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Alternate Cover - 28th February 2007

Alternate Cover

Okay, I admit there's been some slacking on my part. This is mainly because I wanted to do a "classic"-style review column, but there have been some pretty dubious weeks and it's not an exciting prospect to rip apart comics you really want to like, and indeed, have already spent money on. Luckily Seb's stepped into the fray and provided a wealth of material, so I'm going to do a couple from the last few weeks, and then maybe we'll do something altogether more interesting next week.

Civil War #7

Civil War #7

Publisher Marvel • Writer Mark Millar • Artist Steve McNiven

A book that's hard to grade. As an individual issue it continues the standard set by the rest of the series - powerful, intense moments and artwork that's some of the best in the industry. Civil War has had more memorable scenes in 7 issues' worth than some series have in 7 years.

The way this issue is destined to be judged, however, is In the context of the wider crossover. It does provide a clear winner to the registration act, unfortunately it seems quite clear that the nuances of the victory haven't been fully conveyed, leaving the story hinging on a somewhat unexplained change of heart from Captain America in the final act.

I'm not especially upset by the ending - taken as it's supposed to be - Captain America realising that using his superior ability to fight the law proves why a registration act is needed - it does make sense, and it does make some significant changes. It's not a great story in its own right, but what the hell, I'm happy enough with it. As someone who bought all the tie-ins (with a couple more to go...) I may be more forgiving, but what the hell, it's only comics, and it's a story I know I'll read again. That's surely got to be the main thing?
James Hunt

Hellblazer #229

Hellblazer #229

Publisher Marvel • Writer Mike Carey • Artist John Paul Leon

Being a Scouser who's upped sticks down to London, Mike Carey is arguably one of comicdom's better-placed writers to tackle John Constantine, and he proved as such when he took over Hellblazer from Brian Azzarello's controversial and underwhelming run back in 2002, demonstrating that he had an apt feel for Constantine's voice, character and roots. It's pleasing, then, to see him return for a one-off issue following Denise Mina's year-long sojourn on the title (which had its moments, but was neither the best nor worst we've ever seen), since these little standalone issues are usually the times he's at his best.

And while this issue isn't exactly Carey's best, it's at least typical Hellblazer fodder - a tale of favours, pretty girls, werewolves and "all-is-not-what-it-seems" twists, told in that time-honoured device of Constantine down the pub, relating a horror story from days gone by in order to deflect a request or question from one of his mates. It's not the most remarkable of these stories that's ever been done (a superb one from Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's run, told while John was living homeless on the streets, comes to mind), but it's a decent one nevertheless, and as ever with Carey, his portrayal of Constantine reads as absolutely spot on. John Paul Leon, meanwhile, proves an adequate fill-in for Leonardo Manco, if a little looser around the edges, although it's the colours that have tended to define this book's feel in recent times, and they're pretty consistent here.

It's all effortlessly solid and by-the-book, rather than magnificently wrought, but as a filler issue before a new writer comes on board, that's all it needs to be. When a book contains one of comics' finest ever characters, as Hellblazer does, you come to expect a bit more than comfortable normality - but that's not to say it's not welcome every once in a while. In addition, the issue is almost worth picking up just for Andy Diggle’s column, in which he outlines his take on the character for his forthcoming run, and demonstrates that he just gets JC perfectly – it’s enough to make me come back next month, anyway.
Seb Patrick

Ghost Rider Finale

Ghost Rider Finale

Publisher Marvel • Writer Ivan Velez Jr. • Artist Javier Saltares

Now, here's a comic literally years in the making. Another short history lesson: Ghost Rider was, for a brief period in the 90s, a character up there in popularity with Wolverine, the Hulk and Spider-Man. Sounds hard to believe, I know, but I'm sure the movie out next month will put him back on top. However, around 10 years ago, just as Marvel were on the brink of financial collapse, Ghost Rider's last series was cancelled with just one issue left to go, when the Administrators forbade Marvel from publishing any comic that could potentially be unprofitable.

Ghost Rider's most recent comic revival has stuck slightly better than the last couple, and renewed interest in the character has led to the eventual publication of this story. Finally, those of us who were around back in the darker days of Marvel get to find out just what exactly happened to Noble Kale, Dan Ketch, and the rest of the Ghost Rider Vol. 2 cast. For the rest of you, there's a reprint of the penultimate issue to try and bring you up to speed, and a sizeable text piece by Tom Brevoort as well. Still, make no mistake, this is quite obviously a vanity project at best and a shameless cash-in on the franchise in a 'now or never' way, at worst. And I fucking love it.

The issue itself is virtually unreviewable, its plot having long since been written around and the blanks filled in. Still, had it come out 10 years ago, I think it would've been a satisfyingly epic ending. After all, it ends with Noble Kale, that is, the original human body of the Ghost Rider, now reuinited with his spirit and separated from his host on Earth, killing Blackheart and becoming one of the kinds of Hell. Sure, it was written away mere months later, but being able to finally read this issue was a true joy. I will genuinely treasure this comic as a publishing miracle that should give hope to any comic that hits trouble. Can't really grade it, but it's certainly a curio worth owning whether you were there or not.

Civil War #5

Civil War: The Return

Publisher Marvel • Writer Paul Jenkins • Artist Tom Raney

Okay, I was looking forward to this one for a long time - ever since I saw that Captain Marvel star, I've been really excited about reading it. Then, when it turns up, it's utter, utter crap. The worst kind of betrayal. This is probably one of the most pointless and cheap "resurrections" ever done. I think we all feel it. Or rather, don't, because as much as I'm excited to have the character back in play, as it were, it always seemed like he was better off dead.

There's a lot to complain about. The totally uninteresting way in which the character is brought back - he fell into a hole in space, and here he is - the way it takes great pains to sidestep rather than properly deal with the classic "Death of" story, and worst of all, the complete misuse of the character as the Jailer of the Negative Zone prison. As much as I look forward to a new Captain Marvel series, I can't help feel that this isn't the best start for it.

Even worse, the fact that this was packaged with a Sentry story explaining nothing more than why he decided to register, makes Civil War: The Return one of the most pointless books to come out of this entire crossover. A gross misuse of the talents of both Jenkins and (especially) Raney.

Flick-Through Reviews

52 WEEK FORTY-TWO - (Team Morrison-Waid-Rucka-Johns-Giffen / Darick Robertson)
Ten weeks to go, and the second of the six major plotlines to wrap up does so in far more satisfying, air-punchingly-brilliant fashion than the Steel chapter did a couple of weeks back. Just as Booster Gold’s complete asshattery turned out to be nothing more than a cunning ploy, so too is Ralph Dibny redeemed, as explanations for all of his out-of-characterness (and all the story’s weirdness) are provided, and the DC Universe’s second greatest detective is given a truly fitting, if tear-jerking, send-off. Once again, the scattered clues look set to make 52 as compelling in re-reading as it has been week on week. Darick Robertson, meanwhile, stops by to provide some of the series’ best art to date (including getting the look of Dibny spot on), and if there’s a flaw, it’s that only this one story is advanced any. Great stuff, though.

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #1 (Mark Waid / George Perez)
Shamelessly old-school superheroics, with Waid in full-on throwback mode, Perez on art, and Bruce Wayne and Hal Jordan acting chummier than they have done in decades, this practically screams "late Seventies". It's no less entertaining for that, and it's nice to see a solid, old-fashioned team-up story with the requisite amounts of jokey banter. Perez being Perez, there's an impressive amount of story and action packed into 22 pages (and an amusing, if predictable, casino scene), and it all does exactly what it says on the tin. Not earth-shattering, but then, not every comic needs to be.

NEW AVENGERS ILLUMINATI #2 - (Bendis & Reed / Jimmy Cheung)
Now that Seb's just used the term, I can't help feeling like using the term "old-school" would make it sound a little over-used. I'm starting to wonder why the phrase has somehow become synonymous with "Entertaining and enjoyable comics" - Illuminati #2 is quite possibly one of the best titles Marvel has published in a solid year. Leaving aside the art and writing, which are both utterly top-notch, and you still have a fun story where the self-styled Illuminati of the Marvel Universe - Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Professor X, Black Bolt, Dr. Strange and Namor - round up the Infinity Gems and Infinity Gauntlet on the basis that it's too powerful for evil to be allowed to gain control of, so perhaps they should do it. It makes total sense, hints at far darker consequences, and provides a self-contained action-adventure tale of how they go about collecting the artifacts. I've read it several times in a week and if the next issue follows the standard of the last two, you should make sure to pick it up.

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