Batman: Streets of Gotham #11: First off, Streets of Gotham has had an almost flawless run of great covers. Dustin Nguyen deserves a lot of praise for his work on the series, both inside and out. I'm not quite sure when it happened, but Streets of Gotham has really become the Damian show, and I couldn't be happier. Paul Dini might not be the best Batman writer of all time, but he deserves credit for being one of the most consistent. Plus, Dini has picked up the most interesting aspects of Damian and used those to his advantage. I struggle to review an end-of-arc issue without giving too much away, but there are some truly awesome moments in this comic, Damian's blood-bandanna chief among them. This Robin is one cruel, violent little s.o.b., and his willingness to push the limits has become a major part of what makes him such an intriguing character. The Return of Bruce Wayne aside, it looks like Damian's future might be more interesting than even his father's.
Brave and the Bold #33: It had to happen sometime. There had to be a point when Straczynski's run on Brave and the Bold faltered a bit, and unfortunately it was the Wonder Woman/Batwoman/Zatanna issue. I say "unfortunately" because the ladies of the superhero world are too often given the weakest stories, and it's no different this time. I'm going to go ahead and spoil the issue, so if you don't want to know the plot then stop reading now: In the story (titled "Ladies' Night"...ugh), Zatanna and Wonder Woman take Batwoman (Barbara Gordon) out for a night of dancing, all the while knowing that the next day she's going to be paralyzed by the Joker. Now, there's a few things I have to take issue with here. First of all, wouldn't a superhero like Batwoman want to spend her last night with functioning legs, oh I don't know, kicking ass? Not dancing? Oh wait, women live to dance, never mind. Then there's the diner scene, which I won't even go into here. Despite these (and other) problems, exploration into Barbara Gordon is long overdue, as her character has become rather one-note, usually along the lines of "handicapped techie." Sure, as Oracle she is important, but most of the time it's in a fairly bland, "I'm reading information from a database" way. So while this issue isn't as graceful as past issues of Straczynski's Brave and the Bold, it's still better than a lot of shit on the shelves. Also, Cliff Chiang's art is fantastic as always, and his reveal of the Joker is actually a pretty powerful, even if you see it coming. So it's not all bad here, but yeesh. To this point, I was pretty sure JMS could do no wrong on Brave and the Bold. After issue #33, my confidence is definitely shaken.
Hercules: Fall of An Avenger #2: This must be the year where I actually start caring about younger characters, because Amadeus Cho, like Damian, is quickly becoming one of my favorites. How did this happen? I used to hate the teen heroes. My guess is it has something to do with new characters finally getting the shot they deserve; it also doesn't hurt that they are in the hands of such capable writers as Morrison, Dini, and in Amadeus Cho's case, Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente. One of Pak's strengths (with an assist from Van Lente this time around) is that even though Incredible Hercules is always full of humor, he never dumbs it down for his audience. One page you get a great, absurd sound effect like "BLAAASFEME," followed a few pages later by a very subtle in-joke for mythology nerds. It's for reasons like these that his run on Incredible Hercules has turned so many heads. On the art front, Ariel Olivetti's art is perfect for a story like this, but I don't see it working beyond this Fall of an Avenger. His style is very much that of a painter, which works for a quick story full of Gods n' Goddesses, but I think the appeal would waver in an ongoing title. The back-up Agents of Atlas story is a real tear-jerker this time around, showing that not all of Hercules' many investments dealt solely in broads and booze. For a title-bridging two-issue series, Fall of an Avenger is surprisingly good. Not as great as past issues of Incredible Hercules, but still good enough.
Ultimate Comics Avengers #6: I'm really of two minds when it comes to Mark Millar-scripted comics. Part of me wants to hate everything he's done in the past six or so years, as it doesn't seem like he's really tried anything new in a long time. The other part of me says I should just sit back and enjoy the over-the-top action and ignore the poor writing. One thing I know for sure is that I hate the Cosmic Cube, and I really hate that it's was one of the main plot devices of this first arc. Cosmic Cube stories are always stupid. It's a fact. They spent too much time building up the Cube to be an unstoppable device...and yet the villain never uses it properly (i.e., they never just wish away all the heroes and become king of the universe or whatever). It's hard for me to look beyond the stupidity of the Cosmic Cube story, especially since it's been noted elsewhere that this is basically a re-hash of an old Authority story, also written by Millar. Carlos Pacheco's art is as bold as ever, providing the story with a sense of action that is severely lacking in the script department. Let's hope that introducing the Punisher to the Ultimate Avengers gives this series the shot in the arm that it desperately needs.
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #9: Though Bendis' writing on other titles (cough New Avengers cough) is downright bland as of late, his work on Ultimate Comics Spider-Man continues to be nothing less than spectacular. It's become pretty clear that this is a book he cares about, while the main Marvel Universe just doesn't seem to drive the man anymore, and probably hasn't since his Daredevil days. And though I had some reservations about artist David Lafuente in the past, he's quickly becoming as essential to Ultimate Comics Spider-Man as Mark Bagley was for the first 111 issues of the original series. This is another great issue jam-packed with all the things you love about Spider-Man: fast-pased action, teenage drama, and a few tender moments thrown in for good measure. Plus, Peter gets a haircut, Johnny storm makes out with the Spider-Girl clone, and Peter freaks out. Good times had by all (except Peter I guess), although judging the way this one ends, it looks like the next issue isn't going to be all sunshine and spider-webs.
GATTS BOOK OF THE WEEK:
AMERICAN VAMPIRE #2 (Scott Snyder, Stephen King, Rafeal Albuquerque - VERTIGO): Well, it looks like me and the Bannen are on the same page here. This comic rules. There wasn't much this week that blew me away; nothing that is, except for Rafeal Alburquerque's art in American Vampire #2. While it's obviously Alburquerque in both Scott Snyder and Stephen King's respective stories, he manages to completely change the tone of his work, and the overall comic, between the two. It's a rare skill, and it shows that Vertigo was willing to try something a little different with American Vampire. Most publishers would've just gotten two artists to do the book. So though Vampires are as inescapable in fiction today as Zombies, when done right, they're still worth reading about. The best horror stories usually do have some sense of social commentary, and American Vampire is no different. Both writers choose to draw parallels between the familiarly fanged undead and the all-too-human capitalist bloodsuckers of industry, entertainment, and land. This comic moralizes from a pool of blood, like an all-vampire episode of Tales from The Crypt.