Batman #660 (written by John Ostrander, drawn by Tom Mandrake) improves significantly over Part 1 of "Grotesk," mostly thanks to Johnny Karaoke and his Geisha Girls. A lot of this feels like a fill-in from the pre-Infinite Crisis "Batman is a jerk" period, but back then, Johnny would have been a gangster and Batman's internal monologue would have sounded like a Tom Clancy paragraph. Instead, right from the first page Batman and his swirly cape are intimidating a hapless scientist, with Ostrander and Mandrake doing their best O'Neil/Adams homage. Mandrake's work here is less rounded than his '80s Batman, but it's still very atmospheric and choreographed well.
After only two issues, it seemed like the Spectre stories in Tales Of The Unexpected were settling into a pattern involving Allen's frustration and the Spectre's ironically bloody punishment. #3's lead story (written by David Lapham, pencilled by Eric Battle, inked by Prentis Rollins) is more like a tour of unpleasantness, with more than one potential recipient of the Wrath Of God. This allows Lapham to tell a "Twilight Zone"/EC Comics-esque story about the consequences of poor moral choices, and for whatever that's worth, it's a good change of pace. The art is still an eruption of grue and violence, and nobody comes off looking very well, but I suppose that's the point. However, if the Spectre series improves that's just gravy. I will continue to get this book for the Dr. 13 backup, written by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang. It is the level of crazy to which I suspect Shadowpact only aspires, featuring all kinds of obscure DC oddballs thrown at the Doctor in nonstop pulp style. Chiang deserves a regular book, and if it's a Dr. 13 series, so much the better.
JLA Classified #30 (written by Howard Chaykin, pencilled by Kilian Plunkett, inked by Tom Nguyen) offers the penultimate installment of this particular arc, as the real villains behind the border conflicts start to emerge. It's been a good run, even more so because I didn't think Chaykin's style would mesh with the Justice League.
Green Lantern Corps #7 (written by Keith Champagne, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Prentis Rollins) begins a new arc involving Guy Gardner and an insectoid rookie, the Dominators, and a Durlan ex-Lantern. Most of it is Guy and the rookie trying to convince the Durlan to come out of retirement, as it were. For some reason I like Gleason and Rollins' work here better than I have previously, but I can't quite say why. I also thought Champagne's script was good, using both Guy and the rookie well. The ending was unexpected, and is a promising setup for the rest of the arc.
Firestorm #32 (written by Stuart Moore, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Keith Champagne) says goodbye to the current creative team with an understated New Year's-themed epilogue. Most of the focus is on Jason, as you'd expect, but the issue balances the supporting cast well. No one's status quo changes all that much, and a couple of characters who might well have vanished after "In My Father's House" look like they'll be around for a while. It's a good issue, and one that (ironically) could be the proverbial Good Jumping-On Point. You'll have to wait an extra month for #33, though.
52 #32 (written by You Know, Those Guys, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Patrick Olliffe, inked by Drew Geraci) spotlights Ralph Dibny in Nanda Parbat, encountering a couple of Great Ten members and finding enlightenment. Otherwise, the Teen Titans are recruiting, and the outer-space heroes are girding their loins for battle. It's more exciting than it sounds.
By now I'm sure you're sick of me talking about the DCU Infinite Holiday Special, but here we go, one last time. These specials are usually mixed bags, and this year felt like it should have been called Brave New Holiday (saaay...!) or something similar. Most of the stories are ads for new (or newly relaunched) DC books -- Batwoman, Flash, Shadowpact, Shazam! -- or fairly new books like Supergirl and Green Lantern. This confirmed for me that I won't be reading Trials of Shazam!, because this story was too confusing and depended too much on that miniseries' plot. The Shadowpact story was cute, and the Flash story was inoffensive, although the latter gave the impression that Wally West is dead, which I didn't think was the case. I appreciated the Supergirl story bringing back the "Metropolis Mailbag" Christmas tradition, but once it got going it turned dark and never really recovered. The Batwoman story was good, the Green Lantern story was a bit trite and suffered from either loose John Byrne layouts or loose Keith Champagne (him again! he wrote it too) inks, and the last story was delightfully oddball. I don't know that I'd pay $5.00 for this, but it has saved me from spending anything on the Shazam! maxiseries.
Suspense and an impostor both crop up in Fantastic Four: The End #3 (by Alan Davis with inks by Mark Farmer), as we check in with Galactus, the Watcher, the Black Panther, and various Marvel alien races. I still can't tell where the story's going, but I am a sucker for Davis/Farmer art.
Finally, there's The Spirit #1, by Darwyn Cooke with inks by J. Bone. It hits all the appropriate notes, gently updating the character and his cast for the 21st Century. As many others have noted, Ebony White benefits the most, commenting most effectively on our hero and pretty much getting the last word. However, I have two problems with this issue. First, Cooke portrays Commissioner Dolan's hyperactivity by having him in multiple places in the same panel. I read this issue with an eye towards letting the Best Wife Ever weigh in on this, and I know she would have been confused by such a device. Second, much of the plot hinges on something the kidnap victim does which seems like it should be painfully obvious to the Spirit, but which completely escapes him until it is too late. I guess this fits into his general regular-schlub aspect, but I did expect him to be a little more on top of things. Anyway, it's a fine start, and I certainly haven't been put off the book.