I did not actually plan for almost everything in this set of reviews to be a Bat title. Oh, well.

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

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

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

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

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

Good; Recommended (with certain reservations)

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

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

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

Good; Recommended

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not recommended.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OK; wait for the trade.

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

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

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

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

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

OK; no recommendation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good; Recommended
The DC previews in the April issue (for issues and items on sale in June) are alternately giving me a teensy bit of hope, puzzling me and making me a bit sad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June's definitely going to be an ... interesting month in the DCU.
The Best of 2008

2008 proved to be an interesting year. Fewer zombies, thank the deity of your choosing—or at least, I read fewer of them, so they didn't make it onto this list. A few more superheroes, depending on how you define things (and no, I didn't read Marvel's Secret Invasion or Dark Reign, and since DC's Final Crisis periodically made me want to bludgeon the DC brain trust vigorously about the head and shoulders with its own output, that won't be here either). Perhaps not as much space opera as I would have liked, but that's somehow a surprisingly difficult genre to find a lot of in comics. And it turns out that the world ends with a bang, a whimper, and just about every unpleasantness in between that you could imagine. A few themes did emerge in this year's reading:

1. Apocalypse yesterday

2. The War of the Worlds redux (see also: apocalypse yesterday)

3. Warren Ellis (what can I say? Man was busy this past year. See also: apocalypse yesterday.)

4. Everything old is new again (see also: War of the Worlds redux, apocalypse yesterday)

A very few items did carry over from last year's list—though for most of those, the noteworthy thing isn't so much the quality as the fact that at some point during the year, some of them just seemed to trail off mid-story, with their creators having to push them to the back burner due to other commitments, the stresses of life, etc. In any event, there were far fewer carry-over titles than I'd initially expected, which indicates that this year was pretty good for new speculative titles.

And as for the stuff that's new to the list, some of them may actually not be comics. Given the last two columns, that's probably not a surprise.

And so: alphabetically by title, forward into the fray! [...]
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.)
A (very) few reviews, to get my hand back in. But first, a cheesy science fiction television mention.

So apparently Stargate: Universe will effectively be recycling the Starlost or Star Trek: Voyager concepts. (And for those of you -- i.e., everyone -- who is thinking "Starlost? What the heck is that?", try this. and also maybe the videos here. I swear, for a long time, I used to wonder if I'd imagined the Starlost; nobody I knew had ever seen or remembered it. And then I saw this announcement.)

Max Headroom is now available on AOL's In2TV. Huzzah! And also, people who were in Chicago at the right time will remember watching our very own TV channels get zapped, maybe a week or two after the Max Headroom episode on the very same topic.

Cleopatra 2525 and Jack of All Trades -- one of Bruce Campbell's few attempts as a regular on series television before Burn Notice, I believe -- are now available at Hulu. This makes me very happy. (It seems that the entire audience for Cleopatra 2525 consisted of gay men. No, I do not know why. All I can think is that possibly watching Gina Torres kick ass in skimpy clothing made us all really happy. Plus, it was also one of those shows where the men were frequently in skimpy clothing, which helped. But still. Weird audience composition.)

OK, then! On to the reviews!

On the next page! )
Oh, my. I thought this wasn't appearing until yesterday, but it turns out it went up last week. Oops.

Strange Horizons Columns: Welcome to the Real World, by Iain Jackson:
Part One: Location, Location, Location, and the High Cost of Heroes (and Villains)

Why do so many superhero stories take place in places that never were, or versions of the here and now that kind of . . . aren't, quite? And how do those fictional cities and towns manage to recover from having superheroes and supervillains around? They can be, to put it mildly, quite destructive. In part one of this occasional series, we'll look at where the big fights take place, and what it can be like to have superheroes and supervillains around...

...Apart from the architecture and presentation, Metropolis and Gotham City are the most remarkably mobile cities that you'll ever see. Way back in the mists of prehistory, when I was a young'un, it was taken as gospel that Metropolis and Gotham were what was left of New York when you divided it up the East and Hudson rivers, so that New York was now three smaller cities. Later on, things started moving around a bit. For a while, Metropolis and Gotham were outer major suburbs of New York City. These days, to the extent it can be determined, Gotham has apparently moved off to southern New Jersey while Metropolis has settled down in Delaware . . . unless it's one of the stories that Grant Morrison is writing. He's been fairly clear that he still views Metropolis and Gotham as cities surrounding New York—in his Seven Soldiers series, he notes that the cities are the ugly stepchildren of New York—which means that depending on which writer is handling the story, the cities are in very different places at the same time. Something quantum happening to allow simultaneous different locations at the same point in spacetime, no doubt. (For the sake of sanity, we will ignore the TV series Smallville, in which Metropolis has apparently come rumbling in from the east to obliterate and sit on top of the current location of Kansas City, Kansas, possibly dragging a major lake or bay in its wake.) [...]
Yes, I'm beating a dead horse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Given the Virgin/UTV coproduction, I expect that it will be a Bollywood movie for real any day now. Wonder if it'll make it here?
In which the undead rise again, Kryptonite speaks, and a couple B-Movie wannabes make an appearance with varying degrees of success.

So set a spell, take your shoes off, settle in for the long haul... )
Media Relations / June 14, 1006 /man of steel, rainbows, and resurrections

As the release date for Superman Returns nears, people reinterpret the character in more spectacular and peculiar ways....


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