Yeah, been a while, hasn't it? So let's see if we can manage a few short(ish) faster-paced reviews, just to get my hand back in, shall we? Let's shall.

Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love #1 (Chris Roberson/Shawn McManus; DC/Vertigo)
The latest in the Fables series spinoffs, we follow Cinderella, Fabletown's spy extraordinaire, as she sets off on her latest mission: to determine who's been sneaking magical artifacts from the fallen Homelands, post Fables war, into the mundy world and to stop them. She asks Frau Totenkinder for some help, for a price that's left unspecified for now but is certain to be fairly high. We also see that Cinderella runs a shoe shop in Fabletown, with her assistant -- who feels much more put-upon than he actually is -- trying to run a functioning business in the frequent absence of his leader. It becomes clear almost immediately that putting an even mildly ambitious person in that sort of position is the sort of thing that Will Not Go Well -- although, again, that's only set up in this issue, and we'll have to wait for the payoff. Overall, it was a lot of fun, consistent with the characterization of Cinderella as we've seen her in the main Fables series (I've said it before, but Prince Charming married three fairly awesome women). The only small glitch was figuring out when in the Fables timeline the story takes place, as it turns out to be very particular. It's after the Fabletown war, but before the arrival of Mister Dark, as the Underwood still exists at that point; I wonder if perhaps the series was maybe planned to come out about a year ago, and something delayed it. In any event, McManus' artwork maintains the overall look and tone of the Fables series while also being more or less its own thing.
Very Good; Recommended

Stumptown #1 (Greg Rucka/Matthew Southworth; Oni)
In which Rucka goes for the modern noir detective story. We start near the end, in which Dex is being shot by someone, and wind back to the beginning. Dex -- whose first name is apparently Dexedrine, which will tell you something about her background right there -- is a Native American detective living in Portland, Oregon, trying to care for her younger brother, whom everyone in the neighborhood seems to love. They're not so happy with her, however. Dex, it seems, has a major gambling problem. She runs up more than she can repay at the local casino, and gets roped in through those debts into trying to run down the daughter of the casino owner; said daughter has suddenly just dropped off the face of the earth. This being a detective story, we discover almost immediately that there are all sorts of things that Dex hasn't been told about what's going on. It seems to be getting set up to be a classic story of dames and double-crosses, only the detective in this case is a woman, which may or may not also truncate the classic "find the dame who then seduces the detective and then does him wrong" part of the story. (NOTE: I've seen some other reviews, and for reasons which utterly escape me, almost everyone is assuming that Dex is a lesbian. The only textual support for it seems to come from Dex commenting that the girl she's been asked to find could have run away with a man or a woman. It would not be unusual for Rucka to create a tough lesbian detective -- see also: Renee Montoya, Kate Kane's Batwoman -- but there doesn't seem to be a lot more there, at the moment.) Southworth's artwork is hard-edged, heavy-lined and dark, matching the mood of the story perfectly. For what it's worth, I'm glad that this is coming from Oni, which seems to aim for graphic novels and collections more than it does single issues. This story seems strongly like it will read better in collections -- though I assume those collections will lack the backmatter, like Southworth's explanation this issue of how he came up with the look and content of the art -- and may be a harder sell in individual issues.
Excellent; Highly recommended

Invincible Presents: Atom Eve and Rexplode #1 (Benito Cereno/Nate Bellegarde; Image)
In which we go into the past, before the Invincible War, and see how Rexplode and Atom Eve, a.k.a Samantha Wilkins, met. We start with Rexplode's story, which turns out to be very grim indeed. His family is grindingly poor, driving Rex to steal food. He's seen by a man who gets intrigued by his apparent talents, and who then follows him back to his home and makes a proposition to Rex' father ... who sells his son to someone he doesn't know, essentially for a few groceries. Rex is made to endure all sorts of body modifications, which allow him to explode things with sufficient kinetic energy. (He throws balls at his targets. A lot.) It becomes clear to the reader long before it dawns on Rex that perhaps, just perhaps, he's not working for the good guys that he thought he was. But before he can quite figure out what to do with this concept, he meets Atom Eve.

I really really wish that Kirkman would outsource every issue of the main Invincible title in which Atom Eve appears to Cereno so that she could get some more interesting characterization. She only appears on the last page of this first issue, but presents with a lot more attitude and is a much more interesting character, in a one page appearance, than Kirkman has ever managed. This was also true of the first Atom Eve miniseries that Cereno wrote. I get that in the main title, she's a supporting character, whereas Cereno gets to write her as the main character of his minseries, and so she actually has to be more interesting; she holds the center. I get all that, I really do. But Kirkman has only ever written Eve as an archetype of The Girl. You want her, but you can't have her. Miracle of miracles, you get her ... and then your enemy punches her guts out and kills her, motivating you to kill him (you think). But then, more miracles of miracles! she reassembles herself and she's back to life, and gave herself a boob job in the bargain! And yet ... somehow doesn't quite manage to be that interesting a character, despite everything.

Anyway, all that said, Cereno and Bellegarde do their usual excellent work in this miniseries, producing strong characterization and story and artwork. It's very enjoyable, and I'm really looking forward to the rest of the series.
Excellent; Highly recommended

Hector Plasm: Totentanz (Cereno/Bellegarde and others; Image)
Very different in feel from the first Hector Plasm, which told more straight-ahead stories. This one contains not only stories, but recipes, and songs (sort of). The quality does feel rather more variable than expected, but overall, it's still a very entertaining and interesting look at the character and his life and times. And also the occasional ghosts and skeletons and whatnot. One of the stories, "Hector contre la danse macabre", is meant to be read in conjunction with composer Camille Saint-Saens piece "Danse Macabre", with story beats coordinated to the music. Happily, Nate Bellegarde then put together this NOT SAFE FOR WORK piece (contains full frontal comics character nudity), synchronizing the visual and audio beats as intended.
Excellent; Highly recommended

World's Finest #1 of 4 (Sterling Gates/Julian Lopez, Bit; DC)
Adventure Comics 3/506 (Geoff Johns, Michael Shoemaker/Francis Manapul, Clayton Henry; DC)
Red Robin #5 (Christopher Yost/Ramon Bachs; DC)
I put these three titles together because the first two, between them, show how frustrating Red Robin itself is. All three involve Red Robin; in World's Finest, he teams up with Nightwing -- Chris Kent, not Dick Grayson, who's off being Batman -- to take down an operation by the Penguin, who has managed to kidnap Flamebird. (Side note: since I abandoned the Superman side of the DCU back when they were having a terrible time getting any of the Superman titles to ship, I had no idea that there had been "time storms" or some such, which propelled Chris Kent through about 15 years of physical development in only a few months. I also had no idea that he was Zod's son. It was fairly startling. But I digress.) In Adventure, Conner "Superboy" Kent, trying to get back in touch with his past, tracks down Tim and helps him out with a mess he's gotten into. And in Red Robin, Tam Fox winds up delegated to track Tim down, for no apparent reason -- seriously, Lucius would send his daughter after Tim, knowing the sorts of things he could be getting into? His daughter? Sorry, don't buy that. But anyway, there she is. And there Tim is, post mauling. (I will also just note that a biologically human vigilante without a spleen, doing the sorts of things he does, is taking one hell of a risk.) The thing is, World's Finest manages to advance the idea that Tim is still trying to find Bruce, searching for odd and obsure clues -- it feels like it takes place long after the current Red Robin arc has ended. And in Adventure, we see, for the first and only time so far, Tim articulate why he's chosen to be Red Robin, an identity for which he can only have the deepest loathing. Or, more precisely, we see Conner figure it out, and then he and Tim talk about it. We haven't gotten any of that in the main Red Robin title, and at this point, we should be.
World's Finest: Very good; Recommended.
Adventure Comics: Very Good; Recomended.
Red Robin: ... Meh.

Final Crisis Aftermath: Escape #6 of 6 (Ivan Brandon/Cliff Richards, Prentis Rollins)
One of the more headscratching things to come out of Final Crisis. On the one hand, it was different and experimental in a way that DC seldom is. On the other ... by the time you get to the end, all you can think is, "All of this is for THAT result? Why didn't they just ASK him?" In any event, the title ends in a way that seems to set up the new (and dreadfully misnamed, no doubt) Global Peace Agency, with Nemesis as its chief. It seems to be a replacement for the now-destroyed Checkmate, with a broader brief, and fewer checks on its power. Its brief is to prevent the next Crisis; it will, of course, utterly and absolutely fail at that. It is, in fact, failing at that at this very moment, with Blackest Night zombies running around all over the place.

A moment from the High Horse, if you will: One of the terribly frustrating things about DC's various crises is the really odd lack of followthrough in some places. For example, at the end of the Crime Bible: The Books of Blood miniseries, Renee Montoya was accidentally head of the Religion of Crime. And then when Final Crisis came along, she just ... wasn't, anymore, and now in Detective, Alice has come out of nowhere to take charge. At the end of Final Crisis, Renee Montoya had been drafted by Checkmate to be head of the Global Peace Agency, gathering the task force of 51 Supermen who were to defeat Darkseid, only to arrive and discover that Earth-prime's Superman was back and handling things just fine, thanks. And now ... she's not. It does seem that there should be some exploration of what happened and the effects before you go blithely off to the next thing. I mean, it wouldn't take all that much to tell us how she got out of all these commitments, would it? But I digress.
Interesting; no recommendation

Power Girl #6 (Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray/Amanda Connor; DC)
Have I mentioned that I absolutely love this series? No? Well, I absolutely love this series. It manages to take on the sorts of Serious Things that a superhero story must do -- for certain values of serious, of course; New York getting levitated by a hyperintelligent ape's spaceship is only just so serious, after all. At the same time, it never loses its sense of humor and fun. Power Girl actually enjoys being a superhero. At the same time, she enjoys being Karen Starr, if not quite as much -- it's certainly the more aggravating side of her existence.

One of the things I've never understood about superhero comix is the secret identity thing. Take Power Girl, for example: six foot tall buxom blonde, never to be found in the vicinity of Karen Starr even when they logically ought to be. Just how hard can it be to make that connection? And in the last two issues, Palmiotti and Gray have actually played with that a little, having someone discover Power Girl's secret identity. She doesn't know who it is yet, though undoubtedly she will soon.
Excellent; Highly recommended.

Detective Comics #858 (Greg Rucka/JH Williams III, Cully Hammer)
In which we start seeing Batwoman's origin story, with perhaps a tiny bit of Alice's origin story and the modern story mixed in. We meet Kate and her sister Beth as children, and see their mostly happy home lives. Certainly, they're frustrated by their father's frequent absences, and also frustrated when they're made to move yet one more time, but still basically happy. That all comes to an end in London, where their family is attacked, presumably by the Religion of Crime, during the girls' birthday outing with their mother. She's killed, and it seems that Beth is killed as well. In the modern frame, Kate is analyzing some of Alice's blood to see if it's her sister or not, and ignoring her father's demands and pleas for her to talk to him. In the backup story, "Pipeline, chapter 1", Renee Montoya as the Question wraps up the first part of her investigation into a slavery ring, rescuing not only the girl she was after but several more. (One wonders what the rest of "Pipeline" is supposed to be, if chapter 1 ends like that.) I actually feel a bit sorry for Cully Hammer; he's been doing very good work on The Question backup story in Detective, but has been totally overshadowed by the amazing things that Williams is doing with Batwoman.
Excellent; Highly recommended

Wonder Woman #37 (Gail Simone/Bernard Chang)
You know ... I wonder if perhaps Simone is aiming at nothing other than an essential refounding of Wonder Woman's story with this arc. After all, Diana's last two origin stories don't really work any more; she's surely observed man's world quite enough (and the current setup of her story seems to assign that role to Hippolyta as a previous Wonder Woman, anyway), and she's no longer functioning as an ambassador. After "Amazons Attack", the Themiscyran embassy seems to be gone, and she's actually working for the US government. Which brings up the question ... what's she doing here, anyway? If the issue is that she's been expelled because she no longer thinks as her people believe she should, because she also worships unfamiliar gods, then that brings her story into alignment with the other two of DC's alleged Trinity: Batman and Superman both lost their parents to create themselves, as well, albeit at much younger ages, and Superman doesn't really remember losing his. In any event, this issue is sort of wildly unbalanced. I do wish the Donna Troy part of it would just end; having her made insane by Genocide, even though nobody else who contacted Genocide was, makes less than no sense. I'm curious about what's going on with the Amazons; parthenogenic pregnancies after all this time? And Achilles seems like an honorable man being forced to do progressively more dishonorable things; I suspect that he may wind up rebelling against Zeus and Ares sometime soon. (The Ares ghost thing was just ridiculous, really.)

All that said, the one major knock against the most recent story arcs is that, the two issue thing with Black Canary aside, this thing with Alkyone and Achilles and Zeus' big plan is taking FOREVER. I have the vague, nebulous impression that it's in part because Diana isn't really doing anything with Final Crisis or Blackest Night, so she needed some sort of epic storyline to match the guys. (Yes, she had an important role, of sorts, in Final Crisis, and yes, there's a Blackest Night: Wonder Woman on the way. However, neither of those events is going to be reflected back in the main title, whereas Final Crisis rebooted the entire Batman line, and has had some interesting aftereffects over in Superman's chunk; Blackest Night showed up in this week's Red Robin, and is actually going to effectively suspend publication on Batman and Robin for three months.)
Interesting; no recommendation.

Something of a side note: it's fascinating to see how the solo-female superhero titles from the DC universe are doing relative to each other. Surprising, one way and another. From the Top 300 Comics for October 2009 chart from ICV2, the rankings for October for those titles:

#19 Detective Comics (Batwoman and the Question)
#51 Batgirl
#68 Supergirl
#76 Power Girl
#77 Wonder Woman

That Batwoman and the Question have been able to sustain Detective at a very high sales level is very impressive. That Batgirl is doing so well, relatively speaking, is baffling. (Something to judge by: Stephanie Brown is now outselling "Superman: World of New Krypton", Superman and Action -- though that may all be an indication of the weakness of the Superman franchise at the moment, rather than the strength of Batgirl.) To be sure, there's only a few hundred issues between Power Girl and Wonder Woman. Unfortunately, it does seem to show that people just don't quite "get" Wonder Woman these days; she really ought to be doing better.
DC Universe 0 (Morrison/Johns/A raft of artists):
...So I ... and that ... I mean ... what the hell was that hot mess, anyway? It was billed as a big status quo explanation that would be a perfect jumping-on spot for new readers, but it explained so little that unless you read one hell of a lot in the DC universe, you had no idea what was going on.

It was meant at least in part also to be marketing and a teaser for the upcoming Final Crisis and its many many many many many many many many tie-in stories, and it managed to persuade me to read ... nothing I wasn't already reading. I mean, I'll probably do Batman RIP, because I read Batman peripatetically and Detective consistently, and despite the fact that "The Resurrection of Ra's Al-Ghul" crossover, after a great first issue or two, sucked like a sucking thing of suckitude making a giant sucking sound of suckiness. (In other words, it was very very bad.) I'll read "Whom gods forsake", because I read Wonder Woman, and because I've been waiting for the choice she had to make to rescue her mother to have consequences -- although a raft of Spartans about to attack the world because she's a woman who couldn't save it in fact has absolutely nothing to do with that choice. (Don't ask me why they're Spartans, either.) I was already planning to read "Final Crisis: Revelations", because it's Rucka writing Renee Montoya, and it's going to be a teamup with Crispus Allen/the Spectre, and there's no way on EARTH I'd want to miss that. I could give a rat's ass about "Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds: Prime Evil" in which various and sundry Legions try to beat down Superboy ... er, pardon, SuperMAN Prime. (How many colons does a title need, anyway?) I could give a rat's ass about "Green Lantern: Blackest Night Prelude: The Dead Shall Rise". Which is apparently a prequel to their major DEAR GOD YES THIS IS THE END OF ALL CRISES TO BEAT ALL CRISES crossover for next year, anyway. And I could care less about "Final Crisis" itself.

The other thing that baffles me is why DC spent so much time planting information in the media about the Big Event That Happens in the story ... especially since it kind of doesn't really happen. I will note, however, that I was vastly amused that the multiverse literally precipitates fallen heroes when it needs them, just assembling them and raining them out of the sky when it wants them, like sentient magma, judging from what we do see. Granted, it makes a sort of sense, given how he died, but still, it was terribly funny to see them actually do something that silly. That said, the ending graphic is, just barely, subtle enough that if DC hadn't been clanging that anvil, dropping said anvil on the heads of anyone who'd stand still long enough, and then shouting from the rooftops after that, a lot of people would have missed it entirely. Or assumed that the multiverse was precipitating a stripper, which would have been kind of perfect, really.

Anyway, a story that managed to actually not be worth the 50 cents they charged for it. Who knew?

Devi 19 (Mohapatra/Chandrasekhar; Virgin): basically, an issue long fight between Devi and the abruptly resurrected and body-jumping Daanvi, although it also contains flashes to activity going on underneath Sitapur in the lost city of Candara. Some tourists/archaeologists have most unfortunately gotten themselves mixed up with the darinde, who have plans for them. Aside from Tara getting a forced, and thankfully brief, review of her sister's life, not a lot happens in the main storyline -- issue long fight sequences tend to have that effect. Chandrasekhar's artwork is very nice, as always. It turns out that reminding us that Candara exists is also relevant to...

Witchblade/Devi (Ron Marz/Eric Basaloua; Top Cow/Virgin): a profoundly unnecessary, but oddly interesting crossover. It starts with us watching the original team-up between a very early holder of the Witchblade and an early Devi incarnation, teeing off against Tama, Bala and Iyam. (Familiar names? Why, yes, they are!) The artwork for the earlier Devi incarnation is sincerely problematic; we're explicitly told that Tara is the first living human to contain the Devi goddess -- the first incarnation that we see in the original Devi series is actually blue, for heaven's sake -- and yet this person appears to be exactly that. She's also wearing nothing more than the Devi crown and strategically placed fire. Anyway, Sara Pezzini wakes up from her dream of the Witchblade/Devi teamup, gets guided about Sitapur by Rahul, who is helping to investigate a murder in which the murderers killed in New York and ran away to Sitapur, and then gets attacked by darinde when she tries to sleep. She drives them off, and then has a lovely meet-ugly with Tara/Devi. The story, as mentioned, is unnecessary but fun, although it's clear that it's going to get on an express train for the Devi/Witchblade issue from Virgin/Top Cow next month; it's got places to go, and it's nowhere near there yet. Basaloua's artwork, on the other hand, is wildly inconsistent. At times it's much too simply drawn -- Sara's face in particular suffers from a lack of detail and expression and she almost always has her mouth half-open -- and at times it's really well detailed -- Candara and the darinde in particular are very well done. An enjoyable read if you normally pick up Devi; I have no idea how this works for readers of Witchblade.

Abyss 4 of 4 for the first story arc (Rubio/Maragon; Red 5): in which the big fight to which we've been building up finally takes place! At a comics convention! And it's much much shorter than you were expecting! ... because it turns out that we only thought this issue was building up to the big fight. It was actually building up to what comes after that. (No, I'm not telling.) Artwork is very nice, and it's going to be interesting to see what they do with this setup, now that they've got it. Eric with a superteam is most unexpected, I have to say.

Proof 7 (Grecian/Rossmo/Staples; Image): In which the big guy unleashes a bit of whoopass -- if only a bit -- Ginger and Elvis find and try to rescue the baby brontosaurus, and all the traitors are revealed. And ... not a lot else happens, actually, but it happens very interestingly. Highly recommended.

Jack of Fables 22 (Willingham/Sturges/Akins/Pepoy; DC/Vertigo): In which we're introduced, quite abruptly and seemingly unattached to the current storyline, to Jack in his past. Unlike the present, in which he's a very self-involved criminal but still somehow charming, the Jack of 1883 is a brutal, vicious murderer. He's so bad that Fabletown decides something must be done, and sends Bigby out after him. It's going to be interesting to see how Willingham and Sturges manage to maintain this arc, and how long they take it. Jack really was a borderline sociopath already; pushing him into full-fledged serial killer/spree murderer/robber/thug may be a bit more than the audience can stand for too long.

Caliber: First Canon of Justice 1 (Sam Sarkar/Garrie Gastonny; Radical Comics): One of the first issues of a new title from a new company. I read the issue and then saw some publicity elsewhere; only then did I discover that Caliber is meant to be a revisioning of the King Arthur legend. It's incredibly easy to miss if you're not paying the right sort of attention. (Though paying the right sort of attention makes it a terribly puzzling story indeed.) In the role of Merlin stands Jean Michel, son of a French trader and a Nez Perce shaman's daughter. In what appears to be the conflated role of Morgaine and Nimue stands Morgan, Jean Michel's lover. Captain Pendergon, commander of the town fort, appears to be standing in for Uther Pendragon -- his wife, standing in for Ygraine, dies during the story. And, of course, there's Arthur, the captain's son. And standing in for Excalibur is ... well, it's the old west. What would you think Excaliber would be? Knowing what the story is meant to be helps you understand a bit of what's going on ... if only a bit. For example, Jean Michel makes a critical mistake, because the spirits that speak to him to tell him what to do -- and we do hear the spirits along with him -- are profoundly unspecific, even though it seems as though they're being responsive. In any event, it may be interesting to see how this story goes. (Against that is the fact that I kind of hate Westerns, although a western with fantastical elements is pretty much something I may be able to deal with.) The art work ... well. Part of me wants to say that Gastonny's artwork is magnificent, because what we can actually see is well drawn and very detailed. The rest of me wants to say that it's incredibly muddy and dark, and it desperately needs to be lightened so that we can see what's going on. A good and intriguing beginning, anyway.

Hercules: The Thracian Wars 1 of 5 (Steve Moore/ Admira Wijay; Radical): ...yeah. OK, take a bunch of heroes, most of whom seem fairly dislikeable anyway. Stick them in a situation where they get insulted and pushed and pushed and pushed. Add a quite dislikeable Hercules. Have the insulting Thracians insult some more. Set Herc to blenderize. You wind up with a quite quite gory story, with nothing about it making me want to pay any attention in the slightest to issue 2. Not recommended.

Helen Killer #1 (Andrew Kreisberg/Matthew JLD Rice; Arcana):

First, the title is NOT a typo.

Second, this story may be the most bizarrely awesome thing I've seen in a while.

In real life, Helen Keller was blind and deaf, and an incredibly accomplished woman. She met all sorts of luminaries of her day, including Frederick Douglass and Alexander Graham Bell.

In this story, her early life is the same, including meeting Anne Sullivan, who helps her retire her "Phantom", the personality she thought herself to be when she was locked into her dark and silent world. Anne and Helen are walking home from a college lecture when they're set upon by thugs. Cornered, and unsure where Anne is or if she might be hurt, Helen reaches up to touch a switch on her large, clunky dark glasses ... and suddenly she can see and hear. Moreover, it turns out that being able to see and hear allows her to tap into something that fills her with a wondrous rage and an awesome physical power. It turns out that Alexander Graham Bell has fashioned something in those glasses that uses a carrier wave into her brain that allows Helen to see and hear and to tap into that rage and power as an unintended side effect. It also turns out that she's being recruited by the secret service to ... well, that would be telling. Seriously, this is the sort of setup that's so audacious that it's clearly headed for either incredible success or awesome failure. Rice's black and white artwork is very very good, conveying character and expression very well. Kreisberg's and Rice's story ... works, so far, is all I can say. It's very good and very strange. Highly recommended.
Fables 72 (Willingham/Buckingham): So on the one hand, Cinderella is, once again, unspeakably awesome. On the other hand ... we've been hearing about the war for two issues now, and it would be kind of nice to just, well, get there already. And yet, I can't quite say that I'd want to have seen less of Cinderella. In any event, I expect that we'll finally get around to seeing how the war got started next issue. One can but hope, anyway.

Batman 675 (Morrison/Benjamin): In which Jezebel Jet tries to get Bruce to open up to her, and instead he breaks up with her, sort of, and she also gets A Clew. We also discover that she has enemies of her own (...but really, the Ten Eyed Men? Really?), and that Talia has finally decided that she should take Jezebel seriously as a rival. At this point, it's clear that Jezebel has what could politely be called colliding refrigerators headed her way; the only question really is going to be which one gets there first, whether she'll survive the experience, and what role this plays in the upcoming RIP storyline. And also, why on earth we should even care. Seriously, she's had a total of maybe -- maybe -- 20 pages of face time in about a year's worth of issues. That's not enough time for the reader to get to know her, and it's certainly not enough face time for us to care. I actually don't object all that much to characters being created for the express purpose of being developed so that you can kill them off and get all sorts of reader angst ... but you actually have to get around to the whole "development" part before that works.
It's interesting, in a weird way, to see how things have changed, and how they haven't. In the late 1950s, early 1960s, you simply couldn't have had an icon like Bruce Wayne/Batman dating a black woman. The public would have burned DC to the ground for the very idea. In the 1970s, 1980s, you could have done it, but there would have been Publicity To Beat The Band. "Bruce Wayne Dating A Black Woman! A first for Comics!" Now? It just happens, and nobody really notices. Which, really, is probably a good thing.

On the other hand, "Jezebel Jet" is a peculiarly tone deaf name to give a character in this country. Granted, Morrison is British, and not American, and granted that Jezebel herself appears not to be American -- her father is apparently the ruler of a starving African country (she herself mentions that some of her people are starving, in a terribly odd context in this issue) -- even so, you'd think that someone at DC might have stepped in and said, "Um, Grant, perhaps you should give this character a different first name, especially as you don't appear to want to imply that she's a prostitute."

Apart from the Jezebel issue, there's the fact that the art is, honestly, kind of butt-ugly, for some reason. They've also done something with the character design for Damien; he's gone from being about 10 years old in his previous appearances to being about 15 now. Seriously, just how old is the kid, anyway?

Fallen Angel 26 (David/Woodward): In which the war for Bete Noire comes to an unexpected (if apparently temporary) conclusion, and we end up back at the beginning in more than one way. I have to admit, I'm kind of astonished; I really didn't expect that result, and certain not in quite so thorough a way. I also can't remember ever seeing an ongoing series kill off as many of its continuing characters as this series has in the past two. Woodward's art was very good, as usual, although everyone gets peculiarly wide-eyed at the end, and because his art is generally more delicately shaded, it kind of stands out. I'm really curious to see where it goes from here. From the looks of the cover of the next issue, we'll probably be taking a small break to regroup. Still, a pretty impressive storyline, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it continues.

The Spirit 14-16 (Evanier/Aragones/Cook): ... Yeah, OK, done here. I really haven't liked this title since Evanier and Agagones took over from Darwyn Cooke, and I'm finally dropping it from my pull list until/unless it gets new writers. What Darwyn Cooke and Bone managed to do was to make The Spirit its own thing, very modern yet aware of its origins. The Evanier/Aragones edition feels like a retread of Eisner's Spirit. Despite the presence of some modern trappings -- the odd computer or miniskirt in the pictures -- the stories themselves just feel terribly old fashioned. Issue 14 was actually the worst in this regard, using Eisner-style layouts. Those haven't appeared again, but the stories still seem quaint and antique.

Dynamo 5 #12: In which the kids group together to rescue Maddie and Hector's mother from Brains, Brawn and the other bad guys, albeit possibly not in time. And another secret is discovered on the very last page. Honestly, that last page puzzles me, and possibly not in the way intended. I'm not at all sure what it really means. Which is probably the intent. Anyway, still a fun and entertaining (if puzzling) issue.

Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag #8 (Ostrander): In which the mission reaches a satisfactorily gory and explosive end. And another person is recruited to the team; said person is (1) a terribly, terribly bad idea, and (2) ought to produce all sorts of other difficulties, depending on when this arc ends, relative to Checkmate. I have to admit, I do love this series. I love that one of the baddest badasses in the DCU is a big black woman with no discernable superpowers whatsoever. The only thing I minded is that Waller doesn't get herself out of the mess at the end, but needs the help of someone on the Squad. Mind, it's entirely reasonable that she'd have needed help; it just would have been more interesting for her to get herself out of the mess. Anyway, way more fun than I expected, and I hope there's a Suicide Squad miniseries done by Ostrander every year.

Space Doubles #3: I love this series, published by Th3rd World. (The "3" is used advisedly.) I like that they can do these short, pulpy half-issue flipovers, and each story works on its own, and isn't connected to umpteen thousand other stories. You can just read each story on its own, and enjoy it for what it is. "Escape Pod" by Mark Smith and Matthew Huynh tells the story of a young man who was in an accident and developed traumatic amnesia as a result. The tiger in the tale is exactly why he developed amnesia and what happens once he gets his memory back. "Everywhere I Look ... Bugs!" by Closter and Schaufelberger, is a bit less successful, if only because the revelation of quite why the man is having hallucinations about bugs just doesn't quite work. Nonetheless, overall, both stories were very enjoyable. (Now, if only would develop an RSS feed for their online comics, which I keep forgetting are even there...)
I feel that I should mention that I really do like Broken Voice's Shades comic. It's sort of ... mysticism and magic and superheroes in the modern world. The story's really interesting -- the high tea featuring an armed attack that goes dreadfully wrong for the attackers is really kind of perfect, and earlier, they break the British Museum (but who doesn't?) -- and I like the artwork. Plus, the shaman's powers require him to be naked a lot. (... what? What? I never said I wasn't shallow! And it is established as necessary fairly early, so that it's not really gratuitous.) And honestly, in this, our year of the 2d Annual Alex Ross Heterosexual Male Groin Freakout Open (also known as Crotchgate 2008), it's kind of refreshing to see a series that undresses its men -- ok, its man -- with wild abandon and makes no apologies about it. (Seriously, who knew that people who have penises could get so freaked out by drawings of people with penises that actually acknowledge that the characters are supposed to have penises? Is it wrong of me to hope that at some point in the near future, Alex Ross -- who is, I believe, hopelessly heterosexual -- just says, "Oh, the hell with it" and does a cover image of Captain Steel and Alan Scott facing off against each other with absolutely unambiguous and unmistakeable raging erections visible under the spandex?) To be sure, Shades is aimed more or less at your standard superhero age audience, so it's not as if the shaman or his coreligionists actually wave weenie in your face, so to speak.

Which, it turns out, produces periodically problematic artwork.

In the most recent update, one of the shamans does a version of the superheroine twist. You know the twist -- you've all seen it. It's that very strange pose that women get drawn in so as to allow you to get nearly a full frontal shot of the cleavage and a full rear shot of the butt. You can see a version of the pose in the Madame Mirage cover to the left. Despite the severity of her pose (more about that in a sec), it's actually a comparatively mild twist; the butt just isn't that prominent. The shaman's pose in the latest update of Shades, seen to the right of this paragraph, is actually a more traditional Twist, if for somewhat different reasons. A more normal shot from the rear would keep you from being able to see the face, while a more normal shot from the front, even up high, would give you a lovely shot of shaman dingus. Problematic either way.

Now, I will say that for the purposes of journalistic completeness, I have, in fact, tried to get into both positions. (No, there are NOT any pictures.) And I can now say two things with authority:

1) Both positions are, shockingly enough, physically possible. (No, REALLY, they are! I know! Who knew!?)

2) Both positions ... Hurt. So. MUCH. The shaman isn't screaming because of the unexpected dragon appearing out of nowhere; he's screaming because his spine is in real and spectacular pain! Granted, my back isn't the most limber, but I can't believe that it wouldn't hurt even a younger and more athletic person. The shaman's position hurt my lower back, and Madame's position hurt everywhere. (Mind, she isn't precisely solid in the story, so she can get away with anatomical improbabilities. In fact, the only reason she's not screaming is that her spine is, quite literally, made of light.)

The other thing I can say with some authority is ... well ...

OK, I'll give 'em the first frame. In that position, with an apparent light source from above, the shadows make sense (... although, honestly? still kind of unusually wee. Most guys, that position, that sort of leap, there'd be danglage.). In the second ... no. Just ... no. The light source, to the extent that you can tell, is from above, his pelvis is aimed toward us, and yet, major shadows. That there is some bad planning and improbable anatomy, that is. (I am not campaigning for full frontal shaman dingus, let us be clear. Frankly, if the artist had just put his front leg up higher to figleaf him, it would have been perfectly reasonable.)

And now, on to actual reviews of hopefully one paragraph or less.

Reviews thisaway... )
Well, I have a hole in my jaw, so I might as well write a review or two. Although apparently my mad spelling skillz has gone to hell and back, so heaven only knows what it'll look like. You wuz warned.

Shade, the Changing Man: The American Scream (Peter Milligan et al)

I tried. I really did try. But there are not enough drugs in the entire world to get me through this one -- and if there were, they'd be so strong that I'd be afraid to take them. Seriously, I liked Enigma, one of Peter Milligan's previous "oh, what nice shiny drugs THOSE must have been!" works. It had some interesting ruminations on the nature of sex and sexuality and reality and narrative and all sorts of fun stuff. And I think that Shade comes back to those last two themes, and throws in the nature of madness and history and psychology into the mix on top of it. I think. But the treatment is so surrealistic and difficult to get through that I just can't do it. Alas. Your mileage may vary.

The Escapists 5 of 6 (Brian K. Vaughn et al)

Oh ... OH ... I have no idea where it's going after this, but I hope it's not where it looks like. In any event, the next-to-last installment is really gripping and interesting, and I really want to see what's going to happen next ... I think.

Astro City: The Dark Age vol 2 issue 1 (Busiek, Anderson et al)

I love the sorts of stories where you get to see what it's like to be a normal person in a city of superheroes. We catch up with Royal and Charles a few years after the end of the last volume. One brother is married, one alone. Both brothers find themselves in a city where the superheroes seem to have become seriously ... unmoored. They don't care about the means and methods they use, they don't care about actual justice, and they don't care very much about ancillary damage to innocent (comparatively speaking) bystanders. And the last page lets you know that there's a lot more pain to come for the brothers. Highly recommended.

Casanova issue 6: Women and Men, part 1 (Fraction/Ba)

I really love this series, with its 60s spy movies attacked by 60s science fiction yanked kinda sorta into the modern day ethos. This is the first issue in which all sorts of dangling threads -- which you didn't realize actually were dangling -- get yanked back into play. (And if I were a different type of person, or perhaps relentlessly adolescent and straight, I'd also say, "And it's got boobies!" Because it does. But I digress.) It's going to be interesting to see how they pull everything together in the next issue to close the first volume. (Apparently, despite the fact that Casanova is the second title in the Image Slimline format, after Warren Ellis' Fell, there actually will be a trade of Casanova in the vaguely near future, whereas Ellis has said that either there won't be a Fell trade, or that it will be way far off in the future.)

Jack of Fables 5 (Willingham et al)

The issue that ends the first volume in a somewhat surprising way. And it's pretty much impossible to say one word about it without spoiling the entire thing, so all I'll say is that I'm looking forward to seeing what happens after the break.

Invincible 36 (Kirkman/Ottley)

You know, enough other things happen in Invincible that it's easy to forget that it's a superhero title -- that is, a "fight comic". And we've hit one of those issues that sets up The Big Fight To Come. At this point, there are really only two or three ways it can go, and all of them are kind of irritating -- one considerably more than the others -- but eventually, the fight will be over, and we'll get to see what's happening in the rest of Mark's life. I do like seeing Mark trying to strike a balnce between superheroing and the rest of his life; it's just that, to me, the rest of his life is so much more interesting ...

Fables 55 (Willingham et al)

In which they continue to set up the end game, which now looks like it's going to be slightly more subtle than it started out to be. It's going to be fun to see how this chess game plays out.

Red Menace issue 1 of 6 (Bilson/DeMeo/Brody/Ordway/Vey)

Interesting how there seems to be an explosion in various media of stories based on McCarthy and his red-baiting quest for a government dictated political orthodoxy.

Just noticing, that's all.

Anyway, in the first issue, McCarthy tries to get American Eagle to tell the House Unamerican Activities Committee not only who the other heroes in the League of Heroes are, but also what their secret identities are. The Eagle refuses, although he does unmask to reveal that he's Steve Tremaine, a well known war veteran and decorated hero. It seems that he's spiked McCarthy's guns, but unfortunately, back in the days when we actually liked and worked with the Soviet Union, Tremaine made friends with a man who later became one of the leaders of the Soviets. An apparently innocent drink then becomes a clear example of Communist sympathizer activity.

Red Menace features very good writing, and good artwork. I half expected them to make it look like a silver-age comic, given when it takes place, but they resisted that temptation. I'll be very curious to see where the story goes, given the cliffhanger place where it left off.

The Damaged (, McKee/Bright/Lynx Studio)

A meteor shower strikes Earth -- sort of -- bringing in its wake all sorts of interesting events. Many of them happen to the unsubtly named Gabriel Millstone, who has basically a day out of his worst nightmares and then some. And, again, aside from noting that Gabriel's very bad day begins when one of the meteorites holes the hood of his car in his driveway and smooshes a goodly chunk of his engine, it's pretty much impossible to discuss the storyline without giving away important story points. I will say that it's almost, but not quite, an all-ages title; a couple of things are just scary enough that you'd probably want to make sure any readers were older than, say, ten or so before you let them read it. Interesting, if not necessarily recommended. I'll probably pick up issue 2, just because, but it's not particularly distinguished at this point.


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