Batman #646 (written by Judd Winick, pencilled by Shane Davis, inked by various people) felt very familiar, since once again it revolved around the Batman/Red Hood/Black Mask triangle. By the last few pages a new player has been added, and that itself makes the story more interesting, but we’re going on a year since the Hood’s been introduced and there’s only so far Winick can draw out the tension between him and Batman. Apparently the next (sorely missed) Batman Annual will wrap things up, but how long until then? I did enjoy the issue, since much of it was a well-done set piece involving Batman, a couple of scared hoods, and a bomb needing defusing. Davis’ art was fine, although I hope Doug Mahnke isn’t gone for good.
Meanwhile, Batman: Gotham Knights #70 (written by A.J. Lieberman, pencilled by Al Barrionuevo, inked by Bit) was okay, I suppose. It advanced the Alfred/Hush/Clayface plot significantly, even with some exposition about the nature of Clayface. By the way, that itself reminded me of Lieberman’s recent Poison Ivy storyline, because it too seemed to spend a lot of time in laboratories wondering how to replicate/cure a villain’s condition. Like the Poison Ivy story, this has been better than Lieberman’s usual meanderings, although that’s not saying much. Not that strict adherence to continuity is a requirement for me, but I do wonder about a series which picks up threads from other Bat-titles and doesn’t get much going the other way.
Superman #222 (written by Mark Verheiden, pencilled by Ed Benes and Joe Prado, inked by various folks) was better than I expected. Lois finds herself the target of an OMAC after having a fight with Clark. Both get to be journalists, which is nice, although it too contributes to the tension. Lois’ beef is presented well enough that I actually wondered whether splitting them up might not be part of the Big DC Plan after all. In other words, some good character work peeks through all the fight scenes. The different pencils are virtually indistinguishable to my casual eye, and they seem preoccupied with the shapely forms of Lois and her new assistant, if that’s an enticement to any of you.
Seven Soldiers: Klarion #4 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frazer Irving) was also basically a big fight issue. Klarion and his friends and neighbors repel invaders from the world above. The art was fantastic, and the dialogue was good, but that’s about it for the plot. Like the other 7S miniseries, it’s To Be Continued….
Astro City: The Dark Age #4 (written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Brent Anderson) concludes Book One (the Silver Agent story arc) by using familiar superhero elements in an unconventional way. An invasion from Monstro City interrupts the Silver Agent’s death sentence, and in the melee the brothers we’ve been following resolve their personal issues. However, the plot isn’t really the point of the issue. Busiek is more concerned with cathartic emotional release, whether it be that of the public, the brothers, or even the reader. The Silver Agent’s fate is simply the catalyst for that release. Busiek and Anderson do a great job of building the tension, piling on more and more developments and using those familiar elements to good effect. There is a twist of sorts at the end which may come off hokey, but I thought was satisfying regardless. Bring on Book Two!
I had been thinking about dropping Star Wars: Empire (#36 written by Welles Hartley, pencilled by Davide Fabbri, inked by Christian Dalla Vecchia), but Part 1 of “The Wrong Side Of The War” was very good. Picking up from last issue, the Empire is pacifying the resistance on Jabiim, allowing us to focus on Imperial Lieutenant Sunber. Sunber cares about his men, even the cloned infantry. He is also torn between duty and his feelings for the Empire’s prisoners. This probably telegraphs his character arc for the rest of the story. Still, telling it from Sunber’s perspective was a nice touch, and the art effectively portrayed all the familiar Imperial hardware mowing down resistance. A final revelation concerning a very familiar Star Wars character was an especially pleasant surprise. I’m looking forward to the rest of the arc.
Finally, She-Hulk (vol. 2) #1 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Juan Bobillo, inked by Marcelo Sosa) was just as fun as I would have expected. A time-travel case inspires Shulkie towards a unique jury pool, but along the way there are a couple of fights, a few Avengers, and a jab or two at the comics industry.
She-Hulk is a funny book, and not just in the literal sense. Because it’s about a superheroic attorney, much of its humor comes from its perspective on How Things Work in the Marvel Universe. (Shulkie’s researchers use comics alongside their casebooks, for example.) Accordingly, it’s a style of realism that, to a certain extent, repudiates the more serious, allegedly more “mature” style on display elsewhere. Naturally, I don’t expect She-Hulk‘s style to set the company-wide editorial tone anytime soon.
Speaking of which, as you know I have not read any of the Avengers/House of M stuff, so I have no frame of reference for Shulkie’s flashbacks in this issue, but I didn’t think that was detrimental. To me that’s part of the charm of any superhero book — if the cliches, references, and motifs are used properly, the reader can accept them for their effects without having to know everything about them. (See also Astro City, above.) Slott’s pretty good at doing that, which is why I feel comfortable reading one of his Marvel books without being drowned in continuity. One of these days he’ll slip up, but I hope I’m not there to see it.