Shiny Shelf

The I-to-U of comics

By Mark Clapham on 11 February 2005

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

Regular Shiny Shelf readers may have noticed a shortage of material on the site since late 2004. This has been due to the usual round of computer problems, book deadlines, and holidays. Hopefully normal service will resume pretty soon, but to make up for the recent drought, here’s a random round-up of last week’s comics, in alphabetical order, to keep you going. What it lacks in depth (or punctuality), it hopefully makes up for in quantity. So here it is, a gift from I to you. (Sorry.)

The Intimates #4

I’m quite beginning to like Joe Casey and Giuseppe Camuncoli’s superhero teen-soap, so it’s a shame the book already looks like it’s on the slippery sludge slide to cancellation.

Unlike most teen superhero books, ‘The Intimates’ isn’t a team title, and they never do anything heroic – it’s a genuine superhero school, where all the kids have superpowers, but are kept away from any dangerous situations while they learn. By this stage the characters and world view are developing well, with a very convincing mood of adolescent angst and aching disappointment developing. This issue – Destra organises a school dance. It’s slow burning stuff, helped by the torrent of information and insights in those wacky little text scrolls at the bottom of the page. Casey is an oddly cold writer for this kind of book, but that slight distance just adds to the odd charm. Meanwhile, Camuncoli comes on like a more fluid Frank Quitely, and should be a talent to watch should this title meet a sad end.

Not amazing, but possibly a bit special.

Detective Comics #803

On a recent edition of Radio 4’s ‘Chain Reaction’ interview show, Alan Moore reiterated his view that ‘The Killing Joke’ was a bit of a mistake, and injecting real-world psychology and angst into an essentially silly kids character like Batman wasn’t quite the thing to do. David Lapham’s story for ‘Tec’, ‘City of Crime’, exhibits all the hallmarks of the movement Moore created and has come to regret: brutal, intense and far too grim for children, it’s nonetheless an enjoyably bleak take on Batman. While I can appreciate Moore’s position, and there’s a place for a more Silver Age cuddly uncle Batman, there’s a place for this kind of story, especially with a talent like Lapham on board. It’s a very typical contemporary Batman story, one that borders on noir cliche, but it’s involving and satisfying, with good art from Ramon Bachs and Nathan Massengill. It always feels disappointing when none of the Bat-titles are worth reading, so it’s good to get past all that ‘War Games’ stuff and get back to readable comics.

Marvel Team-Up #5

‘MTU’ continues to be a fun book. It even remains so when, as in this case, it’s lumbered with an ill-advised character like Wolverine-Girl… sorry, Wild Thing… sorry, [italics] X-23. Writer Robert Kirkman always throws in some good jokes, and with the odd blip (Peter Parker’s school colleague seems a bit oddly drawn) Scott Kolins’ art ties everything together. Old school Marvel, but at least fairly well done.

The New Avengers #3

In classic recent Marvel style, the cover features a generic character shot of a character who, in this instance, doesn’t even feature in the issue. The first two issues are now revealed to be a pre-title sequence of sorts, with this third instalment providing the kind of chatty, decompressed introduction that you’d expect from a Brian Michael Bendis first issue. This is where the new team come together. It’s good, albeit glacial, stuff with Bendis’ usual spot-on characterisation and dialogue. Not exactly pacy, then, but the concept is sound, the series is beginning to pull together and there’s a cliffhanger of great promise. Nice David Finch art, too.

Papa Midnite #1

A ‘Hellblazer’ spin-off, cashing in on the forthcoming Keanu ‘Constantine’. Midnite gets a ghostly visit, and is taken on a trip through time to slavery-era New York. This is such a typical Vertigo book it borders on caricature – magic, social issues, drugs, history. Good as this kind of thing goes, but there’s very little to make this book distinctive from ‘Hellblazer’ itself. A promising start for a four-part mini-series, but unlikely to blow anyone’s socks off.

Superman #213

Never mind Bendis’ decompression techniques, for really s-l-o-w storytelling, look to Brian Azzarello and Jim Lee’s skilful but ponderous run Super-story. A couple of issues before the end, the story is beginning to come together – questions are answered, some interesting new ones are raised, and there’s a big villain reveal. After quite a bit of rambling, this story is focussing in on the point at last. If Azzarello can write a satisfying ending, this could be great in paperback. For now, judgement is suspended.

Superman/Batman #17

Giddily psychotic nonsense. Jeph Loeb is obviously having great fun coming up with the wildest, stupidest parallel universe scenarios possible, and keeps throwing great visual ideas out for Carlos Pacheco to illustrate. A whole lot of fun. If you only buy one DCU book regularly, this should be it. If you’re not sold, here’s two words to seal the deal:

Haunted. Tank.

Supreme Power #15

While not as crowd pleasing as his stint on ‘Amazing Spider-Man’, J Michael Straczynski (‘JMS’, for the sake of my spelling ability) has done his most ambitious Marvel writing work on this expansive ‘Squadron Supreme’ re-working. Best known for the sprawling, pre-planned story of space soap ‘Babylon 5′, JMS has taken a more organic writing approach with ‘Supreme Power’, letting the story unfold gradually from single initial event. This has played out like the storytelling game where writers take turns to tell a story, picking up from each other’s cliffhangers and improvising the next chapter – decisions have consequences which drive the characters to make further decisions which have their own consequences in turn. The result has been fascinating so far, a superhero universe unfolding naturally and slowly coming together.

This issue follows on from Hyperion handing a super-powered serial killer over to the US military that raised him. Things are beginning to come together now. From Hyperion’s arrival on Earth, the introduction of alien influences to Earth has triggered a series of unnatural phenomena. Lines are now beginning to intersect, with the various characters touched by these events beginning to feel their way into new roles. For Hyperion, this means that the rules just don’t apply to him.

Although the characters are beginning to interact more, this is still something other than a conventional superhero team book. Gary Frank’s art suits JMS’ script well, standing somewhere between conventional superhero comic book art and something more naturalistic. A good issue, suggesting further great things to come.

Ultimate Spider-Man #72

The boy Bendis again, with his never-ending pet project. ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ isn’t quite the big news it once was, but continues to deliver a consistently entertaining contemporary rewrite of Spidey’s early career. This issue is the first part of a story called ‘Hobgoblin’, and features the return of Harry Osborn. Long-term readers get a revelation that goes right back to the very beginning of the series and casts some characters in a whole new light, and the story has a sickening kind of inevitability to it of a kind that Bendis does so well – the reader doesn’t quite know where the story is going, just that it’s going to end very, very badly for all concerned.

72 issues in, Bendis and artist Mark Bagley have had very few blips in a long run of consistent comic book goodness. Hopefully they’ll keep going for a long time to come.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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