Batman And The Outsiders #2 -- Chuck Dixon throws everything in the blender and spits it back out as he pushes the new Outsiders team in his own direction. Lopez's pencils are nicely matched with an action story, and although there is a weird panel here and there, it's nothing distracting. The script has some abrupt bits -- Catwoman's departure makes sense, but Manhunter's, not so much -- and some weird continuity questions -- do Metamorpho and Katana not know that Bats is Bruce Wayne anymore, or are they playing dumb? -- but the action is good fun and the last page cliffhanger is nice, even if it pushes the title further into "Bat-Book" territory; I'm not overly happy with that as the strength of of the old series in my eyes was that it was not a "Bat-Book." But I'm keeping an open mind to see where things are headed.
Scream #1 -- I picked this up on a whim, mostly because I'm always trying to keep an eye out for new Horror comics if I can find them. This one, with words by Peter David and art breakdowns by Bart Sears (whoa... double 90s flashback) is a play of sorts on the Hulk archetype, with a small man, Danny Duncan, stuck in a meaningless job at the Post Office, returning to work after a stay at a sanitarium. The problem is, he doesn't exactly remember his time there, and weird things continue to happen around him. And where does the savage red monster who seems to show up whenever he is angry fit in? A pretty interesting concept, but overall I wasn't too terribly impressed. Sears' linework is great for the fantasy stuff, but here, rendering the real world, he is out of place. I might get the rest of this series, but right now I am on the fence.
What If? Annihilation -- What happens when last year's two biggest miniseries in the Marvel Universe collide? You get this one-shot, which details the chaos and terror of the Annihilation Wave unleashed on Earth. You know thigns are going to be good when Nova effectively points out how mind-boggling stupid the "Civil War" was in the span of about two panels. Mico Suayan's artwork is dark and harsh, which fits the story but is not pleasing to the eye. I am not sure if he uses the same style over on Moon Knight, but it's better suited to that character than the bright colors of the mainline Marvel crew. David Hine seems to have a real knack for the Watcher, who acts not only as the narrator but has a role in the story as well. In the end, obviously this What If? is just that -- a What If, a possible road which Marvel Editorial could have taken, and it has all of the expected carnage inherent when all bets are off. And yet, it's satisfying at the end, seeing Captain America and Iron Man side by side instead of at each other's throats when the chips are down. Fans of Annihilation will want this, but those happy with the current MU, or with CW in general should avoid this special.
Graveslinger #2 -- Frank Timmons is a strange man in a strange time. And here we learn just why things are as strange as they are, as we get the origin story and background information as to just why there are undead cowboys roaming the prarie and eating people. Cboins art remains obscure and hard to penetrate, but I like it on this title as it mixes the gruesome with the vast (and possibly desolate) in a nice manner. Denton and Mariotte's script, though, is interesting but uninvolving. It's a hard call, because it's partly because Timmons is not really a likeable guy, so hearing his story is not all that exciting for me. The next issue promises a little more action.
Captain America: The Chosen #3-4 -- The mystery of why Captain America is dying -- and why he is appearing to an American soldier in Afghanistan -- deepens here, as Corporal Newman tries to keep his wits and sanity about him in order to rescue the surviving members of his unit. Morrell doesn't seem like a first time comic book scribe. His work in the more pulpy literary fields serves him well as he retells Steve Roger's origin as well as detailing the events leading to his current "one foot in the grave" situation -- and handles it in a way that not only can I buy in a Marvel sense, but considering what we know about the military, I don't really doubt in the real world, either. Par for the course is Mitch Breitweiser, who's pages are super-detailed despite being covered in an inch of grime. While equal parts Cap and War Story, this tips a bit towards the latter, and becomes that much more interesting because of it.
Countdown to Mystery #3 -- The Doctor Fate lead story is a self-contained adventure entitled, humorously, "Self, Contained." When the new bearer of Fate's helmet visits an arcane shop, he is taken to another dimension (kinda), where he must survive the grim and strange world in order to achieve enlightenment from the King and Queen. Gerber and Justiano turn in what seems like a lot of mystical mumbo-jumbo at first, but, in a fairly subtle way ties back to Kent V. Nelson's background as well as to the current state of magic in the DCU. Overall a very enjoyable little "done in one." The backup opens with Jeanclipso attacking Jack Ryder, then quickly segues to Plastic Man going toe to toe with Batman. Its not clear what Jeanclipso is doing (though a team of Plastic Man and the Creeper would be hilarious if nothing else), nor what Spectre and Crispus Allen are doing, either. A very strange installment in what has been a strange back-up, but not nearly as bad as I would have predicted based on Jeanclipso being the star.
Heroes For Hire #15 -- With Humbug more bug than man, Coleen and Tarantula imprisoned and tortured, Paladin looking to collect, and the rest of the team in a general sort of "bad way," things do not look good for the HFH. And they get much, much worse. A depressing and distressing comic from start to finish, as the Heroes for Hire are dragged through the mud and left filthy in the inglorious send-off to the series. A complete downer, lacking any of the humor or ironic zaniness which was the hallmark of the title for it's all-too-brief run. It may have been doomed from the start, but like so many other Marvel titles I have read, it deserved a lot better. Supposedly there is more stuff coming for Misty Knight, but it's more World War Hulk nonsense which I won't be reading. Collectors of the series should buy this, but everyone else can and should leave it on the rack.
Flash #234 -- After all the doom and gloom of the What If? and HFH, I open the cover here and am immeditately blown away by the brightness. While Wally is out surveying the damage done to Central City, he discovers a new power connecting him with his kids. Meanwhile, his son Jai is shouldering some very bad news he was not supposed to know. Waid and Williams deliver a clean, solid superhero story, even with some of the heavier elements with Jai which are quite sad. But Waid's exploration of the superhero family is a lot of fun. Same goes for the backup by John Rogers and Doug... let me check... Braithwaite detailing Barry and Iris Allen visiting the alien world from last time. Of note is the return (of sorts) of the Flash Fact!
Futurama Comics #34 -- Welcome to "Planet Michelle!" When Fry discovers that in the 30th Century, he is not only rejected by women, but also by alients, mutants, and gender-confused robots, he seeks solace with a clone of his overbearing ex from the 20th Century, Michelle -- on a planet inhabited only by the two of them! Meanwhile Bender becomes a "date doctor" in order to swindle innocent losers out of as much money as he can. Futurama may have returned to TV screens, but as long as Bongo continues to create quality comics like this, I will support the printed version of the Woooooooorld of Tomorrow!
Iron Man Annual #1 -- Welcome to Madripoor, Mr. Stark! Christos Gage and Harvey Tolibao go all 007 (by way of Albert R. Broccoli moreso than Ian Fleming, but still!) in this 48-page Annual. Tony is joined by SHIELD Agents Senyaka, Jones, and Eaton -- all gorgeous and dangerous, natch -- as he infiltrates Madripoor in an effort to embolden the local resistance to Madame Hydra in order to cause her to be overthrown. The problem is, of course, is that Billionaire Playboy Tony Stark is still known to be Iron Man, and Madame Hydra has taken measures to protect what is hers. This is the kind of story I want to see out of an Annual: a one-off, one-shot story which can be read and enjoyed by regular readers, but can also be skipped if the price is too much or what-have-you. Tolibao's pencils are lush and evocative, and he seems equally adept at drawing technology as he does cheesecake (and beefcake -- there's a loving shot of Tony's undersheath-clad butt at one point) without looking awkward or lurid. Gage shows off more of his neo-Busiek stylings, and together everything just gels.
The Pick of the Pile is What If? I understand that this selection is motivated strongly by my enthusiasm for Annihilation and my lack thereof for what became of Civil War. I think this one-shot provides a little peek into what could have been, and in the end reminds us that whether you like what's going on right now or not, they're all just stories -- and subject to change at any time.