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Can I be informatively terse? That's the question.



Nightwing 139 (Nicieza/Kramer/Faucher); Detective 839 (Dini/Benjamin/Crawford; DC)
Well, thank goodness that's over. Pity; it started off so promisingly. But the last issue of Robin and this Nightwing gave us a Tim Drake that was severely out of character -- though Nicieza did the best he could with what he had, and he did a really pretty good Dick Grayson. That said, Nightwing suffered from having precisely two -- count 'em, two -- pages of the entire issue where anything relevant to the crossover happened. And at the end of Detective 839, after an almost issue length and nicely gory fight sequence, Ra's pulls a rabbit out of a hat. Unfair, I say; nothing in the story to date hinted at that even being a possibility, and if you're going to pull that sort of a stunt, you really need to leave some sort of hint or pointer, even if it's only something that says, "Hey, there's another rabbit out there! Wonder where it is..." Oh, and then after all that, they all sing a rousing chorus of "Have yourself a merry little Christmas" ... well, OK, not quite, but they might as well. The Christmas coda at the end of all that was savagely out of place and jarring.

Wonder Woman 15 (Simone/the Dodsons; DC): I loved seeing Hippolyta as a warrior taking it to Captain Nazi's people, and I loved seeing more of Amazon history; the objections to Hippolyta or any Amazon having a child make perfect sense, in pure human terms (although I understand there may be more to it than that). I really liked what Wonder Woman did with Captain Nazi and the magic lasso. It's going to be interesting to see what penalty Diana may pay for the choice she's made; that said, the price isn't going to be clear until after Final Crisis, given that Granny Goodness is still holding the Olympian gods captive. Simone is certainly taking the hash she was handed and making it work surprisingly well.

Abyss #2 of 4 (Rubio/Marangon; Red 5): Interesting. The story veers pretty much immediately from what the first issue led you to expect. I mean, yes, there is quite a nice superhero versus not-really-a-supervillain fight, but it gets shortcircuited when they eventually realize that Eric isn't quite who they think he is. They also don't know quite as much as they think they do about what's going on. Eric's father the supervillain (though possibly not the supervillain that we thought he was) turns out to be very good at long range planning and curveballs. I'm really looking forward to seeing how all these strands get collected in the last two issues.

Devi 15 (Mohapatra/Patel; Virgin): In which someone at last actually dies, and it's not at all any of the people we were expecting might get done in. And it turns out that issue 15 is, most surprisingly, the end of the first story arc, the one that appeared to end with the surviving monk recovering the relic and Rahul not actually dead even though Tara thought he was. A 15 issue story arc is kind of breathtaking chutzpah, but somehow it worked. I do wonder where they'll go from here. Perhaps they'll remember that family that Tara left behind, lo those many issues ago, which hasn't seen nor heard from her in at least six weeks of story time.

Suicide Squad 4 of 8 (Ostrander/Pina/Riggs; DC) ...You know, I thought this started as a six issue mini. Anyway, the storyline takes a great leap forward in time, and all of the first 18 or so issues of Checkmate have happened, and now, in the middle of the series, Amanda Waller is putting together a new suicide squad. We get to see all the bits and pieces -- and they seem to be seriously ill-advised bits and pieces, indeed, but I expect she'll make them work, somehow. Oddly, it's all setup, even the cliffhanger. As far as I can tell, the previous three issues existed only to get us to the issue four cliffhanger. (which may actually echo over to Manhunter, of all things.)

Borderland one shot (Jason M. Burns/Paul Tucker; Viper): Written by the same person who did "A Dummy's Guide to Danger", Borderland is a very grim story about what happens when two American college students go to a small cross-border town in Mexico to party, and end up in a very bad situation. Given that it's a one-shot, it's pretty much impossible to say much more about the story without giving too much away. The art and story work very well together. If you're in the mood for a very short, very very grim comic noir, it's a good place to start.

Simon Dark 3 (Niles/Hampton; DC): Works really well as an alternate take on the Frankenstein story; perhaps not so well as a DC Universe story set in Gotham. The three pages of origin story at the beginning (with a blimpular nod to James Whale and Mary Shelley's Victor Frankenstein) hint at Simon's possibly pre-monster history. In any event, the first story arc is only to establish character and his particular part of the setting, so it makes sense that he's not had much interaction with many recognizable Gothamites. What I wonder is if the story is going to get slammed into Final Crisis; it would make sense for a Gotham-based story, and if so, that's going to do it no good at all if it happens.

Fables 68 (Willingham/Buckingham/Leialoha/Pepoy; DC/Vertigo): ...Well, that was an unexpected end to the issue. Strangely it doesh't end "The Good Prince" story arc. It's going to be interesting to see where it goes from there, since it's clear that Ambrose planned every single thing so far and knew what was going to happen. This arc's been incredible to read; it's clearly key to the upcoming war between the Fables and the Adversary.

Cory Doctorow's Futuristic Tales of the Here and Now 3, "Craphound" (Doctorow/Dara Naraghi/McCaffrey; IDW): Easily the best of the series so far, "Craphound" tells the story of two rummage-yard-auction sale hunters, one of whom happens to be a member of an alien society that just happened to drop in, stayed a while, gave the world a lot of things it didn't know it needed until it had them, and picked up a few things. It's a really lovely, wonderful story, and the art is spectacular. Highly recommended.

Fallen Angel 22 (David/Woodward; IDW): In which a peculiar war comes to Bete Noire, seen through the eyes of a boy, James, who travels to the town in his dreams, and wakes up at a very wrong time. James draws, all the time, and he's drawing the story of what he's seen, and we see events through his eyes; as a result, the art style looks strikingly like the artstyle of the original DC issues, and not like the darker, more shaded and textured approach that Woodward normally uses. We see more of what Jude is capable of, genuinely shocking, given that it takes place in Bete Noire's cathedral. Oddly enough, for the first time since the DC series, we also see Lee's gym teacher alter ego, who we haven't seen since the DC days. David has promised that the next four issues are going to bring great changes to Bete Noire, including some unexpected deaths. It's going to be interesting to see how he gets there.

Chronicles of Wormwood: The Last Enemy one shot (Garth Ennis/Rob Steen; Avatar): ... well, that was profoundly unnecessary. I'm really not sure why Ennis and Avatar published that. There wasn't any more story left to tell with those characters, and there certainly wasn't more story in that. As it was, there wasn't enough Wormwood to fill the book, so there are two additional shorts included, of indifferent quality. It felt like there were certain story beats that there wasn't any room for in the original story, certain scenes or concepts that Ennis just absolutely loved, and by god he was going to get those in somewhere. And the emasculated and castrated monk was surprisingly ineffective, both as a story device and in the story. (Seriously. Nothing down there. All cut out. Nice, long, eternally suppurating scars where genitals ought to be. Ick.)

Criminal: Lawless trade (Brubaker/Phillips; DC/Vertigo): The story of Tracy Lawless, back from Afghanistan and Iraq and the stockade to find out who killed his brother and why. We see Tracy's history, how close he was to his brother, how he hated his abusive father as much as his brother loved and idolized him, and the effects that had on both their lives. Pretty much everything about this title is absolutely awesome, the writing, the art, everything. Aside from the fact that you know Trace's going to wreak some havoc here and there, nothing about this story is at all predictable. Brubaker's very good at getting you to care about what happens to bad people; in the first arc, the protagonist just plain wasn't all that bad, but Tracy's a lot darker. He's been trained to kill by the US military so he knwos what he's doing and how to do it. According to an interview at IGN, eventually, the various arcs of Criminal are going to link up so that we see how they're related, but for now, they can be enjoyed separately. It's a perfect starting place. Highly recommended ... no, really, go read it now. What are you waiting for?

Cryptics 3 (Niles/Roman; Image): In which Niles does creepy monster kids for the kids. The issue contains three separate stories, the titles of which come from recent crossover events -- Frontline, Identity Crisis and Old Debts. "Identity Crisis" exists not only to riff on the title, but to riff on various artists work; the only ones I recognized were Templesmith and Eric Powell. It's cute, it's fun.

Glister 3 (Andi Watson; Oni Press): A surprisingly dark outing for the holidays, in which we find out what happened to Glister's mother, who hasn't really been mentioned until now. It involves, among other things, peculiar graves and a trip to the heart of Faerieland, which now borders Glister's father's land. The ending is oddly and unexpectedly bittersweet. Nonetheless, this all-ages series is really growing on me.

Madame Mirage 4 (Dini/Roccafort; Top Cow): In which Harper's real plan begins to appear. I have to admit, I wonder what's going to happen when Dini runs out of double-reverses for this series, but for now, still unexpectedly awesome, especially given my doubts after issue 1. I do think Harper using the Mirage trick is going to get old and tiresome; to be sure, we know what's going on, so it's not unfair in the way that an unexpected story device would be, but it does seem like it could become a crutch. I also here and now rue the day that I or anyone else mentioned Mirage's nipple-free bosom. Yes, Mirage's decolletage has been raised an inch, but clearly and purely to do the art equivalent of saying, "See! Nipples! My, it's cold in there, isn't it?"

The Long Count 1 of 6 (Jason Blair/Leanne Buckley; Archaia): ...I have not the foggiest idea what this story's about. To be fair, I don't think you're really meant to at this point. We're introduced to Miss Sandoval -- I don't think we ever learn her first name -- as she runs the understreets of Nueva Cempoala, wherever that is (and that's actually a relevant question), in a running fight with someone called Paqok, over ... something. She has a thoroughly surprising mentor/friend who got her into this, whom we see on the very last page. Buckley's artwork is clearly meant to evoke/echo ancient Aztec themes -- Paqok in fact appears in what appears to be Aztec lion-inspired armor. Sandoval herself wears armor that's only slightly inappropriate, given this sort of story; her chest is completely covered (and has a number 29 on it for some reason), she's got armor on her legs, but her midriff is bare, and the leg stuff somehow laces up in front where a zipper would be. For some reason, each page has a frame around it -- I think maybe only to give the page number someplace to be -- but the artwork continues outside the frame on every single page. The artwork is generally fairly dark, but comprehensible. I think I'm probably curious enough to pick up the second issue, just to see what happens.

The Circle #2 (Brian Reed/Ian Hosfeld; Image): in which things go to hell in a very impresive handbasket. Agent Y, obsessed with catching or killing the members of the Circle, goes mad on an operation in a way that lets the Brazilian government know that the CIA was running an assassination op in their country; the CIA appears to be displeased about this. In the course of events, it becomes clear that almost nobody we've seen so far is actually involved with the theft of the missile back in issue 1: not the Circle, not the CIA, not MI6, not the ruler of Resnigovia. The missile sits somewhere in Kazakhstan, and nobody seems to know who stole it. Compulsively readable, in the way that pulps are, because you want to know not only whodunnit, but what's going to happen next. It's sort of a spy version of Perils of Pauline, only the various Paulines (except for the MI6 guy) are all highly capable people who love breaking noses for fun and could probably kill you with their pinkies if they were so inclined.

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Iain Jackson

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