Since I’ll probably never have the opportunity to do it again, let’s lead off with Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #57
(written by Tad Williams and drawn by Shawn McManus), another comma of a last issue. It doesn’t leave the reader hanging as badly as the final issues of Gotham Central
or the latest Firestorm
, but it’s pretty noncommital.
With the globe-threatening problems taken care of as of last issue, #57 finds our cast embroiled in a hostage situation which turns into an opportunity to explore Arthur’s true origins. Yes, Arthur is more connected with Orin than we might have thought; but anyone expecting the dramatic return of the “real” Aquaman may well be disappointed. In fact, I was kinda expecting that, considering that this was the book’s last issue and all, but ignoring the character’s upcoming role in Outsiders. That’ll teach me to take my eyes off the bigger picture.
Speaking of pictures, the art is fairly effective, although McManus draws a less beefy Cyborg than I’m used to. I don’t fault his storytelling, but I can’t decide whether his figures are inconsistent, or just drawn to suit the emotion of the particular situation.
Otherwise, the issue itself is pretty transitory, answering some questions (yes, Narwhal looks to be who I thought he was) and raising others (whither Tempest?). Ultimately, it leaves Arthur (or “Joseph,” by the end) in a more unsettled place than he was before, and that’s not how I like my endings. If the current Aquaman doesn’t parley his Outsider status (double-meaning probably intended) into a devoted fan following, I predict another “Aquaman: Rebirth” storyline before too long.
I didn’t expect Checkmate #19 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson) to set up Salvation Run as much as it has, but in hindsight that shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s more political maneuvering, executed most skillfully by Amanda Waller and King Faraday in service of their SR-anticipating plans. Pointing up the connections between ex-Justice Leaguers and Waller’s old Suicide Squad associates is a nice way to recall the roles of, and possible tensions between, those groups. Perhaps it also reminds readers that Justice League International (both the team and the comic) didn’t take its mission too seriously, or at least not as seriously as Waller’s Squadders. Anyway, as usual, Rucka does a great job laying out the motivations and keeping everything straight for the reader. Bennett and Jadson’s work (assisted by Travis Lanham, I think, on colors) is suitably moody, but clean and direct enough that we can tell one “normal” person apart from another. A fine issue that has me eager for more.
The double-page spread from Justice League of America #14 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Sandra Hope), showing Wonder Woman, Black Canary, and Vixen strung up in some high-tech torture device, does look a bit excessive — and that, aside from its unnecessary hypersexualization, is the point. Luthor wants to get Superman mad by showing the cruelties being inflicted on the other Leaguers, but Black Lightning successfully gets him to dial back his rage. That’s pretty much it for the issue — a lot of posturing and grimacing, which seems atypical for McDuffie and doesn’t serve Benes’ strengths well either. I can accept this issue as part of the larger storyline, but next issue’s finale will have to do some heavy lifting to make up for it.
Not as much blatant cheesecake as you might have expected in The Brave and the Bold #7 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by George Perez, inked by Bob Wiacek), a story which teams Wonder Woman and Power Girl. It’s skillfully done, and it ties tangentially into the larger Book Of Destiny storyline, but its core is very familiar. While I liked it, there were a couple of things that bugged me. First, characters’ faces seemed a little off in spots. I don’t know if this is Perez experimenting or some trick of Wiacek’s inking, but in places they looked more like a Perez/Bob McLeod combination. Second, Waid’s “Look, up in the sky” joke walks a very thin line between working and not. Still, for the most part everyone does good work. I especially want to mention colorist Tom Smith, who gets to play with large-scale toys like the various environments, and small details like Power Girl’s eyes (which, by the way, are up here…).
I’ve been buying Spider-Man Family (#5 written and drawn by various people) mostly for its offbeat, “generic Spidey” stories which have been pretty good. However, this issue’s lead, written by Kevin Grevioux and drawn by Clayton Henry, didn’t really do it for me. For one thing, guest-star Doctor Strange is deprived of his powers, and compensates with some ill-advised martial arts and telekinetically-animated blades. That made it seem more like the Doctor Strange animated movie, and thus not like the “real” Doc. Also, Doc gets the thankless thought-balloon speech where he notes that Spider-Man “is the definition of ‘hero’” because he fights against the long odds, etc. The art is fine. The second original story, written by Dana Moreshead, pencilled by Eduardo Garcia, and inked by Roger Bonet, has Kraven leading Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan stand-ins on an urban safari. It’s cute, but not that distinguished.
Captain America #31 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting) kicks off Act 2 of “Death of the Dream” with the Winter Soldier being tortured by Doctor Faustus and Sharon Carter struggling with the knowledge of her role in Cap’s death. Most of the WS’s torture involves tweaked “memories” of his time in The Big One with Cap, designed to turn him against his old mentor. Meanwhile, the Falcon, the Black Widow, and Tony Stark compare notes on Sharon and Cap’s death. It was an effective issue that set up a decent cliffhanger. I especially like the way Epting captures the way the Red Skull gets giddily deranged on power.
Countdown #28 (written by Paul Dini and Tony Bedard, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Al Barrionuevo, inks by Art Thibert) was decent. It covered a lot of ground, including (deep breath) Forager and Jimmy Olsen; Piper and Trickster escaping the Feds; Mary Marvel examined from afar by Shadowpact; weird visits with Brother Eye; and more fighting between the Challengers, the Crime Society, and the Extremists. I think it’s found its level, which is to be a somewhat generic-looking comic whose periodical frequency and plot-point maintenance are its determining factors. If it leaves you one step closer to the end, one Wednesday at a time, it’s done its job.
Finally, Bedard writes Birds Of Prey #111 (drawn by Jason Orfalas), the in-person showdown between online adversaries Oracle and the Calculator. It was good, with the suspense coming from the fact that if Oracle’s face were known, her usefulness would be effectively ended. Calculator therefore has to look a little stupid and/or short-sighted not to put the pieces together, but who knows — maybe he’s just what they call “book-smart.” Apart from that, Bedard’s script is pretty clever. Orfalas’ work fits with the style of regular artist Nicola Scott — thin, clear lines, maybe closer to Ethan Van Sciver, but that’s still good.