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Thank God November is done: Graeme’s reviews of the 11/29 books.

Graeme McMillan

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas around these here parts, as we start to think about where to put the tree and all other holiday decorations. It’s also beginning to look a lot like lots of first issues this week, for some reason. Whatever happened to the holiday slowdown…? Other than it meaning that Civil War gets pushed back, of course.

52 WEEK THIRTY: Admit it – When you’ve sat around at home, wondering just how Batman stopped being a dick and got his batgroove back, you never imagined that it would include a group of demon killers with eyes on their fingers. This is an Okay issue; there were some good parts (I especially liked Robin’s conviction that Bruce Wayne had snapped and that his reason for taking he and Nightwing around the world was to train Nightwing to become the new Batman, and Batman’s “My soul is black” confession was curiously satisfying, in a weird way), but it wasn’t a story that really belonged in this title. I can see that it seemed like a good idea back when the book was first being planned out, but by this point, it felt less “And this is what’s going on with the more famous characters” than an interruption to the regular storylines that wasn’t entirely welcome. The only regular characters to appear were Montoya and the Question, and that plot has become less satisfying to me with the sudden introduction of the Question’s disease a few weeks back – a cough that has now caused him to become bedridden and days from death, despite his never showing any symptoms up until that point. I read this immediately after last week’s issue, and the difference between the two was very apparent – This was more deliberate and less interesting that seeing a homicidal egg kill people for laughing. The way forward for this book should be clear: Less icons, more freewheeling insanity.

BATMAN/THE SPIRIT #1: It’s Jeph Loeb week, apparently, what with this book (co-written and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke), Onslaught Reborn and his story in the Stan Lee book all coming out at the same time. For all I know, he wrote the Heroes episode that was on on Monday as well (Kate and I ended up watching the six-hour marathon of the first few episodes on Sci-Fi the other night and ending up hooked. Damn all of you who recommended the show to me). This is probably the best of his output, and a lot of that is down to Cooke’s involvement – even with the weakest script in existence, this would still be a beautiful book (That splash page with the Spirit in front of the falling signage that spelled his name… Ahhhh….). Luckily, the story lived up to the artwork, being wonderfully retro and goofy, refusing to take itself too seriously and zooming through a silly and enjoyable plot involving duel femme fatales and a policeman convention taking place next to a supervillain vacation spot in Hawaii. Part of the charm for me was that it was so goofy – There are probably some who feel that the first meeting of two comic icons like this should have been something much more self-important and full of meta-commentary about Will Eisner’s contributions to the medium or something, but the focus on fun and the speed and momentum of the storytelling felt a much more appropriate tribute. Very Good, and enough to make me very excited to see what Cooke comes up with on the new Spirit book that’s launching later this month.

CROSSING MIDNIGHT #1: Maybe it’s the title, which makes me think of some American indie movie about a white man discovering the native American experience or something – No, I don’t know why, either – but I wasn’t convinced by Mike Carey’s new Vertigo book, based on this first issue. It just didn’t come together for me, with the story feeling too overloded with expositionary narration and underloaded with, you know, things happening. Jim Fern’s artwork was surpisingly nice, though. Eh.

THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST #1: Or, as I just mistyped, The Immoral Iron Fist, which would be an entirely different book altogether (“Hail Hydra, you said? How much would Hydra pay to be hailed, exactly?”). But this particular book: WHEN TITANS CLASH! Ed Brubaker’s gritty realism meets Matt Fraction’s more-humorous experimentalism and the results will blow your mind. Or, at least, provide a Very Good first issue. You can see touches of both writers here – Brubaker’s very apparent in the structure, but you can see Fraction’s lightness of touch in the dialogue, and the two work off each other remarkably well. David Aja’s art has some really nice moments (his Luke Cage in one panel is weirdly hilarious), and gives the book a style unlike anything else in Marvel at the moment except for, maybe, Michael Lark’s work over on Daredevil. Maybe we’re seeing the start of an official Brubaker aesthetic…?

ONSLAUGHT REBORN #1: There’s a page in here, with a close-up of Franklin Richards as he’s holding some kind of magic ball that’s never explained, where you can see Rob Liefeld really trying as an artist. I’m not being sarcastic at all; the close-up is not a traditional Liefeldian face at all – there’s clearly been an attempt at observation into what people actually look like. Sadly, the same can’t be said of the rest of the book, which is full of exactly what you’d expect from a book that’s aimed directly at readers who thought that it was time to revisit Marvel’s creative lowest point. The story, too, is subpar, hitting all the points that people normally use to attack comics from the mid-90s: Nothing gets explained, and it’s presumed that you already know the backstory of Onslaught, Franklin Richards and the entire Heroes Reborn world… which, admittedly, may explain why the Fantastic Four is attacked by the world’s dumbest supervillain (Here’s a clue, Onslaught: If you can possess people, and one of the people who you’ve possessed is being suffocated by someone they’re fighting, then possess that other person to stop them doing it. Supervillain telepathy 101, people. Come on). It’s an Awful mess, albeit a brightly-colored one that’s probably exactly what the target audience wanted.

PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL #1: I don’t like the Punisher, I admit it. I think he’s a one-note character, and don’t really get his popularity outside of suspecting that a lot of people are projecting their desire to shoot a lot of other people onto him (Ian Brill, I’m talking to you, here). That said, there were two moments here that I found myself wanting to buy the next issue of this series, and both are down to Matt Fraction’s sense of humor. The first is the fairly minor use of the phrase “Government space gun,” which amuses me greatly for no immediately apparent reason, but the second was the monologue that finishes “And Russell Johnson played the Professor on Gilligan’s Island. Nobody gets me. Maybe it’s the big skull on my chest. I don’t know.” That’s all the indication I need that, just maybe, this book will have the right lack of reverence for the character after all. Good, and I really didn’t see that coming at all.

STAN LEE MEETS DOCTOR DOOM #1: Have you seen the cover to this? It’s as if Salvador Larocca thought “Doctor Doom? He’s just like Darth Vader. I’ll do a Star Wars thing.” Seriously, what’s with the space ships? Inside, it’s more of the same from the earlier Stan specials, more self-loathing, but with even less story… maybe the law of diminishing returns is starting to kick in, or perhaps it was asking a bit much for one joke to stretch across five different comics when it’s as weak a joke as this. For this one, the punchline is that Doom blames Stan for his bad reputation, until Stan proves that he’s a nobody nowadays by showing that he was Willie Lumpkin in the Fantastic Four movie. Uh… ha ha? Perhaps? The fact that the final book in the series has Stan meeting the Silver Surfer scares me, because I’m worred that it’s going to be the one where Stan gets serious and tries to be deep, and really, who wants to see that? (Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness do a back-up which is fine but pointless – although it does make me want to see McGuinness on the FF book from now on – but the star of the show is probably Tom Beland’s two page tribute to Stan, which manages to laud his achievements even as it makes fun of his showbox personalty). Okay.

ULTIMATE POWER #2: It’s Generic Marvel Plot #1: Heroes met, have a misunderstanding and fight. The problem is in the execution, which shows up just how mismatched Brian Michael Bendis and Greg Land are; Bendis’s thing is all about the dialogue, and even more than that, about the asides within the dialogue… It requires someone who can handle subtlety and body language well, and Greg Land, um, isn’t that guy. Much has been made about Land’s use of the photo reference, but his bigger fault to me is that he really can’t do anything other than melodramatic overacting – His characters never speak, they shout (especially his women, who more often than not, have their mouths wide open in full-on screaming mode), and that plays especially oddly when given Bendis dialogue. Characters don’t quip anymore, they kind of yell lines while women stand in the background with mouths agape and chests pushed out. It makes for bizarrely uncomfortable reading, as if The West Wing was performed by pornstars or something. Awful.

WONDER WOMAN #3: Can you imagine if this book had come out on time? I’d be able to tell you that it’s a well-done, Good story that actually turns out to take the “Who is Wonder Woman?” title in two different directions at once, with three characters making claim to the identity (Four if you include Hercules, who assumes the role without taking the name), while also examining what it means to be Wonder Woman (“I never called myself ‘Wonder Woman’. The press did. She’s an idea. A symbol. She’s not me.” “Ah, but symbols have power, Diana… and you have wasted yours.”), all against the backdrop of crazy superbattles with characters who are clearly introduced for new readers, and you wouldn’t be able to counter with, “Well, that’s be great if it didn’t take them three months between issues.” If you can ignore the delays, though, this is pretty much old school superheroics done right.

PICK OF THE WEEK, I think, would be Batman/Spirit, although Iron Fist comes a close second. PICK OF THE WEAK is Ultimate Power, which cements my wrongness for many people, because it means that I really genuinely think that something is better than a Jeph Loeb/Rob Liefeld book. I’m sorry, everyone who’s offended. TRADE OF THE WEEK is an old one, for me; Hibbs pushed the first ASTRO CITY trade, LIFE IN THE BIG CITY, into my hands this week after my review of the most recent issue last week, and God damn if it wasn’t everything he’d promised. I also picked up the first volume of SPIDER-MAN LOVES MARY JANE due to recommendations from Newsarama readers, and greatly enjoyed the soap operatics therein, as well.

What about the rest of you?

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