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Alternate Cover - 19th July 2006

Alternate Cover

Any weeks where I get comics by Brian Wood are bound to be excellent - DMZ #9 fills that slot this week - but can the rest of the crop give it a run for its money?American Virgin #5, Civil War: Front Line #3 and X-Men #188 (featuring incoming writer Mike Carey) all get a shot at keeping DMZ from reaching the top spot again...

American Virgin #5

American Virgin #5

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

With an issue that segues the previous arc into the next, American Virgin is starting to look slightly more like a one-trick pony. The sex and death shockers of the previous 4 issues are just as prevalent as ever, but suddenly the material is taking a turn towards schlock. Case in point: In this issue, Adam finds himself laying on top of his girlfriend's coffin at her funeral, in front of her family and friends, imagining making love to her ghost. Then ejaculating in his trousers. It's unclear to me whether it's supposed to be funny, but it was definitely uncomfortable to read. As intended, I'm sure, but that doesn't necessarily mean it was appropriate for the character or story.

A second concern is that the setup for the next storyline indicates a large amount of repetition is about to occur, as Adam, Mel and Cyndi head out to Australia in search of the guy that killed Cassie. Seagle has indicated there's going to be a certain amount of globe-trotting in this series, but if the gimmick isn't going to stretch further than "Welcome to Placeholder-Land, where the natives' attitude to sex is quite different from Adam's understanding of it!" then it's going to become thin quite fast.

Still, I'm not about to punish a series for something that hasn't actually happened yet. For all my concerns, and the one uncomfortable scene, there's still plenty to enjoy, not least of which is Cloonan's art. This next arc is going to be an important formative period for the title, so it'll be good to see if there's a plan in place to expand rather than retread.

DMZ #9

DMZ #9

Publisher Vertigo • Writer Brian Wood • Art Ricardo Burchielli

Once again, this issue puts Matty's world through the wringer. The nature of DMZ is that with every issue comes yet another blow to the status quo, and nothing seems reliable, as it becomes obvious to us who's really on Matty's side. The fact that all the elements in Matty's life are in a constant state of flux does well to portray the nature of living with war - nothing remains the same for long, and the changes that come aren't always good, and they aren't always from the places you expect, or carried out by the people you expect.

There's very little more for me to say about DMZ at this point other than it's one of the most consistently brilliant books I've read in a while. While it's not without flaws - Matty's character is still surprisingly vague almost a year in - these flaws are more than compensated for by the end result of the stories. Burchielli's artwork amazes me every month and I find myself almost lamenting the fact that he's got a two issue break about to happen once this arc ends. Filling that break, though, will be Wood's collaborator on Supermarket, Kristian Donaldson, and then Wood himself will be stepping up to do his first issue-length pencilling work since, well, his debut work, Channel Zero, and you'd have to be a total idiot to miss that. DMZ is rapidly changing from a sleeper hit into the next big thing, so make sure you're prepared and start buying it now.

Civil War: Front Line #3

Civil War: Front Line #3

Publisher Marvel • Writer Paul Jenkins • Artist Ramon Bachs

After a couple of excellent issues, Front Line manages to buck the trend and turn up with some strangely uncompelling material. If you ever wanted to see how the events of Civil War are affecting obscure Marvel hero Typeface (in his second ever appearance) well, now's your chance. Anyone else can probably assume that they're not the target audience for this level of trivia - and to think, I thought having one of the Slingers turn up last issue was obscure.

Continuing from the previous issue is the tale of Speedball, guest-starring She Hulk (as his lawyer, which ties things in nicely to her own Civil War issue.) One gets the feeling that Speedball might just be getting put through the wringer for the sake of it, but his eventual fate is proving a compelling mystery, especially since as of now, he refuses to admit any wrongdoing. It'll be interesting to see if the system breaks him.

That's all that's compelling about the issue, though. Between the other two stories and the inclusion of yet another tenuous historical parallel, this issue is far more bad than good. A lot of people will have picked up #2 based on the Spider-Man material, so it's a pity the momentum of the first two issues couldn't be carried over into the third.

X-Men #188

X-Men #188

Publisher Marvel • Writer Mike Casey • Artist Chris Bachalo

As good as Brubaker's debut on Uncanny was the other week, it was Mike Carey's appearance on the adjectiveless X-Men that really got me excited. Carey's take on the X-Men promised to be genuinely fresh - however, as someone who's been collecting the title for well over 10 years, there's very little I haven't heard in the way of promises, and the true acid test lies in how those promises are manifested in the stories. Usually, it's vastly out-of-character melodrama (Chuck Austen) or incoherent plotting (Joe Casey) - it's been so long that I genuinely enjoyed an X-Men story (Grant Morrison aside) that I've been on the verge of dropping my once-favourite title for some time. So has Mike Carey managed to rekindle the flames of interest?

Fuck yes. FUCK yes. In this issue, Carey single-handedly manages to restore the character of Rogue to something other than a whinging Gambit-related plot mechanic, and create an X-Men team with, god forbid, an actual agenda. Rogue is asked, by Cyclops, to assemble her own team of X-Men to be on-call as a Rapid Response force for mutant-related threats. It's been literally years since the X-Men had any kind of coherent mission statement, and the prospect of that and character development for those involved makes me almost giddy at what could be done. As long as Carey follows through with the promise of this issue, I can imagine that I'm going to really enjoy this run, especially since her team appears, based on publicity, to eventually include both Mystique and a newly de-powered Sabretooth

However, something else that's making me giddy is Chris Bachalo's art. I've said before how his work has gone from some of the best in the industry to some of the most confusing, but it's well-evidenced by this issue. It shouldn't be this difficult to decipher an X-Men story. Bachalo might feel that he's pushing the boundaries of design-based narrative, but it's hard to feel sympathetic to that when he's doing it in what is ultimately supposed to be light entertainment superhero comics. With any luck he'll be rotating arcs with someone else, or failing that, someone will see sense and give him a layouts artist. It's only the art that stops this issue from getting top marks.

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