Hey Kids! Comics! 7/12/01

Each week we let you know about the comics we buy and tell you which ones you should buy. Trust us.

The Adventures of Superman #594
The Doomsday Protocol
writer: Joe Casey, pencils: Mike Wieringo, inks: Stucker

Told with a heavy use of parallel flashback, this issue finds Superman facing the unthinkable. With the war being so desperate, President Luthor has enlisted Doomsday to fight Imperiex. A grim Supes searches through the rubble of the JLA Watchtower, encountering fallen members of the Suicide Squad and a terribly injured Steel. An hour earlier, he argues with Luthor over the merits of this decision. But war is hell, after all.

Casey’s use of the flashback actually does a good job of building up the suspense, even though, as has been common all summer, the cover pretty much blows his surprise. Actually, so does the title. But anyone with half a brain saw this coming back in the Batman cross-over. What else could the Doomsday Protocol be? Instead, we have to focus on the political maneuverings and the desperation of the situation. This works extremely well, and it’s aided by some really good layouts by Wieringo and Stuckey. It all culminates in a huge fight sequence that, for a change, doesn’t feel like a waste of time and space.

Unfortunately for this fanboy, Luthor confirms that Aquaman got killed last week. I still have hope, but then, I’m a dreamer.

Appropriately, this issue is crucial to the overall storyline, and you won’t be sorry to have bought it.

The Amazing Spider-Man #33 or 474
All Fall Down
writer: J. Michael Straczynski, pencils: John Romita, Jr., inks: Scott Hanna

This has been building for a couple of months, and Straczynski does not let us down. Spidey tackles Morlun for the first time (or vice-versa), and it’s a frightening showdown that takes up most of the issue. And should.

Morlun proves as dangerous an enemy as Ezekiel suggested, but surprisingly also proves to be an interesting one. Implacable as he fights, Morlun has an aura of what manga fans might call “the honorable enemy.” Not that Peter cares about that. Straczynski focuses on the two, and falters a little bit with Spider-Man himself. While taking advantage of the fact that Peter never gives up, the writer does fall into a few clichés. How many times have we heard Peter give this speech? “Listen, buddy, I’ve fought every kind of nutball on the planet. I’ve fought freaks, mutants, aliens and high-tech gangs…heck, I’ve fought my own costume. And you know what? You’re the first one who’s really ticked me off.”

It’s just not true. Peter has been ticked off plenty of times.

Regardless, this remains one of the strongest books on the market. Buy it.

Crux #4
untitled
writer: Mark Waid, pencils: Steve Epting, inks: Rick Magyar

Atlantean team leader Capricia uses Galvan and Gammid in an attempt to raise Atlantis. However, The Negation proves much smarter than our intrepid six had surmised, and divert the twins’ power into creating a dimensional gate. The result? Waves upon waves of Negation, out to finish the job of destroying all life (or rather, the six) on Earth. Only the child Verityn holds all the answers, but of course, he’s usually too busy playing games.

Mark Waid demands a lot out of the reader. Whether it’s pseudo-science or not, he spends a lot of time explaining how things work in this world. It requires careful close reading without being too cryptic. Crux is not a book for those who just want fight scenes, or cool art, though they’re both here. Epting and Magyar do a great job of illustrating this world, and making all of its characters recognizably different. Most impressively, the architecture looks sufficiently different, and noticeably weathered. The creative team has built a world that we can believe.

We haven’t ventured deeper into the Cross-Gen universe yet, but if Crux remains this strong, it’s only a matter of time.

Daredevil #19
Wake Up
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artist: David Mack

One thing’s for sure: this book looks beautiful. Mack’s painting remains consistently good, though after last week’s Oni Special, he might want to find a few new tricks. To complement him, Bendis has spun an intriguing, if a little naïve, story of child abuse which comes to a head here.

Even with the gorgeous artwork, this storyline feels like it has been one issue too long. The answers to what has really been happening should come as no surprise. All in all, the structure of this story was told better years ago by Roger Stern in The Kid Who Collected Spider-Man. Of course, this version has a grittier feel, which suits Bendis just fine. But he can do better. And according to the letters page, he will. After a short run by (we’ll assume) Back To The Future creator Bob Gale, Bendis has decided to return indefinitely. There may be great things ahead for Daredevil.

We’ll be there.

Detective Comics #760
Unknowing, part three
writer: Greg Rucka, pencils: Shawn Martinbrough, inks: Jesse Delperdang

The uneasy alliance between Bruce Wayne’s bodyguard Sasha and Batman continues. Only time will tell if he can adequately utilize her skills and the extra identity protection she affords. With Alfred gone, a nominal “civilian” could prove useful. It’s still sketchy, though, as Sasha oversteps her orders to help defeat The Mad Hatter. And just as she reaches a crucial decision, a long overdue dangling plotline returns to mess things up.

At last, Rucka finally manages to make Jervis Tetch seem menacing. Chaos is his goal, and Rucka makes clear that chaos reigns in his mind. With the clever plans that Bat-villains always seem to have, it’s rare that we get a good reminder of how nuts they all are.

Martinbrough and Delperdang continue to mesh well on the art. Though Delperdang tends to be a blocky inker, it works here, adding to the overall stylized feel of the book. If it was the only vision of Batman we had each month, it might get tiring (as the cartoony Superman gets as it creeps into each of his books).

The back-up feature, Trail of the Catwoman, continues to be intriguing, and does a good job of filling in backstory without slowing down the narrative. As a bridge to the upcoming Catwoman re-launch, it may get a few new readers interested.

Harley Quinn #10
Brilliant Mistake
writer: Karl Kesel, pencils: Terry Dodson, inks: Rachel Dodson

Still allegedly with a contract out on her life, Harley has to face a money-hungry Killer Croc (who apparently is somewhat smart again – it’s hard keeping track of his I.Q. changes). They fight in a bowling alley, allowing Harley to show some real fighting ingenuity and spark. Even with her enhanced strength, Croc will not be a pushover.

In order to hide from all those out to get her, Harley hatches a brilliant plan: become the new Batgirl. Of course, there already is one, but Harley does not know that. When the old and the new face the faux, sparks have to fly.

Kesel writes one fun book, and really thinks out the consequences of Harley’s actions. The Bat-team that shows up here are very protective of their identities as such, and prove that not just anyone gets to call themselves a member. Ironically, Batman himself doesn’t seem to care, as he’s working from within the Quinntets in his guise as Matches Malone. It’s also good to see the Dodsons back after a month off. Though not the point of the book, they do draw some of the best-looking people in comics – and not just the women.

Harley should be proud. This book has deservedly lasted two issues longer than The Joker’s did, and shows no signs of stopping.

Hellboy: Conqueror Worm #3 of 4
story and art: Mike Mignola

Once again, Mignola brings it all: Nazis, horrible monsters, robots, ghosts, demons, and intelligent apes. Sorry to be glib on this book, but really, that sentence alone should get you to buy it.

And frankly, the mystery of Lobster Johnson has me on edge.

JLA: Incarnations #3
Like A Tombstone In The Sky
writer: John Ostrander, pencils: Val Semeiks, inks: Prentis Rollins

After The Joker tricks Snapper Carr into betraying the League (one piece of continuity remaining blissfully consistent in this post-Hypertime world), they have to create a new base of operations. The JLA combines forces to build the legendary satellite. But one member just isn’t happy about it: a very vocal Oliver Queen. While he very publicly dissents, Luthor helps Kobra plan an attack on the satellite for his own nefarious purposes.

This issue Ostrander does a good job of retconning new attitudes into old storylines. He has an almost unwieldy League roster here, which can be fun. The focus, however, remains on Green Arrow. And why not? Let us enjoy his new-found fan favorite status. Superman takes a back seat, and Batman barely appears, which takes care of some of the awkwardness of trying to play it both ways with these characters. Either they are members or they’re not, and DC editorial doesn’t want to decide. Semeiks and Rollins do a more consistent job with this issue, too. Thankfully, they’ve decided that Zatanna’s stupid costume from her ’70’s JLA tenure no longer exists; here she wears the costume that echoes her father. How that top hat stays on in battle is a mystery for the ages, but she just doesn’t work any other way. The artists do seem to have a phobia about drawing The Atom at anything less than full-size, and Hawkman sure waves his mace around at inappropriate moments, but that’s quibbling. This is solid work.

Next issue threatens to be about the dumbest phase of the JLA – Aquaman’s Detroit League. But in Ostrander’s hands, it might just be interesting.

Just A Pilgrim #5
Pilgrim’s Progress
writer: Garth Ennis, artist: Carlos Ezquerra

Ennis brings it all home with “The Battle of the Titanic.” Castenado proves even more sick and disgusting, and draws the obvious parallel between himself and The Pilgrim. And finally, Gonadman gets his just desserts.

This issue eschews a lot of the humor that has run through the series, allowing a grim tone for a grim event. One thing to be said for Ennis: even in his predictability, he’s unpredictable, as this book reaches a conclusion that readers may not want, but makes perfect sense.

Though he promises more adventures of The Pilgrim, Ennis has taken the smart way and will be making us wait awhile until the next one. In hands like his, comics may be taking the right step, and appearing only when there’s a story to tell, not just for the sake of telling a story.

Martian Manhunter #34
In My Life, Part Two
writer: John Ostrander, pencils: Eduardo Barreto, inks: Ray Kryssing

Why do all New Gods stories read the same? The forces of Apokolips capture a tribe/group/race (in this case, the Martians). A lone hero escapes and does what he can to harry the Parademons. Himon leads him to safety. They free the children from Granny Goodness’ orphanage. Then Highfather sends an emissary to remind Darkseid of the pact. Yawn. We’ve fallen into the Fourth World trap again.

In his efforts to make J’onn J’onnz integral to the history of the DC Universe, Ostrander has ended up making him integrally boring. Maybe nobody can inject new life into Kirby’s original ideas, but could somebody please try? Even artists feels a need to ape Kirby when drawing his characters. Barreto and Kryssing don’t do it consistently, but it keeps creeping in.

With only two more issues left, it will be hard to mourn this book. Perhaps J’onn is best left as a team player; the less we knew about him, the more interesting he seemed to be.

New X-Men #115
E Is For Extinction, 2 of 3
writer: Grant Morrison, pencils: Frank Quitely, inks: Townsend & Morales

Down Argentine way, the latest heir to Trask has taken command of the Master Mold. Only just as he accepts his legacy, a DNA-absorbing mutant (looking disturbingly like Xavier in drag) eats his genetics. Now an evil mutant controls the Sentinels, and seems bent on nothing less than the genocide of her own people. As luck would have it, Cyclops, Wolverine and Ugly John pass by in their jet. The Sentinels bring them down, and it becomes a fight for survival in this remote jungle area.

Though the plot does still leave a few details fuzzy, Morrison writes a far more coherent story here than he ever did in JLA. His grasp on characterization remains strong; it looks like Xavier may become interesting again without being melodramatic. On the art side, Quitely finally has some inkers who tone down his rough spots while letting his strengths shine through. Bless the man for remembering that Scott carries the nickname “Slim” for a reason. At the same time, Quitely is the first artist to convince me there’s a reason to call Scott “Cyclops.” And his Wolverine is just cool.

Buy this book or the inevitable trade. If you looked at X-books after the movie and couldn’t understand what the fuss was about, you will now.

Nightwing #59
Where’s Freddy Minh?
writer: Chuck Dixon, pencils: Rick Leonardi, inks: Jesse Delperdang

If you must buy one Nightwing comic this month, this is the one. For the first time in a while, Dixon remembers that Nightwing has detective skills, and provides a good change of pace issue.

Dick feels a sudden need to track down the man who runs Bludhaven’s drug trade. Using both of his identities, he follows an interesting trail that does much to illustrate the character of his adopted town. The answer to his quest hearkens back many, many issues, and (not a spoiler) actually has nothing to do with Blockbuster, Soames, or Nite-Wing. Thank you, Chuck Dixon.

Guest artist Rick Leonardi gets poorly served here. Normally a very fluid penciller, he gets inked by the very blocky, thick-lined Jesse Delperdang. The inker’s work fits fine on Detective (see above), but just comes off as aping Klaus Janson here. It’s not a pretty teaming.

Though this issue does resolve a dangling plot thread, it feels like it could fit anywhere in continuity. Why didn’t DC just shelve this for a month and run the Our Worlds At War tie-in? Which brings us to…

Nightwing: Our Worlds At War #1
Die, Die, and Die Again
writer: Chuck Dixon, pencils: Rick Leonardi, inks: John Lowe

Warning: this book will steal your money.

The season finale of Voyager told a more coherent time-travel story. Barbara Gordon detects a time-related computer virus, calls Dick for help, and then discovers the virus intends to kill her if she continues to interfere with it. In order to get away from her possible deaths (which the virus projects holographically as a warning), Barbara intends to hide in another era with the help of S.T.A.R. labs.

Ever the protective boyfriend, Nightwing hops along for the ride, and the two avoid a variety of assassination attempts throughout history. So rote does this become that even Dixon tires of it, and reduces several attempts to a two-page montage no more or less interesting than the seven detailed pages that precede it. After all is said and done, Barbara accomplishes nothing, comes no closer to defeating the virus, and walks away. Had she done nothing in the first place, the same result would occur. And again, the book only obliquely references the overall story arc of the summer.

Why does this book exist? Simply to get an extra $2.95 out of us.

Powers #12
untitled
writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artist: Mike Avon Oeming

Our heroes investigate the death of Olympia, a Superman-like character without quite as much of a moral code. Of course, no easy answers reveal themselves, but we do get to explore the concept of the superhero groupie.

Powers sometimes reads like a grittier Astro City, though the comparison doesn’t quite do it justice. Bendis definitely has his own vibe here, and explores the “cult of personality” that must pop up around superheroes far deeper than Busiek would (or would if Busiek would EVER write Astro City again). Oeming even provides a tabloid cover; this really is a world where the heroes are super-celebrities without being the a-holes that X-Force looks to be.

Even when you’re unsure where it’s going, Powers never disappoints.

The Punisher #2
Does Whatever A Spider Can
writer: Garth Ennis, pencils: Steve Dillon, inks: Jimmy Palmiotti

After creating possibly the creepiest villain ever in Tangled Web, Ennis re-visits the wallcrawler and abuses him beyond belief. And even Spider-Fans will have to let it go. They’ll be laughing too hard not to.

Proving what a complete bad-a** Frank Castle is, we see him come into complete acceptance of his impending death as he plummets off of a building. A familiar web stops him, but before Spider-Man can start a fight, The Russian attacks them both. Well, actually, being somewhat of a superhero fan, The Russian actually tries to focus on The Punisher and has to keep brushing Spider-Man off.

This was not the team-up one might expect. Ennis turns the tired pairing upside down (The Punisher did, after all, start out as a Spider-Man supporting character). Please, Mister Ennis, bring Daredevil into these pages. We’ll still respect him in the morning. We promise.

Dillon and Palmiotti do draw the more popular muscular Spider-Man than has been portrayed in his own title recently, but that only makes his confrontation with The Russian funnier. Very few “serious” artists draw comedy as well as Dillon, and obviously, teaming with Ennis suits him just fine.

If you hold your heroes on a pedestal, stay away from this book. But you’ll be doing yourself a disservice.

Rising Stars #1/2
Special
writer: J. Michael Straczynski, pencils: Christian Zanier, inks: Livesay & Nelson

If you bought the Wizard version, skip this. If not, take a look, as Image has provided a new cover by new penciller Brent Anderson. It belies the truly awful art inside.

Rising Stars deservedly has a reputation as a great story. With Anderson on board, the art should start getting noticed, too. But Zanier may be remembered as one of the last vestiges of artist-driven books, when fans drooled after a bunch of guys who drew strangely alike, and turned out to be not so good at things like composition and proportion. Man, could they do pin-ups.

The actual story, though, is a touching flashback to the childhood of The Specials, with a normal boy insisting that he has demonstrated powers. It’s a touching vignette, expanding upon an allusion in an early issue of Rising Stars, and it proves (like this needed proving) that Straczynski is a master storyteller.

As a bonus, Image runs an interview with Straczynski in the back. We’ll quibble over the price being a little steep, but not much.

Uncanny X-Men #396
The Glamorous Life
writer: Joe Casey, pencils: Ian Churchill, inks: Rapman and Stucker

The team encounters a slaughter of mutants in London, the work of the mysterious Mr. Clean. Across town, Jonathon Starsmore, aka Chamber, becomes a media darling as Sugar Kane’s boytoy. Of course, the two worlds just have to meet.

While dealing with an oft-worn X-plot, Casey has managed to provide a fresh viewpoint. The point here isn’t so much the prejudice; we’ve seen that too many times. Instead, by using Chamber, Casey seems far more interested in who among the X-Men really isn’t experiencing the prejudice. Chamber points out that Cyclops, for example, actually looks cool by society’s standards, as long as he’s not shooting lasers from his eyes.

Churchill continues underscoring Casey’s theme well, but unfortunately, he plans to leave the book soon. He will be missed.

All the X-books are revitalized. Damn Marvel. It’s like falling off the wagon.

Wildcats #25
Hard Lies Vendetta
writer: Joe Casey, artist: Sean Phillips

LAPD Captain Pacheco appears very, very nervous. Just last issue he convinced Spartan to be on call to help him achieve justice. And yet this does not satisfy him. Something makes him sweat, and the news that the LAPD will soon be conducting random drug tests sets him off even further.

At the Halo Corporation, Noir continues his acts of sedition, contracting some muscle to help him. Hopefully unfortunately for him, one of his thugs frequents a prostitute who looks suspiciously like Zealot. We shall see.

Wildcats may be one of the best series ever to come out of a truly wretched (though popular) series. Though it still acts like a superhero book, it isn’t. Casey makes it play out as thriller, police procedural, with science fiction mostly an afterthought. He has characters with amazing abilities, but if they don’t make a big deal about it, why should we? In a sly joke, the only Wildcat who insists on wearing his old outfit is Grifter, the one character without any enhanced abilities.

Rumor has it that this book will soon become a “Mature Readers Only” flagship. It’s only a formality. Only mature readers are buying it.

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About Derek McCaw
In addition to running Fanboy Planet, Derek has written for ActionAce, Daily Radar, Once Upon A Dime, and The Wave. He has contributed stories to Arcana Comics (The Greatest American Hero) and Monsterverse Comics (Bela Lugosi's Tales from the Grave). He performs with ComedySportz San Jose and ShakesBEERience, in addition to occasional screenwriting and acting jobs. If you ever played Eric's Ultimate Solitaire on the Macintosh, it was Derek's voice as The Weasel that urged you to play longer. You can buy his book "I Was Flesh Gordon" on the Amazon link at the right. Email him at editor@fanboyplanet.com.