)
Bruce Wayne The Road Home- Ra's Al-Ghul (Fabian Nicieza/Scott McDaniel)
After the reaching the heights with the "Commissioner Gordon" issue, "The Road Home" fell back to earth with these. You'd have thought the Oracle issue would be about, say, Barbara kicking ass in her own distinctive way, much as her father did in his issue, and Bruce either watching or helping out. But no: this is mostly about how Bruce inspired Barbara to recover after "The Killing Joke." She apparently just laid there like a lump as though her life was over until Bruce gave her a kick in the behind. And, yes, OK, people almost giving up after catastrophic life events until someone shakes some sense into them is a storytelling trope for a reason. But then it turns out that she made herself into Oracle to make Bruce proud of her. Not even her father, but Bruce. Not for herself, but for Bruce. So, hey, way to rob Barbara of any agency in restarting her own life, you know? Yes, she did all of that herself, but she didn't do any of it for herself. Which doesn't match the Barbara Gordon we've seen over the past few years.

The Ra's story is even more of a mess. Basically, he's trying -- sort of -- to kill Vicki Vale because she doesn't deserve to know Batman's secret identity. Not because she does, but because she is not a worthy vessel to carry that secret. (We'll ignore the fact that pretty much anyone who cares to seems to know, shall we? Let's shall.) Ra's is also worried because, between simply living a very long time and the odd moment of Lazarus Pool induced insanity, he's beginning to lose some of the details of his past. Apparently, if you live forever, you can still worry about getting old. Who knew? The end of the story is pretty much profoundly unsatisfactory on every level -- suffice to say that we discover why Vicki's been doing all this, and the reasons are insultingly inadequate; Ra's decides to let her live, and Bruce ... well. Doesn't do much of anything, really. But now he's home, and he knows that everyone except the Outsiders pretty much actually did better without him, and isn't that what was important about all this? Yes?

No recommendation, because they're parts 5 and 6 of something that was allegedly a series of independent one-shots that turned out to be no such thing. Also, five of the six issues were, frankly, not particularly good.

Batman and Robin 16 Batman and Robin 16 (Grant Morrison/Fraser Irving/Cameron Stuart; DC)
In which Morrison takes his leave of this series, Bruce is shown to be home, the Joker deals with Dr Hurt in an impressive yet jawdropping way, and Alfred gets the line of the issue when he says, "Can that please be the very last time I have to grieve needlessly?" (But you know and I know and he knows that it won't be. Though, assuming that Batman Beyond is in continuity, Bruce does manage to outlive Alfred. And who'd have laid bets on that? But I digress.) A close second for line of the issue would be Professor Pyg saying, under circumstances which are not quite what he thinks they are, "I made you to love me but remember! I'm not wearing protection, my darlings!" (Yes, what you're thinking is EXACTLY what he means. No, that really really wasn't the sort of protection he needed at that particular point in time.)

Oh, and Dick spends almost the entire issue running around with a bullet in his brain. That is, in fact, something of a weak point in the story; how do you do brain surgery on a guy wearing a cowl? And yet apparently, the "world's foremost brain surgeon" does exactly that. Either that, or there's someone out there who is not Leslie who knows Dick's secret identity.

Three different artists handle this issue. Part of it is to show the difference between what happens in the past and the present. I'm not sure why you need to show stylistic differences between inside Wayne Manor and the Batcave in the present and the outside world (barely outside, in one case), which is what the other two artists do, for the most part. It may be as simple as the fact that these are the artists, along with Frank Quitely, who handled many of the issues of this title, so Morrison wanted to work with them on the title one last time. Assuming that they're listed in order, Cameron Stuart handles the bulk of the issue, the front end, in which we get the actual origin story of Dr Hurt, at last. Chris Burnham and Fraser Irving work around each other in the second half, with Irving doing the parts with Professor Pyg and the Joker, and Burnham handling the parts inside stately Wayne Manor and the Batcave, as well as one panel dealing with Commissioner Gordon that was utterly and profoundly unneccessary. Apart from the Gordon panel by Burnham, I also kind of hated Irving's art at the end, especially the frame showing Bruce standing with (I think) Dick, Tim and Damian, with Alfred off to the side. Irving made them all look very much alike and very much like Dr Hurt -- no doubt on purpose -- but the effect, especially with all the golden coloring on the background was just ... weird.

And at the end, Bruce announces that he's been financing Batman all along. (Which, in fact, would answer an issue that I've idly wondered about from time to time: how does Wayne Associates hide the really quite substantial amount spent on Batstuff in their accounts? Apparently failed research and development would only account for just so much, after all.) And he launches the brand new day of Batman, Inc.

Very good, if also very very weird; Recommended

Welcome to Tranquility, "One foot in the grave" #5 of 6 (Gail Simone, Horacio Domingues; DC/Wildstorm)
Man, I love this title.

In this issue, Thomasina goes to save her sister, and we discover that her sister has a future after death. (It's very very clear that death is rarely the end of anything in Tranquility.) The mayor and his wife go to deal with their son, and the mayor takes some unilateral action. And then there's a concert. We also begin to learn about the history of events between Thomasina and Derek, and why he seems to be targeting her and hers.

I will admit, I'm not at all objective about this title when it's working, as it is in this miniseries. I love Thomasina as a character; despite being one of the few people in Tranquility without super powers or super devices, she manages to be essentially the most kickass person in town. Domingues' art matches Simone's writing perfectly. Interestingly, there are fewer of the ads and comics from the past this time, probably in part because we have genuine flashbacks embedded into the story this time.

Excellent; Highly recommended. I hope that this series survives somehow now that DC's killed the Wildstorm universe.An occasional miniseries or graphic novel would be just about perfect.

Birds of Prey 6, "Heart of Pain, Life of War: Part 2 of 2: Two Nights in Bangkok" (Gail Simone/Alvin Lee, Adriana Melo, Jack Purcell, JP Mayer, Nei Ruffino; DC)
Well, that was ... abrupt. The part of the story that takes place in Bangkok gets wrapped up with a vengeance. Of course, they still have to come back to Gotham, and Canary's blown secret identity, and a city that thinks the Birds did something very very wrong. And, most annoyingly, in the last issue, Barbara said that there was some way she could deal with Savant and Creote knowing the location of the Batcave. Did she do it? What was it? No idea. Not even mentioned, although both Creote and Savant appear in this story. It does seem that she's changed locations -- there are a bunch of moving boxes and peanuts and whatnot around -- but that doesn't address the whole "knowing about the Batcave under stately Wayne Manor when you shouldn't because it's not her secret to give out" issue, does it? I'm hoping this will be addressed in a future issue.
No recommendation

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne 6 of 6 (Grant Morrison/Lee Garbett, Pere Perez, Alejandro Sicat; DC)
Hey, Bruce is back! And yes, this is last in the list of recent Bat stuff because that's the order in which it got published. And, you know, he's his usual awesome self.

The issue itself is a weird mix of really interesting concepts and really strange execution. The construction of the story and of Darkseid's trap is very very clever. It depends on Bruce's preternatural detective ability; if he doesnt figure out what's going on, the trap doesn't trigger, precisely. Parts of it do -- it's amazing how easily Darkseid's technology defeats the members of the Justice League in very specific ways (although it's completely unclear what it does to Donna Troy). Until he runs into Tim, who refuses to fight him. That sets off a battle, of sorts, between Bruce and Darkseid. In his head. Mostly.

And it all connects really beautifully ... to all the stuff that was supposed to come after this issue, but that got published in the month before it. It does clearly show the shift in how Bruce thinks that makes Batman Inc. possible. You can see how this title would have worked really well, coming entirely before the last two issues of Morrison's Batman and Robin run, as planned originally. Alas, for scheduling slips.

No recommendation, given how spectacularly late it was and how compromised by other titles

And, as a reward for making it through to the end of this, something completely different:

From the recent "Batman: The Brave and the Bold" episode, "The Mask of Matches Malone!" (did not make a lick of sense but was a lot of fun), and ... that is a very very naughty song. Featuring Catwoman as a Bird. And wearing a costume that, except for a couple of appearances in Kevin Smith's Widening Gyre miniseries, hasn't been seen in years -- possibly decades. After all, she had the catsuit back in the 60s.

Until next time...
Hey, I'm not the one who decided to release 6,789 Batman-related titles every week through the end of time. Anyway, let's try for a few quick(ish) hits on some of last week's singles, shall we? Let's shall.


Azrael 13 (David Hine/Guillem March; DC)

Quite honestly, it's impossible to talk about this issue without giving away major points, so I'll just do it up top. In this issue, we sail from the gnostic gospels straight into Dan Brown territory.

Yes, that's right; we're talking about the descendants of Jesus.

But before we get to that point, we get to bounce back and forth between Michael and Father Day recovering the Shroud of Turin and trying fruitlessly to escape the chapel -- or, really, not actually trying to escape, but angsting about lots of things -- and the Crusader flaying Father Grieve. Which he manages to survive. There's a lovely scene where Father Grieve, muscles and viscera exposed, carries his skin to Michael and Father Day to tell them exactly what's going on and who the suit of sorrows is really meant for.

Honestly, I think this story might work better when it's collected, and you can just immerse yourself in it and go from wire to wire without coming up for air. Although, that said, this story has veered so spectacularly from the early arcs to this that it feels like it's dealing with different characters altogether. Part of that, of course, is the fact that the suit of sorrows is driving Michael messily mad. But there are certainly threads that were discarded; the Ra's al-Ghul/Talia storyline, where Michael was told he would need to go to them to find out the truth of the suit of sorrows, has disappeared entirely, and might not fit the story as it is now. He seems utterly disconnected from anything remotely resembling sane humans. And the story is effectively depicting all Christians, especially Catholics, as dupes of the Church. To be sure, Protestants are merely clueless; Catholics are being actively deceived.

It is a weirdly engrossing story. I think, at this stage, I keep reading to see just how much farther off the rails this story can go, and every issue it keeps leaping even further away. And March's art is actually keeping up with the weird.

Impossible to recommend or qualify, but utterly fascinating, in a train wreck sort of way.

Batman and Robin 15 (Morrison/Irving; DC): In which Dick gets shot in the head to remarkably little immediate effect, the Joker turns out not to be entirely on the side of evil, Damian rescues Commissioner Gordon from Pyg, and we find out more about Doctor Hurt. This issue, in fact, dovetails really beautifully with issue 5 of "The Return of Bruce Wayne". Irving's art is, as usual, spectacular, and well-fitted to Morrison's storytelling.
Excellent; Highly recommended.

Bruce Wayne, The Road Home: Commissioner Gordon (Adam Beechen/Szymon Kudranski; DC): Honestly, alone of the "Road Home" stories so far, this one is kind of awesome. Principally because this is the first issue in which Bruce isn't testing someone; he comes in the middle of a crisis and helps out, only to discover that Gordon has more or less got it covered. The Vicki Vale thread continues, and actually makes absolutely no sense this time through, mostly because it isn't quite about her. It's about Ra's al-Ghul using her for ... something. Offscreen, he lets the underworld know that Vicki has information revealing the secret identities of the Bat clan, basically setting off a free-for-all as everyone tries to get hold of her to get the information out of her. It's not at all clear why he does this; after all, he knows Bruce's secret identity. And causing chaos for chaos' sake isn't really his style. Regardless, this issue is more about showing why Commissioner Gordon makes such a good partner for Batman, and making Bruce realize it. (And also demonstrating that the corruption of the Gotham PD will never ever ever be gone.) Kudranski's art is interestingly dark and textured, and a great match for Beechen's story. It's apparently a hard lead into the Oracle "Road Home" story, which, given that she already knows that Bruce is home and is the Insider, should be a very different story than the other Road Home titles. This one, however, is the only one that really does stand alone, even meant as a lead in. If you want to see something that shows you the core of the Bruce/Gordon relationship, this is a good title for that.
Excellent; Highly recommended

Batman Beyond 5 (Beechen/Ryan Benjamin/John Stanisci; DC)
In which we find out who it was that attacked Terry, the new Catwoman helps Bruce save him, and we discover that Amanda Waller has, sadly, gone brilliantly batshit insane. She has decided that Gotham should always have a Batman -- more importanly, I suspect, a Batman under Cadmus/her control. And the steps she's taken resulted in a murderous lunatic running around Gotham. Oh, and Bruce accidentally admits something important to Terry. This isn't a bad story, exactly ... but I think we got Beechen at his best in the above Commissioner Gordon story, and at somewhat less than his best in this story. In particular, the idea that Amanda Waller, of all people, would decide that Gotham needs her to make it a Batman is just bizarre.
OK; No recommendation because it's the fifth issue of a six-issue arc.

Power Girl 17 (Winick/Basri; DC)
The first issue of the current arc that hasn't felt like it should have a "Brightest Day" banner on it, instead we get ... Batman. Seriously, people, he's everywhere this month. Any road, the villain of the piece, whom we've known about for a while, finally makes an appearance. Bats and PG's new sidekick, Nicco Cho, help her figure out where to find said villain, although not who it is. I hope the revelation of the villain to PG means that we're near the end of this arc; with all the crossovers, it's felt like it's gone on forever. That said, while taking a more serious approach overall, Winick has managed to sustain much of the humor that Palmiotti and Gray put into the character; the one major difference is that whereas Palmiotti and Gray let her enjoy her life and enjoy being a superhero, Winick hasn't let PG enjoy much of anything at all, as all aspects of her life have fallen apart. In terms of the art, Basri manages something really interesting this month; the bulk of the issue looks much like the last one, but somehow Batman looks as though he's come in to visit from a Fraser Irving issue of Batman and Robin. He really looks very different from anything else in the issue, somehow.
Very good; Recommended.

(Purely a side note: Is it wrong that right now, I kind of want a new issue of "The Network" that focuses on some big conspiracy that can only be uncovered by the technosidekicks of the DCU? There's wossername that Barbara sent to handle the Web's tech, there's Proxy who handles Batgirl when Barbara's not available, Barbara is the only person who works with the Birds, and now we've got Nicco and PG. If you could figure out how to make it work, it would be kind of awesome. Though maybe it should be a big one-shot/annual type deal.)

Knight and Squire 1 of 6 (Paul Cornell/Jimmy Broxton; DC)
In wihch THEY ARE BRITISH. THEY ARE VERY VERY BRITISH. OH, THEY ARE SO BRITISH ... Sorry for the shouting, but half the issue is dedicated to establishing the setting and how very different the British do things than the Americans do, and not a lot else. If you didn't see the earlier issues of Morrison's Batman run in which Knight and Squire appeared, you don't actually know much more about them at the end of the issue than you did at the beginning. But you do know that the British superheroes and supervillains handle themselves very differently than the American ones. Even the ones who patterned themselves after American heroes and villains. Because they're British. Thing is, if this had been the first issue of a full ongoing series, it might not be a bad start. As the beginning of a miniseries ... it seems rather a waste of space, really.
No recommendation, because this was an utterly pointless issue to start off a miniseries.

And now, a musical reward for having survived to the end of this entry:

Because Neil Patrick Harris makes everything better, doesn't he?
In which we get to see what happens when you tie one big event to another big event, and the last two issues of the first big event ship late.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #5 (Grant Morrison/Ryan Sook, Pere Pérez, Mick Gray, Jose Villarubia; DC): In which Bruce finds himself in Gotham shortly after his parents' death. Of course, having no memory of himself, he doesn't know anything about that. He winds up getting shot, winds up in the hospital, and thence winds up working for Marsha Lamarr, a friend of his mother's. Marsha seems to want him to prove that Thomas is still alive and that he had Martha murdered. Of course, this being Gotham, nothing is quite what it seems to be. Through her, we see some of the connections to Dr Hurt and several other characters and storylines. (And, somewhat incidentally, it helped me figure out how the Kanes and Waynes were connected, and where Kate Kane falls in relation to Bruce. But I digress.) The style of the main story is hard boiled noir, dames and double-crosses galore. Bruce, despite having no memory and getting more and more suspicious of what he's being asked to do, fits into the role of noir detective like a hand in a glove. Fitted into that are flashes forward to the present, with Tim/Red Robin and the Justice League trying to figure out how to stop Bruce, especially since Superman, Green Lantern, and the others sent to stop Bruce seem to have gotten lost in time. ("Time Masters", an allegedly related miniseries, has become almost completely disconnected from this story, and I suspect has been so spectacularly delayed that it wouldn't matter if it got back on track anyway.) And at the end of the story, almost all of the connections stand revealed. Almost. The artwork is pretty much perfect for the story it's helping to tell, stylish and stylized just enough.
Good; Recommended -- Surprisingly enough, if you haven't read any other issues of The Return, this one almost stands alone. It wouldn't be difficult to piece together the shape of what's going on, although you'd be missing a few (dozen) details.

Bruce Wayne: The Road Home (DC)
- Batman and Robin (Fabian Nicieza/Cliff Richards)
- Red Robin (Fabian Nicieza/Ramon Bachs/John Lucas)
- Batgirl (Bryan Q. Miller/Pere Perez)
- Outsiders (Mike W. Barr/Javier Saltares/ Rebecca Buchman)
Reviewed in a lump because they're all sequenced and ... honestly, there's nothing that special about them.

The idea is that Bruce, using an incredibly zippy high-tech suit that gives him functional invisibility, super speed and a few other tricks, tests the various members of his Bat-family now that he's returned and all of the traps that Darkseid left behind have been defanged. (Thus blowing the end of "The Return of Bruce Wayne", which won't ship until next month, at best.) He uses methods and techniques tailored to each of the people. Having seen that everyone somehow managed without him, he concocts a plan for how to proceed, while still apparently leaving everyone doing what they clearly do well. (Batman, Inc., anyone?)

It starts with Batman and Robin, in which Dick and Damian, among other things, prevent the assassination of the mayor of Gotham by Killshot and/or the Order of Spiders. Vicki Vale also continues her investigation into the lives of Batman, Robin, Red Robin, Tim, et al. (I will point out that this investigation into Batman, Robin, Tim and who could be whom has been singularly unexplained and unmotivated; she seems to be doing it because she's obsessed, and for no other real reason.)

The story continues in Red Robin, in which Tim is trying to figure out why the order of the Spider is trying to assassinate various mayors and heads of state. (Mostly succeeding, too.) In the meantime, Vicki Vale finds out the truth behind her investigations, and doesn't know what to do with it. (Alfred does get an absolutely priceless line: "We thought he was [dead], but he's better now.") In "Outsiders", Bruce -- somewhat incidentally -- helps the Outsiders prevent an unrelated assassination of a head of state. In "Batgirl", Bruce does nothing but test Stephanie -- that said, Barbara has a perfectly awesome moment with Vicki Vale. There is a thoroughly puzzling conversation between Bruce and Alfred about Cassandra Cain -- a conversation that makes me wonder if she may reappear later as a different member of the Batfamily.

As mentioned, there's nothing particularly special about these titles. Bruce is testing everyone to see if the Batman Inc. concept is going to work, or if he'll need to put things back the way they were. The other throughline is Vicki Vale's nonsensical investigation; I assume it's going to have something to do with something at some point. The artwork runs the gamut from stellar (Richards in "Batman and Robin") to very good ("Batgirl" and "Outsiders") to barely serviceable (Bachs in "Red Robin" -- his Vicki Vale is particularly cartoonish). Moreover, Vicki Vale in particular has an oddly wide variance in how she looks from title to title. Granting that different artists do things in different ways, she ought to be easily identifiable from title to title, especially with four appearances in the same week.

OK. No recommendation. I suspect it may wind up being necessary to understand Batman Inc, when it appears, but other than that: meh.

Massive Awesome (Stephen Lindsay/Rolf Lejdegard; 215 Ink)
In which a sentient piece of bacon and a sentient pickle (that thinks he's a zombie, but really isn't) are members of a military task force. Or ... were. Turns out that they've been forced to retire, because they were "loose cannons". (Well, Bacon was. Pickle was, you know, being zombie-like and somehow got himself arrested, but don't ask how or why.) And just when it looks like Bacon and Pickle might settle into retirement, they're attacked by an Evil Person and his pet ninja ... creatures.

I honestly cannot describe the purely fantastic lunacy of this title. Fighting Bacon! Fighting neo-zombie Pickle that really isn't a zombie! Humans who think this state of affairs is perfectly normal! Ninja ... things that attack in broad daylight in downtown Hollywood! This is not the sort of comic you read when you want your normal superhero epic. Not your average ordinary story. This is the sort of thing you read when you just want to sit back and enjoy the heights of true absurdity.

It also has a backup "Jesus Hates Zombies" story, which would, all by itself, be enough to sell me on the issue.

Highly recommended. I'm not sure a quality ranking would really apply here, somehow. I mean, seriously: a world with talking sentient food. How does Bacon take it when people eat nonsentient bacon in front of him, one wonders? I think I hope I get to find out.

I think.
Yes! That's right! In this review, I tell you now: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS! BIG ONES! Small ones! Spoilers that go round and round and round ... and they come out here! That's right! If you can't stand the thought, then walk away! Just walk away! In fact, you can consider the folly of staying during the following musical interlude:

OK, so let's get to it, shall we? Let's shall.

Brightest Day 10 (Johns/Tomasi/Reis/Clark/Prado; DC)

(NB: This is the most spoilerrific of the reviews. You get through this one, you should be good to go.)

Brightest Day 10 cover

In which, after having spent essentially no time at all with the Aqualad-to-be, and hardly any time in the last issue or so with Firestorm, we get the all Aqualad/all Firestorm issue. (The cover is a lie, of course; we don't even see Deadman this issue, let alone see Aqualad reverting him to his previously dead status.) And the big bad that the White Lantern is so afraid of seems to have been revealed! And ... frankly, I think I'm done with the main "Brightest Day" title now.

The good aspects of issue 10: narrowing the focus of the issue to only two stories and three major characters, rather than bouncing between the 15 people who have been raised, strengthens the storytelling considerably. If nothing else, it's easier to follow what's happening. And we get an explanation that makes sense, of sorts, for why Firestorm's powers seem so weirdly variable. The art and coloring in both sections are superb in service of a story that doesn't really deserve them.

Now, the downside ... well, it's considerable. Along with an explanation of why Firestorm's powers are so wonky, we also get an explanation for the origin of the Firestorm matrix which is perhaps the most spectacular retcon ever. Seriously, the genesis of the Big Bang is trapped in Firestorm's body? Seriously? And it's welded the two of them together because it likes them? And you don't even want to think about what happens if Firestorm gets mad and loses control -- which is pretty much his/their natural state of being, actually. At least, as far as you can tell from reading Brightest Day so far. There is such a thing as overexplaining and over-expositing, and I think that nailed it. A perfect score, as it were. And then there is the last page reveal of the villain of the piece, and that just lost me completely. (The truly horrifying aspect of the ending is what it implies about what's possibly going on with the rest of the resurrected heroes -- almost certainly with Aquaman, I would think, given how his powers have been perverted since his undeath. And probably most of the others, as well. There is the rather puzzling question of why the White Lantern would have resurrected these people, if that was a reasonable possibility.)

Look, if I'd wanted to read Blackest Night, then I'd have done so. The only part of it that I read on purpose was Blackest Night: Wonder Woman, and that was a mess. Regardless, I don't need some flavor of Blackest Night redux. To be sure, I'm a mite curious as to how the new Aqualad -- who just came into his powers, like, ten seconds ago -- and Aquaman are going to defeat/get away from Syren and Black Manta. And I'm mildly curious about what the Star City forest has to do with anything. And I'm mildly curious about what's going on with Hawkgirl and Hawkman back on ... wherever it is they're being held prisoner by their Great Nemesis. And I'm mildly curious about why Hawk was brought back to keep Dove alive -- but I'm getting at least some of that through Birds of Prey. I'm not curious enough about any of the rest of it to see how they explain that final page of issue 10. (Strange character note: I assume the way the villain is talking is to mock the people who were just attacked. Of course, those people are unconscious, so there's not a lot of point, but whatever.)
Bad DC, BAD! No cookie for you! (...OK, to be fair: if you liked Blackest Night, then this is likely to be Absolutely Your Thing. It's not mine, and it never will be.)

Batman Beyond 4 of 6 (Adam Beechen/Ryan Benjamin/John Stanisci; DC)
So a friend of mine and I were talking about how they've sorta/kinda pulled Batman Beyond into continuity, and how Batman Inc. is supposed to work (apparently Dick and Damian will be the Bat-team of Gotham, and Bruce [and possibly Tim] will work in the rest of the world) and how and why things might work. And we realized: a major issue of the Bat titles is that Bruce is getting older. They've massively retarded it, of course, in the way the comics can. Nonetheless, the idea is that Bruce is supposed to be sort of fortyish in the current run of stories. The problem with that is, Dick is pretty clearly supposed to be kind of thirtyish himself. Twenty-five, at least. He is, in fact, too old to have been taken in by Bruce as a twelve-year-old. (He was either 10 or 12, I'm not sure which.) Money galore or not, nobody in anything pretending to be their right mind is going to let someone under 20 take in a kid. (Granted, sanity and Gotham clearly only have passing acquaintance with each other.) So on the one hand, it behooves DC to start laying the ground work to say, "OK, this is what happens when Bruce gets too old and battered to take on the mantle of the Bat." After all, aside from event titles like the Nights and the Days and the Crises, the Batman suite are their best selling titles.

The other aspect of that is of the DC Trinity, Bruce is the only one that is fully human. Superman is an alien, and the Batman Beyond story from Superman/Batman has made it clear that he ages much more slowly than humans. Wonder Woman is, depending on how you look at things, either a golem or a being created by and favored of (for certain highly idiosyncratic values of "favored") the Greek gods, so normal aging rules probably don't apply to her, either.

For all that they've created subsequent generations of Superman's family and Wonder Woman's family, the only one for whom succession is becoming a looming issue is Bruce.

So, all that said: this particular issue is primarily, but not purely, a big ol' lump of character development and exposition. There was an utterly insane fight between the guy in the bandages and the new Catwoman, and also a big revelatory fight near the end. During the issue, we learn why Dick and Bruce parted (and also the practical reason why Batman wears a cape, which makes it somewhat nonsensical that Nightwing never did). I will just note that even allowing that he's a manipulative bastard, I have a hard time believing Bruce would have treated the child he raised like that. And from a stray remark Dick makes, I have a horrible horrible feeling that issue 6 of "Batman: the Widening Gyre" may not have been some sort of strange drug trip that Bruce was on; it took me forever to figure out who "Silver" might have been or why whatever happened to that person would have such an effect on Bruce.

Anyway, on the final page of the story, the face of the villain is revealed! ... and I can't tell you what my reaction was without revealing more of the ending than I'm comfortable with. (Hey, I spoilered the heck out of Brightest Day, already! One is enough!) All I can say is ... I'm very very confused, and I'm not sure whether or not I'm meant to be.

At the technical level, despite there being a lot of exposition, the story moves -- boy, does the story move! The artwork really does strike that balance between more traditional comics art, and the look of the DC Animated universe that Batman Beyond would require. The only place where I think the art might have some issues is on that confusing last page ... and, again, I don't know if it's the art, or if there's a story element that I'm just not getting.
Good; Recommended

Azrael 12 (David Hine/Guillem March; DC): "The Killer of Saints, part 3: Heart of Fire, Heart of Ice"
"The Killer of Saints" arc can be read as a truly astonishing anti-Catholic screed. (Anti-Catholic, rather than anti-Christian, because all the rest of Christianity has been actively deceived by the Catholics.)

It seems that in DC world, the Church wants to destroy the Shroud of Turin because forensic evidence revealed that the man wrapped in it wasn't actually dead yet, thus refuting the resurrection. The Order of Purity, which absconded with the Shroud during said testing, is devoted to preserving and possibly revealing the truth, whether or not it brings down the Catholic Church and incidentally also all of Christianity. This issue, we discover that the Order of Purity is based on the Gnostic Gospels, and that the Catholic Church has persecuted them through the ages, going so far as to kidnap, brainwash and train mystics -- some of whom were children -- and mystical soldiers of their own to combat the Order. And it turns out that the Gnostic Book of True Revelation of the Prophet Matheus has detailed prophecy about everything that's happened in this story arc, including the battle Azrael and the Crusader.

The truly fascinating thing about this arc is that every single person in it is, to put it vaguely politely, batguano insane. Michael, of course, is being driven insane by the suit of sorrows. The Crusader was made insane by the Church so that he could carry out his duties properly. The dark priest of the order was driven a particular sort of insane by having read the book of True Revelation and knowing his fate. And the priest who's been "helping" Michael is insane because he's a member of the Order, which itself appears to be insane.

I really do wonder how much longer this series has left to run. You'd think that the arc that undermines all of Christianity would be a good place to end, wouldn't you? After all, either Michael -- who started out as a devout Catholic -- defends the Order and lets them reveal the Shroud as ... well, not a fake, but not what it's been assumed to be, or his Catholicism rears its head and he helps the Crusader hide the evidence. His faith has already been used against him, and, lest we forget, was used to make him slaughter the entire Swiss Guard of the Vatican; the Crusader has been mocking him for letting his responsibility to the Order supersede his faith. Regardless, what's left of his sanity doesn't seem long for this world.
Really fascinating; Recommended for the truly bizarre theology and politics.
Life with Archie: The Married Life #2 (Kupperberg/Breyfogle/Pepoy; Archie Comics):
Apparently, what we're supposed to learn from this is that living with or ever having dated -- or possibly even simply having known -- Archie Andrews is a passport to making your life an utter misery. In the "Life with Veronica" section, Veronica's life is miserable because she's Archie's supervisor at Lodge Industries, and he's been tasked to give Pop a lowball offer for his Chok'lit Shop, and, understandably, he hates having to do this. Veronica hates having to make him do it, hates that her father wanted them to do it in the first place, and she and Archie wind up having -- for Archieworld -- a fairly nasty fight about it. She winds up breaking down over it, with Reggie innocently comforting her in a way that leads some of their coworkers to thinking that she's cheating on Archie. In the meantime, Betty the unemployed has been avoiding her friends, because she doesn't want them to think she's a loser. Her mother eventually forces her to go out and try to meet one of her old friends -- Veronica, whose breakdown means that she totally forgets that she agreed to meet Betty in the first place. Archie, in the meantime, is beginning to suspect that Mr Lodge is up to no good.

In the "Life with Betty" part of the strip, Archie's music career continues to go nowhere. Betty's career at Sacks 6th Avenue seems to be going nowhere, as she's had to take a pay cut and add on more work. She's carefully avoiding telling Archie how badly things are going for her, while he grouses to everyone everywhere. Eventually, he and Ambrose have what can only be described as an Andy Hardy moment ("Let's put on a show! Right here!"), while Betty may be finding her way to both more work but also some career satisfaction. Of course, all this will be threatened by (you guessed it) Mr Lodge. He's furious that Archie refused to be bribed to leave Betty for Veronica, and he begins to make .... plans.

There's a level where this is the most stunningly realistic story to come out of Archie Comics in an age. People in their 20s do struggle to get themselves set in the world, even when they've got someone like Mr Lodge easing the way quite a bit. And yet, there's a level where it's heading quickly to be just a bit too much. Mr Lodge, however much he disliked Archie, was not an unspeakably evil plutocrat in the original stories. Veronica was just not this mopey, which she is in both stories; for that matter, neither was Betty. Though god wot, both of them have ample reason to mope. Even with that caveat, however, it's fascinating to read. Archie just doesn't do grim and gritty, and yet here we are.
Good; Recommended for those over 30 (NB: At one point in the first issue, Betty recounts the men she's dated to try to get past Archie; they include Henry Aldrich, Andy Hardy, Richie Cunningham, Zach Morris and Troy Bolton. The only name that anyone under 30 could reasonably be expected to easily recognize is Troy Bolton of High School Musical ... and that actually makes her a bit of a cradle robber. Scandalous!)

Library Wars: Love and War, vol. 2 (Kiiro Yumi; Shojo Beat Manga): In which the civil war, surprisingly enough, not only makes an appearance, but looks somewhat like warfare. There's a skirmish between the Library Defense Force and the Media Betterment Committee forces at the Musashino Main Library, in which it's discovered -- but not confirmed absolutely -- that a librarian has been acting as a fifth columnist for the MBC. (The horror ... the horror ...) We also get a bit of history into how the civil war started in the first place, which is actually fairly interesting, and does in fact look like civil warfare in all its ugliness. And ... then all that pretty much gets shoved aside so the story can concentrate on the triangle between Iku Kasahara, Sgt Dozo, and Corporal Tezuka. Iku doesn't actually realize there is a triangle, but then, there's a lot she doesn't quite get. Honestly, I'm not sure that I'll keep going with this; I picked up vol 2 primarily to see if they could keep having this unusually civil civil war. And it turns out they can; even in the one battle we see, the only thing that seems to happen is that there are some injuries on both sides, apart from the main goal of the battle, of course. It's actually not badly done; I'm just ... really, profoundly not the audience for this title.
OK; No recommendation (But if you know a teenaged girl that has a thing for romances, I'll bet she'd love this.)

Red Robin #16 (Nicieza/To/McCarthy; DC): In which we discover that Anarky has been killing off people he thinks might be Red Robin. The only reason he hasn't gone after Tim is that the assassination attempt seemed to take him out of the running. And "The Hit List" chapter concludes just in time to yield to the big mega Bat-Event, The Road Home. Unfortunately, the end of it shows that it was sorta kinda meant to be sequenced with "The Flash" and the Brightest Day event, and that sort of didn't happen.
OK; Recommended

Batgirl 14 (Miller/Garbett/Scott; DC): In which Kara is bored and comes to visit Stephanie, whom she met back during the "World's Finest" miniseries. (Which, come to think of it, was supposed to set up something that has relentlessly refused to appear. I wonder if it was in Superman/Batman?) And it turns out that some geek has invented a machine that accidentally reaches out to a nearby old film festival and creates 24 three-dimensional Draculas. (Don't ask. Really, just don't.) And so Batgirl and Supergirl get to spend a pleasant evening (really, it is!) hunting down and staking (yes, REALLY) vampires. It's a nice, frothy little done-in-one, and it has the advantage of not leaving any dangling plotlines to be cleared away by next month's Big Bat Event.
Eh; No recommendation.

Batman and Robin 14 (Morrison/Irving; DC): In which Damian discovers the hard way that the Joker has the joker toxin in his blood, and there's a reason why Batman doesn't normally go pounding on him without a certain amount of protection. In the meantime, Gotham and all within it have gone insane -- as it does -- and really horrible things happen to poor Commissioner Gordon, as they do. And we still haven't reached the point where we started this storyline, where Dick got shot and has a bullet in his brain. Unless we skipped right past all that and I missed it. Entirely possible; this is, by design, a very difficult storyline to follow. Frazer Irving's artwork is, however, really oddly beautiful, and well matched to the type of story being told. Oddly, alone of the Bat titles I've seen, there's one more issue before the big mega Bat event; I assume that the Batman and Robin issue will be the concluding chapter.
Good; No recommendation

Batman 703 (Nicieza/Richards): A mostly done-in-one, which seems to be taking place far enough after the beginning of Time Masters so that Alfred, Dick, Damian and Tim all bond over their hopes that Bruce will soon be home. Dick does something terribly stupid -- as he has been doing while he learns to be Bat -- and the demonization of Vicki Vale continues apace. (Seriously, what on earth did they ever do to her to inspire this level of ... well, it's not hate, exactly, but she clearly Does Not Like Them At All. Mostly a placemarker issue, letting us know that Everybody Misses Bruce, just in time for his return next month.
OK; No recommendation
Hey, it seems to be something I've said a lot lately, and, well, some of this week's reviews qualify.

Batman Beyond #3 of 6, "Hush Beyond part 3: Close Encounters" (Adam Beechen/Ryan Benjamin/John Stanisci; DC):
In which we discover that Terry has his limits, Bruce is still batguano-insane but knows how to manipulate his surrogates like anyone's business, turns out that not all of Bruce's children are dead, and the new villain, who may or may not be Hush, knows Bruce's secrets and remains one step ahead. Oh, and "Return of the Joker" gets pulled into main DCU continuity.

Seriously, I don't even know how that can possibly work. For "Return of the Joker" to happen, Tim is supposed to be Robin, not Red Robin, and it should actually have already happened. Arkham was supposed to have been closed and abandoned, not destroyed (twice already, I think) and rebuilt. Yet in the current DCU, the Joker is still alive and kicking (and has some nasty plans for Damian), Arkham is there again/still, and Tim is unchipped and wearing a new suit. (And crutches.) But there you go: Superman/Batman sequenced Batman Beyond and pulled that into DCU continuity, and Batman Beyond does the same for "Return of the Joker", doing a hand-wavey timey-wimey thing at the past for someone else to fix.

All that said, I will note that the only thing more surprising than discovering that "Return" is now an explicit part of the DCU is the last page of this issue. Which really makes you wonder what the hell Bruce did, and how things got to this state. (But then, it's Bruce we're talking about.) And also who on earth got shot in Batman #666, and who was that Robin, anyway? But my continuity wonk digresses.

Beechen handles all of the surprises well, and Benjamin and Stanisci do a great job with the artwork.

Very good; Recommended (if highly puzzling on several counts)

Azrael #11 (David Hine/Guillem March; DC): In which Michael Lane may or may not discover more about the Suit of Sorrows, and said suit begins to take a serious and entirely expected toll on him. In the meantime, we get told about further shennaningans of not only the Order of Purity, but also of the Catholic Church and the extent to which it will go to maintain Christianity itself. (Interestingly enough, the Order itself does not seem to be quite, shall we say, as devoted to that issue.) The revelations about the suit are entirely unsurprising, although the method of their revelation may be; that said, seriously, it's called "the Suit of Sorrows", so why on earth would anyone expect it to have been an instrument of God's Grace? And why would an instrument of said Grace inevitably drive its wearers homicidally insane? I do wonder if perhaps this arc is beginning Azrael's home stretch as a title. After all, we seem to know where it ends, and we seem to know that it doesn't take Michael all that long to get there. Plus it is the worst selling of the Bat titles by quite some margin. All of that said, this really is the best match of writer and artist that the title has had during its latest run; somehow, Hine and March work together well in a way that Nicieza and Bachs really didn't.
OK; No recommendation, because if you try to pick up the series at this point, you're just going to be hopelessly lost.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Riley: Commitment through distance, virtue through sin" (Jane Espenson/Karl Moline; Dark Horse): In which we see not only how Riley was recruited to the cause, but also how Angel was persuaded to become Twilight. It's OK, although there are some moderately puzzling touches. All the business with the missiles, for one thing, and why Angel speaks in a very strange typeface designed to call attention to itself, for another. Quite honestly, the bit where the two stories come together is thoroughly confusing; the idea seems to be that Riley is running some sort of deception on Twilight, but given the discussion that Riley and his wife have just prior to meeting Twilight -- which it's clear that he's heard from his reaction -- he can't possibly be at all deceived. This really feels like something that was meant to be a two issue sequence within the main storyline and it somehow got very compressed into one, and as a result, there's some connective tissue missing.
OK; No recommendation

Life with Archie: The Married Life #1 (Michael Uslan/Norm Breyfogle; Archie Comics)
...OK, look, just go over here and read Chris Sims' review. I'll tell you right now, it's because of his review that I picked up this comic. I can't do better than to refer you to that. Go ahead, I'll wait ....

Back? OK, then! And I'll tell you right now, this story is entirely as fascinating as he makes it out to be.

One of the things that's puzzled me about Archie over the years is ... who the heck is the audience for this supposed to be? I mean, if you go back back back into the mists of prehistory and my own childhood, the Archie comics made more sense, in terms of having a market. They had the Saturday morning cartoons, they had the Archies musical group, they had the Josie and the Pussycats spinoff, it all made more sense. But then all of that fell away, and the comics started to seem very dated, and they had the tricky balancing act of pitching to a very young audience a comic book about teenagers -- because the people who were the age that the characters seemed to be wouldn't touch Archie with a ten-foot pole, and it wasn't really the sort of title to invoke a lot of nostalgia in adults.

But then they had the bright idea to actually get Archie married off. And that perked up the ears of many an adult who grew up with Archie. (Kids? Still not caring.) And with "The Married Life", they've managed to keep the attention of those adults.

I agree with Mr Sims that this title is the most spectacularly depressing thing I've ever seen in an Archie comic. Interestingly, they try to leaven one part of the story ... I think. You're told right off the bat that the path where Archie marries Veronica leads to Veronica giving birth to twins, though they don't tell you whether or not that's a good thing in and of itself. They don't say any such thing about the Betty storyline, which is amazingly gritty for an Archie story.

For what it's worth, back when I was of an age to be interested in Archie, I always got the impression both that he cared more for Betty, and that Betty cared more for him. Veronica seemed to see him as both a prize and a way to irritate her father, who understandably preferred Reggie as a boyfriend from his daughter. After all, he was from money and perfectly acceptable, right? All of that was clouded by the rivalry between Veronica and Betty, both of whom viewed Archie as a prize to be won, as well as actually liking him. (If you think about it, presenting the man as the object of contention, as a prize to be won, was moderately subversive for its day. To be sure, in theory, there was the counterbalancing Archie/Veronica/Reggie triangle, but I never had the impression that Archie cared that much about dealing with Reggie as a rival for Veronica's affections. Apart from anything else, Reggie always lost.)

And on top of that, there's the "multiverse" angle. For what it's worth, my guess is that for the title to work, Dalton can't fix anything; he'll only be able to helplessly observe.

Much like the reader.

Excellent; Highly recommended. You probably do need some background in Archie's history to find the title interesting.
media relations: red hood done right / August 8, 2010

In which DC Animated takes on the origin story of Jason Todd as the Red Hood and makes it make sense.

To be sure, the DC Animated people had both a signal advantage and disadvantage. Feeling that Jason Todd had been rather badly treated (a vote to kill him off, for heaven's sake, and one that seems to have been mishandled, at that), DC Animated gave Jason's origin story to Tim Drake so that Bruce Timm and friends could tell Jason's story they way they wanted -- only without Jason. Of course, that meant that if they were going to keep the movies in the same universe as the animated series, and they wanted to tell this story, they not only needed to introduce Jason from scratch, but make us understand who he was and how he fit in. After all, if all you'd ever seen was the animated series, and then went to this, your immediate assumption of the start is that the Joker is beating on Tim Drake, and that would be quite wrong.

DC Animated seem to be treating the direct-to-DVD animation as though it were almost its own universe, almost but not quite independent of the storylines they'd established with the various series....
Mighty Crusaders #1 of 6 (Eric Troughtman and Brandon Jerwa/ Julian Lopez and John Lucas; DC)
So ... all of the Red Circle titles having apparently failed commercially -- even The Web, which was loosely affiliated with the Bat titles, and the only one of those that's doing anything like badly is Azrael -- it was decided to combine all of these heroes that nobody was following into one big miniseries ... All-righty then! The series seems to be mostly a coda to all of the other series and a reward to the readers of the previous series; there's no attempt at all to introduce the characters to a new audience. At least two storylines continue from the previous series; the Hangman dealing with an enemy he met at the end of his series, and Inferno wondering about who he used to be before he became a guy who caught fire.

The issue starts with our heroes getting introduced to the public by the US president as a team that's clearly meant, in part, to be a US version of the Global Peace Agency and also of Checkmate. They immediately start out fighting a bunch of bad guys that their government-issued manager seems to have cooked up purely to get them some good publicity for saving the president on the steps of the Capitol. This does not go over well with any of the heroes; their first action is to arrest said manager for ... well, it's not at all clear for what. Fraud, I guess. In the meantime, back in San Francisco, the Hangman, who is not officially part of the team, tries to save a senator from an assassination attempt, but fails ... and in the process discovers that the senator was an alien. In fact, it turns out that there's an entire alien civil war, quietly taking place on earth behind the scenes. And an admittedly intriguing ending.

I get that DC is simply resurrecting the group name as it was in the past (...Archie Comics? Really?) But there does seem to be a peculiar ... tone-deafness involved in calling a group under the direct command of the US government "Crusaders" in this day and age.

Apart from that ... It's OK. I can't recommend it to anyone who didn't read at least a couple of the previous Red Circle titles, particularly whichever one it was that had Inferno -- I think he may have been the backup title for The Shield, which I dropped after two issues, so I'm not certain -- and The Web and his backup The Hangman. Those stories seem to be the most important ones that are coming through, and it's going to be completely baffling to anyone without at least some of the background. If you have read the Red Circle titles, it might be worth it.

OK. No recommendation.

Zatanna #3 (Paul Dini/Stephane Roux; DC): I will admit, the end of this issue surprised me quite a lot. I didn't think that DC permitted writers to do something like that to their villains. That aside, it's an oddly lovely issue. Zatanna responds to Brother Night's challenge -- he kidnaps her staff and sics her father's enslaved spirit on her. She rescues her staff -- of course -- and deals with her father in a very interesting way. It's a surprisingly short arc to start out the continuing series, but a very satisfying one. I'm not entirely convinced that Stephane Roux is quite the right artist for Zatanna -- the art looks oddly cartoony in some places -- but we'll see.
Good; Recommended

Resurrection vol 2 #13 (Marc Guggenheim/Justin Greenwood; Oni Press):
...Well. That's one hell of a way to go into a hiatus. The alien that's been captured and which somehow kept Baltimore, alone of all US cities, safe from occupation and destruction gets re-captured and questioned at length by Bill Clinton and Sara, and tries not to reveal anything of consequence. He resists for a very good, if incredibly frustrating, reason. And then there's that last page, which will have longtime readers of the series saying, "What the HELL!? HOW?" ... and not getting an answer for at least several months to come, because Guggenheim and Greenwood are taking the next few months to produce "Stringers", a title in which Greenwood apparently has more of a direct investment than Resurrection. Which means that it will probably be at least a year before we find out how on earth that final page was even possible.
Excellent; Highly recommended, if incredibly frustrating.

Time Masters: Vanishing Point 1 of 6 (Dan Jurgens/Norm Rapmund; DC):
This title suffers dreadfully from not only being slaved to "The Return of Bruce Wayne," but also from being clearly very late to the stand. It's apparent from events in the story that it was meant to be published either at the same time or even before the first issue of "The Return"; it explains how and why Superman, Green Lantern and Booster Gold came to be searching for Bruce, and how they knew that he was lost in time -- Rip Hunter, the time hunter himself, told and recruited them. At the same time, an event happens that indicates that "The Return" is meant to be feeding back into "Time Masters"; Vanishing Point, a headquarters at the end of time -- DC's version of Milliways, only without the reputation for its cuisine -- itself is destroyed, and nobody seems to know why, but if you've read The Return issue 2, you know that Bruce himself seems to have destroyed it, to prevent the other heroes from finding him. Chances are that Return issue 2 was supposed to be published between Time Hunters 1 and 2 to give us the answer to that question. In other words, while the publication sequence really isn't clear, it's obvious that the two titles are locked together. "The Return" mostly stands alone, "Time Hunters" really doesn't.

Time Hunters also suffers from periodic lacks of story logic. For example, Degaton and Despero -- whoever they are -- manage to get into an utterly undefended Time Hunters HQ; no alarms, nothing. Except that it turns out that Goldstar, Booster Gold's sister (?), has been left behind. And while she should have known about the invaders, somehow they manage to take her by surprise; the only reason that they don't destroy Rip's time platform is that Supernova, who has been investigating the destruction of Vanishing Point, reappears just in time and stops them. Then, with Goldstar having signally failed to protect the time platform by herself, Supernova leaves her to do it again.

Really, at this point, Time Hunters just isn't very good. It may be that it can pull itself away from The Return of Bruce Wayne to become both its own thing and better. Right now, however, the issue feels like it may be the same sort of thing as "Blackest Night: Wonder Woman", something meant to fill in spaces between issues of another title where something happens that needs further explanation elsewhere.

Bad; Not recommended.

First Wave: The Spirit #4 (David Hine/Moritat; Marv Wolfman/Phil Winslade; DC):
... OK, I have just about had it with The Spirit in this incarnation.

The first story in this issue: Someone is spreading a new, deadly drug around the streets of Central City. The Spirit is investigating. Ebony and Ellen get involved. Ebony's part goes very very badly. Moritat's art is, as usual, quite spectacular. That's all you really need to know about that first story, in terms of plot.

What I'm getting irritated about is the way they're using the reconstituted Ebony. The Spirit and Ebony have appeared in both First Wave: The Spirit and in the main First Wave title itself. And I was mostly on board with how they decided to rebuild Ebony; I don't know that the "sass" made more or less sense in a woman than in a boy -- though chances are that it would get a boy either arrested or beat down in this day and age -- but I could get behind the name working better for a woman. I've known a few people with that name, and all but one were women. So that, at least, worked.

What grates is that, having made Ebony a woman, they've also made her the ogled, abducted and distressed damsel, and it's massively irritating. The character deserves better than that.

In the main First Wave title, The Spirit, badly injured, breaks into Ebony's home while she's in the shower, so the first time we see her, she's naked and covering herself with her hands. Shortly thereafter, she gets captured by the bad guys -- granted, because she followed the Spirit after being specifically told not to -- and used as bait to draw the Spirit into a graveyard, where he will most certainly be trapped into something or other. In the most recent issue of "First Wave: The Spirit", Ebony gets caught by the bad guys and injected with a theoretically lethal dose of the new street drug.

In terms of physical abuse, a writer can do a hell of a lot more with and to the adult Ebony than you could with the juvenile Ebony. Readers would have a hard time stomaching even this much abuse of a child. But the woman has had almost no agency at all in two different titles. She gets knocked out and abducted or drugged in both. Ellen Dolan, the Spirit's main squeeze, has been sort of abducted once, but managed to fight so hard and so much that she made it almost impossible to carry through, and wound up getting away. (Granted, partially rescued by the Spirit figuring out where Angel Smerti had taken her.) In this issue, she also takes on the drug dealers, but nothing bad happens to her. The dealers realize that she's the police chief's daughter, and since he's thought to be crooked and on their side, they let her go -- and right after they let her go, the Spirit arrives and beats the crap out of them anyway.

I'm not saying that they need to start embarrassing and abducting Ellen more so that what happens with her and Ebony evens out. However, take a look at Darwyn Cooke's previous revival of "The Spirit". The story really does work better with juvenile boy Ebony. His "sass" would probably get him in trouble, his name is all wrong, but he's frankly a much better partner for the Spirit than the woman Ebony, all because having made her a woman, the writers don't seem to have the foggiest idea what to do with her other than put her in danger as a draw for the Spirit.

Elsewhere in these First Wave issues there's also Imani. She's a kid -- I think she's supposed to be about eleven -- who skips out on school, keeps her ear to the ground, and passes on information to the Spirit. In short, she fills the role that the former Ebony used to have, with the sole exception that she doesn't drive a cab that the Spirit sometimes used as emergency transport. She also appears to be much more grim and street-savvy in a different way than the boy Ebony or the woman Ebony. Frankly, if you're going to have Imani, you really don't need the woman Ebony. Imani's a much better foil and a much better informant. They might as well let Ebony die of this overdose if they're not going to use the character better than that.

That rant aside, Wolfman's black and white done-in-one backup short "Connected" is a lovely little morality tale. It shows how the actions of one criminal, burning houses and putting people out on the street, can ultimately connect individuals in some very unexpected ways. And on top of that, a lovely nasty ironic twist at the end. Very classic style Spirit tale, well written, with Winslade's great artwork.

No recommendation
I can't recommend the first story because it makes me want to roll up the issue and beat the writers vigorously about the head and shoulders with it until they do better. I would rate Wolfman's backup story and Winslade's art in the backup and Moritat's art in the first as Excellent; Highly recommended, so those would be the reasons to buy it, if you're going to. Just prepare to be aggravated.
I did not actually plan for almost everything in this set of reviews to be a Bat title. Oh, well.

Birds of Prey #3 (Gail Simone, Ed Benes; DC)
So ... Remember all those people who were so furious with Gail Simone over apparently killing off one of DC's few gays back in BoP #2? And remember how she kept saying, "Just wait one issue! It's not necessarily what you think it is!" And they kept saying "No, really, we don't care, we are invested in the whole dead gay guy thing," and the whole "conversation" kind of went to hell in a handbasket from there? Turns out that when she said they should have waited an issue to see what happened, she really meant it.

I also think that I can say, entirely without fear of contradiction, that most of the people who were absolutely livid about the apparent deaths will be absolutely livid about what actually does happen. It's not the sort of development they'll actually welcome. Be careful what you wish for, and all that.

It also turns out there's a very good reason for what seems to be the absence of Barbara's brains, up to a point, and we probably haven't gotten all of the explanation for what's going on. (That said: still don't like it. Still don't entirely buy it. No, sir, not one bit. She's better than that. To be fair, things are happening very fast in comic-time; she's just figured out what she thinks is going on when she discovers what's really going on, and doesn't have time to react to the next few developments. Nonetheless, I look forward to the reapparance of her smarts and hopefully her outwitting the bad guys. Whoever they really are.)

In other developments, Black Canary figures out who White Canary is -- though she doesn't tell us -- and the rest of the Birds are trying to escape with the Penguin from some corrupt members of the Gotham Police Department -- because, of course, there are always corrupt members of the GCPD.

In general, I like Simone's storytelling, although I'm not fond of certain aspects of this particular story, and I really like Benes' art. He's not to be too cheesecakey, which, given the way this issue starts and the costumes he's got to work with, is something of a minor miracle. As far as the story itself goes, I have to admit, I'm really curious as to how Simone is going to wrap up all those loose ends hanging out there -- or even just most of them -- in only one more issue for the arc. (I'm also mildly curious as to why this series carries a "Brighest Day" banner; aside from the involvement of Hawk and Dove, so far, it's got nothing whatsoever to do with Brightest Day.)

Good; Recommended (with certain reservations)

Batgirl #12 (Bryan G. Miller/Lee Garbett/Pere Perez/Walden Wong; DC):
In which we get a somewhat less irksome version of "Barbara gets stupid but also gets smart again really fast". We also see how well Stephanie and Wendy work together. And finally, we get the Calculator's origin story; the man has had a truly dreadful life, from early childhood on. Barbara basically outwits him and saves herself, leaving Steph and Wendy to save pretty much everyone else.

I do think that perhaps, just perhaps, the story ladles on the pathos in Calculator's story just a bit heavily. On the other hand, it probably takes a special sort of trauma and/or insanity to create a supervillain, and, well, he's got that in spades and then some.

I have to admit, I'm continually surprised at just how enjoyable this title is. I figured that I'd wind up dropping it pretty early -- I have no investment in Stephanie Brown whatsoever, either from her days as Spoiler or as Robin -- but this is a really entertaining title so far.

Good; Recommended

Batman #701 (Grant Morrison/Tony Daniel; DC): In which we see what happened to Bruce between RIP and Final Crisis. Oddly, for something that's issue 1 of only a 2-issue arc, this is pretty much all setup and rehashing. Yes, Bruce does discover that Dr Hurt is still alive, or at least not dead (see "Batman and Robin" #13, below). And yes, he does get called to go to the site of Orion's murder to begin Final Crisis, as we knew he did. Other than that, lots of tiny little things happen, but there isn't much feeling of advancement, somehow.
OK; No recommendations.

Batman: Odyssey #1 (Neal Adams; DC):
... I have no idea what that was, aside from very confusing.

Turns out that the cover, featuring a bullet passing through Bruce's arm, is actually the first frame of the story; the technical first page features Bruce facing the reader, pointing to the scar (which we can't see through the arm hair) and telling ... someone how he got it, in his very first Batman adventure, in which he had but did not quite use a gun. He's also telling ... someone about his first adventure with Dick as Robin.

Then things broaden out, and we see him talking to a Robin with green leggings and boots; that's clearly not Tim's outfit, which had no green that I can recall, and the guy isn't surly enough to be Damian, so I figured he was talking to Jason -- I thought Dick had the briefs and pixie boots for his entire run as Robin. But no, he's apparently talking to Dick about that first Batman excursion and also about Dick and their first adventure -- which makes less than no sense.

And then there's a plotline with Kirk Langstrom, Man-Bat, and the other manbats -- which means this story ties in to "Return of Bruce Wayne #3", wherein we see the tribe of manbats hanging on the ceiling of what will become the Batcave. Kirk wants to tell Bruce ... something, and Bruce won't listen, because Kirk has taken his manbat serum, which seems to make him a bit high (something which we've never heard before), and which makes Bruce furious, and he and Robin go off to fight the Riddler. (The Batmobile also flies, which I thought it hadn't really done until recently, with Damian.) And then the other manbats get upset with Kirk about ... something.

Seriously, I have NO idea what's going on with this story right now. I don't think I've seen such a baffling first issue in some time.

Not recommended.

Astro City: Special - Silver Agent 1 of 2 (Busiek/Anderson/Ross/Sincalir/Comicraft; DC/Wildstorm): In the recently concluded Dark Age, we saw what Silver Agent did, from the outside, to save and also to humble the denizens of Astro City. In this two part special, we get to see what it was like for him from the inside, as we follow him through his string of adventures. We also see his origin story, see what made him go from a polio-stricken postman to a hero. It's beautiful storytelling, made a bit more poignant by the fact that, at the moment, we seem to know how it ends for the Silver Agent, in which he's unjustly killed by the system he wants so desperately to be a part of.
Excellent; Highly recommended

Batman and Robin #13, "Batman and Robin Must Die! part 1, the Garden of Death" (Grant Morrison/Fraser Irving; DC):
In which Doctor Hurt returns, playing the role of the long-thought-dead Thomas Wayne. In the meantime, Batman and Robin start questioning the Joker, unveiled as the face behind Inspector Sexton. Dick begins to figure out what was going on, and winds up going to the Batbunker with Commissioner Gordon -- who tells him explicitly that they know that he's not the former Batman, but also that they prefer him to Bruce. And Dick more or less indirectly tells Gordon that he's the former Robin through his realistic and utter inability to call Gordon anything but "Commissioner" -- after all, it's hard to train yourself out of habits you learned in childhood, isn't it? And we discover that another story arc we thought was long over has in fact been playing out since the very first issue. In the meantime, we also see Damian developing his ... unique, shall we say, questioning style with the Joker, clearly showing the sort of Batman we already know he's going to become. All sorts of storylines that we hadn't even thought about start coming together. Morrison's storytelling is clear and easy to follow, and Irving's art is freakin' spectacular.
Excellent; Highly recommended.

Action Comics #890 (Paul Cornell/Pete Woods/Brad Anderson; DC):
In which Lex Luthor takes over the title for at least the next 10 issues. And frankly, it's kind of awesome.

After the events of Blackest Night, wherein Lex became an orange lantern, Lex is obsessed with getting another power ring. As he tells Lois, it's changed his personality; he used to be able to play the long game, to plan long-term, but suddenly he's into instant gratification. (Cue Veruca Salt, only with power rings instead of golden egg laying geese.) And he's doing increasingly dangerous things to figure out how to get himself one. (He doesn't seem to know about the white lantern at Silver City, which is probably just as well, since he couldn't use it.) He starts to figure out what happened to the Black Lantern rings, but gets interrupted by an attack from a most improbable villain.

Cornell manages to catch the essence of Luthor, even with this changed aspect of his personality -- and I would argue, myself, that it's not so much changed as he was somehow unaware of it. There's a certain amount of very dark humor, as well; there's an absolutely note-perfect one-page scene in which we see what Luther really wants the power rings to do for him, and how much he doesn't quite understand what he really wants. Woods' art is clean and dynamic and a very good match for the story.

In conclusion, this is probably the one Superman title I'm going to read in the near future. And, of course, it doesn't actually involve Superman.

Excellent; Highly recommended.
cover for yours truly jack the ripper Robert Bloch's Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper #1 (Joe R and John L Lansdale/Kevin Colden; IDW):
Based on a 1962 short story in a collection by Robert Bloch, this story takes the idea that Jack the Ripper is alive -- for certain values of "alive" -- and well -- for certain values of "well" -- and living in Chicago and runs with it. Jenny, whose last name we never learn despite the fact that she inherited and runs a local newspaper and serves as its photographer, is out taking photographs of a crime scene. A young woman has been brutally murdered and partially eviscerated. The police have apparently called a local psychiatrist to the scene to profile the murderer. The psychiatrist goes back to his office to discover Sir Guy Hollis awaiting him. Hollis' father investigated the original Ripper murders, followed him across Europe until his death, when Sir Guy took up the chase. He followed Jack across the ocean to the US, investigating serial murders in New York as well as Cleveland's Torso murders (along with Eliot Ness of FBI fame) and thence to Chicago, where the Ripper may have struck again

This may be a story that reads better in one than as the miniseries it's been created to be. As it stands, everyone but Guy Hollis gets a surprisingly cursory introduction -- and that includes Jenny, who seems as though she's going to be a principal investigator, and also probably bait/a potential victim at some point.We do, surprisingly, see Jack in all his glory in the first issue, and it's clear that the story is headed firmly into the supernatural. It's pretty much required; as one of the characters notes, the Ripper would be over 80 years old when the story starts. I do like Colden's art, which mostly seems right for the story, except when it comes to depicting Jack himself -- and that's a story issue more than it is an art issue. Overall, I kind of like it, but I really do think it's going to read better in one than as a serial. Which, considering that it's deliberately harkening back to an older serial storytelling style, is kind of surprising.

OK; wait for the trade.

Superman #700 (various authors and artists; DC):
I'm guessing that this issue works far better if you've been plowing through the World of New Krypton/War of the Supermen arcs that have taken up the last two years of Superman. I picked it up because, despite the recent immersion in all things Bat and Green Hornet, I like the big blue boy scout, and the impression was that 700, as a mega anniversary issue and the place where Straczynski would be first starting his trip with Supes, it would be a good place to step back on. And it is, kind of. Kind of.

The first story, "The Comeback", by James Robinson and Bernard Chang, is the explicit close to the New Krypton arc. It begins with Superman rescuing Lois, as he does, and then features the two of them talking a bit about what they've been through over the past two years, but mostly just reconnecting.

"Geometry", by Dan Jurgens, is a fun little story of Superman's earlier years, and his first meetings with Dick Grayson as a very underaged Robin. Dick gets himself in over his head and needs to be rescued by Superman. It's a fun, frothy little bagatelle of a story of the sort that has been utterly absent from Superman's corner of the universe of late.

And then we have "Grounded: Prologue, The Slap Heard 'Round The World", Straczynski's first story with Superman ... which does not quite fill me with confidence about the future. Basically, "Grounded" is going to be Superman walking across the country, trying to reconnect with the people who feel he deserted them for New Krypton. And ... well, fine, but the trigger for that is a woman who is furious because Superman wasn't around to help save her husband; he had a type of cancer that was difficult to operate on, and if he'd been around, Supes might have helped guide the surgeons. Never mind that at the time, Kryptonians were expressly forbidden to set foot on earth. Never mind that, in defiance of that ban, Supergirl and Power Girl were around. Never mind that this is the type of thing that Superman rarely did, because he can't focus on individuals at the expense of saving more people. It's all Superman's fault. And this makes him realize that he needs to trudge across the country to reset his roots, so to speak.

Geometry is the most enjoyable of the stories, because it's the frothiest; The Comeback is probably deeply satisfying to people who followed the last two years; Grounded: Prologue is ... worrisome.

OK; no recommendation

The Return of Bruce Wayne #3 (Grant Morrison/Yanick Paquette/Michel Lacombe; DC): Sadly, no actual Pirate Bruce Wayne. Instead, we get an exploration of what will become the Batcave, and in the current day, we get the JLA and Red Robin pulling together clues about what's really going on. They plow through a destroyed city -- Bludhaven? -- to get to Darkseid's medical HQ to figure out that Bruce was held there. Sadly, the explanations we're beginning to get about why Bruce is where he is don't make a lick of sense. Apparently, Darkseid sent him into the past not only as part of the Omega effect/life trap, but as a way to make Bruce destroy the future when he got back to his proper time. Which ... OK, fine, but we saw the JLA shoot his body into space, and his capsule got caught in the time eddies around the earth, which shot him back in time; he ended up in Australia with a bunch of junk from the capsule. That's the explanation we got at the end of Final Crisis. Then, in Batman and in Darkest Night, we discover that there was a body to bury, DNA verified and everything. I assume that they're never going to try to pull these disparate strands together. But I digress. OK, no recommendation.

Wonder Woman #600 (various authors and artists; DC)
The issue which restores Wonder Woman's original series issue numbering -- rather nonsensically, as it turns out.

"Valedictorian", by Gail Simone and George Perez, leads off the issue. The superheroics involve Professor Ivo and her siren robots, versus Every Female Superhero in the DCU. ALL OF THEM. Frankly, it's kind of awesome. I didn't even know who some of those women were. Poor Bulleteer even gets to show up again, and has a couple of lines; the last time she was seen outside her Seven Soldiers title was as a part of the background in a fight in Final Crisis. The second part of the story involves Diana attending a graduation for someone who first appeared in an issue back in 1986. Overall, it's a really nice story that shows what makes Diana who she is; she calls, and people follow, but she can also connect at a more personal level.

Amanda Conner writes and draws "Fuzzy Logic", featuring Wonder Woman teaming up with Power Girl and a Batgirl to fight Humpty Dumpty ... OK, his proper names are either Chang Fu or Egg Tsu, but still: he's a great big egg. Thus, Humpty Dumpty. After the big scramble, Diana helps Power Girl with a more personal problem. It's a light, frothy silly confection of a story. (Something of a side note: who on earth was that Batgirl? She didn't talk like Cassandra Cain, and it clearly wasn't Stephanie Brown or Barbara Gordon.)

Louise Simonson and Eduardo Pansica team up for "Firepower", which also brings together Wonder Woman and Superman to fight Aegeus, a magic user who stole Zeus' thunderbolts. It does show how they work well together, but that's about it.

There are also several pinups of WW in her traditional costume. They all range from striking -- Nicola Scott's pinup -- to awesome -- Phil Jiminez' centerspread -- to confusing -- really, what on earth is going on with Guillem March's picture? -- to the creepy. Strangely enough, the most pulchritudinously creepy isn't actually Greg Horn's but is instead Jock's; it doesn't look remotely like his usual art, is heavily, heavily photoreferenced -- frankly, it looks like he painted the costume onto a real woman, with a weirdly vapid expression on her face.

And then there's the final story, written by both Geoff Johns and J. Michael Straczynski. Technically, Johns' story is separate, but it's a hard lead-in to Straczynski's, with the gods discussing the reasons why Diana does what she does, and how she's undervalued by the world, and how they plan to change that. Abruptly, we're in "Odyssey: Prologue: Culture Shock", with Diana suddenly much younger and in a different costume, fighting lots of guys in suits who are trying to kill her. She defeats them -- sort of -- has a confrontation with the people who raised her, then goes to visit the Oracle. We see where she lives now, which appears to be a very grungy, downtrodden industrial area. And the oracle tells her that all was not always as it currently seems to be.

As a purely practical issue, the new status dictated by "Odyssey" can't last. The previous version of Diana is simply too integral to too much in the DCU and it changes far too much for her to be like this for very long. You don't even have to be a continuity wonk to realize that a lot of stuff goes very wrong without her -- at a minimum, Final Crisis works out very differently at the beginning and the end. I imagine this was primarily a way to raise the character's profile, increase interest. It also allows Straczynski to make sure that she gets kept out of any crossovers for the foreseeable future -- that was, after all, one of his major disputes with Marvel. I would imagine that during "Odyssey", Diana won't be seen in any other DCU titles, including JLA; it would make dealing with the continuity bible far too confusing. It will be interesting to see where this goes and how long it lasts. Honestly, I only started reading WW because Gail Simone was writing it; I don't feel strongly loyal to the character as such. That said, Straczynski's "Ladies Night" over in The Brave and the Bold inclines me to trust him enough to see what happens; even though that was primarily a Barbara Gordon/Zatanna story, with Diana as a sort of bystander, it was still pretty damn awesome. So we'll see what happens.

But really, DC. You restored the version numbering so you could blow up the 599 issues that preceded this one? What sort of logic is that?

Good; Recommended
Huh. Apparently, when DC said they weren't going to shelve Batwoman, they might really have meant it. Whoda thunk it?

Alex Segura, The Source,

Last week, artist J.H. Williams III was nominated for two Eisners — best penciler/inker and cover artist — for his much-acclaimed run on Batwoman in DETECTIVE COMICS. His art was praised and recognized not only by the Eisners but across the mainstream and comic trade press for its fluid and versatile look in presenting Kate Kane and helping define her as a lasting character. J.H.’s distinctive style and creative page layouts were a key part of the book’s success.

Don’t expect that to change. In fact, J.H.'s role is about to be expanded. In the coming months, Batwoman will settle into more permanent digs of her own — namely, an ongoing series both written and drawn by Williams. He'll be getting a co-writer in W. Haden Blackman, a writer known for his work in the Star Wars universe, including the Star Wars: Galaxies MMO and The Force Unleashed video game. Additionally, MADAME XANADU artist Amy Reeder will be stepping in to handle the art for the second arc in the series. More on that later. [...] "Our goal is to tell a riveting action adventure tale with some heart and drama to it," Williams said. "We want the reader to learn even more about who Kate Kane is as Batwoman — showing why she is an important addition to the Bat Family of heroes beyond what has already been addressed. We are also wanting to really make sure we start building additions to her own 'rogues gallery.' Just how will Kate deal with the fallout between her and her father, Jacob? Will Kate be able to find love other than Renee Montoya, a.k.a. The Question? And as far as flavor — there will be a sprinkle of creepy beings, myth and legends, government agency intrigue, and a surprise return of a fan-favorite character." [...]

[...] “I’m very excited to be working on BATWOMAN,” Blackman said. “I have a real affinity for the character. Jim [Williams III] and Greg [Rucka] have done an amazing job of establishing her as a premiere character in the DC Universe and I’m looking forward to using that as a launching pad to tell all-new stories with her. The opportunity to work with Jim is something we’ve been talking about for a long time and for me it’s really the best job in comics – getting the chance to work with someone who is truly one of the top talents in the industry.

“The thing that really attracts me to Batwoman as a character is her combination of a really strong, personal story and a dark, superheroic one. She has that perfect combination and I’m looking forward to the chance to take some of the classic aspects of vigilante comics and reinterpret them through the lens of this character.”

Excited yet?...

...Yes. Yes, I am.

I wonder if this means that JH will be writing the back end of the "Elegy" arc that he and Rucka had originally planned, or if that will be shelved for another storyline. And what this means for Detective, and for the Question. Presumably, she's not going to be a backup title in Batwoman, and one assumes that once Bruce is back, he'll take over the lead in Detective again. (Or Batman will, anyway.)

It's going to be interesting to see what Reeder does with the artwork on the second arc. I love her work on Madame Xanadu, but it's very very different than the style Williams uses for Batwoman (assuming that his visual storytelling style won't change). In the last Detective arc, Jock's style was very different from Williams', but still worked -- it did seem like maybe he was trying to echo some of the odd layouts Williams works with, but then, Jock's visual style is also fairly distinctive on its own. I'm sure that Reeder can produce a style all her own for Batwoman, if needed, based on what she's managed with Madame Xanadu. (I'm guessing that perhaps this may be what Ms. Reeder refers to in her LJ when she says, "my work-related announcement is that at some point there may be an announcement...about various work-related things. Uh...not sure when those will come, and if they'll be peacemeal, but they're very, very cool and I hope they will stretch me because I'm due for a good stretching." I wonder if she'll be working on both Madame Xanadu and this, or if MX will be handed to another artist -- other artists have worked on the series so far, as well as Reeder -- or if perhaps this means that Madame may be endangered; I really hope that it's doing well enough to continue. (Vertigo titles selling rather dreadfully, on the whole, it wouldn't surprise me if it's having problems. MX did make the March 2010 chart of the top 300 titles, although 8200 copies is kind of low -- although, actually, not for Vertigo. The best selling DC title -- and best selling overall -- last month was Blackest Night #8, with 135,000 copies; the best selling Vertigo title last month was Fables, with 20,000 copies.)

So, all things considered, yes, I am actually excited.

Of course (because a true fanboy is never satisfied), an actual launch date might have been nice.

(EDIT: And it turns out that Reeder will be completing this arc of Madame Xanadu, doing one more issue of a special arc, and then she's done with MX. And it's not clear from what she says whether or not Madame herself might also be done after the next arc. Ah, well.)
DC seems to be having itself a month, doesn't it? And not necessarily in the good way, either. Simone moves off Wonder Woman (though to reboot Birds of Prey, which many will think a worthwhile exchange -- having never read the latter, I can't say); Palmiotti, Gray and Conner leave Power Girl in June, and now this.

Greg Rucka Finished At DC, Off Batwoman [Wondercon]
Apr 2nd 2010
By: David Brothers (

During his spotlight panel at Wondercon, moderated by our own Laura Hudson, Greg Rucka dropped a bombshell. He has been out of exclusive with DC Comics for three years, despite spending those three years working exclusively with DC, and his time with them is over. He just turned in the last of his DC work for the foreseeable future, and his time with Kate Kane is done. He reiterated his love for the character, saying that walking away from her was an incredibly hard decision to make, but one that was necessary....

The Complete Greg Rucka Wondercon Panel Transcript [Wondercon]
Apr 5th 2010
By: Laura Hudson (

[...]LH: I solicited questions from Twitter, and they overwhelmingly asked the same question: What's happening with "Batwoman"?

GR: I don't know. I finished my last of my DC work yesterday, and I'm not currently doing anything for DC right now. I love the character; I would love to continue working with the character, but at the same time I'm sort of needing to step back from my DC work in general. I suspect that we'll come back to her at some point. I don't know if that's going to be something that Jim and I do together. I am not sure what Jim's plans are. I want to keep working with him, and I believe that's mutual. There is more to tell. There's a whole five-part story broken down that is really the last of -- "Elegy" was supposed to be four issues; there were supposed to be three issues that were "Go," and then there was a five-part story that Jim and I had, but because of a variety of things in-house at DC, we were moved out of "Detecitve [Comics]" and we couldn't tell the story there. So there's a concluding story that's basically Alice's origin story. It's what happened to Elizabeth. I don't know if we'll ever get to do it. I have been around in this industry long enough to never say never....

Nothing More, Nothing Less (
April 3rd, 2010

[...] So, if you’re a fan of my work in the field of comics, you’ve most likely heard the news that I’m no longer doing work for DC. I’m told that speculation is flying fast and furious as to why this is, and apparently, even despite my on-the-record comments, it continues.

There is no drama here, folks. It is as it appears. I’m stepping away from DC to pursue different opportunities. Nothing more nefarious than that. Nothing less sinister. Time is a commodity that is as precious to me as it is rare, and there’s simply not enough of it....

According to a tag at the end of a piece at blog@Newsarama, DC says that while they'd like Rucka to continue to write the character, they're not planning to shelve the series that they had talked about. (Though, once again, it's worth noting that the series -- or miniseries; that was never clear either -- hadn't had a release date even before Rucka decided to concentrate on his other work.)

Assuming that DC is being up-front and truly is planning to go ahead with the character, it's going to be interesting to see what happens now. If I understand the structure of how things were to happen, Batwoman was supposed to move out of Detective ... well, now, actually, with the last issue of "The Cutter", which shipped last week. We were supposed to start a new ongoing/miniseries that would be the origin story of Alice/Beth -- what happened after she was kidnapped. Renee Montoya as the Question was supposed to take over Detective for a few issues to close out the human trafficking arc that she's investigating; it wasn't clear from what I'd seen whether Batwoman would become a B-feature for the length of that run, but it sounded more like she would simply not appear at all. I'm guessing those issues have been written and possibly illustrated at this point, since otherwise it would leave Detective stranded without any content for possibly several months to come.

My guess -- and, of course, it's only a guess -- is that assuming what I understand of the schedule to be accurate, instead of moving Batwoman to her own title and picking up on the origin of Beth, they may leave Kate/Batwoman where she is, and find a new writer to pick up on the rather startling last page of the last issue of Detective. For that matter, without getting into Alice/Beth's origin, they can get into what the Religion of Crime will think when they discover that Kate's made the acquaintance of a Lazarus pool; I should think that would get certain knickers in a complete twist.

I do wonder who they'll get to write her. Rucka mentioned in the above-linked transcript that he'd wanted to create a character that anyone could write, that it wouldn't be so strongly linked to a single creator. To a certain extent, at least, he's succeeded; Morrison put her in Batman and Robin and it didn't feel as though she were a completely different character or anything like that. (Mind, there was the timeline and story-related question of just what the hell she was doing there in the first place, but that's somewhat beside the point.) That said, I can't imagine that Morrison would pick up yet one more thing; he's got Batman and Robin, plus he's essentially controlling the direction of the entire Bat section of the DCU. (Yes, I realize that there's an editor for that. Nonetheless, Batman and Robin is the lynchpin of just about everything Gotham-related except the forthcoming Birds of Prey -- which, oddly enough, will include the recently-resurrected Hawk and Dove, as well as Oracle (between this and Batgirl, she's going to be insanely busy) and which is tied to Brightest Day. (Speculation about Brightest Day being tied to The Return of Bruce Wayne aside.) Andreyko would do a good job with it, I think, although Batwoman is actually a darker title than Manhunter -- which, considering as Manhunter features one of the only two DCU heroes who will kill if she feels it necessary, is saying quite something. (The other one being, of course, Wonder Woman. I wonder if it says anything at all that the two heroes of the DCU who will kill are both women. Also, now that Manhunter is in Gotham, I'll bet that they're very careful not to have her go up against the Joker -- she wouldn't hesitate to put him down like a rabid dog. But I digress.)

I've seen a few people here and there baying "homophobia! DC is getting rid of the lesbians!" However, it's worth noting that, at least somewhat, whatever DC does with the characters is driven by the fact that they lost their writer. THAT said, DC seems oddly unprepared to replace him, or at least to announce who they're replacing him with.

In any event, it's going to be interesting to see what happens with Batwoman from here. If anything, of course.
The DC previews in the April issue (for issues and items on sale in June) are alternately giving me a teensy bit of hope, puzzling me and making me a bit sad.

The milestone issus for DC's "Trinity" are all being published during June: Wonder Woman 600, Superman 700, Batman 700. And it turns out that J. Michael Straczynski is taking over a series writer for Superman and Wonder Woman. Thing is, he's really a pretty good writer. I'm not particularly worried about what's going to happen with Diana -- I don't read Supes, though I may start now that the eternal New Krypton/War of the Supermen crossovers are finally done. (I wonder if the New Kryptonians survived and/or moved off to some other solar system. Guess I'll find out.) Straczynski writes good women, or can, at least. What I wonder is if he's going to be seriously over-extended -- I think he's still got "The Brave and the Bold" as well (and that's a wildly uneven title; it's either awesome or kind of boring, with nothing in between) or if he'll walk off in a huff the way he did at Marvel. (Said huff, as I understand it, being caused by Marvel going back on their word and wanting to include his Thor title in their never ending crossovers. They'd promised him that they'd leave him alone, and did for a long time, but then, oddly enough, Thor turned into one of their best selling titles, and they wanted to take advantage of that. He didn't want to deal with that, and I can't blame him. The problem is, that stranded The Twelve, Marvel's version of the whole "let's resurrect some of our old characters and some old public domain characters and throw them into the modern era" thing. And frankly, it was far more interesting than Dynamite's version of the same. But, alas, it seems that the series will never be completed. There is, I think, absolutely no chance that DC would leave Superman out of any line-wide crossovers, but they've left Wonder Woman completely out during Gail Simone's run, so maybe they'll keep that up. (Mind, I think that's slightly to her detriment. Not because I think the crossovers would boost her sales -- though it might, if they could avoid the cracktacular messes like "Blackest Night: Wonder Woman" -- but because there are major character developments that happen in the crossoves that never get addressed in the main title.) Anyway, it'll be interesting to see how that works out.

For the Green Lantern fen, there's the never ending crossover, Brightest Day leading straight out of Blackest Night. (My comic book dealer tells me that Brightest Day is meant to be more DC-wide. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Our theory is that somehow, DC's Brightest Day, when it finally arrives, will be The Return of Bruce Wayne, because the idea that they could resist the anvillicious irony of having the universe's Brightest Day being caused by the return of their darkest hero ... well.) The Alpha Lanters are revolting.

Over in Justice League land, there's the reformation of Justice League International. There's also the hook into Green Arrow; Oliver apparently is giving up the bow -- given what he did, and the fact that the League knows, I suppose there's no choice -- and there's going to be a new Green Arrow. I think Roy is having his arm regrown at STAR Labs. And then there's a JLA/JSA crossover starting. (Which JSA, I have no idea.)

Over in Batland, the joint's a-jumpin'. For one thing, Gail Simone is restarting Birds of Prey. This incarnation seems to be Oracle-free, as she's off over with Batgirl. Bruce Wayne continues to return -- this month, as a pirate! (The "yo ho ho and a bottle of rum" kind, not the "let's hold an oil tanker hostage" kind.) And then there are the two things that are kind of baffling.

For reasons that surpasseth all understanding, DC has decided to start one weird new Battish title, and revive an old one. They've decided to do a Red Hood title, exploring what Jason did between his resurrection and 52/Countdown, in a series called "Red Hood: Lost Days." Seriously was anyone clamoring for this? Did anyone care? When last we saw him, Jason was battered, bloody, maimed and headed to jail. (Presumably, like all of Gotham's villains, he'll escape sometime soon.) And the other thing they're doing is resurrecting Batman Beyond. And again: people were asking for this? Continuity has already run over the original Batman Beyond; that said, they're implying that this may be based on the DC Animated version, rather than the old comic book version. If it's not, then continuity is going to be weird. That said, it's possible that Terry is a short-lived Batman; it's difficult to see how hefits around Dick, Tim, and Damian in their Batman runs. (Though ... the interesting thing is that, as I recall, back in Batman 666, Damian never explicitly said that he murdered Bruce. Moreover, given subsequent developments, it's entirely possible that Bruce isn't the dead Batman we see there. It could be Tim or Dick, and Damian could be his Robin. In "Batman and Robin", we get the return of Thomas Wayne. Again.

Elsewhere: DC's experiment in reviving The Red Circle titles seems to be over; both The Web and The Shield are cancelled with issue #10. Sadly, I'm not surprised. I couldn't get into The Shield, but I did like The Web; however, that said, the Web was a complete and total idiot, and the Bat corner of the universe could do without him. The Earth-One/First Wave universe continues, with yet another reboot of The Spirit and of Doc Savage continuing. Great Ten goes on (and on).

And in the development that really makes me sad, Paliotti, Gray and Amanda Connor leave Power Girl, and Judd Winick and Sami Basri take over. Understand: I'm not saying that Winick is a bad writer or anything like that. It's just that ... well, currently, Power Girl is fun. It's the most fun you can get in a 32-page superhero comic. She enjoys her life, she enjoys being a superhero, she enjoys being a woman. Yes, there are a lot of serious parts, but it's still just a fun, fun title. And somehow ... in what I've seen of his other work, Winick has always been fairly serious. I cannot see him bringing the fun. On the other hand, maybe Dini will bring the fun to his restart of the Zatanna title.

June's definitely going to be an ... interesting month in the DCU.
Catching up on some older stuff, some of which got lost in the holiday rush.

Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #2 (Greg Rucka/Nicola Scott; DC)
...OK, look: I don't read the main Blackest Night title -- aside from one stray mention in "Red Robin", it hasn't quite made its presence felt in the Bat corner of the DCU in a way that makes it necessary to pay attention (though given that "Batman and Robin" is on hiatus to keep its story from getting ahead of Blackest Night and DC has announced a forthcoming miniseries called "The Return of Bruce Wayne", I assume that everyone's about to figure out that Bruce isn't dead). So to a certain extent, I expected "Blackest Night: Wonder Woman" to lose me here and there. The surprise about issue #1 was that it didn't; if you knew the general shape of the main series -- that Nekron is sort of raising and reanimating the dead of the DCU, killing really quite remarkable numbers of superheroes and then raising them as black lanters -- then you could follow BNWW #1 just fine. She fought undead Maxwell Lord to a standstill -- she thought -- and left him without weapons or fighters, but with him saying that she didn't know how bad things were about to get for her. So I expected issue 2 to somehow, kind of vaguely follow issue 1 in a comprehensible way, but since the main BN title had moved along, I wouldn't have been surprised to be a bit more lost. I did not, however, expect that hot mess.

Issue #2, I suspect, bears the same relationship to "Blackest Night" as the two Final Crisis issues of Batman had to that event series; something happens in the main series that doesn't make the slightest sense without those particular tie-in issues, but at the same time, you can more or less muddle through the main event without them. In this case, I'm guessing that Diana gets killed somehow in the main series, becomes a black lantern, but then miraculously becomes a star sapphire, without any explanation of how that happens. (From what I can tell, this happens in Blackest Night #6.) BNWW Issue 2 is that explanation. Unfortunately, the issue doesn't make any sense on its own. More impressively, it doesn't even make sense as a follow-up in its own miniseries; the action is so completely detached that it leaves you trying to figure out how it even could connect to what came before. (It doesn't. Don't even try.)

More seriously, the character is just painful to watch. She's rampaging all over, having a long drawn-out fight against Nera, killing Cassie and Donna, killing Hippolyta. We see at the same time not only the black lantern thoughts in the foreground, but Diana's own thoughts in the background, appalled at all that her body is doing, which is actually a rather nifty gimmick, although she's not all that articulate, so it does get a bit repetitive. (I would note, as well, that this is the second time in as many Crises that Diana's body has apparently been taken over by the bad guys and used against everyone. Superman and Batman get to save the universe -- or at least be dead during a crisis -- but apparently Wonder Woman's role is to be the weak link in the DC Trinity, involuntarily (if briefly) helping the bad guys. They might want to work on that.) And what brings her out of the black lantern killing rage? Not the love of her sisters. Not her love for her mother. Remembering that she loves Bruce, the dead guy, as he takes her into a deep swoony kiss. (Despite being dead, or at least profoundly absent, yes. Really, just don't ask.) This allows Aphrodite to activate the love in her, or some such, and turn her into a star sapphire lantern. Never mind that, canonically, she's had a boyfriend recently, and it wasn't Bruce. Never mind that there has not recently been even the slightest hint that they might have felt that way about each other. Never mind that you'd think that she'd love her sisters and her mother enough to snap her out of that killing rage -- over in her own series, she has defied and killed gods to save her mother and the Amazons, but somehow, that's not enough. It's love of the dead guy that does it for her. Oh, and then it all turns out to be a dream. No, really, a dream.

I get that as a tie-in, BNWW has to service the main miniseries, I really do. But honestly, that would have been a rocky issue on its own merits even without the "no, really, just a dream and now you're all fixed!" resolution. I really can't tell you how glad I am right now that Gail Simone's run on WW is structured in a way that lets her serenely ignore the various crises; I can for now just pretend Blackest Night doesn't exist. (One wonders how long the DC brain trust can let one of their flagship titles keep ignoring the rest of their universe. Blackest Night has raised the sales of almost every series it's touched, however briefly; you'd think they'd take a look at WW, and think, "Hey ... maybe ...")

BAD; Not recommended

Weekly World News #1 (Chris Ryall/Alan Robinson/Tom Smith; IDW)
In which the character of Bat Boy from the now defunct Weekly World News supermarket tabloid gets a role in a series. The main character, however, is Ed Anger, "right minded columnist for the Weekly World News". And by "right minded", they mean really really really really really right-wing columnist. He's pretty much anti-everyone, but especially those "illegal damned aliens". By which he means not only the more usual type, but also the extraterrestrials among us. He tried to warn us about them, in his columns in the WWN and also through interviews and rants on the WWN television network, but people still insist on being friendly to the aliens and taking them at face value. The humor in the issue comes from watching Ed utterly fail to cope with the various changes in the world around him ... although one of the gray aliens starts feeling uneasy himself, trying to tell Ed that there's something about to happen. Ed, being Ed, doesn't really listen. At the very end, there are also mockups of WWN pages, which may or may not show future stories in the book.

Robinson's art and Smith's coloring are perfect for the story; just a touch exaggerated and cartoony, but very expressive. The story is a lot of fun to read.

Excellent; Highly recommended.

Batman: The Widening Gyre #4 of 6 (Kevin Smith/Walter Flanagan/Art Thibert; DC)
In which Batman continues his romance with the returned Silver St. Cloud and continues meeting up with new crime fighter Baphomet on the odd rooftop. More of a marking time issue than anything else, setting up the chaos to come, although a few important events do happen. One of the old criminals, Crazy Quilt, comes out to play, and we get what is, I think, an actual in-continuity explanation for why Batman's foes have become so deadly, when they used to take care not to kill. We flash back to the first Nightwing/Batman team up -- with the Outsiders, for some reason -- and Dick is wearing that terrible 70s Nightwing costume, with the plunging neckline and the high collar, and gets teased about it by Metamorpho. Baphomet reveals his face, albeit not his identity precisely, to Batman -- he's not anybody we know offhand, at the moment, and he's rather older than expected -- and Silver, whom Bruce allows to wander the Batcave, discovers Batman's secret files, which he's been writing for the benefit of Alfred, allegedly. (Volume after volume after volume. For Alfred. Right.) She's impressed at his mad writing skillz and steals a volume to read later, and you know that's going to come back to bite somebody in the ass. She does feel oddly young and girlish and immature, compared to how she's been written in the earlier issues. And then at the end, Bruce has a confrontation with Selina, which I really didn't quite expect. I do think the characterization of both women may be the weakest points in this issue, but it also depends in part on where exactly the overall series is headed. As I understand the timing, we get another two issues, a six month break, another six issue miniseries, another break, and then Baphomet gets his own series.
Good; Recommended.

The Great Ten #1-3 (Tony Bedard/Scott McDaniel/Andy Owens/The Hories; DC)
I think I am, in many ways, absolutely the wrong audience for this title. Part of the issue is that I studied Far Eastern history and politics -- seriously, got the degree and everything -- and there are times when it's just really difficult to put that aside and remember that the DCU has nothing to do with the real universe in that way.

I got somewhat thrown out of the story immediately by what the premise seemed to be. Chinese gods were coming to answer the prayers of the Han Chinese people who have been oppressed by the Communist government and are protesting. Said government is trying to use the Great Ten, its superhero squad, to put down the protest, which drives the gods to act. And where is this protest? Outside a temple in Lhasa, Tibet. Given history and current politics, you'd think that if any gods would be responding, it would be Tibetan gods. So there's that, which I really did have a problem with in the first couple of issues. Given developments in issue 3, it looks as though what's actually going on may not be quite what it appears to be. Intertwined with that is the utter inability of the Chinese government to deal with modern media -- despite a very firm clampdown on all outgoing television, radio, internet connections, the rest of the world finds out about China's difficulties in really just a few minutes. While it may have been true that the Chinese government was that incompetent at one time -- vide Tienanmin Square -- the rather tight control of information in and out of Beijing during the Olympics would seem to indicate that they've figured that sort of thing out. But, again, fiction.

There are supposed to be ten issues, and it's clear at this point that they're going to show the origin of each member of the Great Ten, wrapped around the greater storyline of the group trying to battle the gods -- or not, as the case may be. Some of the group derive their powers from the gods and are, understandably, having a few conceptual difficulties. The tone of each issue varies wildly according to the origin of the character. Accomplished Perfect Physician, who gets his power forced upon him as a sort of penance for having accidentally (sort of) killed the man to whom it was supposed to go, and given that he is a physician, has a miserable time justifying the violence the government asks of him. Celestial Archer received his power from the gods after hiding in just the right tree from people who wanted to kill him; he's actually met the gods and walked among them, and has massive difficulties now that he's asked to fight against them. Thundermind (Thundermind?), who is a living Buddha, gained his powers through reading a page that induces a perfect moment of enlightenment, and gets the most unspeakably goofy storyline; he's a teacher, madly in love with a coworker who can never know his true identity (so, very early Superman/Lois Lane, and the deliberate parallels to Superman are pretty much thrown at you nonstop), and for some reason, the entire country is worried about the immodesty of his costume, which pretty much fully covers him. His story doesn't really match the seriousness of everyone else's origin story, and is really jarring against the broader battle against the gods story. The ending is not only goofy, but lunatic and an irritating delaying tactic; Thundermind apparently knows what's going on, but before he can tell his colleagues -- and, perforce, the reader -- has to zip back to protect his secret identity (in a way which should actually cause more suspicion; he has absolutely no business being there at that point in time, given what's happened everywhere else)

Honestly, I can't recommend this series. There are some interesting ideas here and there inside it, but they're being carried out in some very irritating, lazy and truly silly ways.

OK; Not recommended.

Yi Soon Shin: Warrior and Defender #1 (Onrie Kompan/Giovanni Timpano/Adriana de los Santos; Onrie Kompan Productions)

Yi Soon Shin tells the historical tale of a long-ago war between Japan and Korea. According to the frontmatter in the book, the Korean army had thought, until that point, that their navy was mostly unnecessary, and there was a great deal of political infighting, trying to get the navy under the control of the army to disband it. General Yi Soon Shin fought against this. In 1592, Japan attacked Korea, hoping to take it and use it as a way to invade China. The other Korean generals burned their ships and retreated to try to defend on dry land, which was what the Japanese generals had thought would happen, and their infantry was far superior to the Korean. The Korean king fled, and his own people were so furious that they looted and burned his palace.

Issue 1 tells the story of how Yi Soon Shin, the disregarded general, figured out the tactics that made it possible for his vastly outnumbered force to fight the Japanese at sea. We start out in Japan in 1591, where their generals are planning their war of conquest. We then jump to invaded Korea in 1592, where the Japanese army are committing various atrocities on the town they've captured. They then discover that the remnants of the Korean navy have surrounded that harbor, but aren't afraid, because they have the Koreans so seriously outnumbered. The Japanese then discover that they are up against a superior tactician -- and, oddly, superior armament. It seems that the Japanese didn't arm their ships with cannon, and Yi Soon Shin did, so the tiny Korean navy shreds the much larger Japanese navy.

Yi then has to deal with the aftereffects of battle. He's got internal problems, because another admiral feels that he should have been in charge. He then takes his men onshore, to try to find the remnants of the Japanese force and deal with what's left of the village that the Japanese attacked. And then at the end, he discovers something truly horrific.

The storytelling in this opening issue works very well. Even though they don't go into a lot of background on him at this point, you get a feeling for who Yi was, that he was brilliant militarily, and a man who could get his men to follow him. That said, the one storytelling weakness I would identify is that there's too much in the written frontmatter; we should have seen at least some of those things that he went through to get where he was. Given that it seems to be a self-published comic, I'm guessing that cost issues were a factor in simply telling us all that; that said, it does make for a relentlessly exciting first issue. Timpano's artwork and De Los Santos' colors are bloody gorgeous, as well -- quite often, literally bloody gorgeous, as this is a war comic and, well, there's a lot of blood flowing here and there. The title sems to be on a three issues per year publication schedule, so it's not going to end until January 2011 or so, which is unfortunate only because I'd really like to see more and faster. (I'm kind of surprised that this is purely self-published and not coming out of a smaller press like Archaia; it seems like it would be right up their alley, somehow.)

Excellent; Highly recommended.
World's Finest #2 (Sterling Gates/Ramon Bachs/Rodney Ramos; DC)
Many a long year ago, I saw this movie based on the TV series Dragnet. The movie featured Dan Ackroyd and an up-and-coming(ish) Tom Hanks, along with Ally Sheedy, playing Connie Swale, a person whom Ackroyd's Joe Friday Jr and Tom Hanks' character need to protect. Friday winds up introducing her to his mother with a line something like, "Mom, this is the virgin Connie Swale." His mother responts with a very fixed smile, saying, "...You're joking." If you have ever read Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, or seen the recent animated film made from that story, then when you reach the end of this issue, you're going to have the exact same expression on your face, and the exact same phrase running through your head. (And no, I can't be more specific than that.)

The general shape of this edition of World's Finest seems to be to show a type of Superman/Batman adventure, entirely eithout either Superman or Batman. Instead, we get a Superman/Batman adventure filtered through their sidekicks -- or, more correctly, through their affiliates, since Superman can't reasonably be said to have sidekicks, and three of the four Bat people we're going to get are only somewhat affliated with the Bat currently, although all of them have been closer than they are now. Which makes the revelation of the broader story at work make a great deal of sense.

As far as the story goes, it's interesting enough. The Guardian (apparently no longer limited to Mahnattan) and Damian's Robin team up -- if that's quite the right word for it -- to thwart a plot by Dr Freeze and Parasyte. The plot itself is very lean, allowing the story to focus on the characters' interaction. The Guardian treats Damian like a snot-nosed upstart, refusing to call him "Robin" because he feels that it's a title you have to earn. (One wonders how he feels about the new Batman.) Damian, rather understandably, does not take this terribly well. It's very good character work. But still, almost all of that gets swamped by the last page revelation of ... well. Like I said, fixed smile and "you're joking" just about covers it.
Good; Recommended.

The Web #3 (Angela Robinson/Roger Robinson/Hilary Barta and Walden Wong; DC)
"Spinning the Future, part 3", in which the Web's roast chickens come home to roost, and he gets lodged firmly within the Bat corner of the DC universe. And, really, pretty much anyone with a quarter of a functioning brain cell could have told the Web that franchising his suit and his powers would not work out well. In fact, it works out Very Badly Indeed. Badly enough that he gets a visit from the Oracle and Batgirl, telling him to cease and desist. He doesn't, quite, but he gets close enough that Oracle significantly upgrades his computer capacity -- while also landing him with all sorts of spyware and the like that he seems not to know about. (Which, seriously, if he really doesn't know about or expect exactly that outcome, the man is too stupid to do what he does. Which he very well may be. The software also contains a rather painful, if alarmingly functional, version of Facebook.) The Web also winds up getting exactly what he thinks he wants, only to discover that it may not be quite what it appears to be. In the backup story, "The Hangman: The roar of the sea" (John Rozum/Tom Derenick/Bill Sienkiewicz), The Hangman investigates the unusual occurence of a person that appears to have drowned in a flood in the middle of dry land.
Good; Recommended

Detective Comics #859 (Rucka/Williams III, with "special thanks to 1Lt Daniel Choi for his generous assistance in research for this issue"; DC)
"Go, part 2: Seven Years Ago", in which we catch up with Kate several years after the attack in London, as a cadet at West Point. And pretty much the first thing she does is almost alarmingly stupid; we see her kissing her then-girlfriend while still apparently on the West Point campus grounds, out in the open. This, not surprisingly, results in her being called up on charges for a violation of the military code -- though, interestingly, her girlfriend is quite specifically not charged -- and as Kate refuses to lie, she's summarily drummed out of the army. We also see her telling her father -- and his reaction, frankly, is really wonderful (though his choice in engagement rings for his new fiancee turns out to be utterly misguided, though that's a side point).

We also see Kate's first meeting and subsequent relationship with Renee Montoya back in her pre-question days -- They meet very very cute -- as well as the issues that drove them apart. Interspersed through this story is Kate dealing with the apostates from the Religion of Crime, realizing that the prophecy was in fact very specific about what they were looking for, while seeming to be very confusing, and getting her blood and Alice's tested to see if her sister really was still alive. And finally, we see some of what inspired Kate along her current path. Overall, it's a very interesting story, although her inspiration to become Batwoman seems a bit ... shallow, honestly. Or if not precisely shallow, then at least not very well considered.

As usual, Williams' artwork is superb. The really fascinating moment comes when we see, graphically, the situation that partially inspired Kate to become Batwoman; the artwork goes slightly toward the unusual layouts that characterize the modern part of the story ... but only slightly, showing that the decision hasn't quite been made yet.

In the backup story, "Pipeline, Chapter 2" (Rucka/C. Hamner), Montoya starts investigating the bacground of the human trafficking group that she broke up the previous issue. She quickly discovers that it's a much bigger thing that it first appeared, and calls in the Huntress to help her. (Huntress, for whatever reason, has gone back to the costume that doesn't make her look like a stripper in waiting, which is appreciated.) Again, the brevity of the chapter makes it a bit frustrating; just when things get going good, it's over. The battle sequence is kind of awesome, though. Hamner does very good work, as usual; the last page is oddly much more stylized than what comes before -- though with that villain, I suppose you have to go for some sort of stylization.
Very Good; Highly Recommended

Madame Xanadu #17 (Matt Wagner/Amy Reeder Hadley/Richard Friend)
"Broken House of Cards, chapter 2: Popular Satanics"
In which Madame Xanadu winds up investigating a suburban Satanic circle wanna-be group, in her quest to help Elizabeth Reynolds, whose body is doing some really alarming things beyond her control. (The plagues of insects coming from her mouth would be the most appalling, I'd think.) She also runs into another detective -- not for a wonder, the Phantom Stranger -- who seems to be somebody that we're supposed to know, but who just isn't that familiar to me. In the end, the villain stands revealed, along with the reason that Madame's working ... well, didn't work. I have to admit, I really do enjoy how Wagner has taken this character out of the DCU and made her work on her own.
Good; recommended


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