Honestly, the most pleasant surprise was Action Comics #865, a Toyman spotlight written by Geoff Johns, with art by Jesus Merino. I never did like Johns’ all-villain issues of The Flash, but those largely aimed to “grittify” old, goofy Rogues. Here, Johns aims to clean up some continuity issues surrounding the Toyman, and along the way to re-establish him as slightly less dark. The result is quite good, and shows what can be done in the space of 22 pages. Perhaps better known as an inker, Merino is also a fine storyteller with (if this issue is any indication) a good sense of design. His regular style isn’t too far from DC’s baseline, but he and the Hi-Fi colorist drop into a watercolor-y “Tim Sale” mode for the flashbacks. The best part of the issue, though, is its misdirection regarding the means of Jimmy Olsen’s rescue. I wasn’t expecting it, and I’m glad a comic book can still catch me off-guard.
Countdown To Mystery #8 will be remembered for its salute to Steve Gerber, and that’s probably as it should be. Writers Adam Beechen, Gail Simone, Mark Evanier, and Mark Waid each offer short takes on how they would have ended “More Pain Comics,” Gerber-style. Beechen invokes Howard The Duck. Waid uses a Gerber-esque text box. Evanier gives Kent Nelson a there’ll-always-be-a-Fate speech that’s equal parts cynicism and hope. Simone grounds her conclusion in psychology, this Fate’s civilian calling. It’s not fair not to list the artists, because they each do fine work, but the art is of the same piece as the regular team of Justiniano and Walden Wong: a sort of softer, fuller Walt Simonson. This Doctor Fate series was supposed to be a new and exciting take on a character DC loves to use, and I’m sure that had Gerber lived, there would have been at least a stab at a regular series and probably some form of lasting legacy in the pages of Justice Society. Wisely, though, DC chose to honor Gerber’s work not by farming the conclusion out to another writer and continuing with those plans, but simply by assuring the readers that it all turned out well, and by the way be on the lookout….
The conclusion of the Spectre story (written by Matthew Sturges, pencilled by Chad Hardin, inked by Robert Campanella) was decent enough: for various reasons, the Spectre can’t really fight Battle-Armor Eclipso one-on-one, so he encourages Bruce Gordon to re-absorb the dark god. It’s nothing new, but it was presented well, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of Eclipso in the months to come. I don’t feel any better for having read the whole thing, though.
I bought Batman: Gotham After Midnight #1 (written by Steve Niles) mostly for the Kelley Jones artwork, and I’m sticking by that. It’s not just his unique style, but his page layouts and his bits of marginal business, which really make the book enjoyable. Unfortunately, Niles can’t quite decide how seriously to take things; so the combination of Jones’ over-the-top storytelling and Niles’ ultra-straight Batman tend to steer the issue towards self-parody. I’ll be back next issue for the art, and I’ll hope the script works with it a little more.
Batman #677 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Sandu Florea) gets into the meat of “Batman, R.I.P.” by laying out the ultra-paranoid notions at the heart of the plot. I give Morrison a lot of credit for the audacity of these ideas. If true (which I doubt, and which the issue itself seems to question), they would be almost impeccable retcons which wouldn’t invalidate a whit of Batman stories but which would redefine “Batman’s” very existence. This issue thus accelerates the plot faster than just about every Bat-epic of the past twenty years, doing so largely through a conversation in the Batcave. There is, of course, the feeling that Jezebel Jet is behind the whole thing, but I think Morrison is better than that; and based on this issue, I have high hopes for “R.I.P.”
The penultimate issue of All Star Superman (#11 written by Morrison and drawn by Frank Quitely) is pretty much wall-to-wall awesome, featuring a super-powered Lex Luthor, a dying Superman’s battle with Solaris the Tyrant Sun, the introduction of Luthor’s cheeky niece, and no sense that this will end with anything but the Man of Steel’s heroic sacrifice. Never has the impending death of Superman seemed so obvious and yet so right. Can’t wait for issue #12.
Finally (ha ha), here at last is Final Crisis #1 (written by Morrison, drawn by J.G. Jones), the start of DC’s big run-out-the-year crossover. (By the way, last time I got Sparx and Live Wire confused — that was Live Wire in Birds Of Prey, and it’s Sparx here.) On the whole I liked it. It didn’t try to be too loud or flashy, opting instead to start slow. Considering that Morrison’s talked broadly about what’s to come, I imagine things will get loud before too long. I liked the police-procedural approach, contrasting the Green Lanterns with the Justice League and the police themselves. I liked the use of “Terrible” Turpin as the point-of-view character. I don’t think that you-know-who is really dead, but neither do I think that Libra is really you-know-who-else. I liked Jones’ work, especially the “reveal” of Darkseid (it’s the eyes) in the Dark Side Club, but my concern is that he can’t do big-and-loud like, say, Howard Porter on Morrison’s JLA. The best description may simply be “ominous,” and that’s just fine with me.