Saturday, July 26, 2008

DC Capsule Reviews Week 27 2008

A doozy dozen this week, with many pleasant surprises from Joker's Asylum, Billy Batson, Jonah Hex, Chas -- and yes, even Nightwing and Supergirl!


(Rick Remender / Pat Olliffe / John Stanisci)

'Inside Out' part 5. Final Issue.

No idea. The title wraps up with a retcon of the initial retcon that launched this title - Ray Palmer shows up and tells new Atom Ryan Choi that he doesn't in fact know him, never corresponded with him, and certainly never sent him his atom belt and named him his successor. He does do his Deus Ex Machina bit to conveniently provide the means and power to retrieve the doomed exiled citizens while Ryan faces off against the monstrous generic worm of a villain he spawned by mistake and receive a final ominous message from Lady Chronos.

That's just it though. The title ends with an intense feeling of dissatisfaction and loose ends. Why did Lady Chronos fake this situation to make Ryan Choi the Atom? What did those creepy skeletons mean? What is the point of killing off and changing so many of his supporting cast in the final issue if there's not going to be a continuation?



(Grant Morrison / Tony Daniel / Sandu Florea)

Oh - gasp- Batman, you've been talking to an imaginary homeless guy who -gasp- died yesterday!

Ok, kids, let's pass the painful cliche by and try not to stare...

The Club of Villains have made their move, Robin and Nightwing are searching the city for the disappeared Bruce Wayne, while Bruce himself is having some serous arguments with reality-- and it looks like they're deciding on a permanent separation.

I'm still on the ledge about this storyline, unsure which way to fall, as there seems to be no safety net on either side. It's only my (and most fans I'm guessing) immense faith in Morrison to ultimately deliver and make sense of this drug-fueled mind-f**k of a plot, that keeps me reading. In the meantime, I'm still enjoying the impressive iconography and creepy pacing of the storytelling- which I'm guessing is more due to Morrison's own detailed scripts, than Tony Daniel's sketchy work.



(Mike Kunkel)

Young orphan boy Billy Batson says the magic word SHAZAM and is transformed into the mighty superman Captain Marvel. Together with his kid sister, Mary Marvel, they fight evil dudes and protect humanity under the guidance of the Wizard.

There, that's the gist of the myth, power and the wide-eyed cute charm of Captain Marvel that has made him so popular and lasting through these years. Although DC has been blind to that in recent years, forcing the questionable Winnick-headed changes to the character, the Johnny DC editors and Mike Kunkel still know how to recapture the old charm. Kicking off from Jeff Smith's reexamining of the origins and concept, they work with the good material therein, add some elements of their own (like the sheer fun factor of Billy transforming into Captain Marvel to pretend he's his own dad in order to talk to the school principal and rent a house, and the retooling of Mary Marvel into a kinda bratty wise-ass but adorable kid sister type) while quietly shoving some other awkward elements out of the way. In many ways this more in keeping with the true spirit and flavour of the Captain Marvel myth than Jeff Smith's 'Monster Society' mini and a vast improvement over the current mainstream DC version of Captain Marvel.

It's fun and accessbile to kids and new readers, and a treat for old-time fans at the same time.



(Will Pfeiffer / David Baldeon / Steve Bird)

Can we please stop with the music chairs?

Poor Beetle's gone through way too many writers and artists in his short life, and these nonsensical 'Buffy Season 1'-esque (without the funny or the fun or even the metaphorical) one-shots aren't doing anything for me. When a giant green monster starts making sightings, Blue Beetle tracks down a resurfaced evil scientist-type from the days of the original Blue Beetle Dan Garrett. There's a twist in it of course, but more towards the lame end of the cool scale.

It's not a bad story, but not one I'd really like to give money for.



(Marv Wolfman / Damion Scott / Robert Campanella)

Raven faces off against the bitchiest comatose girl EVER, but saves the day, keeps her girlfriends and buys some shoes!

Maybe it's just me, but the sheer concept of uber-goth (or was it Emo that the cover to issue 1 said?) and intense Raven cheering at the prospect of mall-sprees and gleeing at finally making her friends who are willing to pass on their shoe-wisdom... What happened to embracing one's self? Least I'm hopeful we won't be seeing any of these particular supporting character around anytime soon.



(Bill Willingham / Mark Buckingham / Steve Leialoha)

'War & Pieces' part 2. Another strictly plot-forwarding issue, as the plan outlined in the previous issue now comes to pass - without a hitch whatsoever, and our Fables seem to be actually winning this (as the title says) Very One-Sided War.

And, yeah, I'm as bored as the rest of you. Of course, as a reader, you always wish 'your' guys will get to win at the end of the day, and it's frustrating when things don't seem to be going their way - but it only really adds to the satisfaction of the eventual happy ending. Here, Willingham, just really takes out the tough parts of the war and simply hands us a storytelling first: an ambitious plan that is executed without a single hitch. Boring.

I'm literally waiting for the other shoe to drop issue by issue - at this point I might actually cheer at the first sign of things going belly-up for the heroes.

At least Mark Buckingham is keeping the usual Eisner-winning art standards in his craft, making me not regret keeping this book in my ever-shortening pull-list from day one.



(Simon Oliver / Goran Sudzuka / Matt Hollingsworth)

With John Constantine flying out of the UK on demon-ass-busting business, his 'trusty sidekick' - best friend - driver, London cabbie Chas is left in London alone to dredge through a monster mid-life crisis and probably face off against a really-monstrous (and cab-related, but in a non-sucky way) spirit.

Following Chas' life through his own eyes and narrative makes for a surprisingly overwhelming 'British experience', even for someone who has lived in this country for over half a decade now. The British slang is hard to get down on paper just right, but Oliver manages impeccably, even introducing new characters based on the often-derided stereotype chav and scally cultures - yet without them coming off as parodies.

As an opening issue, it succeeds on all fronts, making us care about the main character, establishing the city of London and the British zeitgeist, and organically introducing the occult elements that will play out in the next issues as part of the ongoing narrative.



(Matthew Sturges / Luca Rossi & Zachary Baldus)

'Room & Boredom' part 3. Well, you've got the boredom down right, that's for sure. And I see a room, and a House (well, more of a pub really, but ok), yet the only Mystery anywhere in this issue, is what Bill Willingham's name is doing on the cover when his credit is nowhere to be found in this issue.

Fig keeps trying several unimaginative ways (I'm sure there could be more intense and creepy alternatives to explore here) to escape the House of Mystery, all in vain, before she lets go and overhears another little vignette from photo-realistic artist Zachary Baldus, about a charming mobster's narrow escape from death. Again, quaint, but hardly containing any supernatural, creepy or vaguely mysterious aspects.

It's going to take more than simple Feng Sui to salvage this mess.



(Peter Milligan / Javier Aranda / David Enebral)

'Schizo-Mania' part 1. It's quite painful see the enormous potential of this super-Freudian take on teen super-heroes get further wasted, even as we're running towards next issue's series conclusion. Ultimately, with one issue left to go the entire series reads like a poorly planned train-wreck with hardly any beginning, middle and end and nothing to show for its efforts - having radically shifted feel and look half-way through, but not allowed to adjust properly to its new superhero trappings (and seriously how UGLY are these new suits?).

I really do think the high concept of super-powered teenagers who demonstrate powers related and linked to their mental disorder and quirks is a pure gold concept that would work brilliantly in a free creative environment of the kind that X-Force/X-Statix enjoyed back in the days of Nu Marvel, or Vertigo.



(Arvid Nelson / Alex Sanchez / Jose Villarubia)

The Joker hijacks a gameshow live on air and starts to -well, that would be telling...

Well, I didn't see this coming! Major props to Arvid Nelson for giving us the most truly unpredictable Joker story in the character's history. After all, you can always count on the Joker to be insane and cruel and sadistic and, well, kill people for the heck of it. It makes sense that he would find the comedy into playing against people's expectations of him.

Alex Sanchez wonderfully and appropriately captures the manic glare and spotless portrayal of the late Heath Ledger's Joker without resorting to any obvious photo-references or using elements of the Dark Knight make-up design - just simply packing a scary amount of personality into every single panel of the sociopathic comedian.

This series of oneshots is off to a great start, with more coming each week as the Joker acts as the Cryptkeeper-like narrator to personal stories of Gotham's looniest crooks.



(Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti / Darwyn Cooke / Dave Stewart)

Though I'm a long-time fan of the Palmiotti / Gray writing team, this was my first sampling of their Jonah Hex title, and the reason was simple:

Darwyn Cooke!

The talented artist behind the Batman and Superman animated series, the Catwoman revamp, and DC: the New Frontier, did this self-contained story starring DC's most prominent Western comic book anti-hero.

The story follows the journals of an aged writer (who we never see outside of the flashback), recounting (in overly decorated and oten tiring prose) a story of an important day from his childhood: the amputation and death of his father during a hunting expedition, his ordeal against a pack of wolves, and his encounter with the titular hero (who was admittedly not having a picnic day himself - what with being executed Canadian Mounty-style).

Cooke predictably shines throughout, with quiet landscape settings giving way to moments of gruelling pain and bloody violence, all framed dynamically and in beautiful style.

I have no idea what Hex's story is, but I can tell you for sure - he's not to be messed with, and the writers don't cut any corners to try and make him look the least bit sympathetic to the reader. My main concern was why this title isn't placed under the Vertigo banner instead of having it as a mainstream book - it took me straight out of the story to see the $£*& swear marks in the protagonist's dialogue inside a clearly Mature Readers-intended title.



(Jim Shooter / Francis Manapul / Livesay)

'Enemy Rising' part 4. It's NOT a good sign when I can't even retain basic plot info about the issue and the story arc (like who are the Legion fighting? Why are they split into teams? Who are these villains? Are there ANY inter-team dynamics?) long enough to get me through the issue.

Shooter's return to the team has been a prolonged generic bland-fest, and this issue continues the trend with more and more and more 'action', while losing focus on 'interesting' and 'fun' (or even 'teenage').



(Marc Andreyko / Michael Gaydos / Jose Villarubia)

'Forgotten' part 2. Kate (lawyer and single divorced mom by day, rookie 'hard justice' vigilante by night) meets with the new (equally rookie, not so big on the hard justice thing) Blue Beetle while investigating the disappearance of women near the border - and...



...they fight! It's a well-known super-hero team-up stereotype to get these silly excuses for hero-vs-hero action, but with this title it's happening with alarming and impeccable regularity. Andreyko still rocks the action - and even comes up with new ways to get Kate into this sort of trouble. Meanwhile, her newly-surfaced retired superhero grandparents are spending quality time with her son, and the Joker keeps edging mysteriously and menacingly closer to her sidekick/tech assistant (at the same month where he makes his startling return to the Birds of Prey title where Manhunter also appears).

I'm not too crazy about Michael Gaydos on art, he gives the issue too much intensity and severity; I'm missing Javier Pina and his refined sexy super-hero art which balanced the drama and made the action pop.



(Peter J. Tomasi / Don Kramer / Sandu Florea)

'Freefall' Conclusion. Talia Al Ghul makes a surprisingly fitting adversary and foil to Nightwing, even better so than her appearances in Batman's title.

The current storyline wraps up satisfactorily, playing to all the strengths of the previous issues, painting a lighter more compassionate/humane portrait of Talia in her reaction to the inhumane treatment of Mother Of Champions' babies - even if she was the one who originally ordered her use in this manner. Nightwing is finally stepping up in the DC world, with higher-profile missions, more important villains and establishing new interactions with the big shot names of the universe.



(Jim Starlin / Ron Lim / Rob Hunter)

Finally, a team forms (kinda): Animal Man, Starfire, Adam Strange, Captain Comet (& his dog), the Weird, Hawkman and Tigor, facing off against the (yet again resurrected) Lady Styx.

So, I can understand bringing back from the dead a popular villain -- but what does that have to do with Lady Styx?

When is everyone going to drop the pretense that Starfire, Animal Man and Adam Strange actually have any sort of interesting dynamics between them after their stint as the least appealing aspect of 52? Of course dropping four more unfortunate characters from recent space minis Mystery In Space and Omega Men doesn't help out much - even if the Weird at elast tries to spice things up in the uneventful mission briefing that takes up most of the issue.

Even though I praised Ron Lim's art in the opening chapters, it quickly deteriorates into an unimaginative quick-fix job with this issue, sketchy characters, choppy storytelling, bland breakdowns... Such a shame.



(Kelley Puckett / Brad Walker / Jesse Delperdang & Jon Sibal)

'Way of the World' part 3. We now return to our normally scheduled storyline after a scheduling snafu. Last time we saw Supergirl in part 2 (#29), she was trying to help cure a young boy's cancer with the help of the Resurrection Man and some evil scientist dude.

This one is surely the most uneven issue I've read. It kicks off with an enormous blunder, as Superman arrives in the hospital room while the kid is flat-lining, and actually takes over the operation (while actual doctors are present, still inside the actual staffed hospital), ordering dosages and announcing the boy's eventual demise to his grief-stricken parents. Of all the cocky, arrogant things...

Thankfully, we quickly move away from that scene, and over to Supergirl learning the news, and unsurprisnigly not taking them very well. Her response? Pump the dead boy full of Resurrection Man's blood, revive him as a potential super-human, or a monster. By this point, the story still makes zero sense to me, and I'm left wondering what happened to the excellent mr Puckett to lead to this.

Then, we have the flip.

Supergirl flies away with the kid's mom to explain the options to her from a point of high perspective. And it all springs into focus, revealing mr Puckett does have the most frighteningly clear understanding of what makes Supergirl tick, and has been sneakily arranging the entire storyline to lead to this point of crystal clarity. Supergirl wasn't born special. She actually grew up as a normal non-powered girl until her puberty (a difference with her cousin that i hadn't fully realised before now), at which point her planet exploded. Her parents - much like the parents of the young boy here- had a choice: let their child die like every other normal child -- or -- take a chance: send her off in a missile to an unknown fate; she might die or she might live or she might turn into a monster or into another world's greatest hero. This is the same choice she has been striving to offer this kid throughout this story, on the surface masked as simple young naivete in the face of mortality.

Puckett dares take a title like this and use it to ask the toughest grounded moral questions in the context of an unbelievable fictional world of flying supermen, and dares to attempt to reconcile the differences between the lives of these supermen and the everyday normal people. Brad Walker joins as the new (?) regular (?) artist, after a long absence and an impressive history on titles like Simone's Secret Six. He feels like the perfect fit on this title, with writer Puckett, I hope DC sees this as well and gives them a regular stint on this long-suffering title.



(Kurt Busiek & Fabian Nicieza / Mark Bagley & Mike Norton / Art Thibert & Mark Farmer)

...and to think I dared complain things were going at a snail's pace!

This issue wraps up the Konvikt battle with Batman appropriately unearthing a Deus Ex Machina weapon to anaesthetize the alien, while Tarot and her bodyguard Gangbuster (do we know him from somewhere? Better check Newsarama) face off against a trio of very dorky super-villains (from names to powers - Whiteout the human eraser? - and outfits).

There's loads of things to enjoy, action-heavy pages, small moments of interaction between the three and even hints of Tarot becoming an interesting character... albeit slooowly. Heck, I'm even enjoying Morgaine and Enigma's back-and-forth this week. Good times.


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Superman, M.D.

The Man of Steel will stop at nothing to save a life in danger - -

-- even if that life is of a young terminal cancer patient who is hospitalized under medical supervision...

YES, even then, Superman won't hesitate to swoop in the hospital ward, push the actual trained doctors and medical staff aside...

...get his magic healing (unsterilized) hands on the patient, shout orders to the doctors about the correct treatment...

...take over using the electric shock-pads for resuscitation and performing C.P.R. ...

...and in the tragic case of the boy not making it, Superman is also hero enough to update and console the grieving parents himself, before flying away (probably to deliver a baby in the maternity ward)...

That's the stuff of heroes!

Source: Supergirl #31 (DC Comics)
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Friday, July 25, 2008

Sandman 20th Anniversary Poster

My retailer Haroon from Travelling Man Manchester surprised me pleasantly today by giving me this amazing just-released poster, when he saw I ordered the new Death II T-shirt. (thanks Haroon, LOVE you :) )

The poster is an enormous fold-out jam session featuring most every major character from the Sandman mythos, with art by almost every artist who has contributed in the historic series. The image I've posted (courtesy of New York Entertainment) has a cheat-sheet attached, but it's fun to play 'spot the artist with your geek friends; all of these modern masters have utterly distinct styles - like my favourite artist Mike Allred who started his career on the title, and beloved artists like Jill Thompson, Bucky, Peter Gross, D'Israeli, Bryan Talbot, Kevin Nowlan, Marc Hempel, Shawn McManus, Teddy Kristiansen, Sam Kieth, Dean Ormston, P. Craig Russel, Charles Vess (boy, I never realised how Sandman ultimately shaped my taste in comic book art) -, making for a fun challenge.

I'm in the mood for cracking open the Absolute Sandman volumes and having a bit of a reminisce...

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Madman Summer Fun

My latest geek-cred comics-related order:

Make the most out of those warm summer days this year with the Madman Summer Fun Playset. Features the huge ( almost 3' x 6') heavyweight Madman Beachtowel together with two different sets of Madman Magnets. Be the coolest dude out on the beach this year with Madman at your side.

I don't really intend to take this to the beach (mainly because of the lack of beaches - or summer- in the UK), but this will make an amazing full-wall poster/decoration on my wall. Plus, MAGNETS, you can never go wrong!
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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Marvel Capsule Reviews Week 27 2008

The debuts of Astonishing X-Men and Secret Invasion Frontline save the day in an otherwise dreadful (yet thankfully short) week - when has Marvel ever had only 6 titles out in a week before?

Read on!


(Mark Guggenheim, Dan Slott & Bob Gale / Paulo Siqueira / Amilton Santos)

Three writers, three short stories, three POV on one eventful car chase through NYC.

The three Spider-Trust writers (minus Wells) give the Spidey, Cop and Villain -eye view on a Spidey vs Overdrive (the villain who can pimp any ride - snicker). It's a good idea, executed in the most standard and expected way without any big surprises.

Well, apart one. The sheer idiocy of having Spidey recklessly endanger a bus-load of kids during the fight. After Overdrive commandeers a school bus for his escape, Spidey bursts through one of the windows, glass shards flying in every directions towards the unsuspecting kids. He repeats this genius move once more. Later, in his grand scheme to save the kids, he fires a sonic boom in their direction, breaks the rear window and has them escape into a web cocoon, which he then drops off the still moving bus!

Spider-Menace indeed!



(Warren Ellis / Simone Bianchi )

It's a short week, so I'll devote a bit longer on the star release...

When it was time for Joss Whedon to step down from his celebrated (critically acclaimed, fan-adored, sales-topping, tear-jerking...) run on Astonishing X-Men - there could only be one name fit to pass the torch (after Whedon himself had succeeded Grant Morrison, establishing the Emma - Scott - Wolvie - Beast uber-core team) to...

(Well, ok after Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman refused to return the editors' emails)

Warren Ellis!

So, Warren had a bit of a up-and-down history with the X-Franchises, with a healthy and memorable/definitive run on Excalibur (it does take a Brit to do it justice), a short stint on Wolverine, and three hit-n-miss takes on X-Force, X-Man (which did kinda rock) and Generation-X.

Now, he makes his triumphant return - to the core (the 'core-est' of the core) X-Men books, using the familiar star-making cast (with Storm replacing the late Kitty - who had replaced the late Jean Grey - hmmmm), and once more using them to launch the X-Men into a new exciting direction.

Yes, they've officially moved into San Francisco, they have a new X-Cave, X-plane, (hideous) X-car, X-uniforms -- a franchising dream-scape of opportunities! Their new mission statement actually makes sense in this crazed-up Initiative-driven world (although we might need a bit more explaining how it fits in with the rest of the line): the X-Men are acting as consultants to the SFPD, visiting the scene of the mutant(?)-related crime in their street/police-gear, and being careful not to step on any toes. The crime is related to (yet another) a supposedly new species of mutant - or beyond mutant- handily explained in typical Ellis pseudo-science.

Despite initial fan unrest over Ellis' handling of the X-Cast I was overly very impressed, Armour sticks around after Whedon's run, well on her way to becoming this generation's Kitty Pryde. Her rapport with Hank was a welcome distraction, showing off her quirky mix of irreverence and respect to her teachers/teammates. Cyclops and Emma click very well, without their dialogue getting too sappy (someone send a copy to Brubaker for reference); Cyclops is still reeling from the balls-growing rollercoaster of Unbreakable, while Emma is her usual fabulous caustic self; Ellis overshoots just a bit in her dialogue, going too far with her Samantha-isms ("I'll simply have to this, and absolutely have to that, oh and will simply have to the other thing as well"). Queen Storm's the clear stand-out from the group, making her triumphant return from the pages of Black Panther after an extended honeymoon leave; she's a tough character to crack, with a voice that writer after writer has failed to get right - she always ends up looking like the boring mother of the group, a paper-thin leader figure or a frigid queen; Warren Ellis makes it seem so easy to catch the warmth, the regality, the fire and the humility of Ororo.

Finally... Simone Bianchi. An italian super-star artist, his art, his designs and his storytelling... jump out of the page and are incredibly rich in personality and texture - like an abject super-reality squished on the comic page. Going back to my gay-crash on Storm, no artist has captured her attributes so easily - and it's been decades since she had a decent costume design - an homage (but not derivative of) to the original Cockrum timeless leather piece.

Ah, I've been babbling. Good times are coming!



(Alex Ross & Jim Krueger / Steve Sadowski)

First of all many Happy Wishes to Steve Sadowski who tied the knot with his loved one this week!

The Invaders do -of course- stage an escape from SHIELD captivity -- thanks to Bucky's retconned hardcore spy-awesomeness. Meanwhile WWII Namor (pre-dye job) discovers the ruins of Atlantis and gets in a nonsensical fight to the death with present-day Namor (yeah that's smart, what a win-win situation) - who's inexplicably gone from being all about 'Declaring War on the Surface World' (did anyone else read that mini?) to a peaceful co-existence mode. HUH!

I *might* already be losing all interest in this title - and with 9 issues ahead, that's never a good sign. Thankfully Sadowski's hubba-hubba art is enough to make me stick around and just stare at the handsome heroes...



(Duane Swieczynski / Ariel Olivetti)

'War Baby' part 5. Finally concluding! Once more it's Cable vs Bishop in the vaguely-defined apocalyptic (?) future. Bishop commandeers some random street mercenaries. Cable gets his waitress darling (I don't even care to remember her name, let's call her Annie) into spandex, gives her a gun, and lets her loose. Well, at least he had the forethought of shielding the baby in a protective armour shell this time. The fight gets cut short when Cable ultimately makes an escape jump further into the future.

That was it? Was there any point to the events of the past 5 issues? Utter disappointment and lack of any worthwhile plot structure, characterisation or any redeeming quality whatsover.



(Brian Reed / GG Studios )

By Gawd, they finally get it!

In the heart of heart of NY, ordinary everyday people go about their ordinary everyday lives. Well, about as ordinary as you get when you're living in a super-hero populated NYC.

A young E.R. doctor, reporter Ben Urich, a high school student and her negligent father (a designer for the Fantastic Four toy franchise), a cop, a cabbie who gets his taxi wrecked by Spidey vs Menace...

Reed follows their everyday lives, giving us the ultimate intimate street-eye view of what it could mean to be a real commuter in the Marvel Universe New York... and then of course, the Skrulls invade! Reed succeeds where Jenkins failed miserably 2-3 times in a row; he focuses the story on the people on the street - instead of giving just a newscast recap of the event, wasting time on a lame conspiracy or just using it -let's say- as a continued showcase of the reporter's lifestory.



(Howard Chaykin / Marco Turini)


I absolutely didn't understand a single thing that happened this issue...

Did I need to be familiar with the previous book? The Ultimate Power mini? I've not read either, so I'll need your feedback on that.

The recap page was hardly helpful as only one of the characters explained there actually makes an appearance in the book. Well, him and Ultimate Nick Fury - someone will also need to explain the reasoning behind spinning him out on his own like this 'Private Practice'-style. Talk about 'doomed from the get-go'.

Ok, so what did I piece together? The Squadron Supreme (Marvel's version of the JLA) is... somewhere off world. The remaining members (a Zatanna analog and a smart guy) are working with Nick Fury on... something. Meanwhile across the board we get introduced to freaky gruesome new analogs of (I'm totally guessing here)... familiar Marvel characters, like the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and Captain America.

Howard Chaykin has zero consideration for the new reader here, not bothering to properly introduce all his cast and his situation, while new artist Turini has the oddest fascination of drawing porn artists on the news. Seriously, what kind of newscaster talks like this on the news? And why would a scared helpless victim pout like a call-girl ad?



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