Special news first, though - Amber Benson (Tara from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, actor and director and writer and all-around gorgeous person) visited my local comic shop Kings Comics a couple of weeks ago to sign copies of her new book Death's Daughter. It drew quite a crowd (Amber signed my 'Once More With Feeling' Tara bust, yay!) but luckily she brought a lot of copies, and there were a few left over - so she signed them and left them with Kings, who are now offering them for sale on their website (or in store, if you're local). It's a great book - I finished reading it a few days ago, and if you imagine what would've happened if JK Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, had thought 'Sex in the City' and/or 'Bridget Jones' rather than 'Tom Brown's Schooldays', you're kind of on the right track, and it's full of sly humour and gifted characterisation - so check out the Kings website to get your signed copy (they ship internationally), or if they've run out, get a regular copy from Amazon.
Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #55 ~ Already reviewed here; this is just the special 9th Anniversary cover, which finally arrived. Normally I'm not big on extra covers, especially if they're more expensive than the usual ones, but I have a weak spot for Tarot anyway (you'll have noticed I routinely get both regular covers of each issue), and this one's signed by both Jim Balent and Holly G, who's modelling for Tarot there, and looking damn fine if I may say so.
Ythaq: No Escape #1 ~ I'm not sure what happened to issue #3 of the first series - it appeared on the Diamond list a few weeks ago but my comic shop never got any. Fortunately there's a pretty comprehensive recap of the whole first series at the start of this second one, but I'm still hoping to find #3 somewhere. Anyway, on to the present. With the initial adventures of Granite's band of survivors done with and them sort-of-kind-of keeping their heads above water, we now skip back a bit to find out what happened to the rest of the Comet's Mist after their section broke off during the crash. The remainder of the ship also crash-landed, and the survivors have made the best of their situation, which is tense to say the least - they've made tentative allies, but there's also a local warlord prowling around who wants the crashed ship for himself, so the survivors find themselves under siege. As we're brought up to the present Granite and Navarth and Callista et al rejoin the tale, still searching for a way off Ythaq and running into further hints of the mysterious purpose of the planet and its plethora of shipwrecks. As always high adventure and fast-paced thrills and spills abound, and as it moves into its second 'phase', Ythaq remains a superb example of adventure comics.
All New Savage She-Hulk #1 ~ If you're a regular reader you'll know I wasn't pleased to discover She-Hulk had been cancelled. Not pleased at all. Still, I'm doing my best not to resent this follow-up, since it does feature a new character I was kind of interested in when she made her debut in a couple of the recentish Hulk specials, and after all it's not this comic's fault that its predecessor predeceased. It's a good story for the most part, with Lyra - the daughter of the Hulk and Thundra from an alternate Earth - travelling to our world in search of somethingorother that'll help out her people, who with separation of the sexes completely enforced back home are reliant on artificial reproduction technology, which is suddenly not working and needs to be fixed. There's some humour to be had in the interactions between Lyra and Boudicca, her bracelet/supercomputer (which has more than a touch of Booster Gold's Skeets to it), but overall it's a straight-forward superhero adventure kind of thing, with Lyra on a mission and the various denizens of our world getting in her way, since neither side seems really interested in explaining itself to the other. It's entertaining, and the art's capable work - but it just can't escape she shadow of She-Hulk, and without Peter David's masterful scripting, this'll always feel second-best. (I'll still buy it, though - second-best to Peter David is nothing to sneer at.)
Banzai Girls Annual ~ This was one of my random impulse picks from Previews back when it was solicited, and, well, it's not one I'll be repeating. Don't get me wrong, the comic is decent - although nothing remarkable - with attractive cartoony schoolgirls (in skimpy uniforms no less) dealing with some monstrous but ultimately kind of cutesy goings-on in a remote forest. But there's only eight pages of comic in this, with the rest being a couple of intro and letter text pages, some art pages, and 22 pages of creator Jinky Coronado and her sister Michelle posing in bikinis and various other revealing outfits. Now this may sound harsh, and believe me they're attractive women and lovely in person I'm sure, but they're not supermodels - the internet's full of attractive women wearing bikinis (or not bothering with the bikinis, even), so paying a cover price of US$7 for a photo shoot accompanied by a pretty minor amount of comic... it just doesn't make sense. If you're a huge Jinky Coronado fan, sure, that's a different story, but for me it's just not value for money.
Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising #4 ~ Sam's plan to... uh, do whatever it she's planning to do, goes into effect. Really, that's the only weakness of this issue - maybe I didn't read the earlier ones closely enough (though I like to think I was paying sufficient attention), but I'm vague on exactly what she's doing, and what the circumstances are in which it'll help; in a movie or TV show, it's something that really would have benefitted from being explained with a little holographic representation of the plan in action beforehand, so we know what the playing field looks like and can recognise how the pieces are supposed to be moving. That confusion aside - it's basically just a matter of putting it out of your mind and going with the flow - this is another strong issue, with capable war-story action as Sam's team infiltrate the enemy base to carry out their sabotage, which goes well up to a point until things start falling apart, and it's action a-plenty from there on. Later on there's some new interesting material, when allies turn up and the social issues of engineered vs natural humans rears its head again, while on the other side of the war there's some fun political backstabbing going on in the Marine officer ranks. The art continues to be very powerful and moody, but a bit difficult to read cleanly at times - the payoff, though, is things like the early double-page spread of action in space, where I literally turned the page and said "Holy shit!" out loud; it's not always 100% clear, but whatever it is, it looks spectacular.
Soulfire: Shadow Magic #5 ~ This issue concludes the story, with pretty much everything having already gone wrong for the good guys, and Grace finally deciding enough is enough and, regardless of the cost, setting out to bring an end to the destruction by tackling it at its source. The actual action of this issue is kind of low-key, for all that it's rendered in big and spectacular artwork - it's not really about the big fight, it's about the aftermath of the war, and the remaining characters coping with it as best they can, since this was a nasty, bloody conflict that most of them didn't live through. There's not really a lot more to it, without spoiling things I'd rather not - as a whole, this has been an interesting combination of high fantasy (it's basically about fairies and dragons) with more realistic military and political drama, and if that sounds appealing, I think it'll read well as a trade paperback. As for future Soulfire stories, though, I don't know - I liked this, but I'm happy with how it ended, and not really drawn to see anything more.
Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade #5 ~ This issue contains: two Supergirls (due to time travel), Evil Supergirl semi-turning into Bizarro and mind-controlling people, Lena donning her adorable Luthor battlesuit and also mind-controlling people, Streaky the genius cat muddling things up, and a flying horse. It's craziness, and a whole lot of fun - I don't really know what else to say. All-ages cute-and-engaging fun like this doesn't just happen, it takes genuine talent, so kudos to the creators for getting the mix of storytelling and weirdness right, and the art is really starting to grow on me, despite retaining the over-cartooniness that I wasn't sure I liked earlier on.
Masquerade #2 ~ There are some interesting themes in this - postwar superheroes, the main character's path to becoming a hero (told in flashback), the contrast between those people who can put away their mask and those for whom it's an essential part of them (perhaps too much so) - but overall, I have to confess I'm not really gripped by it. I mean, I call her "the main character" because I can't actually remember if 'Masquerade' is her hero name, or just the name of the book, and I had to check just now to see that her real name is Diana. When I flip back through the issue I remember reading it - but five minutes ago, having read this last week, I couldn't really have told you what happened. I suppose if this period in comics history is something you're already interested in, this would be a lot more involving, but for me, it's basically just a blonde in a really silly costume (the postwar one, not the one on the cover) moping about feeling purposeless. She doesn't even do anything particularly clever this week (aside from improbably jump off a fire escape in flashback, which should've broken both her legs at the very least - if she's not supposed to have powers, that's just sloppy storytelling), although her ability to intuitively make connections by zoning out into a trance is referred to again, and may be building towards something for future issues. I don't know if I'll stick around for it, though - I'm feeling a bit like, if I miss the next issue, it won't bother me, and that's generally the cue for me to find something that does grab me firmly to spend my money on instead.
Action Comics #876 ~ Perhaps inevitably after the previous issue dumping a big load of setup on us, this one feels a little lightweight - you can kind of sum up 90% of it just by saying "Ursa is a freaking psycho," although to be fair, her psychoness is very well written, and goes through credible-seeming ups and downs as the tide of battle ebbs and flows, and Nightwing and Flamebird react to her in various ways. But basically that's it for the most part - she's crazy, she beats the hell out of the heroes, but they manage to escape to fight another day. It's just your classic early setback, to establish how kick-ass the villain is so his or her eventual defeat has weight - but like I said, it's well done, and the art is quite strong throughout, very much in the conventional modern American comic book styke, but a pretty good example of it. At no extra cost, which is nice (Marvel take note) there's also a seven-page preview of the upcoming Power Girl; good Amanda Conner art (though there's an odd near-complete lack of visual follow-through on something the script alleges to be happening), but the writing, while not bad as such, doesn't immediately grab me.
The Living Corpse Annual guest-starring Hack/Slash ~ This is your typical crossover, really - a cheerful one-shot adventure not tied too closely into the ongoing title's present continuity, but just having a bit of fun with the characters of Hack/Slash and Living Corpse (who is essentially a heroic zombie) meeting up, mistakenly getting into a brawl for tradition's sake, then joining forces against an actual foe. So far as Hack/Slash goes it's a bit lightweight - as a one-shot, there are naturally none of the usual running character subplots, and Cassie and Vlad are operating in their 'status quo' state, rather than there being anything drawn specifically from their current relationship. But Vlad kicks ass (and executes a hilarious coup de grace in the bit battle at the end), Cassie's all hot in her miniskirts and smashing monsters with her baseball bat, and a good time is had by all. The art style is engaging, but cartoony by comparison to regular Hack/Slash - in fact, overall if you want an idea of what H/S would be like if it were a cartoon, this is kind of it.
Farscape: Strange Detractors #1 ~ Following on from the end of the first Farscape comic, here the crew of Moya (minus Rygel, who's now back ruling the Hynerian Empire) stop off at a Commerce Planet for some shopping, coincidentally at the same time as another crew of miscellaneous ne'er-do-wells is around, inadvertently bringing with them what looks to be some kind of contagious aggression that has everyone arguing at the merest provocation - not that the Moya crew ever needed much of an excuse to have a row. The plot is straight-forward, but in being so it leaves a lot of room for character drama without continually railroading said characters into the adventure - thus far no-one's really realised the danger of the virus (or whatever it is), so it's kind of day-in-the-life material, with the addition of the newcomers (a kind of ersatz Moya crew, a bunch of eccentric rogues who are sketched out in sufficient detail to be entertaining) and a brilliant opening sequence of Crichton dreaming his life as a black and white 50s sitcom, complete with canned laughter and everything. The art - Will Sliney, with Zac Atkinson on colours - is a new style, more minimalist and expressive than the previous mini's more traditional work, and I think it's a really strong portrayal of the main characters, with their faces and natures coming across very strongly; the only downside is that it could use a lot more background detail, many of the scenes seem unusually sparse, which is something the TV show usually managed to avoid in one way or another. Still, good work, and the continuation of Farscape in comic form remains convincing.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars #5 ~ This issue is actually pretty good, doing what the CGI Clone Wars TV series does best: tell a story for the kids, but make it sophisticated enough that it's not boring for adults (kids are smarter than most kids writers think, so they can handle that kind of story). Here the interesting slightly-mature elements are twofold: firstly, Anakin's relationship with the slaver queen, who manages to be evil but also seem human now and then - an uncommon mix for younger-audience stories - and secondly, her approach to securing Obi-Wan's submission to being enslaved, which is genuinely mature in its concept, although obviously it's handled in an adventure-story kind of way that'll be palateable to kids. The art remains a bit more cartoony than I'd like, distorting the faces compared to their CGI models - and they're not hugely complex faces, so it's not like a comic based on a live-action show, where simplification is necessary - but it's nevertheless up to the task. What holds this issue back, essentially, is the four previous ones - if they'd all been this good this would be a cracking miniseries, but as it is this sudden burst of quality isn't matched by the pacing or storytelling of its prior issues, so it's difficult to consider the comic as a whole really good in spite of this one issue. Still, if the concluding issue matches this one, it'll wrap up the story on a high.