District X #6 (David Hine/Mike Perkins, Marvel)
I was really taken with this book at first, despite its being the 234543757th X-related book Marvel is putting out. Hine has a good handle on the Mutant Town concept, with some really interesting ideas for mutations that illustrate how being a mutant doesn't mean having "powers" or abilities that are useful in any way. But this opening storyline might be a victim of the TPB pacing at Marvel these days, as it really felt padded and meandered all over the place. It bugged me that in this issue Hine turns a sympathetic character into a villain really abruptly and with little motivation. I also miss David Yardin's art; this is the second issue he's missed since the book began. Perkins does an okay job filling in, but it's not quite the same. I'll give this another issue or two before deciding whether to drop it.
Ex Machina #5 (Brian K. Vaughan/Tony Harris, DC/Wildstorm)
I think Vaughan is finally firing on all cylinders here. He's got a good mix of the political, with the current-day exploits of Mitchell Hundred as mayor of NYC, and the fantastical, with his past as the Great Machine. Although this book has gotten plenty of critical acclaim, it hasn't blown me away like Vaughan's work on Y The Last Man and Runaways. It gets closer to that level with this issue, although the resolution to the Snowplow Killer plot seemed a little out of left field. Harris' art is, as always, stunning, and I have no doubt that the writing will go from very good to great very soon. Worth checking out for an interesting take on superheroes.
Fables #30 (Bill Willingham/Mark Buckingham, DC/Vertigo)
I'm so happy that Buckingham is back with this issue; the WWII storyline from the past two issues just wasn't that great, thanks both to a last-minute plot change (as Willingham explains on his website) and some lackluster art. Buckingham's attention to detail here is awe-inspiring, with everything from background touches to the panel borders contributing to the story. That's not to minimize Willingham's contributions - this is a wonderful story, dealing with both the Fabletown election and the birth of Snow and Bigby's, er, litter. Some fun twists, touches on ongoing subplots and set-ups for new ones. Comes back strong to remind me why this is one of the best comics on the stands.
Fallen Angel #16 (Peter David/David Lopez, DC)
David just announced that DC has committed through issue 20, and I'm really glad to hear that. I still don't understand why they don't just move this over to Vertigo, since it's creator-owned, not about superheroes, designated for mature readers and quite dark in tone. Everything about it looks like a Vertigo book except the DC bullet on the cover. I think Vertigo fans would really like this book, and DC has to realize that, too. Anyway. This issue gives some nice background on Boxer, develops the relationship between Lee and Dr. Juris, and sets up for a showdown next month. I realize as I'm writing this that one of the reasons more people don't pick this book up is probably because it's so hard to describe what it's "about." There's a powerful woman who protects the innocent, but she's not a superhero. There are bad people, but they're not really villains. It's a noir-ish horror story, but it's remarkably low-key. It is, however, as many have noted, the best work David's done since the early issues of Supergirl, and really deserves to go to issue 20 and beyond.
Kinetic #7 (Kelley Puckett/Warren Pleece, DC Focus)
The penultimate issue, and I wonder if anyone told Puckett to wrap things up since the book was being cancelled. This issue is all set-up, continuing the astoundingly slow pace that this book has set for itself. Puckett's done a great job establishing characters and mood, but good lord does the story move at a snail's pace. I made a habit of counting how many dialogue-free pages are in each issue, and this one's got five, a relatively low number if you can believe it. It sounds like I'm complaining, but I actually like the leisurely pace, as it seems more calculated than in some other books, where you know it's just because editorial has mandated stretching things out. Puckett's really spent time exploring the main character's psyche, but that kind of pacing doesn't work when you've got to come to some kind of closure in one more issue. The whole Focus imprint was an obvious failure from the start, and I wonder how long Hard Time, the only other Focus book left, will last. If they're smart, they'll move it to Vertigo like they did with Transmetropolitan when Helix folded, and let it build an audience. I won't be part of that audience (I read the first four issues and couldn't get into it), but it'd be nice to see them salvage something from this experiment.
Powers Vol. 2 #5 (Brian Michael Bendis/Michael Avon Oeming, Marvel/Icon)
The relaunch really has invigorated this book, and this issue does a great job showing how much Walker cares for Pilgrim as he tears the town apart looking for her. The ending is a great shocker, although I question the long-term ramifications of giving Pilgrim powers, since this book was always about how normal people dealt with superheroes. But I trust Bendis to take it somewhere interesting, and this book has always shaken things up and kept readers on their toes, anyway. It definitely has me really looking forward to the next issue for the first time in a while.
Savage Dragon #118 (Erik Larsen, Image)
It's hard to believe that I have been reading this same book, by the same guy, since I was 12 years old. Sometimes I think that's the only reason I'm still reading it, as Larsen's plotting and dialogue is so hokey and old-school sometimes that it's just too much for me to take. Last issue had some nice humor with the romance comics-style narration from She-Dragon, but this issue it's back to punching and kicking, which is, of course, what Larsen does best. I'm curious to see where he's going with the whole Dragon for president subplot, though, and next issue promises an appearance from Dubya, and, given Larsen's reputation, it's likely Dragon will be kicking the shit out of him.
Secret War #3 (Brian Michael Bendis/Gabriele Dell'Otto, Marvel)
I haven't been reading Bendis' destruction of the Avengers, but from what I heard it seems that this book is a far better example of how he should be handling a big superhero crossover. We've got the big guns (Wolverine, Captain America, Spider-Man, Daredevil), but we've also got characterization that makes sense, an intriguing story that builds on rather than tears down Marvel continuity, and my favorite part of Bendis' Marvel work, appearances from totally obscure characters (the female Dr. Octopus?!) that he somehow makes interesting. Dell'Otto's painted artwork is sometimes a little stiff, but it's mostly very pretty. Maybe it's because I spent my formative years reading stuff like The Infinity Gauntlet, but I'm a sucker for a sweeping crossover when it's done right. This is done right.
Ultimate Nightmare #3 (Warren Ellis/Steve Epting, Marvel)
This one, however, is not. I've tried to be supportive of Ellis' "year of whoredom" projects, but I get the distinct impression that he's running on autopilot and laughing all the way to the bank. I bailed on Ultimate Fantastic Four after two issues, and I'm only sticking with this one because I don't like quitting mini-series halfway through. I won't however, be buying Ultimate Secret, and the Iron Man preview on Newsarama didn't exactly get me excited for that one, either. I'll be saving my money for Ocean and Desolation Jones and the things that Ellis obviously gives a shit about. Something finally happens in this issue, but it's not interesting, we still don't know what the hell the point is, and I don't care enough to bother going any further into it. Not worth your time, or mine.
X-Men: The End #4 (Chris Claremont/Sean Chen, Marvel)
Despite my total disinterest in everything Claremont is doing in Uncanny X-Men right now, I enjoyed the first few issues of this series. Maybe it was my weakness for sweeping crossovers (see above), maybe it was Sean Chen's beautiful, detailed art, maybe it was just a little bit of joy that Claremont didn't completely ignore every character and plotline he didn't write himself. Whatever it was, it's gone, and this issue all I noticed was everything that bugs me about Claremont's writing these days. Plots picked up and then dropped, characters introduced with no explanation, clunky dialogue, over-narration, etc. This issue forgets all about the ongoing story to focus on the death of a bunch of X-Force characters. While I'm glad that Claremont is taking advantage of the "End" format to do some damage, we did not need a whole issue devoted to the deaths of people like Feral and Warpath. I mean, really. To say nothing of the fact that he offs Apocalypse in like two panels, which is completely ludicrous given how powerful the guy is supposed to be, and also thematically stupid considering how important an antagonist he's been for the X-Men for years. I don't want to get any further into fanboyish, nitpicky problems, but suffice it to say I will be buying all 18 fucking issues of this series, and no doubt cursing myself the entire time for doing so.