This Week’s Haul

Hey, look! It’s another late entry! You’d think I was running out of gas on writing these every week or something!

Last Week:

  • Astro City Special: Silver Agent #2 of 2, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Secret Six #25, by Gail Simone & Jim Calafiore (DC)
  • Tom Strong and the Robots of Soom #4 of 6, by Peter Hogan, Chris Sprouse & Karl Story (DC/America’s Best Comics)
  • Captain America: Forever Allies #2 of 4, by Roger Stern, Nick Dragotta, Marco Santucci & Patrick Piazzaguta (Marvel)
  • Hercules: Twilight of a God #4 of 4, by Bob Layton & Ron Lim (Marvel)
  • Scarlet #2, by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev (Marvel/Icon)
  • Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard #3 of 4, by David Petersen, Katie Cook, Guy Davis, Nate Pride & Jason Shawn Alexander (Archaia)
  • Incorruptible #9, by Mark Waid & Horacio Domingues (Boom)
  • Hellboy: The Storm #3 of 3, by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #46, by Garth Ennis & Russ Braun (Dynamite)

This Week:

  • American Vampire #6, by Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque (DC/Vertigo)
  • Batman and Robin #14, by Grant Morrison & Frazer Irving (DC)
  • Green Lantern #57, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • Wolverine: Old Man Logan TPB, by Mark Millar & Steve McNiven (Marvel)
  • Irredeemable #17, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
  • The Sixth Gun #4, by Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt (Oni)
The second half of Astro City‘s Silver Agent story came out last week, and it wraps up (or winds down?) the story of the Agent, one of the tragic figures in the city’s history, and one of the most-anticipated mysteries from the early days of the series. But I was a little disappointed, not for the reasons Greg Burgas was in that I think he doesn’t see that the Agent’s point of view is just as interesting as the man-in-the-street’s (or, at least, he doesn’t think it’s as interesting), but that it feels like it wasn’t quite worthy of all the attention and build-up.

To be fair, the fact that Astro City has been on an erratic publishing schedule for a decade, and that The Dark Age initially seemed to promise to be the Agent’s story but ended up being something else, perhaps build up anticipation for the Agent’s story way beyond what it deserved. And yet.

Having in the first half seen the Agent (a Captain America character) being saved by a Legion of Super-Heroes type group from the future, now we see him walking back through time to meet his eventually end in the electric chair, and excerpts of his experiences along the way, with a focus on his last two visits, with his nephew. And he does meet his end, but in a weirdly ambiguous way, which seems like it can only be satisfying if it’s the seed for further revelations about Astro City in the future, since it suggests things about the source of the Agent’s powers which aren’t really meaningful in isolation.

I think what I feel is missing from this story is that the world at large felt a great deal of guilt over the Agent’s wrongful execution (which is why they erected the statue, after all), but given that this is a time travel story, I was very disappointed that there’s no interaction between him and the world in the future in which both he and they (obviously representatives of those who convicted and executed him) deal with the issue. He comes to terms with his fate, but the rest of the world doesn’t, and while maybe that’s a lost cause, the fact that this is a time travel story and there’s not even an attempt to try makes it feel like the whole story has been dramatically undermined.

At his core, the Agent is a symbol to Astro City: First, a symbol of the greatness of the silver age, and later, a symbol of the shame of what the city went through in the dark age. While this story focuses on the agent as a man and not a symbol (other than as a symbol out of distant memory in the far future, which is not the same thing), a satisfying treatment of the character I think needed to address both sides, and that’s missing here.

The story is itself fine, and we get a lot of tantalizing glimpses of the future of the world, but I think it went off-track in some basic way, and ended up being less than it should have been.

I’m not quite sure what I think of the finale of Hercules: Twilight of a God. Though it’s refreshing in a way that the title is absolutely truthful: This is the chronicle of the last days of Hercules, in Bob Layton’s future-outer-space milieu. Having suffered brain damage, and with his comrades from his earlier adventures in their own old age, Herc is called on for one final task, to prevent Galactus – who is collapsing into a black hole – from destroying the galactic region where Herc has made his home and spawned a family. He completes his quest, and we see the aftermath and denouement of his adventure. While it’s a glorious end, it also feels rather anticlimactic; Hercules in his dotage is not nearly as entertaining as Hercules in his prime, and the sense of foreboding and gloom surrounding this story is just not as much fun as the earlier tales (especially the second mini-series, chronicling the fall of the Olympians, which was itself a bit gloomy yet was a much better story).

So there’s stuff to like here, but… it’s not the same. And it’s also clearly the end of this series of Hercules adventures, which is in itself saddening.

Ron Lim’s art is okay, but it feels stiff, and not as dynamic as Layton’s own art on the original stories. Sometimes Lim can be quite a good artist, but it feels like he phoned this one in.

I’ll put this series on the shelf next to the nice hardcover copy of Herc’s earlier adventures, but it’s not really the same.

Hey look, I bought something written by Mark Millar this week!

I kvetch about Millar a lot. I think he’s one of the worst writers working in comics these days, and I feel no shame in kvetching because he’s also one of the most popular and successful writers in comics these days. It makes no sense to me, but, well, it’s not the only thing. My basic problem with Millar is that I think his stories are mean-spirited and un-fun, and he frequently just misses the mark in depicting existing characters. I loathed his gratuitously nasty run on The Authority, I hated his depiction of guys who happened to be wearing Avengers costumes in The Ultimates, and I hated pretty much everything about Civil War.

But I was still moved to pick up Wolverine: Old Man Logan, and frankly the main reason is that I’m just a sucker for alternate-future stories. Some of them are good, some of them are bad, but I read most of them (at least featuring characters I’m familiar with) because I just like the genre.

The premise of this one is so simple you can almost see Millar thinking it up: One day all the super-villains team up to take down all the super-heroes, and the ringleaders divide up the United States among themselves. Naturally, a few heroes survive, and 50 years later, Wolverine is living outside Sacramento, an old man who refuses to fight anymore, having been broken in the villain attack. But when the Hulk gang demands their rent, he hooks up with Hawkeye to drive across the country to deliver a package in Washington.

So the story is mostly a travelogue in which we see what happened to the heroes and the country, and learn what happened to Logan.

Considering my biggest problem with Millar is usually that he can’t get characterizations right, he nails Wolverine here, as a broken yet still strong-minded man. The story wouldn’t work at all if he hadn’t made Wolverine work. On the other hand, the story is thin, little more than a reworking of films like Unforgiven, with the Marvel Universe future-travelogue stuff thrown in.

Indeed, almost everywhere you look in Old Man Logan you can see bits that feel lifted from other stories: The Hulk as a tyrant whose creed is that he survives when the weak die (from Peter David’s excellent Hulk: Future Imperfect), Hawkeye being blind (from another David yarn, The Last Avengers Story), the Red Skull’s trophy room (also from Future Imperfect), and one of the signature spreads of art in the story, that of a gargantuan skeleton of Goliath lying outside a city, feels like it came right out of Warren Ellis’ Planetary. A lot of what would otherwise be “the neat stuff” has been done before.

Besides that, the story is decent enough. My biggest gripe in terms of characters is the notion that the Hulk would mate with his cousin, the She-Hulk, and produce a clan of hillbilly enforcers. This so runs against the grain of Bruce Banner and Jennifer Walters’ characters that although the final visuals are cute (Steve McNiven draws some ugly-looking redneck Hulklings) it seems gratuitous and implausible. And while the story’s climax is cathartic, it doesn’t really work if you think about it, either.

McNiven is a terrific artist – he was certainly the best part of Civil War – and there’s really nothing to complain about in any aspect of his work. While his style has echoes of John Cassaday and Gary Frank, I’d say he’s better than either of them, with more intricate designs than Cassaday, a better sense of anatomy than Frank, and more dynamic layouts and figures than either of them. Unfortunately he seems to be a bit too slow of an artist to maintain a monthly schedule, because he has all the tools to be one of the greatest comics artists of his generation.

So all-in-all Old Man Logan may be the best Millar story I’ve read, but it’s still merely okay. At least it’s not downright repugnant like other stuff I’ve read by him, so maybe this is the first of several steps forward.

Is The Sixth Gun the best comic being published today? That’s high praise, and frankly it’s hard to make a firm decision, but wow, it’s awfully good. This Old West supernatural horror adventure (that’s a mouthful!) involves a Confederate general who – we learn in this issue – somehow got hold of six enchanted handguns for himself and his five henchmen. One of his posse, Sinclair, decided this was too much for him and bolted, managing to escape the General’s revenge. At some later point the General was defeated and imprisoned, having somehow become immensely powerful in the meantime. Now he’s back and he’s looking for his gun, now in the possession of Becky, the daughter of the reverend who apparently took down the General.

The comic’s full of foreboding, supernatural conflict, and mystical beings hanging out in the Old West, and features a pair of strong female characters in Becky (coming to grips with the position she’s been put in) and the General’s wife, who matches her husband in ambition and spirit. The backstory is being revealed slowly – but not so slowly as to be frustrating – and it’s not yet clear exactly what stakes are being played for (just how powerful will the General be once he recovers from his imprisonment and if he gets his gun back?). But just four issues in The Sixth Gun has covered more ground than many comics today cover in a dozen (I’m looking at you RASL). And Brian Hurtt’s artwork is terrific, cartoony in the sense that Charles Addams’ work was cartoony, but still dramatic and menacing. His style might not translate into mainstream superhero comics (where he’d surely earn a lot more money), but it’s perfect here.

The only downside is that I don’t know if this is a mini-series or an ongoing series. The story doesn’t feel like it’s poised to end in a couple of issues, but you never know. Nevertheless, this series is a lot of fun: Go buy it.

This Week’s Haul

Despite all the books below, the two best reads I picked up this week were from the back catalog: Ed Brubaker’s Captain America: Road to Reborn TPB, which is something of an intermission in the series but is the latest collection available. Have I gushed about Brubaker’s Captain America already? Really excellent stuff, being more adventure in the pulp/suspense tradition using mainstream Marvel characters than straight-super superheroics. Basically unlike anything else Marvel is publishing today.

And then there’s Bryan Talbot’s Grandville HC, which on the one hand is an anthropomorphic graphic novel in that the lead character is a badger who walks and acts like a man and nearly every other character is also an animal, but on the other hand it’s a spy/intrigue story in an alternate world where France conquered the western world in the era of Napoleon, and in which Great Britain only recently won its independence. Talbot (correctly) ignores the peculiar inconsistencies that this could lead to in favor of telling a solid story with fine artwork (albeit slightly less detailed than his usual work). Unless anthropomorphic comics drive you up the wall and you just can’t get past that fact, I highly recommend it. The sequel is due out in a few months.

  • Adventure Comics #12, by Paul Levitz, Kevin Sharpe, Marlo Alquiza & Marc Deering (DC)
  • Brightest Day #3, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark, Joe Prado, Vicente Cifuentes, David Bealy & Mark Irwin (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #39, by Bill Willingham Jesus Merino & Jesse Delperdang (DC)
  • Superman/Batman Annual 34, by Paul Levitz, Renato Guedes & Jose Wilson (DC)
  • Hercules: Twilight of a God #1 of 4, by Bob Layton & Ron Lim (Marvel)
  • Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard #1 of 4, by David Petersen, Jeremy Bastian, Ted Naifeh & Scott Keating (Archaia)
  • Freakangels vol 4 TPB, by Warren Ellis & Paul Duffield (Avatar)
  • Irredeemable #14, by Mark Waid & Diego Barreto (Boom)
  • Invincible #72, by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley & Cliff Rathburn (Image)
Heh, I knew the current JSA storyline would involve time travel to set things straight. The time travel in question involves “only” sending a message back in time, and the suspense is that it’s not clear whether the message will be understood or received at the right time, but surely everything will work out for the best.

The core setting of the story draws from many different elements: The superheroes being imprisoned and having to escape is very similar to the “Super-Stalag of Space” story featuring the Legion of Super-Heroes from Adventure Comics #343-344. The grim future where the heroes have been all but eliminated unless they can find a way to change one event in the past was the premise of Grant Morrison’s best JLA arc, “Rock of Ages”. And of course both of those elements form the seminal X-Men dystopian tale, “Days of Future Past”.

So while this is a decent enough JSA yarn, it’s a far cry from being groundbreaking or original. I suspect there are a couple of issues left, so Willingham may yet surprise us, but it’s been pretty much what I expected otherwise.

I guess the hardcover collections of Bob Layton’s great Hercules mini-series of the 1980s must have been well received, since this week we got the first chapter of a new installment in the run, Hercules: Death of a God. Taking place centuries in the future, as the first two did, Herc has a son who’s become a emperor of a galactic empire, a benevolent monarch educated by his father. Arimathes has several children of his own now, and is not immortal, unlike his father. However, at the beginning of the issue Hercules suffers a traumatic brain injury, one so severe that the empire’s doctors fear that another serious blow could kill him. He takes medication for his condition, but it interacts badly with his drinking. And Herc’s longtime companions are nearing their own ends, as Skyppi the Skrull is quite old, while the Recorder appears to be wearing down. All of this is set against the backdrop of people scheming to their own ends within the empire.

The series has (in my mind) a huge legacy to live up to, Layton’s originals being well-drawn and often-hilarious comics with plenty of heart. This first issue is a little disappointing, as it seems like Herc is limping off into the darkness rather than going out like a lion. Of course, it would be in keeping with the tone of the series for him to face one last big threat rather than going quietly. It would be even more in keeping for him to beat his condition entirely.

Ron Lim does the pencilling under Layton’s inks, whereas Layton drew the whole thing himself in the earlier series. Lim seems to be Marvel’s go-to guy when a top tier artist can’t make their deadlines; he’s reliable, but not very flashy, having a rather generic style. So overall the series doesn’t quite look as good, but it’s okay.

So the first issue is something of a mixed bag, whereas I’d been hoping it would knock my socks off. But, it still might.

This Week’s Haul

  • Adventure Comics #4, by Geoff Johns, Sterling Gates, Jerry Ordway & Bob Wiacek, and Michael Shoemaker & Clayton Henry (DC)
  • The Brave and the Bold #29, by J. Michael Straczynski & Jesus Saiz (DC)
  • The Flash: Rebirth #5 of 6, by Geoff Johns & Ethan Van Scyver (DC)
  • Outsiders #24, by Peter J. Tomasi, Fernando Pasarin, Scott Hanna & Prentis Rollins (DC)
  • Victorian Undead #1, by Ian Edginton & Davide Fabbri (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Hercules: Full Circle HC, by Bob Layton (Marvel)
  • Realm of Kings one-shot, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Leonardo Manco & Mahmud Asrar (Marvel)
  • Echo #16, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Irredeemable #8, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
  • Invincible #68, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
  • Phonogram: The Singles Club #5 of 7, by Keiron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie (Image)
Adventure Comics #4 Two more books this week which tie in to DC’s Lantern ring giveaway. Adventure Comics was launched when the most recent Legion of Super-Heroes series came to an end. Its lead story features Superboy (the Connor Kent/Teen Titans version), and its backup features the Legion – the “classic” team which Geoff Johns reintroduced in Action Comics and Legion of 3 Worlds. I decided not to follow it along because I have no interest in this incarnation of Superboy.

Oddly, the lead story here is draw by Jerry Ordway, and not regular artist Francis Manapul, so as much as I like Ordway (although this isn’t his best stuff) it doesn’t give me any feeling for what the series has really been like. Plus, this issue doesn’t actually have much Superboy, but rather brings back Superman-Prime, the insufferable villain who finally got his comeuppance at the end of Legion of 3 Worlds. Honestly if I never see Prime again, it’ll be too soon.

The backup features two Legion characters who have been torn apart by the events of Lo3W, and getting back together with a little assistance from two other star-crossed lovers on the team. It’s a nice character story in its way, but it feels more like the beginning of a larger arc than just a backup tale. If Adventure Comics were all Legion, then it might be worth following, but just the backups isn’t enough to get me back on board.

Outsiders #24 Outsiders is the latest incarnation of the Mike W. Barr-penned Batman spin-off title from the 1980s, which was pretty mediocre stuff back then. This one seems more interesting, as the resurrected dead villain Terra seeks out her brother and – in a turnaround from how many of the resurrected heroes have been acting – can’t stand her new existence, and wants help in ending it. While this might be some sort of a bait-and-switch on Terra’s part, writer Peter Tomasi pulls it off pretty convincingly; the notion of what zombies think about being zombies is an often-overlooked facet of the genre. (Most of them don’t think, of course, but that’s not the case in the premise of Blackest Night.)

The other half of the story involves Katana being waylaid by her dead husband and children, and is more routine angst/combat stuff. But Fernando Pasarin’s pencils are quite good, making this a pretty solid read overall. The only downside is that it doesn’t give me – a new reader brought in via the ring giveaway – much orientation for who these Outsiders are, why they’re outsiders, or what their organization is like. But of all the Blackest Night tie-ins, this is the one I’m mostly like to give another shot.

Victorian Undead #1 Ian Edginton wrote the terrific Scarlet Traces about what happened to England and Earth after the defeat of the invaders in The War of the Worlds, so even though I’m suffering a bit of zombie exhaustion, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and check out Victorian Undead, which as you can see from the cover involves Sherlock Holmes and zombies (although contrary to the cover, Holmes is not himself a zombie). The premise is that a meteor shower in the 1850s led to the rise of zombies in London, and in the 1890s Holmes and Watson have to grapple with their emergence (or maybe return – the timeline is left deliberately blank as I expect it’s one of the mysteries to be explored in the series).

Edginton injects some serious steampunk – in the form of a humaniform robot – into Holmes’ milieu, on top of the zombies. This first issue is entirely set-up, with shadowy governmental figures trying to keep a lid on things. I’m sure we all know how well that will work. Whether or not we’ll see other Victorian-era icons, I don’t know. Davide Fabbri looks like a decent artist, although with just enough of overtones of an Image style (gratuitous lines, unnecessary flourishes) for me to not fully embrace his style. But overall the series gets off to a good start, if you can stand another zombie title. Hopefully Edginton has more in mind than just “Sherlock Holmes and zombies”, though, because I don’t think that’s enough to carry the series. Zombies, after all, have been done before.

Hercules: Full Circle premiere HC I gushed a few months ago about the first hardcover collection of Bob Layton’s Hercules mini-series from the 80s. This month we get the second collection, containing the “Full Circle” graphic novel which concludes the character’s story, plus a short story and a 3-part epilogue that I hadn’t read before.

Layton’s art seems more than a bit dated today, but some of the stuff he tries to put over on the reader is amusing just for its audacity (like the supporting character “Lucynda Thrust”), and it works completely as a lighthearted buddy story. I doubt it’d be for everyone’s taste, but I’ve always loved it.

Realm of Kings one-shot I was very reluctant to pick up anything related to Realm of Kings considering what a bust War of Kings was, but something made me buy this one-shot. I’m glad I did, because it’s a neat little story: Quasar goes through the rift opened at the end of the war, and ends up on a parallel Earth in which the Avengers have given themselves over to the Great Old Ones, and who are interested in extending their reach into Quasar’s universe. While an obvious twist on the whole Marvel Zombies thing, the notion of the superheroes corrupted into becoming dark magicians could have legs. Then again, maybe it would be less entertaining if stretched out too far.

Leonardo Manco does a great job drawing the corrupted Earth and its heroes, and Abnett and Lanning have fun with the dark heroes (“What the Ftaghn?” exclaims Ms. Marvel) and figuring out how to get Quasar back where he belongs. As one-shots go, this one’s a lot of fun. Whether or not any of the rest of Realm of Kings – a collection of mini-series – will be, I have no idea, but as they mostly feature characters I don’t care about (the Inhumans, the Imperial Guard), I doubt I’ll give it more than a passing glance. Wake me when the main heroes get involved.

Echo #16 It’s time to check back in on Terry Moore’s Echo. It’s been slow going, but the story has been gradually revealing itself. Our heroine, Julie, accidentally got covered with a metallic substance which gives her odd powers she can’t really control, mainly being able to shock people with an energy zap. The creators of the metal have been after her, including hiring a mercenary Ivy, to bring her in. Julie’s also encountered a man – apparently a vagrant – who also has some of the metal, resulting in destruction and some death when they meet. After being on the run for some time, Julie’s gone with Ivy – who’s turned on her bosses and also retrieved Julie’s mentally-disturbed sister Pam – and is hiding with her.

That’s a lot of story, but it hasn’t felt like that much while reading it. It’s mostly felt like a fairly routine chase/suspense story with the mystery of the metal lurking in the background. What seems to be revealed here is where the title “Echo” comes from, as Julie is wondering if she’s able to communicate with the last – and deceased – wearer of the metal, a woman named Annie. There are also indications that Julie’s role may take on messianic overtones.

I can’t say that Echo has been one of my favorite comics – the glacial pace made me drop Moore’s previous series, the popular Strangers in Paradise – but it’s been interesting. Whether it’s all worth it will depend on whether Moore is able to bring it all to a big finish, whenever that comes. After a fashion, Echo reminds me of Jeff Smith’s current series, RASL in its tone, suspenseful structure, and fantastic mystery. To his credit, Moore has been publishing Echo nearly monthly, which makes it easier to stay attached to. And I like how Moore’s art has developed better than the caricature-dominated art Smith brings to RASL.

It’s a little odd that after 16 issues Echo is still at the point where it has more potential and actuality. Hopefully over the next year Moore will kick it into gear and turn it into something unique and exciting. But it’s not quite there yet.

(By the way, the covers tend to be much more dramatic than the contents; Julie is not nearly the ass-kicking heroine she seems to be on the cover to the left.)

This Week’s Haul

What does a mediocre week at the comics shop look like? A lot like this.

Fables is an A-list title whose story isn’t really exciting me, and The Marvels Project feels like a well-done re-hash of any number of Marvel history navel-gazing series from the last 20 years. All the rest are solid meat-n-potatoes titles which I enjoy but I don’t necessarily look forward to. The best series here is probably Booster Gold, whose ongoing storyline is quite interesting, but it fights against Dan Jurgens’ awkward storytelling and dialogue.

So why do I buy all these books? Well, honestly they are all entertaining “enough” to keep reading. Green Lantern Corps and Secret Six are relatively new additions to my list so I’m still trying them out, but neither is yet rocking my world. (GLC‘s early issues, which I read in collection, were quite good, but the series has lost its focus because of all the damned crossover events.) The Unwritten has a lot of potential, but is only starting to explore it, and I fully expect it’ll be a year or two before I decide whether it’s worth it. And I am honestly running out of steam on the Hellboy/B.P.R.D. line, and am really hanging on at this point because apparently it will be reaching a climax within the next year.

Still, even mediocre comics are better than no comics!

  • Booster Gold #25, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Fables #89, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • Green Lantern Corps #41, by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman, Keith Champagne & Tom Nguyen (DC)
  • JSA vs. Kobra #5 of 6, by Eric S. Trautmann, Don Kramer, Neil Edwards & Michael Babinski (DC)
  • Secret Six #14, by Hail Simone, Nicola Scott, Carlos Rodriguez, Doug Hazlewood & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • The Unwritten #6, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • The Incredible Hercules #136, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Reilly Brown & Nelson DeCastro (Marvel)
  • The Marvels Project #3 of 8, by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting (Marvel)
  • B.P.R.D.: 1947 #4 of 5, by Mike Mignola, Joshua Dysart, Gabriel Bá & Fábio Moon (Dark Horse)
  • Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #7 of 8, by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)
Secret Six #14 Secret Six wraps up its latest story arc, “Depths”, in which the team was hired as muscle for a maximum-security prison and slave trading operation by a shady character named Mr. Smyth. The prison has imprisoned Artemis (the former substitute Wonder Woman) and a group of Amazons who attacked the US a few years back, and is operating with the blessing of governments who want to get such dangerous individuals out of their hair. There are some other nasty secrets around, too, as the team learns when Wonder Woman shows up to rescue her sisters and is defeated by the Six, leading to a schism among the team as to whether they should fulfill their contract or not sell their souls quite so cheaply.

Gail Simone’s script is pretty intense: The Six are all mercenaries with their own sense of morality, but who often find the people who hire them or fight them are a little too nasty for even their hardened sensibilities. As the Six one-by-one turn against the man who hired them, you get a sense of how callous each member is – or how much a sense of obligation outweighs a sense of morality for each one. As he was in John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad, Deadshot is usually the most entertaining character, as he seems utterly amoral most of the time, but every so often (perhaps too inevitably) he says “fuck it” and changes sides. He’s given a run for his money in this series by Ragdoll, who seems equally amoral but less intense.

Simone does a good job navigating the plot and unstable characterizations, but it feels like something’s missing from the series. Unlike Suicide Squad, these characters are unlikeable to a man; a few are perhaps borderline admirable in their convictions, but it’s difficult to see them as “heroes in their own minds”, and honestly if they all got killed off it would be hard to shed a tear for any of them. Maybe it’s the fact that the series works so hard to keep all six in the gray area between good and evil, the lack of a sense that any of them are moving in one direction or another, makes it less satisfying than it might otherwise be.

Incredible Hercules #136 This month’s Hercules is pretty funny – a welcome change for a series which often tries to be funny, but isn’t really all that funny. For instance, the set-up to get to this issue was pretty uncomfortable at times. But the payoff is hilariously silly: Hercules pretending to be Thor fights Thor pretending to be Hercules in a big fight scene filled with great facial expressions (penciller Reilly Brown does a bang-up job on the art) and very silly sound effects (helpfully scanned by Greg Burgas for his own review – go take a look).

This issue is a high point in a series which has been dragging lately (by contrast, Chris Sims thinks it’s “the single best comic on the stands today”, although it’s unclear whether he means the series or just this issue): It started out a couple of years ago as a quirky “two buddies against the world” series, but it’s become progressively more lighthearted and this difficult to take its dramatic side seriously. Currently it’s alternating issues between Herc and his sidekick Amadeus Cho (the seventh smarted person in the world, also a teenage boy), which doesn’t work so well when you’re only reading an issue a month. The series feels directionless, and this issue an aberration in being so entertaining.

This Week’s Haul

  • Batman and Robin #4, by Grant Morrison, Philip Tan & Jonathan Glapion (DC)
  • Blackest Night #3 of 8, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert (DC)
  • The Brave and the Bold #27, by J. Michael Straczynski & Jesus Saiz (DC)
  • Ex Machina #45, by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris (DC/Wildstorm)
  • JSA vs. Kobra #4 of 6, by Eric S. Trautmann, Don Kramer & Michael Babinski (DC)
  • Hercules: Prince of Power HC, by Bob Layton (Marvel)
  • Wednesday Comics #11, by many hands (DC)
  • Unthinkable #5 of 5, by Mark Sable & Julian Totino Tedesco (Boom)
  • Star Trek: Romulans: Schism #1 of 5, by John Byrne (IDW)
  • Atomic Robo: Shadow From Beyond Time #5 of 5, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
The Brave and the Bold #27 J. Michael Straczynski starts his long-awaited run on The Brave and the Bold this month. The comics blogosphere’s reaction to this assignment was basically, “Wait, DC signs one of the biggest names in comics and assigns him to a book whose sales were in a slump the last time big name creators were on it, and has been slogging along through limbo ever since?” B&B was thoroughly Mark Waid’s book, and honestly it should have been cancelled when he left it (although some of the interim stories have been decent). But why put Straczynski on it? Did he request it, to be able to have his own sandbox to play in? Who knows?

The story itself is merely okay. It features Batman and the extremely obscure character from the original Dial H For Hero, and it’s a thin story with a rather simplistic moral about doing something with one’s life.

I’ve written several times before about my criticisms of Straczynski’s comics work, as much as I loved Babylon 5, and this issue is towards the lower end of his comics work. If all he’s going to do in B&B is write a few unconnected stories, then I don’t think it’s going to be worth it. Meanwhile, we’ll see how well he keeps up with the schedule, inasmuch as Thor was consistently shipping late and The Twelve – perhaps his best comics work – seems to be on hiatus. And, more importantly, whether he has a plan for what to do with a series with such a scatterbrained premise.

Wednesday Comics #11 It’s a little hard to believe that Wednesday Comics is coming to an end after one more issue, given that some of the stories feel like they’re not even close to being done after this issue. Superman, even though it’s been a terrible story, feels like it’s about to turn into the second half of the story after the cliffhanger here. Supergirl has been much better, but with her facing down aliens as her super-pets arrive on the scene seems like it’s setting up for several more pages, too. And then there’s Hawkman, which has a climactic moment this page, but then Kyle Baker’s over-the-top writing in this story has featured a climactic moment every other page. But I don’t see how Baker’s going to pull together Hawkman, Aquaman, an alien invasion, and DInosaur Island together into a satisfying finish in one more page. Of course, the writing’s been on the wall for weeks that Hawkman would be a terrible story.

In other episodes, Strange Adventures has a neat touch in dealing with its villain this issue. And although I haven’t read Wonder Woman in weeks, this week’s page finally makes good use of the large-page format with a nice 2/3-page spread. Too bad I’ve long since stopped caring.

Next week we’ll see how things finish up, and I’ll revisit all of the stories in their totalities.

Hercules Prince of Power HC Among the most fun comics I can recall reading were Bob Layton’s two Hercules mini-series from back in the 80s. Hercules, the Greek demigod of myth, had returned to Earth and adventured with The Avengers for quite a few years; although a good guy, he also had a tendency to get drunk and pick fights, and – being a god – was able to shrug off the consequences of his actions much of the time, sometimes leaving a trail of carnage and/or sadness behind him. In short, having Hercules on Earth didn’t seem quite fair to everyone else.

Layton tackled this challenge in novel fashion: Hundreds of years in the future, Hercules angers his father Zeus – again – and Zeus exiles him, but this time he exiles him to outer space, where there are plenty of beings who are Hercules’ equal, or more. This helps Hercules gain perspective on his place in the universe, but Layton also uses it for a series of absolutely hilarious adventures. Accompanied by a Recorder, a robot charged with observing everything he does, Hercules wades through a series of entertaining adventures, before finding himself suddenly aging, and learning that things have recently gone quite poorly for the gods of Olympus, forcing him to return home before he dies of old age to find out what’s going on.

Although at times a moving drama, Layton never relinquishes his light touch on the material, and Hercules generally comes across as a nicer guy – and a more mature one – than the one currently appearing in The Incredible Hercules (although that series is not bad). And now that Marvel’s collected this in a handsome hardcover volume, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s a good time.

(It looks like Layton’s other Hercules-related stuff, including the sequel to these stories, will be collected in a second volume later this year.)

Unthinkable #5 Unthinkable was one of three series from Boom! Studios that piqued my interest this year, but I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as either Irredeemable or The Unknown. The premise was that author Alan Ripley joined a government think tank after September 11 to try to come up with other unlikely scenarios that terrorists might use to attack America or other countries. Which sounds fine until the think tank is disbanded and some of their scenarios come to pass.

It’s a nifty high concept, but a tough one to pull off, since it plays its premise largely straight, which means having to thread a needle to make it seem plausible in the face of, well, doing the impossible. Writer Mark Sable gives it a good try, but I don’t think he pulls it off; the ultimate story behind the unthinkable events feels a little too simplistic, really in much the same way the climax to Watchmen didn’t quite hold up. I guess when you’re being compared to Watchmen – even flaws in Watchmen – you’re doing something right, but still the story didn’t really work for me. A worthy try, though.

Artist Julian Totino Tedesco isn’t really my kind of artist; his sketchy linework over highly realistic layouts remind me of Jackson Guice, but darker. I think he could have used an inker with a strong sense of line coherence, a Tom Palmer sort, to pull the pencils together. But that’s just me.

Star Trek: Romulans: Schism #1 I’m not sure what to make of John Byrne’s Star Trek series for IDW. Assignment: Earth followed the adventures of Gary Seven and Roberta Franklin in the early 1970s, and then Crew followed the career of Number One prior to becoming Captain Pike’s first officer on the Enterprise. Now Romulans: Schism appears to involve the shaky Klingon/Romulan alliance circa the end of the classic Star Trek TV series (or maybe a couple of years after that, although not much later since Star Trek: The Motion Picture takes place at most 5 years after the end of the series, and the designs here are mostly classic Trek). Number One appears to be back, a little grayer, and the Commodore commanding a Constitution-class ship.

What’s confusing to me is that Byrne usually has a method to his madness, a larger story that the smaller ones fit into, but it’s awfully hard to see how these three series fit together. Assignment: Earth was a set of mildly entertaining short stories, but the characters and plots weren’t really all that exciting. Crew was considerably more entertaining, but seemed to end just as it was about to get really good. Now we’ve jumped forward to focus on the two main villainous races in classic Trek. So where’s it all going? Or is Byrne just content to tell a few independent short stories, and enjoy playing in the Trek universe on his terms? Maybe it’s not going anywhere.

On the bright side, Byrne captures the visuals of classic Trek perfectly; the thing looks beautiful. And Crew was a very well-told set of stories, while Romulans: Schism is off to a good, if rather ominous, start, with a solid cliffhanger at the end of this first issue. Despite being perplexed by Byrne’s ultimate goal – if there is one – this is some of the best Trek material I’ve read in decades, and that makes it worth the price on its own.

(Hmm, on further review, it looks like this might be a sequel to an earlier two-part Byrne story, The Hollow Crown, which I hadn’t heard of before. So apparently I’m missing at least one piece of the puzzle.)

Atomic Robo: Shadow From Beyond Time #5 I’ve been conflicted about Atomic Robo since it began. I appreciate the premise – Nikola Tesla creates a sentient robot who lives into the present day and fights big monsters – and also Brian Clevinger’s wacky sense of humor in setting up the situations and writing the dialogue. Of course, the parallels between Robo and Hellboy are obvious; Robo’s personality is a little more extroverted, but they’re both strong monster-fighters with flippant tongues. The problem is that while Mike Mignola’s stories for Hellboy can be a little erratic, each individual story holds together pretty well, and when the story trails off at the end, it’s usually evident that that’s what Mignola was going for. The first Robo mini-series was a collection of vaguely-linked short stories, and the second one purported to be a single story but scattered to the four winds at the end.

All that said, Shadow From Beyond Time is a solid step forward for Robo. It starts with Robo, Charles Fort, and H.P. Lovecraft in the 1920s fighting a Lovecraftian creature. The problem is that this creature comes from outside time, so Robo fights it over and over in the following years until it all comes to an end in this issue when he figures out a way to deal with it, and even loops back to the beginning to bring some closure to the first chapter of the story. It’s easily the best-told story in the series so far, and it makes me optimistic that things will keep getting better.

Which is good, because as amusing as Robo can be as a character, it’s difficult to get invested in a series which is largely told in retrospect, and whose setting (Robo’s team and organization at Tesladyne) is left, at best, fuzzy. Madcap adventure can only take you so far.

This Week’s Haul

  • Adventure Comics #0, by Otto Binder & Al Plastino, and Geoff Johns & Francis Manapul (DC)
  • Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #3 of 5, by Geoff Johns, George Pérez & Scott Koblish (DC)
  • The Incredible Hercules #118-124, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Rafa Sandoval, Clayton Henry, Roger Bonet & Salva Espin (Marvel)
  • The Boys #27, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #3 There’s not much I can say about Legion of 3 Worlds #3 that wasn’t said in much more detail over at Rokk’s Comic Book Revolution. Okay, I think he’s a little harsh on Geoff Johns’ like or dislike of the Legion, seeing animosity where I see more indifference and the limitations of Johns’ writing skills. But I agree that it feels like the Legion is little more than a backdrop in their own series.

I think an interesting comparison to this issue is the excellent Batman/Legion issue of The Brave and the Bold. Admittedly that features a smaller cast, but Mark Waid handles the characters deftly and gives a whole host of them a chance to shine in a single issue. Johns not only has to deal with three Legions, but throws in a Green Lantern, a Flash, and of course Superman and Superboy Prime. There’s so much going on here that not only does the Legion feel like it’s getting squeezed out, but everyone gets squeezed out, there’s just too much going on and the emotional center of the story (Superman’s notion of redeeming Prime) has gotten buried.

(As a pet peeve, I’m really frustrated by the cold and brusque character of Brainiac 5, one of many developments in the 80s Legion I didn’t care for, as someone who grew up reading the 70s Legion and back issues of the 60s Legion, where he was a more nuanced character. In Mark Waid’s reboot of the team I found it easier to swallow – he was a new character – but in the ‘classic’ Brainiac 5 it rankles. On the other hand, I do find the bickering between the other two Brainiacs amusing.)

The issue holds together to the extent it does thanks to the ever-wonderful artwork of George Pérez, who may be the only artist in comics who can both draw such a huge cast of characters and compose panels and pages to keep everything moving along. And his covers are gorgeous and clever.

Hopefully this is just “middle issue plot development hell” and the last two issues will be better (the first two issues were). And that Johns will return the focus to the Legion. Although the last page – bringing back a character who seems to scare Prime for reasons I honestly cannot fathom – doesn’t inspire a lot of hope. But, we’ll see.

(Incidentally, this week’s Adventure Comics #0 – cover price only $1.00! – reprints the Legion’s first appearance from the 1950s, and has a short back-up which I guess will lead into the Legion’s next re-launch. Not essential reading, but for a buck, how bad can it be?)

The Incredible Hercules #124 I caught up on The Incredible Hercules this week (well, nearly; somehow I missed #125, which apparently just came out), but unfortunately it was a little disappointing. Hercules is still an interesting character, but Amadeus Cho was portrayed as more hormonal teenager than as flawed super-genius, which made him more of a cliche and a lot less interesting. His flirtations with the Amazonian villains in the latest story arc, “Love and War”, felt particularly out of character.

Consequently Hercules is turning into more of a traditional superhero comic- albeit with a variety of gods running around – when it feels like it could have been something different and more interesting. I liked the notion of it being Cho and Hercules against, well, everyone, and maybe with the ambiguity that it wasn’t clear whether they were doing the right thing.

Still, the writing is witty and the art is good. I think if they could turn Cho back into a serious character, it’d be a much better book all around.

This Week’s Haul

A pretty big haul this week (well, last week now): Two series come to an end, I start catching up on a third series I missed out on, and one of my favorite web comics gets collected. Let’s jump in:

  • Final Crisis #7 of 7, by Grant Morrison, Doug Mahnke, & various inkers (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #23, by Geoff Johns, Jerry Ordway & Bob Wiacek (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #50, by “Justin Thyme”, Ramon Bachs & Livesay (DC)
  • The Incredible Hercules #112-117, by Grek Pak, Fred Van Lente, Khoi Pham, Rafa Sandoval, Paul Neary & Roger Bonet (Marvel)
  • Marvels: Eye of the Camera #3 of 6, by Kurt Busiek & Jay Anacleto (Marvel)
  • Nova #21, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wellington Alves & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • Echo #9, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation vol 1 HC, by Tom Siddell (Archaia)
  • Mister X: Condemned #2 of 4, by Dean Motter (Dark Horse)
  • The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #3 of 6, by Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
Final Crisis #7 It’s no secret that I think DC’s latest big event series, Final Crisis, has been a complete disaster. It started off with some promising elements, but then not only went off the rails in terms of plot and characterization (or lack of characterization), but worst of all, it’s been unrelentingly boring, devoid of either action or of the intriguing new ideas which are usually Grant Morrison’s stock-in-trade. So it’s something of a relief that the final issue came out this week, and I can now turn around and try to sell the pile of cow flop on eBay.

That said, this issue opens with what is easily the best scene in the series: The President of the United States – a black man – is ending a meeting with his advisors, and then heads off for a mission in his other job – as the Superman of his (alternate) world. It’s the natural extension of photos like this one, and it’s quite well done here.

Anyway, to recap the series: After a war in heaven which the New Gods lost, Darkseid has taken over the Earth, and himself been reborn in the body of police officer Dan Turpin. Half the world’s population is enslaved to him, including many superheroes. The rest of humanity is fighting to overthrow him, including Nix Uotan, a fallen Monitor of the many worlds. Superman returns from an extradimensional adventure to find Batman dead, but not before the darknight detective fatally wounded Darkseid. In this issue, the two Flashes (Wally West and a resurrected Barry Allen) lead death (in his guise as the Black Racer) to finish off Darkseid, at which point the dark Monitor Mandrakk appears to finish off the forces of good.

The series started off slow, with quick scenes full of portentiousness. It wasn’t a strong start, but it suggested that the various pieces would come together into a coherent narrative, and that just never happened. The last issue has a few extended scenes, but is still very choppy, with short scenes which never manage to convey the gravity the story strives for.

As many have observed, the general direction of the story is reminiscent of Morrison’s own story from JLA, “Rock of Ages”, in which a few members of the team end up in a future in which Darkseid has conquered the world. That story was more dramatic, faster-paced, and much more tense than Final Crisis ever reaches. Final Crisis stretches itself too thin, divorcing the reader from any emotional impact of the story, taking us too far from the characters that we never really get to know any of them or what they’re thinking.

And really, there’s no reason for the unusual approach to the storytelling: The ideas in Final Crisis are pretty pedestrian; there’s not much here we haven’t seen before, which is unusual since for most of his career Morrison’s strongest asset has been that he’s an “ideas guy”, throwing out interesting stuff which feels out-of-place in superhero comics, but integrating it well enough to make it engaging. This series has been the opposite: Ordinary superhero comic-book ideas told in an unorthodox manner which doesn’t service the ideas or the story at all well, making every aspect of the story feel clumsy and ultimately pointless. (You’d think that gathering the Supermen from every parallel world would qualify as neat stuff, but Alan Moore did it earlier and better in Supreme, so no.)

Speaking of pointless, so many details of the story feel pointless: Why was Barry Allen (the Silver Age Flash) brought back from the dead? He serves no meaningful role in the story; I assume it’s because DC editorial wanted to re-launch him in a new Flash series. Why bother with Mandrakk at all? He’s a bigger villain behind the big villain, but his presence seems a tacit admission that Darkseid just isn’t a big enough villain (which, frankly, I’ve known for years, but I’ve always thought Kirby’s DC characters fell somewhere between silly and stupid). Heck, why bring the Monitors into it at all, when their role in the story was marginal at best? Why bother with the teasing narrative at the start of this issue as if a few survivors of telling the story of the fall of Earth?

Brian Hibbs argues that the problem with the series is that it was positioned as the culmination of DC big boss Dan DiDio‘s tenure at the head of the universe, and that the expectations built up around the series aren’t really Morrison’s fault. But I think the story fails on its own merits, and while editorial usually deserves some blame for that, Morrison deserves a healthy portion himself. It started off weak and stayed weak, and I think it fell down in every aspect of storytelling: Ambition, plot, direction, purpose, characterization, dialogue. It did have a few moments that stood out – Barry being reunited with his wife, the President Superman opener in this issue – but they were few indeed.

Is Final Crisis the worst event series DC has ever done? Of course not: Millennium, at least, was much worse, and there are others you could make a case as being the worst. But Final Crisis was bad. Surprisingly bad, given the talent who worked on it. Morrison’s writing has always been hit-or-miss, but you could usually count on him to at least wow you with his out-there ideas and presentation thereof, but there was little of that here.

I wish we could stop with all the Big Event silliness and just get back to telling good stories. Or at least fun stories. This was neither.

Legion of Super-Heroes #50 Just over a year ago I was pretty excited about Jim Shooter‘s return to Legion of Super-Heroes. Shooter’s run – and the current series – come to an end this week, four issues sooner than Shooter had planned his story to run. This final issue is written by the obviously-pseudonymous “Justin Thyme”, which might be Shooter (using the name in the same way Harlan Ellison used Cordwainer Bird), or maybe Shooter just left and DC got someone else to write the final issue. The pencils are by Ramon Bachs rather than regular penciller Francis Manapul (though Manapul did the cover), suggesting that the whole series just fell apart at an editorial level at the end. (Blaming this on editor Mike Marts might not be fair; it seems like he had to pilot the series through a series of land mines just to get it this far, what with Shooter’s tensions within the industry, and the seeming irrelevance of the series once Legion of 3 Worlds kicked off.)

The issue certainly feels awkward and rushed: Shooter set up the idea of creatures living in a virtual reality running on the hardware of the universe itself invading the “real” universe for their own inscrutable reasons, which frankly is a pretty cool idea. This issue reveals their reasons (which are pretty pedestrian) and provides a straightforward solution to the problem, as indicated in the issue’s title, “Hack the Infinity Net!” Naturally there’s a lot of punching and shooting along the way, which seems out-of-place for a fight with a virtual enemy, and the notion that even Brainiac 5 can take down a whole virtual reality which has existed for millennia when no one else has before strains credulity. If this is the ending Shooter envisions all along – albeit compressed from 5 issues down to 1 – then it’s even more disappointing.

(The official promo for the issue states that it features the return of Cosmic Boy and the death of a longtime Legionnaire, neither of which happens, which makes me think that Shooter didn’t actually write the issue. More speculation about this at Comics Bulletin and Lying in the Gutters, plus comments from Francis Manapul on absence from the issue at Legion World.)

Shooter’s run lasted for 14 issues, and overall I was disappointed by it. He attempted to make the characters sound hip through newly-coined words and clever dialogue. The characterizations felt strained and unnatural, sometimes even embarrassing, and Lightning Lad’s term as leader seemed marked with one bad decision after another, a path the character’s gone down in earlier incarnations. Managing a huge cast like the Legion has is difficult, and in past decades writers have done so by cutting it down to a few members per issue (an approach which resulted in many memorable stories written by Shooter himself). That approach seems to be out of favor these days, but I don’t think dealing with the whole ensemble cast at once played to Shooter’s strengths. The invasion plot line itself had some interesting points, but it felt like it dragged on and periodically faded to the background in favor of the awkward character bits.

I kept wanting to like the series, but it never clicked for me, and there were many times when I cringed at the writing. And while Francis Manapul is a distinctive artist, his style isn’t really to my taste. I can see some of what Shooter was trying to do here, and I appreciate that he had the rug pulled out from under him at the end, but ultimately it wasn’t a successful run, as the story muddled around too much and often just wasn’t very fun.

The Incredible Hercules #112 When Greg Pak ended his run on The Incredible Hulk a year ago, at the conclusion of World War Hulk, Marvel did a couple of interesting things: First, it launched a new Hulk series with the “red Hulk”, written by Jeph Loeb. Second, it continued the old series with Pak as writer (partnered with Fred Van Lente), but retitled it The Incredible Hercules. The premise was that Amadeus Cho, the teenager who’s the “seventh-smartest person in the world” gets together with Hercules (the Greek god who’s also a member of the Avengers) and they have adventures in the post-Civil War Marvel Universe. I was intrigued by the red Hulk story and couldn’t care less about Amadeus Cho and Hercules, so I decided to pick up the former series and drop the latter series.

A year later, as Hulk meanders around aimlessly while Hercules has been getting good word-of-mouth on-line, I feel like I picked the wrong party. And really I should have known better: I’ve always been lukewarm towards Jeph Loeb’s writing, while Greg Pak’s run on Hulk was a lot of fun, engaging, and full of interesting character bits.

Note to self: When deciding which series to buy, always follow the creative talent, not the characters. (And, dammit, I knew that already.)

Fortunately, it’s rarely too late to make up for such a mistake in the comics biz, so this week I picked up the first six issues of The Incredible Hercules, and as I should have guessed they’re fun, engaging, and full of interesting character bits. Hercules is portrayed as being more canny and reasonable than he has been in the past, only smashing things up when his older brother Ares infects him with hydra venom. Cho is just as clever and calculating as he’s been in the past, but intent on bringing down SHIELD almost as much to just have a challenge as to punish the organization responsible for (or at least for enforcing) many of the reprehensible things going on in the Marvel Universe these days.

There are many flashbacks to Hercules’ adventures in Greek myth, showing the stories to be of varying degrees of accuracy, but also showing that Hercules has learned from some of his past mistakes, although others are lessons difficult for him to internalize due to his nature. He’s portrayed as more humble and aware of his limitations than he’s been in the past, but also as someone who prefers to be the “muscle” rather than the leader. Although he’s gained some wisdom, he’s not the smartest of heroes, and he’s aware of this, and maybe a little embarrassed by it. He also has a deep hatred of Ares, who revels in his tendencies towards violence. In sum, Pak and Van Lente give Hercules a nuanced character capable of carrying a series on his own, and also an interesting foil for Cho, whose seeming maturity of in some ways deceptive, as he hasn’t truly grown up and seems to see the world as his own private playground.

With plenty of action mixed in among the reminiscences and musings, I can see why The Incredible Hercules has gotten good reviews. Next week I’ll catch up on the series and add it to my regular pull list. It’s much, much better than the current Hulk series, which I decided to drop last month.

Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation v1 HC Tom Siddell’s excellent web comic Gunnerkrigg Court (which I’ve written about before) finally has its first collection out. The delay is no fault of Siddell’s; it got tied up (I think) due to Archaia’s financial restructuring and subsequent buyout.

But the book’s out, and it looks great! Although it’s in smaller-than-comic-book form, Siddell’s broad style, which relies on composition and expression more than on detail, survives the compression intact. If you’d rather catch up on the series on your couch rather than at your computer, Orientation covers the whole first year of Antimony Carver’s education at the unusual school, nearly 300 pages worth. It’s one of the very best web comics out there, and I highly recommend it.