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Is It Wednesday Yet?

03 November 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.

Beasts of Burden #2
Publisher: Dark Horse
Released: 21 October 2009
Writer: Evan Dorkin
Artist: Jill Thompson
Letterer: Jason Arthur
Cover: Jill Thompson
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Desmond Reddick
You'd think that a book featuring a group of characters whose mission it is to protect the common folk from supernatural baddies would be a little tired by this point. Especially for those so entrenched in horror comics. But the protectors of Burden Hill are much more than your run-of-the-mill paranormal investigators, they're house pets. Springing from the incredibly creative Dark Horse Book of series (Witchcraft, Hauntings, the Dead, and Monsters, to date), comes the Eisner Award-winning duo of Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson. Is it Eisner-worthy this time? Well, based on one issue? Yes.

When supernatural threats strike Burden Hill, it is up to the most unassuming of its citizens to protect us from evil. When they aren't curled up on their masters' laps, these cats and dogs practice magic to take down ghosts and demons. It sounds so simple and it is. Simple yet beautiful.

The only problem I had going into this issue seeing as I loved the previous four shorts I'd read was that I was missing the first issue. But that worry was quickly put aside as the story easily brings you in with warm and compassionate characters, funny dialog, and quickly paced storytelling. If this was a movie, I'd hate it with every fiber of my being. But this like I'm assuming the first issue was is a one-off story. A powerful one at that.

Talking animals are so far out of my purview that I almost find it insulting when it is used. But it's no lie when I say that these are the best, most well-developed characters to grace a comic book this year. Their mission and interplay is a joy to behold. Though I have read these characters before, it is still surprising to me that we're getting such well-rounded, sentimental characters from the creator of Milk & Cheese.

The end brought me to tears for God's sake! A bunch of talking dogs! Unreal.

The art? Jill Thompson painting whimsical stuff? Gold. Thompson has the very difficult job of painting animals, but for the entire cast to be different breeds with different personalities in various poses throughout, she does a more than competent job of depicting the storytelling of these animals.

The final pages are some of the best comic storytelling I have ever seen in my entire life. Stunning, heartfelt, and morose. Thompson deserves every bit of kudos she's ever gotten and then some.

The only other thing to discuss is how hearty my recommendation is. Initially, I thought I would be grabbing this in trade format, but the fullness of this issue makes it a buy and a pull for this superb title.

Blackest Night: Superman #3
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 21 October 2009
Writer: James Robinson
Pencilers: Eddy Barrows and Allan Goldman
Inkers: Ruy Jose and Eber Ferreira
Colorist: Rod Reis
Letter: Steve Wands
Cover: Eddy Barrows
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Desmond Reddick
So, for the past two issues, Earth-Two Superman and Lois Lane came back from the dead to mess with New Earth Superman. How does one mess with Superman? Mess with Smallville. And in this issue, Black Lantern Psycho Pirate has joined the fun and is sending the citizens of Smallville into an emotional cyclone. If you don't know by now, emotion is what the Black Lanterns feed off of. So naturally, things aren't going so well. Superman, Superboy, Ma Kent, and Krypto are all that stands between the Black Lanterns and Smallville's total destruction. And considering Superboy's been turned against Superman by Psycho Pirate, this is easier said than done. Part of the book isn't in Kansas anymore, as we see Supergirl and her mom face off against Black Lantern Zor-El on New Krypton.

There's been a lot of horror tension in the first two issues and things have finally exploded into all-out carnage. Superman has to battle both Superboy and Kal-L, leaving Krypto to save Ma from Earth-Two Lois. As the Black Lanterns are supposed to come after those they will have the most impact on, it had me wondering why Lois bothered coming back especially when she wasn't facing off against our Lois. I mean, who wouldn't be terrified seeing a zombified alternate reality version of themselves? But there is a pretty amazing moment where the emotional impact hits Ma Kent.

Ultimately that's what this book is: a bit of a ramshackle collection of great moments with very little tying it together. The first two issues of this series had the makings of the best Superman story I'd read in some time, but the third issue is delicate. As a tie-in miniseries, you know that there will be no finality to it, and I was prepared for that. What I wasn't prepared for was the shotgun characterization. It could have been slimmed down a little what with the establishment of the relationship between Clark and Conner in the previous issues but it felt rehashed. And the Psycho Pirate stuff felt padded. I mean, if a superpowered zombie stronger than damn near anything in existence is attacking your town, do you need someone walking around amplifying emotions?

The art is still up to par. And just when the excellent "spectrum vision" of the Lanterns should feel a little tired, in this issue it's really scaled back. The storytelling is top-notch, and the coloring is great for a frantic, terrifying story. There is some minor gore, but that's also handled very well. And Krypto looks stellar and vicious.

Speaking of Krypto, he finally gets to shine. And there's the promise of more Krypto action in Blackest Night.

This is fun but ultimately empty, and I truly believe that this would be much better served in trade paperback format. But if you still want to see how it ends, flip through it.

The Brave and the Bold #28
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 21 October 2009
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artist: Jesus Saiz
Colorist: Trish Mulvihill
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Cover: Jesus Saiz
Cover price: $2.99

Review: drqshadow
No good can come of The Flash playing around with an alteration to the speed of light. Seriously, outside of silencing a profound burst of scientific curiosity, what purpose can such a pursuit really serve? You just know there's going to be an evil genius or a time warp or something hiding back there, and then Barry's going to have his whole afternoon spelled out for him. But experiment he must, and wrong everything oh so naturally goes. Turns out there really was a time warp waiting for him, and now today's Flash is sprinting around in the era of World War II, interacting with the Blackhawks and trying to explain his outfit, his identity, and how he's different from Jay Garrick, the silver-helmed Flash of the day.

J. Michael Straczynski's plot would feel right at home back in the Silver Age, when science didn't really need to have a distinct purpose and writers could smudge the details as much as they wanted. In a way, that kind of innocence is genuine and adorable. For instance, I couldn't help but smile when I saw the little yard markers Barry's scientist buddy had set up on the grassy knoll he'd chosen for testing their experiments. Either he's laid down somewhere in the neighborhood of ten thousand of those things, or a man sprinting at the speed of light will lose sight of them after his first step. But when we're talking about a guy who can run quickly enough to teleport himself 60-odd years backwards in time, those details are more of a flamboyant accent and less of a point of concern.

Still, I was hoping for a bit more meat from this story than Straczynski provided. I admire his respect for the format, telling a string of self-contained stories over the course of his run, but this may have been too ambitious of a project for it. We cover so much ground in so few pages that it starts to feel like nothing is carrying any emphasis. There's a solid morality crisis in the middle of the issue, as Barry struggles with his vow to never take a life while wearing the crimson and gold amidst a Nazi shelling, but it's over and done with after a couple of panels. There simply isn't enough time to spread it out any longer.

Jesus Saiz's accompanying artwork has its hits and misses. In some of its stronger panels, his work fits the era nicely; a clean, crisp, down-to-earth style that's half Steve Dillon and half Joe Kubert. In others, Saiz attempts to modernize things just a bit too much. He understands the nuances of good visual storytelling, but that constant flux between an era-appropriate style and something that's undeniably modern kept me persistently off-balance. In later pages he manages to marry the two with some success, but by then the bulk of the drama has already passed. He does good work, but just took a bit too long to find solid footing.

I can understand that the big draw here is the oddball teaming of a modern superhero with a squad of soldiers from the distant past, so it came as no surprise that the vast majority of this issue was spent on their interactions with each other. But when an entire month's worth of action is blown through in a single-page montage, I can't help but feel somewhat shortchanged. This is a fun little stroll through time; it's nothing to take too seriously, and decent enough entertainment for a lazy weekend read. It fits into its single-issue shell, but not without making a few clear sacrifices. Flip through it and move on with your life.

Justice League of America #38
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 21 October 2009
Writer: James Robinson
Penciler: Mark Bagley
Inker: Rob Hunter
Colorist: Pete Pantazis
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Cover: Mark Bagley
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Guest
Hey. Yeah, you over there. Come here for a second. I got something to show you.

No, I'm cool, just wanted to show you this new Justice League comic. Look like something you'd be interested in? Come on, now. You strike me as someone with good taste. This book is right up your alley. Lemme tell you all about it. It has all of your favorite Justice League characters inside. Superman? Well... no. Wonder Woman? No. Batman? Well, technically he's not in this book, but he's on the cover! Okay, stop naming characters. I'll tell you what I'll give you. For just three bucks three hundred pennies I'll give you five straight pages of Vixen complaining. Just a dozen quarters a handful of games of Pac-Man that's all I need from you. Vixen isn't a big enough name for you? How's Red Tornado tickle your fancy, huh? That's right. If you act now, I'll even throw in the one, the only, Plastic Man!

You're walking away...

Alright, so you're not convinced? I see you drive a hard bargain. But I like you. I wouldn't normally do this, but just for you, I'm gonna toss in a senseless 10-page fight with an all-too-convenient deus ex machina ending. One second there's going to be bodies flying all over the place, a real superhero donnybrook, and then a character with no real defined limits to their power and who has no reason to be there is gonna show up and take care of everything in a heartbeat. I tell ya, it's gonna wrap the whole issue up quickly, the least amount of thought required, I promise. That's not something you get much of this day and age. Normally you get characters that have to outsmart a bad guy or find an alternate way out of a situation. But I'm not here to waste your time with that. You're a busy person. You've got better things to do.

But that's not all. You ever hear of a guy named Mark Bagley? Yeah, did a huge run on Ultimate Spider-Man. He's good people. I know this isn't his best work, but give a guy a break. He's getting up there in the years. The inker wasn't doing him any favors, either. Yeah, I know, everyone has twig legs. Just go with it. That's the style these days. The kids love it.

It's not a bad book, though. I mean, considering the writer and artist this should be a home run, but now you're just being negative. I'm just an honest salesman trying to look out for your best interests, and I think you would be perfectly fine settling for an average, unremarkable comic like this one.

You're just gonna flip through it at the comic shop? You know, I really thought you were better than that. Fine. I was gonna give you a deal on the new Cable issue, but now you can just forget it. I'll take my business elsewhere.

Power Girl #6
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 21 October 2009
Writers: Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist: Amanda Conner
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: John J. Hill
Cover: Amanda Connor
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Guest
Boobs. There, I said it. Now that I've gotten that out of my system, on with the review.

A ship housing three posh alien women has crashed in Manhattan and they've begun wreaking a sort of havoc that leans a bit more towards the mischievous than the mean-spirited. Despite this, a man has died in the chaos, and a green man on a jet pack is trying to capture the troublemakers. Power Girl, caught in the middle of the situation, is not happy and she's looking for answers.

I'll admit that this issue got me in the right mood from the start when it decided to bring me up to speed. Mind you, this is DC, and thus, no recap page, but I was still able to follow from the first page due to the internal monologue of our busty bruiser. (Nope, still not over it after all.)

As the last issue of the most recent story arc, it's not hard to figure out what comes next here. Power Girl busts some heads, has a final encounter with our otherworldly ladies, and is back home in time for 30 Rock. Perhaps the best thing this book has going for it is that none of what I just said happens. Instead we get several pages of superheroines shopping! And it's somehow awesome. This is the perfect book to give to a girlfriend that's trying to get into comics. That's not to say it's overly girly, but it focuses so much more on character and humor than testosterone-fueled action.

It sort of goes without saying at this point that Amanda Conner was put on this Earth to draw Power Girl, and not just because of her ability to draw the best chest ornaments this side of a Dead or Alive game. She alone is the reason an entire page of Kara and Atlee shopping at IKEA is more entertaining than any epic fight scene that could have been in its place. It's this small, seemingly insignificant moment that makes these two so likable and human, and it's ultimately what makes you care about them. I loved Conner's work on the Terra mini, and in some ways, this is even better.

If there's anything going against it, I have to admit that the ending is sort of silly, and in the grand scheme of other DC titles, none of this is going to matter much. In that sense, I'd almost consider it a positive as well; it's friendly to new readers despite being the end of a storyline. That's a hard thing to pull off, and thankfully, it's done in a fun, gorgeous book that really surprised me. Buy it.

Spider-Woman #2
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 21 October 2009
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Alex Maleev
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Cover: Alex Maleev
Cover price: $2.99

Review: drqshadow
A long-promised labor of love from the former creative team of Daredevil, Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, Spider-Woman has been in development for what seems like ages. And with the timely release of this second issue, the creators and fans of the character can finally breathe a sigh of relief while sitting back to enjoy the ride.

Speaking of wild rides, Jessica Drew herself has been taking one for just about her entire life. A genetic experiment at birth, she's traded allegiances and comrades like the men on Wall Street deal in stocks. She's lived as a superhero, a secret agent, an Avenger, a private eye, and much more, capped off by a kidnapping at the hands of the Skrulls. Replaced by a doppelganger alien queen, Jessica has struggled to reenter a casual superpowered existence back home on Earth since the failed alien invasion. Longtime friends are having trouble looking at her without flashing back to the treacherous actions of her Skrull imposter, and that isn't making it easy to find a lunch mate, let alone a running buddy. Isolated and lonely, she's taken the first job she can find as a planetary defense agent for SWORD.

If you're wondering where this story fits on a scale of Daredevil to Halo: Uprising, it's fortunately much closer to the former. Jessica isn't nearly as brooding, quiet, and angry as Matt Murdock, though. And she's a very personable, interesting lead character that both Bendis and Maleev have a firm grasp of. Unlike the pair's collaboration on the aforementioned Xbox tie-in, this story is direct, quick to action, and almost completely enveloping. The focus is rarely shifted from Jessica's side, and I wouldn't want it any other way. Though they're still exploring the potential of this character telling us who she is, what she does, and how she does it their elaborations don't come across as excessively pedantic. Bits and pieces of her psyche and abilities are revealed as dictated by the narrative itself, not thrust upon us out of the blue. I didn't feel like I was in a classroom taking notes, instead I was watching an old pro shoot from the hip and play it by ear.

Maleev's artwork is every bit as gorgeous as I remembered. His style has shifted subtly to suit the situation, but it remains gritty, vivid, and perfectly stylized. He's among the best in the business at conveying emotion through body language and facial expression, best evidenced this month when a speeding vehicle opens fire on a crowd and Drew hits the deck, hands clasped to her ears, screaming at the top of her lungs. Maleev treats a powerful woman as effectively as he did a seedy noir hero: with respect, grace, and sharp clarity. What's more, he's carrying an extra load in this series by painting over his own artwork. But unlike most painted books, Spider-Woman's visuals don't get in the way of its writing. They're used as an accent, not an emphasis the sign of a true master. He didn't need a crutch, and doesn't use the paintbrush as such. What a relief.

This series is still working its way up from the ground floor, but it's already clear that Bendis and Maleev's creative link has never been stronger. The two work styles that compliment each other as well as anybody else in the business, and while this series gives us a different angle on that collaboration, in the end it's no less effective. These guys have still got it. Buy it and enjoy.

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