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Is It Wednesday Yet?

02 November 2010 — Here we are again with another installment of your favorite comic book review series. As always, the reviews are free of spoilers, so read on without fear of having your experience ruined!

Our grading scale is simple:

Buy: An excellent comic book.
Borrow: A good comic, but save yourself some money by reading a friend's copy.
Flip Through: Give it a once-over at the comic shop.
Skip: This doesn't need to be explained.

Justice League of America #50
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 20 October 2010
Writer: James Robinson
Penciler: Mark Bagley
Inkers: Rob Hunter and Norm Rapmund
Colors: Hi-Fi
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Cover: Ethan Van Sciver
Cover price: $4.99

Review: Tom Hemmings
James Robinson's impact on the wider DC Universe hasn't been received well, particularly the stories surrounding the JLA. Robinson is possibly the most influential writer working on the DC brand not named Geoff Johns or Grant Morrison, and yet, in my view, we've yet to see a modern story from him that justifies his prominent position. It's a shame, given that Robinson was responsible for some of my favorite comics, including Starman and the reformation of the JSA.

Only five years ago Robinson's team would have been more appropriate for a book like The Outsiders or Titans. For the purposes of this issue, it's Batman (Dick Grayson), Donna Troy, Jade, Jesse Quick, and Supergirl. Aside from being the most female-heavy superteam going outside of Birds of Prey, it's also a rare sight to see none of the traditional members, despite them all being alive and mostly available. Whilst it's hard to deny that JLA felt stronger in previous years, it's also about time the next generation stepped up to the plate. That's where I think this book's strength is.

This giant-sized issue (about 35 pages of content) deals primarily with the classic JLA villains the CSA (the Crime Syndicate of Amerika) and their invasion of our heroes' reality. In direct contrast to the JLA, the CSA is back to its classic roster, with all original members returned to life. This very much represents a test for the new League. Is former second-stringer Jesse Quick capable of dealing with Flash analogue Johnny Quick? Can Jade, the daughter of the original Green Lantern, handle an evil Hal Jordan equivalent? It's a well-constructed storyline, and the most interesting thing I've seen in this book since Robinson took over; it really feels like a classic JLA challenge updated for the modern day. This, of course, requires an introduction to an intimidating level of continuity regarding the Multiverse and some of the events of Final Crisis, and to Robinson's credit he uses the extra pages to do just that. It can't tell you everything you need to know, but what I didn't know I decided to seek out rather than just ignore — and I think that's a compliment.

There are several issues with the art. Firstly, the wraparound cover has a serious error that I can't believe wasn't caught by editorial; the version of CSA member Power Ring that's depicted is the one from the Grant Morrison / Frank Quitely book JLA: Earth 2, not the original who appears in this issue. Also, though I feel bad for kicking the guy when he's clearly working incredibly hard, producing so many pages is clearly taking its toll on Mark Bagley. At 30-plus pages, it's no wonder he's only penciling this one. Though, most of it is strong, occasionally faces look utterly bizarre, and in the early pages it becomes very clear that Bagley is having trouble drawing Jesse Quick; every so often her proportions are way off. It's the sort of thing that his inkers probably should have smoothed out but didn't.

I'm slightly surprised to be cautiously recommending you take a look at this. In spite of the fresh roster and my previous problems with the writer, this feels like a JLA book. The plot is compelling, the ambition far-reaching, and whilst it might not be a five-star comic, it's enjoyable enough to take a look at. Borrow it.

Kick-Ass 2 #1
Publisher: Marvel / Icon
Released: 20 October 2010
Writer: Mark Millar
Breakdowns: John Romita, Jr.
Finishes: Tom Palmer
Colorist: Dean White
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover: John Romita, Jr.
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Sean Lemberg
What could there possibly be to dislike about a series that invites us to passionately "taste the awesome" right there on the front cover? Yes, Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. are back in the saddle, resuming the saga of the miniscule homegrown superhero wannabe, Kick-Ass, in their own inimitable way.

This new series picks up an indiscriminately short time after the conclusion of the first. The basic premise is still the same: nerdy kid wants to become a superhero, buys a jumpsuit and nunchucks online, rushes out to the streets, and quickly discovers that he's in over his head. Minus the few casualties of the first series, the cast is also virtually unchanged. Dave, the title character, is still a comic-obsessed geek-by-day and a punishment-absorbing crime fighter in the evenings. Mindy (aka Hit-Girl), the potty-mouthed scene-stealer from the second act of the original series, has become a part of police detective Marcus Williams' family and has secretly begun training Kick-Ass as her sidekick. The rest of the supporting cast is still along for the ride, too: Dave's nemesis Red Mist; his geeky high school running buddies; the longtime object of his lust, Katie. It's as close to a return to normalcy as the series could ever really achieve.

In practice, that quest for a reassuring starting point actually works against the book's identity. A lot of the charm of that first run was in the unusually quick pace it managed to keep up from the very first issue. There was a constant flavor of wonder mixed with adrenaline, a real sense that the cast was walking along a tightrope on every page. That's missing from this issue, where the theme of the day seems to be illustrating just how commonplace a back-alley brawl has already become for these guys. Millar grants us a few genuinely amusing moments in the dialog — generally any time Dave's fanboy civilian pals are on the page — but on the large this issue is strictly business: cleaning up the lingering mess, setting the pins back up, and giving us a peek at what's barreling down the alley to knock them all down again.

Moving forward with this series minus co-creator John Romita, Jr. would have been a mistake. His distinctive artwork had just as much to do with establishing these characters and their world as the way they were written, so it's great to see him back at the reigns for the follow-up. Bearing that in mind, Romita's customary attention to detail and sharp, polished compositions aren't up to his usual level in this issue. Romita still has a firm grasp on Kick-Ass himself — a rail-thin kid stuffed into a jumpsuit that's still somehow too small for him — but there's something off about the rest of the issue's occupants. Many of them seem over-simplified and unusually proportioned, a flaw that's particularly noticeable when Mindy appears to sprout a giant Barbie doll head late in the issue. It's unquestionably Romita, so take that for what it's worth, but it's also not the most complete effort I've ever seen him deliver.

The first issue of Dave Lizewski's second adventure is a relatively passive one. It's nice to check in with so many of the characters that provided gasoline for the fire of the first series, but it feels odd to see so many of them relegated to mere business as usual. Every great adventure begins with a single step, as they say, but let's hope the next chapter speeds us up to a healthy jog. Borrow it.

Turf #3
Publisher: Image
Released: 20 October 2010
Writer: Jonathan Ross
Artist: Tommy Lee Edwards
Letterer: John Workman
Cover: Tommy Lee Edwards
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Sean Lemberg
As far as the basic premise goes, you'll have to look far and wide to find another series even remotely like Turf. Mixing equal dashes of period piece crime lifestyle with horror clichés, aliens, and science fiction, the series bridges several genres for the very first time, perhaps, anywhere. That it can maintain each and every one of them while still managing to deliver a somewhat decipherable narration is nothing short of miraculous.

Writer Jonathan Ross seems to know exactly what he's after, though, and that certainty and determined conviction allows the series itself to become something entirely distinct, even forgetting the broad range of influences and directions it embodies. It is, unapologetically, its own beast, and for that reason alone it'll turn off some readers. Even followers with a more open-minded perspective of multi-genre concepts may have some difficulty dealing with Ross' frequent leaps from one scenario to the next. We're introduced to new characters with every turn of the page, with changes of scenery occurring every bit as regularly. It's a tale that might just be too large for its own good, but with such a vast collection of characters, situations, and conflicts also comes considerable depth and the promise that, no matter their preference, there's a story for everyone here.

With a strict, realistic style in the same vein as Alex Maleev and Sean Phillips, Tommy Lee Edwards works the majority of his magic in the incredibly detailed backgrounds and deep black swaths of shadow that envelope most of the book's panels. He's a perfect fit when the storyline leans in a more horrific direction, slightly less so when the subject veers towards science fiction. Victorian candles, cultists wearing dark gowns, filthy gumshoes, and mysterious well-dressed men are right at home in his artwork; bright exoskeletons and laser blasts, not quite so much. Fortunately enough, the vast majority of this issue takes place in prohibition-era New York, with only fleeting glances beyond the stratosphere. In that dated domestic setting, Edwards' artwork absolutely sings.

On the surface, this just seems like an anthology of unrelated side-stories set in the same bizarre world, but dig deep enough and you'll find a sense of connection that holds the entire issue together. It's not a particularly energetic read, nor is it something that comes quickly into focus, but once it clicks, you'll realize just how complex and sharp Turf's story really is. That breadth of scale is both a blessing and a curse, though, for as much as it adds in the long run, it takes away on the short term. The multitude of layers, themes, new faces, and conflicting directions make the task of deciphering and enjoying this issue a daunting one, but also incredibly rewarding given a dedicated investment on the reader's part. Gorgeous artwork, challenging writing, and an ambitious subject make this one worth buying.


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