Will Eisner’s The Spirit #2 — Writer: Darwyn Cooke; Pencils: Darwyn Cooke; Inks: J. Bone
What’s most interesting about this is that it’s not a pastiche, or a tribute; Cooke tells the story in his own way. There’s no bending over backwards to get in stereotypically Eisneresque angles and compositions — it’s mostly variations on the three-tier page, with two or three panels per tier (the first page of the book is a classic nine-panel grid, in fact). The one time Cooke does let loose, with a two-page splash, the effect is explosive. And yet, it feels like a Spirit story. The rhythm’s better than in the first issue, and Cooke’s ability to draw women who are simultaneously cartoony and sultry rivals Eisner’s. As Spirit stories go, this is probably a little below average, but that puts it far above almost anything else being done today. Definitely the book of the week.
Helmet of Fate: Detective Chimp #1 — Writer: Bill Willingham; Artist: Shawn McManus
Amazingly, this is the other candidate for book of the week: a great Brian Bolland cover, a clever story by Willingham (who’s adept at both detective reasoning and magical logic, and so able to combine them effectively here), and maybe the least annoying McManus art I’ve seen (he’s drawn Fate before, and the magical/mystical stuff is a good match to his cartoony, plastic style). What would happen if a supremely logical, deductive mind, one that happened to belong to a chimp, tapped into cosmic awareness? Hey, read the book and find out.
52 # 37 — Writers: Jones, Morrison, Rucka & Waid; Breakdowns: Keith Giffen; Pencils: Pat Oliffe; Inks: Drew Garaci
Also amazingly, this is the other other candidate for book of the week. Building on last week’s issue, this one tops it. See the mystery of Supernova revealed! Marvel at two superhero resurrections! Be thankful as the Rip Hunter plot finally starts moving somewhere (“52…51…”)! Gasp as Morrison brings back two of his earliest DC characters on the last page! Chuckle at the sentence “He’s eaten the Phantom Zone…!”, a sentence I’m pretty sure has never been written anywhere until now! This has become one fun, wild ride, and if the final 15 issues can actually come anywhere close to the previous two, it’ll be the mainstream series of this year.
Ghost Rider #7 — Writer: Daniel Way; Artist: Richard Corben
I’m still not completely sold on Way as a great writer (every effectively-staged scene or good character bit seems to get balanced by a fuzzy plot point, or weak piece of dialogue), but, dude, it’s Corben drawing demons, flaming skulls, corrupt cops, and people getting their heads blown off. Sure, it’s a guilty pleasure, but it’s worth the $3 admission price; whoever thought of pairing this artist with this title has great comics instincts.
Fantastic Four #542 — Writer: Dwayne McDuffie; Penciller: Mike McKone; Inkers: Andy Lanning and Cam Smith
This book does the impossible: it gives a logical, believeable motivation for Reed’s (and, by extension, Tony Stark’s) actions during the last year — involving, of all things, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. I’m assuming that McDuffie didn’t come up with this plot point on his own, and that it’s been planned from the beginning (which might, come to think of it, be overly optimistic…), but he gets points for hitting the characters and the scenes so well that I just assumed it was the regular writer, Straczynski, until I looked up the credits for this review. It’s still way too early to pronounce this whole sprawling Civil War mess a success, Lord knows, but let’s at least be grateful that now the “Loki’s making them do it” resolution is looking less and less likely.
Ultimate Spider-Man #104 — Writer: Brian Michael Bendis; Artist: Mark Bagley; Inkers: Drew Hennessy with Matt Ryan
Yet another mainstream superhero title that gets an enthusiastic thumbs-up; this has turned into a great week for fanboys (and girls). If Bagley’s gotta go, this everything-but-the-kitchen-sink storyline has been the perfect sendoff, and in this issue we’ve got 11 pages of Spider-Man (and Spider-Woman) battling Dr. Octopus, plus resolutions to many of the cliffhangers from issue #100, plus a fateful last-page decision presented to Peter Parker, plus at least another issue or two left to wrap everything up. I know, I know; I read all those upscale reviews that talk abut how comics have to move beyond genre superhero crap, too, and I know they’re right, but well-crafted books like this make me feel like I’m a wide-eyed 13-year-old again, and there’s got to be a place for them, too, right?
Girls #21 — Creators: Jonathan and Joshua Luna
I haven’t been able to stop buying this book, despite some padding and too-episodic wandering around in the middle issues — and now, with only three issues left to complete the story, I’m in too deep to quit. That’s OK, because it’s a fascinating story. The plot is impossible to describe simply — there’s this rural community, see, that’s trapped inside a force field, like in a ’50s science fiction story, and the residents are battling mysterious nude women who, if they have sex with one of the “normal” men of the community, lay a number of eggs from which hatch, full-grown, other nude women, who attack the “normal” females of the community, killing them to sacrifice to a giant, expanding sperm-thing that….well, we don’t know what’s up with the giant expanding sperm-thing yet, but it all offers an occasion for commentary on modern gender relationships. Let’s wait and see if the whole thing actually ends in a satisfying, logical way (*cough* Twin Peaks *cough*); if so, it’ll be an impressive achievement.