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Is It Wednesday Yet?

28 October 2008 Once again, the focus this week isn't on forthcoming comics, but those that have been recently released. As noted in Earth-2.net: The Show 275, Marvel is currently reevaluating their early review policy. Once that's settled, we'll (hopefully) get back into the swing of things. As always, these reviews are spoiler-free, so feel free to read onward.

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.

Batgirl #4
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 15 October
Writer: Adam Beechen
Penciler: Jim Calafiore
Inker: Jack Purcell
Colorist: Nathan Eyring
Letterer: Rob Clark, Jr.
Cover: Andy Clarke

Review: Preston Nelson
There's a pretty fundamental flaw about the Cassandra Cain incarnation of Batgirl. (Well, besides the fact that her mask doesn't have eye or air holes.) Generally, the members of Batman's family serve to keep him sane; they're the reason he stays out of those really dark places. The problem with Cassandra is that she's darker than Bruce, and has way more trauma and daddy issues in her past.

And Cassandra's pursuit of her daddy is what brings us here. You see, after doing such a bang-up job raising Cassandra to be a heartless assassin, he decides that doing that to a pile of impressionable young girls and raising an army would be a great idea. And to assist him in such a task, he brings in the expert in messing with teenagers: Deathstroke. This leads to Batgirl teaming up with Ravager ('Stroke's daughter), and some other chick that's never named.

Slade is the star of the issue, really. He gets all the good lines while Ravager and Cassandra brood over father issues. Slade does what he does best and messes with the girls' heads while much butt is kicked. And the peasants rejoice. But the issue is basically one long fight scene with Batgirl's internal monologue running throughout. And when you've got such an issue, you really need a great artist to make it shine, which is where this issue hits the fan.

I'm familiar with Jim Calafiore, as he's the reason that I can't stand most of Marvel's Exiles. I'm pretty sure the man has no idea what a human face actually looks like. According to Calafiore, the average face is about the width of a cast-iron skillet, and possesses no rounded lines. And everyone wears black lipstick. Admittedly, he has a pretty good grasp on bodies in motion, but his faces are just too distracting.

Art aside, it's not a bad issue, it's just wholly unremarkable. I recommend flipping through it, mainly to watch Deathstroke kick lots of ass.

Epilogue #2
Publisher: IDW
Released: 15 October
Writer: Steve Niles
Artist: Kyle Hotz
Colorist: Tom Smith
Letterer: Robbie Robbins
Cover: Kyle Hotz

Review: Guest
Ethan was a mild-mannered family man that took his wife and children out on a camping trip, only to have them killed by a pack of vampires, who turned him into one of their own. Now a bloodsucker himself, Ethan has taken up the mantle of a vigilante, feeding only on those that prey on the weak, while trying to hunt down those very vampires that destroyed his life.

There are a lot of different influences bouncing around here, not the least of which is a very blatant Crow vibe that seems to run throughout, but the same could be said of Niles' other vigilante series, Simon Dark. Ethan is much more violent than Simon, and seems to have a lot more direction to his madness, as his motives are very simple and clear before humans decide to get involved and complicate things a bit. Rage is a contributing factor that makes it all the more poignant when the book lets loose with Niles' trademark gore.

It should really be noted that Niles sort of steps back a bit in this issue, allowing Hotz to do a lot of the storytelling for him. In terms of dialog, this is a light read. It depends on visual progression and emotions to let you into Ethan's mind. Hotz's work is unique, if not exactly realistic. He does the gore as well as you would expect, but even the pages that are free of blood have a certain flair to them. His facial expressions are a real high point, and I love the fact that there's still an artist out there who is completely unafraid to draw ugly people. It not only makes this world feel more real (despite the questionable anatomy), but it also makes the beautiful people more stunning. His work on scenery is probably the biggest standout to me. His buildings have a certain chipped-away sadness to them, and they all help make the monochrome world a visual delight.

For the art alone, I'd say this is a book to pick up, but Niles is also finally getting into gear with the narrative. It's a buy, not only for fans of horror comics, but for anyone looking to get into something different.

Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds #2
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 15 October
Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciler: George Perez
Inker: Scott Koblish
Colorist: Hi-Fi
Letterer: Nick Napolitano
Cover: George Perez and Dave McCaig

Review: Preston Nelson
When I saw I had another Legion of Super-Heroes book, I panicked. Well, until I looked at the names on the cover: Geoff Johns and George Perez. You can't look at those names and not get excited about the contents. Those two men are among the best in the industry, and this book shows why. Right off the bat, we start with a page that catches your eye, because it's the last thing you'd expect: a girl flying against an empty white background. I love this intro, because it's just so different.

Everything in this book is polished. Perez is one of the few artists that understands simplicity. Why draw three lines if one will do the trick? Oh, and there are at least three Perez splash pages with a multitude of characters rushing toward the reader, just in case you doubted that.

The writing in the issue is also a treat. It's a mature storyline, without being adult. Johns is telling a story here, and while it's a dark one, it's not inappropriate for fans of any age. Superboy-Prime is a delightfully menacing villain, and Superman himself plays the role of senior statesman to the Legion quite well. There are even a handful of lighthearted moments involving Brainiac 5.

Final Crisis will likely be the best event of the year, and this book is one of the biggest reasons why. There is no excuse not to buy it. It's a terrific story with a great eye for action and a wonderful tale to tell. Honestly, it's really what the industry needs more of.

Iron Man: Director of SHIELD #34
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 15 October
Writer: Christos N. Gage
Penciler: Sean Chen
Inker: Sandu Florea
Colorist: Jay David Ramos
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Adi Granov

Review: Preston Nelson
Despite what you might be thinking, no one in the title of this comic (RE: Iron Man and SHIELD) makes an appearance in this issue. Instead, this issue is all about War Machine, and he's fighting Skrulls just like the rest of the Marvel Universe.

First off, James Rhodes is mangled. Not the art, the man. Rhodes has big chunks of himself missing, which were replaced by cybernetic implants. Not really original, but it tends to happen to most of Iron Man's friends, so I can deal with it. Except for one thing: to my knowledge, no book has mentioned why Rhodey is so messed up. I mean, was there a fight? Did he get in a car accident? Did he just wake up with half his face and both legs missing one morning?

Secondly, in issues like this, where a secondary character gets the spotlight, some flashbacks are always going to happen, just so you get a feel for the character. I can live with that. But when the flashback to Rhodey's childhood where he gets beaten up for being black has nothing to do with the current story, you're writing filler. And if War Machine is having flashbacks don't you think he could think back to the time that he got horribly disfigured?

Thirdly, one of Stark's satellites one that's miraculously still working, despite the Skrulls shutting down all of Tony's tech turns into a giant War Machine mecha, allowing Rhodey to kick some Skrull butt. Cool, but a logical fallacy here: Tony Stark is the guy who's so vain, that he made Spidey wear red and gold when he made the Iron Spider suit. He replaced the entire SHIELD Helicarrier with a brand new one, in his colors. But you're telling me that this guy made the giant outer space death-mecha look like War Machine?

There's a cool story trying to come out, what with War Machine being the only functioning piece of technology left to fight off the Skrulls, but it's buried under a mess of "cool dialog" and explosions. Did Michael Bay write this issue?

I've yet to mention the art. That's because it's nothing too horrifying, but nothing knocks it out of the park. Granov's work on the cover is about the only good thing here: skip it.

Stormwatch: PHD #15
Publisher: DC Comics / Wildstorm
Released: 15 October
Writer: Ian Edginton
Penciler: Leandro Fernandez
Inker: Francisco Peronzini
Colorist: Carrie Strachan
Letterer: Wes Abbott
Cover: Leandro Fernandez and Carrie Strachan

Review: Guest
On page one there's a chopper rigged with claws and cameras, which is operated by a brain in a jar and navigated by at least two dozen eyeballs.

Off to a good start already.

For quite a while now, I've always wondered what exactly the point of the Wildstorm Universe was within the DC banner. Apparently, it's to have huge Transformers chase down bearded old men wielding Molotov cocktails. To top it all off, the not-Transformers all have human accents and speech patterns. I haven't the slightest clue what's going on here, but I like it.

Despite the mindless fun, there does seem to be some solid characterization. Without the context, of course, there are bound to be some comprehension issues, but I was able to follow things well enough. And don't be mistaken, there is a lot going on here. There's the aforementioned old man who tells of a complex plot that has implications all the way back to the Cold War. People are getting their skin ripped off. And there's a giant bomb that can vaporize the entire United States. It's a fun, brief story.

However, what fills the last few pages is a mess. It's a short tale in which the winner of the William Gravel Lookalike Contest finds himself stuck in Aliens. It's mercifully brief, and the whole thing sort of reads like one of those old Brach's Candy ads that they had in the 90s. You know, like that one-page story of Spider-Man needing to beat the Green Goblin, and finding out that all he needed was some high fructose, cavity-causing Brach's Rocks to save the day.

The artistry in the main story is something to be noticed, as Leandro Fernandez's characters are clean and detailed. There is the ever-baffling issue of rooms on a space station being horribly lit, but it's a tonal choice, and it works for the subject matter. Even the inking is fantastic. The main story is gorgeous, and a big help in following what is otherwise a pretty complex narrative. As for the second story, the less said about the art there, the better. The scenery is passable, but the protagonist has so many lines on his body that he's either older than Dan Toland, or at one point he jumped headfirst into a razor blade factory.

There are flaws, but you should borrow this one.

Trinity #20
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 15 October
Writers: Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza
Pencilers: Mark Bagley, Tom Derenick and Wayne Faucher
Inker: Art Thibert
Colorists: Pete Pantazis and Allen Passalaqua
Letterer: Pat Brosseau
Cover: Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino

Review: Guest
I've always found the comic book pecking order a bit strange. Granted, there's a certain amount of disbelief that needs to be suspended, but when a normal human like the Joker eludes death against metahuman bulldozers, you have to shake your head. On the other side of the coin, you can have heroes capable of causing nuclear explosions, and they're mostly regulated to the second string. Such is the fate of Firestorm, a character that, for those scoring at home, is not Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman. Thus begging the question as to why he's in Trinity.

From what I can decipher, Firestorm is currently acting as DC's Cable, having jumped through time and space to some alternate dimension in which the JSA became a glorified version of the Peace Corps, shunning their powers and the superhero way. There are quite a few problems with this, not the least of which is that the prevalence of supervillains wouldn't go down simply because superheroes ceased to exist. It's not entirely made clear as to how or why this happened, as Firestorm briefly mentions something about an explosion in Africa that somehow caused everything to be changed. There's nothing really to spoil here because nothing of note happens. There is a cool little subplot about Superman, and what the symbolism of the character means to the whole superhero community, but it's barely explored, as they only had half the book to tell this story.

The second story is about an alien race known as the Controllers, assumingly a part of the ever-complex hierarchy of cosmic godlike figures in the DC Universe. In the next dozen pages, the giant flaming head of Krona yells at them. That's it. Alright, so at some point the line "suckling at the teat of divinity" is used, which is a great line, but unfortunately used in a rather unremarkable story. Between this and the first half, all I've really come to determine is that the people behind this book really like fire. It's on almost every page.

For those that don't know by this point, I really don't care for cosmic stories as a whole. Quite honestly, most of them bore me. Unless it's something truly off-the-wall like Stormwatch, it's not going to keep my attention for long. I'm a sucker for grounded stories, and this couldn't be further from that. The art of both tales is completely serviceable, but as for the writing, I just don't care all that much. That said, I fully recognize that there is someone, somewhere reading this right now that thinks this is a great book, and for that reason alone, I'm not giving this a skip. I'm not the intended audience, so you should flip through it and see if you are.

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To hear reviews of Final Crisis: Rogues' Revenge #3, Ghostbusters: The Other Side #1, Justice Society of America #19, Robin #179 and X-Men: Worlds Apart #1, download Earth-2.net: The Show, episode 279.

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Marvel Introduces Timely Comics
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