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Alternate Cover - 10th January 2007

Alternate Cover

So, after an extended holiday break, Alternate Cover is back! However, while you've been gone, we've made a few ...changes. For a start, every column will now be ably assisted in some capacity by Seb Patrick, who, amongst other things, will provide DC Reviews to balance out the heavy Marvel content that plagues my buying habits. He'll also be around to help me out with the new lead features.

Now, you're probably wondering what I mean by "new lead features" - assuming you haven't skipped straight down to the reviews. I have to admit, the weekly grind of comics reviewing was starting to feel a little uninspiring, so from now on, I'm going to rotate what I'll call the "lead feature" every week. This week is a classic-style "Reviews" column. Next week, I'll be debuting my first dip into my old comic boxes and taking a look at pretty much the first comic I find, explaining its context, giving a short review, and figuring out what it means to me in what I hope will become a uniquely personalised history of comics. The week after, you should see my first regular Manga/OGN review, something I've been trying to get around to for a long time, and beyond that you can expect to see even more experimentation - guest reviews, op/ed pieces - my hope is to turn this into something more than a simple review column, and for it to give regular readers something new and interesting every week.

However, for those of you that feel like they'll miss the comics reviews, there's good news! Every column will still contain capsule reviews of the latest releases from both me and Seb, and you can expect to see a full review column at least once a month. I know we're looking forward to the new, so let's hope you lot are as well.

American Virgin #10

American Virgin #10

Publisher DC (Vertigo) • Writer Steven T. Seagle • Artists Becky Cloonan & Christine Norrie

Wow. Was it really September when I last did a full review of AV? Looks like a good time to pick it up again. American Virgin makes a long-awaited change of pace for this issue, following up the Lost-style plane crash with a Lost-style series of flashbacks, as Adam slowly drowns in the wreckage. It turns out to be one of the most entertaining issues so far.

Cloonan's pencilling is absent from the title for the first time since it's inception during the flashback sequences, which instead have refreshingly different art by Christine Norrie, whose lighter, less brooding pencils suit the youthful nature of the flashbacks well. Seagle opts to flesh out the main characters of American Virgin - that is, Adam, Cyndi and their family - with a whole mess of vignettes taking place literally from the moment of Adam's birth, to the moment of his rebirth, when he is baptised as a Christian.

This issue appears to be setting up the next storyline well. The point of the opening arcs was to show Adam out for some kind of justice, following the death of his girlfriend, and specifically the woman he believed he was destined to be with. This issue suggests that maybe that wasn't the case, and places a nice, large question mark above Adam's motivations thus far. I'm certainly glad to get some idea of the future direction of the title.

(James Hunt)

All Star Superman #6

All Star Superman #6

Publisher DC • Writer Grant Morrison • Artist Frank Quitely

Sometimes a comic comes along that basically just makes you thankful for the existence of the medium. All-Star Superman is just such a series. I've already expounded at length on why this title is so wonderful, so there's no real need to repeat myself here, except to say that if you're not reading it by now, then you really have no business reading comics at all.

Morrison turns in another stunner here, with a sort-of-flashback tale to Clark's younger days, and mixes grounded emotion (Clark learning perhaps the first real lesson of his life as Superman - that he just can't save everyone) with trademark zany imagination (the Superman Squad are a wonderful idea, as is having one of them be a Mxyzptlk-ish 5th dimension imp). He also continues his remit of bringing in elements from all continuities, as a setting in which only Jonathan Kent dies while Clark is young is unique to the movies (and Smallville, from which the appearance of this universe's Lana also seems to be drawn). Quitely, meanwhile, simply continues to raise his own bar and then leap a mile over it - his rendition of Krypto is particularly of note, as is yet another panel that any other artist would have used a two-page spread on, but that he manages to make feel epic in half of one; and Jamie Grant's explosion of rich colour simply adds to the frenetic assault on the senses.

Despite the sombre tone of the ending, it's hard not to come away from this issue with a big smile on your face - having been given one of those all-too-precious reminders of just how good comics can be. All-Star Superman's only crime - aside from those pesky scheduling mishaps - is that it's already halfway through its all-too-brief life.

(Seb Patrick)

Amazing Spider-Man #537

Amazing Spider-Man #537

Publisher Marvel • Writer J. Michael Straczynski • Artist Ron Garney

The joy I'm feeling at seeing Spidey finally back in his classic costume is more than compensated for by the quality of the rest of this title. I've often spoken about how I don't really get on with Staczynski's interpretation of the characters, but this, objectively, is a bad issue.

For a start, it's one of those "killing time between panels of Civil War" issues that takes place during issue #6. Secondly, it's got a ridiculously contrived cliffhanger that's about as threatening as a lost puppy. Will they kill Aunt May and MJ? Like fuck they will. The fact that the whole conversation where the hit was ordered used evil villain euphemisms - "Please Deal with the Parker situation!"

Finally, I'm having a really hard time with Garney's artwork, especially his Kingpin, who Garney draws as less a man, more a bison. I know he's supposed to be large, but that's just flagrantly ridiculous. By contrast, I do enjoy seeing Garney's Captain America - if anything, though, it merely proves that Garney is more suited to a different title than Spider-Man. Considering the title hasn't had exposure this prominent in years, it seems like it's of depressingly low quality.
C- (JH)

Civil War #6

Civil War #6

Publisher Marvel • Writer Mark Millar • Artist Steve McNiven

The penultimate issue of Civil War follows the trend of pervious ones. It's full of desperately important scenes, but fails so readily to expand on them that they feel almost throwaway. We get our first proper glimpse at what the 50-State initiative might mean, for instance, but it's restriced to only 3 pages out of the entire book. Half a page of Dr. Strange here, a page of Namor there, and we can pretty much assume the tie-in chapters will fill out the whys and wherefores of each sequence.

However, working as a lead-in to the final issue is easily the Best Moment of 2007, next 11 months be damned, when Captain America's team springs open every hero and villain incarcerated in the Negative Zone. If the next issue turns out to be nothing more than 28 pages of fighting, at least it will have all been worth it just for McNiven's artwork.

At this point the quality of the craft is really moot. The ultimate measure of whether the title, and indeed, the entire crossover succeeds or fails is going to be held entirely between the covers of Civil War #7. I can't fault the writing or art for getting things to that point, but if I wasn't reading the spin-offs, I feel like things might seem slightly under-explained.
A- (JH)

Civil War: Front Line #10

Civil War: Front Line #10

Publisher Marvel • Writer Paul Jenkins • Artist Various

This is one of those "split the internet in half" books. Certainly, my opinion differs from some of the more vocal critics, anyway. Having followed Speedball from arrest and trial, to imprisonment and finally, release, I actually believe that the character has made a convincing journey from the jovial, carefree Speedball to the bitter, masochistic Penance. I admit, I never cared for Speedball as anything more than the butt of people's jokes, and the last time anyone got any decent use out of him was in Alias when it was revealed he was selling bits of his own body for drug dealers to smoke, so turning him into a character with a twisted motivation and a starring role on the new Thunderbolts title sounds pretty good to me.

Okay - it's true that some of the transition wasn't brilliantly handled. He lays it on pretty thick about how dark he has become at the end, and some people seem to have missed the fact that he wasn't actually denying responsibility, but in denial of his responsibility, something he's now accepted. I was getting a little concerned in the middle about where it was all leading, but the pay-off for this has been appropriately massive, and the twist at the end withstands scrutiny. All I can say is, whether or not anyone cared about him before this story - Ii's made a Speedball fan out of me.

The Urich/Floyd investigation story, however, is something of an extended tease.They spend the entire issue building up to the revelation that they have both discovered some revelation. It's about as padded as is possible. Killer cliffhanger though, but as something that promises to "explain" Civil War, it's got a hell of a lot to live up to. Front Line has felt increasingly skippable in recent issues, but it's at least it's ready to go out with a bang.
B- (JH)

Flick-Through Reviews

Uncanny X-Men #482 - Brubaker/Tan
Brubaker's gets an award for Comics Craftsmanship 101 when he takes a moment towards the front of the issue to remind us that D'Ken, the Shi'ar emperor of way back when, is in an extended coma, solely so everyone's ready when it's revealed later that actually, he's alive and kicking and someone's doing something interesting with the Shi'ar again, even if it is another example of Lilandra being kicked off her throne. She's lost her seat more times than a polite man on a train full of pensioners. Brubaker's run is the most consistent the title has been for a long time, even if on occasion, that means consistently dull. Tan's pencils are great, but D'Armata's colouring threatens to ruin the title for me every time I crack it open.
B+ (JH)

Punisher War Journal #2 - Fraction/Olivetti
Once again, the Punisher's latest title serves no more purpose than to explain the Punisher's movements between panels of Civil War. Luckily, Fraction's take on the Punisher as an intensely moral murder of criminals is a highly believable way to integrate the character with the rest of the Marvel universe following an extended exile in the adult-only, and more importantly, murderer-friendly MAX imprint. The issue focusses a lot on the Punisher's relationship with Captain America, and it's certainly an intriguing one. I haven't been this interested in either character, well, ever! It's an instantly unique dynamic that I actually find myself wanting to see more of.
A (JH)

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