Phil’s Reviews — Stuff I Bought #173

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #3 (of 6) — Writer: Grant Morrison;  Pencils: Yanick Paquette;  Inks: Michel Lacombe

Joe the Barbarian #6 ( of 8 ) — Writer: Grant Morrison;  Art: Sean Murphy

Two from Morrison this week: B:ROBW, after what felt like a shaky beginning, has been getting better and better, as Our Hero time-hops closer and closer to the present, but his eventual revival may be part of a Darkseid uber-plot. Little of that’s covered this issue, though; instead, we get pirates, including Blackbeard and DC’s own Black Pirate. Yarrr!  Morrison’s clearly having fun with it, while simultaneously telling an exciting story — and, next issue, it’s Jonah Hex vs. the Bat-Rider, which should offer similar thrills. Joe the Barbarian, meanwhile, continues to cover its title character’s struggle to survive in the real world while saving a possibly-hallucinatory fantasyland, in a story that, while epic on its own terms, is both smaller and more personal than the cosmic corporate-superhero goings-on in the Bat-series. Morrison’s casual ease in telling both tales so effectively demonstrates why he’s one of modern comics’ premier writers.

Avengers #2 — Writer: Brian Michael Bendis;  Pencils: John Romita Jr.;  Inks: Klaus Janson

Powers #5 — Writer: Brian Michael Bendis;  Art: Mike Avon Oeming

Two by Bendis, who doesn’t have Morrison’s far-reaching skills at evocative theme or poetic description, but brings his own pulp energy to his scripts (as a fan of pre-1970s science fiction, I think of Morrison as Ray Bradbury, and Bendis as… Jack Vance? Isaac Asimov? Somebody with Big Concepts and straight-ahead, realistic plotting and dialogue, anyway…).  Avengers is his corporate superhero romp, and between the Kang and Future Hulk cameos, the sly Back to the Future II-ish plot (Avengers! There’s something wrong with your kids!), a crazy Wonder Man and the Kree Wonder Boy/Captain Marvel (all drawn very prettily and effectively by Romita Jr./Janson, who have to be Marvel’s best go-to house artists right now), there’s plenty to like. Powers is the more personal, smaller-scale Bendis book (this issue mostly takes place as its main character, dumped by a girlfriend, drinks in a bar), but its noir sensibilities (its original concept, as a police-procedural set in a world of capes — Hill Street Blues with super-powers — was startling and hugely influential when it debuted ten years ago) carry it along, and the deep affection for the characters, and sense of a vast, well-realized world beyond the panels, make it worth reading.

Superman #700 — (1st story): Writer: James Robinson;  Art: Bernard Chang;  (2nd story): Writer/Layouts: Dan Jurgens;  Finishes: Norm Rapmund;  (3rd story): Writer: J. Michael Straczynski;  Pencils: Eddy Barrows;  Inks: J.P. Mayer

Not a bad setup for an anniversary issue: the first story is an epilogue to the previous year’s continuity, as Lois and Clark reunite after all the New Krypton stuff; the middle story is a flashback team-up between Superman and the Dick Grayson Robin; the final piece is a prologue to the next arc, “Grounded,” by the book’s new creative team, which apparently will involve Superman walking around and connecting with the common people, instead of flying above them. That’s a typical Straczynski riff, and fair enough, although this story’s triggering device — a woman slaps Superman because he was off saving the planet instead of available to operate on her husband’s “inoperable” brain tumor — comes off as forced and artificial (I immediately flashed back to Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams and their Old Black Guy saying to Hal Jordan “You’ve helped the blue people, and the green ones… but what about the black folk?” Dramatic, but nonsensical as soon as you stop to think about it… but, then, that led to some classic stories, and while Barrows is no Neal Adams, he’s got an appealing, realistic style that should mesh well with what Straczynski’s trying to accomplish here, so we’ll have to see.

Amazing Spider-Man #635 — Writer: Joe Kelly;  Art: Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano; Art Assist: Matt Southworth; (2nd story): Writer: J.M. DeMatteis;  Art: Max Fiumara

We’re finally past the Gauntlet stuff into the actual Grim Hunt story, and it’s not bad — Kelly’s a decent writer, and Lark/Gaudiano’s shadowy pulp style, which worked to such great effect during their Daredevil run, fits the dark goings-on here well, too. Many Bad Things happen, and the end result, after all the other reinventions/resurrections of Spidey’s Rogues Gallery lately, is the return of… exactly whom you’d expect. OK so far, although I’m hoping this only goes on for another two or three issues; any more than that will just dilute its impact, and make it too bloated to be effective.

X-Men: Legacy #237 — Writer: Mike Carey;  Pencils: Greg Land;  Inks: Jay Leisten

Speaking of long stories — although, for an X-crossover, this has been reasonably brisk, and well-coordinated,  with its “all the mutants are trapped and fighting for their lives” bit making it seem like something’s actually at stake (even if the “deaths” so far have caused more eye-rolling than tear-shedding). Here, at Chapter 12 of 14, everything’s coming to a head, and Carey and Land are good at hitting the appropriate character and plot beats, giving readers some emotional high points, and then handing the tale off to the next team.

Battlefields #7 — Writer: Garth Ennis;  Art: Russ Braun

The first of a three-part sequel to Ennis’s Night Angels arc of a few years ago, following a Russian woman fighter pilot during W.W. II. She was one of the only cast members to get out of that first story alive, which doesn’t bode well for her in this one (that’s the way these war tales usually work), but the art is clean, detailed and accurate, and, as always with Ennis, the story itself is thoughtful, well-researched, unsentimental in its depiction of battle, and very human.

Legion of Super-Heroes #2 — Writer: Paul Levitz;  Pencils: Yildiray Cinar and Francis Portela;  Inks: Wayne Faucher and Francis Portela

Levitz has slipped back into the writing chores on this book as easily as putting on a comfortable old pair of shoes, and, at least at AABC, it seems to be paying off in good sales. Good for him, and for Legion fans, who deserve a well-told, multi-level space soap opera superhero book as much as anyone. May it last as long, and be remembered as fondly, as his previous run on the title 25 years ago.

Phil Mateer

About Phil

With 40 years of experience in comic reading, collecting and reviewing, English Professor Phil Mateer has an encyclopedic mind for comics. Feel free to ask Phil about storylines, characters, artists or for that matter, any comic book trivia. He will post your questions and answers on the AABC blog. His knowledge is unparalleled! He is also our warehouse manager, so if you are looking for that hard to find comic book, ask Phil!
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