There’s always the end-of-the-year rush. Pundits hurry to produce top ten lists and year-in-review columns. Partiers mob the liquor store to pick up last minute supplies. And comic-book publishers put out as many comic books as they can, probably to produce the last bit of profit before the turning of the fiscal year. 

This year seemed to be especially excessive on the comic-book front -- maybe because the final Wednesday of the year happened to be Christmas Day.  My normal month’s worth of comics showed up between Dec. 11 and 18.  It was a huge haul.  But it also allowed me to comment on almost all of the comics I’m currently collecting and join the end-of-the-year review rush.  

Abe Sapien Vol. 3: Abe Sapien successfully graduated from supporting character to solo lead with this volume, the first from his new ongoing series. I’m not sure I care for his new hyper-evolved look, but I loved the stories contained in this collection. Abe is struggling to understand his past and his current place in the world. He encounters hobos while riding the trains and a new community of outcasts in the desert. He’s alternately greeted as a savior and a devil and Abe himself isn’t sure which label fits best. We know that Abe is a hero, but it’s interesting to see him struggle with self-doubt and rise above himself as needed.  

Astro City #7: Kurt Busiek and company continue to treat us with one of the best comic books in the industry. With this issue, they embark on an extended Winged Victory story.  It’s great to see her take the spotlight.  Even better, Busiek has set up several interesting themes for the story. Will Victory’s shelter for women take in a battered teenage boy? Why are her female adversaries claiming that Victory paid them to fight her? Has Victory been a defender of women’s rights or a contributor to the gender divide? Action, mystery, interesting points of debate and beautiful Brent Anderson art -- this comic has it all.

Justice League 3000 #1: Yuck! Who thought it was a good idea to publish this dreck? There’s an interesting idea hiding in the trash -- someone cloned the core members of the Justice League in the year 3000 and the new clones struggle to unite as a team with partial memories and partial powers -- but the execution of the idea is terrible. Writer Keith Giffen spends half of the issue on the brother and sister scientists who cloned the leaguers as they argue about the actions they’ve already taken. There’s barely enough room to establish the cloned leaguers as actual characters. Green Lantern does little more than complain that he doesn’t have a real ring and Wonder Woman does even less. Why should I care about these characters when the writer is so uninterested in them that he sweeps them to the side of their comic book?   

Danger Girl: The Chase #4: This latest "Danger Girl" mini-series has been a misfire. Danger Girl is supposed to be a combination of Charlie’s Angels, James Bond and Indiana Jones. It’s okay when it tries to be sexy but it’s even better when it doesn’t take itself too seriously. This particular series is deadly serious and, honestly, kind of ugly. Harvey Tolibao has drawn pretty women before -- his work on Marvel’s Psylocke miniseries was gorgeous -- but it doesn’t look good here. Author Scott Hartnell also introduces an immensely powerful science fiction device that’s out of step with the rest of the series. 

G.I. Joe #11: This issue is a bit of a breather after the recent big stories featuring the Baroness and the Mad Monk. It’s an origin tale, focusing on the cousins Heavy Duty and Roadblock and showing us how Roadblock joined the G.I. Joe team. It’s a decent enough story for a change of pace issue and it has some nice character moments -- like Roadblock using his cooking skills to leverage some information -- but it doesn’t provide any new or meaningful insights.

G.I. Joe Special Missions #10: There’s not much of a difference between Special Missions and the regular G.I. Joe title -- they often feature the same characters and fight the same villains -- but I won’t complain too much as long as the stories as this good. Scarlett releases Copperback from prison so that she lead a team of Joes to Destro’s base in Scotland. Writer Chuck Dixon establishes an interesting détente between the two women. Scarlett is a strong and confident leader; Copperback is a conniving rebel. We know that Copperback will betray the Joes. The only questions are when and how. Scarlett knows the betrayal is coming as well and makes it work to her advantage. A great story with strong characterization and precise plotting. 

Invincible #107: Invincible has spread itself a little thin lately by spending too much time on the supporting characters but this issue was both strong and focused as Mark Grayson gets most of the spotlight. We see him in action fighting Volcanikka, Seismic and a host of lava monsters. We also witness some of his more interesting interactions with women. First, one of the Viltrumites makes a pass at him. Then, Eve tries to talk Mark out of his vendetta against Angstrom Levy. It’s a great combination of action and characterization. Plus, there’s some interesting progress in the Robot and Monster Girl sub-plot as it moves forward without stealing the show.  

Lazarus #5: When I finished reading this issue, I bragged to my wife, anacoqui, about how good it is. But now that it’s time to write a review, I don’t know what to say beyond: It’s good. It’s really, really good. Writer Greg Rucka has done the seemingly impossible: create a sympathetic assassin. Our emotional connection to Eve is further strengthened this issue by a flashback scene in which we see her disturbing upbringing. Back in the present, Eve demonstrates her cool competence by talking her enemies into killing one of their own in order to avoid her vengeance. Eve is a compelling character living in an intriguingly amoral world and I can’t wait for each subsequent issue. 

Rocketeer/Spirit: Pulp Friction #4: I had high hopes for this series and it started out well. I especially appreciated the early interactions between the heroes and their opposing love interests. The banter between Betty and The Spirit was a lot of fun and Ellen’s failed attempts to make The Spirit jealous by flirting with the Rocketeer were enjoyable. However, Pulp Friction hasn’t lived up to its early promise. The teleporting television was a tad too impossible for these two characters. Furthermore, J. Bone’s deceptively simple art from the early issues degenerated into merely simplistic art. It lacked his usual polish. With an unbelievable plot, rushed characterization and amateurish art, this issue felt more like glorified fan fiction than the professional tribute it was at first. 

Uncanny X-Men #15: Brian Michael Bendis can be a frustrating writer on a monthly basis but this particular issue plays to his strengths. He writes great dialogue and characterization but not always consistently and he sometimes forgets to move a plot forward. However, the plot for this issue is intentionally slight, making room for Bendis to flex his strengths. It’s a girls’ night out as the younger members of the X-Men decide that they’ve been cooped up in the Weapon X facility for too long and need to go shopping. Bendis does a great job of differentiating the female characters by their reactions to the idea, from Emma Frost’s “Oh, God yes!” to Kitty Pryde’s “Who cares?” It’s wonderfully hilarious. I could have read an entire issue of shopping -- though Bendis tacks on an action scene with a new Inhuman to cover his bases. 

Unity #2: I was a little hesitant to pick up Unity. It’s usually a bad sign when a new publisher begins to delve into crossovers, even if it’s a resurrected publisher like Valiant. I shouldn’t have worried.  Unlike most crossovers, Unity has been an intense, tightly woven story. Toyo Harada of Harbinger puts together a team to take down Aric, a.k.a. X-O Manowar, and now the self-declared King of Dacia in modern-day Romania. There’s powerful direct combat with global complications. There’s also some interesting character interaction as Harada’s teammates have differing motives for joining the fight ranging from noble to nasty. This is how a crossover should be done. 

Wolverine and the X-Men #39: Jason Aaron’s X-Men title has often felt like a circus act. It’s got high adventure and death-defying situations, and it’s got broad humor and plenty of clowning around. This particular issue highlights both aspects with aplomb. In one story, Wolverine and Cyclops are lured to a SHIELD Sentinel facility. They temporarily set aside their hostilities and fight giant robots together. In the other story, new student Joseph is shown the delights of going to mutant high. Their homework involves swimming, snowball fights, runaway mining cars and jet packs. There’s also a nice twist as the confrontation between SHIELD and the Jean Grey School develops on multiple fronts. 

That was about half of my stack.  Come back soon for more reviews about Daredevil, Harley Quinn, Saga and Star Wars

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Part 2 is now up.

There is something about Invincible that I am just not enjoying right now. I think it just seems we are mostly recycling the older storylines over and over.

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