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Alternate Cover #46 - The Fill-In Issue

Alternate Cover

Things have been a bit quiet on the Alternate Cover front lately, but in an attempt to get things going again, in preparation for our new monthly format (of which more next time) and some exciting upcoming material (including a full report from Bristol later this month), I've decided to take the reins for a quick fill-in edition while James gets his writing mojo back. So feel free to treat this as you would those issues of Action Comics that have been coming out while we all wait (with no baited breath whatsoever) for the next Johns/Donner issue, or the four-part Batman story that came out while Grant M took a break (actually, don't treat it like those Bats issues, they were rubbish). Of course, it so happens that I've been so lame that in the time it's taken me to finish this edition, subsequent issues of such titles as 52 have actually been published. But... fuck it. If I try to catch up now, we'll never get back on track. Nor will we if I keep babbling on, so let's just get to it...


All Star Superman #7, cover by Frank Quitely

Publisher DC (All Star line) • Writer Grant Morrison • Pencils Frank Quitely • Digital inks Jamie Grant

It's going to take a lot for anything to supplant All Star Superman #6 as the single best comic I've read in the past twelve months, and even its own follow-up proves, sadly, not quite up to the task. Indeed, it might be just about the weakest issue of the series so far, although an issue of this title that doesn't quite reach the unbelievably high standards it's set for itself is still leaps and bounds above just about anything else out there, in terms of craftsmanship if nothing else.

In this issue, we're introduced to Ultim... sorry, All Star Bizzaro, which is perhaps a little surprising for those of us who thought the concept had already been used on the weird transformation Superman underwent a few issues ago. But no, apparently, here they are, square planet and all, albeit with a more lumpy and zombie-ish look that doesn't quite come off as well as it should, and nary a stone tablet around the neck to be seen.

Truth be told, not a great deal happens in this issue - alright, so the Bizarros attack Earth, and Superman follows them back to their homeworld only to be confronted by a strange, apparently lucid figure known as "Zibarro", but it has to be said that the concise storytelling - cramming in as much of the bonkers contents of Morrison's head as can conceivably fit into twenty-two pages - has been one of the strong points of the series so far, and in branching out into a two-part story for the first time, things start to feel a little more padded. That said, there are still some great moments (particularly when some Bizarros rearrange a certain fast food restaurant's sign to read "lcdnolDaM's"), but in truth, what this issue really hinges on is the once-again staggeringly beautiful and precise art from Quitely and Grant. Highlights include the first appearance of the Bizarro world, and Superman's meeting with Lois (and the others) in the snow, but it's all, as ever, pretty immense. It's perhaps a little harsh to judge the opening salvo of a two-parter until we've had the second half anyway (and, it must be said, Mozza takes the opportunity that the format grants him to give us a real "Wha' huh?" of a cliffhanger), and there's still plenty to love about what remains a wonderful, wonderful series. But for the first time, this one doesn't quite get top marks. A


Publisher DC • Writers Keith Champagne (books 1&2), John Ostrander (books 3&4) Art Pat Oliffe & Drew Geraci(book 1), Andy Smith & Ray Snyder (book 2), Tom Derenick & Norm Rapmund (book 3), Jack Jadson & Rodney Ramos (book 4)

The things that intrigued me most about World War III when the four covers released were the shot of Jason Todd in the Batcave (Jason's decision to start dressing up as Nightwing was one of the things that ended up not fitting in 52, but that we were promised explanation for in WWIII), and the one of Donna Troy in her combined Troia/Wonder Woman outfit ('cos it looked frigging awesome). Unfortunately, neither of those images bear any relevance to the pages of the comic itself. We do see Jason starting his reign of terror as Fake Nightwing, but we see nothing of his motivation for doing so; while the costume that Donna wears as WW bears absolutely no resemblance to the gorgeous one on the cover.

And that, friends, sums up the utter disappointment of these four books. We expected a story that expanded upon the (rather rushed) events of 52 week fifty while also giving us some answers to the unanswered questions of the One Year Later gap. Instead, we get ten dollars-worth of the Martian Manhunter being emo. Well, great.

Nothing whatsoever is actually explained - we see things happen that the OYL storylines already told us must have happened - J'onn changing costume and head shape, the aforementioned Jason-as-Nightwing, Supergirl returning from the 30th Century - but with the exception of Aquaman's transformation into the Dweller of the Depths, no reason is ever given. Couple this with what are essentially a selection of extended Black Adam fight sequences, and have the whole thing written and drawn by creators presumably selected for their speed rather than ability (no real disrespect to them intended, but they're all "passable" rather than "great"), and you're left with a bloated, confused and ultimately uninteresting mess. Everything, in fact, that it was feared 52 might become, but that it (for the most part) managed to rise above. Really, unless you're among the most completist and page-hungry of fanboys, there's no compelling reason to read this whatsoever. They're not bad, but they lose an awful lot of credit for not delivering an ounce of the excitement or enlightenment that they promised. C+


Blue Beetle #14, cover by Cully Hamner

Publisher DC • Writer John Rogers • Art Rafael Albuquerque

One of the very best legacies of Infinite Crisis and the One Year Later jump, Blue Beetle continues to delight even after the departure of original co-writer Keith Giffen. This standalone issue, in which Guy Gardner shows up, has his customary "misunderstanding" scrap with Jaime, before teaming up to go after the aliens that created the Scarab, represents a perfect jumping-on point for anyone still to discover the series, as it fills in enough background information to let you just get on with enjoying the story.

Typically enough, it's littered with chucklesome moments and lines (Guy's hair on fire and "Is that a giant green fist?" being particular highlights), but the action sequences remain strong too, mainly because each time Jaime goes into a fight, he's still learning about his suit (and at times, struggling awkwardly with it - and on occasion even arguing with it!), adding to the feel of this being more like a Marvel - or even an Ultimate Marvel - series. There's also some surprisingly touching material with Guy, as he discusses feeling "bad about my buddy Ted Kord dying" when first meeting Jaime (a metaphor for how BB fans felt upon approaching the first issue of the series?), and admitting at the end a significant amount of respect for his predecessor (describing him as "smarter than Bats"). Moments like that don't just feel like paying lip-service to Kord - they feel like genuine attempts to establish Jaime as part of a lasting legacy, and go some way towards appeasing those of us who still feel annoyed at Ted's death. A-


Publisher DC • Writers Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid • Art Keith Giffen, Joe Bennett, Jack Jadson & Berladino Brabo

Buddy being kickass! Ellen looking gorgeous! Cliff being funny! Roger and Trish! If this issue doesn't make you want a new Animal Man series sharpish, then you're a big old fool. Anyway, this is a vast improvement on previous weeks, in that it actually bothers to check in with (and, in some cases, wrap up) some of the storylines that don't involve Montoya and Black Adam, and finally brings us up to date with a number of the more frontline DCU characters as the end of the "missing year" draws in. My only concern is that the Booster Gold/Rip Hunter/Skeets storyline has been pushed to the back burner for a bit too long at late, leaving far too much to resolve in only one more issue. And I'm also disappointed that the villain behind it all has turned out to be yet another Captain Marvel villain (for a character who only came into the DC Universe late after being bought from another company, his canon seems to hold far too much sway these days) - although that's made up for, at least in part, by a genuinely surprising and downright disturbing-looking reveal. Still, this is the kind of thing that the title has been capable of its best, but has been lacking for the past couple of months - it's also the kind of thing that makes you sorry it's all coming to an end this week. A


Detective Comics #831, cover by Simone Bianchi

Publisher DC • Writer Paul Dini • Pencils Don Kramer • Inks Wayne Faucher

Memo to DC : if you want to let Paul Dini spend the rest of his career writing Detective Comics as a continuous stream of standalone, single-issue (or, at a pinch, two-part), cracking little detective mysteries, then that's absolutely fine by me - because, since taking over the title after the initial One Year Later storyline finished, he absolutely has not missed a single beat.

As it happens, this issue isn't actually a mystery itself, but it is still a great little story - primarily because it focuses on Harley Quinn, the character created by Dini and Bruce Timm for Batman : The Animated Series and subsequently popular enough to warrant being brought into the DC Universe itself. Originally cast as a sidekick for the Joker, Harley quickly branched out into her own series (and a marvellous mini-series with Poison Ivy, written by Timm and Dini, that remains perhaps the funniest superhero comic I've ever read that doesn't have the words "Justice" and "League" on the cover), and of late, the drive towards establishing her as a significant character in her own right has increased, largely due to the changes in the Joker's attitude established by Grant Morrison in Batman.

And so we find Miss Quinzel in Arkham, keen to get out on parole (yet constantly being turned down thanks to the presence of a certain Mr B. Wayne on the board), but slightly miffed when the (so far, still somewhat lame) new Ventriloquist decides to break her out to help with a job. Cue plenty of wisecracks, acrobatics and cuteness, as Harley takes a surprising moral turn, complete with an interesting revelation about the old Ventriloquist, Arnold Wesker. It's all fairly by-the-book stuff, but there's no-one better suited to writing the character than Dini - in others' hands, she may come off as quite irritating and one-trick, but he keeps her entertaining, making this another strong standalone read, setting up a new status quo that looks like developing over in Birds of Prey. Don Kramer, meanwhile, is settling in nicely on art, improving and looking more comfortable by the issue. All in all, 'Tec continues to hit it out of the park each month, and is currently perhaps the only of the "big four" titles (with Morrison stuttering on Batman, Busiek getting boring on Superman and Johns/Donner baffling on Action) that remains a near-essential read. A-


Publisher DC (Vertigo) • Writer Andy Diggle • Art Leonardo Manco

And so Andy Diggle takes on comicdom's finest mystic (if not finest character full-stop), and boy does he hit the ground running, arguably even more so than Mike Carey managed to with his Liverpool-set two-parter back in 2002. This is pure, classic Constantine - indeed, if not for more recent tropes such as the increased swearing allowance (I'm sure we never used to get "cunt"s in Vertigo books until recently?), this could have come from any point since Ennis' landmark run. With a fairly simple twist-in-the-tale horror story, with part one told largely in flashback while John is tied to a post with the Thames rising up his body, Diggle draws upon what is obviously a deep knowledge of the character to get his voice, inner monologues, actions and motivations just about spot on all round. The moment in part two, meanwhile, where John looks in a window and sees his purple-suited, white-gloved, Sting-lookalike incarnation from the Swamp Thing days reflected back at him is sure to strike joy into the heart of any Constantine fanboy or girl, and promises some very interesting developments in the months to come, as John tells himself that "It's time to get back in the game, and break the fucking bank". Meanwhile, with every issue Leonardo Manco continues his progression towards the ranks of quintessential Hellblazer artists, with some of the best work he's ever turned in on a title he looks increasingly comfortable with. A

Also this month...

A quick run through the titles that didn't quite warrant a full review...

The latest issue of Batman, sadly, felt somewhat like the first Grant Morrison title to come out in a while that didn't feel like a major event in any way. Say what you like about his first arc, or the weird Joker story last month, but at least there was something going on there. There's a small amount of intrigue in the story (nutter cops gone rogue dressing up like Batman), and maybe things will pick up after part one, but Morrison comics simply should not feel like they could have been written by anyone - and this one, sadly, did. Two issues of Ultimate Spider-Man kept the interest - just about - after the initially interesting but ultimately far-too-long Clone Saga. I've never been wild about the various "Knights" characters, and it feels like the Kingpin stories have already been done to death by this series, but what rescued these issues were some great high school scenes that reminded this reader why this title had so much spark back in the early days (finally getting round to making Mary Jane likeable again, too), and adding a clever twist to the Kitty Pryde story that means it's not over and done with just yet. Another Bendis title, Powers, also turned up a stronger offering after a fair few issues of stagnation - again, the main story arc itself is quite by-the-numbers, but this gained points by actually having some interaction between Christian and Deena again; the exposure of his secret means that the exposure of hers is surely soon to follow, and maybe we'll once again see some of the cracking chemistry that exists between superheroics' own Mulder and Scully. There was another great double act in the making over in The Brave and The Bold, meanwhile - I don't know who originally took the decision to set up the dynamic between Batman and the new Blue Beetle the way it has been so far, but it's making for some great comedy. Supergirl and Lobo were somewhat less interesting (which doesn't bode hugely well for issue #4), but Waid still seems to write the Girl of Steel's current incarnation with a bit more character than anyone else so far in her short existence, and in general he's excelling himself at the moment on a thoroughly entertaining title.

Next Time...

Bristol! Bristol! Bristol! Yes, the UK's biggest gathering of comics folk is back, and Team Alternate Cover (um, me and James. Oh, and Cappsy. And Josh.) will be out there on the front line. We'll be milling around all day Saturday, we've got tickets for the Eagle Awards, and we've arranged an interview with a very special writer and artist team (whose identities you may be able to fathom out if we tell you they're responsible for pretty much this column's favourite title of the last twelve months). All that and more... when we get round to writing it up.

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