Astonishing X-Men #8 (Joss Whedon/John Cassaday, Marvel)
I think this is the first time I've had any criticisms for this book. Whedon's story is still as engrossing as ever, although the ending appears to lead into a fairly cliched plot (the Danger Room itself as the villain) that reminds me of the old "the Enterprise is attacking us!" episodes of Star Trek. Still, I trust Whedon either to take the conventional plot in another direction, or to have it turn out to be something else entirely. That's not the main problem; the real trouble is that for the first time I can remember, certain pages of Cassaday's art looked rushed and ill-formed. It's not even that they look bad, but for an artist known for being so incredibly meticulous and detailed, it actually takes you out of the story to see something a little less focused and, dare I say it, sloppy. I know there was just an issue of Planetary out, so maybe Cassaday is getting spread thin. I hope he's back in top form in the next issue.
Cable & Deadpool #12 (Fabian Nicieza/Patrick Zircher, Marvel)
I'm still enjoying this book probably far more than I should be, and glad to see it's getting past the 12-issue death knell of most new Marvel books these days. Nicieza offers up some great dialogue in this issue, uses elements of past Deadpool continuity, and wraps up story elements from the last arc without sweeping everything under the rug. This is just good, well-written superhero comics, and I look forward to it each month far more than X-Men or Uncanny X-Men.
Captain Gravity and the Power of the Vril #3 (Joshua Dysart/Sal Velluto, Penny Farthing Press)
I'm definitely getting into the groove of this retro tale and the way it evokes old adventure serials and Golden Age comics. It's kind of hokey in a way, and a little too straightforward, but it's a well-told tale with some beautiful art from Velluto, and I'm glad I took a chance and picked it up.
Ex Machina #8 (Brian K. Vaughan/Tony Harris, DC/Wildstorm)
I still feel like I want to like this more than I do, but Vaughan is building an interesting, complex backstory for Mitchell, and presenting a compelling mystery in the present. Honestly, the thing I liked most about this issue was the relaxed chemistry of Mitchell and the reporter on their date; Vaughan writes some really natural, fun dialogue. As always, Harris's art is evocative and at times creepy. I love Vaughan's work so much on Runaways and Y that this tends to get overshadowed, since it's not always as flashy or shocking, but it's an interesting slow build with a lot to it.
Livewires #1 (Adam Warren/Rick Mays, Marvel)
By the time Warren took over as regular writer on Gen 13, I'd stopped reading it, but I greatly enjoyed his two Gen 13 mini-series, and I picked up a Dirty Pair trade a while back that was also entertaining. This is definitely more of the same, which isn't a bad thing at all. First, it's great to see Warren loose in the Marvel universe, and better still to see Marvel launching a book featuring completely new characters and concepts. The team here are androids with vaguely human qualities and silly codenames like Social Butterfly and Gothic Lolita. They're a top-secret government project whose job is to shut down other top-secret government projects, a thoroughly amusing and meta idea. Mostly this is just an excuse for Warren's trademark blend of mayhem and wisecracks, with Mays working from layouts by Warren for art that looks very similar to Warren's own stuff. There are enough Marvel universe references to make it work in context, and Warren's style hasn't been toned down at all, making it a very fun, if entirely superficial, read.
Noble Causes #7 (Jay Faerber/Gabe Bridwell, Image)
Faerber mostly takes a break from the multiple ongoing plots to focus on Race and Liz's romantic day without superpowers and, while it resembles other similar stories, it's a sweet and well-written way to get a glimpse into their lives. Guest artist Bridwell does a pretty good job, although it's nice to see regular artist Fran Bueno return in the last few pages for a look at what the hero team is up to on the alien world. I hope after the relative downtime, we'll pick back up with the ongoing drama next issue, but this was a nice little respite.
Ocean #4 (Warren Ellis/Chris Sprouse, DC/Wildstorm)
After finding the plot a little underwhelming last issue, I'm more intrigued now, as Ellis lets us learn a little more about the characters and where things are headed. There are still a few stock Ellis elements (at one point the Doors manager says "Find me something to have sex with," making him...pretty much every Ellis character ever), but the story is intriguing and developing at a good pace, and Sprouse's art remains very nice to look at.
Promethea #32 (Alan Moore/J.H. Williams III, America's Best Comics)
Since the story actually ended last issue, this is more of a summary of the concepts of the series, presented all in splash pages of a naked Promethea against an abstract painted backdrop. Allegedly you can take the comic apart and reassemble it into one big poster (or you can just buy the poster version if you're so inclined). I realize that past issue 10 or so, this book was just Moore spouting off at great length about his mystical beliefs, but it did have enough interesting and challenging story elements to keep me reading, and Williams' art has been nothing short of phenomenal from the beginning. Basically in this issue Moore does exactly what people have been complaining about in previous issues: He lectures directly about his beliefs in the interconnectedness of the universe without any of that pesky plot getting in the way. I found much of the reading tedious, although there are some elegant turns of phrase. In fact I probably would have given up on the series if it weren't for Williams' amazing art, and once again that's what makes this issue worth the trouble. I might sit down and read the whole series over one time, and in that case the mystical diversions might not be as tiresome, but looking back I think this was a promising series that kind of went off the rails around halfway through its run.
Runaways #1 (Brian K. Vaughan/Adrian Alphona, Marvel)
I realize I was kind of lukewarm about Ex Machina above, but believe me when I say that Brian K. Vaughan is my idol. This is hands-down the best book Marvel is publishing right now, even better than the stellar work that Whedon is doing on Astonishing X-Men. This is probably the lamest thing for a reviewer to say, but really this is exactly the kind of book I'd want to write if I were writing comics. Vaughan has introduced an awesome new concept into the Marvel universe while still paying attention to continuity and using established characters in interesting new ways. His concept of Excelsior, the support group for former teenage heroes, has tons of potential, and he cherry-picks perfectly from other series to get the right mix of characters to use. He successfully sets up a new mission for his central team while developing their personal relationships, and as always his dialogue is impeccable. I love the small continuity touches - there's a reference to one of the Astonishing X-Men supporting characters that I wouldn't have even noticed if I hadn't happened to read Astonishing right afterward - they're a great reward for Marvel geeks but don't get in the way of the story. I don't understand why people don't read this book. It's fresh and different enough for people tired of 18 X-Men and Spider-Man books, it's accessible to new readers but it doesn't disregard years of continuity, it has great dialogue and characterization and beautiful art. Seriously, this has something for everyone, and if there's one comic I could convince anyone to start buying, this is it.