In the end, I liked the issue. Wally's departure was justified poorly, and his return was oddly reassuring, especially as voiced by Waid. Of course I'm looking forward to the regular Flash book, because that'll be the real test of Waid's speedster chops. I doubt we'll be saying goodbye to Wally again anytime soon.
Next up, another book Mark Waid used to write, Captain America #28 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting and Mike Perkins). It's the same format as last issue -- vignettes checking in with the book's current cast, mostly with Sin and the (new?) Serpent Squad as they prepare to break Crossbones out of jail. It hit me with this issue that there's still a lot I don't know about Cap's vast array of allies and enemies. Brubaker is evidently doing his best to work a lot of them into this story, and for the most part he's doing a good job of at least indicating who's good, who's evil, and who's got a long history I could probably find on Wikipedia. Ironically, though, the character I had the most trouble placing in this issue was Professor X. Seems like there's been another bald character in the book lately (or maybe I'm just hallucinating) and they all look like Lex Luthor. Anyway, still a good read.
Speaking of called-back characters, The Spirit #8 (by Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone) presents a twist on the cover-featured "cut the right wire" scenario. This time it's Agent Satin, who unfortunately reminded me of Erin Esurance early in the book when she's parachuting into the action. Anyway, that passed pretty quickly. The issue itself is pretty loaded, putting a lot of subplots into what boils down to cut-the-right-wire ... and, like I say, even that is a clever twist. However, it never feels coy or too clever, and the Spirit is only in it as a supporting character. It's even a sequel of sorts to a previous issue, but without so much as a footnote or express flashback to clutter the narrative. If I had to show someone what Cooke's Spirit was all about, I could do worse than give them this.
Reading the latest Action Comics (#852 written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Brad Walker, inked by John Livesay) made me wonder: why doesn't DC put Busiek into its Countdown rotation? If there's one thing at which Busiek excels, it's creating a sense of "movement away from the ball." Busiek is great at suggesting a larger world beyond the borders of a panel, a page, or an issue, and this story is no exception. Its focus on Jimmy connects his CD hijinx with the rest of the Superman plot. (This includes another reference to "Red Son" which pretty much spoils what has to be a big part of its ending, but in a perfect world that story would be long over anyway.) Unfortunately, I'm not clear about what's going on with the primates and the green goo (Kryptonite, I guess) because those scenes are hard to follow, and I'm still not on board with Brad Walker as a penciller. His stuff is a little too idiosyncratic to fit such a straight-laced book as Action. It worked for the quirky Secret Six, just not so much here.
The portion of the blogosphere which still reads Countdown seemed to recoil a lilttle less at this week's issue (#41 written by Paul Dini and Adam Beechen, drawn by Dennis Calero), and I'm in that camp too. Every scene seemed to be constructed just that much better: the Rogues on the run figure out how to survive a long fall; Harley and Holly get a vignette at the Athenian Women's Shelter; and even the one- and two-page check-ins with Mary Marvel and Donna & Jason feel more cohesive. It may be the result of accumulated backstory or the invisible hands of Keith Giffen, but whatever it is, it's working better. Dennis Calero is not an unfamiliar name, but I'm at a loss to remember something else he's drawn. His work's nice and simple, and it does what it needs to.
Two-thirds of the way through Amazons Attack (#4 written by Will Pfeifer, drawn by Pete Woods) and not only can I not tell where it ends and Wonder Woman begins, both series seem to be going over the same ground. Every installment features some unbelievable act of Amazonian carnage (here involving Air Force One), more tension between Wonder Woman and Hippolyta and Hippolyta and the other Amazons, more Circe scheming, etc. There’s barely a sense of plot movement despite having only two issues (well, plus the Wonder Woman issues, but still) to go. Thanks to Pete Woods, the book still looks very pretty.
Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #54 (written by Tad Williams, drawn by Shawn McManus) has too much going on. Aquaman and crew fight Black Manta in Sub Diego. There’s a new revelation involving the polar explorers. We check in with a couple of characters from the Peter David days. It’s charming enough, and I like what Williams and McManus have brought to the title, but it’s a strange combination of reliance on pre-OYL stories (maybe trying to win back that crowd?) and the new, oddball spin Williams has put on Kurt Busiek’s OYL "barbarian" concept. With three issues left in the title’s run, and so much plot, it all needs to start coming together.
The same applies to The Brave and the Bold #5 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by George Perez, inked by Bob Wiacek), which takes a detour into the 31st Century so that Batman can outwit the current Legion of Super-Heroes. This gives Waid and Perez the opportunity to indulge themselves: Waid makes another Adam West reference, and Perez gets to work out with the Legion (a book which, he’s fond of saying, he’s never gotten to draw). There’s more with Supergirl, Green Lantern, and Adam Strange, and it’s all very fun and of course well-rendered; but again, it doesn’t feel like there’s just one issue to go in this arc.
If Brad Meltzer were staying on Justice League of America (#11 drawn by Gene Ha) longer than one more issue, I'd be more excited about this one-off tale of Red Arrow and Vixen trapped under the Watergate Hotel's wreckage. As it is, it's not a bad single-issue story. Meltzer clearly enjoys dialogue, and that's pretty much all this issue is, with only a few physical scenes to punctuate the tension. And in fact, there is a bit of tension, which is surprising considering the relative invulnerability of these characters. Good on Meltzer and Ha for that. A semi-significant aspect of Vixen's powers is revealed here too, in case a reader might feel that the story had no lasting impact. (It still might not, actually.) Ha's work is more diffuse here than his normal precise, fine lines, but it's still good, especially the way he plays with layouts towards the end. I kinda wish this had been more of a contrast from Meltzer's talky modus operandi, though.
Man, everything this week is ending or about to end, isn't it? Gail Simone's last Birds of Prey (#108 pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood) is an epilogue to the Spy Smasher story arc, as Barbara beats up on her rival something fierce. Afterwards Babs and Dinah reunite, sharing takeout with Huntress and Lady Blackhawk, and then Barbara picks up her newest official recruit. I haven't been back with this book for long, but I thought Simone had a touching farewell. I continue to be impressed with Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood -- their faces are especially expressive.
There's a bit of Checkmate #16 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson) which I halfway expected to see in BOP, and here it feels a touch out of place, but I suppose it fits better here than there. It's the Fire and Ice reunion, of course, and it's handled pretty deftly by all parties. It's actually very sweet, adding some more nuance to Fire's character (at least how she's been portrayed in this book). The rest of the book concerns itself with Sasha and Mr. Terrific, and sets up the downfall of Amanda Waller. Bennett and Jadson look really pretty good here -- their Fire/Ice scenes use a thicker line, subtly reminiscent of Adam Hughes and Joe Rubenstein's Justice League International work, but their Sasha/Michael scenes are thinner and more delicately rendered. All around, a fine issue.
Finally, here's the last issue (see? again!) of Jeff Smith's Shazam! The Monster Society Of Evil, and it's just as good as the other parts. Smith's Mr. Mind design is perfect -- menacing while still retaining the salient parts of the original. If this series isn't the tour de force of Cap villains that the original was, that's OK; as a revival/reimagining of the Captain Marvel mythology, it works very well. Now, of course, Smith has to do a sequel, so he can work Cap Jr. into the mix.