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Panel Beating - 21st June 2006

For various reasons, Panel Beating has been stuck on a bit of a hiatus recently - it began with a lacklustre set of books a couple of weeks back that I couldn't really find much to say about, followed by not even getting the following week's batch until a week later than usual. In addition, a lot of what's come out lately has been little more than successive issues of titles I've already said quite a lot about, and so it's difficult to find anything new and fresh to say. I'm hopefully going to have a scout around and add a few more interesting things to my pull list (and drop some others), so there should be more to talk about in upcoming weeks (especially next time out, which looks a scorcher - see below).

In the meantime, then, I thought I'd do a quick roundup, with very brief "Quick Bites" reviews, of some of the things I've bought over the last three weeks... Normal service will, hopefully, be resumed next week.

CIVIL WAR #2 (Marvel) : A solid continuation of what has now, of course, become the most significant story Marvel have done in years. If only they hadn't leaked the ending to the bloody papers, it could have been a terrific reveal - although as it is, it feels pretty damned tacked-on, as events in the issue don't lead up to it (you need to be reading Amazing Spider-Man for that... and anyway, that's the title this event should have happened in). Indeed, it's a shame the crossoverness (in terms of what you need and don't need to be reading around it) is getting so garbled and confusing, because on its own this is a decent story. But Marvel are making the same mistakes as DC, assuming too much knowledge of existing characters when they're supposed to be pushing for new readers - I don't read Young Avengers, for example, and I don't know who any of them are, so it feels like too much focus is being given to them in this issue without any explanation as to their significance. Reed Richards' turnaround is a little silly as well, justified with nothing other than "gobbledygook". Pretty art from McNiven again, though, and I hope to see more of this ambiguity eating away at Stark, potentially the series' best character. Some page time for Nick Fury would be nice, too. B+

SUPERMAN #653 (DC) : We're going to miss this story when it's gone, we really are. Busiek and Johns are using each instalment to give us their take on another archetypal Superman story, and so here we get the big guy facing off against Luthor in yet another Big Robotic Suit (only this time it's shape-changing and based on Kryptonian technology). Cor, it's like the '80s never happened, isn't it? Anyway, for an issue that is essentially a big widescreen fight sequence, this does a great job of encapsulating the Superman-Luthor relationship, right down to that simple, stripped-down closing scene. Only one part left, but it's no exaggeration to say that this brief run has completely revitalised comics' most important character. A+

GREEN LANTERN CORPS #1 (DC) : I enjoyed this. Dave Gibbons is, of course, better known as an artist than a writer, but he can turn in a solid story when needs be, and he knows his Green Lantern, to boot. I didn't follow the Recharge miniseries after the first couple of issues, so it was good to see I could just jump straight onboard this one. Guy Gardner is on usual, top, Guy Gardner form, and Natu is an interesting character, as well (if a little similar to Katma Tui). Plus, she's hot. I'm liking, too, the establishment of cameraderie and relationships between Lanterns not connected to Guy or Kilowog - Kol and Sarn, in particular, make for an interesting pair. Gleason's art is strong, and all in all, this is good fun - one to watch. A-

LIBERTY MEADOWS #37 (Image) : After a break of two years, it's just good to finally see Liberty Meadows back on the racks - but there's a slight feeling of disappointment that after all this time, Cho hasn't really turned out an issue that reaches the heights he's capable of. While the stuff with Ralph is as funny as it always is, there just wasn't enough advancement of the Frank/Brandy story (given how long we've waited to see some), and on a personal level there wasn't enough Truman and Oscar in it for my liking, either. It's still great to have it back, though, and it's still capable of genius moments such as the Dark Knight Returns pastiche. And this is superb. B+

EX MACHINA SPECIAL #2 (Wildstorm) : The two-part interlude wraps up, although the second half isn't quite as compelling as the first was. For someone who supposedly became Mitchell's "arch enemy", the story of Pherson is dealt with rather quickly, with not a great deal going on between his first appearance and their climactic showdown - I wonder, in fact, if this story mightn't have been better served in a four-part storyline of the main title rather than a two-part special. In introducing new readers to the concepts of the series, though, this works well, and Sprouse is again an adequate substitute for Harris. The surprising end to the radio show framing device is good, too. A-

DETECTIVE COMICS #820 (DC) : Another strong issue, with the added bonus of Kirk and Clarke's artwork improving significantly since their first issue on this arc. Not a great deal happens in terms of advancing the main story (meaning that there's quite a lot to wrap up in the last part), but there are plenty of neat scenes - the Scarecrow fight, the conversation between Bruce and Tim in the Batmobile (I think we can all predict what he's planning on suggesting), and the one with Officer Harper. There's an interesting nod, too, to a potential piece of Silver Age continuity having made its way back into the fold after Infinite Crisis, and I'll be intrigued to see if anything is made of it any time soon. The Bard backup story is, again, excellent, and I hope they continue when Dini comes onboard - as I can imagine him doing great things with them. A

FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN #9 (Marvel) : This is a little all over the place, spending the entire issue giving us the origin of this weird, future-parallell-universe Hobgoblin, but failing to make a lot of sense while doing so. New concepts are thrown at the reader without ever being elaborated on (I expected some kind of explanation for the ridiculous Spider-Cop outfits, for example), and twenty-odd pages of incoherent mess before flashing back to the "present" do nothing whatsoever to advance what started out last month as quite a promising storyline. By next month, this title will have reached double figures, and arguably nothing in it so far has managed to work - some flashes of good stuff (even in this issue, a couple of funny David-ish one-liners) overshadowed by lots of mess, even when you take out the crossovers it's been mired in. This is Peter David and Mike Weiringo. On Spider-Man. This should be brilliant. It isn't. C+


... is an absolute doozy, with a wealth of quality (or potentially quality) titles, a number of which we've been waiting on for some time. It's hard to know which to get more excited about between All-Star Superman and Ultimates 2, especially as they're probably both close contenders for the best superhero titles published in recent years. The long waits between issues of Ultimates, in particular, are only exacerbated by the way each issue ends on such a powerful cliffhanger, and this story is building up to an absolutely stonking climax. Elsewhere, Neil Gaiman makes a long-awaited return to comics with Eternals, and the less-than-appealing nature of the storyline (late-era Jack Kirby mentalism that no-one has seen fit to go near for twenty-odd years) is surely balanced by the fact that it's Neil Fucking Gaiman, with John Romita Jr on art to boot. Ex Machina begins a new storyarc, picking up the pieces after the devastating events of the last one, and Hellblazer will hopefully continue Denise Mina's strong, if slightly glacier-paced, comics debut. Oh, and we're due another issue of Astonishing X-Men, too. Great stuff.

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