MADAME XANADU #11
Now that we're past Madame X's ten-issue origin details, the ongoing story arcs have begun in earnest with part one of the five-part "Exodus Noir." It's 1940 in New York City and the immortal seeress has set up shop in Greenwich Village, from whence she engages in clandestine investigation of occurrences well outside the ken of ordinary mortals. The first case we're made privy to involves the mysterious death by spontaneous combustion of Colin Shepherd and also features a B story relating Madame X's life and sapphic dalliances in Spain during the Inquisition. This series' first artist, Amy Reeder Hadley, is apparently sitting this arc out and turning over the art chores to Madame Xanadu's original designer, the uber-talented Mike Kaluta, and while I will miss her charming art I'm delighted to get a five-month dose of Kaluta's gorgeous period-piece stylings. (I do hope she comes back, though.) Matt Wagner's scripting is as good as ever and I remain a loyal reader, although I may just stack up the subsequent chapters in this story and read them in one satisfying chunk. I've said it before and I'll say it again: MADAME XANADU is the best thing to come out of Vertigo in ages and it's nice to see a character who's been around for thirty-plus years receive stories worthy of her impressive initial visual promise. RECOMMENDED.
AGENTS OF ATLAS #8
Another terrific issue of Marvel's best current superhero title. Our heroes find themselves placed firmly on Norman Osborn's shit list, most of team jets to Nevada to deal with an unrelated problem and end up on the wrong end of a totally out of control Hulk, and Jimmy Woo finally discovers what happened to his long-ago love, Suwan. Let me put it this way: the Yellow Claw may be dead, but get ready face the talons of the Jade Claw.
NEXUS, when it's on form, is one of the best comics ever, and those of us who keep returning to it hold it in our hearts like a favorite on again/off again lover that you just can't quite get over and their rare visits are always welcome. But every time they return you know it's only for a little while, and with each visit the magic that was once there is recaptured in small fits and starts, but it just ain't ever gonna be the same. Such is my situation with this series. Finally showing up after just shy of a year and a half's wait between issues, NEXUS has returned with two issues packed between its covers. "Space Opera" concludes with the Liberator kicking the ass of the Elvonic Order like nobody's business, Sundra proving the old truth about why it's a bad idea to threaten a mother's child, and the deaths of two major cast members, one of whom was a favorite of Yer Bunche — no, it's not Judah — , but even with all of this going on I felt the whole thing ended with more of a fizzle than a bang. Rude's art is impeccable as always, so the problem lies with a so-so script, coupled with the fact that the only real "event" to "Space Opera" was that it was the return of NEXUS proper after years of nothing. And even that non-event has been kicked in the ass by the announcement that this will be the last we see of this series for the foreseeable future, due to publishing problems and the like. For longtime NEXUS fans this will be a must-read, but other than the two deaths there's simply not much going on here. The one plot element that I'm dying to see play out is what's sure to be a painful meeting between Horatio and his daughters, Scarlett and Sheena, in the wake of certain plot developments, but who knows when, or even if, we'll ever see that?
GREEN LANTERN #42
The seemingly interminable prologue to BLACKEST NIGHT finally comes to an end as Hal Jordan deals with the towering avarice of the Orange lantern and witnesses yet more frustrating chicanery from the so-called Guardians of the Universe. And then something really fucked-up happens...
GREEN LANTERN #43
And now, on to BLACKEST NIGHT...But wait! First we get the origin of Black Hand, the presumed main antagonist in BLACKEST NIGHT, and while it's taken a dog's age to get to the start of this fucking story — hell, it still hasn't started as of this issue — this look into what makes Black hand tick is one of the most disturbing villain origins yet seen in mainstream comics. If this guy's as fucked in the head as we're shown, I can't wait to dive straight into the deep end of his insane and utterly morbid villainy. Bring it on!
BLACKEST NIGHT #1 (of 8)
Now this is what I'm talking about! Nasty from the get-go — we get the Black Hand sensually licking the disinterred skull of Bruce Wayne on page 2, ferfucksake — this looks like it'll shape up to be an epic of death, doom, and destruction that will require the full might of the entire Lantern spectrum to stand against what the Black hand is up to. I'm not certain I've worked out all the particulars, but if the Black Hand's plan is what I think it is, it may take even more than all the Lanterns to handle this shit... A very solid first chapter, but let's see where it goes. RECOMMENDED.
BLACKEST NIGHT: TALES OF THE CORPS #1 (of 3)
The first of the inevitable ancillary books to "Blackest Night," this sports terrific art from Jerry Ordway, Chris Samnee, and Rags Morales in service of scripts by Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi, and as these inevitable tie-in things go it's pretty damned good. As Larfreeze battles the Blue Lanterns in pursuit of a blue ring or his own, we get intimate looks at Saint Walker of of the Blue Lantern Corps, Mongul, who's now damned near a one-man Sinestro Corps — Mongul as a child is a frightening concept — and a dying Green Lantern's encounter with the mysterious Indigo Tribe, and I eagerly await more such geekish lore.
THE WALKING DEAD #63
Do you feel suicidal? Have a general loss of faith in the world around you? Ever find yourself looking for that one small thing to tip you straight over the edge toward self-slaughter? If you answered "yes" to any of those questions, don't ever read THE WALKING DEAD. Are we clear on this? This series is excellent, but it's been darker than midnight at the bottom of the Marianas Trench since issue number one and has only continued to be become ever more bleak with each subsequent installment. For example: in this issue we learn in no uncertain terms that there are far worse fates than becoming a Scooby Snack for the legion of "roamers." I won't say what I'm talking about, but I would rather end up as zombie shit — if they do in fact shit — than face the situation a grief-stricken Dale finds himself in by the end of this issue. No bullshit, Jack.
SECRET SIX #11
Though sporting a cover that looks like it was knocked out in about two hours, part two of "Depths" makes Mister Smyth's plan clear to the Six and brings them into contact with the Amazon Artemis, whom readers may recall from her brief and uninteresting stint as Wonder Woman's replacement some years ago, as well as equally uninteresting guest shots ever since. Held captive and subjected to various degradations at the hands of Smyth's men, an exceedingly pissed-off Artemis seems doomed to endure further abuse, that is until freed by sympathetic banshee Jeanette (a member of the Six about whom little is known other than her status as Deadshot's lover, but she and Artemis have some unexplained and not exactly friendly history between them). As the Six argue among themselves over whether to break their contract with the vile Smyth, Wonder Woman arrives and demands to know who's responsible for harming her Amazon sister, and by the looks of things the Six would appear to be about to receive an ass-kicking from one of the DCU's "Big Three." Fun stuff, and about a hundred times better than what scripter Gail Simone's doing over on Wonder Woman's own book. Maybe Simone's allowed more creative freedom with the Secret Six because DC's too chickenshit to allow her to impart any kind of real interest to one of their more licenceable properties? If that's the case, then it's a goddamned shame.
THE LITERALS #3 (THE GREAT FABLES CROSSOVER Part 9)
"The Great Fables Crossover" comes to a satisfying and very amusing end as Kevin puts pen to paper in an effort to rewrite existence once and for all. We all know that once the crossover's done the characters will return to their own books, meaning something happens to prevent Kevin's mad scheme from coming to fruition. But what could that possibly be? Hint: do the words "deus ex machina" mean anything to you?
BATMAN AND ROBIN #2
The only reason I'm sticking with this is for Frank Quitely's art, and once he's gone after issue #3, I'll be gone as well. Yeah, Dick's having trouble taking on the mantle of his mentor. Yeah, Damian's a douchebag. Tell me something I don't know, or better yet, show me!
THE WARLORD #4
More fun in Skartaris. Nothing earth-shaking, just Grell-style barbarian stuff for those of us old enough to remember that sort of thing. For me, this is the comic book equivalent to getting one's hands on a kind of candy enjoyed during childhood, savoring its flavor, and briefly being transported to more innocent, worry-free days. It's just the adventures of a rather flawed good guy and his pals in a Burroughs-meets-Howard landscape, and that's alright by me.