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Is It Wednesday Yet?

29 July 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.

Action Comics #879
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 15 July 2009
Writers: Greg Rucka and James Robinson
Pencilers: Diego Olmos and CAFU
Inker: Diego Olmos, Bit, and CAFU
Colorists: Rod Reis and Santiago Arcas
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Cover: Andrew Robinson
Cover price: $3.99

Review: drqshadow
Superman has stepped away from the action, both on the planet and in DC's second longest-running publication. Yep, ol' Supes has left our soil to take up residency on New Krypton, leaving the future of both the planet and this series up in the air. But the uneasy focal points of Action Comics during Kal's exodus, armor-clad fellow Kryptonians assuming the roles of Nightwing and Flamebird, haven't had to look far for a sense of purpose in his absence. With a renewed, camouflaged onslaught from General Zod in play, the planet's newest defenders have set out to eliminate every last one of the villain's sleeper agents, scattered across the globe.

Of course, with all that backstory a requirement to understand just what the heck's actually going on in this issue, the continued lack of a recap page in DC's ongoing catalog has never been more painful. If you've been keeping close track of the proceedings, Greg Rucka has organized a deep, relevant storyline here. In the missteps and miscommunications of Thara Ak-Var and Chris Kent, the two new heroes in question, there are a lot of obvious similarities to the days of Superman's own heroic coming of age. The two new faces are making a lot of mistakes that I have to imagine Clark made at some point, too. They're stepping into traps, and being forced into tough decisions despite their good intentions proving that especially at the start of their careers, nobody's perfect. Yet, without doing the appropriate online research, I'd have been left scratching my head and wondering why Dick Grayson was flying through the sky aboard a pair of built-in rocket boots. Shouldn't he be holding down the fort in Gotham City?

In his new leads, Rucka has given us a pair of genuinely likable faces. Are they a bit too shiny, genuine, and nave? Maybe. But much of that can be written off as simple inexperience with this world. These two are experiencing the darker hints of our planet for the first time much later in life, and it's only natural that they'd be more out of touch than Superman was.

The latest in a series of fill-in artists, Diego Olmos performs decently enough. His layouts and storyboarding in particular are very strong, but lose some of their charm when brought into closer detail. As a result, his best work comes on pages with a broader scope, where the characters require less detail, and the strength of his compositions can be better appreciated. In his finest moments, Olmos displays nice restraint and an excellent sense of movement, but his work often feels generic and agonizingly bland. As a whole, he's fundamentally sound if not especially exciting or original. At this point in his career, he seems content to merely fade into the background, filling a role but not taking it over. He needs something to set himself apart from his peers and I don't see it here.

I have to admire this issue's dedication to doing things a little bit differently, even though it doesn't always work. The constant Kryptonian dialect and accompanying subtitles throughout the issue are perfect examples. In theory it's a unique way to remind readers of how detached the protagonists (and their targets) are from the world, but in execution it's clunky, providing more of a hurdle in the way of smooth reading than an aid to help us better understand the cast. The creators' hearts are in the right place, but the end product is a few steps short of being a resounding success. Flip through it; see if you can keep up with it, and only then give it a closer look.

Dark Avengers #7
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 15 July 2009
Writer: Matt Fraction
Penciler: Luke Ross
Inkers: Rick Magyar, Mark Pennington, and Luke Ross
Colorist: Rain Beredo
Letterer: Cory Petit
Cover: Luke Ross
Cover price: $3.99

Review: Aaron Robinson
The Dark Avengers / Uncanny X-Men crossover "Utopia" continues with Dark Avengers #7. In order to deal with a rogue band of mutants who are causing a ruckus in Union Park, Osborn has created yet another team: the Dark X-Men. Led by former X-Man Emma Frost, this new team consists mainly of mutant heroes, rather than the borderline insane mercenaries and villains that fill out his Avengers. But Emma isn't the kind of person who is easily fooled, and whilst she agrees to use the team to keep San Francisco safe, she knows Osborn isn't a person she can trust, and it isn't long before she starts investigating Osborn's facility. At the same time, the Dark Avengers are feeling a little left out, and they aren't too happy about the arrival of the Dark X-Men.

Whilst the fast pace of the preceding chapter, Uncanny X-Men #513, continues throughout this issue, the whole thing feels like a notable dip in quality. Luke Ross' artwork is a large part of that. The first few pages with Osborn were particularly strange; in the first panel he looks eerily like Richard Nixon, in the next he looks like Spock. It could be because Ross drapes everyone in shadows, but he gives Osborn an unusually lumpy head, and he seems really inconsistent at times. The action sequences also suffer a bit. Some panels come across fine, whilst others seem to have people trapped in awkward poses; Daken's angry pre-fight stance looks more like he's constipated than angry.

What's really strange is that Fraction's writing slips a bit, too. The bits of banter during the fight scenes are downright awkward, and the little character descriptors start to become a bit obnoxious. Though this issue seems to be setting things up for the rest of the series, there's not a lot that makes it stand out. It's worth buying if you're interested in this crossover, but otherwise it's a flip through at best.

Deadpool #12
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 15 July 2009
Writer: Daniel Way
Penciler: Paco Medina
Inker: Juan Vlasco
Colorist: Marte Gracia
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Cover: Jason Pearson
Cover price: $2.99

Review: drqshadow
One of the many moving pieces behind the scenes of the recent Skrull invasion was the conversation between former SHIELD overseer Nick Fury and Deadpool, his chosen independent mercenary. Tasked with thieving information on the identity of the Skrull Queen, Deadpool accomplished his mission, but Norman Osborn intercepted the ensuing transmission. Normy then used that intel to take down the queen himself in a bold (and successful) reach for power. Now Deadpool wants his money, Fury ain't paying up, and Osborn is ready to move on. In an effort to rid himself of the hassle in one fell swoop, he's sent one of his most skilled Dark Avengers, Bullseye (in the guise of Hawkeye), to personally take care of our little red merc once and for all.

At least, that was the plan before he caught a meathook to the belly, and woke up in the ICU with a little love note from Wade Wilson in his "get well soon" flowers. Now feelings are hurt, prides are wounded, and jobs are dangling in the balance. Daniel Way's writing in the buildup to this final, ostensibly climactic fight between the two has been terrific. It's given us a closer look at the competing motivations behind the twisted psyche of the Kingpin's former assassin, delivered an average of three near-death situations per issue, and never let up on the gas pedal the entire time. When the two finally meet to settle this thing, it's like a powder keg chilling out in the middle of an unsupervised boiler room.

While that big confrontation is over and done with faster than you'd think, the few iconic freeze-frames it delivers are good enough to make the whole thing worthwhile. The big payoff may seem cheap at first, but starts to make sense as it settles in. And just as you're beginning to come to terms with that situation, the issue's jarring cliffhanger blindsides you. Nothing is out of bounds in Deadpool. That idea is reinforced time and time again, but every single time I think I understand, I'm left with the realization that I haven't a clue. My only concern is, after this one, I don't know how much further it can really go.

Despite a few hiccups, Paco Medina's artwork makes a great compliment to Way's storytelling. Every bit as frenetic and eccentric as the title character himself, Medina's work rarely stops to take a breath. It's filled with ongoing visual puns, touches of personality, and all-around enthusiasm. The influence of J. Scott Campbell is hard to ignore, but Medina has taken that inspiration and improved upon it perhaps solidified it. Campbell's work always had an excess of energy and action, which Medina clearly retains, but it often felt unfinished and unrefined. The Deadpool mainstay's work seems more secure and intentional in action. He can be loose and goofy when it's needed (and it's needed a lot), but also balance it out with an air of composure when the time is right. He brings both to his interpretation of Hawkeye, and that really helps transform him from just another foil into a legitimate counterpart for the rambunctious title character.

Just about every time I've sat down for a visit with Marvel's merc with a mouth, I've closed the last page with the sense that I'd just endured the final dip of a madly enjoyable roller coaster. That doesn't change here. Deadpool and Bullseye make for some wild action scenes, some intense situations, and one hell of a crazy brawl, and at the end of the day there's no questioning who came out on top. Medina brings good artwork, Way keeps pushing the limits of good taste, and Deadpool keeps reaping the benefits. Loads and loads of fun. Buy it if you like watching the crazies bounce around inside their padded room.

DMZ #43
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 15 July 2009
Writer: Brian Wood
Artist: Ryan Kelly
Colorist: Jeromy Cox
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Cover: John Paul Leon
Cover Price: $2.99

Review: Chris Johnson
Consider a possible future for the United States where a second Civil War has broken out. In the midst of the warfare, Manhattan is designated as an area free from outside military activity. The citizens living in what remains of Manhattan are left to fend for themselves. Among these citizens is Tony G., whose wife and children were trampled by a mob as the war began. Falling in with a cult, Tony learns that one of the people present when his wife died is still living in the city. Now Tony has to make a hard choice.

Though it's the second issue in a three-part arc, Wood is able to make new readers feel for Tony. The book opens on a group therapy session that both recaps the previous issue and introduces the tragedy of Tony's life. A scene of Tony looking at photos highlights his sadness, while his fists flying rapidly into a punching bag show his anger. The "giving the main character the information he's looking for, forcing him to make a choice" trope is present, but is handled quite differently. The ending is also one you don't expect, and makes Tony's journey very interesting.

Ryan Kelly's art was a perfect fit for the story. All of the emotions Tony feels throughout the story require an artist who can effectively convey said emotions to the reader. Kelly does just this, bringing the character in Wood's story to life. Across from the emotional end of the spectrum, the book requires an artist who can give it the war-torn feel that a second Civil War brings to mind. From desolated buildings to guns to gas masks, they are all drawn in a realistic manner.

I think Tony's story is powerful enough to capture new and old readers, so borrow it.

Fables #86
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 15 July 2009
Writer: Bill Willingham
Penciler: Jim Fern
Inker: Craig T. Hamilton
Colorist: Lee Loughridge
Letterer: Todd Klein
Cover: Joao Ruas
Cover Price: $2.99

Review: Chris Johnson
Thanks to the movie magic of Walt Disney, fairy tales have become entrenched in every child's youth. Ask a kid on the street who Snow White, Cinderella, and the Big Bad Wolf are, and they'll tell you before the words have left your mouth. In Fables, these characters of childhood are viewed through a more mature lens, forced out of their fairy tale land by a mutual adversary, and are now living right under human noses in New York. This issue does not focus on the primary cast; instead it flashbacks to the life of a wizard named Dunster Happ, told with occasional interjections by a being named Mister Dark. He serves as a representation of all the bogeymen that lurk in the shadows. Dunster Happ is recruited to become a "boxer," a profession that has ties to not only Mister Dark, but a character who already plays a prominent role in Fables.

This issue is laying the groundwork for the coming months; Mister Dark is being positioned as the next major villain for the series, and, if his actions both past and present are any indication, he's well on his way to being a great foe. The story of Dunster Happ himself is well thought out, and since we're dealing with magic, one of Happ's attributes is immortality. It is one thing to say a character is immortal, it's another to show how that immortality affects them, and Willingham does so in one poignant scene.

I rarely mention the cover in my reviews, but this one deserves mentioning. While I haven't followed Fables consistently, I always looked forward to James Jean's covers. Each one was a masterpiece, and when he announced he was leaving the series, I wondered if anyone would be able to follow him up. I have to say Joao Ruas is an excellent replacement. As far as the interior art goes, it does a great job of complementing this particular story. Fern's people have a medieval look to them, which is fitting for a story taking place in a fairy tale land. Happ's laboratory, which could have only had a trinket here or there, is highly detailed. Mister Dark, while not having the most chilling name in the world, is somewhat redeemed by his appearance. There is even a double-page splash that has a storybook feel to it, a nice touch for a series based around fairy and folktales.

Flip through it if you're in a sword and sorcery type mood.

Uncanny X-Men #513
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 01 July 2009
Writer: Matt Fraction
Penciler: Terry Dodson
Inker: Rachel Dodson
Colorist: Justin Ponsor
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Cover: Terry Dodson
Cover price: $3.99

Review: Aaron Robinson
Even thought the X-Men have only recently shifted their headquarters to San Francisco, already they've had to deal with a citywide riot caused by anti-mutant activist Simon Trask. He wants to set forward an initiative that will force anyone with the X-gene to undergo mandatory chemical birth control, and that's gotten more than a few people hot under the collar. Not only have the X-Men had to deal with enraged citizens, but HAMMER director Norman Osborn has sent his own reckless task force, the Dark Avengers, to deal with the problem. In the chaos that followed, the X-Men and Dark Avengers fought throughout the city, and Beast was captured by Osborn's forces. The book picks up mid-riot, as the X-Men quickly realize retreating might be the best option.

Fraction moves things along at a fast pace, but he doesn't gloss over details. There's a lot to take in during this issue, and that's not a bad thing. Fraction does a solid job of getting everyone into the limelight without bogging things down. I did get a chuckle out of the brief appearance of Adam X, who in a worked up rage tells his "bros" they need to get "extreme." It's pretty much exactly what I'd expect a character who never really escaped the 90s to sound like in this day and age.

Dodson's artwork is solid throughout. The action sequences are fun to look at and are given just the right amount of visual flair. He even manages to make Namor look intimidating, something few artists seem capable of. He does seem a little inconsistent at times, and there are a few cases of awkward anatomy, but it's never particularly noticeable.

If the rest of "Utopia" manages to be as entertaining and tightly paced as this, it should be a solid series. This won't blow you away, but it's entertaining enough to be worth a borrow.

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