It’s not unlikely that I will SPOIL something below
I read 24 comics in May, and these were the best.
Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #5
Dance continues to be a pleasant surprise, though one that is running a bit too long. The first three issues did little besides establish a status quo – one that was reinforced time and time again throughout. #4 picked it up again, however, and #5 continues to show some signs of improvement as we race towards the finish line, including the book’s most well-constructed fight-scene as the team confronts Rising Sun and a great teaser for the next issue. A fun read from start to finish, the issue was also helped by yet another replacement artist – Eduardo Pansica. Pansica manages to keep the energetic cartoonishness of ChrisCross without sacrificing his own style, which is a bit more crisp than ChrisCross’. One of the book’s strongest issues.
Immortal Weapons #3
Last month’s Immortal Weapons one-shot focusing on the Bride of Nine Spiders was disappointing enough to have me rethinking my commitment to the series. After all, with a revolving team of creators and no linking idea or theme beyond the back-up feature, not only was there no guarantee of quality, there was no way to know at all what you’d be getting. This issue proved that point, though for the better: though Aaron’s “Fat Cobra” story was slightly stronger, Spears brings an unpredictable, emotional issue that manages to flesh out the mysterious Dog Brother #1 amidst the ravages of the Opium Wars. The story is quick and tragic, expertly illustrated and quite memorable.
Faring less well is Foreman’s replacement on the Immortal Iron Fist back-up feature, Hatuey Diaz. Diaz’s style is extremely exaggerated and cartoonish, which is a rather sudden break from not only Foreman’s crisper style, but also any of the other artists working on the mini. There may be many books to which Diaz is suited, but his action scenes – one of the things that Immortal Iron Fist has rightfully become recognized for – are static and a bit sloppy. The Immortal Iron Fist back-up is hardly the strongest thing about the mini, at least when placed against this month’s “Urban Legend” or the stellar “The Book of the Cobra”, but, as brief as it is, it should at least be consistent. Swierczynski’s story, potentially gripping though it may be, moves along slowly, and Diaz slows the book’s momentum down significantly.
– Cal Cleary
Detective Comics #856
Greg Rucka’s story in Detective Comics isn’t particular deep. It’s a relatively simple story, in fact: Batwoman learns that the new leader of the Religion of Crime is coming to Gotham, goes, confronts her. It’s a pretty standard adventure comic, with Rucka’s usual capable plotting and dialogue. In fact, the more concise, fun Question back-up in the book features slightly sharper writing thus far… but no one will confuse that for the better read. Hamner continues to turn in clean, dynamic work on the Question back-up, while J.H. Williams III’s work on the main feature remains stellar. The book is gorgeous and well-written, and consistently worth your time.
Wonder Woman #35
Gail Simone finishes up this brief arc with a few revelations and a lot of aftermath left over from “Rise of the Olympian”, including some dark promises and new powers. All of it sets up the next big story, but it’s done in one of the book’s most engaging, fun arcs Simone’s run has produced. She goes a way too heavy on the fan-worship of Black Canary in a number of awkward, uncomfortable internal monologues from Wonder Woman, but the arc otherwise offers action with gorgeous, fluid art from Lopresti paired with a simple story setting up another major new chapter in Diana’s life.
Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink #4
Ink continues to be a pleasant surprise for me. Fiorentino’s art, while occasionally muddy, is improving, and he’s demonstrated himself to be an apt choice to illustrate just how formidable the Tattooed Man can be. Wallace’s story, meanwhile, generally maintains its pleasant mix of urban crime drama and superheroics, though the more action-oriented approach to this issue meant that it sacrificed a little bit of the drama in favor of the superheroics. A late game plot twist took that shift a little too far, however, and the issue ends somewhere between the ridiculous and the parodic.
Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #4
Dance finally pulls itself out of the slump the mini had been in and starts moving forward. Though the last issue was of a high quality, the mini really wasn’t going much of anywhere. With the team broken up, however, and the media blitz that had blinded them for the first few issues fading, Most Excellent Superbat finally has time to check up on his home country. Not all is right in Japan, however, and he’s forced to get the team back together again. Casey’s writing of these new teen heroes remains relatively sharp, while Chriscross’ cartoony art more than keeps up with the book’s humor and energy. If only DC’s other teen heroes were even half so interesting right now…
Brubaker and Phillips complete the first arc with the strongest, most exciting issue yet. We learn even more about the origins of the Overkill brothers, learn about why Yuri was created, and see a massive showdown between Zack and his old allies. All the action is well-illustrated by Sean Phillips in some of his most exciting fights yet. The book is undeniably over the top, but it loves living up its pulp roots. Though it’ll be quite some time before we get the next issue, the news isn’t all bad – the reason for the long delay is because Brubaker and Phillips will be returning to do a new arc on Criminal.
Immonen was responsible for last year’s manic, excellent Patsy Walker: Hellcat. Unfortunately her Runaways, which finds her teamed with Sara Pichelli, lacks both the momentum and the cleverness of her debut work. Pichelli’s art is clean and cartoonish, giving the book a sense of energy, but it isn’t enough. It isn’t enough, however. After subpar runs from Whedon and Moore, Immonen and Pichelli needed to start their run off with a bang. Unless the end of the arc offers up some pretty massive surprises, it’s safe to say that she’s failed to do so.
Doktor Sleepless #13
After a lengthy delay, the good Doktor returns. Things are heating up in Heavenside, mostly according to the Doktor’s plans. The issue reads like a montage of the city going to hell, and while it isn’t the most creative or compelling issue Ellis has turned in thus far, it is nonetheless immensely satisfying to see everything come to a head like this. Rodriguez continues to improve as his design becomes more confident and his figures become less stiff.
– Cal Cleary
Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance is a strange little book. On the one hand, it almost feels as though it doesn’t take place in the DC Universe at all. We’ve had only a few cursory, generally insulting, references to the Justice League and their big-name heroes. We’ve seen none of the landmarks of the DCU. All the locations have been either sci-fi takes on existing cities or places of Casey’s own creation. And yet, Dance also feels like a quintessential DC book in the way it incorporates the existence of superpowered beings into its setting – with a keen eye for the fantastic, for better or for worse.
Dance #3 is, in many ways, the strongest issue yet. The Parasitic Teutons of Assimilation are fun, bizarre foes, and are more memorable than the past two. We see the Most Excellent Superbat hit rock-bottom. We see how the characters are really reacting to the pressures of being teen celebrities, teen heroes, or just plain teens. In a way, everything that’s been simmering below the surface of the first two issues bursts out here in a variety of smart, interesting ways.
It also features the return of ChrisCross on art. He does a great job with the bulk of the issue – his action scenes are dynamic and exciting and the P.T.A. design is a blast – but his faces vacillate wildly between expressive and offputting. Still, despite that, he does some pretty stellar work here.
But not all is quite well with the issue. Though it handles them better than previous issues had, it nonetheless feels like a bit of a retread of the problems and realizations we’ve seen before. Every issue has seen the team realize, in one way or another, that they aren’t getting what they want. I can totally buy it being difficult for teens to break the routine and try and change – especially at the expense of fame and fortune – but, nonetheless, we’re three issues through a six-issue mini and I don’t know that we’re too much farther along, either in terms of story or in terms of character arcs.
Despite those complaints, however, this was a rock-solid issue of comics. Casey did a great job at bringing the sexual tensions to bear in the middle of an action-packed, humorous issue. And, even though he’s the closest thing we have to a narrator, this was the first time we really saw much of the personality of Most Excellent Superbat, who has become a remarkably complex character in the span of three issues. Still, it feels a bit like Casey is spinning his wheels right now, as though he planned for less than 6 issues and is just killing time for now.
– Cal Cleary
As you may have noticed, beyond reading the first issue of Run! and Escape – neither of which impressed me overmuch – the reviews for those two have stopped coming. Dance, on the other hand, had an impressive first issue. For all its flaws, it illustrated both creativity and coherence… and, when all’s said and done, it was just plain fun. Dance #2, despite lacking the crisp, energetic art of Chriscross, manages to improve on the first one in a few ways.
Dance #2 follows the Super Young Team’s continuing marketing blitz at the hands of Hanover, their not-quite-on-the-level manager, as they’re purposely kept away from Japan, where something sinister is going on. The team wants to prove themselves to the world and illustrate that their help against Mandrakk wasn’t a fluke, but they are, at the end of the day, just kids – they try and do good, but aren’t entirely sure how best to do it.
The replacement artists, Andre Coelho and Eduardo Pansica, do a fine job on the issue, representing a relatively minor stylistic shift from Chriscross, and if they don’t have quite the same amount of energy he did, chances are you’ll find that it hardly matters. That might change in the trade, where you’ll likely be reading the complete series in a sitting, but thus far it seems as though DC has chosen the replacements well.
Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance is a fun, flashy series that flesh out some of the DCU’s most interesting new characters. Reminiscent of a super-powered Buffy the Vampire Slayer in it’s bizarre, monster-of-the-week style storytelling that can be seen as a way of looking at the challenges teens face, the book is definitely worth checking out.
– Cal Cleary
So far, I haven’t been terribly flattering to the Final Crisis Aftermath branding. Run! was too generic and too slow as the first issue of an action book – and I can’t imagine it aspired to anything more than that – while Escape offered absolutely nothing in the opening issue unless you really like LOST, but thought it could use more superheroing. The third of the four titles, Dance, seemed like it should be the hardest to do – comics does action and intrigue quite well, but there aren’t many comics that deal in teens trying to grow up; rather, most tend to revel in their angst without understanding where it comes from.
Dance #1, for all its flaws, cannot be accused of falling into many old stereotypes. It is ceaselessly active and endlessly creative, sometimes in a way that almost reminds me of Joss Whedon’s better moments. Much like Escape, there are plenty of small, clever touches – rather than caption boxes, we get tweets from the ever-connected Most Excellent Superbat, to give one example – that make the issue a bit more fun, and it’s needed. Though we get more from the issue than we did from Escape in terms of action, drama and characterization, this issue is, nonetheless, pure setup for what is to come, offering only hints at the overall story – or even that there is one.
Chriscross does fine work with the art, never worrying about the drive in comics towards hyperrealism in many ways and not being afraid to shift back and forth from some of the weirder moments of the issue – the ghost of a pre-70s Japanese monster-hunter, a really quite pretty sequence of dance moves from Well-Spoken Sonic Lightning Flash – on to darker subjects like the devestation of post-Darkseid Midway City.
The Super Young Team wants to grow up, but they are a product of their generation. I am reminded, of all things, of a quote from the recently aired FOX pilot “Glee”: “Nowadays, being anonymous is worse than being poor. Fame is the most important thing in our culture now – and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, its that no one’s just gonna hand it to you.” In a lot of ways, that sums up the Super Young Team pretty well, or it did. Casey throws in hints of maturation, but on the whole, the issue gives Dance a promising start. Maybe the petty angsts of the modern Titans will finally be supplanted by a more interesting take on the concept.
5 Stars: WARNING: The Right Stuff.
4 Stars: The Solid Stuff.
3 Stars: The Average Stuff.
2 Stars: The Stuff.
1 Star: The Stuff Between Your Toes.
Avengers: The Initiative #10 (****):