Uncanny X-Force #18 (Marvel): Truthfully, I was a little pissed off when I walked up and saw this sucker polybagged like it was 1992 all over again, half expecting to find a trading card by Rob Liefeld inserted. But, inside? It. Did. Not. Disappoint. The book is full of smarts, like Deathlok logic-ing his way out of War’s spell, reminding me of a duel that Sandman once had with a demon from hell that had stolen one of his weapons. The book is full of humor, like Fantomex calling Archangel “cuckoo bird,” reminding us why it’s no surprise that Paradox Comics Group recently selected him as “Best Supporting Character.” I’ve rarely seen a book that can push your emotions from one extreme to another. Within the space of just a few minutes, I’m LOL-ing at Fantomex, and then Betsy and Warren nearly bring a tear to my eye. I mean, seriously, I was getting choked up when the art switched to that fantasy sequence and she psychically gave him the life they both always wished they could have together. As if Jerome Opena’s full throttle action sequences weren’t in your face enough, Remender then comes along and takes two swipes at DC, with a Ma and Pa Kent archetype on a farm, then naming the new En Sabah Nur “Genesis” to the existing heir of Apocalypse. This is just smart, fun, cool, slick, beautiful shit. By the end of it all (vague spoiler alert, I guess?), two characters are dead, and there’s a bittersweet twist. This book is more imaginative, more adrenalized, more humorous, with a deeper emotional core than pretty much anything out there. And ohmygod, does that Rafael Grampa cover art for the next run look deliciously wicked. All of the other X-books should be taking notes from these guys on how to do the franchise perfectly. Oh, and three words: Dean. White. Color. Grade A+.
Batwoman #4 (DC): That text intro on the first page has got to be the best bit of succinct instant recap existing in the biz today. I love how Flamebird is more prominent in this issue. I don’t mean this to be salacious (don’t I?), but I also really like how you can see the outline of Bette’s nipples protruding from her costume. It just seems like a small realistic touch in terms of how the uniform would form around her body. There’s an anatomical authenticity there that I truly appreciate. The juxtaposition of the adrenaline rush from crime-fighting and the washed out black and white sex scene is a probing look into the mindset of Bette and what makes her tick, setting up all kinds of guilt to follow. This has got to be one of the most beautiful sequences this year, in one of the best single issues this year. Along with what just happened in Uncanny X-Force #18 (another best issue of the year), I’m so glad I put both of these series on "My Favorite 13 Things of 2011" list. As Kate and Maggie do some long-awaited “bonding,” Bette and Cameron Chase are sharing quite a different scene. One of the other best sequences is when we get to see some real investigative work being done by the DEO, and I always lose my shit when Director Bones shows up. Dude is just cool. One thing that might get lost in all of this rich character work, engaging story, and amazing pencils, is what a terrific designer Jim Williams is. There’s so much going on to latch onto, that you almost miss the sheer wonder of how he can lay out a page or arrange the panels. This book is absolutely breathtaking. Grade A+.
The Strain #1 (Dark Horse): I think I’ve seen this movie before. Dante’s Peak, Volcano, War of the Worlds, Outbreak, Independence Day, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow. I’m surprised this is Guillermo Del Toro and not Jerry Bruckheimer or Roland Emmerich. You take all that formulaic set up, about the dysfunctional family grounding you in a larger disaster, throw in the female partner, the personal connection to events, add de rigueur vampires, and some of that post-9/11 “airplanes are the scariest things we can think of now” stuff, as seen in the series premieres of Lost, Flash Forward, Fringe, and about a half dozen other TV shows, and there you go. Your basic post-9/11 disaster movie pitch “yeah we know The Walking Dead is pretty successful but don’t use zombies because that would just be too obvious” Hollywood formula. The opening prologue was very long-winded, I feel like that could have been done in at least half the pages. Mike Huddleston is a good artist though! The style almost feels like some bizarre cross between Leandro Fernandez and Gabriel Ba in spots. It makes me wonder if Huddleston would have been a good Northlanders artist? Anyway, I like the whole JFK lockdown, government procedural bits. I like the hook of the mystery regarding a plane full of dead people that lost comm. But, I hate the formulaic familiarity, the supernatural overtones turn me off, and I’m so very tired of vampires. This worked well enough for a $1 introductory issue, but I don’t think it’s quite unique enough for me to support at full price. Grade B.