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We can’t take our eyes off your t-shirt and ties combination: Graeme finishes up last week’s books just in time.

Graeme McMillan

So many comics, and really, so little time. With Countdown launching tomorrow, I feel I should try and get at least some of the biggies from last week out the way today, so bear with me if I rush through some…

AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE #2: Wow, it’s like this book was written to piss my little liberal self off. Not only do we get George W. Bush as Real American Hero (“I’m not going anywhere. I made a promise to the American people… that during this time a’ war, they’d be safe at home. So the last thing I’m gonna so… is cut’n’run from mine.”), but we also get more Hydra as super-terrorists, just like last issue, and a repeat of the talking point that pissed me off when it appeared in Iron Man: “For years we’ve called men like Hank super heroes, ’cause they have powers the rest of us don’t. But today, serving as part of our proud military… he and his fellow Initiative members are now takin’ on the role of real heroes!” This advertisement of our military also contains a character demanding that another character should be “Fighting for your country! Holding the line! No matter what the cost!”, and the whole thing leaves a really weird taste in my mouth. If it wasn’t for the fact that the book, politics aside, is a dull and uninvolving mess, I’d feel more conflicted about calling it Crap. As it is, though, I kind of wonder how I would’ve felt about it had I been more of a Fox News viewer.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: SEASON EIGHT #3: And back to the whole “You’ve really got to know your show to get the big last page reveal” thing from #1, which even gets some commentary on the letters page – A shame, because up until then, I’d been really enjoying the showdown between the newly-returned Willow and Amy. Sure, the last page reveal is very similar to an act-out on the show, but still – Bah. Good, though.

HELLBOY: DARKNESS CALLS #1: Just another example of Mike Mignola’s debt to Michael Jackson’s seminal “Thriller,” this is the series where Duncan Fegredo takes over the art chores on the man with the big red right hand, and… well… it looks better for it. Don’t get me wrong; I like Mignola’s boldness, sense of design and use of blacks, but Fegredo manages to take all of that and fold it into something that works better as narrative – add that to Dave Stewart’s colors and you have a beautiful book in service of a somewhat frustrating first chapter; Mignola’s writing has a wonderful shaggy dog quality to it at best, but this feels more scattered than usual. Good, but I wish it had a stronger story for the art to support.

THE INCREDIBLE HULK #106: Or, World War Hulk, part 1. And as much as I didn’t want to like this, it’s actually pretty Good. Most of that falls on the shoulders of new cast member Mastermind Excello, teenager and seventh-smartest-person-alive, who is pretty personable for a walking McGuffin who goes around to let people know just what happened to take the Hulk offplanet. He’s also one of the best things about WORLD WAR HULK PROLOGUE: WORLDBREAKER – the main feature is a pretty boring recap of just why the Hulk should hate the people who pushed him off the planet, but the two back-ups (a reprint of Mastermind’s first appearance, and a Mini-Marvels recap of Planet Hulk) are almost worth the price of admission by themselves; if the majority of the book had been that good, then this would’ve been more than a high Okay.

THE SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #1: It had to happen. In the middle of unmasking and Aunt May being shot and “Back In Black” and everything else that Marvel have been doing to poor Peter Parker over the last few years, it was only a matter of time before they did the unexpected and gave us a really surprisingly good Spider-Man story that actually reads as if it’s the same characters that you grew up reading. Credit Matt Fraction, who manages to make the current Spider-set-up work in a way that no-one else working with the character has managed, and immediately makes you wish that he was doing this on a regular basis – He writes a story that isn’t about changing the status quo or how Spider-Man beats up the latest generic bad guy, but a story about what Spider-Man’s meant to be about: family and responsibility. That he also makes you not only believe in the “controversial” (to, um, someone…?) marriage to Mary-Jane but root for it seems like an equally impressive task until you realize that he does it just by making MJ seem like a person in her own right as opposed to a robot who has two tasks (Being fanboy masturbatory material and saying “Oh, Peter…” when Spider-Man is upset). The only letdown for the book is Salvador Larocca’s art, which (when he’s not doing an admittedly very good job of aping John Romita Sr.) is dead on the page, despite a nice coloring job by Paco Roca. Released just in time for a movie that some of y’all might’ve heard of, this is Very Good and easily the best Spider-Man comic that Marvel have done in a long, long time.

SHAZAM!: THE MONSTER SOCIETY OF EVIL #3: It’s the bizarro twin of Avengers: Initiative, as Dr. Sivana appears all-but-wearing an “I represent the Bush regime” t-shirt and saying things like “What’s this, little girl? The alien creatures are really giant robots?All the more reason to keep them around a while longer. Robots are just machines – – tools for powerful men. Tools of war. And war… is profitable.” The unsubtle contemporary political dig feels out of place in the otherwise timeless, child-friendly story, and kind of overbalances this penultimate issue. Yes, it’s still Very Good, but less than before, if that makes sense.

SUPERMAN #662: Ahhh, Kurt Busiek – You manage to follow up Arion’s prophecy of doom with an issue of Superman actually, you know, thinking about shit and it’s still really pretty damn Good. It’s a weirdly fun breather issue, and not just because Zatanna makes an appearance and seems to be post-Seven Soldiers for once; you get a nice idea of who Superman is in how he deals with this kind of pressure, and it’s not the passive do-gooder of myth. I’m still wondering where the story is going overall, and I could’ve done without the appearance of Chris from Action, but, Kurt yet again proves why he’s the best writer for the Man of Steel not called Morrison in a lonnnnnng time.

SUPERNATURAL ORIGINS #1: I don’t watch the TV show – known in this household as “Look! It’s Dean from Gilmore Girls trying to look mean!” – so this first issue left me confused and cold, especially with writing that isn’t particularly tuned into the comic form yet (The psychic scene would’ve worked a lot better on TV, where the narration wouldn’t have been so superfluous, for example). Eh, but who knows what a Supernatural fan would’ve thought?

Surprise PICK OF THE WEEK? Sensational Spider-Man Annual – Fraction is pretty much on fire these days, I think, so expect him to completely flame out and start writing some Avengers/Alpha Flight/X-Men Ultimate crossover within the next year or so. PICK OF THE WEAK is Supernatural Origins, because, really, Jared Padalecki’s pout doesn’t reproduce well on the comic page. What did everyone else read this week, anyway?

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