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Is It Wednesday Yet?

24 February 2009 Here we are again with another installment of your favorite comic book review series. As always, the reviews are free of spoilers, so read on without fear of having your experience ruined!

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.

Batman #686
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 11 February 2009
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Penciler: Andy Kubert
Inker: Scott Williams
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Cover: Andy Kubert

Review: Guest
When I saw I had this book for review, I'll admit that I wasn't looking forward to it. After all, I'm part of the vocal minority that hated RIP, and I feel as if I'm going to need a graphing calculator and a stack of Red Bull before I'm able to wrap my head around Final Crisis. Much to my surprise, this story has little to do with either.

As the "final" issue of Batman, I almost don't feel right trying to review something like this. Realistically, the chances of Batman never coming back and this being the true end is about as likely as Kate Beckinsale calling me up for a sponge bath; a nearly 700-issue run is nothing to scoff at, and I honestly can't think of anyone better to close things out than Neil Gaiman. While his more acclaimed work really didn't do much for me, it also needs to be stated that Gaiman is, if nothing else, a writer that cares. He understood the weight of his position here and treated the subject with the utmost respect. What results is less a story about the "death" of Batman and more a tribute to decades of character history. At first, I was confused by the way things were presented, but by the end I understood that this is really the only way to end Batman. This doesn't feel like the mourning of a hero; it feels more like the celebration of a universe that grew from that character, and the storytelling potential that still exists even after so many years. This much is clear even in Kubert's art, which at various points is able to summon the souls of so many Batman artists past, and even in some cases, making visual reference to the television show. It's beautifully done, and in some ways, it's a shame that this is only a two-issue run.

I racked my brain trying to come up with a word to describe this issue, and the best one I could think of was "surreal." Yes, it's masterfully written and the art is a homerun, but it's even more than just the sum of its parts. Even if you're not a regular reader, you owe it to yourself to buy this. Stories such as this don't come along often, and when they do, they will be remembered for a long time. I don't want to spoil a moment of it or waste any more time hyping it up. Put this and Detective Comics on your pull list, immediately.

The Darkness #75
Publisher: Image
Released: 11 February 2009
Story: Phil Hester
Artists: various
Colorists: various
Letterer: Troy Peteri
Cover: Lee Bermejo

Review: drqshadow
Nearly every artist and colorist still on Top Cow's payroll (and one or two outsiders) join regular writer Phil Hester this month for the anniversary-sized Darkness #75. If something smells fishy and you seem to remember issue #10 shipping just last month, don't worry you haven't missed 60-plus issues; Top Cow has merely renumbered the current series to match the combined issue count of the three volumes published since 1996.

In this tale set in the distant future, there isn't much hope for mankind. Pollution has grown so widespread, boundless clouds of smog have long since snuffed out any glimpse of sunlight, and for Jackie Estacado that makes for one hell of an advantage. When you're pulling strength from the shadows, a world wrapped in a persistent black shawl is your oyster.

Phil Hester's writing this month is impressive, both in concept and execution. His musings on the climax of modern civilization and the end of the world are chilling, and the prose with which he delivers his narration is imaginative and vivid. We don't need to see the yellow foam that floats along the surface of this world's oceans, Hester has painted that picture for us himself, liberating the artwork to tell a separate, secondary story. Hester's vision of a world governed by Estacado is cold and unrelenting, just like his portrait of Jackie himself, so many years removed from his humanity. It's a grim, bleak future to match the title character's personality and the origin of his powers.

Despite the quality of Hester's writing, I found that some of the issue's magic is lost on the glut of different artists that were forced upon it. While the reckless jump from one extreme style to another makes sense in the brief flashback, the same can't be said for the awkward leaps from artist to artist in the midst of a single scene. This is especially problematic when Jackie himself makes his first appearance early in the issue, as his adversaries completely change wardrobe during the pause between pages. It's random and confusing, especially when the two sides begin warring and a nameless third party randomly jumps into the fray. Maybe regular readers will have a better idea of what's going on, but I'd have to imagine that the herky-jerky feeling. There's some genuinely beautiful work here, but it always manages to get lost.

In marking an anniversary that's shaky at best and downright imaginary at worst, I think The Darkness wanted too badly to make an event of something that didn't really merit it. Phil Hester did his part, concocting a story deserving of such attention, but a cavalcade of artists turn the whole thing sour. As a regular-sized issue with a steady artistic showing, this could've been a genuinely memorable one-off, but it's not an event unto itself. Borrow it. Its shortcomings are distracting, but it's nevertheless a solid bit of story.

Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 11 February 2009
Story: Tony Bedard
Artist: Andy Clarke
Colorist: Jose Villarrubia
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Cover: Andy Clarke

Review: drqshadow
While it's given the moniker of a team book, REBELS is really just a one-man show for Vril Dox, the arrogant jerk son of Brainiac. Although he's a terrific douchebag, the character has a certain charisma and charm about him that makes it tough to look away when he's on the page. Dox is never without a purpose and rarely lacking an accompanying verbal barb, which makes him constantly entertaining and effortlessly colorful. His exchange with Supergirl this month is great, reminiscent of those rare occasions when Superman and Lex Luthor would unite to confront a common foe. Supergirl is so stiflingly nave in contrast to Dox's intellect that his curt responses to her questions and comments provide some of the issue's best moments. You know he's just being a dick, but you'll still hold your breath waiting for the punch line every time she opens her mouth.

Although his cast is primarily rooted in the distant 31st century, writer Tony Bedard has plenty of fresh ideas that apply to the modern DC Universe, too. Using Supergirl's heat vision to burn data to a blank DVD, for example, might not be especially practical but it's an imaginative way to update an old character's power set without disturbing anything. Bedard is overflowing with such ideas, which makes the issue a fresh read. Although he deals with some very intellectual ideas and characters, his writing is accessible, not daunting like you might expect.

Detective Comics and 2000 AD veteran Andy Clarke provides the artwork for the new series. Though I've found his previous showings to be rigid and postured, reminiscent of Greg Land, in REBELS it looks like he's trying something different. His efforts here are very fluid and natural, but still especially detailed a mix of Travis Charest and Leinil Francis Yu. He tells a great story, with jaw-dropping freeze-frames highlighting moments of action and subtle nuances thrown in to help keep the pace up during the moments in between. He's also responsible for furthering a lot of the characterization that's so crucial in a premiere issue, particularly that of Dox. His snide facial expressions, a constant mix of apathy and disdain, are a constant match for the tone of his dialog. Although Clarke doesn't exactly nail every character, he does have a strong grip on the primary cast and his compositions as a whole are wonderful.

This issue keeps a brisk pace, throwing readers right into the action from the word go and never relenting until the last panel promises even bigger things on the horizon. It's a fine adventure, entertaining whether you're intimately familiar with the cast or the only thing you recognize is the shield on Supergirl's chest, and a fine initial outing from both writer and artist. Buy it and keep your eyes peeled for the next issue.

X-Infernus #3
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 11 February 2009
Writer: CB Cebulski
Penciler: Giuseppe Camuncoli
Inker: Jesse Delperdang
Colorist: Marte Gracia
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Cover: David Finch

Review: Guest
Magik (also known as Darkchylde, also known as Illyana Rasputin) has been running amok in Limbo looking for the Soulsword and the Bloodstone Amulet, two artifacts that will help her become reunited with her soul. After recovering the Soulsword, she has fled back to Limbo to find the Bloodstone Amulet in the hands of another. No, I'm not playing a D&D game. That's the actual plot of this issue.

The X-Men are here. That helps a bit, but not much, mostly because I can't remember the last time I picked up an issue and was happy to see Wolverine and the gang hanging around. There's also someone named Witchfire. Who? I couldn't tell you, and the recap doesn't care to mention her either. All I could gather is that she's EVIL~ and had very vague and nefarious plans involving a sword and an amulet that apparently came with all of its working parts sold separately. "Mess" doesn't even begin to describe it. This is the third issue, but it feels like I'm on #203. Things happen so quickly and suddenly that the characters are in a completely different place once your brain has processed it all. And with one issue left, I don't want to go out and buy the finale, because I was never given much reason to care. Granted, reading this from the very beginning would have helped, but considering the pacing, I can't say I would have enjoyed it any more.

If this issue has one thing going for it, it's the art. It's clean, glossy and emotive, but the erratic nature of the storytelling means that even the more attractive pages suffer quite a bit. Overall, I'd say Camuncoli is a good fit for the X-Men, but I'd really like to see what he could do on a better story. As it stands, his efforts are appreciated, but in the scheme of the issue, are likely to be ignored.

Think of every X-comic you've ever read, and cram all of the common themes together: the group standing around and telling each other to man up, someone crying, Wolverine making a stupid attempt to show that he can do everything the team is shooting to accomplish by himself, lots of evil laughing. They all make an appearance here, and it couldn't possibly feel more formulaic at this point. The only difference is that now there are a new set of McGuffins for you to keep track of, and characters that you've likely never seen or heard of before may show up without any prior warning. This book is as boring as it is pretty, and for that, I can't in good conscience tell you to spend any time or money on it. Skip it.

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