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Is It Wednesday Yet?
20 May 2008

20 May 2008 — Here we are again with another installment of your favorite comic book review series. As always the comics you're about to read about won't be released until tomorrow (21 May 2008), so these reviews are free of spoilers and should help inform your purchases on new comic book day.

Our grading scale is simple:

Buy: An excellent comic book.
Borrow: A good comic, but save yourself some money by reading a friend's copy.
Flip Through: Give it a once-over at the comic shop.
Skip: This doesn't need to be explained.

American Dream #2
Writer: Tom DeFalco
Penciler: Todd Nauck
Inker: Scott Koblish
Colorist: Avalon's Rob Ro
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover: Ron Frenz

Review: Dan Toland
I'm only writing this review because my Internet is currently down, and I can't go online to find a picture of Picard with his head in his hands — which would honestly tell the story so much more succinctly than I could ever hope to.

So, anyway, last month, American Dream (yeah, that's her name) found a big canister, which held a crystal monster. Also, she met someone whose fiancée, an illegal immigrant, has gone missing. Sounds exciting.

So now, in comes Maria Hill (who in this universe is with the NSF, which is not to be confused with the NSA, apparently, because it's a whole letter off) to tell the Avengers to back off the crystal monster. After that, everyone eats lunch. Meanwhile, American Dream Shannon thinks back to how reading about her aunt, Sharon Carter, and her adventures with Captain America, inspired her to get out of the wheelchair. Oh, yeah, apparently, Shannon used to be in a wheelchair. (Must... resist... facepalm.) Then she goes fiancée-hunting, which leads her to a situation I haven't seen the likes of since that rerun of CSI that was on last night. (Urge... to facepalm... growing.) And this whole time she's being watched by a pair of nefarious supervillains from their secret hideout, thanks to a bug which is shaped as — wait for it — a bug. Groan! This is just all kinds of not great. In fact, I... hmm. How long has my head been in my hands?

DeFalco's script is not going to cause you physical pain, but it's not going for anything more than mediocre. One female character says, "I want details, girlfriend!" If that crystal clear example of "old man writing hip dialog the kids seem to like these days" doesn't tell you everything you need to know about the level of discourse happening here, then there's nothing I can do to help you. The story is filled with clichés, hackneyed dialog and overcooked bad guys. He's trying to draw attention to the issues illegal immigrants face (and regardless what side of the issue you fall on, it can't be denied that they tend to have it pretty tough), but DeFalco's not shedding any light on anything; he's not really up to doing what he's trying to do, and certainly not on the whopping two pages he devotes to it. "Boy, some of these people work really hard and have less than ideal living conditions. Hey, what's for dinner?"

Todd Nauck is not impressing here, either. He really seems to have a serious issue with the shape of the human head. He draws it like he's angry at it. "I'll teach you to be so proportional and symmetrical!" No character looks the same from one panel to the next, and he especially seems to have trouble drawing women. And when the star of the book falls under that general description, you're going to have a problem. Movement, action, perspective, character design, basic anatomy — all of it is really sketchy. This is just not an easy book to look at.

All right, so bad dialog? Check.

Clichéd story? Check.

Lousy art? Double check.

Skip this book? Hell, yeah.

Avengers: The Initiative #13
Writer: Christos N. Gage
Artist: Steve Uy
Colorist: Steve Uy
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Steve Uy

Review: Dan Toland
After the events of the MVP / KIA storyline, the Initiative program is rolling on with a new batch of recruits. For the most part, they're either villains trying to earn their way out of prison (Prodigy, Sunstreak), or novices looking only to get their official SRA licenses (Gorilla Girl, Batwing). The sole exception to this is Ethan Schaub, the personification of sweaty, doughy fanboy given human form, who has acquired powers and is seizing the opportunity to get his superhero on, and to simultaneously meet some of his idols. (This may be the first time in the history of the Marvel Universe that anyone has been awestruck at the prospect of being in the presence of Henry Pym.)

Ethan, unfortunately, has two major obstacles in his way. One, while his powers of total invulnerability and unflagging endurance are incredibly impressive, his body cannot be altered in any way, and his physical inability to build muscle or lose weight becomes a source of huge frustration for Taskmaster, who has taken over the role of chief drill instructor. Two, and a much bigger problem for everyone involved, despite (probably in large part because of) his boundless enthusiasm, Ethan is a total social retard. He can say or do nothing correctly, has no ability to read the room, possesses no sense of self-awareness and knows no shame. He is virtually untrainable.

I reviewed this title a few months back, and as I recall, I wasn't hooked, but I did see that the book had potential once the then-current storyline ended and led to a new status quo. Well, here's the new status quo, and hot damn, this issue is a blast! Here, the writing is perfect, and the art is simple yet expressive. It's a fun, uncomplicated single-issue story. There's no indication as to what happens after this, but this issue, taken on its own, indicates a lot of promise for a title that I've not really had any faith in.

Uy's artwork is pretty good. It's not photorealistic by any stretch, but he's taken a simple, rough and cartoony style and really made it work here. It wouldn't work for every kind of story — I wouldn't want to see it on one of the main Avengers books — but this is a low-key, character-driven story, and the art suits it very well. And while there's not a lot in the way of action, Uy's stepped up and done a good job with what little there is.

Gage has made me a fan with this. The story is good, but where this shines is the dialog and the character interaction. Despite the sheer frustration he generates in everyone (even the reader to some extent), you can't not like Ethan. In fact, all of the recruits, despite some very real flaws, are engaging. There's a scene towards the end that perfectly gets across how lonely Sunstreak's powers have made her, without ever once saying as much. Between Prodigy's impotent rebelliousness, Batwing's desire to have everyone get along and the all-consuming firestorm of awesome that is Taskmaster in full R. Lee Ermey mode, Gage has created a story that engages the reader and makes you root for the cast. The only misstep is the awkward, obvious introduction of some villains, which can be difficult and tends to be equally clunky in many comic stories. ("Well, what have we here, Steve?" "Looks like some Hostess Twinkies, Earl! Wouldn't you say?" "I don't know about you guys, but I can't resist the lure of creamy, delicious Hostess Twinkies. Don't you agree, Josiah?" "Of course, Stabby Pete! We can always rob the jewelry exchange after we get our hands on that golden sponge cake and cream filling!") However, he could have littered the issue with dead baby jokes and an advertisement for the elliptical machine he's trying to sell, and those last two pages would still have forgiven everything. It's a great ending.

If Avengers: The Initiative can maintain this kind of quality, this is going to be a monster book for Marvel for years to come. As it stands, this issue is an unequivocal buy.

Fantastic Four #557
Writer: Mark Millar
Penciler: Bryan Hitch
Inkers: Byran Hitch and Andrew Currie
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: VC's Rus Wooton
Cover: Byran Hitch

Review: Guest
Reed's ex-girlfriend is working on Nu-World, which sounds like a really horrible genre of music, but is actually a replica Earth for when we inevitably freeze to death in a couple trillion years. It always pays to plan ahead, I suppose. Of course, being a sexy futuristic planet, Nu-World will be absent of weapons, with an all-powerful robot by the name of CAP to enforce the law instead. Shockingly, CAP goes rogue.

You'd think at this point we'd stop making powerful robots to police the world. Something always goes haywire, and the general populous spends the next hundred years getting drill bits shoved into every conceivable orifice.

I think now would be a good time to point out that I'm not a big fan of Mark Millar. Before you start egging my house, I should state that he's not bad, per say, but he's so erratically inconsistent that it's hard for me to really judge him by his body of work; I loved Superman: Red Son, was indifferent to Civil War and hated Wanted with the burning fury of a thousand exploding suns, so I was at least a bit curious as to which Mark Millar would be showing up.

Unfortunately, he's somewhere between indifference and exploding suns here. Millar has an eye for believable dialog, but his ability to structure drama and intrigue leaves a bit to be desired, as the plot screams of a connect-the-dots narrative that almost writes itself. Sue and Reed are having marital issues, Johnny is in a relationship with yet another supervillian and Ben is just there. It's frustratingly stagnant, and there's really no sense of progress to speak of. In the form of CAP, we have yet another threat that causes the registered and fugitive heroes to join forces, which happens much more often than it should, considering the circumstances.

What results is a climax that falls flat on every conceivable level, as there's no real sense of danger coming from CAP, who only appears on a grand total of about three pages. The final battle is a visual mess, and the short time it takes makes you wonder why an army of superheroes was even needed in the first place. I mean, if they were just there to pose, then by golly, they did a damn fine job.

Hitch's work is really busy here. He is often cited for his knack for detail, but this is definitely a case of too much of a good thing. Sue appears to be one bad fall away from a retirement home, and Johnny looks like he should be playing ball in the yard with Wally and the Beav. I kept waiting for him to proclaim, "Gee, that'll sure be swell!" But sadly, that didn't happen.

Instead, what resulted is a boring, uninspired book that seems to have no respect for itself, let alone the reader. None of the characters really seem to care about what's going on around them, and frankly, neither should you. Skip it.

Ghost Rider #23
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Roland Boschi
Colorist: Dan Brown
Letter: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Marko Djurdjevic

Review: Dan Toland
Okay, what are we dealing with here? Well, first of all, Johnny Blaze has a serious mad-on for Zadkiel, an angel that bonded him to the Spirit of Vengeance in the first place (yada yada Ennis yada yada Preacher yada yada Spectre yada yada yada). Blaze finds a kid named Lucas who knows what Zadkiel's up to, and so kidnaps him from some followers of Zadkiel who also happen to be nurses. He's escaping from the nurses on a highway filled with cannibal ghosts. There's also a guy who isn't a ghost, but is a cannibal, floating around the story somewhere. We're coming in about halfway through a storyline. The recap mostly does its job in catching us up, so that's not really going to be an issue. Where the nurses come in is a little less than clear, but that's okay, because they don't really do anything and they become a non-issue fairly quickly.

I do have to wonder why, when Johnny has the kid hanging onto him as he turns into Ghost Rider and then slams into a bus at ramming speed, he has the unmitigated audacity to look confused and bewildered to find that suddenly the kid isn't on the bike anymore. Some of Boschi's art is dynamic and exciting, and he draws a great Ghost Rider. However, while it's great that an artist can draw the hero, there's a whole world going on around him that has to be rendered as well, and pretty much every other character in the book (including Johnny Blaze) is blocky and sketchy.

And yes, it's true, the story is not entirely an original one. While it seems that some of the plot threads are coming to a climax, the resolutions are incredibly unsatisfying. There's a lot of "Wait... that was it?" to be had here. The actual writing, on the other hand — the scripting and the characterization — is good. Aaron has, in a very short time, gotten my attention as a writer with a great ear for dialog, as well as being an excellent user of humor. Ghost Rider has never been renowned for being particularly funny, but Aaron has a knack for taking the overblown ridiculousness inherent in the character and playing with it, while managing not to let the book actually go over the line. The way Blaze handles a moment of supreme frustration makes for some fantastic pages. Additionally, he leads the issue to a great "see you next month" ending that will excite longtime fans.

Essentially, this book will reward people who are already fans, but probably isn't going to do a whole hell of a lot for new readers. And if you haven't been following this storyline, this is not the place to start. Give the issue a flip through though; the story may grab you, and like I said, it's pretty well-written, even if it's not gorgeous to look at. I do hope to see Aaron on a more mainstream book at some point, however.

The Incredible Hercules #117
Writers: Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente
Penciler: Rafa Sandoval
Inker: Roger Bonet
Colorist: Martegod Gracia
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: John Romita, Jr.

Review: Dan Toland
Okay, first of all: Best. Recap Page. Ever. It quotes Shakespeare and Charles M. Schulz. I can get behind that. And there's really no recapping to be had here, because it's the first part of the "Sacred Invasion" storyline. Athena, Goddess of Wisdom and Hercules' half-sister, has brought Herc and Amadeus Cho (and Amadeus Cho's little dog, too) before a council of gods, stretching across most of Earth's pantheons.

With the Skrull invasion underway, Athena has taken a pragmatic view of the whole thing; if the Skrulls succeed in wiping out humanity, there won't be a whole hell of a lot of god worship happening, leaving Earth's deities vulnerable to the God-Eater. As the Skrulls view this as a holy war, Athena's come up with a perfect solution: Hercules will march a legion of gods into Skrull Heaven, waging war on their gods.

Well, perhaps not perfect, because as he'd be the first to tell you, leading is not so much Hercules' thing.

The first thing that really struck me was the breadth of the world in this story. We're treated to pantheons that generally tend to get ignored. As Athena calls upon the leaders from the four corners of the Earth, we get Eternals, members of Alpha Flight (those who managed not to get roasted in the pages of New Avengers) and Kwaku Anansi on loan from Neil Gaiman. What we don't get is one very obvious holdout from the council, evidently doing his own thing in Oklahoma, which presents a bit of a story problem. When you have a council of gods, you can't realistically ignore the Asgardians. But if you do involve them, Thor ends up outside of the main storyline, and he automatically becomes the leader of Athena's war. Since this is Herc's book, we can't have that. Unfortunately, this is given the barest whisper of lip service, although it does make for a good character moment for Hercules.

When the spotlight turns to Hercules, or to Amadeus, or even to Athena, the writing is pretty solid. Pak and Van Lente come up with some good humor and wit, and when Athena tries to play up Hercules' total lack of impulse control as excitement at the prospect of leading a horde of gods into battle, it makes for a good moment. Somewhat less successful is the writing of the elder gods; it comes across as Gaiman-lite. Oh, it beats the pseudo-Shakespearean bluster that has traditionally stood in for conversation when these characters bellow at each other, don't get me wrong, but they're attempting something that has been done much better elsewhere. (But at least they're making the attempt.)

The art is not the most consistent I've ever seen; it's rushed, and it can get frustrating, because Sandoval has clearly got the chops to pull off what he's attempting. In the panels that look like he took his time, the work is amazing. If it's big, and impressive-looking, it looks fantastic. He's clearly more comfortable drawing female characters than males; his Athena is never less than perfect, and in general the women look great, whereas the men can come across as somewhat misshapen and over-rendered. (Hercules frequently looks like someone in an MGM cartoon who's been hit in the face with an iron.) Action scenes, however, look awesome. There are a couple of very brief fights, and they're rendered perfectly, right down to the look of joy on Herc's face as he surrounds himself with chaos. (This is your leader, folks.)

And "sphycrankark" is right out of the classic Marvel Book of Sound Effects.

This is not a perfect book, but I did enjoy reading it. Again, there were enough nice character moments for me to get something out of it, but not much actually happens. This'll make more use of its time as part of a longer storyline, but you can flip though this issue to catch yourself up, to get ready for what's to come or just to take a quick look at the latest episode of the Herc 'n' Amadeus Show.

Marvel Illustrated: The Iliad #6
Writer: Roy Thomas
Penciler: Miguel Angel Sepulveda
Inker: Sandu Florea
Colorist: Nathan Fairbairn
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Paolo Rivera

Review: Guest
I really like the Marvel Illustrated concept. It's the comic equivalent of slipping vitamins into chocolate milk, almost as if they're tricking kids into reading the classic stories that we were required to read in grade school, while pretending to marvel at the archaic and abstract prose in front of us. It's an admittedly cool way to modernize the stories without making Hector of Troy into a saggy pants delinquent looking to get "that paper."

I only got about a third of the way through the original version of The Iliad, half because I can't stand Homer, and half because there's a certain point in the tale where the story stops to throw seemingly thousands of names at you, and I completely lost what was going on at that point. All you really need to know is that there are a lot of guys with "-us" at the end of their names and they love to get their fight on.

Since this story has been around for, oh, thousands of years, it's hard to have any sort of spoilers here. This issue deals mostly with the point in which Achilles finally decides to join the fray and avenge the death of Patrolocus, who was slaughtered at the hands of Hector.

Admittedly, The Iliad was probably not the best choice for an interpretation. While others in the series, such as Dorian Gray and Moby Dick, lend themselves to conversion, The Iliad is still an extremely muddled story that's more about the feats and the myths than any real character development, and that can be a killer when you're trying to tell the story in the span of a couple dozen pages.

The writing is tone-appropriate, which is both a good and bad thing. Our good friends "thus" and "thou" make an appearance, meaning that this modernization never really has moments that take you out of the tale, but at the same time, the younger set that this kind of book is targeted towards can quite easily find themselves just as bored as they would be if they were drudging through the original story itself. There's a glossary in the back, which helps, but in this case, it has more to do with being perhaps too true to the source material, as the language isn't so much a barrier as is the blatant melodrama throughout.

The only saving grace is the spectacular artwork. The sense of scale and grandeur are exactly what you would expect from this kind of story, and perhaps more surprisingly, they don't hold back much on the gore. People get impaled, chopped, decapitated and skewered, all in a matter most gruesome. Though, to be fair, I can't imagine a method of decapitation that isn't gruesome.

Unless you're a diehard fan of the story, this one is merely a flip. The story is what it is, but the artwork is definitely worth a look.

Ultimate X-Men #94
Writer: Aron E. Coleite
Penciler: Mark Brooks
Inkers: Jaime Mendoza and Troy Hubbs
Colorist: Edgar Delgado
Letterer: Comicraft's Alber Deschesne
Cover: Gabriele Dell'Otto

Review: Guest
I was one of the few that felt the initial run of Ultimate X-Men was pretty underwhelming. Perhaps it was the aforementioned Millar problem, but nothing about the book screamed "must-read." Since that point, the series has had its fair share of ups and downs, and the general consensus seems to be that Robert Kirkman's run, specifically his Apocalypse arc, was a bit of a disaster, leaving the new team of Coleite and Brooks to pick up the pieces.

Judging from this issue, they seem to be headed in the right direction.

Looking to recoup from the whole Apocalypse debacle, our rowdy X-teens kick back with a game of softball. Rule #2984 of comics: no superhero team ever finishes a game of anything. It doesn't matter what it is — softball, basketball, checkers — they're going to be interrupted at some point, most likely by something loud and flashy.

This issue marks the Ultimate debut of Alpha Flight. Whereas, in the main universe, the Canadian team is mostly known as the pack of losers that got wiped out by the Collective, this portrayal gives hope that they may very well end up as something much more in the Ultimate Universe. But we'll see.

This issue is the first part of "Absolute Power," which is heavily focused around everyone's favorite gay Russian and the plethora of conflicts that he has with his fellow teammates. For once we're getting a story that isn't just a retelling of an old Claremont issue. This is a tale about these characters, and it holds a profound weight with many issues of the current day, such as homosexuality and the steroid hysteria.

Mark Brooks does a hell of a job here, and really improves upon his already stellar work by leaps and bounds. It's almost as if he drew this issue with something to prove, and it makes a hell of an impression. It's a detailed, intense style that still manages to stay clean in the midst of the action. The only real gripe I have is that Vindicator's costume has some really silly looking red light bulbs on them, and those things really need to go.

My fashion analysis aside, I have to say that this book really surprised me. I wasn't expecting much going in, and now I can't wait until the next issue. Buy it.

Wolverine: Origins #25
Writer: Daniel Way
Artist: Steve Dillon
Colorist: Avalon's Matt Milla
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Cover: Simone Bianchi

Review: drqshadow
Ever wondered if Deadpool had the wherewithal to take down Wolverine in a brawl? Well, even if you didn't, you get the answer here. Since a shadowy figure hired the crimson-clad mercenary to take Logan out a few months back, the two have been engaged in an endless fight that's stretched from one side of San Francisco to the other. When the dust settled, Deadpool stood victorious — or rather, potentially so. On the verge of victory, the assassin strapped Logan with a variety of weights, suspended above a tank of water. But before he could pull the lever and cement his victory, Daken, Wolverine's crazed son, assaulted the merc with a mouth. Evidently growing impatient, Daken had swooped in, lopped off one of the mercenary's hands and dumped his father into the drink personally.

If the details of that introduction didn't give it away, Daniel Way's storytelling is pretty complex. Oddly so, considering at the end of the day this issue boils down to little more than a superpowered orgy of violence and a series of bad puns. But while Way's writing is unwieldy in concept, its execution is actually very light, quick reading — and that makes for an odd combination. While the writer's knack for brevity allows the fight scenes to really bounce around the page, it also makes the story's big, dramatic revelations very difficult to follow. That latter weakness is really evident at the end of the issue, in particular. Way hits his readers with rapid-fire flashbacks at the peak of the issue's physical conflict, which results in a jarring, disorienting conclusion. It's like sitting in the passenger seat while the driver steers his car full-speed into a brick wall.

The story also suffers from the physical immunity of its cast. Between Wolverine, Daken and Deadpool, you've got three guys who seemingly cannot be killed, and that removes a lot of the drama from the bloody fistfights. If Deadpool can lose a hand and keep right on battling without missing a beat, why should any of his foes' physical threats mean anything at all? There's some great action here, but it feels empty because in the back of your mind you know that nothing irreversible can happen to anyone involved.

Artist Steve Dillon continues to be a weird fit for mainstream superheroes. I've been a fan of Dillon's work since he emerged with Garth Ennis on Hellblazer and later Preacher, but his style just isn't suited to the torn spandex and rippling muscles of a regular Marvel monthly. Dillon's greatest strength is his ability to bring emotion and personality to his characters, and on that front he doesn't disappoint. When Logan stares down his son, you can read the bittersweet heartache on the old man's face. Dillon's fantastic at exploring an average person's reactions to spectacular circumstances, but when he's handed a set of emotionless killers, that job becomes much more difficult. Marvel is misusing this artistic talent by trying to crowd him into a Wolverine book, when he's much better suited to a more relatable, pedestrian story.

Daniel Way's clash between father and son would've been an enjoyable read without the endless list of shocking revelations that he tried to shoehorn into its conclusion. He's excellent at dictating a fast action sequence, but far too often overreaches his own boundaries in trying to introduce an unnecessary extra level to his storytelling. As an all-out battle between father, son and hired killer, this would've made for a quick, entertaining fluff piece. That same battle, crammed together with a set of tangled flashbacks, becomes something less. Dillon and Way are two pieces of quality talent who don't feel at home on this book, which is bizarre because they're the team that launched it. Flip through this, if just to enjoy the action scenes, but try to avoid reading too much into those last few pages.

X-Men: Divided We Stand #2
Writers: Mike Carey, CB Cebulski, Andy Schmidt and Duane Swierczynski
Artists: Scot Eaton, Andrew Hennessy, David Yardin, Frazer Irving, Chris Burnham and David Lafuente
Colorists: Frank D'Armata, John Rauch, Nathan Fairbairn and Christina Strain
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Brandon Peterson

Review: drqshadow
A collection of character-specific short stories, Divided We Stand follows the exploits and adventures of a handful of former X-Men in the days following the group's disbandment. Beast, Magik, Havok, Forge, Moonstar and Surge capture the spotlight for just a few pages each in this double-sized anthology that examines the aftereffects of Charles Xavier's apparent death and the overwhelming concept of facing the world alone as a mutant.

Mike Carey and Scot Eaton open the issue with "Lights Out," a private peek at Hank McCoy's return to the site of Xavier Mansion following its destruction. While I've been critical of Carey's writing elsewhere in the X-universe, this is a complete about-face; it's the kind of story he should've been writing all along. His take on the Beast is so captivatingly emotional that I was almost teary-eyed right alongside the blue furry scientist. While Hank reflects on the ruins of the building he spent the vast majority of his life assembling, Carey grants the reader a rare peek into the more mundane aspects of life in the mansion. As Beast mourns the loss of the simple classroom block he walked past every morning, we begin to understand a bit more about what life was like on a quiet day on campus. For this task, Scot Eaton's rich, elaborate artwork makes a great partner. His attention to detail translates the concepts that Carey had brainstormed, bringing them to life almost effortlessly. For a story so focused on introspection and old memories, there's an awful lot for the artist to visualize here, and Eaton performs magnificently.

It's a pity that CB Cebulski and David Yardin's tale couldn't keep the emotion going. In "Planting Seeds," the pair focuses on Illyana Rasputin, formerly known as Magik, sister to Colossus and an early victim of the Legacy Virus. Her story rambles on without point or purpose for six aimless pages before ending cryptically; it promises a follow-up that I hope never comes to pass. It's an internal monolog, spoken aloud in Illyana's own little world, and it achieves little more than to remind us of the character's existence.

Andy Schmidt and Frazer Irving follow that with "The Hole," which shifts the focus to Havok and his adventures outside the Earth's orbit. Imprisoned deep in an alien ocean after fighting a losing battle against Vulcan, Alex is on the verge of madness. It's a great premise for what promises to be an interesting new direction for the character, but Schmidt squanders the opportunity. Rather than examining Havok's new internal struggles, the whole of the story is wasted on a brief conversation between captor and captive, as Vulcan phones his bro up and basically fills him in on the "Messiah Complex" storyline. It's a great setup, but never really gets rolling, proving to be little more than a waste of some beautifully painted artwork.

Forge then takes the spotlight in Duane Swierczynski and Chris Burnham's "Idee Fixe." Burnham's art is rotten, weak in both concept and execution, and often reads like fan fiction. His take on Forge has zero depth, and wouldn't even be identifiable without the goatee and metallic limbs. At the beginning of the story, his brain lies half-exposed through his scalp, but only moments later he's grown a full head of hair and resumed battle without any further explanation. Swierczynski's storytelling isn't much better. Forge floats aimlessly from one room to the next, gets into a fight, loses the fight, regains consciousness and then resumes floating. In eight pages, about all I got out of this was "Forge likes to keep busy, and he doesn't like Bishop any more." Glorious.

Finally, Surge and Moonstar are the subjects for CB Cebulski and David Lafuente's "The Sun Also Sets." As leader of the New X-Men, Surge has become a more assertive individual, but constantly struggles with the burdens that come along with her position. Here, she seeks out Moonstar for help dealing with the stress of that position, and ultimately gets little more than a pep talk out of it. Cebulski's heart is in the right place, but so much of the story is wasted on hyperbole that I quickly found myself skimming for anything of substance. David Lafuente's manga-style artwork serves to give the tale an appropriate visual flair, but he can only do so much with what he was given.

With the exception of Mike Carey and Scot Eaton's Beast story, Divided We Stand is little more than a collection of throwaway tales featuring somewhat-familiar faces. With that one notable exception, none of these characters have been a member of the primary X-Men recently, and that gives the book a second-tier perception that it never manages to shed. These stories are all too short to really deliver anything of merit, but I doubt they'd be any more worthy of your attention if they were twice as long. Flip through this for the first story, but set it back on the shelves when you reach its conclusion. There's nothing really worth your time in the pages that follow.

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To hear reviews of Black Panther #36, Captain America #38, Iron Man: Director of SHIELD #29, Marvel Adventures The Avengers #24 and X-Factor #31, download Earth-2.net: The Show, episode 215.

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