So, hey, three weeks of comics to get through. Better get to it, then. But first, a song! (Well, most of one.)

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

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

Wonder Woman #604:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very good, if also very very weird; Recommended

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time...
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
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.
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.
Catching up on some older stuff, some of which got lost in the holiday rush.

Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #2 (Greg Rucka/Nicola Scott; DC)
...OK, look: I don't read the main Blackest Night title -- aside from one stray mention in "Red Robin", it hasn't quite made its presence felt in the Bat corner of the DCU in a way that makes it necessary to pay attention (though given that "Batman and Robin" is on hiatus to keep its story from getting ahead of Blackest Night and DC has announced a forthcoming miniseries called "The Return of Bruce Wayne", I assume that everyone's about to figure out that Bruce isn't dead). So to a certain extent, I expected "Blackest Night: Wonder Woman" to lose me here and there. The surprise about issue #1 was that it didn't; if you knew the general shape of the main series -- that Nekron is sort of raising and reanimating the dead of the DCU, killing really quite remarkable numbers of superheroes and then raising them as black lanters -- then you could follow BNWW #1 just fine. She fought undead Maxwell Lord to a standstill -- she thought -- and left him without weapons or fighters, but with him saying that she didn't know how bad things were about to get for her. So I expected issue 2 to somehow, kind of vaguely follow issue 1 in a comprehensible way, but since the main BN title had moved along, I wouldn't have been surprised to be a bit more lost. I did not, however, expect that hot mess.

Issue #2, I suspect, bears the same relationship to "Blackest Night" as the two Final Crisis issues of Batman had to that event series; something happens in the main series that doesn't make the slightest sense without those particular tie-in issues, but at the same time, you can more or less muddle through the main event without them. In this case, I'm guessing that Diana gets killed somehow in the main series, becomes a black lantern, but then miraculously becomes a star sapphire, without any explanation of how that happens. (From what I can tell, this happens in Blackest Night #6.) BNWW Issue 2 is that explanation. Unfortunately, the issue doesn't make any sense on its own. More impressively, it doesn't even make sense as a follow-up in its own miniseries; the action is so completely detached that it leaves you trying to figure out how it even could connect to what came before. (It doesn't. Don't even try.)

More seriously, the character is just painful to watch. She's rampaging all over, having a long drawn-out fight against Nera, killing Cassie and Donna, killing Hippolyta. We see at the same time not only the black lantern thoughts in the foreground, but Diana's own thoughts in the background, appalled at all that her body is doing, which is actually a rather nifty gimmick, although she's not all that articulate, so it does get a bit repetitive. (I would note, as well, that this is the second time in as many Crises that Diana's body has apparently been taken over by the bad guys and used against everyone. Superman and Batman get to save the universe -- or at least be dead during a crisis -- but apparently Wonder Woman's role is to be the weak link in the DC Trinity, involuntarily (if briefly) helping the bad guys. They might want to work on that.) And what brings her out of the black lantern killing rage? Not the love of her sisters. Not her love for her mother. Remembering that she loves Bruce, the dead guy, as he takes her into a deep swoony kiss. (Despite being dead, or at least profoundly absent, yes. Really, just don't ask.) This allows Aphrodite to activate the love in her, or some such, and turn her into a star sapphire lantern. Never mind that, canonically, she's had a boyfriend recently, and it wasn't Bruce. Never mind that there has not recently been even the slightest hint that they might have felt that way about each other. Never mind that you'd think that she'd love her sisters and her mother enough to snap her out of that killing rage -- over in her own series, she has defied and killed gods to save her mother and the Amazons, but somehow, that's not enough. It's love of the dead guy that does it for her. Oh, and then it all turns out to be a dream. No, really, a dream.

I get that as a tie-in, BNWW has to service the main miniseries, I really do. But honestly, that would have been a rocky issue on its own merits even without the "no, really, just a dream and now you're all fixed!" resolution. I really can't tell you how glad I am right now that Gail Simone's run on WW is structured in a way that lets her serenely ignore the various crises; I can for now just pretend Blackest Night doesn't exist. (One wonders how long the DC brain trust can let one of their flagship titles keep ignoring the rest of their universe. Blackest Night has raised the sales of almost every series it's touched, however briefly; you'd think they'd take a look at WW, and think, "Hey ... maybe ...")

BAD; Not recommended

Weekly World News #1 (Chris Ryall/Alan Robinson/Tom Smith; IDW)
In which the character of Bat Boy from the now defunct Weekly World News supermarket tabloid gets a role in a series. The main character, however, is Ed Anger, "right minded columnist for the Weekly World News". And by "right minded", they mean really really really really really right-wing columnist. He's pretty much anti-everyone, but especially those "illegal damned aliens". By which he means not only the more usual type, but also the extraterrestrials among us. He tried to warn us about them, in his columns in the WWN and also through interviews and rants on the WWN television network, but people still insist on being friendly to the aliens and taking them at face value. The humor in the issue comes from watching Ed utterly fail to cope with the various changes in the world around him ... although one of the gray aliens starts feeling uneasy himself, trying to tell Ed that there's something about to happen. Ed, being Ed, doesn't really listen. At the very end, there are also mockups of WWN pages, which may or may not show future stories in the book.

Robinson's art and Smith's coloring are perfect for the story; just a touch exaggerated and cartoony, but very expressive. The story is a lot of fun to read.

Excellent; Highly recommended.

Batman: The Widening Gyre #4 of 6 (Kevin Smith/Walter Flanagan/Art Thibert; DC)
In which Batman continues his romance with the returned Silver St. Cloud and continues meeting up with new crime fighter Baphomet on the odd rooftop. More of a marking time issue than anything else, setting up the chaos to come, although a few important events do happen. One of the old criminals, Crazy Quilt, comes out to play, and we get what is, I think, an actual in-continuity explanation for why Batman's foes have become so deadly, when they used to take care not to kill. We flash back to the first Nightwing/Batman team up -- with the Outsiders, for some reason -- and Dick is wearing that terrible 70s Nightwing costume, with the plunging neckline and the high collar, and gets teased about it by Metamorpho. Baphomet reveals his face, albeit not his identity precisely, to Batman -- he's not anybody we know offhand, at the moment, and he's rather older than expected -- and Silver, whom Bruce allows to wander the Batcave, discovers Batman's secret files, which he's been writing for the benefit of Alfred, allegedly. (Volume after volume after volume. For Alfred. Right.) She's impressed at his mad writing skillz and steals a volume to read later, and you know that's going to come back to bite somebody in the ass. She does feel oddly young and girlish and immature, compared to how she's been written in the earlier issues. And then at the end, Bruce has a confrontation with Selina, which I really didn't quite expect. I do think the characterization of both women may be the weakest points in this issue, but it also depends in part on where exactly the overall series is headed. As I understand the timing, we get another two issues, a six month break, another six issue miniseries, another break, and then Baphomet gets his own series.
Good; Recommended.

The Great Ten #1-3 (Tony Bedard/Scott McDaniel/Andy Owens/The Hories; DC)
I think I am, in many ways, absolutely the wrong audience for this title. Part of the issue is that I studied Far Eastern history and politics -- seriously, got the degree and everything -- and there are times when it's just really difficult to put that aside and remember that the DCU has nothing to do with the real universe in that way.

I got somewhat thrown out of the story immediately by what the premise seemed to be. Chinese gods were coming to answer the prayers of the Han Chinese people who have been oppressed by the Communist government and are protesting. Said government is trying to use the Great Ten, its superhero squad, to put down the protest, which drives the gods to act. And where is this protest? Outside a temple in Lhasa, Tibet. Given history and current politics, you'd think that if any gods would be responding, it would be Tibetan gods. So there's that, which I really did have a problem with in the first couple of issues. Given developments in issue 3, it looks as though what's actually going on may not be quite what it appears to be. Intertwined with that is the utter inability of the Chinese government to deal with modern media -- despite a very firm clampdown on all outgoing television, radio, internet connections, the rest of the world finds out about China's difficulties in really just a few minutes. While it may have been true that the Chinese government was that incompetent at one time -- vide Tienanmin Square -- the rather tight control of information in and out of Beijing during the Olympics would seem to indicate that they've figured that sort of thing out. But, again, fiction.

There are supposed to be ten issues, and it's clear at this point that they're going to show the origin of each member of the Great Ten, wrapped around the greater storyline of the group trying to battle the gods -- or not, as the case may be. Some of the group derive their powers from the gods and are, understandably, having a few conceptual difficulties. The tone of each issue varies wildly according to the origin of the character. Accomplished Perfect Physician, who gets his power forced upon him as a sort of penance for having accidentally (sort of) killed the man to whom it was supposed to go, and given that he is a physician, has a miserable time justifying the violence the government asks of him. Celestial Archer received his power from the gods after hiding in just the right tree from people who wanted to kill him; he's actually met the gods and walked among them, and has massive difficulties now that he's asked to fight against them. Thundermind (Thundermind?), who is a living Buddha, gained his powers through reading a page that induces a perfect moment of enlightenment, and gets the most unspeakably goofy storyline; he's a teacher, madly in love with a coworker who can never know his true identity (so, very early Superman/Lois Lane, and the deliberate parallels to Superman are pretty much thrown at you nonstop), and for some reason, the entire country is worried about the immodesty of his costume, which pretty much fully covers him. His story doesn't really match the seriousness of everyone else's origin story, and is really jarring against the broader battle against the gods story. The ending is not only goofy, but lunatic and an irritating delaying tactic; Thundermind apparently knows what's going on, but before he can tell his colleagues -- and, perforce, the reader -- has to zip back to protect his secret identity (in a way which should actually cause more suspicion; he has absolutely no business being there at that point in time, given what's happened everywhere else)

Honestly, I can't recommend this series. There are some interesting ideas here and there inside it, but they're being carried out in some very irritating, lazy and truly silly ways.

OK; Not recommended.

Yi Soon Shin: Warrior and Defender #1 (Onrie Kompan/Giovanni Timpano/Adriana de los Santos; Onrie Kompan Productions)

Yi Soon Shin tells the historical tale of a long-ago war between Japan and Korea. According to the frontmatter in the book, the Korean army had thought, until that point, that their navy was mostly unnecessary, and there was a great deal of political infighting, trying to get the navy under the control of the army to disband it. General Yi Soon Shin fought against this. In 1592, Japan attacked Korea, hoping to take it and use it as a way to invade China. The other Korean generals burned their ships and retreated to try to defend on dry land, which was what the Japanese generals had thought would happen, and their infantry was far superior to the Korean. The Korean king fled, and his own people were so furious that they looted and burned his palace.

Issue 1 tells the story of how Yi Soon Shin, the disregarded general, figured out the tactics that made it possible for his vastly outnumbered force to fight the Japanese at sea. We start out in Japan in 1591, where their generals are planning their war of conquest. We then jump to invaded Korea in 1592, where the Japanese army are committing various atrocities on the town they've captured. They then discover that the remnants of the Korean navy have surrounded that harbor, but aren't afraid, because they have the Koreans so seriously outnumbered. The Japanese then discover that they are up against a superior tactician -- and, oddly, superior armament. It seems that the Japanese didn't arm their ships with cannon, and Yi Soon Shin did, so the tiny Korean navy shreds the much larger Japanese navy.

Yi then has to deal with the aftereffects of battle. He's got internal problems, because another admiral feels that he should have been in charge. He then takes his men onshore, to try to find the remnants of the Japanese force and deal with what's left of the village that the Japanese attacked. And then at the end, he discovers something truly horrific.

The storytelling in this opening issue works very well. Even though they don't go into a lot of background on him at this point, you get a feeling for who Yi was, that he was brilliant militarily, and a man who could get his men to follow him. That said, the one storytelling weakness I would identify is that there's too much in the written frontmatter; we should have seen at least some of those things that he went through to get where he was. Given that it seems to be a self-published comic, I'm guessing that cost issues were a factor in simply telling us all that; that said, it does make for a relentlessly exciting first issue. Timpano's artwork and De Los Santos' colors are bloody gorgeous, as well -- quite often, literally bloody gorgeous, as this is a war comic and, well, there's a lot of blood flowing here and there. The title sems to be on a three issues per year publication schedule, so it's not going to end until January 2011 or so, which is unfortunate only because I'd really like to see more and faster. (I'm kind of surprised that this is purely self-published and not coming out of a smaller press like Archaia; it seems like it would be right up their alley, somehow.)

Excellent; Highly recommended.
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.
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.
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.
OK, so I am going to try (note the word "try") to review an average (note the word "average") of one title per day through the end of the year, for reasons that will become obvious around, say, February. So, to begin!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BPM is a very enjoyable read. Older teens and adults who like stories about music and the people who work in that world might like it very much. Highly recommended.
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! )
New one up at SH:

Strange Horizons Columns: Welcome to the Real World, by Iain Jackson:
Don't do the crime if you can't do the time. That's the saying, right? So why is it that so many supervillains never quite seem to get around to doing time at all? And why is it that even when they do time, it winds up being strikingly short. You'd think, you kill ten, twenty, a few hundred people, even in a non-death-penalty state, you serve a few hundred years, right? And yet, that really doesn't quite seem to be the case. Crime, punishment and justice in superhero land somehow don't quite resemble anything out here in the real world, and, it turns out, really can't...

[...] really good villains are, in the immortal words of the Joker from the first Batman movie, "all those wonderful toys" for the writer. But put yourself into the mind of the characters—the residents of Gotham City, for example. How would you like to have all those people running amok in your city again and again and again and again and again? It either makes your hero look incompetent, or your city look terrible, or both. Now, the Joker is clearly insane. Whether Gotham is in New York or New Jersey doesn't matter; neither state would execute someone that far gone. (And Grant Morrison's nifty start to All Star Superman #11 notwithstanding, New York doesn't have an active death penalty at the moment.) And as stated, Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane and its equivalents are clearly no real solution. Even when criminals don't escape, if they regain their sanity, then they've served their sentence and get released—that happened both with Harley Quinn and the Riddler, both of whom seem, rather improbably, to have actually gone straight these days—and from a human point of view, that really doesn't seem like enough of a penalty for someone who may have killed and maimed dozens, hundreds of people. So, given that execution is off the table, and imprisonment seems unfortunately temporary, how do you solve a problem like the Joker? How do you catch the clown and pin him down? ...

Would you believe those last two lines were almost the first things to occur to me about this article? And somehow, I just couldn't resist letting it stay there. (There was, actually, an entire parody song, but it was very very very bad. And also not that far from the original.)

I wonder how many people even caught it, and what their reaction was?


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