Avengers: The Initiative 28-30: This book started out of “Civil War” and there’s a nice sense of coming full circle to it as “Dark Reign” starts to wind down. The original New Warriors, some of whom started the war, are now fighting Osborn’s Initiative as the Avengers Resistance and they meet Penance for (they think) the first time. There’s also some space devoted to Trauma’s classic Marvel villain father, and I appreciated the attempt to square it with what’s going on in “Doctor Voodoo”. Plus more fascinating interpersonal scenes with so many characters that I couldn’t even begin to summarize here. Great stuff from Chris Gage (and no permanent artist, unfortunately) that you should not be missing.
Batman and Robin 4-6: I usually like Philip Tan’s art, but it doesn’t work for me here – it’s actually an interesting case of a good artist not being the right fit for a story. Take the cover to #6 as a case in point: I think we can safely assume that Frank Quitely’s cover is the intended design for the “Flamingo” character because covers are usually done first. Quitely’s version is flamboyant, probably intended as a contrast to the characters sick behavior (like the masked characters in the first arc). That’s supported by the dialogue, but Tan’s version just looks grotesque so the subtlety of playing the character’s appearance against his actions is lost. On the story side, it’s a little annoying that everything that happened to Jason Todd in “Countdown” is ignored, but Morrison’s extreme characterization of him works better than anything that’s been tried since his initial resurrection. (Jason’s, not Morrison’s, though I wouldn’t put it past him…)
Batman: Streets of Gotham 5-7: Chris Yost’s Huntress/Man-Bat fill-in in #5-6 is good, but it’s nice to have Paul Dini back with #7. He gets the new Batman & Robin dynamic really well (Dick: “And I used to think it was a big Christmas if Bruce allowed Alfred to make eggnog.” Damien: “You get better stuff if you’re a real son.”). It’s not exactly an uplifting Christmas tale, but it’s well done so far. The Manhunter backup is my favorite of all the “second features” (The Question is a close second), and hopefully it will continue somewhere when this book goes back to $2.99.
Detective Comics 858-860: Finally, Greg Rucka and JH Williams III get to tell their origin of Batwoman and it’s fascinating to see how Kate got from her military background to the socialite we first met her as in “52”. (Hint: Don’t ask, don’t tell.) So far, we’ve also seen her first encounter with (the original) Batman and some glimpses of her troubled relationship with Renee Montoya. I love the way seeing Batman affects her (“I’ve finally found a way to serve”), especially since it unconsciously parallels Bruce Wayne’s development (with a twist – her father specifically teaches her that revenge is not the goal). It’s a gripping and inspiring story and Williams actually draws the whole thing, even though the flashbacks are a completely different art style than the present day pages. Also, Huntress fans should take note that she’s appearing in the “Question” backup. I haven’t had time to listen to Rucka’s recent Word Balloon interview yet, but apparently he says he and Williams will be moving over to an ongoing “Batwoman” series soon which is great news as this is still the best thing DC is publishing.
Gotham City Sirens 4-7: I like this better than Mike, but I agree that it’s mostly less than inspiring, especially the fill-ins, but #6 where Dini digs up “Gaggy”, an actual Joker sidekick from an obscure 1943 issue of Batman as a nemesis for Harley is a real treat. I love stuff like that, even though I’d never heard of the character before. The holiday story in #7 isn’t bad either – you have to love any Christmas story whose opening line is “All morning I’d heard reports of people being attacked by a gang of knife-wielding Santas.” – it’s got a nice scene between Selina and Dick Grayson, and we meet Harley’s family for the first time (Mom: “God forbid I should let my evil daughter freeze to death on Chauncey Street!” Harley: “God bless you sooo much!”)
Incredible Hulk 602-605: More tales from Greg Pak of Skaar and Bruce Banner who, now that he can stay focused, is more dangerous than he was as the Hulk. Ariel Olivetti’s art is a little too polished for my taste – it looks like there’s a layer of dull plastic over everything – but the stories are great.
New Avengers 57-59: I’m getting a little tired of people being able to rescue prisoners from Norman Osborn with impunity (though there may be an ulterior motive in this case), but other than that quibble this is some great Luke Cage & Jessica stuff that Bendis has been building to for a long time.
Power Girl 5-7: Once you wrap your head around the fact that this book is a screwball comedy, it’s really pretty delightful (much like the same team’s “Supergirl” serial in Wednesday Comics, but with a little more depth because its an ongoing.) I loved the Vartox appearance, because he was in some of the first Superman comics I ever read as a kid. This is actually pretty close to being an “all ages” book, in the best possible sense, though there is the occasional reference (like the “contraceptive bomb” in #7) that probably isn’t suitable for younger kids.
Titans 17-20: More solo stories, which mostly aren’t bad, but they feel kind of pointless given what we’ve seen so far for these characters in “Blackest Night”. The Red Arrow story in #19 seems especially cruel given what happens to him in “Cry for Justice”, like it’s the last moment of happiness he’ll ever have. The Donna Troy story in #20 is pretty good, but it’s weird that her potential love interest is a blonde guy named Tom at the same time that Wonder Woman is dating a blonde guy named Tom. (Unless they’re both supposed to be Nemesis, which would be really disturbing.)