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Alternate Cover - 16th May 2006

Alternate Cover

Running a little late as ever, but then I never made any promises so I can't really be blamed. Plus I spent half the weekend in Bristol with Seb, living it up with the rest of the British comics scene. There's not a huge selection of books again this week, but I've made up for it with slightly meatier reviews. If you're upset with any of these arrangements, complaints can be sent to the normal address.

American Virgin #3, cover by Frank Quitely.


Publisher DC (Vertigo) • Writer Steven T. Seagle • Artist Becky Cloonan

I'd never have expected myself to describe a scene of male masturbation as "highly anticipated" before, but this comic has changed all that, as Adam begins his descent into wanton carnality by somehow ending up participating in, er, a coming-of-age ritual involving such a practise. He's the Christian we love to hate.

To be honest, if we can leave the wanking behind, I'd have to say there's a lot of wish fulfillment in his particular character. Adam is every smug, self-righteous Christian I ever dealt with at school rolled into one, and to see him treated as gaving human failings, and actually starting to question his beliefs - it's the sort of thing that I, as a godless heathen, would wish on every one of the lofty bastards, and utterly revel in seeing. I mean, he's a sympathetic character that's for sure, and you do feel bad for him when he's repentant about his actions, but as much of me is gleefully welcoming him to the dark side.

Plot-wise, it's all chugging along with equal parts humour, pathos, and intrigue as we find Adam involving himself in some shady dealings to find out the truth. There's nothing I can complain about, besides a muddied part towards the end where I'm unsure what Adam's attacking his girlfriend's former roommate for (is it because she lied about his existence? Were they supposed to be together'? Was the implication that she slept with the roommate, rather than got raped, before being killed?) but any of those explanations will work until more context is provided.

Cloonan's art is as great as ever, I can't praise it highly enough. My only regret is that I can't seem to find a copy of her OGN, "East Coast Rising," because every page she draws is utterly brilliant, by far one of my favourite artists in comics today. A.

Thunderbolts #102, cover by Tom Grummett.


Publisher Marvel • Writer Fabian Nicieza • Pencils Tom Grummett• Inks Gary Erskine

Following the slight improvements of last issue, Nicieza continues the upward trend with a surprisingly compelling character piece for Joystick. As a criminal, she never had an ounce of character, and pretty much the only thing established about her following her brief appearances (not a pun...) in the original series was that she went commando beneath the spandex. Not much to build on by any stretch of the imagination. We've now got quite a good backstory for the character, though I can't tell whether the fact that she hides her true emotions behind a mask of frivolity is thematic, cliché, or just Nicieza's stock character development tool, because god damn does that idea show up a lot in his work.

I'm less enthusiastic about the development of turning her into some kind of ciminal mastermind, in league with the Grandmaster, of all people. I'm even less convinced about the suitability of the Grandmaster to be appearing in comics of this era, being as he is a distinctly old-school concept character whose only recent appearance was the Avengers/JLA crossover, something that was certainly of an appropriate scale to justify his interest.

However, the appearance of the Grandmaster highlights another concern I've had with Nicieza's recent writing. Between the appearance of the Squadron Sinister (evil versions of the Squadron Supreme), the New Avengers, the Purple Man and now the Grandmaster, I'm left with the distinct impression that Nicieza's cherry picking material from recent popular stories to find tie-in material. For a title struggling with its identity in the first place, it would help if it could better establish its niche rather than doing this sort of thing.

Still, that's a relatively minor concern about a book that's otherwise back on track, for now. In my experience, Nicieza's recent plots tends to fall apart as they reach the end, but his work on Cable & Deadpool has been far beyond the recent Thunderbolts stuff, so hopefully he'll bring some of that enthusiasm to the new story in this title. B-

Uncanny X-Men #472

Uncanny X-Men #473

Publisher Marvel • Plot Chris Claremont • Script Tony Bedard •; Artist Roger Cruz

Roger Cruz seems to have bounced back from late-90s obscurity and returned as Marvel's go-to guy for fill-ins. Surprisingly, it seems nowhere near as bad as his recent FNSM work, but I think there are two main reasons for this, the first being that he basically created his style in the 90s ripping off better artists, of which Chris Bachalo was the biggest, and the second being that Bachalo's style has devolved into expressionistic muck often more concerned with composition than storytelling. Sure, Cruz has a distorted face here, an absurdly rippling bicep there, but given the baseline for the title he's looking damn near anatomically correct.

While Exiles-scribe Tony Bedard is scripting over Claremont's plots (following his recent bout of "Heart Exhaustion") the underlying story issues can't be corrected by improved dialogue alone. The problem is that this kind of story is ridiculously off-theme. As an exercise in bringing back Psylocke and justifying it, at least we know Claremont's got some idea, however, why is this an X-Men story? I'm not saying every story should rely on a Humans Vs. Mutants theme but it'd be nice it it could be in there somewhere. I'm still getting the distinct feeling that this story relies more on dragging back old concepts from Claremont's original Excalibur run than anything else. It's basically Chris Claremont fanfic being published as an X-Men comic, and seriously, how many more chances will he be given to take the reins? Following his illness it's entirely possible we're seeing his final ever X-Men stories, and to be honest, it's a sad way to go for a man who was a modern-day legend.

It's a sad thing to admit, but I'm clearly only buying this title because I'm a total X-Men fanboy. If anything else reached this level of consistently mediocre-to-poor material I'd have dropped it much longer ago. C.

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