This Week’s Haul

  • Astro City: The Dark Age Book Four #1, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Batman and Robin #7, by Grant Morrison & Cameron Stewart (DC)
  • Green Lantern #50, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Rebecca Buchman, Tom Nguyen & Mark Irwin (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #35, by Bill Willingham, Travis Moore & Dan Green (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #19, by Matt Wagner, Joëlle Jones & David Hahn (DC/Vertigo)
  • Victorian Undead #3 of 6, by Ian Edginton & Davide Fabbri (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Fantastic Four #575, by Jonathan Hickman & Dale Eaglesham (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #22, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Brad Walker & Andrew Hennessy (Marvel)
  • Echo #19, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Irredeemable #10, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
  • The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh #4 of 4, by Mark Waid & Minck Oosterveer (Boom)
  • Chew #8, by John Layman & Rob Guillory (Image)
Batman and Robin #7 is the perfect example of the “average” Grant Morrison book:

  1. The story starts with the current Batman (Dick Grayson) carrying the body of the previous Batman (Bruce Wayne – or as far as everyone in the DC Universe knows it’s his body) out of its crypt. This page is a piece of the setup, but it then transitions to a seemingly-completely-unconnected scene in London, a gimmick Morrison often employs make his plots more cagey.
  2. Obscure guest stars, in this case Knight and Squire, the equivalent of Batman and Robin of England. (Morrison created the current versions of these characters, but their antecedents are from the Silver Age, and John Byrne also used them in his series Generations III.) Knight visually resembles another Morrison creation, Prometheus.
  3. The first two episodes of the story are essentially a blind for Batman’s real goal, which is the revive his predecessor with the help of a Lazarus Pit. This unfortunately tends to make many of Morrison’s stories hard to follow, especially as in this case, where it seems like Batman was well aware of where the pit was (the body preceded him there, after all), and Batwoman turns up for some reason, but the chain of events doesn’t really make much sense.
  4. The characterizations don’t quite ring true: Dick’s speech near the end about his drive to bring Bruce back belies both the rocky relationship between the two men as adults. Dick’s defeated tone of voice – even though he really had nothing to do with Bruce’s death – also feels out of character.

The story overall is intriguing despite its flaws, and Cameron Stewart draws the hell out of it, easily the best artwork the series has yet seen. The issue did have an unfortunate in word balloon placement flaw in one panel, and you might find a glossary of British terminology in the issue helpful, but neither is a detriment to the book.

What’s less encouraging is how the faux body of Batman is being handled, since we know from the end of Final Crisis that Bruce Wayne is still alive, apparently on a parallel world, but Dick says here that Superman confirmed that the body has Bruce’s DNA. Superman is by definition a reliable source in situations like this, so it has to be Bruce. Which severely limits how Morrison can explain that it’s not really Bruce: A clone would be so cliché that it would render the whole thing pointless. Bruce could have traded places with his double from the other Earth (which would be a bit draconian). But any solution which ends up with Superman being wrong or having been tricked means the whole thing fails. (This was a flaw in Mark Waid’s otherwise excellent The Return of Barry Allen, where Green Lantern’s ring verifies that Barry is really Barry, and that undercuts the whole story; this is a problem with having godlike characters running around your universe.) I’m curious to see whether Morrison can make it work.

Fantastic Four hits a mini-milestone this month, issue #575, but I thought the issue was a disappointment. It involves the FF going deep into the Earth to help the Mole Man with a problem he’s having, and they’re not able to help very much, but a highly-advanced underground city is raised to the surface within US territory, presumably to set up future storylines. There are some great visuals by Dale Eaglesham, but at the end my reaction was, “Wait, that’s it?” Something about this issue was just ill-conceived: Not a lot much action and not much of a climax, nor was it very thought-provoking. If it doesn’t end up setting up something big down the road, then I’ll wonder why they bothered with this issue at all.
The second series of The Unknown ends this week, and it’s been quite a bit better than the first series, which ended rather ambiguously and without a lot of satisfaction for the characters or the readers. It turns out that there were several things happening in the first series which were just not clear at the time, and writer Mark Waid reveals a lot of what was going on here: What Catherine Allingham was really after, and a the surprising nature of her former partner, Doyle.

At first, The Unknown seemed like it was going to be a Sherlock Holmes-like series (something Waid has done before in a more traditional manner with Ruse) with supernatural overtones, but in fact it’s turning out to be a fantasy/suspense/horror series which happens to have a detective as its protagonist, in particular, a detective interested in learning the truth about the afterlife because she’s under a death sentence herself.

Yet so much of the series’ status quo has been overturned in this second series that I wonder if Waid is going to send it off somewhere else again in the next series. I could easily see him wrapping up the whole story in one more series if that’s what he has in mind, or peeling back more layers from the onion. I could be happy with it either way, though I think making it a longer, more complex series will make it more likely that it will be a great story rather than an interesting diversion. Especially if he expands on the characters more, as they’re fairly one-dimensional so far.

The biggest surprise in independent comics last year was the series Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory. I missed the boat on it, and picked up the first collection and the next two issues to catch up, so now I’m up-to-date.

The premise is that in the near future avian flu has caused the US and several other nations to outlaw poultry from the market, and the F.D.A. is charged with investigating poultry and food-related crimes. Tony Chu was a cop who has the ability – more of a curse, really – to be able to read the history of anything he tastes. Very useful, but also rather disgusting when what you need to get information about is a rancid corpse. Tony is recruited to work for the FDA, his boss hates him, and his partner has an agenda at odds with Tony’s sense of right and wrong.

The stories are mildly disgusting (and often quite violent), but rather witty. The art is cartoony and expressive, not entirely my kind of thing, but it fits the story well. Overall it’s a very offbeat package, a little bit fantasy, a little bit crime drama. Some people love Chew to bits, while I think it’s entertaining enough but I don’t want to read it while I’m eating dinner. But if quirk is something you appreciate in a comic book, then it might well be for you.

This Week’s Haul

Actually 2 weeks’ worth of stuff, since I was on vacation for a week:

  • Astro City: Astra #1 of 2, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Green Lantern #46, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #31, by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges & Jesus Merino (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #15, by Matt Wagner & Michael Wm. Kaluta (DC/Vertigo)
  • Power Girl #5, by Jimmy Palmotti, Justin Gray & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • Sleeper: Season Two TPB, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Wednesday Comics#12 of 12, by many hands (DC)
  • Immortal Weapons #3 of 5, by Rick Spears & Tim Green II, and Duane Swierczynski & Hatuey Diaz (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #18, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Wesley Craig (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hercules #135, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente & Rodney Buchemi (Marvel)
  • Nova #29, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Kevin Sharpe & Nelson Pereira (Marvel)
  • Echo #15, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • The Pound #1, by Richard Moore (Antarctic)
  • The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh #1 of 4, by Mark Waid & Minck Oosterveer (Boom)
  • Invincible #66, by Robert Kirkman & Cory Walker (Image)
Astro City: Astra #1 If you haven’t read Astro City before, or the long delays in publishing The Dark Age have put you off it (or if you just didn’t like it, which I could believe), then this 2-part special Astra is a good point to jump on. Astra is the daughter in a Fantastic Four-type team of superheroes, having previously appeared as a young girl in a good 2-parter a decade ago. Well, now she’s all grown up and is graduating from college, trying to figure out what she wants to do next. You’d think this would be easy for a world-famous superheroine and theoretical in-line-for-the-throne of two exotic kingdoms, but it’s more complicated than that for Astra. This story is very much in keeping with Kurt Busiek’s explorations of the personal nature of living in a world with superheroes.

As Mike Sterling notes, the cover of this issue isn’t a great advertisement for people seeking out the comic; it’s a cute idea, but for a series now trying to reestablish itself on a regular schedule, they should have gone with something more traditional.

Sleeper: Season Two I quite liked the first volume of Sleeper, so I snapped up the second volume as soon as it came out. The first was about a superpowered character, Holden Carver, who was put into deep cover by his spy organization into an international crime organization, but when his boss went into a coma he was left on his own and had to grapple with the fact that he probably wasn’t going to come in from the cold but he wasn’t one of the bad guys either, even though he started to befriend several of them. At the end of that volume, two things had happened: He had pretty much given up on ever coming back to the side of the good guys and had risen in the ranks of the crime group, and his former boss came out of his coma.

So while the first volume followed Carver’s descent into darkness as he adjusted to being on the side of the devils, the second volume dangles hope of redemption in front of him, even as he realizes that the guys he used to work for weren’t exactly angels themselves, and that the only way out is to somehow get away from both of them – a good trick since the leaders of both groups are highly talented planners and manipulators who are using him as a double agent to get at each other.

Although the novelty of the idea has worn off by this volume, Ed Brubaker still spins an intense yarn as Carver plays both ends against the middle in an intensely dangerous game, trying to out-think the thinkers, and bringing the series to its conclusion. As I said in the first volume, it required a big finish, and it gets one, although Carver’s ultimate fate ends up being a little disappointing (Zack Overkill’s ending in Incognito was much more satisfying). But Brubaker’s hard-edged plotting means he really has few options available unless he decides to change some of the rules at the last minute, which isn’t the sort of thing he does; Brubaker always does his best to play fair with his readers. Sean Phillips’ art is terrific, as always, not too flashy (and the super-beings in the story don’t have flashy powers), and very, very dark, as befits the story. If you like Michael Gaydos’ artwork (e.g., on Marvel’s Alias), well, Phillips’ is all that and a lot more.

Sleeper might be Brubaker’s best work, but not by much; Criminal and Incognito were both very good, too. In any event, if you like dark superhero stories and criminal noir yarns, then you should definitely check out Sleeper. It took a while, but Brubaker’s definitely won me over as a fan.

(Hmm, I wonder if this means I should check out Brubaker’s mainstream work for Marvel? I read X-Men: Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire and thought it was okay, but his Captain America series has been very well received and I haven’t done more than thumb through that.)

Wednesday Comics #12 With the final issue of Wednesday Comics, I’ll run down the series, in order from what I think was best to worst:

  1. Flash: Clearly the top of the class of the series, Karl Kerschl played around with story structure, sometimes a little too much, and the ending felt abrupt and a little confusing. However, his artwork was solid-to-excellent, and his handling of the characters of Barry and Iris evoked the Flash’s adventures of the 60s and 70s without feeling dated. I’ve never seen Kershl’s work before, but I’ll keep an eye out for it in the future.
  2. Strange Adventures: I’ve had mixed feelings about Paul Pope’s work in the past, and the first half of the story here felt pretty pedestrian, a straightforward “back to basics” yarn for Adam Strange (who originally was just a step away from being a rip-off of John Carter of Mars). Pope won me over with the second half, with the twist he threw in (Strange is an aged archaeologist on Earth, a young hero on Rann) and how he worked it into the story. He brought it in for a graceful landing, and made me think I’d be happy to read an Adam Strange (or Doctor Fate) series by Pope. Well done.
  3. Supergirl: Jimmy Palmiotti’s story was light and amusing, and had no pretensions of being more than that. Conner seems to be the ideal artist for Palmiotti’s flights of fancy, as we’ve seen in Terra and Power Girl. The last page has a cute twist to it. It’s a big step down from the two stories above, but I still enjoyed it.
  4. Kamandi: I’m not a fan of Jack Kirby’s DC creations, as I’ve said many times before, and Dave Gibbons’ story is trivial and generic. What raises this series above the others is Ryan Sook’s amazing artwork. I’ve seen him develop for a few years now, since his work on Mike Mignola’s Jenny Finn, and this is hands-down the best work he’s ever done. If he’s up for a monthly book, someone ought to pair him with a top-flight writer and put him on a top property, because he’s really that good.
  5. Deadman: An uneven story by a couple of guys I’m not familiar with. It seemed to evoke the Dini/Timm animated cartoons in its look, and it was a pretty straightforward Deadman story overall; it would have fit in well with his shorts in Adventure Comics circa 1980. Pretty good, not great.
  6. The Demon & Catwoman: This story meandered all over the place, and felt like a rehash of any number of Demon stories I’ve already read. Brian Stelfreeze’s art was interesting, since I’ve don’t think I’ve seen him do line art before, just painted work. I’d be happy to see more of it. A few nice moments sprinkled through the otherwise pedestrian script, though.
  7. Green Lantern: A yawner of a script by the usually-reliable Kurt Busiek, although Joe Quinones’ New Frontier-esque art was good. Like the previous story, it had a few good moments sprinkled in, but this was a run-of-the-mill series.
  8. Metal Men: Also run-of-the-mill, which was probably more than most people expected from Dan Didio, whose fiction writing I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. Jose Luis Garcia Lopez is always good for some boffo artwork, though.
  9. Sgt. Rock: Utterly routine story by Adam Kubert, with art that looked like it was phoned in by Joe Kubert. Too bad.
  10. Metamorpho: Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred mostly play around with story structure, very self-consciously. The basic story wasn’t very much, and the structural experiments weren’t very interesting to me, so I don’t count this as a big success. A nice try, though.
  11. Hawkman: Mostly-lovely artwork by Kyle Baker completely sunk by his wretched story and awkward script, complete with an abrupt ending. Probably the biggest disappointment in the series.
  12. Teen Titans: A “nice try” of the story with a twist that came too late to save it, and artwork in a style that doesn’t appeal to me, with an unsympathetic coloring job. The last page doesn’t even feel like an ending, and it ends on a cliché.
  13. Batman: Nice Mazzucchelli-esque art, but Azzarello’s script meandered around the edges of the story, going for a noir feel without any of the impact I expect from noir-ish stories. And ultimately I just didn’t care about the story being told, as the characters were too superficial.
  14. Superman: John Arcudi’s story, about aliens making Superman doubt his identity, just felt completely wrong for the character, so wrong that even revealing what was going on didn’t make me believe in it. Lee Bermejo’s art didn’t work for me at all, with a coloring job that made the pictures look ridiculous. This one just missed on every level, and it didn’t even feel like a Superman story. An Atomic Skull story would have been a step up.
  15. Wonder Woman: Ben Caldwell seems pretty talented (this is my first exposure to his work), but his approach to this story didn’t work for me at all: Way too many panels, very little detail, too many words, and layouts that rendered the whole thing basically unreadable. He seemed to be actively working against the format. I think I gave up after the second page.

So what about the package as a whole? Well, it was very uneven, and it was disappointing that only 3 of the 15 stories were more than mediocre, and there were so many that were just blah, indeed that fully a third of them were downright bad (okay, Sturgeon’s Law applies, but still, disappointing). The art in the series was generally good, but the writing really fell down, time after time, either trying and failing to be meaningful (Superman), being too lightweight (Green Lantern, Metal Men, Sgt. Rock), or trying to be clever about working with the format but failing (Batman, Hawkman). The best strips told stories with their own unique twists or structure, which worked within the page-a-week format but weren’t self-conscious about it.

If DC tries an experiment like this again, I doubt I’d pick it up unless it looks like they’re putting a new twist on it, or the stories appear to be significantly better. Overall I don’t think Wednesday Comics was a successful experiment, and I think it will be quickly forgotten. So far DC hasn’t come close to the artistic success of 52 in their later weekly series.

The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh #1 Last month, I was disappointed in the ending to the first series of Mark Waid’s The Unknown, as the story ended in an unsatisfying manner. But this first issue of the new series has me excited for what Waid is doing.

In the first series, James Doyle is hired as an assistant and bodyguard to Catherine Allingham, the world’s greatest detective – who has six months to live. Naturally she’s become fascinated by things involving life extension, death, and the soul, perhaps obsessed. In this issue, Doyle is on his own, being hired as a security guard for a park where Allingham will also be present – but Doyle has no memory of meeting her. Moreover, it’s a year later. And Allingham is hiring a new assistant. Doyle starts to regain his memory, and realizes that many things are not right, and he starts investigating why.

This is quite a hook for the series, and explains why the first series was merely set-up; in its way, it’s as big a revelation as the big surprise in Invincible ten issues in, only here it’s the set-up for the story going forward. On top of that, this issue ends on a big cliffhanger.

Waid’s got me. I’m hooked.

This Week’s Haul

  • Batman & Robin #3, by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (DC)
  • The Flash: Rebirth #4 of 5, by Geoff Johns & Ethan Van Scyver (DC)
  • Green Lantern #45, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #30, by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges & Jesús Merino (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #14, by Matt Wagner & Michael Wm. Kaluta (DC/Vertigo)
  • Secret Six: Unhinged vol 2 TPB, by Gail Simone, Nicola Scott & Doug Hazlewood (DC)
  • Wednesday Comics #8 of 12, by many hands (DC)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #17, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Brad Walker, Victor Olazaba & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hercules #133, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente & Rodney Buchemi (Marvel)
  • Nova #28, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Andrea DiVito (Marvel)
  • The Unknown #4 of 4, by Mark Waid & Minck Oosterveer (Boom)
  • Boneyard #28, by Richard Moore (NBM)
Batman and Robin #3 Reading the effusive praise heaped on writer Grant Morrison by folks like Greg Burgas (who calls him the “God of All Comics”) or Chris Sims often makes me blink in surprise. Over his long career, I’ve always seen Morrison as a fine idea man, but only a pretty good writer, with haphazard plotting and characterizations that lean towards being thin and heavy-handed. Many of his stories are very good, but over the last few years his facility as an idea man seems to have declined sharply, and his ability to play out the interesting ideas he does have seems to be dwindling away even faster. In every respect, I’d say Morrison’s been lapped by Warren Ellis at this point. (I’d say Ellis’ peak is higher, too, with Planetary and Transmetropolitan being better than Morrison’s best work, JLA and The Invisibles.)

All of which is a lead-in to my disappointment with Batman and Robin #3, which wraps up the series’ initial story arc in a decidedly unsatisfying manner. The villain, Pyg, has a master plan to extort Gotham City, and he also performs some exotic surgery on his captives by fixing a grotesque read-haired mask over their actual faces and drugs them into becoming his henchmen, a fate which he threatens to inflict on the captured Robin. But Pyg is a nonentity as a villain, just another overstylized grotesque, a less-comprehensible Joker. His plan, such as it is, is explained after he’s been defeated, with little real threat of it ever coming to pass. A circus is involved, for some reason, but as a backdrop it’s irrelevant.

The best part of the series so far has been the two main characters: Dick Grayson is clearly still crushed by the apparent death of Bruce Wayne, and is not entirely comfortable going to the lengths that Wayne would go in pursuit of justice, as you’d expect since Dick was the original happy-go-lucky boy wonder, the counterpoint to the darknight detective. The new Robin is a vicious and opinionated boy who barely has any respect for his mentor, yet who is highly skilled, even if occasionally over his head and lacking in good judgment. Bringing him up should be a real challenge for Dick. Morrison only really brushes the fringe of his characters, suggesting a great deal but leaving it unexplored, being more interested in the mechanics of propelling his plot. I also suspect Bruce Wayne will be back well before the potential of this set-up could be realized even in the hands of a writer more skilled in characterization, so it may end up being a non-starter anyway. Which would be too bad, but that’s life for a comic driven more by marketing and branding than by serving the interests of the story.

I think I’ve gone into Quitely’s art before: I like his approach to drawing figures, the solidity he gives then, but I often find his characters’ faces to be grotesquely ugly (whether or not they’re supposed to be), and the skimpy backgrounds often drives me (uh) batty – it really sucks the life out of the extended fight scene here. I generally find that what I like about Quitely’s artwork I find in a more attractive package in Gary Frank’s work (although Frank also has a problem with a lack of backgrounds).

Batman and Robin is an okay comic. It’s a pretty shallow story, grotesque for no good reason, but with some good character bits. But what it really wants to be – a strong character drama focusing on the title characters – is not Morrison’s forte, and so I think it’s never really going to reach its potential. And the praise I’ve seen it receive seems far out-of-proportion compared to what the series has actually delivered. But, you know, diff’rent strokes.

Secret Six vol 1: Unhinged I’m sure I’ve read something by Gail Simone before, but nothing comes to mind. I haven’t been avoiding her writing, it just seems like she’s largely been working in areas that don’t much interest me. For example, I dropped Birds of Prey around the time she started, because I felt the concept had been largely played out, having drifted considerably from the early issues I enjoyed. And the current Wonder Woman series was a total disaster for its first year and I bailed before she signed on to the title. Her other current series, Secret Six flew under my radar, since it spun out from a spin-off of another stupid DC event series, and the name comes from an old series that I never had much interest in (honestly, I find DC and Marvel’s tendency to reclaim old names for new premises to be rather distasteful; it’s an example of branding at its worst). Nonetheless, the series has been getting good word-of-mouth in the blogosphere, so with a new paperback collection out this week (which turns out to be the second collection, although the first was of a mini-series) I figured I’d give it a try.

The premise is sort of the mercenary version of the Suicide Squad: A bunch of B-grade (and lower) villains work together to make money. Rather than engaging in the traditional criminal activities – knocking over banks, etc. – they’re for hire for shady and difficult jobs. The team is led by Scandal Savage, daughter of the immortal Vandal Savage (and saddled with an unfortunate name), and includes: Rag Doll, eccentric son of the original; Cat Man, a vicious hunter in a garish orange outfit; Deadshot, the psychopathic marksman late of the Suicide Squad; and Bane, the nutjob who once defeated Batman, who’s trying to stay off the drugs that make him immensely powerful, yet also an unreasoning brute. The sixth member of the team apparently died shortly before the volume begins, and they gain a new member for this story.

The story itself has the team head to California to break a woman out of Alcatraz (which in the DC Universe is a prison for superhumans), since she knows where to find a card which holds great and mysterious value to those in the know. A mysterious crime lord named Junior hires every Z-grade villain he can to bring them down and bring the card back to him, so the team has to run a gauntlet to get back to Gotham to get their payoff. But the card itself is only of use to one person at a time, and once they learn what it is, it sets the team at each others’ throats.

With my references to Suicide Squad, it isn’t a surprise that the story feels like it could be a Suicide Squad story, only with selfish rather than nominally noble motivations behind the team’s actions. Both series are marked by the interactions among the strong personalities – with a few weaker personalities thrown in as followers – and with the characters’ loyalties shifting (or seeming to) as they have to make difficult decisions. Their opponent, Junior, is an unusually extreme and grotesque villain, perhaps a little too over-the-top for my tastes, since we don’t really get a good feel for what makes him tick (although there may be clues in the earlier stories that I haven’t read yet). Simone also knows how to write a climax, as the volume ends with a big one with a couple exclamation points at the end.

Nicola Scott’s a solid superhero artist, whose work I haven’t seen before. I like her work here better than Frank Quitely’s in Batman and Robin, for instance, as she has most of his strengths but draws more intricate panels with nicely-rendered backgrounds. Her style is on the generic side, though, not terribly different from artists like Dale Eaglesham or Jesus Merino or Dan Jurgens.

This collection is entertaining enough that I think I’ll try the regular series for a while.

Wednesday Comics #8 This week’s Wednesday Comics round-up: In Metamorpho, Gaiman and Allred are clearly just having fun playing with the graphic construction of the story, as this week the hero and Urania the Element Girl spent a page imitating half of the periodic table of the elements – the other half will be next week. The creators’ contortions to fit into their self-imposed structures is cute, but it doesn’t leave much space for actual story, which means the thing as a whole has been pretty disappointing.

While Flash is overall the most intriguing and entertaining story in the package, I worry that it’s playing around with overlapping timelines a little too much; I’m having a hard time untangling exactly what’s going on. Although at the end of this page, it appears that Flash may be having the same problem, and it’s coming back to bite him, so that may be the point.

Most of the stories should be having their climaxes over the next 2 weeks (with their denouements in the last 2 weeks), which will determine how good the adventure strips like Strange Adventures and Supergirl end up being.

The Unknown #4 Mark Waid’s series The Unknown finishes its first story arc this week, to be continued in a new mini-series next month. The first story involved Catherine Allingham, the world’s greatest detective (a broad premise Waid also played with in his earlier series Ruse) hiring a new assistant, James Doyle (not the Governor of Wisconsin), to whom she reveals that she’s dying of a brain tumor. The pair investigate the theft of a casket which may hold the clue to proving the existence of human souls, and they follow it to a remote castle where they apparently find the door to the afterlife, to which Catherine is strongly attracted, being curious as to what she’s going to face when she dies.

Despite all this neat stuff, the story felt weirdly disjointed and unsatisfying. The mystery of the disappearing casket is resolved off-panel, and it’s not clear to me what happened to Catherine in the final encounter at the doorway: Was her brain tumor cured? Sent into recession? Or does she still just have a little more time left? Strange.

The best parts of the comic were Catherine’s presence as the ultimate representation of rationalism, yet one whose situation makes her attracted to the fantastic, and James’ presence trying to ground her in the real, even though they really do find supernatural phenomena. It’s a dynamic familiar from The X-Files, only James isn’t a skeptic, he’s just firmly grounded in our world and is not so much skeptical of the existence of the fantastic, as suspicious of the motivations behind and goals of those phenomena. Minck Oosterveer’s art is also pretty nifty, sketchy at times but remarkably solid at others, especially the EC-Comics-like creature who haunts Catherine’s visions. I suspect Oosterveer could benefit from a strong inker rather than inking his own work, though.

Waid is usually much stronger in his plotting, and not so fuzzy in his themes, so I wonder whether he’s got some master plan for pulling the pieces together and giving them more emotional resonance, or if this is an experimental series for him. Tthe series is titled The Unknown, so I guess I could see it go either way. I’m certainly interested enough to stick around for a bit, but if it ends up being one enigma after another, then I’m likely to run out of curiosity much as I did with The X-Files.

Boneyard #28 Think some nice thoughts about one of the best independent comics of the decade, whose final issue was published this week. Richard Moore apparently hadn’t intended to end Boneyard with this issue, but I guess it just isn’t selling well enough for him to devote the time to it anymore. The tale of Michael Paris, the graveyard he inherited, and all the spooks and ghouls that live therein has been part comedy, part drama, and part soap opera for some years now, but it’s always been entertaining. I enjoyed it most when it focused on the interplay of the main characters, and thus this final issue wraps up perhaps my least-favorite storyline in the series, Paris trying to save a childhood friend from an unhappy marriage and getting his fat pulled out of the fire by his vampire friend Abby. Not to my mind the most fitting end to the series, although the last couple of pages between Paris and Abby are sweet.

I’d still recommend going out and reading the earlier volumes of the series (start with the first collection and see what you think), but sadly it’s come to a premature end. A real shame.