NOTE: by "recent" I mean things I've read within the past week or two, so the comics in question may have just hit the stands or they may be oldies that have been collected or something I've returned to after a long time.
BATMAN AND ROBIN #1
Following the mess that was "Batman R.I.P." comes "Batman: Reborn," which is simply Dick Grayson and Batman's bastard son (and total douchebag) Damian taking over the six-months vacant roles of Batman and Robin, and though the fact that it's written by Grant Morrison may engender fears of another "Batman R.I.P."-style clusterfuck, this is a solidly entertaining read. The fact that Frank Quitely draws it is what got me interested in the first place since I love his work, and once again he goes balls out and badassed as the he depicts the new Dynamic Duo during their first week on the job. My only complaints are that it's such a brisk read it's nearly over before it's really begun, and thanks to Damian futzing with some of his father's blueprints the Batmobile now qualifies as an actual aircraft, but when one is having this much fun such considerations are indeed minor. The only thing is that I can see this series being much more effective when saved up for a few issues and read in a good-sized chunk or in the inevitable collected edition, so you may want to hold out for that.
SECRET SIX # 10
Ah, Gail Simone, if only you were single... *SIGH* Sorry, excuse me... Writer Gail Simone and the art team of Nicola Scott and Doug Hazelwood (with simply amazing colors from Jason Wright) continues to deliver the goods with this highly entertaining series and I fucking love it, so with that in mind I wonder how long it'll be until it gets canceled. The latest issue kicks off an arc entitled "Depths" and introduces Mr. Smyth, a soulless bastard of a villain who has enslaved a group of simple villagers to work in the hazardous conditions of his mines. If anyone dares to get out of line, Smyth's deadly and possibly superhuman henchwoman Giuna whips out her twin Ghurka knives and makes with the killing, and based on the strength of all that evil I wanted to see Smyth and Giuna test their Mettle against any member of the Secret Six and see how they'd fare, something that's bound to happen once the Six get hired by Smyth... The greatest strength of this book is how Simone handles the characters, a conglomeration of stone-cold killers and mental cases, and makes us care about each one of them wholeheartedly, especially with the recent evolution of the tender and moving relationship between bane and Scandal Savage (it's purely platonic). This is very good stuff and you should check it out.
GREEN LANTERN #41
Okay...I like the Green Lantern books and all, but is the interminable "Prelude to Blackest Night" ever going to fucking end and get down to the actual business of "Blackest Night" proper? Seriously, I'm honestly beginning to wonder because the prelude appears to have nothing even resembling and end in sight. This issue is a cavalcade of converging subplots, but the meat of this installment focuses on Hal Jordan's battle with the corporeal form of Larfleeze, aka "Agent Orange," while his fellow Corpsmen contend with Larfreeze's Orange Lantern Corp comprised of constructs in the form of various beings Larfeeze murdered over time. Larfreeze covets Hal's blue ring — loooooong story; read the collected editions — and relates his not very interesting origin story in exchange for it, after which Hal pays one hell of a price... Whatever. Just get on with the goddamned "Blackest Night" already, ferfucksake!!!
BATTLEFIELDS: DEAR BILLY (TPB)
Garth (PREACHER, THE BOYS) Ennis has always displayed a flair for war stories, and his currently running BATTLEFIELDS series allows him an outlet for that particular area of his talents that has thus far yielded some of the best work of his career. Stripped of the fantastic elements found in much of his earlier work, Ennis gives readers intimate stories of the all-too-human participants in modern warfare, and the heart-wrenching DEAR BILLY combines wartime romance with outright tragedy. It's the story of a British nurse whose own shattering experience at the hands (and, frankly, other bits of anatomy) of the Japanese leaves her deeply psychologically scarred, but, in the truest tradition of old school Brits, she soldiers on and resumes her nursing duties. While hiding her fractured mental state and the fact that she was violated and left for dead, she falls in love with a decorated British flying ace and begins to piece herself back together. Unfortunately, she's forced by her job to care for Japanese prisoners of war, and in no time her Asian charges begin to die, presumably of natural causes brought about by their injuries... That's all I'll say on this one, other than that the unfairly underrated Peter Snejberg's art is perfect for the story's mood and tone. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
BATTLEFIELDS: THE NIGHT WITCHES (TPB)
Featuring some of the best work in illustrator Russ Braun's career, this BATTLEFIELDS entry depicts an all-female squadron of Russian stealth bomber pilots who must overcome entrenched military sexism and the ancient aircraft they must use on their missions. Also featuring a wartime romance, this is quite a good read and I wanted to read more about the story's protagonist after its conclusion. I've told Garth that he has a real flair for writing both female characters and romance stroies, and one of these days I'd really like to see what he could do with a straight romance comic. RECOMMENDED.
BACK TO BROOKLYN #5 (OF 5)
The mob drama reaches an explosive and ultra-violent climax, and I recommend reading the whole thing when it gets collected, but other than some truly impressive moments of graphic violence and sadism, this series doesn't add up to much more than an okay way to kill a half-hour. It started out strong and kind of petered out by the end.
SAVAGE SHE-HULK #2 (OF 4)
Lyra, the alternate future gene-spliced offspring of the Hulk and Thundra the Femizon, continues on her time-displaced mission to find our era's greatest hero, and the result is a virtually plotless slugfest against the Jennifer Walters She-Hulk, supplemented with a reprint of a Chris Claremont and Alan Davis She-Hulk short story I hadn't seen since the 1990's. But don't let the plotlessness and the inclusion of a reprint turn you off; it's a fun virtually plotless slugfest and reprint that greatly pleased my inner ten-year-old. Good, kinda goofy fun, and it's good to see a comic that exists with no artistic pretensions, just the function to entertain. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the book's logo covers up Jennifer Walters' ass in the finished version of the cover.
THOR BY J. MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI VOL. 1 (HC)
After a particularly impassioned bit of well-reasoned and intelligent preaching from Jeffrey, one of the awesome staff at Jim Hanley's Universe (my comics shop of choice in New York City), I decided to give the current run of THOR a third chance, and when it comes to the issues contained in this well-drawn by Olivier Coipel volume (#s 1-6) I remain firm in the opinion that nearly fuck all happens. In a nutshell: Thor returns from the dead after finally breaking Asgard's periodic Ragnarok cycle (an overused plot element for which I cannot thank Marvel enough for finally kicking it to the curb), rebuilds Asgard in Oklahoma (???), and revives most of his fellow Asgardian gods. As I said, it's all gorgeous to look at, but nowadays there's little to no action to be had in what was once one of the two Marvel books (the other being THE INCREDIBLE HULK) where readers were absolutely guaranteed a solid dose of superheroic ass-kickery/smashy-smashy and wonder in every issue. The events covered in the six issues collected here could easily have been covered within two issues, max, but Straczynski chose to drag it all out and pour on the portentous "mythic" tone and dialogue, and the shit moves like a Brontosaurus on Thorazine (no pun intended). I do like the newly-female Loki, though, who adds an element of much-needed old school "evil queen" style to the proceedings.
THOR BY J. MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI VOL. 2 (HC)
A considerable improvement over the previous volume, narrative-wise, this volume gives us yet more Asgardian intrigue and finally sees the overlong buildup have a point as all of its seemingly disparate subplots suddenly come together magnificently. In a nutshell: the previous issues' non-action serves to set the stage for the realization that the new Asgard has no real sense of purpose for itself or its inhabitants, an interesting revelation regarding Balder the Brave, and Loki masterminding what is perhaps the master stroke of all his/her centuries of fucking over the Aesir in general and Thor in particular. Loki's new female form allows some leeway in how the Asgardians perceive him/her and his/her alleged new attitude, but anyone with a brain can see that Loki's still the same evil motherfucker as always, vagina or no, and once the latest fucking-over happens to Thor, the thunder god has a pretty good idea who's behind it and when he can prove his suspicions and clear his name, the shit's gonna hit the fan bigtime. But that day may be a long way in coming and until then Thor will be adrift in the world of mortal man and Asgard itself looks to be making a move to the more suitable climes of a little nation called Latveria... I don't know if I'll keep up with this series on a month-to-month basis, but I'll definitely check out the collected editions because it reads a whole hell of a lot better as a cohesive piece rather than a chapter play.
THOR: AGES OF THUNDER (HC)
Basically what would happen if the old "Tales of Asgard" backup series had been done right in the first place, this collection of wholly mythic adventures of Thor and the rest of the Norse gods, monsters and assorted miscreants is one hell of an excellent read from start to finish and is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. So good that I'm urging you to read it without even telling you what it's about, this book is in my opinion what the highly acclaimed Straczynski-scribed THOR series should have been from the onset, namely the letter-perfect and briskly-paced blend of mythic pageantry and heroic action.
SHAKARA VOL. 1: THE AVENGER (TPB)
One of the weirder of the current crop of 2000 AD's strips, SHAKARA features an inscrutable alien hero who flies about in a signature spacecraft, shouting a catch phrase ("Shakara!") while inflicting righteous and terminal harm upon its enemies... Hey, wait a minute... That sounds exactly like 2000 AD's classic NEMESIS THE WARLOCK series (1980-1989, 1999), and I'll be damned if this isn't pretty much a lighter rehash of that stuff. It's very entertaining and visually intriguing, but I cannot for the life of me figure out how the powers that be at the 2000 AD offices greenlit a series so similar to one of its most famous stories. Did no one up there recognise this? Is everyone up there these days too young to remember NEMESIS? Whatever the case, SHAKARA is lively and engaging, so for those who didn't experience the admittedly inconsistent charms of NEMESIS THE WARLOCK, it's definitely worth giving a chance. Available as an import.
THE BOYS #30
This issue-length epilogue to the overlong "We Gotta Go Now" arc sets up the series' next step with changes being made to the government-backed superhero team The Seven, Wee Hughie waking up to exactly how serious the purpose of The Boys is, and Butcher revealing just how much of a hardcase bastard he really is during one of his twisted moments of backdoor intimacy with CIA Director Susan Rayner. That last one's especially chilling and I'm very curious to see how it pans out...
THE BOYS #31
This issue's drawn by Carlos Ezquerra of STRONTIUM DOG fame and looks way more slick than his usual work thanks to the inks of his son, Hector. Part one of "The Self-Preservation Society" sees our heroes handing out a serious kicking to a pack of heroes once known as "The Maverikz," following which the government finally gets off its ass and initiates a strike against The Boys that looks to have have left one of their number dead... As of this issue this series has picked up steam again, and I trust Garth Ennis not to let me down with where this arc looks like it's going.
WONDER WOMAN #32
Fucking finally! After an overlong buildup, Diana finally takes it to Genocide and kicks her motherfucking ass like it was "National Free Ass-Whuppin' Day," while also inadvertently revealing her true feelings for Nemesis, her utter cipher of a love interest. The fight's brutal as hell and quite decisive (until a bit of predictable divine intervention, thus ensuring Genocide's eventual return as, well, you'll see...), but I'm more interested to see what the events of this issue mean for Nemesis. I hope he's swiftly and permanently written out because he's an unnecessary bore and a half, and ever since her reboot back in the mid-1980's I've always seen Diana as something of a vestal warrior virgin in her capacity as a servant/representative of the Greek goddesses. She's a clay sculpture that was brought to life and granted all sorts of abilities that grant her a status that's very much other than human, despite her considerable sweetness and humanity, so she's a mythic creature who might just be beyond or above the need for a romantic involvement. And if she does need romance, she can sure do a hell of a lot better than that weed Nemesis!
THE LAST DAYS OF ANIMAL MAN #1 (OF 6)
Animal Man is a character whose power to tap into the abilities of animals anywhere they may exist — in recent years that power extended to extraterrestrial life forms as well — has fascinated me immensely, even when writers over the years have had absolutely zero clue what to do with him. Grant Morrison's justly celebrated run on the character is what defined him for me and most other people who care about Buddy Baker at all, and after that the only time he's been of interest was during the otherwise totally worthless 52, when he was part of a lost-in-space trio including Adam Strange and Starfire. But, seriously, how could anyone hope to keep Animal man around in a regular series without him getting tired? (Which is exactly what happened when Morrison's 26-issue run ended and Vertigo allowed the series to aimlessly plod along for another sixty-three issues.) Perhaps sensing this, DC has released this Gerry Conway-scribed, Chris Batista-drawn mini-series that looks like it may kill off the character once and for all, and I applaud that decision. In the not-too-distant future, an aging Buddy Baker discovers that his animal-tapping abilities are no longer fully reliable, disconnecting from him at inopportune moments without an explanation in sight. That's a real problem since he finds himself pitted against the vicious Bloodfire, a psycho bad guy whose own anger causes the blood of others to literally and fatally boil. The issue ends with Buddy powerless and plummeting to his likely death from a great height, and the story has me intrigued enough to come back next month. However this one does read like it'd be best to wait for the inevitable collected edition, so you might opt for that. Oh, and this features what is in my opinion the best work of illustrator Chris Batista's career. Well done, Chris!
KINGDOM VOL. 1: THE PROMISED LAND
KINGDOM is a recent addition to the 2000 AD stable that is the first new strip to really kick me in the head since the short-lived, late, lamented and hilarious BIG DAVE back in 1993. Written by Dan Abnett and beautifully illustrated by Richard Elson, KINGDOM's a simple and virtually all-action series about survival and savage fighting whose simplicity is wholly appropos since it chronicles the post-apocalyptic adventures of a hero who's the result of genetic engineering program that sought to create super-soldiers from dogs.
Canine-derived soldier Gene the Hackman leads his pack through a future wilderness, following the programmed orders of the unseen "Masters," and their task is to keep the Masters' "lawn" — meaning the entire landscape — free from the marauding hordes of "Them," a ravenous and implacable horde of advanced insectoid life forms. Highly trained and super-tough, Gene and his pack kick ass like nobody's business, but as the team is whittled down by their encounters with Them, an internal struggle for power splits what remains of the pack and more tragic deaths add up to leave poor Gene on his own, but still urged on by the telepathic urgings of his Masters. Upon locating the home of the Masters, Gene makes a discovery that fills in himself and the readers on exactly what happened to the world and humankind, as well as setting Gene on a path that leads him to the Amish-like community known as the Promised Land. There he meets Leezee Sower, a young girl whose beloved dog has recently died, and the ages-old bond between man and Man's Best Friend sparks between the two, only with a bizarre sci-fi edge to it. This is excellent stuff that hooked me from the first panel, and this volume is the perfect way to jump into the series before its upcoming return to the weekly pages of 2000 AD. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
WAR OF KINGS #1 (OF 6)
I'm kinda late to the party for this latest of Marvel's periodic "cosmic" epics, but I'm glad to be able to say it's a case of better late than never. I saw a preview of this a few months back and was intrigued, but I immediately forgot about it thanks to being tired of getting burned by Marvel books that look promising but turn out to be crap, and now, some five months after the preview, I keep hearing nothing but great things about WAR OF KINGS. Well, having had the same thing happen with Straczynski's THOR, I was leery, but that book's number one missionary at Jim Hanley's Universe, Jeffrey, called it to my attention as one of the rare epic books that kicked ass, but when I went to pick up what I'd missed — the fourth issue just came out this Wednesday — I discovered the first issue was long gone and unlikely to be had at any comics shop in the city due to everyone thinking it would be another dud and thus under-ordering it. Fortunately for me, one of my co-workers at the design 'ho house had issue number one and let me read it. The book opens with a breakneck chase through hyperspace that has the Starjammers — long a supporting character mainstay in the Marvel Universe and a crew I always found far more annoying than interesting — pursued by a guns-a-blazin' Shi'Ar superdestroyer as they make their way to the Kree homeworld of Hala for the wedding of Crystal of the Inhumans to Kree uber-badass Ronan the Accuser. That bit of business just goes to show how long it's been since I kept up with the goings-on of the Inhumans, because I had no clue Crystal finally kicked that assmunch Quicksilver to the curb (a match I never understood in the first place) or that Black Bolt is now apparently the king of the Kree and that the Inhumans' city of Attilan has moved from our moon's habitable Blue Area to Hala. And then I found out that Lilandra, empress of the Shi'Ar and on again/off again lover of Charles Xavier (aka Professor X of the X-Men) has been deposed, so reading just the first seven pages of this was like coming back to a tightly-woven soap opera that I'd left years before.
Aw, who'm I kidding? That's exactly what happened, but I digress...
Now under the control of Vulcan, a human mutant, the Shi'Ar find themselves involved in an invasion of the Kree empire, a course of action that absolutely does not go down well with Gladiator, leader of the Shi'Ar Imperial Guard, the Marvel Universe's thinly-disguised Legion of Super-Heroes doppelganger. Nonetheless, it is Gladiator's odious task to lead the Guard on a brutal and devastating attack on the wedding of Crystal and Ronan as Vulcan's forces begin the invasion by conquering assorted outlying worlds. When the smoke clears there are casualties on both sides, but the Kree/Inhumans side really takes it up the ass as Ch'od of the Starjammers loses a hand while trying and failing to prevent the kidnapping of Lilandra, and Ronan the Accuser lays still and possibly dead. If there's one thing I know after years of reading Marvel comics it's that you don't fuck with the Inhumans without expecting some kind of terrible retribution, and this issue ends with Medusa, Black Bolt's wife and spokesperson, declaring that the Shi'Ar had better get ready for a major league ass-kicking. That's a lot of shit to go down in one issue, and I definitely don't recommend it for the newcomer to the Marvel Universe, but for those of us who have stuck with that superheroic soap opera for the past few decades will find this a lot of fun. I can't wait to read the rest of it (and skip the multiple tie-ins). Oh, and this is co-written by Dan Abnett, the guy who wrote the excellent aforementioned KINGDOM so that alone gives me faith. RECOMMENDED.