My main problem with the issue, and the crossover in general, was that it didn't make me any more sympathetic to the Outsiders themselves. I'm familiar with the well-established characters (Nightwing, Katana, Metamorpho), but I have to remind myself that "Owen"/"Boomer" is the new Captain Boomerang from Identity Crisis, and I know nothing about the two strong women (Grace and Thunder) beyond the broad strokes an action plot like this divulges. The book doesn't go out of its way to explain any of these people to this particular reader-just-along-for-the-crossover. (Each team having its own young red-haired guy doesn't help either.) This crossover also hasn't justified Outsiders' existence beyond being a random team of attitude-rich superheroes. Well, maybe it did a little, at the beginning, when there was some sense that Checkmate could take advantage of the group's cavalier approach to superheroics. Still, this title's got one more issue before Everything Changes with a new roster, and then it gets relaunched at some point in the future with Batman in charge. I guess what I'm saying is that this crossover could just as well have been a biweekly Checkmate arc for all it's made me care about the Outsiders. Still, this was a decent dumb-fun action issue.
Checkmate #15 (written by Rucka and Winick, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson) presents Part 5 of "Check/Out," in which Nightwing, Boomer, and Sasha are tortured by Chang Tzu (can we call him "Egg Fu" anymore?) while the Checkmate high sheriffs negotiate with China for some assistance. In terms of craft, this was a better issue all around than Outsiders #48. Bennett and Jadson are a more solid team, and Rucka does a good job of laying out the various political issues and assigning their presentations to the appropriate characters. Checkmate has a much larger regular cast than Outsiders, but there they all are in roll-call format on the first page.
The one thing that I did not like about the issue, and it is not an insignificant complaint, is the attention paid to Boomer and Sasha's torture. The issue plays a darkly clever game with the reader by putting Nightwing -- who we know is "safe" from any permanent harm -- in a cell next to the torture chamber, thereby making him listen to his friends' anguished cries. In this way, and especially on the last page, "Check/Out" seems to set up pretty clearly the end of Nightwing's tenure as team leader. This is a particular blow to Nightwing's character, because for years, if not decades, it was the thing that most significantly separated him from Batman. As Titans leader, he was either rescuing his teammates (see "The Judas Contract" or "Titans Hunt") or sacrificing himself for him (i.e., in a few of the Brother Blood storylines). He's presented here as an ineffectual failure. Thus, while the issue does a good job of dramatizing just how deep these three are in their particular hole, the overall effect is not pleasant, and in fact kind of sickly voyeuristic.
I got a similar feeling reading The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #13 (written by Marc Guggenheim, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Daniel, Jonathan Glapion, and Marlo Alquiza). It was a gut-punch of an issue that apparently wanted to leave little doubt about Bart's fate. As I said on Thursday, I felt bad for Bart, but a lot of that had to do with the editorially-mandated aspects of his death. The fact that I didn't think he needed to die also contributed to my sadness that he did. Guggenheim and Daniel put together a decent issue, just in service of an unfortunate cause.
The other part of the Flash re-relaunch was, of course, Justice League of America #10 (written by Brad Meltzer, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Sandra Hope). While I am very, very happy at the return of Wally West -- I actually teared up a little; don't judge me -- this was an incredibly haphazard way to end "The Lightning Saga." First of all, it's not really over, because it obviously sets up more Old-Legion adventures in Countdown and other DC titles. Second, what in the name of little baby ducks does Wally West have to do with the Legion anyway? Third, I understand the Legion not wanting to tell the JLA and JSA that one of them will die when "whoever" is brought back, but that just means this is the old "Why didn't you ask us for help in the first place?" plot. Fourth, do I really have to list all of the ways in which Meltzer and Benes use innuendo and shorthand to create an illusion that things are happening? There were no real resolutions in this issue, at least not to the larger plot elements presented at the beginning of the crossover. Meltzer has some appealing ideas, but he treats them so reverently that before you know it, five issues are up and nothing's really gotten done.
I could probably say the same thing about Captain America #27 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting and Mike Perkins), but the difference is that the character scenes are hung on a plot that makes sense within the larger story arc. The Winter Soldier wants to reclaim Cap's shield, Sharon Carter struggles with her role in Cap's death, and she and the Falcon figure out where Bucky's headed with the shield. Oh, and Bucky reconnects with the Black Widow, his old Soviet-spy buddy. Epting and Perkins do a collectively fine job overall. I don't like their Tony Stark, but that's just me. Also, I wasn't sure it was "the" Black Widow, Natasha Romanov, because dialogue calls her "Natalia" and I don't know if that's an acceptable nickname. Other than those nitpicks, though, a really fine issue that advances the plot while still keeping the reader guessing about when any Captain America will headline his eponymous book again.
I continue to enjoy The Brave and the Bold (#4 written by Mark Waid, pencilled by George Perez, inked by Bob Wiacek), probably because it is unashamed of being a light, fun superhero title. This issue begins and ends with Batrok, and features a Lobo/Supergirl story which is fairly predictable but still enjoyable. It does appear that Supergirl has gotten more mature around Lobo than she was around Green Lantern a couple of issues ago -- Waid writes her as (let's say) early-20s, as opposed to late-teens -- but I like her better this way, so it works out.
In the same vein, Marvel gives us Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four #3 (written by Jeff Parker, pencilled by Mike Wieringo, inked by Wade von Grawbadger), which finds Spidey and 3/4 of the FF fighting aliens and dropping in on Dr. Doom and the High Evolutionary. There is nothing objectionable about this book.
You can guess the obvious segue into Countdown #45 (written by Paul Dini and I think Tony Bedard, although Palmiotti & Gray are credited; pencilled by J. Calafiore, inked by Mark McKenna). Actually, I kind of liked this issue, because it shows Donna Troy as a competent superhero for the first time in a while. An incongruous scene of her blasting away with an automatic rifle notwithstanding, she comes across believably as an Amazon warrior. However, the rest of the book is still in setup mode: Jimmy Olsen investigates Sleez's old tenement, Holly shows up when Jimmy leaves, and meanwhile the Legionnaires stuck in our time after JLofA #10 whine some more about being stuck on the JLA Satellite. Also, there has got to be a better way to distinguish between Monitors than their hairstyles. I'm begging you, DC: symbols, numbers, tattoos, whatever -- I just can't keep 'em straight anymore.
Finally, The Spirit #7 features three guest creative teams, and is largely successful. The first story, written by Walt Simonson and drawn by Chris Sprouse and Karl Story, concerns a no-good socialite (we know she's no good, because she's obviously reminiscent of Par-- I mean, She Who Must Not Be Named) and the Spirit's search for a missing diamond. It's pretty fun. The second story, written by Jimmy Palmiotti and drawn by Jordi Bernet, is more of an Eisner pastiche, because it features the indirect effects of a Spirit chase on the lives of tenement dwellers. Bernet's style is perhaps even more successful than Darwyn Cooke's at capturing the sort of organic cartoonishness of Eisner's work, so I think this is the most successful story in the issue. The last one, a sort of Spirit/Frank Miller mash-up parody by Kyle Baker, is rather an acquired taste. I thought excerpts of it were funny when I saw them online, but even for a short story the joke gets a little old. Still, like the man said, two out of three ain't bad.