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Panel Beating - Quick Bites 4th April 2006

Well, sorry about the delay, folks. Not getting Panel Beating out last weekend was largely due to my own laziness and being on a trip home for the weekend, but this past week has also been quite busy and not without some unwanted and unpleasant distractions. So, then, in an attempt to fill the void, here's a quick overview (some quicker than others!) of the past couple of weeks' worth of releases, stuff I bought that would have been covered in more detail had I had the chance. There is, of course, one glaring omission from DC's 29th March output - but don't think I've forgotten it, I'll be covering it in more detail later in the week.

Action Comics #837, cover by Terry and Rachel Dodson


DC / Busiek / Johns / Woods

Once again, as you'd expect, this is excellent stuff, settling down into a neat "Clark Kent investigates" story (it's always nice to get those reminders that, while Bruce Wayne is the detective, Clark is no slouch in the investigative journalism stakes). There's still plenty of mystery surrounding what happened after the Crisis, but some gaps - such as the time Clark spent trying to regain his powers - are filled in. Unfortunately, there's a whopping great big Crisis spoiler that, you feel, really should have been cut once the powers that be knew that this would be arriving the week before IC #6 (if, indeed, the event that it spoils does occur in issue 6). Lex is as well-written as he's been in years, successfully merging the genius, businessman and criminal elements of his tangled past continuities, while the new Toyman appears to be an entertaining prospect.

Meanwhile, something this arc definitely has over Batman is consistent artwork, rather than switching between teams for the different books. Woods continues to turn in career-best stuff, and it's just a shame he'll be leaving the title so soon - but he certainly deserves some more A-list DCU work after this. Overall, though this doesn't quite pack the punch of the previous issue, it's still great stuff - and the characterisation of Clark is strong enough that we're not even missing him in costume. Yet. A


DC / Robinson / Kramer / Champagne

As with the Superman titles, it was the opening issue of this arc that carried all the weight - the groundwork has been laid for some back-to-basics, cracking superhero tales, and that's what's being delivered here. All in all, though, it's a fairly simple self-contained story - Batman and Robin go in to deal with the threat posed by Poison Ivy last issue, and do so with the minimum of fuss - that then has a final-page twist that turns a thread from the last issue into the arc's obvious ongoing storyline. It's textbook stuff from start to finish, but what's been impressive about the top-line OYL books so far has been the tone they've established. It's been so hard to like Batman for years, and so it's great to see his interactions with Robin, Ivy and Gordon in this issue, because he feels right again. Similarly, what makes this issue work is that it's littered with neat moments - the opening page, the bond of trust and understanding again evident between Batman and Robin, Robin crouching on top of a filing cabinet in Gordon's office... that sort of thing.

The disappointment here, though, is with the art - quite aside from adjusting back and forth to a different art team each issue, there's also some jarring inconsistency in the look of some characters. Kramer generally gets Batman right from panel to panel - although he doesn't seem to have more than two facial expressions - but Poison Ivy looks great in some panels and terrible in others, while Robin actually appears to be wearing the wrong costume in some panels (the old-style "R" makes a couple of appearances, but most glaring is that in his first full-shot panel he's even wearing his old belt). Such things aside, though, this continues all the positive notes of the first issue, and with Robinson having set out his stall for these two issues, expect things to really kick off next time out. A-

Blue Beetle #1, cover by Cully Hamner


DC / Giffen / Rogers / Hamner

There's a lot riding on this one - the title character is taking over from one of DC's best-loved minor heroes, Ted Kord; it's co-written by Keith Giffen (of whom we usually expect great things but who occasionally stutters) and a man who had a hand in Catwoman movie script; and it's the high-profile break that many have long felt Cully Hamner is deserving of. Thankfully, it's actually rather good. The continuity is a little on the jarring side - is this an OYL book, or not? The "flashback" scenes obviously take place pre- (or during) Crisis, but the "present" scenes give the impression of taking place immediately after it. Yet there have also been suggestions that it IS One Year Later, despite not being labelled as such on the cover, and despite the fact that Jaime - who we saw "suiting up" for the first time in IC #5 - seems new to his powers. All very mysterious, and not helped by the fact that this is clearly another book that should have come out after IC finished. I know I keep going on about this... but surely you can kind of see the point?

Anyway, ignoring that, there's enough good stuff here to suggest that this will be a fun ride. The main character and his supporting cast are set up quite well, considering the small amount of page space they get in which to do so - it's all rather obvious and nothing that hasn't been seen before, but you suspect that's kind of the idea - here's a perfectly normal kid, with no angst or problems in his background, who's going to be thrust into this insane world at a somewhat crucial time. What makes it work is that the patter from Jaime and his friends pours out in a Bendis-like fashion, with a couple of laugh-out loud one-liners ("The Swedes are filthy spawn campers!") along the way. Hamner's art is solid, bringing a Weiringo-style cartoony feel, albeit with rather looser linework. And I like the in-costume scenes, particularly because I really like both the look and the abilities of the new costume. All in all, a very promising start. A-


DC / Pfeifer / Lopez / Lopez

Nah, this one doesn't really work for me. It's another example of what could have been a chance to jump onto a book I'd often wanted to, but instead really isn't favourable towards new readers. For starters, one of the things that makes Catwoman appealing is that Selina Kyle is a really good character in the right hands. So when you've got a Catwoman that isn't Selina, things immediately become far less interesting. Furthermore, there's little if nothing done in this issue to really establish the new girl on the block. Even the issue of her identity is left oblique if you're not an existing reader - she's not referred to as Holly by name anywhere but on the back page solicits for next month, and naming aside, nothing is filled in about who she is and how she relates to Selina (I mean, all I knew of her was from her appearance in Year One - I didn't even know she was still around). The same is true of the entire supporting cast - a lot of characters made apperances here, and frankly, I found myself lost. Not a bad issue by any means, and there's a great scene with Batman (that sadly does little other than emphasise why Selina herself really should still be Catwoman so we can have more scenes like it), but it's completely bewildering for a new reader, which really seems to defeat the point of doing a relaunch at all. B


DC / Johns / Reis / Campos

And this one's a bit of a yawner, really. GL : Rebirth was great, but only because there was so much going on it didn't matter that Hal Jordan himself is a spectacularly uninteresting character. Since then, his solo series has been painfully dull in comparison to GL Corps. And having recently relaunched, there's not much drastic that can be done with this one, so it's really just more of the same. The best moments are when Ollie - an infinitely more interesting character - shows up, and aside from introducing a new and possibly quite significant piece of new DCU continuity (although the fact that it's a treaty tells you how exciting this book is right now) there's really not a great deal to engage with. To be honest, this book only really shines when there are other characters around - the Batman issue was great, while the title itself is only on my pull list because I don't want to miss when the Cyborg Superman shows up in a couple of months' time. Once again, it's certainly nothing near unreadable, but it's also completely missable. B-


DC Vertigo / Mina / Manco

Ah. Now this is where, after a strong start, Denise Mina starts to lose me a bit. The storytelling here really isn't terribly clear, and I'm suddenly finding myself three issues into an arc and a lot less sure of what's going on than I was a month ago. This is perhaps the result of a prose writer finding her feet in the medium, and you can't really blame her for this, especially since she hit the ground running so well to begin with. It's not completely incomprehensible, but the intercuts between present and far past are starting to frustrate, given that it's now been three issues without any real explanation of how they're connected. Of course, they will be connected, but there's a distinct lack of clues as to how. Meanwhile, a sudden cut to new characters and situation on the last page feels quite jarring. All that said, there's still a feel that Mina has a good handle on the tone of the book, and that she's got Constantine's voice down pat; while Manco remains one of the best (or, should I say, most suited) Hellblazer artists in years. Stick with it, because the credentials have already been proven somewhat at this early stage, but it's the first slight blip in the run so far. B

Robin #148, cover by Ed McGuinness

ROBIN # 148

DC / Beechen / Kerschl / Faucher

The "Bat family" is surely DC's biggest group of titles, both in terms of sales and in terms of sheer number of different books. It's also the group that was surely the most in need of the opportunity for a kick up the arse that IC and OYL have provided - the books, particularly the peripheral ones, have in recent years meandered around in quite directionless fashion, with sub-standard writing and a lack of inspired creativity. Thankfully, the relaunches have so far, with the lamentable exception of Nightwing, worked perfectly. And it's extremely pleasing to see Tim Drake once again get a book that might be a bit worthy of him.

Simply put, what this issue does is make use of what makes Tim a strong character. In the post-Chuck Dixon years of his solo title, it's been easy to forget that the main reason Tim got the job in the first place was his detective skills. He and Nightwing operate quite differently, and each represent a different facet of the whole that is Batman. In an ideal world, Nightwing would be a kickass action book playing to Dick Grayson's strengths as a fighter and an acrobat, while Robin would focus on more thoughtful stories of mystery and detection. Thankfully, Beechen seems to understand that - and so, after a fight scene at the beginning, this book is all about a mystery. Someone close to Tim has been murdered, and worse - he's the prime suspect. So he's going to have to track down who did it while simultaneously keeping the cops off his back. Bread and butter stuff, of course, and not even something that hasn't been done in the Batbooks themselves in recent years, but there's still potential for a really good story here. The characterisation and dialogue are solid - and there's yet another good scene with ol' Pointy Ears in what seems to have been a deliberate move by DC to have him keep showing up and being nice last week - as is the art, although Tim looks a little young throughout, as if he hasn't aged at all in recent years. And the new costume, while this issue doesn't represent its first appearance, is great. This could be one to watch, and certainly makes a fine complement to the two Batman books at the moment. A-


Marvel (Ultimate line)/ Bendis / Bagley, Dell / McKenna

You know, if all that comes out of the Kitty-Peter relationship are X-Men stories that happen to have Spider-Man in them, I'm going to be annoyed, not least because I thought Bendis was a bit better than that. I lost interest in Ultimate X-Men some time ago (funnily enough, while I hated Millar's run to begin with, it was so good by the time he left that it just hasn't reached those heights since - remember his brilliant final issue with Mags and Charlie?), and so to see a story in my beloved Ultimate Spidey that ties directly into its continuity is rather galling. This book's been on something of a high lately, so it's something of a shame that after its highly amusing opening pages, this story arc is developing into a rather dull one of the sort that UXM has been doing for some time now. Bad influence rubbing off, and all that.

Not that this doesn't have its moments, of course - it's Bendis, and its USM, so of course there are still some great lines, and even some laugh-out-loud ones. But I just don't feel made to care about what's happening - the idea of Spidey and the X-Men being hunted for televised sport is so bloody old-hat (and when something's old-hat in the Ultimate universe, you know you've got problems), and the appearances of the various X-Men just confuse me (I don't know when Angel became a fully-fledged member rather than just some blonde guy in white pants, and I don't know why Rogue has got Gambit's eyes). Deadpool, meanwhile, is a massive disappointment - I know he's only had a handful of panels in which to show himself, but he's really not the entertaining character he is in the regular MU. Especially since, if this arc just featured him facing off against Spidey, it'd probably be great fun. And then there's the art - I know I keep mentioning this, but I'm really starting to think this book needs a new inker, because John Dell is making Bagley's art look like the worst he's done in years, and that's no way to see in the issue 100 celebrations. And nor are stories like this - especially when the book's been so good of late. B-

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