Thinking About … Digital Comics

One thing I don’t think I’ve really spoken of on here are digital comics. It’s a big issue in the industry right now, and though I’m not the first, I do have some thoughts. And with this week’s release of Avengers vs. X-Men #1, and its new Infinite Comics and AR (augmented reality) bonuses, it’s the best time to do so.

Reading on the iPad/iPhone

When I got my iPad, one of the first apps I downloaded was the Marvel app. To this day, I’ll download anything that Marvel puts up for free. My copy of X-Men Season One and a few single issues since have come with a free download code, which I have taken/will take advantage of. And I’ve bought an issue both times they’ve offered a coupon for my local shop with a purchase. So I’ve ended up with a few of the Point One issues, some older #1s. Stuff like that. Jumping on points. But it’s rare that I actually care about these books. They’re just something to read when I’m stuck somewhere and bored: crappy opening band, waiting rooms, whatever.

It’s been talked up and down – reading made-for-print comics on a phone doesn’t work. There are certain storytelling tricks used in print, like differing panel sizes to emphasize important moments, especially the full-page or two-page splash, that become worthless when each panel is expanded or shrunk to fit the screen. The zoom can make smaller panels easier to view, but the impact of larger ones is diminished. Another problem is how panels are oriented. I was reading Dark Avengers #1 the other day. Mike Deodato’s panels were rarely uniform. Vertical panels as big as the page, panels curving across the page in sequence. I remember enjoying this issue a few years ago when I read it in print, but this time I was forced to flip my phone again and again, just to properly read the story.

It doesn’t work. And that’s OK. Says the comic, “I just wasn’t made for these times.”

One benefit of reading a digital copy is you don’t know how much comic is left. When flipping though a physical issue, you can feel that you’ve got two pages left. Your brain prepares you for a conclusion. If it’s a book that showcases upcoming covers or has a letters page, you do the math even sooner. This just brings you out of the story. You’re too busy thinking about the act of reading, the object you’re holding, to lose yourself in the narrative. But when going one panel at a time, you could have one panel or one hundred. Like watching TV on DVD, or a show on HBO, you never know when it might end. This episode of The Wire could be 52 minutes. Could be 64. You don’t know until the credits roll. It allows for more surprises.

Infinite Comics

When Mark Waid announced that he was thinking about how comics should work in this new medium, and was working with the Deviant Artist Balak01, I was very excited. I can’t remember how, but years ago, I was linked to Balak’s DA page. I’ve had it bookmarked ever since, as an example of someone thinking ahead of the rest of the industry. He was thinking about how this medium is different – the pacing of a user’s clicks, how to take advantage or (the presumed setback) of the locked screen size. But my first reading of Waid and Immonen’s new Nova story was a disappointment. Then I realized my setting were off. Yes, use the setting that Marvel suggests on the introductory page, but also make sure that you are set on panel, and not page, view.

Settings fixed, I tapped back into the story. Wow. This is what I’m looking for! I control pacing. The new tricks, like characters in the foreground moving across a static background, or a rack focus, help tell the story. Waid and Immonen aren’t limited to reveals on page turns. They can change scenes or locations at any time. And it’s made to fit the screen! The impact of panel sizes and splashes is back, baby! The story itself is pretty basic, but with these first steps, it truly feels like a new experience.

Check out this extract.

Marvel Infinite Comics - NovaA nervous Nova enters the sky above New York. Tap.

Marvel Infinite Comics - NovaIn not quite a new panel, but an evolution of that first panel, he crashes into a building. The panel gets bigger, the story progresses. Tap.

Marvel Infinite Comics - NovaAnd into another building. Another tap, another expansion, another evolution. It’s progression. It’s storytelling. It’s that suggested motion usually imagined in the gutter. Unlike cartoons or motion comics, there’s a sequence that you control the timing of.

We’re lucky that Marvel is throwing this in with purchase of Avengers vs. X-Men #1. That should get a lot of eyes on this, pushing for more advancement. But it’s also available as a stand-alone for 99¢. I’d gladly pay that for more of this.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality. In the advertising industry, these words have been thrown around for years because of their possibilities. They represent enhancements possible for ads, business cards, magazines, anything that you can shoot with a webcam or camera phone. But in my experience, no one had it quite right. AR was always clunky, buggy, or plain useless. Well, let me tell you, Marvel doesn’t have it quite right either.

Big credit to Marvel for the idea. They are really bringing something new to the table. Process animations (pencils, inks, colors). Character bios. Creator commentary. Simply put, this is added value. You want to encourage people to go to their local shop, instead of buying a glorified PDF? This is a good start. Retailers must love it.

But the execution? Whomp whomp. In order to activate the AR features, you hold up your Marvel AR App-enabled tablet or smartphone to certain panels, indicated with a AR icon. This has logistical problems. It’s hard to hold the comic open and position a camera at the same time. For reference, I was using my iPhone, but I’d really suggest something with a bigger screen. Of course, that’s even more unwieldy, but full-screen character bios are close to impossible to read on a four-inch screen.

As a Wednesday warrior, I’m not the target audience for the character bios. But if I was, they’d be a big help. Rather than send someone off to Wikipedia to learn Hope’s story, keep them engaged with the comic. And you can protect them from spoilers. I do think these would be better suited to the recap page though. They could even carry across all Marvel’s books. Imagine a code for, Iceman for example, on the recap page of every book he’s in. And another for the Vision. Another for Strong Guy. And these bio could easily be updated regularly on Marvel’s end. New reader? Don’t recognize one of these 30+ characters? Beep boop. Bio! Here’s their powers. Here’s their origin. Here are some stories you can read about them – sending them back to their comic shop.

The process animations are also a nice bonus. I like seeing how much impact the inking has. How much impact the color has. If something changed from layout to pencils, as happened pretty drastically in one place here. As AR though, they are too clunky. How about a activate the AR, then tap once to drop to pencils, tap again to add inks, and again for colors. Allow the reader more control.

Two last comments. 1) I still don’t know if I needed to focus on one panel or an entire page to start the AR. 2) If you start an AR function, and your hand twitches, your camera may lose focus and you have to start the clip over. It’s a drag.

Inna final analysis, Marvel’s new digital initiatives don’t score a perfect 10, but they are a perfect start.

The Shopping List 4-27-11

Blog fatigue is very real. Regardless of any deadlines or restrictions you give yourself, sometimes you just don’t want to write. It can make comics feel like a chore rather than an exciting hobby. It’s like going to practice instead of playing a real basketball game. Sometimes you just have to spice things up.
With that in mind, AN EXPERIMENT! Live reviews! So, as I read each of the comics I bought this week, I’ll give you my thoughts. Let’s see how this goes. I hope this are easy to follow, even for those of you who haven’t read the books. But it’d probably be better if you can read along. It’d be like a DVD commentary. Except on comics. And you’re reading. And I had nothing to do with the creation of the book. But it’s like that.

Avengers #12.1Avengers #12.1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Bryan Hitch ****

Recap page – Hitch’s version of Wolverine’s mask makes him look like a bird. An angry bird. However, I love that you can see a hint of Spider-Woman’s eyes beneath her mask.

Page 6 – “There are 32 alien races living here on planet earth.” – Agent Brand. Does that sound low to anyone else? I see Hitch never got the memo that Beast looks like a cat these days.

Page 9 – We’re lucky that Hitch gets all this leeway to stretch scripts out. If he was actually restricted to the 22 pages other artists are, we’d miss out on great splash pages like this.

Page 11 – Is anyone against those little logos/descriptions some writers use to introduce characters? They’re more graceful than shoving a character’s name in the dialogue. “Something not from earth, Moon Knight,” “We have to hope for the best, Protector.” I’ll admit I didn’t know that was Moon Knight at first glance, but help yourself out. Plus, those intro boxes are pure comic book. There’s a reason Edgar Wright carried them over into “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.”

Page 13 – More clunky names.

Page 14 – The what? Spaceknight? Bendis seems to be going back into and old toybox on this one.

Page 18 – Villains are great. Even the smartest ones forget that Tony Stark is just as smart as they are.

Page 23-24 – Ultron? Sick. Can we get some Hank Pym up in here? Hitch gets a bit weird on his right thigh, but big credit to colorist Paul Mounts on bringing a lot of energy to this spread.

Page 25-26 – Good old Thor. Got a problem? Hit it with a hammer. Nice moment there.

Page 27-28 – Uh … if there was that much destruction, and we see A LOT, you’d have some dead bodies on your hands.

Overall – This was a really exciting issue. This is the kind of thing that can launch an event. The Age of Ultron may be contained within the Avengers title, but it should be big enough to have been an event. This is the best Hitch has looked in years. I wasn’t big on his Fantastic Four or his Captain America: Reborn work, but this is great. I would like to see some more vibrant colors though. A lot of the backgrounds and even characters are very washed out. Art this detailed still needs some pop. Either way, this is a successful .1 issue, but any goodwill from it may be wasted in the months until this storyline continues.

Captain America #617Captain America #617 by Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice, Mike Deodato, and Chris Samnee *****

Page 1-2 – Nazis are a really easy villain. No one cares if you kill a Nazi. Same with robots. Or some aliens (just as the Skrulls). But what about bears? Is this cool or is this animal cruelty?

Page 6 – These little tiny panels at the top? That’s some We3 shit right there. This is a 24 panel page, but reads so easy. I dig it.

Page 8 – Niko? Nick Fury? Or did I miss a character named Niko?

Page 9 – Nope. Not Fury.

Page 10 – Butch Guide is doing some real great design work here. Tiny moments, tiny panels. Events overlapping. I’d say it’s cinemetic, but really, it’s comics.

Page 18 – I knew there was a Steve Rogers feature starting soon, but I didn’t expect Black Widow. Sweet.

Page 20 – I like the style Deodato’s trying out here. It’s still got the shadows he’s known for, but his characters are much less chiseled, so it looks more fluid. Good to see he’s still not afraid to take a weird angle to tell the story, like in the shot directly above the desk.

Page 24 – Oh, Chris Samnee. You’re great.

Page 26 – A few pages back, Natasha got Steve on the phone. Now we see his side of the conversation. Nice job tying the stories together, Bru.

Page 30 – Damn, I’m really going to be sad when Steve gives up his Super-Solider outfit. That thing’s great.

Captain America has been a consistently good book since Ed Brubaker’s run started. But with each month expanding to 30 pages of his story and the storylines getting bigger and better in anticipation of the movie, there couldn’t be a better time to be a Cap fan.

Also, I just looked up Ursa Major, the bear from pages 1-2. I guess he’s a mutant that can shapeshift to a bear. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Detective Comics #876Detective Comics #876 by Scott Snyder and Jock ****

Cover – Yeah, I’ll start early on this one. I love it. It may not stand out on the shelf, but how many covers have the reader inside the mouth of a damn sea beast? The benday dot coloring is great too.

Pages 2-3 – They set me up to think a bomb was going to go off on this page turn. They got me. I expect kablam, I get Shamu. A check out the way Jock plays with perspective. Try to find a perpendicular line.

Page 6 – Uh … Dick? Should you really be cutting that dead whale open? What expertise do you have in marine biology?

Page 7 – Dialogue is a weird thing. You want it to sound authentic, but you often need to clue your readers in on information that may not naturally come out in conversation. Writers try their best to fit it in, and  Scott Snyder usually does. But here, Commish is just a bit dramatic. “As in Anthony ‘Fats’ Zucco” DUN DUN DUN “The man who killed your parents.”

Page 10 – Eww. Another reason to hate whales.

Page 11 – Excellent page. I won’t even try to explain. Just check it out.

Page 12 – Right here, in the narration, Dick says Zucco killed his parents. If it was going to be said in the issue already, there was no need to jam it in the dialogue a few pages back.

I didn’t have too much say about this issue, but that’s not a bad thing. Scott Snyder is giving readers a great Batman story and his artists have been giving it their all. Even if you’ve been jaded by too many mediocre Batman stories in the past, check this out. Who knows when Detective Comics will be this good again.

Flash #11Flash #11 by Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul **

Page 1 – Oh no. Scott Kolins art. It’s not Kolins’ fault. He’s great, especially on Flash. It’s the coloring. When this style is laid upon Manapul’s art, it looks classic. Here, characters look plastic and lifeless. Not to mention it’s a lot darker than it needs to be, which could always be a printing problem. Working in advertising, I understand that 100%.

Page 6 – Pages like this are why I respect Kolins. Look at the details in the apartment – the rug, the pillows, the junk on the table behind Iris. But, why does everyone look squinty here (except Bart who looks ready to punch Barry in the face)? Speaking of Bart, he looks too much like the witness kid from the beginning of the issue. Both young redheads, and the kid is wearing yellow and red, Kid Flash colors.

Page 8 – I’m not sure if Johns is writing Bart as too self-centered or just whiny. “Barry didn’t come to the picnic because of me!” Wah wah.

Page 10 – Writer, artist, colorists, editors – This just doesn’t seem to be anyone’s issue. If Wally’s talking about being a kid, shouldn’t he be in his Kid Flash uniform? Back then, did they EVER wear red outfits at the same time? And Wally’s line “… I didn’t hope Barry Allen was the Flash — I hoped the Flash was Barry Allen” That’s more than a little melodramatic.

Page 15 – I hate when people in comics talk to themselves. Give them an internal monologue. Better yet, give them someone to talk to.

Page 20 – Well, I was right about the colors of the kid’s clothes. Just looking the wrong direction.

Not a bad issue, not really. But it’s flaws are so clear – overly sentimental writing and art that’s trying to clone what’s been done before, but with different ingredients. I’m still not sure how this will really connect to FlashPoint, but with one issue to go, who’s really going to stop reading now?

Morning Glories #9Morning Glories #9 by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma ***

Page 2 – I will now welcome guests at my house with “Die alien scum!!!”

Page 11 – “I was warned you might be brainwashed.” Does Jun have someone on the inside?

Page 13 – All this birthtime stuff confuses me. Hisao was born second, at 23:59. That would mean they were both born on May 4, same as all the other students at Morning Glory Academy. So … what’s the problem with Jun?

Page 19 – Uh … so … we’ve haven’t been following Jun all this time? Why doesn’t Jun know who he is?

Page 26 – Wow, I never would have realized there were extra pages in this issue. ANYWAY, wasn’t Abraham the guy that discovered Zoe? Could he be the inside man?

There isn’t any real progress in this issue, but there’s some backstory that has already been proven important. That and a couple of twists and you’ve got a basic issue of Morning Glories. Next month: Jade. At C2E2, I told Nick Spencer that she was my favorite. It sounds like I’m the only one. Red-headed emo girls? Sign me up!

Spider-Girl #6Spider-Girl #6 by Paul Tobin and Clayton Henry ***

Recap page – I like that the frame of this page is an iPad. Seeing where the recap is made up of @The_Spider-Girl‘s tweets, it’s a nice tie in. It also doesn’t hurt that I love my iPad.

Page 1 – We’re back to Clayton Henry’s art. Now that the darker story is over, the darker art is as well. Nice.

Page 4 – Pop culture references … I appreciate it now, but will anyone know what Community was in 10 years? 5 years?
Henry’s art has clearer emotions than Southworth’s. That’s a good thing.

Page 8 – The real inciting incident for this series has been the death of Anya’s father. Since then, the Fantastic Four has lost someone as well. She goes to hang out with them, but we’re not going to comment on this?

Page 9 – I may have dropped Amazing Spider-Man from my subscription list, but it is nice to see the books tying together in regards to Phil’s crush on Norah.

Page 14 – Henry throws in a nice easter egg. “D-Man: Turn Off the Trash” I like it. Does the fact I like that conflict with my ambivalence on the Community reference?

Page 16 – It’s sad that Spidey shows little faith in Spider-Girl.

Page 21 – Faith which she totally deserves. There’s a narrative leap here. Hobgoblin is knocked out, but 4 panels later, escapes. It couldn’t have been thirty seconds. Spider-Man’s watching the whole time. We never see him even get up or get untied. Throw us a bone here. Focus on storytelling.

Page 22 – Spider-Man’s been more or less encouraging of Anya in the past, yet he criticizes her again, despite the fact that she’s now defeated numerous foes. This selective support doesn’t play well with me.

With its impending cancellation, Spider-Girl has some exciting ground to cover in the next couple months. If you’ve been reading up until this point, there’s no reason to stop now.

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So what do you think about live reviews? Interesting? Failure? An interesting failure? Let me know. Maybe I’ll do this again sometime.

The Shopping List 3-30-11

After last week’s list of dull and disappointing books, March ends with a a well-balanced, enjoyable stack of comics. Some were better than others, but there wasn’t a true stinker in the bunch.

Spider-Girl's Here

Well, I did. Buy good books. Don’t buy bad books. Is that too much to ask?

Detective Comics #875Detective Comics #875 by Scott Snyder and Francesco Francavilla *****

All my favorite Batman stories are really Jim Gordon stories. Year One? Sure, it’s an origin, but Jim changes as much over that year as Bruce. The Killing Joke? Batman is the same guy at the end of the story that he is at the beginning; he plays Nick Carraway to the Commissioner’s Gatsby. We never even seen Bruce Wayne. I say all this because Detective Comics #875 is another great Batman story that’s about James Gordon, not Batman.

The issue gives us a look back at James Gordon Jr.’s childhood. It seems Jim has always been a bit weary of his son. The question is whether his fear is warranted or not. James Jr. has no problem admitting he’s a sociopath, but we haven’t seen him do anything wrong. It’s a testament to Francavilla and especially Scott Snyder that we fear this kid just because of his appearance and demeanor, not his acts.

Snyder spins a nice mystery told in two decades and wraps the whole thing up in 20 pages. This guy is new to the comics game, but he’s showing true skill here. Francavilla certainly pulls his weight too. From the moodiest colors I’ve seen since Laura Martin on Astonishing X-Men (remember the red hues right before Kitty found Colossus?) to two killer two-page spreads, he’s a revelation.

Since Scott Snyder came on, Detective Comics has simply great stories. Get in while it’s still early.

Captain America #616Captain America #616 by Ed Brubaker, Cullen Bunn, Frank Tieri, Howard Chaykin, Mike Benson, Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel, Travis Charest, Ed McGuinness, Jason Latour, Paul Azaceta, Mike Deodato, Paul Grist, and Pepe Larraz ****

This issue, commemorating Cap’s 70th Anniversary, has 104 all-new pages from over a dozen modern and classic creators. 104 pages, only eight of ads. Five dollars may be more than you’re used to, but that’s the content of over three regular issues of Cap for only a dollar more.

The two Brubaker stories, one following Bucky (illustrated by Mike Deodato) and one following Steve Rogers (Ed McGuinness) are far and away the best of the book. Some critics have asked if we need an arc of Bucky in jail when we just got one, but that arc didn’t have his fighting a Communist bear, did it? The concept is the same, but a Russian gulag is a very different situation than an American prison. In the second lead feature, Ed McGuinness enters into contention as my favorite superhero artist … I dunno … ever? Big action. Big emotions. Steve looks like a mountain of muscle. It’s just so pure that no one can touch him.

The rest of the stories, like any anthology, are a mixed bag. Howard Chaykin tells a nice story, but his art is marred by modern coloring. The over-rendered faces make his people look puffy action figures. Frank Tieri’s story relies too much on a very foreseeable twist ending and ends up saying nothing at all. Jason Latour does his best José Luis García-López impression, adding a well-appreciated bleak feel to Cullen Bunn’s story. The remaining two stories are golden age tales, one wacky, one in the midst of WWII. They’re throwaways, sure, but some will enjoy cameos by the likes of Baron Blood and Union Jack.

I may sound a lot down on the non-Brubaker tales, but every Captain America fan will find something to like in here. Give it a chance. You won’t regret it.

Spider-Gril #5Spider-Girl #5 by Paul Tobin, Matthew Southworth, and Sergio Cariello ****

When creating a sidekick or spin-off hero, it’s too easy to have them confront their hero’s adversaries. Robin fighting Two-Face. The Young Avengers facing Kang the Conqueror. Luckily, Spider-Girl tweaks that convention. As the teenage female version of Spider-Man, Anya Corazon has become a rival to Ana Kravinoff, the young daughter of Kraven the Hunter.

It isn’t a surprise that Ana is the better fighter, but you don’t get a spider costume by being foolish. Knowing she’s at a physical disadvantage, Spider-Girl uses her environment and resources to win the day.

With a lot of ground to cover before wrapping the series up with issue #8, writer Paul Tobin also starts to bring together some of the threads he’s introduced thus far. After months of teases, we get some answers regarding Anya’s sketchy neighbor and Raven, the mysterious group somehow involved with the death of Anya’s father.

Artist Matthew Southworth stumbled on the out-of-costume sequences in last month’s issue. His inky, shadowy art was great for action scenes, but when Anya was with her friends, it was out of place. This month, he’s assisted by Sergio Cariello. Cariello has a more open style, allowing large fields of color, setting his sequences apart from Southworth’s. And since the artists split the issue by scenes, the transitions are never jarring.

With only three issues left before the title is cancelled, I can’t recommend jumping on now, but when the trade comes out, it’d be worth putting on your shelf.

Amazing Spider-Man #657Amazing Spider-Man #657 by Dan Slott, Marcos Martin, Ty Templeton, Nuno Plati, and Stefano Caselli ***

Much like this month’s issue of Captain America, issue #657 is an anthology in all but name. Here, the remaining members of the Fantastic Four each relate a story of Peter and Johnny Storm’s adventures as superheroes and as friends. Also like Cap, it’s a mixed bag.

The Martin sequence is just connective tissue between the stories. There’s no heavy lifting, but he successfully navigates the sadness these characters are feeling.

Slott writes Ty Templeton a prank war between Spidey and the Torch. Before this book, I’ve never seen Templeton’s art. It’s super simple, but super bold. It’s sort of silver age on crack. If this is what the I’m With Stupid miniseries is like, I’ve got to track that down.

Nuno Plati illsutrates the time Sue Storm got arrested for indecent exposure. It’s not as sexy as that may sound, but it does allow Slott to reverse the motherly role that Sue plays on the team. Also, seeing Johnny and Peter able to lecture someone is great. With its thin lines and pale colors, Plati has the most stylized art in the book. It’s not for everyone, but more importantly, it’s not the right fit for the story. It’s too serious, especially because of the color palate I mentioned.

The final story lets Johnny save the day for once. The Human Torch is probably the weakest member of the FF, but here he’s able to show up the big brains on Reed and Peter. Nice idea, but it’s the weakest of the trio. It just doesn’t have much to it other than “Hey! Johnny’s OK too!” Stefano Caselli however, looks great. I was underwhelmed with his art on the “Spider-Slayer” arc, but here, he’s back. I can’t put a finger on it, but he’s back to the days of Avengers: Initiative. Maybe the coloring? Who knows. Maybe it’s just a more exciting story.

These 30 pages feature four artists. Each has a radically different styles, but no one comes off as the runt. Pair that with a triad of cute, if too light stories and you’ve got a winner. A character question: why does Peterkeep his mask on in the flashbacks? The middle one, where they actually fight criminals, OK, but in space? In space, no one can learn you identity. And camping? Why is anyone in costume? That’s tipping your hand a bit far. They could have just been some friends in the woods. Now they’re clearly heroes in the woods. Just saying.

Ultimate X #4Ultimate X #4 by Jeph Loeb and Art Adams ****

The third issue of Ultimate X came out on June 16, 2010. Since then, writer Jeph Loeb was named Executive V.P. of Television and artist Art Adams and his wife had their first child. Adams has claimed full responsibility for the delay, but it’s hard to fault him for focusing on his family. All that said, I’m surprised at how much I didn’t feel lost starting this story.

Like previous issues, #4 mostly stands on its own. Liz Allen hasn’t been seen thus far in the series, so readers have nothing to reread to get acclimated. At first, the book seems like the high school drama we’ve seen before, but there’s a twist because Liz is, you know, Firestar.

What will surprise readers is that this isn’t a superhero book. It’s a book about how young people are affected by their abilities. It’s more fantastic than a series like Demo, but it doesn’t rely on villains and violence. People complain about Jeph Loeb because of books like Ultimatum and Hulk, but this proves he has a variety of voices.

Adams’ art certainly isn’t rushed. Once a book is this late, there’s no excuse for the art to be lacking. And it’s not. Each line is precise. Character’s emotions ring true. Backgrounds are full of details. This seems like a real, lived-in world.

You may have to dig through some longboxes to catch up, but Ultimate X features two veteran creators telling a story unlike anything in your stack this week.

Zatanna #11Zatanna #11 by Paul Dini and Jamal Igle ***

Defining the boundaries of magic is always an obstacle course in superhero comics. Scarlet Witch can commit genocide with three words, but not poof Ultron out of existence? In order to offer some real conflict, the story needs certain spells to work and others not to work. The very climax of this issue, concluding the Oscar Hemepl/Stringleshanks story, relies on such a convenience. In case the audience didn’t understand how it works (which we didn’t), Dini says (through Zee) there’s “no point in going into why and wherefores now.” It’s weak. In comics slugfests, Spider-Man or whoever always needs to come up with some alternate plan or specifically summon up all their remaining energy and then some to KO their opponent. In a good story, it’s never as simple as one more punch. It’s not a bad ending, but it’s too convenient.

Also this month, Jamal Igle takes over art duties from Bells’ Kitchen favorite Cliff Chiang. Igle may not have the identifiable flair of Chiang, but he’s a talented artist in his own right.He’ll do just fine here.

Puppets are creepy. Marionettes. Socks. Hand. Creepy. Creepy. Creepy. The very idea of sticking your hand up someone’s ass and controlling them is creepy. And sexual harassment. You know it. I know it. Zatanna knows it. And now, thanks to Paul Dini and Jamal Igle, she’s has conquered her fear of puppets. “Pupaphobia” is a good story, but in this world of budgets and down economies, it’s not worth my three dollars a month. Sorry guys.

While I’m thinking of it, I have a confession to make. I hate letter columns. They’re either readers’ half-baked ideas on where the book should go or page upon page of ballwashing. Does anyone really enjoy knowing how much some jamoke in Wisconsin enjoys Superman? They never have any real criticism, just “I’ve never really liked the X-Men before, but WOW! Writer X made me a believer! Make mine Marvel! Excelsior!” Blech.