Criminal #6 — Writer: Ed Brunaker; Artist: Sean Phillips
Best comic of the week, and a great jumping-on point for new readers, since it’s the start of a completely new story, with new characters. Settle into the seedy story of Tracy Lawless, AWOL from the military and looking for revenge for the death of his kid brother, a petty criminal who died under mysterious circumstances. He’s the protagonist of the story; “hero” would be pushing it, since the first time we see him he’s killing a man who, while far from innocent, probably doesn’t deserve it. Phillips’ art is effectively shadowy, sticking to a three-tier grid that tells the story clearly and effortlessly, and anyone with any interest in crime fiction should try this book. My only complaint is that the one woman character is a chain-smoker, and that this seems to be Brubaker’s/Phillips’ shorthand for bad girls, all the way back to Sleeper — every female who’s tough is constantly wreathed in cigarette smoke. Yeah, it’s a way of giving the characters something visual to do, a bit of stereotypically-sexy stage business, but can’t we occasionally have, like, a vegetarian who gnaws on carrot sticks or something?
Madman #2 — Writer/Artist: Michael Allred
Ah… so last issue wasn’t the “everything you know is wrong” new start that it appeared (told you so — go back and see). We still get mostly Frank in the surreal trippy dimension, but we also get to see the regular cast, and the reveal about what — or who — is really causing the problem. This seems more comfortable and assured than the first issue, now that the intros and recaps and other getting-back-into-harness stuff is out of the way, and the odds look a lot better that it’ll be a worthy addition to the Madman canon. If you only know Allred from, say, X-Statix, or his other mainstream work, you owe it to yourself to check out this, his signature character, and see why it made his reputation.
The Spirit #6 — Writer/Penciller: Darwyn Cooke; Inker: J. Bone
This issue seems a little… off — the second in a row — although “off” for this title is only in comparison to the first couple of issues, which were just stunning in their storytelling skill; let’s emphasize that this is still better than 90% of the other books out there. Still, the whole “blue meteorite” plot seems hard to absorb, especially with its heavy-handed analogies to drug usage. It’s one of those stories where the Spirit is only on the fringes of the action, but such tales require super-strong concepts and characters to work (see: Gerhard Schnobble), and this story of August Blue and the punk-rock girls band just doesn’t quite cut it.
Captain America #26 — Writer: Ed Brubaker; Penciler: Steve Epting; Inks: Perkins
A nicely-done comic; Brubaker and Epting’s solid storytelling makes it easy to follow, even though it’s been over two months since the last issue, and it holds up to the pressure of all those extra, curious readers by calmly spotlighting its characters and their reactions to Cap’s death, moving along its subplots, and keeping the pulp pot boiling. As I said with Cap #25: we’re lucky to have this creative team on what’s now become a showcase book, because in less-skillful hands stuff like the autopsy scene, or the wakes, could have been completely cheesy. Instead, it’s competent and entertaining, and ought to keep bringing those new readers back to see what happens next.
Iron Man: Hypervelocity #5 (of 6) — Writer/Layouts: Adam Warren; Art: Brian Denham
The Iron Man suit containing all that’s left of Tony Stark — his downloaded, disembodied consciousness — is under attack from Shield gunships, while inside the armor’s “brain” Stark is fighting “sentient viral hackware” that’s aiming to overwrite his memories with those of a green-haired cyberchick. Lots of thrusts, parries and counter-thrusts, as we rocket toward the conclusion of the best Iron Man story in a while, one that, thankfully, contains neither the words “Civil” nor “War” anywhere in it (well, at least not capitalized, or together…).
Fantastic Four #546 — Writer: Dwayne McDuffie; Penciler: Paul Pelletier; Inkers: Rick Magyar and Scott Hanna
This “new” FF is working out — T’Challa makes a good substitute Reed, since what he lacks in technological skill (although he doesn’t lack much) he makes up in sheer tactical wizardry; McDuffie even resurrects the Priest-era idea of him having a “Galactus Contingency Plan,” which, given the circumstances, is fortuitous. Between that, King Solomon’s frogs, the resurrected Gravity, and even a few pages of Reed and Sue, this is just the kind of rollicking cosmic adventure that the book needs.
Countdown #49 — Writers: Paul Dini with Tony Bedard; Pencils: Carlos Magno; Inks: Jay Leisten
So, the Monitors are after anomalies. characters that don’t fit or have travelled between universes, and they’re after Jason Todd, Ion and Donna Troy. There’s also some screwing around with the Rogues and Jimmy Olsen, and, in what has already become a tradition for this series, one breathtakingly stupid moment — the return of Black Adam. Unless it’s a feint (like, not really him), that manages to undercut most of the character’s arc that was a major part of 52, and plays like a big upraised middle finger to anyone hoping that the “new DC” would be about good storytelling, and not sheer mindless exploitation of their readers by bringing back characters whose stories were supposed to have concluded, oh, what: three weeks ago? Given that this “Countdown” is only leading to some other series, almost certainly involving the word “crisis,” I’m this close to giving it up; if next week’s issue doesn’t blow me away, I swear I’m done.
Hellblazer #232 — Writer: Andy Diggle; Artist: Leonardo Manco
Now, on the other hand, this title has delivered three good issues in a row, so Diggle and Marco have me back on board. Constantine’s quality all hinges on his creative team, anyway, and I’ll happily buy arcs that know how to make the character work. Here, with JC returning to a place that played a big part in his past, now a casino, and showing his old confidant, manipulative self, I’m more than ready to sit back and be entertained as he tries to run the table, and atone for past defeats.