In which DC begins its month of text-logo-free covers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good; Recommended

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Azrael 13 (David Hine/Guillem March; DC)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much like the reader.

Excellent; Highly recommended. You probably do need some background in Archie's history to find the title interesting.
Mighty Crusaders #1 of 6 (Eric Troughtman and Brandon Jerwa/ Julian Lopez and John Lucas; DC)
So ... all of the Red Circle titles having apparently failed commercially -- even The Web, which was loosely affiliated with the Bat titles, and the only one of those that's doing anything like badly is Azrael -- it was decided to combine all of these heroes that nobody was following into one big miniseries ... All-righty then! The series seems to be mostly a coda to all of the other series and a reward to the readers of the previous series; there's no attempt at all to introduce the characters to a new audience. At least two storylines continue from the previous series; the Hangman dealing with an enemy he met at the end of his series, and Inferno wondering about who he used to be before he became a guy who caught fire.

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

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

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

OK. No recommendation.

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

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

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

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

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

Bad; Not recommended.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No recommendation
I can't recommend the first story because it makes me want to roll up the issue and beat the writers vigorously about the head and shoulders with it until they do better. I would rate Wolfman's backup story and Winslade's art in the backup and Moritat's art in the first as Excellent; Highly recommended, so those would be the reasons to buy it, if you're going to. Just prepare to be aggravated.
cover for yours truly jack the ripper Robert Bloch's Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper #1 (Joe R and John L Lansdale/Kevin Colden; IDW):
Based on a 1962 short story in a collection by Robert Bloch, this story takes the idea that Jack the Ripper is alive -- for certain values of "alive" -- and well -- for certain values of "well" -- and living in Chicago and runs with it. Jenny, whose last name we never learn despite the fact that she inherited and runs a local newspaper and serves as its photographer, is out taking photographs of a crime scene. A young woman has been brutally murdered and partially eviscerated. The police have apparently called a local psychiatrist to the scene to profile the murderer. The psychiatrist goes back to his office to discover Sir Guy Hollis awaiting him. Hollis' father investigated the original Ripper murders, followed him across Europe until his death, when Sir Guy took up the chase. He followed Jack across the ocean to the US, investigating serial murders in New York as well as Cleveland's Torso murders (along with Eliot Ness of FBI fame) and thence to Chicago, where the Ripper may have struck again

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

OK; wait for the trade.

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

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

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

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

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

OK; no recommendation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good; Recommended
Library Wars, vol 1: Love and War (Hiro Arikawa, concept; Kiiro Yumi, story and art; Shojo Beat Manga)

OK, so picture this: just before Hirohito's death, Japan takes a sharp turn to the right. Akihito takes a different reign name. The government decides that there are many many many books which should no longer be read by the public, as they are clearly subversive and harmful. Every single local and provincial government goes into effective rebellion against the national government. Each level creates a Library Defense Forces branch; people go to library school to learn the normal librarianly skills -- reference, cataloging, how to make databases do things that make strong programmers beg to know our secrets, etc. A subgroup of that also gets trained as soldiers -- exactly the sort of training that you would expect soldiers to receive as basic training. A subgroup of that gets extra special training as a sort of elite task force. (What they actually do is unclear.) Things are bad enough that the national government has made it lawful for their soldiers to kill members of the LDF, and the cities and provinces have made it lawful for the LDF to kill members of the government's forces ... but only under certain, very specific circumstances. It also seems to be agreed that when officers of the LDF are present, because of peculiarity in the federal laws that have never been adjusted or repealed, the LDF outrank the government soldiers, and the government's people are to retire from the field (usually a bookstore or library) without a shot being fired. Nonetheless, being in the LDF is considered more dangerous than being in the police or the army.

So you're looking at this, and you're thinking, hey, we've got outright civil war at all levels of the state here, we've got dystopia a-go-go, we've got bodies in the streets from the LDF and government soldiers going at it, right?... yeah, not so much. Because this is shojo manga, which is to say, light fluffy romance aimed at teenaged girls. Thus, we have the politest civil war you have ever seen in your life. It's alleged that people get killed, but you couldn't prove it by anything that we see in volume 1. Nobody seems to be undergoing any particular hardship, aside from the people training to be in the LDF. The government seems always to be yielding to the LDF -- understandably, since the characters we're following are all LDF members.

Oh, yes, the characters. Corporal Inu Kasahara (in training) is madly in love with a mysterious man from her past, who saved her and a book she was interested in from the government forces. Only ... she doesn't know who he was/is. (This is, sadly, very very relevant to the story.) Corporal Asako Shibazaki (in training) is Inu's best friend, helping her with the library courses in which she is not much interested, because she wants the life of the LDF soldier, without quite understanding exactly what it is. Kasahara is, it turns out, the first woman to apply to be in the LDF. Instructor Dojo is a major teacher and leading officer. Initially, the story works relatively well, as long as you can understand the concept of a truly civil civil war. But then Kasahara does a few things wrong, and Dojo realizes it's because he incorrectly trained her -- for reasons that I think I'll leave alone for now. So, having incorrectly trained her for the basic LDF, he then invites her to be on the elite task force, because he thinks he should keep her with him until she's properly trained ...? I don't know, it doesn't make much sense to me. In any event, shortly after, we see Kasahara going out and doing normal librarianly work, and also some LDF work, and we see how the LDF does and does not relate to the normal forces.

It's ... interesting. As long as you go into Library Wars with your expectations properly calibrated -- grungy dystopic civil war, no; light fluffy teen romance in a wildly improbable setting, yes -- it's kind of fun to read. There are also occasional side notes from Hiro Arikawa, who wrote the original "light" novel series on which Library Wars is based. (And the idea of a set of novels like this I find positively mindbending, really.)

The closest thing I can think of in American books would be Gear School (reviewed here), which doesn't stint on the beginnings of teen romance, but also manages to present war as ... well, war.

OK; Recommended for young teens; adults may find it a bit ... much.

Yi Soon Shin #2 (Onrie Kompan, David Anthony Kraft/Giovanni Timpano, Adriana de los Santos; self-published; available through Amazon, oddly enough, as is the first issue)

After a longish wait, issue 2 of this four issue series comes out. (Kompan says that they've found backing for the last two issues, and they should be out a bit faster than this one. I continue to wonder why this isn't an Archaia title; this is right up their alley. It may be that the acquisition last year doesn't let them offer terms good enough.)

When last we left our hero, Admiral Yi Soon Shin had just discovered the charming present that Baron Seo, a Korean turncoat, had left for him. He'd flayed someone -- a Japanese captain who was "running from the battle", as it turns out -- and left the skinless, headless remains hanging from a tree for the admiral to find. For the start of this issue, we leap to occupied Korea, behind the Japanese lines. Gurijima Michiyuki, the samurai general, is furious with Admiral Todo, commander of the Japanese fleet, for losing his entire armada to the much smaller but better led Korean fleet. There's yelling and screaming and offers to commit seppuku ... and then they kiss. And then Baron Seo appears. And it turns out that he's blackmailing them into .... well, honestly, it's not entirely clear. Helping him kill Yi Soon Shin, but they'd be doing that anyway; killing the best officers on the other side is what invading forces do. I guess ultimately the idea is that maybe, once Yi Soon Shin and the Korean king are dead, he'll be the local regent/puppet? Seriously, no clue what he wants, aside from Yi's head.

Essentially, Yi Soon Shin's story is that he's surrounded by either traitors or easily manipulated idiots. To be sure, he exposes and defeats a Japanese plot against his life, but only by putting himself and other injured soldiers at risk. The other Korean military leaders are not amused. In any event, he gets manipulated into trying to save a renegade admiral who goes off on his own; the other military leaders refuse to support such a foolhardy endeavour. And things ... do not go well.

Timpano's artwork and De Los Santos' colors are impressive, as before. The beginning of the issue is very dark in color tone, but details are still easy to make out. But still, gorgeous to look at, even when some -- well, quite a lot, really -- of the gorgeous colors are blood.

As for the story, I wonder just how much of this is history, and how much of it's embellishment to make a good story. (And make no mistake, it is a good story so far.) The appearance of the blackmailed homosexual trope was ... unexpected, to put it mildly; were the military leaders of that expedition involved with each other? I have to admit, after reading this issue, I did a bit of reading up on Yi -- no doubt thoroughly spoiling myself for the rest of the story, but it's not going to stop me from reading the rest, whenever it comes out -- and that question was left profoundly unanswered. And even profoundly unasked, for that matter. Oddly, I haven't found any mention of Baron Seo, either, but Yi's domestic enemies were legion, so he may have just been lost in the crowd. And it just may be that my research was cursory enough -- yes, I did do more than look at Wikipedia, thank you very much -- that I just missed those details. That said, some events that didn't take place until 1597-1598 appear to have been brought forward into 1592 for story's sake.

Note, if you decide to do some research yourself, there's a variant spelling of his name: Yi Sun-sin. And it turns out that his life and career were quite amazing, and parts of it were quite quite horrifying -- he overcame one hell of a lot, and forgave one hell of a lot, to be in the position to try to save Korea from the invasion. The comic doesn't cover the early obstacles, and hasn't yet reached the later ones, but seriously, the man had one impressive life.

Very good; Highly recommended.
So, let's see how short I can keep some of these.

The Brave and the Bold #33: "Wonder Woman, Zatanna and Batgirl in Ladies Night" (Straczynski/Chiang; DC)
This one is a remarkably deceptive story. It starts out with Zatanna experiencing a dream that isn't just a dream, and then she inveigles Diana and Barbara Gordon's Batgirl into having a ladies night out. It's actually rather puzzling, since it clearly takes place in the past, but a couple of anomalous things pop up here and there. And then you get to the last five pages, and Straczynski shows you exactly what's going on -- and despite the fact that it's a two-week old issue, I'm not saying. Chiang's art actually seems a bit unusually flattened -- and, then, again, you hit the last five pages and you see what's going on. It's a truly remarkable story.
Excellent; Highly recommended.

The Misadventures of Clark and Jefferson: Hairy Things (Jay Caravajal/Marc Borstel; Ape Entertainment)
In which Clark and Jefferson decide to head out west, along with Mary and other survivors of their last adventure, the one with the aliens. This time they run into sasquatch and some ... INteresting people, let's say. And it's all fun mayhem and blood and guts and weird Western adventure. There's also a backup story, telling us the tales of two of the aliens who survived the last story, and their attempt to conquer the earth. (I don't think I'm giving too much away to say that this does not quite go as planned, what with there being just the two of them, and all their ships having been blowed up real good last time.) Nicely illustrated by Borstel.
Good; Recommended.

First Wave: The Spirit #1 (Mark Schultz/Moritat; DC)
The latest attempt to revive The Spirit, as part of DC's new First Wave/Earth-One initiative, in which some titles get the regular monthly treatment and Batman and Superman get quarterly/semi-annual graphic novels. It's worth noting the art first; Moritat doesn't make the mistake that everyone but Darwyn Cooke made on the last run of the Spirit and try to somehow invoke/echo Eisner's art. The story is ... OK. There's an assumption that the characters make early on, and it's kind of baffling; any reader should know immediately that what they're assuming is clearly wrong. That said, it'll be interesting to see where it goes.
OK; No recommendation.

And now we get to the Dynamite Entertainment section, a.k.a., "Wow, that's a whole lotta Green Hornet, isn't it?"

Green Hornet: Year One #1-3 (Matt Wagner/Aaron Campbell/Francesco Francavilla)

This title involves the classic Green Hornet and Kato, and "Year One" is a slight misnomer. It's not at the moment so much about their first year on the cosntumed crime fighter beat as it is about how they get there. We see young Britt floundering and searchng for a purpose, travelling the world and trying to do good, and discovering that there's a lot of evil out there willing to take advantage of the uninformed. We see young Kato, searching for a purpose and winding up in the Japanese military during its conquest of Manchuria and the Rape of Nanjing.At the moment, both of them have seen massive amounts of injustice perpetrated on the innocent, and haven't yet figured out what to do about it. The alleged foreground story -- which is by far the least interesting element so far -- features the Hornet and Kato battling a local gangster and wreaking havoc on his business.

Wagner's study of the building of the Green Hornet and Kato, and how they wind up becoming who they are promises to be truly fascinating and engrossing. Once the establishing section is done, it's going to be interesting to see if he can maintain that; so far, as mentioned, the more recent section detailing their actual first year really isn't as interesting as the building of the characters. Campbell's artwork is very good, and matches the tone of the story perfectly.
Very good; Recommended.

Kevin Smith's Green Hornet #1-3 (Kevin Smith/Jonathan Lau/Ivan Nunes)
In which Kevin Smith takes the script he'd intended for the upcoming Green Hornet movie, which he wound up not writing or directing, and turns it into a comic book series. This story tells the origin of the modern Green Hornet; Britt Sr. has retired, and Britt Jr. is a rich wastrel, albeit one astoundingly well trained in the martial arts, mostly because he had nothing better to do with his time. His father is hosting a fundraising party for one of the candidates for mayor when the house is attacked, and despite the best efforts of Britt Jr and an Asian woman who appears out of nowhere, Britt Sr. is killed. Shortly thereafter, Britt Jr. learns a few interesting things.

Say what you will of him, Smith can write a captivating yarn. On the one hand, you know what's going to happen -- after all, you have Britt Jr, you have an Asian woman who, according to the illustrations on the various covers, is clearly going to turn out to be the new Kato, and the story is called "Green Hornet". You know that Britt Jr. is going to take on his father's fedora. But seeing how you're going to get there is, so far, pretty damn enjoyable. The Lau/Nunes art is very striking, dynamic and angular, and a perfect fit for the story.
Very Good; Highly Recommended

Kato: Origins (Jai Nitz/Colton Worley)
Again, slightly mistitled. This isn't about the origins of Kato, which we're getting over in "Year One"; this seems to be stories of Kato working independently of the Green Hornet to investigate specific cases. In this case, Kato, Britt's servant, is asked by the police -- whom Britt has misled into thinking that Kato's a Korean -- to help investigate a murder in Chinatown, more or less on the principle that all East Asians are alike, or some such. The other police express some startlingly bigoted opinions, entirely in character for the times but a bit startling to modern ears. Once there, Kato discovers that the murder is more than it appears. Nitz' characterization of Kato works perfectly -- the buried resentment at how he's treated, the sharply analytical mind. There are a lot of narrative captions, but they work for a character that, at this stage, is expected to be seen and not really heard by all of the people that he's working with. Worley's art manages to evoke a sort of old-fasioned line without actually being old fashioned.
Very Good; Recommended

Note: Kevin Smith's Kato, about Kato the younger, is allegedly up to issue 4, according to the Dynamite site. However, I ordered the title -- I ordered the entire suite of the new Hornet titles -- and I haven't seen issue 1 as yet.
Angel Annual #1: "Last Angel in Hell" (Brian Lynch/Stephen Moody/Leonard O'Grady; IDW)
In which we see the movie made from Angel season 6. (For the sake of sanity, the new arc that Willingham is writing can be thought of as Angel season 7.) The conceit is that it was written by someone who lived in Los Angeles when it was dragged to hell, who saw much of what happened, but who wasn't close enough to the center of events to really understand what was going on. Add to that the muck that Hollywood frequently makes of things. Add to that the fact that ... well, neither the script nor the actor playing the lead seem to be very good. In fact, they seem to be quite quite quite awful. Put that all together, and you get a comic book "adaptation" of a movie that is impressively, awesomely bad. Angel appears to be played by a man who has taken lessons from the Nicolas Cage school of acting (think "Moonstruck", "Raising Arizona" and "Knowing", all mixed together in the same performance). Spike is played by a woman with, so we are told in a previous issue, a rather bad English accent. Gunn is being played by a round white guy and can turn into a dragon when pressed (he prefers not to). Fred is played by a black woman as an impressively kickass character, wearing the high-tech prototype ILLYRIA suit. (No, the acronym doesn't make the slightest sense. It shoots lightning from her hands when needed.) Angel starts out as an LAPD detective, whose partner, Wesley, gets killed and ghostified (don't ask) during an operation that goes wrong because of vampires, in which Angel does not believe until forced. (Again, don't ask.) But he starts to recover from that shock, and he's going to marry Spike, but the wedding goes horribly horribly wrong, in a way that will seem astoundingly familiar to anyone who ever saw the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" movie. (Or read the BTVS "Origins" comic.) And that, for some reason, provides the final push to send Los Angeles to hell. Lorne, as it turns out, rules most of LA as a lieutenant of Satan himself, and ... well. You just have to read the thing to see how awesomely, terribly, deliberately bad it is, in the best tradition of unintentionally awful and tacky horror movies. It's overwritten in all the right ways. The art is actually much better than you'd think the script deserves.
Very good; highly recommended.

Detective #860: "Go: Four years ago" (Rucka/Williams III/Stewart; DC)
In which we see how Kate started her work as Batwoman, and how she sees it not as the sort of crusade that most of the Bats seem to, but as an extension of the same ethic that took her to the military. Her father discovers, rather easily, what she's doing, and is not at all amused, but when Kate makes him understand why she's doing it, he helps her with his connections, money and vision to make it happen. The three scenes with her father are, in fact, the heart of the story -- the first where she convinces him that she can do what she's trying to do, and he decides to help, the second where it all comes together and she gets her uniform ("Pop ... are those heels?"), and then the last scene, where we find out exactly what her father did when she was kidnapped, where they break each others' hearts. (In fact, as far as the colonel goes, his reasons for what he did provide the one somewhat false note in the entire story so far; his reasons for doing what he does simply don't match the character as we've seen him to date. He took away hope, however futile, for a false certainty. It will, of course, turn out that his daughter has, quite accidentally, given him exactly the same false certainty -- and we get confirmation of that on the last page.) Williams' art is, as usual, stunning; the first two thirds of the story look as though they're drawn by a completely different person, and the last third in that striking style he's used for the modern part of the story.

Rucka and Cully Hammer's "Pipeline" Question backup story hits a very interesting point, as Renee and Helena appear to have made a rather dramatic mistake in their attacks on the cartel that's been trafficking in people and drugs. (It does bring up the question of exactly how secret identities work, if it's that easy for something as low-rent as a regular criminal cartel to figure out who the Question is and where she lives -- getting Helena at the same time was simply the lagniappe.)

Excellent; Highly recommended

(NB: As has been seen elsewhere, this is the last of the Rucka/Williams "Batwoman" stories in Detective. Rucka and Jock will be writing and illustrating Batwoman in Detective 861-863, and that story will appear to be unconnected to what's come before. In the new Batwoman title to start in 2010, after a new issue 1, they'll pick up with the final five issues of the "Elegy" arc, which was planned to break around "Go" originally. The Question co-feature will continue, and was in fact scheduled to become the primary story for a few issues after "Elegy"; whether that will happen earlier is unclear. It's also unclear whether Batwoman will be an ongoing title, or whether that will be only a 6-issue miniseries.)

Wonder Woman #39, "Warkiller, finale: Dawn before Darkness" (Simone/Lopresti/Ryan/Anderson; DC)
In which the threads started in "Bad Blood", "Rise of the Olympian", "Genocide" (somewhat) and "Warkiller", as well as the odd issues between those major arcs, are finally pulled together and concluded. Given that all of this has taken well over a year -- in fact, nearly two -- it would have to be one hell of a kickass issue to feel at all satisfying. And you know what? It kind of ... is. We finally understand, for example, what the hell happened to the Greek gods after the end of Amazons Attack and Countdown, when they seemed to have been rescued, but then disappeared for the entirety of Final Crisis; we find out where they were and why they weren't around to keep Olympus from being desecrated by the New Gods. We see gods abused, gods who were killed and resurrected, gods who weren't really dead. We find out what's behind all the strange pregnancies of the Amazons. We find out the truth of Diana's engendering. We get to see Diana, Hippolyta and even Achilles kick quite a lot of ass. Lessons are learned by the most unexpected people. Donna gets her sanity back. A lot happens, and it pretty much all works. Everything isn't completely wrapped up, of course, but that's to be expected. It really is a very satisfying ending for such a very long story arc.

Something of a side note: I would really love to know how Simone managed to get DC to allow her to run for such a long time without paying even the teensiest amount of attention to the ongoing crises of various sorts in what is supposed to be one of their major titles. None of this arc would have happened without Countdown, of course, but there have been two major events in the DCU since then, and this title hasn't taken any notice of either of them.

A side note to the side note: I wonder if we're going to find out what happens to the resurrected Olympians. As things are left, there doesn't seem to be a plan to send them back to Hades. And given what Simone has said about him, I'd love to see a miniseries with Achilles, just to see what he would do in today's world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Batwoman and the Question have been able to sustain Detective at a very high sales level is very impressive. That Batgirl is doing so well, relatively speaking, is baffling. (Something to judge by: Stephanie Brown is now outselling "Superman: World of New Krypton", Superman and Action -- though that may all be an indication of the weakness of the Superman franchise at the moment, rather than the strength of Batgirl.) To be sure, there's only a few hundred issues between Power Girl and Wonder Woman. Unfortunately, it does seem to show that people just don't quite "get" Wonder Woman these days; she really ought to be doing better.
Detective 854/855 (Greg Rucka/JH Williams III/Dave Stewart):

...Good lord, this thing is gorgeous!

OK, OK, story first: We finally get the Batwoman series that we've long been promised, as she takes over 'Tec in the absence of Bruce Wayne. And right away, we see her in action in a way that shows us both the similarities and differences between Kathy Kane's Batwoman and the other members of the Bat family. She brings Rush to ground in an alley somewhere, and demands that he tell her what's going on with the religion of crime. He refuses, because he knows they'll kill him. At this point, most likely, Bruce (and possibly Dick) would have threatened him with even greater bodily harm if he didn't tell; Batwoman instead promises him that she'll protect him, and for some reason, he believes that she can. It's oddly comforting and seductive at the same time. There's also an interesting encounter with Batman -- version deliberately unspecified -- in which he grumps about her hair length and then takes off.

Next morning, Kathy goes to breakfast with putative girlfriend Anna, who promptly dumps her because she's consistently unavailable at night; the last straw was that Anna couldn't reach her last night, and Kathy looks like she hasn't slept -- as indeed she hasn't -- from which Anna draws entirely the wrong conclusion. Kathy then goes back to her place, where her father the Colonel is serving as her version of Alfred. We get a bare hint of what happened to her back when the Religion of Crime originally kidnapped her and tried to sacrifice her -- a shadow of an origin story, as it were. Kathy pulls together the clues to discover where the heads of the Religion's covens are meeting their new head. Said person, it turns out, is the loopiest criminal in town since perhaps the Joker, which is saying something. She presents herself as Alice, of Wonderland and Looking Glass fame, and every line out of her mouth is a somehow nonetheless entirely appropriate line from one of Carroll's books -- though not always one of Alice's lines, I think. 'Tec 854 ends with Batwoman meeting Alice, and 855 is a hard leadout from that, essentially an issue long fight sequence of sorts. During the fight, Kathy discovers the hard way that Alice hides razor blades in her mouth when she's cut with one that proves to be poisoned with some sort of hallucinogen. She goes staggering off into the nearby woods; meanwhile, back at BatLoft Central, the Colonel sees on his computer that follows her that his daughter's vital signs have suddenly taken a turn for the worse, so he grabs a few semiautomatic weapons and heads out after her. Somehow, he gets where she is more or less in time -- there's absolutely no sense of how long things are taking, since Kathy is hallucinating and herself has no sense of time. She's also remembering some of what happened during her earlier kidnapping. The Colonel arrives and starts shooting -- somehow managing not to kill anyone, possibly deliberately -- but it looks like Alice and her minions are about to get the upper hand when something unexpected happens at the story's end. Honestly, the story is a bit of a sine wave at this point; an outstanding first issue followed by an OK second issue that seems to be concerned with a lot of backstory and getting a few things in place.

The artwork on this story is, from beginning to end, truly spectacular. Williams does some really interesting things with frame composition and line length to visually separate Batwoman from Kathy Kane. Batwoman's part of the story only rarely has square frames of story, and even when she does, the borders and gutters are all black to the edges of the page. Much more frequently, her part of the story has a very different framing and flow, with a surprising number of two page spreads with unusual shapes and layout. Because the rest of her art is so dark -- night time, black costumes, dark places, etc. -- the line weight on her part of the drawing is much lighter weight. Dave Stewart is doing some incredible things with color throughout both sections, the more faded colors of the background with Batwoman -- making her reds and blacks pop out of the page -- and the vivid colors throughout for Kathy Kane's section.

Detective 854, Batwoman and Rush

By contrast, the Kathy Kane sections are lighter, airier -- despite a much heavier and distinct line weight -- and have a more traditionally structured page visually.

Unfortunately, after six issues (I think), we get a planned break in both art and story, shifting to a different artist for a couple of issues before Williams comes back to finish the "Elegy" story arc, and then a shift again to another artist.

Detective also has a backup 8-pager, featuring the new(ish) Question, Renee Montoya, Kathy Kane's former lover. Montoya investigates the disappearance of an illegal immigrant whose brother paid for her to come north to the US. She vanished before he ever saw her. When Victor asked the person he paid to bring her where she was, he got a serious beatdown for his trouble, along with a warning not to ask again, at which point he went to the Question's website and asked for help. Renee begins to look into things, and of course not only do things look bad right off the bat, but the investigation hits a few hitches almost immediately. Since this is a shorter chunk of story, it's actually faster paced, hitting plot points a bit faster. Honestly, it feels like a comics version of a Republic serial, except that it's monthly and not weekly. Even with a less satisfying amount of story, it's still gripping and involving, and Cully Hammer is doing some really good artwork on this. (Something of a side note, but I'd really love to know how Renee got out of being the head of the Religion of Crime. At the end of "The Crime Bible", she's just managed, despite her best efforts, to land the title, so she's the head of a group that doesn't take no for an answer. And yet, as we see in the main story, that mantle's been somehow passed to Alice, leaving Renee improbably still alive and kicking.)

Highly recommended.

Wonder Woman 34 (Simone/Lopresti)

In which we finally finally get past "Rise of the Olympian" ... sort of. And past Genocide ... mostly.

Diana starts out this issue in the arctic, communing with a mama polar bear and her cub on what she's been through -- the fight with Genocide that she thinks is done (if only she knew), having to renounce her people, her family, her home. She is, for Diana, a bit down in the dumps, understandably. (More about that later, I think.) She goes back home, only to be alerted by the gorilla tribe in her apartment (that will never fail to be entertainingly weird, somehow) that Nemesis is trying to get in touch with her -- yet more unfinished business, she thinks. And it is, except that it's Genocide; apparently she's still alive, sort of. It's somehow involved with underground metahuman extremely extreme fighting, about which Diana knows nothing, so she asks Black Canary to help. And they then go jaunting off in relative disguise -- using, as Dinah puts it, the "second most famous bosoms in the world after Power Girl" (and that Diana doesn't know this, despite having been enbustiered in man's world for nearly 20 years in the current revision, is just mindboggling) as auxiliary weapons. They get to the site, and their disguise gets them into the fights, which they win more or less handily, after faking some difficulties. And then, at the end, someone who wants revenge against Diana, for something she did not in fact do, appears. Meanwhile, back on Themiscyra, the Olympians' attempt to take over from the Amazons is not going terribly well, so clearly neither the Olympian story nor the Genocide story is going to be done any time soon.

The story, compared to the past few months, is comparatively light and functional. It sets a few things in play and reminds us that a few other things need to be dealt with, while still giving us a break from the fairly dark storyline of recent issues. And the relief is much appreciated. (Something of a side note, but I wonder what the current story behind Diana's costume is? During the "bosoms" segment, Dinah teases Diana about her patriotic star spangled briefs, and Diana says that's a misinterpretation, that people just assume that it was meant to do with the US flag. However, in the original concept of the character, it was meant to do with the US flag; her costume was meant to echo American symbols, because she was being sent here as ambassador. Given that she no longer has an eagle clutching the second most famous bosoms, things have clearly changed.)

Now ... let me just say that I'm not a continuity wonk. Not really. But that said ... I do keep wondering when, if ever, this title will acknowledge that Final Crisis even happened. After all, Wonder Woman was the first of the heroes to fall, after Mary Marvel; her mind was taken over by Darkseid and/or his minions, and her body was used against people to enforce his orders. I'm not saying that there should be a full issue of Diana weeping and wailing and railing against her fate, but it does seem like there should be something. A memory of something she did that she regrets. People she's trying to help pulling away or hiding because they remember what she did -- maybe she even did something directly to them. Other superheroes looking at her warily. Something.

As far as I can tell, the group of titles that really acknowledges that Final Crisis even happened are the Bat titles and, to some extent, JSA and JLA. Given that Bruce Wayne got removed from the field and the Marvel family were still suffering some of the aftereffects, they have no choice in the matter. And of course, there's the Final Crisis Aftermath set -- though, one might also note, the Escape title makes no sense so far as a Final Crisis related title, since almost nobody in it played any sort of major role. And, of course, in theory, that title should feed back into Wonder Woman at some point, unless maybe Escape is supposed to take place after they break up.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #27 (Jane Espensen/Georges Jeanty): In which we continue with the slayers being alienated from society due to the success of Harmony and her realiy program. We also see Oz, who's settled down, gotten even more zen, met up with someone, had a kid. And we see Twilight and friends unsuccesfully trying to locate Buffy and the slayerettes for further beatdowns. And that's ... really about it, actually. It's an issue that's designed to get people to places for the next issue. OK.
In which we go over almost all of the "Battle for the Cowl" titles, allowing that there's at least one more tie-in title, "Gotham Gazette: Batman Alive?" to come out later this week.

Regarding "Battle for the Cowl" as a whole, one can but say: thank goodness that's over. But there were individual highlights, as well as many many many lowlights.

One thing that's never quite explained here or anywhere else: Batman has disappeared, and been rumored dead, many a time in the past, only to reappear with a (usually literal) vengeance. So what's so different this time? Why has Gotham exploded? Is it that it's on the heel of the massively upsetting Final Crisis? What?

Well, anyway. Overall, the Battle consists of three series and a plethora of one-shots (for reasons that surpasseth understanding, DC is flatly refusing to consider "Gotham Gazette" as a title, despite the fact that there are/will be three of them.)

Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader, two issues (Neil Gaiman/Andy Kubert, Scott Williams, Alex Sinclair): I tell you true, people: I have no idea what that was, or what it was supposed to be. The only way I can relate to it at all is to think of it as Batman's way of thinking himself out of the life trap from the end of Final Crisis. Basically, he sees one version of his funeral after another, killed different ways by different villains, always falling defending Gotham. And then at the end there's a terribly ill-advised air on "Goodnight Moon". Seriously, I have no idea whether it was good or bad, because I don't know what it wanted to be.

Batman: Battle for the Cowl (Tony Daniel)

Honestly, neither awful, nor terrific, though there were both awful and terrific moments scattered throughout. Mostly, this title seemed to be about how Bruce's rather spectacular miscalculations brought ruin to Gotham and more specifically to Jason Todd and the other Bats. Bruce seemed to feel that Nightwing and Robin could handle crime in Gotham, and we find out in the third issue that he specifically directed Dick/Nightwing not to take up the cowl, that Batman should be allowed to stay dead. Unfortunately, he didn't take into account just how much he'd manage to terrorize the criminals of Gotham into behaving, just by his mere presence. Take that way, and all hell broke loose. Black Mask, a villain long thought dead, has come back and managed to destroy both the Penguin's and Two-Face's criminal enterprises. (Why he isn't dead, despite Catwoman having killed him, nobody knows as yet.)

Another of Bruce's fatal miscalculations was in sending personal "in case of my demise" holographic messages to all of the members of the Bat crew, including Jason Todd (who, when last seen, had decided to leave Gotham because it wasn't good for him. Why is he still here, you might be wondering. And well might you wonder!) Jason's message, which we see in the third issue, implies quite strongly that some truly terrible things happened to Jason before Bruce took him in -- not even addressing the whole death/buried-semi-alive/resurrected by a villain thing that he had going for a while. No, all of Jason's damage was caused by some horrific things that happened to him as a child which he has resolutely not thought about for most of his life, and which Bruce allowed him not to think about, because he's a firm believer in the "repress and take it out on any criminals that cross your path" method. (Seriously, to say that Bruce, Dick, Jason and Tim are all massively screwed up is a spectacular understatement -- that Dick has somehow come out of it all fairly well adjusted is something of a miracle. But I digress.) As a result of being forced to "confront" (if that's quite the right word) issues for which he is not prepared, Jason decides that he should become Batman the way he thinks Batman should always have been: fully armed, and entirely willing to take out them what needs killin'. Collateral damage to civilians not an issue. Along the way he manages to take out both Tim and Damien, leading to a final showdown with Nightwing.

The main problem with the "Battle for the Cowl" title itself was that it was relentlessly overplotted. There was just too damn much going on, with the destruction of Arkham (again), Two-Face and Penguin at war with each other, Black Mask dictating that war, the struggle between Dick, Jason and Tim to determine who should take on the mantle of the Bat. That latter should have been given a bit more weight; Dick winds up deciding to become Batman in essentially two pages at the end of the third issue, after having resisted all the way through. It's not that we don't understand why he does it, but after something over 70 pages of Gotham ripping itself apart, to have only two pages where the decision is made, with no real discussion, feels very ... anticlimactic.

Oracle: The Cure issues 1-3 (Kevin van Hook/Fernando Pesarin and Julian Lopez)

So ... yeah, that really wasn't very good at all.

The Calculator is searching for the antilife equation because he feels that it will return his comatose daughter to life. In a thread that I missed the first issue, but which becomes more apparent in the third issue, Barbara Gordon is searching for the Calculator and the antilife equation, not just to stop him from loosing the equation on the world again, but because, somehow, she feels it will restore her legs to her. Why the Calculator feels it will help his daughter, or why Babs feels it will help her legs, is never explained; we have never seen the antilife equation do any such thing -- in fact, it seems to be a rather effective way of taking over someone's mind or causing death (hence the whole "antilife" thing), but not so much with the resurrection and the healing. Most of the pursuit takes place in virtual environments, so that Barbara's lack of mobility isn't as much of an issue. (And the idea that what one does in virtual environments will be reflected in the real environment is very neatly handled. Being as most of what gets reflected is some spectacular murder and a very improbable attack on someone's immune system, it's hard to say that it's fun, exactly, but it is interesting.)

Babs does eventually defeat the Calculator, of course, and there is, inevitably, a twist at the end of the tale. The art, for the most part, is very good -- although there is a very odd focus on Babs taking a shower at one point -- but the story ... eh. It shows what Babs is doing during part of the Battle for the Cowl ... though when this is supposed to take place, considering that she's guiding the Network back in Gotham during all of the rest of the Battle, heaven only knows.

The Network (Fabian Nicieza/Don Kramer and J. Calafiore): A stunningly pointless one-shot, in which Hugo Strange tries to force the new and more murderous Batman to choose among a host of (innocent, as it turns out) accused criminals and others to save. Oracle activates the Network and sends out Huntress, Batgirl, Batwoman and others to take on the various situations. Huntress has shifted back to her old costume so that Oracle and Batgirl can call her a bat-skank. Cassandra Cain continues to speak in improbably complete sentences. Huntress decides to kill the accused criminal she's supposed to rescue, because they're running out of time, so why not kill a criminal? She's stopped by Cassandra, and Oracle discovers immediately after that the guy was innocent. So ... yeah, lotsa fun, really.

Gotham Gazette
Batman Dead? (Fabian Nicieza; Dustin Nguyen, Guillem March, ChrisCross, Jamie McKelvie, Alex Konat, Mark McKenna)
Basically, a series of quick shots across the city, different people whom the Bat has touched, in one way or another. Several people return to the city, including long lost Vicki Vale and also Leslie Tompkins, in what feels like an attempt to rehabilitate her from the character assassination perpetrated against her in the whole War Games mess. We also see Bullock and Stephanie and The Veil and a few others. Of all of them, only Leslie gets left in a situation that is both dangeous and unresolved through the entirety of the Battle -- one assumes, for the sake of argument that she'll get rescued during "Batman Alive", since that would be appropriate symmetry.

Commissioner Gordon (Royal McGraw/Tom Mandrake, Guy Major): In which Gordon takes on Mister Freeze and is awesome. Really, that's all there is to it. The story starts with Gordon being held prisoner, and the bulk of it is a flashback showing how this came to be. Among other things, Gotham's district attorney is murdered, which will eventually bring Kate Spencer's Manhunter to Gotham. But for now, it's just Gordon against Freeze, and Gordon realizing that, unlike most times in the past, Batman isn't there to save either him or the city. And then Gordon figures out what to do, and, as mentioned, is awesome.

Arkham Asylum (David Hine/ ): A shockingly very good one-shot story, in which Jeremiah Arkham -- and I was rather startled to discover that there was still a Dr Arkham around -- prowls the corridors of his now-destroyed hospital/prison, mourning its loss. He mourns his inability to save his patients, except for three people who were so very damaged tha tthey were kept in the basement cells, away from the other criminals, and so were left behind after the destruction. It's clear that these three people are going to become new villains for Dick's Batman -- the one without a face is especially creepy. A very very good story that shows the effects of the battle itself, rather than focusing on the effects of the death of Batman.

Man-Bat (Joe Harris/Jim Calafiore): ... Yeah, so that was a waste of time. Basically, things happen to Kent Langston for no discernable reason, and with no discernable connection to the rest of the events of the Battle. As far as I can tell, it exists purely to bring Alfred and the Outsiders into the Battle. Since they only appear at the end, and in no other issue of the Battle so far, there's not really much point. It all ends in blood and tears, of course. Bleah.

The Underground (Chris Yost/Pablo Raimondi): In which basically all of Batman's gallery of rogues show up after the destruction of Arkham and Black Mask "liberating" (and that is not the proper word) all of them from transit to other prisons. And ... really, that's about it. Catwoman discovers that Black Mask is apparently not dead, and that's the only thing of any significance to happen in the story. There's nothing much to it.

Secret Six vol 2, #9 (Gail Simone/Nicola Scott): In which Catman, Ragdoll and Bane come to Gotham to thwart a conspiracy by ... well, we never quite learn who's behind it, but the idea is that they're going to kidnap the children of prominent citizens for ... well, we never quite learn that either. Nonetheless, it's a really good issue, as it shows Bane and Catman dealing with the conflicting impulses of wanting to both kill Batman and be Batman, and Ragdoll basically discovering that everything he says is some degree of double entendre. Everything nearly goes pear-shaped when Dick/Nighwing comes in at the end of Bain the others thwarting another chunk of the kidnapping conspiracy with malice aforethought, afterthought, during-thought, broken necks and other maimings. But Nightwing more or less realizes what's going on just in time -- more or less. This leads to the most impressive moment of fan-service I've ever seen regarding a male hero, in which Dick's fully clad but nonetheless impressive rear end is presented to the reader to be admired in all its bespandexed glory. (Seriously, it was blatant enough that I've seen straight guys noting the way he was displayed. And no, sir, they just don't like it. I can but be deeply amused. But I digress.) Fan service aside, it's not necessary to the greater motion of the Battle, but it's a very nice issue showing how Batman's presumed death is affecting people in different ways.

Azrael: Death's Dark Knight issues 1-3 (Fabian Nicieza/Frazer Irving):
The overall purpose of this series is to set up the new Azrael ongoing title. Unfortunately, I don't know enough about Azrael and the previous holder, or how Michael Lane was brought into the Bat titles as a GCPD officer who turns out to be the "Third Ghost", whatever that means. This is the one title where not knowing enough about what's happened both early in Morrison's run and before it is perhaps a handicap; there is a sense that a lot of history is being pulled into this story. That said, part of the confusion may be due to it being a slightly confused story; it essentially gets a reboot at the end of the first issue, when the first person selected to wear Azrael's armor and carry the sword gets killed.

Michael Lane gets selected to replace that person -- sort of; there are two competing factions trying to create their own angel of death for various reasons. Lane figures out, with surprising ease and for no real reason, where the Batcave is, thus producing a smackdown with Nightwing. His memory gets wiped (don't ask), and Nightwing and Oracle eventually decide to leave the swords and armor with Lane, to see what happens. There's also the rather surprising revelation of the leader behind one of the factions trying to run Azrael, and the reappearance of Ra's al-Ghul, who is Not A Happy Camper. And who can blame him: stuck in Arkham and drugged out of his mind, vulnerable to all the other psychos.

Irving's artwork on this series is simply spectacular; I hope he's the artist on the ongoing title, as his work has a very distinctive look, quite unlike anything else in the Bat-section, now that Simon Dark is gone.

And that's it for the Battle for the Cowl, with the exception of "Batman Alive", due out this week, and the next issue of "Batman" itself, which I believe comes out next weeik
Because, for some reason, there have been a boatload of new series/miniseries started in the last two weeks.

Hotwire: Requiem for the Dead, episode 1 of 4, "Read Me First" (Warren Ellis/Steve Pugh; Radical)
Alice Hotwire is a detective exorcist for a metropolitan police department that discourages the use of the word "ghost" in favor of "blue-light"; said blue-lights stopped going to wherever they used to go about fifty years ago, thus forcing the world to deal with them. The metro police department is also undergoing upheaval because two of its own have been pulled from duty thanks to beating up teenagers during a protest, triggering city-wide riots. Hotwire is suspected of being the person who took and released the video showing the police brutality, and is scrupulous in noting to almost everyone who asks that the rules do not allow them to ask if she was the whistle blower, thus making everyone think that she is. In the meantime, the blue-lights have been getting more frequent and stronger, and Hotwire is trying to find out why.

The story is immediatly involving and engrossing; you want to know what's happening and why it's happening. And I love the way it just takes for granted the existence of an afterlife without discussing the nature of what it actually was. After all, the ghosts can't know somewhere that they've never been, right? And it's fascinating to see how a highly technological and scientific world has adapted to dealing with metaphysical events in a very physical way. Steve Pugh adapted the script from a story by Warren Ellis, and has done very well with that; in addition, he did all the artwork, which is weirdly spectacular. It's not quite hyperrealistic, but it's close, while at the same time looking possibly painted as well as very designed in a high-tech way in spots where appropriate. Highly recommended.

Jersey Gods (Glen Brunswick/Dan McDaid; Image): Zoe is thrilled to have a boyfriend for a major holiday for possibly the first time ever. They usually dump her just before the holidays, for one reason or another. But Emerson will be different! He'll be there! Right? ... Well, of course not. Meanwhile, out in Deep Space, the science heroes Barock and Helius are clearing out an area of some stray asteroids, and planning their after-heroics drink on a planet that Barock hates, but is going along with because Helius loves. In the meantime, back in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Minog -- think cross between Ben Grimm and Thor, more or less -- appears in what rapidly become the ruins of a mall. He's been dispatched to cause havoc on earth to draw Barock and Helius, who patrol that sector, because ... well, actually, we don't know why yet. And, of course, Zoe is in the middle of the chaos. The story is intriguing, mostly in that "what the hell is going on here" sort of way. Oddly enough, at the moment, the story doesn't match the solicitation copy, although you can see more or less how it might get there. The art is pretty much a full on Kirby tribute, and it's a good match for the story -- then again, Kirby pretty much defined the look of the whole "gods come down to earth and wreak havoc" genre, so maybe it would have looked odd if it wren't that style. In any event, it's fun and intriguing enough that it's worth coming back, if only to see just how they wind up getting to the house in the suburbs. Recommended.

Bad Dog #1 (Joe Kelly/Diego Greco; Image): ...Oh, my, that was fun. Bad Dog is the story of bounty hunters Lou and Wendell. As in the bounty-hunter genre from time immemorial (or whenever it was created), they're not exactly poor, a bit down on their luck, a bit hard edged. Oh, and Lou's a werewolf, who can control his changes enough that he stays a wolf all the time. Apparently, he doesn't think all that much of humans and likes the wolves better -- unfortunately, the wolves aren't terribly fond of him. Lou also has a head in a bag in his refrigerator, for some reason. It basically takes every cliche you can think of and sends them thundering down the pike. Greco's artwork is very good; for something that's both fairly brown and fairly dark, the colors come out surprisingly saturated and lush in places. Again, I'm looking forward to see where it goes. Highly Recommended.

Soul Kiss #1 of 5 (Steven T. Seagle/Marco Cinello; Image): Lili (don't call her Lilian) is headed to an interview for a spot at a university, which might get her away from the hell of a personal assistant's job in Hollywood, when her car breaks down in a desert. After an unfortunate encounter, she finds herself possessed of an even more unfortunate ability. What that ability is does not exactly get explained by the end of the first issue (though, again, the solicitation copy tells you more than the issue. Unfortunately, this one doesn't quite work for me, at least not enough to keep up with the pamphlets. It's not that it's at all bad -- the writing's fine, and I like the artwork. It's just not really engaging. Lili's not particularly likeable, but then, given what she's going to have to do, it really would be asking a lot for us to like her. But in that case, you need to grab the reader with the situation, with the action, and it's all been too oblique at this point for that to work. Drop, possibly to trade.

The Mighty #1 (Peter Tomasi and Keith Champagne/Peter Snejbjerg; DC):
DC tries, once again, to launch a title on the DC imprint that's not part of the DC Universe, instead of putting it on Wildstorm where you'd expect it to be. It's an understandable effort; there are smaller stores that, especially these days, won't take something that's not mainline Marvel or DC. Unfortunately, DC has terrible luck launching non-DCU titles on that label (or any other, these days, for that matter), and I'm not sure that this will end that streak. The Mighty is the story of a superhero -- apparently the only one on the planet -- and his team. A sailor gets washed overboard during an atomic bomb test at Enewetok, and the radioactive water gives him superpowers. He becomes the superhero Alpha One, then forms a support team, of which Captain Shaw is the leader and Gabriel Cole is a member. We see how being a member of this team affects Cole's life -- as you might expect, it interferes at awkward times -- and we see that he has some sort of as yet not quite explained history with Alpha One. We also get hints of the cost of being a member of Omega Team for other and past members. And then the event happens near the end that effectively kicks off the series.

I do think it might have been better as a storytelling device if maybe they'd started at the end of the issue -- or even the end of the event -- and then looped back to the beginning. As it stands, the story is a bit uninvolving. Moderately intriguing, yes, but it doesn't quite grab you. To be fair, it looks like this first arc is constructed as a straight-up mystery -- we don't as yet have a villain running around saying, "Ha HA! Look what I did!", so it's likely that Omega Team is going to have to do a full investigation to figure out where to aim Alpha One. That's a bit unusual in superhero comics, and mysteries do usually start a bit slow. Snejbjerg's artwork is good. I guess I'll wait and see the state of the budget and my level of interest next month before I decide whether or not to go for issue 2. No recommendation.

Eureka #1 (Andrew Cosby and Brendan Hay/Diego Barreto; Boom!): Based on the SciFi network television series. If you haven't watched the series, the comic will be utterly baffling, since it doesn't bother to explain the characters or their relationships very well; if you have watched the series, it'll be a nice flashback to a time before this season, when Nathan was still alive. The story comes from Deputy Jo Lupo's past: a man has taken Carter's daughter Zoe hostage, and Jo is in the position of being the SWAT sharpshooter to take the man out. However, she recognizes him from her tour in Afghanistan, and is so shocked that she can't take the shot, so Carter winds up having to do it himself. This being Eureka, there's something special about the man, and everyone has to scramble to find out exactly what's going on. Barreto's artwork takes an interesting tack, vaguely invoking the actors without being too strongly character referenced. It's a fun read. Recommended if you watch the series; No Recommendation if you don't. (That said, I'm dropping to trade, because that's what I do with everything I'm interested in ehough to buy from Boom. Given that Boom only seems to publish miniseries, rather than continuing series, I've never understood why they persist in doing miniseries that much have seriously diminishing returns as they go on. But I digress.)
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.
In which, for some odd reason, a few series put out their next to last issue.

Manhunter 37 (Andreyko/Gaydos; DC): OK, so back in issue 36, they finished up the whole story arc down in Mexico way, and also briefly visited the whole thing with Ramsay having powers, and finally -- finally! -- got back to the storyline that started out lo those many issues ago, with some apparently insane supervillain blowing up abortion clinics. So, remember all that? Yeah, well, forget it. All gone, at least for the moment. We leap forward at least 15 years in the future, and Kate is still Manhunter -- and likely one of the longest served, given the history of the character -- and pursuing a woman who has apparently just stolen a razor of some note. Kate's almost caught up to her when another person in a ski mask tries to help, and gets thrown into a tree ... and calls her "Mom." Needless to say, this does not go over well. We find out all sorts of interesting personal history during that argument, including the fact that Kate's involved with a much younger man who knows her secret, and Ramsay's involved with a strapping young man. Dylan managed to survive being pursued by the Joker and his minions, despite losing a few body parts here and there. Nemesis and Obsidian have a most disconcerting child. And Nellie Lovett and Sweeney Todd manage to between them re-enact the hoariest of super tropes. I assume this issue was started after Andreyko and Gaydos got the word that the series was cancelled, and this took the place of a story arc that couldn't be compressed short enough to work. Any road, it's a lot of fun, and it looks like it's going to be one hell of a conclusion to the series.

Fallen Angel 32 (David/Woodard; IDW): In what I think is the penultimate issue of this series -- the last issue is either 33 or 34 and I'm not quite sure which -- the Angel and Mariah and Jude finally reach their goal, God continues to be a small child, and the final confrontation begins most unexpectedly. I have to admit, this did make me curious aobut the next issue. It looks like it's going to be an intense nearly full-length fight sequence, despite the unexpected ending to this issue. Former enemies -- or at least, people who formerly did not like each other -- will be joining together against Moloch to try to get Bete Noire back to something like what it once was. Ought to be fun to watch!

Brit 11 (Brown/Bellegarde; Image): In which Brit and Donald try to rescue everyone from ... well, the other Brit, a.k.a. the Emperor. Brittany still has this antenna thing stuck in her neck, though it apparently gives her a certain insight into what's going on, and Brit's son is still missing. Alas, next issue is "the big sendoff", in which all this stuff somehow gets resolved. I admit, I'll miss this title -- it was pretty much all fight comix fun, all the time, which isn't the sort of thing I normally like, but it worked here. Unfortunately, as Kirkman says, the title was done in by poor sales -- and for Image to cancel a title for poor sales means that it wasn't moving diddly/squat -- and I suspect he's right when he points out that a major cause was the fact that it scheduled monthly, but managed to publish only 11 issues in 19 months.

Helen Killer issue 4 of 4 (Kreisberg/Rice; Arcana): For some reason, my store didn't get this in when it was first issued, and I thought it had just been delayed, since I'd ordered it through Previews. Any road, it was worth the wait. When last we saw Helen, she'd been captured by the bad guy, and he was taunting Alexander Graham Bell and Anne Sullivan over the wireless, and then there was a horrible awful scream... which turned out not to be Helen. Josiah helps her get away, and then the two of them and Bell pursue Grey to New York and the Flatiron building, in hot pursuit of Grey, his gold-to-lead transmutation device with which he intends to destroy the world monetary supply, and the omnicle. And Helen, of course, winds up being awesome like an awesome thing of awesomeness, with or without omnicle. Rice's art is wonderfully dark and detailed, and Kreiberg's and Rice's story has cliffhangers and melodrama galore. Highly recommended; I hope Arcana plans to put out some sort of compiled form sometime soon.

Batman 683-684 (683, Morrison/Garbett/Scott; 684, Denny O'Neil/Guillem March; DC): Apparently, the print schedule for Batman got seriously jacked up by the repeated delays with Final Crisis. The title has now published, I believe, four times in the last seven weeks, with Detective coming out during one of the off weeks. It's understandable; thera are things that happen in 682 and 683 that bear directly on Final Crisis -- what appears to be a little throwaway comment about what happened with Batman after he was captured may in fact turn out to be something major -- and in turn, if you haven't read Final Crisis, 682 and 683 are just baffling. 683 shows the might of Batman's mind, in which he not only thinks his way out of a very interesting box, but manages to bring someone along for the ride, so to speak. 684 is a nice little conclusion to the two parter started over in Detective, in which Batman is still missing, and things are getting a bit fraught, and Millicent Mayne somehow still manages to be the Face of Gotham even without one. That said, aside from establishing that Batman is still gone, that issue looks terribly slight stacked up against the two preceding. The three combine to confuse the post-RIP/Final Crisis timeline quite thoroughly; we know that it's six months between when Bruce Wayne disappears and A Batman comes back, because that's implied in the RIP conclusion itself. It's not at all clear how long there is between RIP and Final Crisis, or whether the Gothamites even know that he reappeared to be captured -- after all, he was captured in battle against the New Gods.
Final Crisis 5 of 7 (Morrison/Jones/Pacheco/Merino; DC):

I hate Grant Morrison, sometimes.

See, here's the thing: I'd gone along quite happily ignoring Final Crisis, as, it turns out, pretty much the entirety of the DC universe had done to date. Oh, sure, there were a few throw away moments here and there, but nothing I really needed to pay attention to. And then came Batman #682, and all you could do with a lot of it was just sit there and scratch your head if you didn't read Final Crisis, because you really didn't have a strong clue what the heck was going on. So I girded my loins and picked up the previous Final Crisis issues and read the whole goddamn thing. (I will note, however, that he's an equal opportunity irritant. There's a near-throwaway line about "the Batman Psycho merge" that makes absolutely no sense if you didn't read the end of Batman 682.)

The really fascinating thing to note is that at one level, Morrison was definitely true to his word. If you've read his Seven Soldiers of Victory, that's almost all the prolog you need to this series. There's nothing of Identity Crisis, nothing of 52, and the only piece of Countdown hanging around is the weirdness of Mary Marvel. By contrast, we've got Frankenstein and Mister Miracle of the Soldiers playing a major role, Bulleteer whizzing around in the background, and I'm sure that I probably missed references to the others anywhere.

The essential plot of issue 5 is that Hal Jordan gets taken to Oa for trial because the Guardians believe that he attacked John Stewart, and basically all hell breaks loose. Back on earth, Checkmate and Mister Miracle try to fight the good fight with possibly indifferent success, and Dan Turpin seems to lose his fight to Darkseid.

I will say this about Final Crisis. The one line in the whole thing that would have caught me and gotten me to read this series, if one line could have done it, was where the guardians say, "You have 24 hours to save the universe, Lantern Jordan." I mean, seriously. It also gives a possible time frame to the last two issues: however long it's been up to this point, the universe gets mostly saved in 24 hours.

Detective Comics 851: "Last Rites: Last Days of Gotham, 1 of 2" (Denny O'Neill/Guillem March; DC): In which we begin to fill in some of the missing six months between Bruce Wayne's disappearance near the end of RIP and his reappearance in Final Crisis. (Morrison has been quite clear that the Batman of RIP and of Final Crisis are both Bruce Wayne, and we're explicitly told that Bruce Wayne/Batman disappeared for six months, so I'm assuming for the sake of sanity that he disappears for six months, comes back, then gets knocked for a loop again by the New Gods.) The story starts during "No Man's Land", and the great Gotham earthquake, "several years ago." Millicent Mayne, an actress, is refusing an offer of a bag of diamonds from a thug called Gracchus as the earthquake strikes. (O'Neill leave what Gracchus was requesting as an exercise for the reader.) The earthquake saves her from needing to respond. Several years later, when Mayne has become the beloved "Face of Gotham" for all her charity works, Gracchus decides that he's going to fix her face, and he throws acid into it while disguised as Two-Face. This basically brings the wrath of Nightwing and Oracle down on Two-Face, despite having not done what he was accused of. Overall, it's a really interesting issue -- I definitely like the looks of March's art, and the story begins to fill in an interesting gap. Recommended.

(Purely a side note: the publication of DC Universe titles are going to be fascinating to watch over the next few months. It's clear that Batman and possibly Detective may be the first titles to deal with Final Crisis itself -- Wonder Woman still has another four issues of the "Olympian" to go; Superman has nearly a year of "New Krypton" to get through, and heaven only knows what's happening with Green Lantern, but that set of titles is going to go headlong from Final Crisis to prep for Blackest Night. And it's not clear at the moment that Justice League is going to get there at all; they've got to get through pulling the Milestone characters into the DCU first. This month's DC Nation column refers to a hiatus that isn't even occurring for another two months, though I understand why it's in the February 2009 issue -- that is, in fact, when the hiatus for Batman and 'Tec is going to start. Regardless, reading mainline DCU is going to be very confusing, in some ways, for the next year or so.)
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.


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