DMZ #17 (DC/Vertigo): I think this is the strongest arc of the series to date. Even amid a fantastical setting, Wood is able to imbue the title with some gritty realism. We are reminded that sometimes in life, there is no clear right or wrong. There is what you do. There is what you don't do. There are simply different actions, with different repercussions. Matty's idealism is put to the test as his intended outcome does not come to pass. More importantly, his identity finally develops, taking a huge leap forward. With one selfless act, he displays loyalty to his friends. He also displays loyalty to reporting the truth, loyalty to finally being a true journalist. A label that he wears proudly. Even in the face of death, he wears it like a badge of honor. Grade A-.
Silent War #3 (Marvel): What could be a convoluted bunch of continuity and complex plot points is relayed simply, smoothly, and effectively. The juxtaposition of the fairly serious Inhumans plays nicely against the more light-hearted X-Factor characters. There are also some heartbreaking moments between Crystal, Luna, and Quicksilver. Yeah, the story chugs confidently along, exploring one of the few interesting bits of Marvel happenings amid the grand spectacle that was Civil War. But, the real treat is still Frazer Irving's art, which is off-beat and otherworldy - perfectly intriguing. Grade B+.
Fantastic Four #544 (Marvel): I was utterly confused in the opening sequence with Stardust; then I remembered what book I was reading. Herald of Galactus, perhaps? There are some oddly quick about-faces here, like Reed now agreeing with opposing the "militarization of superbeings," but overall this was fun. Nice to see T'challa take on Stark. I like the notion that he and Ororo would temporarily inhabit the Baxter Building, and it's fun to see all the personalities interact (Ben and T'challa's exchange was nifty). Uatu mentioning the "astonishing children" of Ororo and T'challa was just downright cool. Those kids are going to be some badass X-Men. A few off moments overall, but the new team is in place and off on an adventure already, using the old FF tropes of space travel, grand adventure, and very powerful cosmic beings. I don't know that I need to come back for more, but if you're looking for harmless superhero fun, you could do a lot worse than this. Grade B.
Unique #1 (Platinum Studios): Admittedly, I've given Denis Calero a lot of shit about his art in X-Factor. But here, it's very consistent, very strong, inked really differently, and comes across as a perfect match for this title. Plot wise, this reads like a screenplay. It's a mix of John Grisham's The Firm, where a well meaning employee unwittingly stumbles upon a nefarious corporate plot, his superiors attempt to eliminate him, his friend/mole assists him, etc. Suddenly, that gets infused with a little bit of Michael Douglas in The Game, where the same people are mysteriously seen in different roles, and we feel like "it's not really paranoia if people are really out to get you." To that, we add a layer of surrealism into the lush cityscapes and take a trip through the multiverse. This team's explanation of the multiverse is way too expository, but does present an interesting take - that someone can jump from 'verse to 'verse and inhabit multiple realities so long as they are unique and don't have a counterpoint or mirror in another reality. Interesting, yes. Strong enough to return, not quite. Grade B.
The Secret Voice #1 (AdHouse Books): An unorthodox, but effective style for the main story which pits a visually fresh and appealing hero against some rock trolls. After that, we get a handful of not quite as strong, or as "finished" looking, back up stories. Grade B-.
52: Week Forty-Seven (DC): Holy hell, how long has it been since we've seen Bruce and Tim in this title? I'd forgotten they even made a brief appearance weeks and weeks ago. Now they're in Nanda Parbat? This just serves as further proof that there are too many plot threads being shuffled around here to do justice to any one of them. I like the notion that we're getting back to what was supposedly the point of 52 (explain what happened to everyone important in the missing year), but what could have been the interesting Bruce bits all seem to happen off-panel and are relegated to a few throw away lines and panels with not enough explanation. As we near the end of 52, I'm getting that sinking Episode III feeling, where the creators have the realization that they've strayed far off course and now have to shoehorn in a panicked checklist of items so that the points will all connect. Twins born? Check. Obi-Wan and Anakin fight? Check. Hide the twins? Check. Anakin becomes Vader? Check. Palpatine becomes Emperor? Check. Show Diana doing something? Check. Show Bruce doing something? Check. At the end of the day, there might be some interesting kernels of thought here, but there just isn't time to explore anything sufficiently. Some random bad guys that I don't think we've seen before haphazardly discover who Batwoman is - not because it makes sense organically, but because the plot demands it at this point. But no time to explain, next scene! I think Animal Man just found The Bleed. That could be neat, but no time for it, next scene! Tim tries to make some obtuse point about a goose in a bottle. What? Oh well, next scene! In that regard, this issue is really emblematic of the entire endeavor. Interesting high level ideas, but ridiculously poor execution. The back up feature had great Karl Kerschl art that suited the light-hearted Teen Titans (loved the rendition of Kory and Donna), but the script seemed to oddly use Cyborg as POV, and my, it's been a while for me... who the heck is Miss Martian? Grade C-.
Wonder Woman #6 (DC): Uhhhhh... Maxi-Man? No. Overall, I feel like Jodi Picoult sorta' gets the "voice" of Diana. Her uncertainty about her place in the world and trivial little things like pumping gas becoming foreign concepts was nice. The humor and repetition of that wears thin quickly though. Aren't jokes about the ludicrous nature of ordering a double-soy-mocha-cap-venti-non-fat-decaf-half-caf-whip-turbinado, when all you really want is a "small coffee, please" a little passe? Some of the meta-commentary is conspicuously overt too, sort of like Jodi is trying to establish her comic book street cred, with lines like "she's never sold as well as Superman or Batman." Oh my, Jodi really does get the industry! I also thought the narrative was a little redundant, repetitive, and unnecessary. Yes, I get it already. Stop banging me on the head with the uber-plot hammer. Yes, Diana is really Wonder Woman. Yes, her job as a Department of Metahuman Affairs agent is to find Wonder Woman. Yes, that means she has to bring herself in. Yes, how will she do that? Okay already! Picoult is doing her darndest to juggle all kinds of stuff that she's inherited here... fallout over the Maxwell Lord killing, a new direction for WW, her life as a DOMA agent, Donna filling in as Wonder Woman (I thought?), and all kinds of continuity. Yet, it already feels off track, maybe it's too much for any writer. The lateness of this book doesn't help either. Here they're talking about the government wanting to question WW about Max Lord. Yet, over in Manhunter she's already standing trial! The art is a bit uneven as well. It's competent in most parts, if a bit "pin-up-y" at times, but sometimes lacks clarity. I really thought that was Donna acting as Wonder Woman, come to find out it's Circe. Wasn't the last arc about impersonation? I forgot already. I really thought that those were coffee cups or something falling to the ground, come to find out they were bracelets. Great art would not leave me stranded like this. I picture women trying to read this title (some of those rabidly loyal Jodi Picoult fans I talked about months ago), but I'm just not confident that it's clear enough to do so. Yet another squandered marketing opportunity. I'll give this another issue or two out of some warped sense of really wanting Jodi to pull this off, but the delta between where it's at and where it needs to be for me to be a loyal fan is huge. Grade C-.
I also picked up;
Batman: Snow (DC): Of course I missed this since it was originally published as an arc of Legends of the Dark Knight, a now defunct Batman title notorious for inconsistent quality. Glad to see a work from Dan Curtis Johnson and JH Williams III (yes, the reunion of the Chase creative team!) and fan fave quirky artist Seth Fisher. Really looking forward to reading this for the first time based on the strength of the creators alone.