In the interest of helping the mainstream comics industry by both promoting their best stuff and ignoring their less successful attempts, Dean Trippe takes time out of his busy schedule to inform you about the best of the best put out by the Big Two. Here are his picks for the last few weeks.
Action Comics #870 by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. This issue concluded Johns' reintroduction of Braniac, applying his usual "include and transcend" problem solving to enhance the emotional and physical power of the villain. In his new "first" appearance, Brainiac is now far more reminiscent of his Golden Age counterpart (complete with monkey-like alien pet, Koko!) as a traveling alien species collector. Meeting the real Brainiac puts all of their previous encounters into a new perspective, retconning them into mere drones and odd offshoots that developed from them. In this arc, Johns and Frank have also been laying the groundwork for the new status quo in the Superman books. Lois is strong and confident, Supergirl is facing her real past and her real power, and the Daily Planet newsroom has some old familiar faces (even for recent fans dropping in from All-Star Superman). Perhaps most notably, Pa Kent's fatherly guidance of the Last Son of Krypton has come to an end. While controversial to some, I think it's a fair time for Superman to deal with this loss, and the handling of Pa's final moments was incredibly respectful. Similarly, the above moment of self-doubt with Supergirl respects the recent handling of the character, but forces her to grow. The introduction of her real--and alive!--parents promises to be just as helpful in undoing the problematic "Zor-El Sent Supergirl to Kill Baby Kal-El" plotline in a way that makes that stuff all make sense. Also, Gary Frank is doing the work of his career here, and I say that as a fan of his going back to his runs on Hulk and Supergirl. (By the way, if you haven't read Brainiac's first appearance, it's available in these collections.)
Captain America #42 by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting. This issue brings Brubaker's long-running New Cap introduction of the last year to a close. Good gosh, there was a lot to tie up, and Brubaker manages to pull it all together. Bucky as Captain America is a Change You Can Believe In, even if you know Steve Rogers will be back someday. Brubaker's put Buck through the gauntlet, forcing him to prove himself to Cap's closest allies and battle the machinations of Cap's fiercest villains. The great thing about this book is the wicked mix of "24"-like action and intrigue (thanks in large part to Epting's strong cinematic pages) alongside...let's call it "comic booky sci-fi fun." As evidenced above, as weird old Cap villain, Arnim Zola has been back on the scene, adding a strong and welcome Marvel Silver Age vibe. Brubaker's monthly-fu is strong, so the running subplots hold plenty of story yet to be mined. If you missed the new Cap's introduction (intentionally or not), but have been waiting to hear if it turned out to be worth reading...it did. Even the costume kinda grows on you. Grab the last year of issues, or consider the next one a good jumping-on point.
Fantastic Four #560 by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch. Okay, this team's first arc received mixed reviews, even from me. My main concern was that half the enjoyment of a comic book is the artwork, which can often be sabotaged a bit by mistakes in coloring. The colorist Paul Mounts is one of the top ten in the industry in my book, so I was a little disappointed in his choices in the first arc, which featured muted, nearly-pale colors and WAY too many blurry effects. If you doubt my claim that a colorist can affect the readability of a book that much, try to decipher the Robo-Cap fight from issue 556 with all the artwork covered in blurry snow, electrical power effects, washed out costume colors, and lack of panel borders. Now. That said, the storyline as an opening for Millar's run, was actually pretty strong, Hitch's art is as usual, pretty great, and as of this story arc, Mounts is back on his usual A-game. Millar is currently writing three Marvel titles, Wolverine, 1985, and Fantastic Four. If you're reading all three, it really feels like Millar is laying down some broad ideas about the Marvel U. We've got future Hulk bloodlines playing out in Wolverine and Fantastic Four, as well as an appearance by Smart Hulk back in 1985. If you're currently reading one, I'd recommend checking out the other two. He's doing some interesting stuff in all three. Here in FF, a new team of Defenders has shown up to save the population of 2509 with a South Park-reminiscent evacuation plan. Personally, I'm starting to think this has the potential to be the best run on FF since Mark Waid and the late Mike Wieringo's excellent run on the title.
Hulk #6 by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness. A friend of mine said, "Turn off your brain and this book is awesome." I agree. I was initially skeptical of this run, the Red Hulk, and the merits of a decompressed fight book, but I stuck it out on the merits of the stellar artwork from McGuinness. And I'm glad I did! Holy smokes, this series is an all-star, Brawlfest. Loeb applies some interesting logic to how the A-List fights would go down, like Thor's hammer being wield-able in outer space--outside of Earth's gravitational pull--even by the unworthy. And the plot and dialogue seems to be intentionally simplistic, setting up a superhero mystery that appeals to my old adolescent power fantasies. Again, it's not heavy stuff, but as a fun book with excellent art, this book delivers.
Marvel 1985 #5 by Mark Millar and Tommy Lee Edwards. Of the three Marvel titles Millar is penning, this is the most touching. This series is a love letter to the Marvel Universe of my childhood wrapped up in a truly scary storyline as the villains of the Marvel U. have found their way from their universe into ours via a secret portal in a spooky old house. Our only hope: A young boy and his dad who both read comics. In this issue, Toby escapes back through the portal to rally the superheroes to come save the day. Edwards' art here is so gorgeous. His storytelling and expressive linework is inviting and bold. I'm SO glad they ditched the idea to do this as a photo comic. Millar is similarly doing solid work here, offering plenty of action and heart at the same time. Most of Millar's work of the last decade has been soldier-as-superhero, cinematic, deconstructive kinda stuff (and I've enjoyed most of it), but his current Marvel titles seem to me to be reflecting the New Golden Age reconstructive movement that's been building since the mid-to-late 90s and is really gathering steam lately with writers like Morrison, Johns, Waid, etc. If this is the one title of Millar's books you're not reading, it's almost wrapped, so be sure to grab the trade.
Supergirl #34 by Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle. As with all of the Supergirl creative team changes of the last few years, I approached this new one with a little trepidation, but I gave it a shot, just as I've done with each of the last few. I wanted to review this book with just one word. "Finally." But just to make sure you give it a shot, I'll say a bit more. Igle's art offers the best Supergirl since Amanda Conner's single issue chores on Supergirl #12, and Gates' take on the character surpasses all previous attempts since the reintroduction. Honestly, I'm kinda floored by how much Gates accomplishes in this single issue. He brings up the criticisms of how she's been handled recently, using recently reintroduced Daily Planet staffer Cat Grant as a critic. Supergirl has to face her own recent actions, which begins the healing process for both the character and the title. Gates is right on here, finally giving the new Supergirl a secret identity, the a familiar supporting cast, and a much needed female mentor. Also, Gates efficiently has Supergirl catch up with her familiar super-mentors, or in the case of Batman, his protege (above). I've been pretty critical of this title since its inception, but I am quite pleased to finally be able to recommend Supergirl. With the upcoming New Krypton Superman title crossovers, it's the perfect time to jump onto this book.