Worst to first: 12/13/06

This’ll be the last of these before Christmas, most likely, as I’m headed to the rural hinterlands of western Nebraska, where the only thing more rare than a comic book store is a solid Internet connection. Okay, it’s not that bad. But I’ll be out of the loop all the same. So, without delay, here’s the week that was from the crappiest book I read to the best…

Six: Justice League of America #4

Well, for the second week in a row there’s a really strong book at the bottom of the order. I know all us Internet fans complain about the comics world plenty, but I’d say it’s pretty clear that this is simply a great time to be a comic book fan. And what better of example is there than famed novelist Brad Meltzer writing a straight-up action story? This issue continues the mysterious unveiling of Meltzer’s mystery plot, with a nice surprise villain at the end as well as continued moments of humanity from “Reddy,” a nickname I could really do without.

One problem was that without the narrative device of the three big guns looking over their superhero trading cards (which set up scenes with those heroes), the issue took on a disjointed feel. Also, my shop only had the Michael Turner bonus cover, tempting me to tear it from the book.

Five: Welcome to Tranquility

This is a week late, yes. I thought about getting it last week, didn’t for some reason, then thought better of it this week and added to the pile. Good choice. This is easily the cleverest book I’ve read in a good long time, which owes to fun-yet-only-slightly-annoying art but mostly to Gail Simone. While I don’t have the crazy love for Simone like, say, Redhead Fangirl, I do really, really enjoy her work. And this series seems to be a perfect “throw whatever zany ideas you have at the wall” kind of forum. I mean, The Emoticon? An old man who’s forgotten the secret word that turns on his powers and spends all day reading from dictionaries of various languages? These are ree-diculously clever gags. And what’s great is Simone doesn’t rely on those to carry the book. They just brighten the world.

One thing I’m not sure about: The annoying TV reporter who acts as a pseudo-narrator is just that – annoying. I’m sure she’ll play a role eventually, but in this issue she seemed a bit unnecessary and took focus away from much more interesting characters.

Four: The Spirit #1

Iconic hero? Check. Dynamite creative team? Check. Will Eisner sentimentality? Check.

So why only fourth place? Well, it was a really strong week. And, after digging through some classic Spirit stories for an article I’m writing for another publication, I was ready to jump head first into the Spirit nostalgia. This issue was good, don’t get me wrong. It was a ton of fun and balanced in the contemporary commentary that Eisner was noted for. It just seemed (much as Batman/The Spirit last week) like a bit of a trifling affair. I wasn’t expecting the density of Ellis or Moore, but this being a first issue and what’s sure to be a first introduction to the character for many, there wasn’t enough weight to Denny Colt.

Quickly: The Pill is a greatly disgusting villain, the scene where Spirit cuts loose from the trunk is typical of Cooke’s subtle brilliance, the TV captions are pretty clever, it’s nice to see Ebony as something other than a caricature (but if you change his appearance, why not the name as well?) and the opening splash page is one of the coolest pieces of art I’ve seen.

Three: Bullet Points #2

Just a great what-if type series. The only gripe I have is that the lead-in text has been consistently pointless and laughably self important. Once you get past that, though, there’s a whole lot of good stuff and the art of Tommy Edwards is nothing shy of awesome. Think of somewhere between Tim Sale and John Paul Leon of The Wintermen and you have a good idea. He draws as good of a Hulk as there is. Only question – couldn’t they have slightly tweaked the Hulk’s character design as they did with Iron man?

Best line? Steve Rogers (who was unable to receive the super-soldier serum and instead wore the Iron Man costume, which may have significantly shortened his life) is looking at the armor and contemplating his mortality. “Looks like from here on out it’s just you and me, frined,” he says. “All the way — Right up until the day they call the game on account of darkness.” A perfectly in-character line that’s so subtle you almost have to read it twice before noticing its deep effect. Good stuff.

Two: Agents of Atlas #5

Another holdover from last week. Somehow I missed this one on the shelf. Well, not twice in a row. If you’re not buying this series, you’re missing out on a fun romp through the lesser-knowns of the Marvel U that seems (perhaps because of expectations) a lot more enjoyable than the Eternals series that Gaiman chap is putting out. (For self preservation, I won’t say a cross word of that Romita fellow. Here, we learn a great history of the mysterious Venus (and I really enjoy how each issue quickly fits in these histories), see some great fights and hear some typically clever lines. Writer Jeff Parker deserves to keep getting good opportunities, because he’s managing a good balance of whimsy, drama and action.

I just wonder how satisfying the next (and last) issue will be. The plot has been so focused on the characters in play that the mystery of the Golden Claw’s villainous plans have gone mostly ignored. I like the character stuff, don’t get me wrong. Just feels like there’s two issues’ worth remaining.

One: X-Factor #14

And this wasn’t even close, putting Peter David’s series at the top spot. This is a comic so good I struggle to come up with something I’ve ever enjoyed so much. In the past few weeks, it’s slowly crept past Astonishing X-Men as my favorite ongoing series. According to at least one reader, the book doesn’t have enough action. Well, aside from that one where an entire building exploded, yeah, I suppose so. The past couple have been completely bereft of huge explosions.

But what we get instead are the most well developed characters around, who each bring a ton of baggage and react to each other in always unpredictable ways. So it’s not a straight superhero book. But it’s also not a straight character drama. The book is damn funny. There are a select few titles that can bring me to laugh out loud, and none elicit so much laughter as this one. This issue is a perfect example. Like Arrested Development, it weaves together a long line of jokes, gradually building into a perfect payoff at the end.

As a bonus, the “What happened up to now” segment at the beginning actually goes through the history of the universe, then the history of publishing the X-Men, then the history of X-Factor, then to the new team. Talk about breaking the fourth wall.