52 #52 (of 52) — Writers: Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid; Breakdowns: Giffen; Pencils: McCone, Justiniano, Barrows, Batista, Olliffe, Robertson; Inks: Lanning, Wong, Ramos, Geraci, Robertson
They did it: finished, with all the stories resolved, and satisfactorily, too. The 52-world multiverse seems a little wonky (instead of “Superboy punched the universe,” the worlds are now different because “Mr. Mind tried to eat us”?) but it’s made up for by all the little grace notes — especially the Dibneys becoming a combination of The Thin Man and Topper. Maybe the best thing about this series, in fact, has been the way the creators have played with our expectations: we kept expecting they’d do horrible things to the characters, but in the end everyone was treated with respect, everyone got some quality time in the spotlight, and all the toys got put back into the box for the next storyline — changed a little, but still intact. Impressive, and as a sustained, year-long effort by a single group, something that I don’t think will ever be duplicated.
Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil #3 (of 4) — Written and Drawn by: Jeff Smith
Moving along nicely. I like the way Tawney, as an advisor, doesn’t know everything, and can’t handle Billy’s impulsiveness; I also like the way Sivana’s evil sliminess is both scary and funny (“Ack! Too late! Eat the boy!”), something that no one but C.C. Beck has ever been able to nail before Smith. Reading this book makes me feel happy, and like I was 12 years old again; Smith deserves some sort of award just for that.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer #3 — Script: Joss Whedon; Pencils: Georges Jeanty; Inks: Andy Owens
The only criticism I can think of for this issue is that new readers will frequently have no clue what’s going on (“Wait — who’s that guy at the beginning?” “Wait — who’s that guy at the end?”), but even they might be intrigued enough by all the characters, their snappy dialogue and their relationships (both as enemies and as friends, and sometimes as both together) to want to stick around. The letters page notes that Whedon’s plans for the series have grown exponentially, and that it’s now planned at maybe 40 or 50 issues; as long as they can hit the character bits and move the action ahead like they do here, no one’s going to complain.
Astonishing X-Men #21 — Writer: Joss Whedon; Artist: John Cassaday
The coolest thing about Whedon is that he’s got the clever ideas, and he’s also able to nail the emotional beats; when he’s paired with a top artist, like Cassaday, they can do it with just a few words, and sometimes just a character’s expression (the Kitty/Peter fans are going to be liking one scene a lot, and the Scott/Emma relationship gets some good moments, too). You’d expect this kind of easy, familiar artistry in Buffy, with his own characters, but being able to deliver it with company-owned franchises like the X-People is a welcome bonus. I’m rapidly getting tired of the “Danger” construct, but otherwise this continues to be a smooth, professionally-delivered fun.
Strangers in Paradise #89 — Written and Drawn by: Terry Moore
Most of the important stuff looks like it’s resolved in this penultimate issue, leaving the curtain calls and bows for next month’s finale. As the characters themselves note, having Francine undress in public offers a nice circular touch, since it was what kicked off the first issue of this series, almost 14 years ago, and shows just how far everyone (especially Moore himself) has grown during those years. This book will be finished, but not gone; it’ll be a classic seller in the trade collections for a long, long time.
Jonah Hex #19 — Writers: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti; Art: Phil Noto
Three months in the life of a bounty hunter, pared down to six scenes and two lightly-connected plots. I like the cheerful efficiency of this style (and liked it a few years ago, when Christopher Priest was using it in his books, too, especially the late, lamented Quantum and Woody), and the way it lets the creators focus on just the bits that reveal the most about Hex’s character, and its effect on the people around him. Still the best existential western out there, mining the same ground as Loveless, just as grim but somehow with a much lighter and easier touch.
Hellboy: Darkness Calls #1 (of 6): — Writer: Mike Mignola; Art: Duncan Fegredo
Fegredo delivers on the art; the characters are appropriately eerie, and he’s able to duplicate the Mignola obsession with small details and atmosphere-enhancing placement of blacks in the inking, too. This first issue of the current arc has been widely anticipated, and it’s worth the wait, delivering wizards, witches, decaying castles, dark forests, the undead, and lots of Hellboy — typical high-quality storytelling, straight from Mignola’s weird head.
The Incredible Hulk #106 — Writer: Greg Pak; Penciler: Gary Frank; Inker: John Sibal
No actual Hulk this issue, as all the other players on Earth choose sides, make alliances and get into place for the Big Guy’s eventual return. What makes this book is Frank’s art; from the small facial expressions to the big two-page hero splashes, he’s able to communicate the information and nail the emotions better than just about any other mainstream artist out there right now.