The best book of this bunch was, no question, Criminal #4 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Sean Phillips), another really great issue. Not a panel or word is wasted. For me, this story is art-house noir comics -- it reminds me of seeing a really good indie-film thrilla at the Kentucky Theater, the local art-house in my old hometown.
Runner-up is Checkmate #10 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Jesus Saiz, inked by Fernando Blanco): a darn fine issue, especially considering that I couldn't remember who the Checkmate agent was supposed to be and was too lazy to look it up. If it were my first issue, I would have been just as satisfied. Considering that this is a Shadowpact crossover, that's probably what DC wants to hear. Also, Saiz and Blanco do a really fantastic job -- moody and creepy, with a nice earth-tones palette from colorist Santiago Arcas.
I was hoping it'd be Ray Palmer in 52 #37 (written by JMRW, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Pat Olliffe, inks by Drew Geraci), and I really didn't expect my Lightray prediction to pan out, but what we got was good enough. It'll probably make more sense in the long run anyway. I don't know if I'll be able to say the same about Buddy's aliens' involvement, but there you go. 52 #38 (pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson) was a better-balanced installment, building some suspense about the return to Nanda Parbat and creating a nice bit of dread with the Four Horsemen. I would have liked a little more with Buddy and the aliens -- did they watch movies, pick their fantasy JLA, or run cheap shots into the ground on their week off?
Speaking of the Justice League, JLA Classified #32 (written by Dan Slott and Dan Jurgens, pencils by Jurgens, inks by Trevor Scott) kicks off its Tribute to 2004 with the first of two arcs originally announced for that year. This is Slott's "The 4th Parallel," featuring the Red King, an ordinary guy with the power to control probablity through manipulation of parallel universes. (Was this delayed, at least in part, by the 52 aftereffects? I dunno.) RK's scheme is somewhat hard to grasp, but Jurgens' usual stiff figures are softened well by Scott's inks. Jurgens also finished the script, I think on account of Slott's exclusive Marvel contract (right?), so I hesitate to call this one of Slott's weaker efforts, because that's not fair to him or Jurgens. Even so, not a bad start.
I don't have any particular criticism of Green Lantern #16 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Ivan Reis, inked by Oclair Albert), although Hal's brief remarks about POW torture are a bit much whether they're meant to come from him or Johns. Reis and Albert make a good team, so it helps that this issue is mostly action.
Since I spent most of high school and half of college with Ricardo Villagran's inks on DC's Star Trek title, his guest art on Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #48 (written by Kurt Busiek) was welcome. Most of the plot concerns the old Aqua-villain Fisherman being some kind of parasite (what, another one?), with a subplot about Aquaman confronting an old failure while on a rescue mission. Villagran is less "sketchy" (for lack of a better term) than Butch Guice or Phil Winslade, but he does a good job with both the landlubbers and the undersea action. The story itself feels very prefatory, though, like it's counting on Part 2 to pull it through.
The same applies to Birds Of Prey #102 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood). While Lois Lane and Barbara play a dangerous game of cat and mouse, in which the hunter becomes the hunted, Manhunter fights evil prison guards until ... well, she's still fighting. Wait 'til next issue.
The Spirit #2 (by Darwyn Cooke) was another good issue, although I don't have the background with P'Gell to gauge whether she's portrayed appropriately. I know that's not entirely the point of this series, but it does walk that tightrope. The issue does establish P'Gell as the Spirit's femme fatale, for whom he cares but with whom he can never settle down, and at this point in the series we're still being introduced to everyone.
Fantastic Four #542 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Mike McKone, inked by Andy Lanning and Cam Smith) gets the book back on track quite well. I don't mind Mike McKone, but I do think this title needs a penciller a little less antiseptic.
She-Hulk #15 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Rick Burchett, inked by Cliff Rathburn) was decent, but I'm not quite used to the old supporting cast being gone. Shulkie fights the Abomination with the power of her brain and some SHIELD help. We'll see.
With Omega Men #4 (written by Andersen Gabrych, drawn by Henry Flint) focusing on Vril Dox and Superman almost as much as on Tigorr and his lost love, I'm starting to think this is another backdoor prelude to DC's version of Annihilation. It's still good, but it doesn't seem so much like it's just about the Omegas.
Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #26 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Barry Kitson, inked by Mick Gray) offers more action, plus the slightly revised origin of the Ranzz siblings. Nice cliffhanger.
It's good that Bart does Flash-y things in Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #8 (written by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, pencilled by Ron Adrian and Art Thibert, inked by Thibert). It's bad that the rest of it -- especially the just-add-water romance -- is so contrived. Maybe things will improve next issue with new writer Marc Guggenheim.
Finally, my ramble this time is about Star Trek: The Next Generation -- The Space Between #1 (written by David Tischman, drawn by Casey Maloney). This issue tells a first-season story that would have been a pretty decent first-season episode; but if you know TNG, that's not exactly a compliment. The idea of a culture with permanent records as fluid as Wikipedia offers a good opportunity for satire, and this issue hits the highlights of those opportunities. Art is sorta-kinda photo-influenced, not unlike an old DC TNG artist named (I think) Rachel Pollack. Everyone looks and sounds about like they should, but 22 pages of story obviously doesn't translate into 48 minutes of TV time, and that's the issue's biggest problem.
Pacing dooms this issue, which spends the first 3-4 pages on the mundanities of hailing the planet, establishing the mission, and beaming everyone down. It strikes me as the kind of thing that a fan would write, thinking (perhaps justifiably) that a fan would want to read it. However, that kind of initial pace can also encourage the reader, at least subliminally, to expect a more fleshed-out story -- in other words, to expect a story that would take 48 TV minutes to tell. It ends up making the more important parts feel rushed.
It also points up the differences between film and comics, which I think apply to more than just licensed adaptations. Those 3-4 introductory pages establish the away team's mission, identify their contact person, and describe (in dialogue) a weird energy surge. However, a one-page splash panel could show the away team beaming down and relate the same information through log-entry captions. The team's going to meet with the leader pretty soon; he didn't need to be introduced on the Enterprise viewscreen a couple of pages before.
Moreover, that one-page intro is something that comics can do, and film can't. It might take an actor 30 seconds to speak all the dialogue that a few captions could convey, and nobody wants to spend 30 seconds -- the length of a commercial -- on a relatively static image backed only by offscreen narration. With comics, though, the reader can digest those captions at her own pace while taking in the visual information about the planet and the beam-in from the splash panel.
Nevertheless, it seems like a lot of comics these days are so concerned with evoking the experience of film that they have forgotten, or are skittish about using, the narrative tricks that don't work for film. I know I opened this post by approving of Criminal's filmic tendencies, but the difference is its efficiency. Criminal knows how to be a good comic. The new TNG comic is inefficient (wow, sounds like the Borg, huh?) precisely because it tries too hard to capture the beats and pacing of its filmed ideal. It tries to be what it is not, and therefore fails. Infinite combinations, remember?