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Is It Wednesday Yet?

16 February 2010 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.

Demo: Volume 2 #1
Publisher: DC Comics / Vertigo
Released: 03 February 2010
Writer: Brian Wood
Artist: Becky Cloonan
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Cover: Becky Cloonan
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Sean Lemberg
It's the second coming of Demo, with Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan's well-received original series of self-contained stories finding new life with a new publisher. Originally sent to press by AiT / Planet Lar, the Eisner nominee's publishing rights have recently reverted to its creators, who promptly chose DC's Vertigo imprint as their new home. Now, alongside a bells-and-whistles collection of the original series, the pair is back to launch the book's second run.

For the uninitiated, Demo is a series that primarily concerns itself with single-issue storylines, following the lifestyles and interpersonal relations of a broad range of characters. It's part slice-of-life and part sharp introspection. If the primary character in your first issue doesn't strike a chord, there's a good chance the centerpiece of the next edition will. Brian Wood had originally planned to tie the whole series together by granting each figure a special ability okay, superpower but as the series wore on and Wood's interests changed shape, that direction was cast away.

This month, the lead is faced with a different sort of crisis. Joan, an office worker in San Francisco, hasn't slept in over a week. She's not coming to grips with her sudden ability to fly or lift a car above her head, but rather keeping her distance from a recurring nightmare that's intruded her waking life. Everywhere she goes there's a vivid reminder of something lifted directly from her nightmare, some more specific than others. Wood's storytelling fully embraces the blurred, hazy line between dream and daylight, shifting our perspective with every page until we're never sure if Joan is seeing something real or imagined. The sense of vertigo, for lack of a better word, is extremely effective, and by the end of the issue I felt like I was badly in need of a nap myself.

Of course, that fantastic element of Wood's storytelling would have probably gone unnoticed without an equally dedicated investment from his artist. Becky Cloonan, fortunately enough, proves more than up to the challenge. Her work, presented in stark black and white, steals your attention without demanding it. The lack of color lends a touch of indie credibility, but it also forces her to do more with less and she proves perfectly adept. She quickly establishes two slight variations of her style one for when we're dreaming, and another for when we're awake and then almost immediately starts to blend the two together. Its effect in furthering the allusions Wood makes in the story is unmistakable.

Demo was a nice surprise. Its slow, casual pace may be off-putting for some, but the earnest storytelling and razor-sharp artwork will make it difficult for anyone to turn away. There's actually very little in terms of plot in this issue, but Wood's focus on the details and the constantly shifting focus between dream and reality gives it more than enough substance to last the entire length of the issue. The new Demo is a very quick read, but it delivers more depth than many others can manage with 22 pages packed to the breaking point with dialog. Buy it.

Siege #2
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 03 February 2010
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciler: Olivier Coipel
Inker: Mark Morales
Colorist: Laura Martin
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover: Olivier Coipel
Cover price: $3.99

Review: Sean Lemberg
The Bendis saga continues over at Marvel, where the author's latest focus-shifting mega-event to change the shape of the face of the Earth, dubbed Siege, is underway. As was the case with Dark Reign, Secret Invasion, and Civil War before it, the seeds for this crossover have been germinating for years, with roots planted in every one of Marvel's biggest ongoing titles. Long story short: Norman Osborn is changing the system from the inside and Thor posed a threat to his authority, so Normy invented an excuse to invade Asgard. Backed by his team of Avengers and the full might of HAMMER, he was successful in the sudden offensive, but that bravado may just prove to be the straw that broke the camel's back.

Osborn's recent public rise from villain to reformed up-and-comer to savior to corrupted power has been one of Marvel's best character pieces. Looking back, it's easy to see how telegraphed the man's breakneck rise to power really was, but the brilliance of his story was how off-guard it caught us at the time. No one could have predicted how long Osborn's reign would last, but we all knew it would eventually come to a spectacular end. Now that we've reached that point, the real story isn't so much his fall itself, but how the heroes intend to work around the might both in terms of manpower and PR that he's accumulated while in charge.

Of course, most of those intriguing aspects of this storyline are hidden away between the panels. In the foreground, Bendis caters more regularly to the popcorn-munchers in the audience. Set in the middle of a war zone, it should come as no surprise that the bulk of this issue concentrates on a lengthy fight scene, particularly the sudden skirmish between Ares (who feels betrayed by Osborn) and the Sentry (who's drunk on the Goblin's Kool-Aid). The fight scenes get plenty of room to breathe without the constant word balloons that had become Bendis' trademark, and quickly assume a surprisingly dark tone. These aren't the playful, jab-swapping fisticuffs that constitute most superheroic battles; it's a straight-up war. Nowhere is that hard-line approach more evident than in the breath-stealing conclusion to the Sentry / Ares heavyweight free-for-all. I'm amazed Marvel let it see print, frankly. It's a shocking, major moment that could really change the way the publisher is seen by its readers.

I've loved Olivier Coipel's artwork in the past, and when he stays on task this month it's every bit as good as I remembered during his runs with Thor, House of M, and Avengers. On several occasions, though, Coipel gets carried away with a very loose, complicated paneling style that stands in the way of easy legibility. I'm all for experimentation, especially when we're challenging a set of guidelines and limitations that could stand a breath of fresh air, but when I have to reread a page three or four times to figure out the order it's supposed to be read in, something just isn't working. Coipel's artwork is as magnificent as ever, especially when he gets the chance to pull the camera back from the action and accent the magnitude of the battle from a distance, but he's handicapped himself with this failed storytelling experiment.

Like the previous publisher-spanning sagas I referenced in my introduction, the gears are churning and the plot points are clicking for the opening chapters of Siege. Bendis is a master at building anticipation toward a huge moment that's always dangling just out of reach. Where he's fallen short in the past, and where the success of his latest epic will be decided, is in the follow through. I've been down this road before, I've bought into his promises, I've been legitimately thrilled at the prospect of what was on the horizon. And I've been disappointed. This time I'm holding my breath and waiting to see how it all plays out. Despite a few trips and slips from Olivier Coipel, it's a story of so far, so good. Borrow it.

Superman: World of New Krypton #12
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 03 February 2010
Writers: Greg Rucka and James Robinson
Artists: Pete Woods and Ron Randall
Colorist: Nei Ruffino
Letterer: Steve Wands
Cover: Gray Frank
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Guest
Stop me if you've heard this one before: I don't know what's happening in this comic. DC should do recap pages. (Insert joke.) The art is serviceable. There sure is a lot of talking. (Insert second joke, loosely related to the first.) I'm tired / hungry / angry. The end.

All things being fair, sometimes I don't have much of a choice. I mean, this is the last issue of a yearlong miniseries. That's a full 12 months of storytelling that I missed. This wasn't a bad issue, and really, considering the circumstances, I'm amazed just how much I was able to enjoy it. I just don't know if I can accurately grade it. It'd be like watching the last 15 minutes of Audition and declaring it an awesome movie, simply because I didn't have to watch the 100 minutes of faux-Lynchian tedium that preceded it.

I can safely say that the writing is pretty strong all around. Given the names involved, that should be no huge surprise. Clark in particular is written wonderfully, as the symbol of unyielding hope and justice that he's supposed to be. He manages to be strong and clever, even without access to his powers. It's a fantastic detail that can be easy to miss, as writers can too often make the assumption that a de-powered Superman is just a lump of Kryptonian matter lamenting its inability to punch things to make them all explody-like.

Considering the quality of writing here, it's safe to say that Rucka and Robinson put a lot of thought and care into this new world, and perhaps that's why it still works when you go in blind. There's a vague mystery going on, but the real issue is with Clark's segmented loyalty between his two homes. It's focused more on New Krypton world-building than telling any kind of story, which is both the book's greatest accomplishment and failure. The series sets up a lot of different directions for Superman to go in from this point forward, but I'm not sure I care to see any of them pan out. I'd be lying if I said that the idea of adding 100,000 extra people to an already overpopulated universe was the best idea in the first place, even if it is cool to see General Zod back (in a bitchin' trench coat, no less). But I'd be fine if I at least had some clue as to where it was going. As it stands, it appears that it's just leading into another Superman event that will also likely under-perform, with or without Blackest Night around to overshadow it. If the intention is to establish New Krypton as a force for years to come, then I'll give it a chance. But if the whole thing is destroyed again in six months, then DC just wasted the time and effort of two of their best writers for a year. Either way, something profound needs to occur for this to have any weight at all, and it hasn't happened yet.

Like I said, this is a tricky one. The writing is good, and the art doesn't get in the way, which is the best I can really say for it. I'm just not sure it matters. And if you haven't been reading up to this point, I can't really say you've been missing out on much, as the issue itself is less than the sum of its parts. Flip through it. From there, you'll have a pretty good idea of where Superman is going, and if you want to be along for the ride or not.

Wolverine: Weapon X #10
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 03 February 2010
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: CP Smith
Letterer: Cory Petit
Cover: Adam Kubert
Cover price: $3.99

Review: Guest
Skip this book. Yeah, I'm not fucking around. It's a story about Wolverine's love life. No, Marvel, I don't care how many women he's banged. He's banged all of them. We get it. Every woman that sees him walk into a room instantly swoons over him like a sparkling vampire. Here we set up another girl for Logan's next villain to kill. Awesome. Can't fucking wait. And when Wolverine holds her dead body and screams into the heavens? Oh snap. Time for the revenge issue. Don't forget to pull out Wolverine's bladder or something so he can instantly grow it back before he claws you in the neck. Hey! I can write a Wolverine story arc!

I like Jason Aaron. I really do. Granted, he's only ever written one thing that I actually liked (Scalped), but he seems like a nice enough guy. He embraces the same "bald-headed guy with facial hair" look that I do. He strikes me as the sort of guy that would shake my hand and call me "chief," then sit by me at the bar to share stories about scars we got in high school. That said, he needs to stop writing Wolverine yesterday. There's nothing left to say or do with him anymore, at least, nothing that Marvel would allow. He's radioactive from a creativity standpoint, and all it's doing is hurting the credibility of the writers forced to do something with him. Having Logan walk around and tantrum like a five year old that still believes in cooties shouting "she's not my girlfriend," while funny, is not doing the property any favors.

The sad thing is that CP Smith is actually a really good artist that just happens to have no business whatsoever doing a superhero book, which is ironic because he seems to do a lot of them. He's good for the noir stuff, but a mushy love story involving a costumed hero doesn't really seem like the place for backgrounds randomly made out of dust and sandpaper that make a character walking to the bathroom look like a journey into Donnie Darko's attic.

This book only serves two purposes: as kindling, or as the deciding evidence in a court case to determine whether or not to castrate the person that said Wolverine needed 87 titles.

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