A two-week catch-up in which I regain the teensiest bit of indie cred whilst still wallowing among all things Bat. (Seriously. There were, like, 75 Bat titles came out the last two weeks.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Wonder Woman #604:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very good, if also very very weird; Recommended

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time...
Life with Archie: The Married Life #2 (Kupperberg/Breyfogle/Pepoy; Archie Comics):
Apparently, what we're supposed to learn from this is that living with or ever having dated -- or possibly even simply having known -- Archie Andrews is a passport to making your life an utter misery. In the "Life with Veronica" section, Veronica's life is miserable because she's Archie's supervisor at Lodge Industries, and he's been tasked to give Pop a lowball offer for his Chok'lit Shop, and, understandably, he hates having to do this. Veronica hates having to make him do it, hates that her father wanted them to do it in the first place, and she and Archie wind up having -- for Archieworld -- a fairly nasty fight about it. She winds up breaking down over it, with Reggie innocently comforting her in a way that leads some of their coworkers to thinking that she's cheating on Archie. In the meantime, Betty the unemployed has been avoiding her friends, because she doesn't want them to think she's a loser. Her mother eventually forces her to go out and try to meet one of her old friends -- Veronica, whose breakdown means that she totally forgets that she agreed to meet Betty in the first place. Archie, in the meantime, is beginning to suspect that Mr Lodge is up to no good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Batman 703 (Nicieza/Richards): A mostly done-in-one, which seems to be taking place far enough after the beginning of Time Masters so that Alfred, Dick, Damian and Tim all bond over their hopes that Bruce will soon be home. Dick does something terribly stupid -- as he has been doing while he learns to be Bat -- and the demonization of Vicki Vale continues apace. (Seriously, what on earth did they ever do to her to inspire this level of ... well, it's not hate, exactly, but she clearly Does Not Like Them At All. Mostly a placemarker issue, letting us know that Everybody Misses Bruce, just in time for his return next month.
OK; No recommendation
DC seems to be having itself a month, doesn't it? And not necessarily in the good way, either. Simone moves off Wonder Woman (though to reboot Birds of Prey, which many will think a worthwhile exchange -- having never read the latter, I can't say); Palmiotti, Gray and Conner leave Power Girl in June, and now this.

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing More, Nothing Less (gregrucka.com)
April 3rd, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In any event, it's going to be interesting to see what happens with Batwoman from here. If anything, of course.

  1. Fables #92, by Bill Willingham & David Lapham (DC/Vertigo)
    In which we catch up with Ambrose "Flycatcher" the former Frog Prince in his new kingdom of Haven back in the homelands. His peace seems to have held -- at least, there's no indication that the growing unrest in other corners of the homelands has encroached on his kingdom. In a serious lapse of taste, he's imported baseball -- in fact, the story starts as a somewhat transplanted version of Casey at the bat. Red Riding Hood and Ambrose continue to pine for each other in a quietly genteel sort of way. And then at the end of the story come two dramatic and unexpected events. (Well, OK, one of them kind of IS expected, but the resolution isn't. And the second event you actually seem to see happen, but don't understand the apparent significance until the end of the story. That said, the whole thing feels like an oddly insignificant side-trip away from the main battle back in New York against Mister Dark; however, since Frau Totenkinder has gone back to the homelands to find ... something, I'm going to trust that this all connects up. The Fables side-trips usually do, somehow.
    Good; Recommended

  2. Power Girl #8, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
    The conclusion to the Vartox story begun in issue 7, and managed somewhat more deftly than the introduction. (The death of an admittedly incidental character was handled with alarming breeziness in the previous issue.) The threat introduced in the previous issue is dealt with fairly quickly -- and oddly irresponsibly, as far as we can tell -- leaving PG free to deal with Vartox and his reproductive requests. Sadly, PG does not appreciate Vartox' normal formal evening wear, which consists of a see-through ... robe-like thing, and a G-string. In any event, it's a fun, light superhero story, and the next story arc -- or possibly two -- gets set up nicely. That said, one of the odd things about this series is the way it just leaves things dangling out there. Some of them are very minor -- why did Vartox' pheromone spray knock out Doc Midnite, and how is he doing, anyway? -- and some major -- what's going on with the person who discovered PG's secret identity? (Though I will note that Atlee's eyeroll at the very concept of PG's secret identity being at all difficult to discover was kind of perfect.) That particular thread has been hanging out there for nearly half the series already. Shouldn't something be happening on that front? Granted, she's been kind of busy, but still...
    Good; Recommended

  3. Starman #81 (Blackest Night), by James Robinson, Fernando Dagnino & Bill Sienkiewicz (DC)
    Man, this was kind of perfect. A one-shot tie-in done as they should be. That said, if you haven't ever read Starman, and you're picking this up for the sake of getting all things "Blackest Night", you're going to be pretty well lost. Nekron raises David Knight, who got to spend something like a whole week as Starman before getting himself killed, and the being that takes over his body then proceeds to terrorize Opal City. Fairly quickly, this reaches the point where the Shade -- still having a thing with Hope O'Dare (and "thing" is perhaps the best way to describe it, given their discussion) -- gets called into action. Something theoretically truly terrible happens to the Shade in the course of the story ... and it does not have the effect one would expect. Certainly Nekron's patsy is surprised by the result, in any event. The only downside, if there is one, is that it suddenly seems to unbalance the Blackest Night event -- the Shade would seem to be powerful enough to possibly end Blackest Night all by himself, and that can't possibly be what they've got in mind. After all, this has got to be dragged out for another two months, and then we get to go careening into "Brightest Day" or whatever the next big mega crossover event is.

    Overall, it is awesome like an awesome thing of awesomeness, with a side order of awesome. As much as one issue could be, anyway.

    (If Robinson were interested in doing a new Shade series, I'd be so on board with that. Yes, please! More!)

    Excellent; Highly Recommended

  4. Incorruptible #2, by Mark Waid, Jean Diaz & Belardino Brabo (Boom)
    This title actually has the potential to be far more interesting than the Irredeemable title that it's spun out of. After all, hero goes mad, does appalling things -- it's a story that we've seen a lot before. (Three times in the past year or so, at least -- Irredeemable, Absolution, The Mighty [although, properly speaking, Alpha One doesn't quite go mad].) Villain gets shocked into going sane ... now that's a storyline that you don't get quite so often. It also gives us a look at the ground-level effects of what Plutonian's madness and destruction have done to the rest of the world, which is really entirely missing from the Irredeemable title. We also get to see how difficult it can be for a villain to go good; after all, even when some people believe him, most won't, and so Max Damage(yes, that's his name) winds up accidentally causing problems even when he's trying to help. At the same time, his former sidekick/girlfriend Jailbait (who really is only about 16) is struggling to understand why her former partner in crime and everything else suddenly doesn't want her any more, and acting out in some very 16-year-old ways.

    I do wonder if it's all being set up so that in a few dozen issues or so, both titles suddenly merge and we get the Irredeemable/Incorruptible story arc about the Big Final Battle Between Good gone bad and Bad gone good. It makes a sort of sense; Plutonian has been slowly but surely picking off the remaining superheroes in his own title and ignoring the supervillains, so sooner or later, Max Damage is likely to be the only one left standing against him.
    Good; Recommended

  5. Joe the Barbarian #1 (Grant Morrison/Sean Murphy/Dave Stewart; DC/Vertigo)
    Joe is a kid who is having a sucky life, at the moment. His father was killed in the Middle East, it seems, and his mother is having a hard time holding onto the family home. He gets pushed around and bullied by other kids at school. And, on top of everything else, he's a diabetic. Interestingly enough, given tne way it ends, it seems like it may be only the last aspect that's the most relevant, at least in the near term. Quite honestly, I think maybe this should have been released as an original graphic novel, rather than serialized. It feels like a story that would work better done in one; it's very easy to miss what's going on with Joe. I'm just not sure that a miniseries of Joe experiencing hypoglycemia induced hallucinations is quite going to work as such. Murphy's artwork is really well done and evocative and works very well with Morrison's narrative style in this story.

    Judgement reserved.

  6. Daytripper #2 (Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba; DC/Vertigo)
    In which Bras de Olivia Domingos dies. Again. This time, eleven years earlier than he died the first time, and in an entirely different way.

    I really don't have the slightest idea what to make of this series so far. At a guess, maybe he's going to be revealed to be looking back on ways he could have once died, writing his obituary. Or maybe the last death we see will be the real one, and the series will turn out to have been him, looking back on the different times and ways he could have died, and comparing it to what really happened. Or maybe we'll get no explanation at all, and we just get to watch him die over and over for a year. (Which, frankly, if they do this well enough that we come to know Bras very well at all, is going to be increasingly more difficult to read.) Their artstyles are beautiful to see, as always, and work with a story like this -- though what "like this" means, I really have no clue.

    Judgement reserved.

This week's pull list:
- Astro City The Dark Age Book Four #1 (apparently Busiek was serious about putting the title out more regularly. Huzzah!)
- Batman and Robin #7 (what, out again so soon? I thought it had another month of haitusing to go)
- Buck Rogers #8 (I find I'm enjoying these resurrected pulp series. Now if only there was another series of Ardden's Flash Gordon forthcoming...)
- Chew #8 (the concept is so very very gross, and the title is so very very good)
- Jack of Fables #42
- Madame Xanadu #19 (Nimue vs. Morgaine le Fay! Who will win?)
- Web #5
- The Sword #21
- World's Finest #4
- Wonder Woman #40
Final Crisis 6 of 7, "How to murder the Earth" (Morrison and a plethora of artists; DC):
Or, to give the issue the title it should have had, "Batman RIP, penultimate issue." I have certain very definite opinions about that, but I'll leave them aside today.

As far as the story itself goes, it's ... odd. Interesting and good, but odd. The rogue monitor came back to himself last issue, and looked like he was about to do something big; we see him again near the end of the issue and see, more or less, how he fits in. We also find out what happened to Superman when he got taken out of time back in Lois' hospital room, as well as getting a most startlingly literal deus ex machina. We see the continuing battle of Mary Marvel (whom Supergirl does not quite call a slut, after Mary specifically calls her one) versus Supergirl and Captain Marvel Jr and Black Adam and maybe a few other people. We get Black Canary and the Ray and Mr Richards the Tattooed Man on the JLA satellite versus the possessed Green Arrow, Black Lightning and more of Darkseid's minions. We get Renee, Ray Palmer and Ryan Choi in Checkmate's last bunker and Checkmate's endgame. We get Luthor, and we get the Flashes about to run to save the universe (again). We also get Batman vs Darkseid, in what may be the simplest and most direct scenes in the entire series to date. Of course, this also brings up the issue of when Final Crisis takes place, relative to RIP, but there's still really no way to tell at this point.

The artwork in this issue is, understandably given the raft of pencillers and inkers and colorists, all over the board; that said, it mostly works pretty well, even though the stylistic differences are pretty glaringly obvious.

As a whole, FC 6 is a spectular, profoundly irritating, kind of glorious mess, all of that concentrated in the final image of the issue. I'll certainly read the last issue, of course, but I can tell already that it's going to be a very irksome experience. I just hope it's worth the ride.

Wonder Woman 27, "Rise of the Olympian, part 2: A sense of loss" (Simone/Lopresti; DC)

...Yes. Well.

OK, I would like to make one thing perfectly clear: I am not a continuity wonk. I absolutely am not. As long as you give me good character and good story and enough to enjoy that particular tale, I could give a rat's ass. But this issue is so problematic on those grounds that I couldn't help but notice.

The story itself is simple enough. Nemesis, Etta Candy, Cassie and Donna all team up to rescue Diana from the situation in which Genocide left her. Genocide took Diana's lasso of truth, which in fact has more powers than that -- and for anyone who was paying attention, way back in the Captain Nazi story arc, this won't be a surprise. In the meantime, Athena seems to be dying or fading away, and Zeus takes the opportunity unleash his master plan ... and therein lies the continuity weirdness.

The roots of this weirdness go back to Amazons Attack and Countdown, with incidental involvement from DC Universe 0. At the end of Amazons Attack, the Amazons are dispersed through the world, and their memories removed by Circe. Except ... it turned out that "Circe" was really Granny Goodness, operating an apparently quite long range plan to get rid of Amazonian opposition prior to Final Crisis. As far as we can tell from Amazons Attack and Countdown, the Olympian gods had already been taken prisoner by the New gods before the Amazons were dispersed. The Olympian gods were gone for a very long time, even in DC universe time, before they got rescued by Mary Marvel as she started steppin' to the bad side. They shouldn't know what happened to the Amazons. By all rights, all they will know is that the Amazons have disappeared. (Yes, Zeus says "They will not remember. They have been altered, as have we," just before he recalls the Amazons. But how does he know any of that? Why would he? And how have they been "altered", anyway?) Yet the Olympians have been prepositioned, ready to take the place of the Amazons, way back in DC Universe 0, before we knew that the Olympian gods hadn't yet ocme back from ... wherever it was that they were. So Zeus has clearly had a very long term plan, based largely on information that he couldn't have had, gathered during a time when he was, as far as can be told, possibly not in this universe at all. How does that work?

Recommended, on the whole, but very confusing. The issue taken on its own is really pretty good, as long as you can ignore the really intrusive continuity questions. And I assume that the end of this arc will also go some way to explaining why the Olympian gods didn't do anything with Final Crisis; however intervention-phobic they may be -- and they rather clearly aren't -- having so many humans taken over by antilife is the sort of thing you'd expect to bring them out. Plus, a chance to do battle against the New Gods that imprisoned them; you'd think they'd have to be held back from that.

Anna Mercury 5 of 5 (Warren Ellis/Facundo Percio; Avatar): Anna vs. a giant cannon. Anna versus a giant cannon. Oh, and incidentally, the entire military of New Ataraxia. Seriously, people, as your big fight comix big fight goes, there's pretty much nothing about this that isn't utterly awesome. Highly recommended.

Manhunter 38, "Some Years later: Family business" (Andreyko/Gaydos, Calero; DC): In which Kate goes up against the Sweeney Todd-possessed Bones and Mrs Lovett during her son's graduation party, of all places. And in which Kate handles the issue of Ramsay wanting to be a superhero in pretty much exactly the way you think she will. The issue ends with a blurb on the DC Nation page that notes that the character will be back in 2009, so I'd imagine she'll be shifted to other DCU titles as desired. A nice way to go out. Recommended.

Detective Comics 852, "Last Rites: Faces of Evil: Hush: Reconstruction" (Dini/Nguyen; DC): In which we see what happened to Hush after "The Heart of Hush". Basically, he roams the world, reaping the benefits both of having Bruce Wayne's face, and of Bruce having disappeared after "RIP" (about which, of course, he knows nothing useful). It's a nice little setup for the next issue of Batman, in which we get to see what happens when Hush and Catwoman meet. Given what he did to Selina Kyle during the "Heart of Hush" it ought to be very interesting indeed. (I assume that Catwoman's issue is also going to be a "Faces of Evil" issue.)

Runaways: Dead End Kids (Joss Whedon/Michael Ryan; Marvel, trade paperback edition):

So it only took, what, two years and change for these six issues to meander out?

Anyway, the story picks up more or less at the end of the Brian K. Vaughn run. The Runaways are off in New York, looking to do a sort of contract job for the Kingpin, of all possible people, stealing a device for him. (And establishing near-perfect paradox in the process.) Needless to say, they have misgivings, and needless to say, things really don't go at all well -- although little Molly does manage to take out the Punisher. It turns out that Kingpin is having them steal a time device; moreover, it fits into the Leapfrog console as though it were made for it. The Runaways wind up travelling back in time to 1907 New York, meeting the mutants of that day, as well as a few other interesting people.

The trade this time is a full-sized book, rather than the digest format normally used for the title. In some ways, it's a bit annoying, since the set isn't likely to be shelved together. That said, printing the larger format allows the art to breathe, so to speak; and Ryan's art is simply glorious. Appropriate to the story and style, beautifully saturated, exquisitely drawn.

Highly recommended.

SuperTeenTopia: Invisible Touch (Kushin/Martinez/Abella):
The story takes place in a world where people have superpowers. Kevin, geek nerd extraordinare, keeps trying to get his best friend Cameron to join him on a super team. Cameron, being rather more sensible and risk averse than his friend, elected to try to keep to the sidelines. That somehow doesn't quite work, and he winds up getting drawn into Kevin's various rescues. This happens even more once he meets Diva, a young Hispanic woman with powers, who may or may not be infatuated wiwh Cameron. Along the way, they also meet Paige, a young woman from a deeply religious, fundamentalist family that seems to regard powers somewhat dimly. We watch the team as they slowly begin to build and become more familiar with each other, and as they go about living their daily lives.

Super Teen Topia effectively covers the same sort of ground as early Runaways, about trying to get to know each other and build a team, albeit entirely without the trauma of discovering that their parents are essentially the embodiment of alien-directed evil. Unfortunately, Runaways covers the team-building ground more compellingly, as does Freshman. It's not at all a bad story; it's just not anywhere near as interesting, comparatively speaking. Martinez' artwork is very clean and neat, and very traditional looking, which works for the story.

Overall, it's OK. Just OK.
The War at Ellsmere (Faith Erin Hicks; SLG)
Jun arrives at The Ellsmere School, having won a coveted scholarship to the acclaimed private middle/high school. She's given up her family and friends in the clear-eyed recognition that without the sort of boost that Ellsmere can give her, especially academically, the chances of getting into the sort of college she wants later on are slim. Her father died when she was young, and her mother is a struggling hairdresser, so this is going to be her best shot. Her roommate Cassie is a somewhat flighty but very sweet person. However, Jun almost immediately joins battle with Emily, queen of the mean girls. Part of it is pure academic rivalry -- they've both been the best in school until now. Part of it is, frankly, that Emily is in fact very mean, and Jun tends to start things sometimes without thinking them through. Eventually, things escalate to a breaking point.

Hicks draws the situation very realistically. Almost anyone who was in junior high or high school can remember having some sort of situation with others, some sort of competition, some sort of rivalry, people who instinctively disliked each other, sometimes for no good reason. Hicks' artwork makes it easy to distinguish even minor characters, and the expressions easily convey the emotions the characters feel. The school itself almost feels like a character, a heavy gothic presence around the girls. The mystical element introduced at the end is a bit ... odd; frankly, it feels like the sort of thing that might be setting up future stories at the school. It's properly set up by the story -- unlike, say, the Minx story Clubbing, it doesn't come winging in completely without warning -- but it feels a bit out of place. That said, I'm not sure how the situation could have been resolved without it.

Highly recommended, for anyone above the age of 12.

Batman 682: "Last Rites: The Butler Did it" (Morrison/Garbett/Scott; DC): The first of DC's major titles to acknowledge that Final Crisis exists, it's a more or less direct connection. It makes absolutely no concessions to anyone who hasn't read Final Crisis, so if you haven't read that title, you're probably going to be largely lost through this one. Mind, I think even if you have read it, you're going to be lost until the end; it's just that the end will make slightly more sense. Up until near the end, it's a fragmented tour through Batman/Bruce Wayne's past, sort of guided by Alfred. It's very confusing -- although, as a side effect, the identity of the Club of Villains' Dr Hurt is revealed, and Batwoman is apparently momentarily unretconned out of lesbianage. I think. As I said, it's all very confusing. (I think somewhere in DC continuity, the current Batwoman is supposed to be related to, but not the same as, the previous Batwoman. I think.) It's going to be very interesting to see where it goes from here. Also terribly surreal.

Gear School (Adam Gallardo/Nuvia Peris/Sergio Sandoval; Dark Horse): Teresa Gottlieb, 13 years old, is one of the students enrolled at Gear School, a military academy where students learn to use Gear -- basically, flying mecha/giant robots -- to fight in the endless war with the unknown alien race that's attacking the planet. Like other girls of her age, she's just getting interested in boys. She's got the odd rival or two. And unfortunately, she's not actually the best at running the Gear simulations, tending to crash things here and there. Teresa needs to pull it all together in a hurry, because the battle is going to come sooner than anyone expects. (One does wonder why anyone thinks it would be a good idea to combine angstful teens and appallingly powerful war machines, but whatever.) Gallardo manages to invoke the horror and chaos of war, yet manages to do it without quite getting anyone killed. Peris' artwork is both appropriate and evocative, manga-inflected -- big eyes, big head -- without reaching quite that degree of exaggeration. Strongly Recommended for ages 12 and up.
OK, so I am going to try (note the word "try") to review an average (note the word "average") of one title per day through the end of the year, for reasons that will become obvious around, say, February. So, to begin!

Batman 681, "RIP Conclusion, Hearts in Darkness" (Morrison/Daniel; DC):
...Huh. So Morrison did have a good reason for naming her "Jezebel Jet", after all. But, given context, he still probably shouldn't have.

That aside, Morrison does indeed seem to deliver on the premise of the arc's title, one way and another. It's not definitive -- and I would think that Warner Brothers would have had a massive snit fit if it had been -- but you really can't say that he didn't deliver. And it becomes even more apparent this issue that Morrison really meant it when he said that he viewed everything through RIP as one big book unto itself, with callbacks to everything that's come so far in this one arc. The Club of Heroes even makes an appearance, in a way that may be indicative of the way forward after "The Battle for the Cowl". Batman even gets "help" of a sort -- if that's at all the right word -- from the Joker, of all people. And Batman winds up going much much farther in his pursuit of ... well, in his pursuit than he's ever gone before. I will say that the revelation of the identity of the Black Glove himself, while tying in to the entirety of Morrison's Batman to date, does leave you sitting there scratching your head and thinking, "Huh? What?" And there's no real reason for him to have undertaken this horribly complex plot, other than "he's barking mad."

Morrison's been quite clear that RIP predates Final Crisis. Wonder what that means for the whole RIP idea, or, more precisely, what exactly he meant by it? The epilogue takes place well after the body of the issue, so it's clearly post-Final Crisis, and probably post-"Battle for the Cowl", for that matter.

Wonder Woman 26, "Rise of the Olympian 1 - Plague and Pestilence" (Simone/Lopresti): In which the Secret Society looses Genocide upon the world, the Olympian gods return to a nearly-destroyed Olympus, Director Steel goes more than slightly mad and has Traynor/Nemesis arrested, and there is the fight to end all fights between Wonder Woman and Genocide. But honestly, I kept getting distracted by the timing question. If I understand what I'm seeing -- and I freely admit that I might not -- then the Olympians are just returning home after Countdown. So how long has it been? Where have they been all this time? Why did it take so long? After all, they were rescued by Mary Marvel, and she's been back wreaking havoc for ages already. The fact that Athena is only just discovering that Wonder Woman is no longer her champion does argue for this being post-Countdown and not post-Final Crisis. That aside, I have to admit, I really liked the story as a whole, but especially the Traynor subplot, and the fact that his fellow soldiers were abusing him mightily and he just took it, but when they tried to take away the pendant Diana gave him, that got him going. Lopresti's artwork is, as usual, very very good. Recommended, but mildly confusing.

Flash Gordon 3, "The Mercy Wars, chapter 3: Arena" (Dineen/Green): I have to admit, I'm enjoying this series far more than I thought I would. It's mildly surprising that a comic book series was greenlit so soon after the television series, but I'm glad that it was. One thing that you get from this that you didn't really get from the TV series is that sense of high adventure fun. I mean, talking bipedal lions, landsharks -- well, technically, "shark men", but landsharks -- sword and sorcery and technology-a-go-go, Ming looks ... um, Mingly and not surfer-dudely (I know he was created as a sort of racist stereotype, originally, but somehow, in my head, he always looks like Klaus Kinski in the movie, and that's kind of what this ming looks like -- though everyone else looks distinctly different). Dale is exactly as competent, physically and otherwise, as you'd expect a federal special ops agent to be. Green's artwork is highly stylized and appropriate to the story -- also, very orange, for some reason. Highly recommended. Fun for most ages!

Galaxy Quest, "Global Warning issue 4" (Lobdell/Kyriazis): In which we get treated to a tour of Jason's recent past that winds up being slightly off kilter, for reasons that become obvious as we go on. Again, a series that's a lot of fun, if quite sincerely late to the table -- seriously, ten years ago, people. Anyway, it's overall the best issue of the series so far, but I do begin to wonder about the pacing of this series. The film, once the action got started, went charging forward without a let-up; this tends to have distinct rises and falls. There's only been one strong action beat so far, in issue 3; the rest have been largely character development. Which isn't bad, but it does take patience. There's also the fact tha tif you weren't a fan of the movie, you're not really going to enjoy the comic. But anyway, since I was a fan, it's been fun so far. Recommended for fans, no recommendation if you're not.

B.P.M. (Paul Sizer; Cafe Digital)
$15.99, 94p.
50 page preview online at paulsizer.com

Roxy wants to be a DJ. In fact, she is a DJ, but she wants to be a great one, not just a good one. She starts investing more of herself in finding out just how to do this, spending more time with her friend Atsuko, who is a very good DJ, with her friend Dominic who is both a DJ and a recording engineer. This causes conflict in her romantic relationship with her girlfriend Hannah, who wants Roxy to spend more time with her. At the same time, Roxy gets some unsolicited but very good advice from this guy whom she's never met before. After doing a little research, she discovers that he's Philippe Robicheau, a one-time luminary on the club DJ scene who self-destructed in a haze of drugs and sex, among other things. She starts working with him, absorbing his knowledge to make herself a better DJ. In the meantime, her relationship with Hannah pretty much implodes, and Roxy's forced to make hard decisions about her life. How much does she want to give to her work? How much to a relationship? Where does she want her priorities to lie? Just how much does she want this, anyway?

Sizer does a very good job of depicting how it feels to be a young adult, just beginning to take your work seriously, deciding just how driven you are and how successful you want to be, and what sorts of sacrifices it takes to get where you want to be. Roxy gets portrayed a bit inconsistently -- in most of her life, she's forthright and assertive, but when it comes to the breakup of her relationship with Hannah, she just takes the hits without pointing out that Hannah's doing the same thing that she's doing, prioritizing her career over the relationship. That really is the one character quibble I do have about the story. Sizer's New York is also very inclusive -- it takes place in a New York with all sorts of people, as opposed to the "Friends" New York, for example. The colors are strong and vibrant throughout, with a playlist running along the bottom of the book for evocative music. The one place where the artwork has a few -- a very few -- problems comes in his depiction of faces; there's something about a few of the faces where he's drawing them full-face or close to it where they look clunky and squished; a perspective issue of some sort. Again, that's in a very few places; otherwise, the faces are very expressive and distinct.

BPM is a very enjoyable read. Older teens and adults who like stories about music and the people who work in that world might like it very much. Highly recommended.
Yes, I'm beating a dead horse.

No, it's not the dead horse you think it is. Or not just that particular dead horse, anyway.

And it's entirely not my fault! Really! You'll see!

Today's reviews include: Batman, All-Star Superman, Boy Meets Hero, Corridor and others, including the one which inspired today's title.

By the by, being told that you have by far the most esoteric pull list in the store is quite the experience. Consider that a warning...

Batman 677 (Morrison/Daniel; DC): In which the Black Glove unleashes its attack on Bruce, and Jezebel Jet tries to get Bruce to see what she thinks is reason. Honestly, the story as a whole baffles me a bit, in part because there are gaps in my Batman knowledge. For example, when did Gordon come back to be Commissioner again? The last I heard, he'd retired, went off somewhere, divers villains killed his new wife and he moved back to Gotham, but that other guy was still commissioner during the Gotham Central days ... and even in DC time, he's getting quite long in the tooth to be commissioner again/still. The Black Glove also clearly knows that Bruce Wayne and Batman are the same person. They set out to destroy not only Bruce Wayne, but Thomas Wayne and Alfred, of all people, knowing that if they strike at Bruce's identity and the one anchor in his world, they might be able to break him psychologically. In the meantime, Jezebel Jet begins to realize just who it is that she's fallen in love with, and all that it means. Of course, the structural problem with this story remains: we still don't have any reason to care about Jezebel Jet, and no reason to care what she thinks. We know both that she's quite right -- Bruce is obviously a few bats short of a full belfry -- and that it doesn't matter. After all, he couldn't function if he were sane, now could he? In any event, it builds to a compelling and interestingly gory end. The art's OK, although there's a moment of problematic artwork, when Alfred expresses concern over a wound he couldn't possibly have seen -- at this point, as weird as the second half of the issue wound up being, I wonder if maybe that was also A Clew, or if it was just bad art. Anyway, just OK; I'll still hang around to see what happens next.

All Star Superman 11 (Morrison/Quitely/Grant; DC): The first page is maybe the most awesome Superman page I've ever seen, even if you absolutely know that it's not going to stick. The second page is also terrifyingly awesome. And then you hit the middle of the story, in which the clearly unwell Superman sums up his life for himself and his robot, and in which Luthor makes his plans. And then superman battles Solaris, knowing full well that he's one of Luthor's allies. There's the rather peculiar moment when one of the Superman robots insists he must atone for a mistake, and the rather peculiar moment when Solaris starts speaking binary--I thought it was supposed to be alive. And then, of course, that final, awesome, peculiarly iconic final image. Honestly, the middle of the story is perfectly serviceable, if maybe that's all it is; the problem is that it comes after those very very good first two pages, and you can't live up to a beginning like that. The story does tie together what had seemed to be random strands from the earlier issues, such as Superman's new powers that have been referenced but never really seen, and the robots, and Luthor in prison. I'm really looking forward to seeing what happens in the last issue, which I assume will be out ... someday. (Seriously, when DC rethinks the All-Star line, which they are allegedly doing, the one thing they need to focus on, aside from getting interesting stories, is timely delivery.)

Aletheia 1 (Bob LeFevre; Image): The story starts with the origin of the Greek gods Zeus, Poseidon and Hades, collectively known as Aletheia (the truth). Them we zip to Olympia, Washington, where we see a young black woman with purple-wrapped dreds working on her motorcycle. Judging from the license plate, her name is Thea. She gets a call from her boyfriend and decides to head to his place -- at which point all Hades breaks loose. And also all Zeus and Poseidon, as well. The Greek gods manifest on this plane of existence, after a very long time away, and immediately they notice Thea, who is apparently the "Formerly departed." The formerly departed whom, they do not say. Thea evades the attacks of the gods and reaches her boyfriend's apartment (or her biggest fan's apartment, as she describes him, which opens the question of why she'd have fans), only to discover that he's been attacked, and he dies in her arms. Then the gods and their agent, whoever the brown thing is, attack her again, and then ... something happens. I'm not trying to be coy -- although, given that it's the ending of the issue, I should -- but I simply have not the slightest idea what she does. On the one hand ... I do like the story well enough to see what happens next. On the other, the story is perhaps not well served by its highly stylized art -- as I say, I really don't have a clue what happens in the last four pages. I hope LeFevre gets rid of most of that clearly deliberately ponderous narration for the next issues. It sets the mood and is well used in the beginning, but during the chase and in the boyfriend's apartment building, it just gets in the way and annoys. Having set up the big emotional moment, you need to trust the reader to know when it arrives. All that said, I'm curious enough to stick around for at least the next issue; I'd really like to know who she is and why the gods are so afraid of her when she quite clearly has no idea. Recommended.

Dan Dare 6 of 7 (Ennis/Erskine; Virgin): I have to admit, Ennis kind of astounds me from time to time. His bread and butter is stuff like Punisher or The Boys or Chronicles of Wormwood, titles clearly meant for adults, dealing with sex and violence and being exuberantly foul-mouthed. And then he comes out with something like Dan Dare, which I wouldn't hesitate to give to give to, say, a kid maybe 10, 12 years old, real boys-own adventure stuff, fun (if somewhat violent but surprisingly lacking in grue) space opera. Anyway, in this penultimate adventure, Dare gets rescued (of course), with everything going more or less as planned. The Mekon expresses his displeasure with his people in ways that ensure that one of the planets develops, at least temporarily, a thoroughly gruesome ring. And then the final confrontation commences. These are all -- well, except for that second thing -- thoroughly obvious beats that had to be hit in this story. It would not, after all, do to have Dare expire before the last issue of his own title, and there is also a last issue to come. (I think at some point this series might have expanded a bit; I'd have sworn that it was solicited as a six-issue mini, and now not only is it seven issues, but the last is to be double-sized.) To be sure, after the rescue, this issue is mostly, but not entirely, marking time; the "not entirely" bits are thoroughly entertaining. Really, the whole thing is just an amazing amount of fun. Buy all the issues, then find a kid and give something to read. And, really, who'd think you'd say something like that about recent Ennis work?

Beyond (Deepak Chopra/Ron Marz/Edison George): We start with a man pushing through a crowd going the other way. Behind him, the dome of the Taj Mahal has been blown up. He walks past television where we see something in Karachi and Tel Aviv and somewhere in Palestine have also gone kaboom. Then we leap back three months in time to Benares, India, where Michael, his wife Anna and his son Ty are on vacation, a gift from Michael's mother-in-law. It's a working vacation for Michael, and he's an entrepreneur of sorts, which means that he doesn't really see much point in vacations and is constantly working. Suddenly, Anna disappears, and moreover, Ty discovers that he's been slipped a magic comic book called "The Rishi" (published by Virgin. Arf arf, even) in which the story of their trip is being told ... right up to the point they're actually at, after which the pages are blank. There are magic doors, and signs and symbols and ... honestly, it's interesting enough, and I do like the art, but since it's a four issue mini, I'd just as soon wait for the trade. It's not quite that gripping.

Corridor (Sarnath Banerjee; Penguin, 2004); An interesting mostly black-and-white graphic novel, telling the story of a group of friends and their various obsessions, centered around Jehangir Rangoonwalla and his bookstore and his tea. Brighu has a thing about Ibn Batuta and obsessively collects various things, none of which he can allow himself to use or enjoy, because doing so would ruin them. Digital Dutta -- with the longest full color segment in the volume -- is obsessed with the pursuit of an H-1B visa; why, we never really learn. He also gets periodically obsessed with Karl Marx and/or Chris Evert. Newly married Shintu, whose story has a few full-color pages, is obsessed with sex and aphrodisiacs. Strangely enough, he actually finds one that works, more or less. (The advice he gets from the guy who gives him the aphrodisiacs is hysterically funny. For example, did you know that frequent nocturnal emissions are a sure sign of impending impotency? And impotence can be prevented by frequent kegeling -- which, if not quite true, is certainly useful -- and eating curried goat's testicles -- which isn't particularly true or useful.) I really like Corridor; the artwork is stylized without being so much so that it overwhelms the writing. There's no overarching story being told; we're just learning about this group of men and certain aspects of their lives. Periodically very funny, periodically touching, and always interesting. Highly recommended, if you can find it (and it may be difficult, given its age). Sarai currently hosts a 24-page preview.

Boy Meets Hero (Chayne Avery and Russel Garcia; Bruno Gmunder):
A hardback compilation of the former webcomic, Boy Meets Hero tells the story of Derek -- secretly Blue Comet, superhero -- and Justin -- secretly in love with Derek. The latter secret constitutes one of the major difficulties for our guys; Justin wants to be out and proud, while Derek fears losing his job -- in their world, being a superhero is a paid position, just as in the Luna Brothers' Ultra -- and his reputation. To keep the public off guard, Derek is participating in a phony romance, orchestrated by the public relations department, with his superhero partner Sunstar, who also happens to be Justin's sister Jillian. The villains are, of course, conspiring to bring Blue Comet and Sunstar down in revenge for having been beaten in the past.

The artwork is comparatively simple, but mostly works for the story. There is a certain amount of comic-book nudity -- no full frontal (not even in the panel where Justin is told that his junk is hanging out), a bit of buttock here and there -- and romantic sex of the sort you'd see in any mainstream superhero book. The main characters kiss, and we see them on the way to sex, but nothing explicit. And we actually see black gay guys in this story! who get put into peril, but live through it! Granted, they're purely incidental characters, but still.

Those incidental characters bring up one of the few things that annoy me a bit. The story does lean a bit on stereotype here and there. Not a lot, but when it happens, it's somewhat jarring. For example, deeply closeted Derek says at work at one point, "You go, girlfriend!" To his theoretical girlfriend, for that matter, in front of pretty much everyone he works with. It's just hard to believe that someone that deeply closeted would make that sort of mistake in that situation; moreover, he doesn't say anything like that through the rest of the story.

The other issue with the story as a whole is that the guys kind of ... talk too much. The two of them are just spritzing angst everywhere over Derek and his closet and talking about it to each other, to Jillian, a lot. Almost the only frames with the guys that don't contain great whacking chunks of dialogue or narration are those in which they're making love, and it's not as though there are more than a couple of those frames scattered in the story. The villains also have to acquaint us with their unfortunate past with a great heaping hunk of dialogue -- and the curious thing there is that in one case, we actually get thrown into a more effective flashback, with a bit less dialogue. Granted, you don't want to be flashing backward and forward all that much in a 120 page book, but it points out that the authors are entirely capable of showing and not telling quite so much.

Anyway, those flaws aside, it was still a very entertaining and worthwhile read. Recommended.

Jimmy Zhingchak, Agent of D.I.S.C.O. (Saurav Mohapatra/Anupam Sinha; Virgin/UTV-Spotboy Motion Pictures)

And at last we reach the titular ... er, title. Surely you understand now why, especially after the previous poster entries, the title for this review entry had to be what it is. Honestly, although I'd bought the issue before the posters, I hadn't looked at it all that closely. Then, after the posters, I finally got around to reading the stuff I hadn't gotten through yet, and well ... there it was.

The back cover bills it as "the world's first Bollywood comic" and ... I kind of can't argue that point. Although I will note that there is a profound lack of entire cities suddenly bursting into song and mindnumbingly spectacular production numbers.

The story? Oh, yes, the story. We start in Mumbai in 1984, with later occasional excursions back in time and elsewhere in India. One of DISCO's operations has just been compromised by the Naada Ninjas -- who wear white and bright colors, for some reason. We jump to Jimmy Grover's residence, where he's yelling at his mother for spending his hard earned cash on that "foul Desi moonshine". Said "foul Desi moonshine" pretty much immediately puts her in the hospital. The doctor tells Jimmy that his mother's liver has failed, and she needs expensive drugs and an operation. He offers to drop the price if Jimmy will, shall we say, put out. Jimmy responds by slapping the doctor and declaring, "You should be ashamed of yourself trying to exploit a lachaar mazboor najuwan like me!" (According to the funny yet seriously incomplete glossary at the end, this means "helpless strapping young lad headed straight for Oprah".) To make money quickly, Jimmy heads for the DISCO Fights (no, really, that's what they're called) to take on all the DISCO champions (no, REALLY) at once. Suddenly, just as he's clearly about to get clobbered, a mysterious man's head appears in a cloud and tells him to use the zhingchak(TM). What, you might be wondering, is the zhingchak(TM)? And well might you wonder! In any event, Jimmy pummels the champions of DISCO, wins the money, pays for his mother's transplant, and is thereupon recruited immediately into DISCO, which turns out to be the Department of Internal Security and Covert Operations. (For reasons external to the story, I had a small hysterical fit when the chief said, "Jimmy, your country needs you.") Moreover, Jimmy's father was in fact one of DISCO's best agents, until he was killed by the dreaded FIRANG. Jimmy of course agrees to work with DISCO, and is thereupon given his father's DISCO Battle Suit ("100% polyester, machine washable"), keyed to his family DNA. There are, of course, all sorts of absurd twists, turns, gadgets and villains -- I suspect people may be particularly fond of Britney Hypnotits, as well as the Fabled Mithunkwalk (the pelvic thrust that really will drive you insane).

Essentially, the story aims for a sort of Indian Austin Powers vibe, Bollywood does Our Man Flint (much cooler and more mod than James Bond). Mostly, it gets there. Mostly. I suspect if you're Indian, it may get there much better than if you're American. There are chunks of ... um, language to deal with. Not a lot, and I don't think any of it's at all important -- but that's just it; I don't know that the ... er, language isn't important. (Seriously, Hindi? Bengali? Something else? No clue here.) Linguistic weirdnesses aside, it's funny and entertaining, and the artwork is highly stylized and insanely detailed. It's definitely a worthwile, fun read. Just, you know, periodically linguistically aggravating.

Given the Virgin/UTV coproduction, I expect that it will be a Bollywood movie for real any day now. Wonder if it'll make it here?
Huh. So I guess this means that A Certain Character will be surviving Seven Soldiers #1.  Assuming that it actually ever gets published.  It was recently resolicited for September, but nobody quite believes that it's going to make it.  And while it won't matter much to me, it was designed to be connected -- if somewhat loosely -- to whichever Crisis just completed, as well as something of a precursor to the OYL books, as I understand it.  So already, it's going to seem just a bit ... dated.

Oh, and there's also this (MAJOR BAT SPOILERS). Which is ... huh. Well, that'll get the fen all stirred up.

And Morrison will be writing Batman. And apparently the Bat will be reacquiring his sense of humor, which got misplaced sometime around the first time Jason died. (I will say that if I read most DCU -- I was reading Shadowpact just to see what happened, but I can stop now that the first arc's done -- the forthcoming events for Superman/Batman might make me ... twitch, just a little.)
Yes! Really! A comics review entry! Really! Would I lie to you? (Don't answer that.)

Given that this is a long long LONG entry, resplendent with spoilers everywhere you look, I'm going to take the whole thing behind an LJ-cut tag. And if there's anyone out there reading this through RSS ... well, you wuz warned. Right here and now. SPOILERS AHOY for Mr Miracle, Frankenstein, Bomb Queen, Retro Rocket, American Virgin, American Way, Nextwave, Planetary Brigade, and Fallen Angel.

Spoilers! Mondo Spoilers! Spoilers spoilers everywhere! Turn back while you can! ... OK, the rest of you, walk this way... )

And that's all for sack time this time, so until next time...


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