iainpj: (hairy hero1)
( Jan. 14th, 2015 02:48 pm)

I'm ... astonished, really.

Mind, that second paragraph is a touch confusing. Earth-2 IS the original Power Girl's own universe, in the nu52 (and pre-pre-crisis DCU, for that matter) During the time I was reading "World's Finest", she and Helena (Huntress) were working on ways to get back to their own universe, something that Mr. Terrific found by accident. (I stopped reading because it was ... boring, really. A really huge chunk of the titles that DC put out after the last universe reboot were amazingly dull. There's just so much interchangeable ultraviolence with costumed weirdos you can read before it all kind of melds together, you know?)

To be sure, I don't hugely care, although I should. The only DC titles I read now are Batman, Batgirl, Astro City (which isn't any flavor of DC Universe) and Secret Six. And I only kinda sorta sometimes read the first two. Oh, and Gotham Academy, which is weird fun aimed at a somewhat younger audience. (In comic book stores. Yeah, that's going to work real well, that is.) I can only take so much grimdark/grim/grimmer/grimmest/positively-grimy ... especially since, once upon a time not that long ago, DC wasn't ALL that way.

But still. It'll be interesting to see how the audience reacts. "How can SHE be Power Girl? She's too young! The magickal boob window is gone -- along with the magickal boobies! And she's ... not blonde!"

(Purely a side note: Afro puffs. She has Afro puffs. In this day and age. DC, sometimes I really love the way you think.)

Also, the comments thread on that article is a hoot. (I think one of the artists may actually comment about the costume at one point, though I'm not sure.) Mind, I kind of agree with the general sentiment of "Why retread an old name with someone different? Why not come up with a new character name for a new character?" But then, there are a number of reasons why DC wouldn't do that. They wouldn't want the character name to fade away once she was in some other universe, they wouldn't want the name to fall into public domain (granted, they'd need to wait about 75 years from now for that to happen), they'd want to emphasize what connection there is between new and old, etc.

And, of course, the other thing is that if the audience emphatically rejects her early on, they don't have to stick with her all that long. "Convergence" this spring -- what DC is calling their next universe-reshaping event, as they've retired the term "crisis" -- will no doubt offer the opportunity to make all sorts of course corrections. (I plan to serenely ignore it until it's done and they've either restarted everything with new number 1 issues, or -- and I suspect this is more likely for some titles at least -- returned to the pre-Flashpoint numbering. It wouldn't surprise me at all for Batman, Detective, Wonder Woman and maybe Superman to return to the old numbering if they resurrect the old universe in any significant way.

But we shall see, I suppose. Alas.
This may wind up being double posted, as the importer from Dreamwidth appears to be having Issues again.

media relations / 12 January 2012 / and the first shoe finally drops

Thursday, January 12th, 2012
By Josh Kushins

In May of 2012, DC Comics will release a “Second Wave” of titles as part of its historic DC COMICS-THE NEW 52 initiative. Six new, ongoing series will build on the shared universe and bold concepts introduced in September 2011 with the renumbering of DC Comics’ entire line of comic books.[...] The six new series will replace BLACKHAWKS, HAWK AND DOVE, MEN OF WAR, MISTER TERRIFIC, O.M.A.C. and STATIC SHOCK, all of which will conclude with their eighth issues in April....

Given sales, I can't say that any of the cancellations surprises me. All but one of them would have been a hard sell, conceptually. I haven't heard much about Blackhawks, OMAC or Men of War -- I don't know anyone who read them, and I didn't care enough to look up the reviews. Everyone I know who tried it, and the few reviews I've read, say that "Hawk and Dove" was outright awful.

"Mister Terrific" was on my pull list, and I can say that ... it wasn't very good, frankly. [...] The one title where the cancellation saddens but doesn't entirely surprise me is "Static Shock." Sad, because it would have been nice if the title had been given a little more time to find its audience. Unsurprised because, if you didn't read the previous Static Shock title or watch the animated series, this title would have been utterly baffling....

(And on a purely webgeeky note: smart quotes in the URL, DC? Really? Surely you know better than THAT.)
media relations / 12 January 2012 / and the first shoe finally drops

Given sales, I can't say that any of the cancellations surprises me. All but one of them would have been a hard sell, conceptually. I haven't heard much about Blackhawks, OMAC or Men of War -- I don't know anyone who read them, and I didn't care enough to look up the reviews. Everyone I know who tried it, and the few reviews I've read, say that "Hawk and Dove" was outright awful.

"Mister Terrific" was on my pull list, and I can say that ... it wasn't very good, frankly. [...] The one title where the cancellation saddens but doesn't entirely surprise me is "Static Shock." Sad, because it would have been nice if the title had been given a little more time to find its audience. Unsurprised because, if you didn't read the previous Static Shock title or watch the animated series, this title would have been utterly baffling....

Questions? Comments? Sabots? Sneakers?
Media Relations: oh, DC ... the stupid, it just keeps coming

First, they give us Darkseid as the new Justice League's first villain, in what's clearly going to be an unspeakably decompressed story arc (Wonder Woman isn't scheduled to show up until issue 3, and Victor is still unCyborged). And now this. [...] You know, it's not that I don't get it. It's very clear that the whole corporate "synergy" thing is going on. They figured that, as long as they were rebooting the universe anyway, they might as well bring characters in alignment with those that have been depicted in more popular media. Thus, Green Arrow's background and character design are shifted to match what he had in Smallville. Superman gets to be younger, for much the same reason. (Although also for others.) And Waller gets Bassettified....

Questions, Comments, etc.?
Media Relations / 23 August 2011 / really, dc? REALLY?

In which the villain of the first arc of next week's DCnU Justice League reboot is revealed and reviled.

Questions? Comments? Cigars, cigarettes, cigarillos?
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?
The Histories of Bucky and Jason Todd Explained [Comic] ... honestly, I can't argue with that conclusion. Though it is arguable whether 'tis better to be a brainwashed assassin responsible for the deaths of many who gets shocked back to sanity and then knows what he's done and has to deal, or a seriously cheesed off "anti-hero" responsible for the deaths of hundreds who knows exactly what he's doing at all points and does it anyway. (...OK, more than a hundred, anyway; Jason Todd just killed over a hundred admittedly very nasty criminals in Blackgate Prison a couple issues ago in "Batman and Robin". Granted that nobody not related to them will mourn them, this is still putting Jason into the company of the Joker and Firefly, in terms of being a really prolific mass murderer in the DCU. And for his sins, he gets to head up a new comic!)

"There is a reason that so many horrible things happen in Gotham". (Not a comic.) And let me just say: SQUEEEEEEE! Not just because this title is finally appearing, not just because both Williams and Amy Reeder Hadley make some seriously gorgeous art (I miss her Madame Xanadu), but because they're using a version of La Llorona for the first story arc! You probably have to have been brought up in Mexico or the Southwest US to really get it, but ... well, I was. So, you know. SQUEEEEE!

"Obama's Evolving Position". The first of this week's strips on the topic. Evolution proceeds impressively.

Another on the same topic, only with fewer reptiles.

(In all fairness, there's also this:
Justice Department strongly backs gays on marriage (San Francisco Chronicle, sfgate.com)
Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, July 7, 2011

The latest San Francisco court filing on same-sex marriage reads like a gay rights manifesto: It rejects tradition, morals and procreation as justifications for marriage restrictions and concludes that a federal ban on spousal benefits was unconstitutionally based on "animus" - dislike, rooted in prejudice - toward gays and lesbians.

The brief comes not from Lambda Legal or the American Civil Liberties Union but the Obama administration's Justice Department - which, like the president himself, may be tiptoeing toward a wholehearted endorsement of same-sex marriage rights. [...]

-- The law "was motivated in substantial part by animus toward gays and lesbians and their intimate relationship," and rested on "stereotype-based thinking" that offends the constitutional guarantee of equality, the Justice Department wrote.
-- Even sincere moral or religious disapproval of homosexuality "is not a legitimate policy objective" or basis for a law.
-- Laws that penalize or prohibit same-sex marriage do not encourage heterosexual marriage, procreation or responsible child-rearing, but instead deny children of same-sex couples "the benefits of the stable home life produced by legally recognized marriage."
-- Proposition 8, the 2008 California initiative banning same-sex marriage, was an example of a "political backlash" demonstrating the relative powerlessness of gays and lesbians - a critical factor in judicial review of all such laws. [...]

I would not, myself, argue that our president is tiptoeing toward any endorsement of same-sex marriage rights. In fact, I would argue that he's tying himself into rhetorical knots to avoid doing any such thing, while also trying to avoid alienating gay and lesbian voters. At the same time, it looks like his administration, between trying to get rid of DADT and its newly articulated position on DOMA, is advancing a surprisingly coherent view of civil rights. Having his personal position appear to be so very different from his administration's position seems very strange sometimes, even allowing that he's doing this because he has to govern people who think very differently about the issue. But I digress. Back to comics!

You can sort of understand why she might think that way. What with all the ducking out on dates and everything.

Yes. Yes, it IS.

That would be probably the most unusual description of Austin, TX, I've ever seen.

Strangely enough, some days, web development works exactly like this.

Well ... you can't argue with the endpoint, some days.

"The Prince and the Sea: a romance." And a fairy tale in the folktale mold. Which means that things will not be quite what you expect.

What. The. HELL! is he thinking!? (Yes, there are two strips after this one, and SHE does the right thing, but I honestly can't understand why he would think that was even necessary.)

And in conclusion, just because of today's title:

I'll certainly have more to say about the whole DC ... thing -- at excessive length, belike -- but for now, all I'll say is: Occasionally, "The Gutters" really takes me by surprise.
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.
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.
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.
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
Just one or two reviews to get my hand back in.

But first, a cover from an upcoming Brightest Day issue.
The new Aqualad standing over zombie Deadman

How ... interesting.

I'm ignoring the melting zombie Deadman thing. After all, the last issue of Brightest Day declared in big zappy letters, "Blackest Night Firestorm!" along with an image of said character. That character -- or at least, that incarnation of said character -- appeared nowhere in the issue. However, as DC notes in "The Source", there will be a new Aqualad. There will also be a new DC Animated version of Young Justice, in which the new Aqualad will appear. (I wonder how they'll explain what happened to the old one. Granted that I didn't watch Teen Titans that much, but the last I saw, the old Aqualad was a going member of Titans East. I wonder if he got killed off somehow?)

I find it moderately intriguing that the new Aqualad is apparently going to be "born", so to speak, in one of the driest areas of one of the driest states in these United States. Seriously, people, I'm from New Mexico, and you have a hard time locating both very large bodies of water and notable numbers of black people anywhere, never mind in Silver City. It's going to be interesting to see how they pull this off, as well as the connection between this and the DC Animated universe.

And I daresay the fanboy angst will be much much more intense and impolitic than this, judging from the recent brouhaha over the suggestion of Donald Glover for Spiderman.

But in the meantime: recent funny pages!

Power Girl #13 (Judd Winick/Sam Basri; DC)

So ... yeah.

Issue 13 of PG, with the new Winick/Basri creative team, is effectively a Brightest Day tie-in -- so much so that I'm astonished that they didn't put the Brightest Day banner on the cover. It jumps back a bit in time, relatively speaking, to give us the early days of the event from PG's perspective. Power Girl and an assortment of JLA and JSA members, including Batman, go after Max Lord, whom they've realized is once again doing Very Bad Things. This does not go well -- in fact, it goes very strangely indeed -- and when she gets back to New York, PG discovers that her life has effectively just blown up in her face.

The only way I can describe this issue is to say that it's basically very well written and very well illustrated, and that I still didn't much care for it. Basri's art is really very good, and impressive to look at ... and not quite right for Power Girl. It's very washed out and pale, and that doesn't fit the character at all. Winick is actually a good choice for a writer who is going to make Power Girl a more dramatic title, while still keeping the odd, infrequent touch of humor, if that's the kind of title you'd like to read.

Here's the thing: one of the things that I truly loved about the Palmiotti-Gray/Conner run on Power Girl was that they created a heroine who really loved her life, even when it wasn't always going the best, and there was more than an odd, infrequent touch of humor about the title. She loved being able to help people. Power Girl was just plain fun, and now that PG is dealing with a life in ruins, it's pretty clear that "fun" is not going to be much in supply around these parts.

In all fairness, I can't recommend it, but I also can't not recommend it. It's a very well done issue, and I think there are people that it will appeal to, expecially with the (oddly unlabeled) Brightest Day tie-in. I'm just not necessarily one of them.

Azrael 8/9 (Fabian Nicieza/Ramon Bachs, John Stanisci, JD Smith; DC): The end of Nicieza's run on Azrael, and a very frustrating one it is, too. He makes the very reasonable case that the eighth deadly sin is Faith -- carried to excess, of course. After all, none of the Deadly Sins is sinful unless carried to extremes; different versions of them are actually regarded as virtues, of a sort, or at least as necessary. And then ... Nicieza backs off. Azrael is effectively taken over and becomes the manifestation of the eighth deadly sin. The story theen takes a turn that, honestly, doesn't make any sense, but which is still kind of fascinating to read. Azrael decides that he then must kill the foremost proponent of irrational faith in the world today. And who would that be? I'll give you a hint: on his way to kill said proponent, Azrael kills the Swiss Guard. All of them. But Azrael gets blocked from his goal by the White Ghost, who tells him that he won't truly understand how the Suit of Sorrows works until he has faith in Ra's al-Ghul. And just like that, Azrael is cured. Um ... what now? How does that work? They spent nearly half of issue 8 arguing and maneuvering him into the position of becoming the eighth deadly sin; the Ghost talks him out of it in only a couple of pages? Really? In any event, it's going to be interesting to see where the new creative team takes the series, and who it will be. It still seems to have a fixed end point, so it doesn't seem like the series can go that much longer, sales aside.
OK; No recommendation.

First Wave: The Spirit #3 (Mark Schultz, Michael Uslan, F. J. DeSanto/Moritat, Justiniano; DC): In which the Spirit's baffling ability to get villainous women to fall in love with him appears once again. Moritat's art is, as usual, wonderful to look at. And the story follows logically enough from the previous issues. It's just a bit ... silly, really, especially after all the grand guignol mayhem. (Seriously, that last scene with Angel Smerti is pretty much begging for Quentin Tarantino to stick it in a movie.
OK, Recommended.


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