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Is It Wednesday Yet?

03 September 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.

Daredevil #500
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 19 August 2009
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artists: Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano, Klaus Janson, Chris Samnee, and Paul Azaceta
Colorist: Matt Hollingsworth
Letterer: VC's Chris Eliopoulos
Cover: Marko Djurdjevic
Cover price: $4.99

Review: drqshadow
I guess one of the fringe benefits of renumbering a long-running series like Daredevil is the chance to pick and choose your landmark events. Need a few more pages to give a little extra emphasis to the ending of a major story arc? Well, let's look around and see if we're near an anniversary issue of some kind. As fate would have it, the 500th published edition of the Man Without Fear's ongoing adventures just so happens to coincide with the final chapter of Ed Brubaker's last hurrah with the character. Hence the awkward leap from issue #119 last month, and the seemingly rapid-fire "anniversary" editions. But hey, if it means more content and weightier circumstances on a regular basis, I don't really care what digits they have to throw up on the cover.

Goofy numbering aside, it's easy to see that Brubaker's really made his mark with this character. After devouring Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev's run on the series, I had no amount of envy for the creative team tasked with continuing the story, but Bru and his ensemble of partners have performed better than I ever could have imagined. Not only did he pick up and run with the brutal cliffhanger handed to him by the culmination of Bendis' run, he's slowly built to the point that the cast is ready for another huge change in direction, delivered it, and then immediately handed the ball over to the next team. Is this becoming some sort of rite of passage? If so, the expectations have just doubled for poor Andy Diggle, who takes over next month.

Now that he's concluded his run, I can look back and see how much of Brubaker's work was leading to the enormous revelation that caps off this issue. One by one, he's been slowly cutting the threads connecting Matt to a sense of normalcy and comfort, removing bits and pieces of his civilian identity until we were all ready to see this kind of major lifestyle change. Which isn't to say it was telegraphed more the opposite, in fact. I didn't see this coming, but now that it's happened I've realized that every last clue was right there, waiting to be discovered. He hasn't wrapped up every single plotline from his run, to do so wouldn't have felt right, but Brubaker has certainly cleaned a few cobwebs and made room for whatever direction the series decides to take next.

An entire cadre of artists has joined the writer for his swan song with Daredevil, with frequent collaborators Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano holding the reins for most of it. These two have swapped places several times over the course of the series, with artwork that's similar enough in tone and foundation that most readers probably didn't even notice. In play within the same issue, their faint distinctions are a bit more noticeable, but they're still similar enough that the switch between scenes is comfortable. They're each asked to deliver a series of very complicated emotions, both in the characters' facial expressions and their body language, and they each deliver across the board. It's clear that both knew just how important this issue was, and brought their A-game accordingly.

It's only fitting that the last issue of Brubaker, Lark, and Gaudiano's run is also their best. I'll miss the noir-meets-ninja flavor they brought to this series, just like I missed the courtroom drama and media headhunting that Bendis and Maleev delivered, but it's time for something different. A great deal of the magic of this series lies in its constant ability to seamlessly reinvent itself, and it's cool to see that Marvel not only gets that, but embraces it. This was the right time for Brubaker and friends to step away, because I don't think they'd have been able to top this issue. Buy it up and get ready for another new beginning.

Days Missing #1
Publisher: Archaia
Released: 19 August 2009
Writer: Phil Hester
Artist: Frazer Irving
Letterer: Troy Peteri
Cover: Dale Keown
Cover price: $0.99

Review: Aaron Robinson
What starts off as a story about a virus outbreak in a third-world country quickly twists into something supernatural. Days Missing follows a single day in the life of a white-haired, white-eyed man only known as The Steward. The Steward has spent his life travelling through time, appearing briefly to help out whenever it seems we're in trouble. Rather than trying to change things directly, he opts to influence others to solve the problems themselves, and when his work is done, his existence is forgotten.

The Steward's latest mission sees him in Swaziland during a virus outbreak that's claimed a massive chunk of the population. In just days, the entire country has been quarantined, and The Steward has been spending what little time he has helping a group of scientists search for a cure. After hours of investigating, it appears a vaccine may be possible. But the closest person possible of producing a vaccine appears to be the granddaughter of the country's dictator, King Ngwame, who may not be able to be reasoned with. Nonetheless, The Steward heads out alone, hoping to convince Ngwame to help save humanity.

Despite having a few clever ideas, I couldn't really get into this. The artwork feels a bit rushed at times; panels get reused a lot, certain objects seem to have been pasted on top of the artwork, and the whole book looks needlessly glossy and muddy. Strangely, the few times I did enjoy the artwork, it was during the flashbacks to The Steward's complicated past. One scene shows The Steward in the prehistoric era, trying to help a group of dinosaurs, another sees him in ancient Babylon, trying to help a dying king. I honestly had a lot more fun looking at either scene than I did anything else in the issue.

On a similar note, a lot of Hester's story feels too convenient. Why is it that the only person in the country capable of producing a vaccine is the granddaughter of the most powerful man in said country? Even the way The Steward goes about finding the answers feels a little too easy. I have a hard time believing anyone could be tricked into thinking a breath mint is actually a vaccine, and yet The Steward pulls off such a feat, without enough wordplay to make the whole idea convincing. Plus, after all the talk of how The Steward can only influence others, he seems to get pretty hands-on towards the end, to the extent that he directly saves the life of another character.

I wouldn't say this was a bad comic, just underwhelming. At this stage I'd only give it a flip through, but I'm interested to see future issues.

Superman Annual #14
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 19 August 2009
Writer: James Robinson
Artist: Javier Pina
Colorist: Hi-Fi
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Cover: Renato Guedes
Cover price: $3.99

Review: Aaron Robinson
When I read Superman #689 for IIWY?, I was fine with the fact that Superman wasn't in his own book. I assumed that The Man of Steel would be returning to his title role soon enough, and that his replacement, Mon-El, was probably being built back up for a reason. But once again, Superman isn't here; this issue continues to delve further into Mon-El's past, as he struggles to find out who he is. Maybe all this time spent building up Superman's mopey doppelganger is for a reason, but I'm really starting to have my doubts.

If you're one of the few people who's desperate to learn more about the origins of Mon-El, this is the book for you. Mon-El has come into possession of crystals that detail the history of the Daxam a race of aliens that Mon-El is a part of. The Daxam have not previously been explored in much detail, with Mon-El himself largely unaware of his ancestry. It doesn't help that the few times Mon-El has come into contact with the crystals he's seen violent flashes of his ancestors. But after a bit of soul searching, he finally decides to look into the past to find out the truth behind his origins. The story is essentially a brief overview of the Daxam people, showing their birth as a nation, their growth into peace-seeking explorers, and eventually their demise.

Despite reading through this book twice, I can't really say there was much here that hooked me. That's not to say it's not a solid issue; Javier Pina is a talented artist who is more than capable of drawing a variety of characters in various time periods and locations, and the concept is pretty interesting. But I've yet to find anything particularly gripping about Mon-El, and learning about his ancestors didn't exactly help. The Daxam people seem like a nice bunch, but every one of them felt about as lifeless as a piece of cardboard. The only thing I can really say about them is that they use an almost excruciating amount of flowery language. The sentence "Yes, who my father is, is not so very important a thing" still rings through my mind as I type this review.

If you aren't interested in Mon-El or his Daxam ancestors, I can't imagine getting much out of this issue. It's certainly pretty, but that only goes so far, and I can't say I found any of the characters particularly endearing. Give it a flip though.

Witchblade #129
Publisher: Top Cow
Released: 19 August 2009
Writer: Ron Marz
Artist: Stjepan Sejic
Letterer: Troy Peteri
Cover: Stjepan Sejic
Cover price: $2.99

Review: drqshadow
It's always about the angels and the demons, isn't it? Why can't they just get along for a change? In Witchblade, that unrelenting struggle takes the form of the Angelus and the Darkness, two extreme variations of the same color, with Sara Pezzini's Witchblade straddling the line between the two. Constantly in search of some sort of eternal balance, Sara's role has changed quite a bit over the years. For one, the Witchblade itself has divided and sought out a second master, Danielle Baptiste, and (surprise, surprise) the two don't get along. Having finally come to blows, both women managed to escape with their lives, but the rift between them has grown wider. Now Sara's blade is beginning to lean toward the darkness, while Danielle's embraces the light.

For all the pomp and circumstance proposed by his plot, Ron Marz takes an absurdly casual approach to writing this issue. When Sara transforms the Brooklyn Bridge into a gothic cathedral complete with glowing green windows Danielle reacts as though she's ordering a pizza. It's downright hilarious the way so many absurd, fantastic situations are treated as though they were commonplace. Maybe the residents of this version of New York are accustomed to seeing armor-plated angels sailing through the sky, four-foot long swords protruding from their forearms, but I certainly am not. When did this series completely lose its link to reality, and why does it flaunt that disconnection so proudly?

Remember Spawn: The Impaler, a fully painted three-issue miniseries from the mid 1990s, the height of McFarlane-mania, when Image was cashing in on the character's popularity with weak spinoffs and terrible movies? If not, thank your lucky stars. It was horribly written and essentially impossible to follow thanks to artwork that really had no business being painted. In either case, Stjepan Sejic's artwork in Witchblade #129 is its spiritual successor. It's so ugly it gets in the way of the story, which wasn't exactly the stuff of legend in the first place.

Sejic's touch with the paintbrush is fine he'd do well as a full time colorist; it's his compositions and stale underlying sketches that ruin the issue. Most characters look alike, if not identical, like rejects from an open audition for All My Children. The landscapes they occupy vary wildly from needlessly excessive detail to lazy, half-assed afterthoughts. Sometimes he takes that leap more than once on a single page. Sejic can't settle on a paneling style, either, flying recklessly from a strict grid layout to a series of wild, arcing, jagged-edged trapezoids. He really doesn't seem to be ready for this kind of gig.

Witchblade #129 is a bundle of regurgitated concepts and weak execution. While it professes to be much more, Ron Marz's script is really just an excuse to jump into a fight scene. His cast speaks in a single dull, unified voice, without a relatable character in the mix. And, despite delivering a small handful of surprisingly great single panels, the vast majority of Stjepan Sejic's artwork is faceless and unfocused. Even if you have a long relationship with the series, this issue probably won't entertain you despite the plot twist at its conclusion. It makes plenty of noise, but in the end it's hauntingly shallow. Skip it.

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