Anyway, let's begin with the comics I read in between a thousand other things happening the day before the plane took off....
Batman #666 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Andy Kubert, inked by Jesse Delperdang) is the third DC comic to reach that infamous number, and I'm pretty sure it's the one which takes the most inspiration from said number. Future Batman Damien Wayne fights the last of the Black Casebook's faux Batmen in a story rich with metatextual meaning. Kubert and Delperdang are especially good at depicting the hellish future Gotham and the evil, red-goggled Batman who thinks he's going to destroy it. For a while I've been convinced that Morrison's run is dedicated to exploring what it means to "be" Batman, mostly by looking at how others (Damien, the evil pretenders, the upcoming Club of Heroes) take on the role. I'm not quite ready to say it's of a piece with Seven Soldiers' examination of different types of superheroes, but it's fascinating nonetheless. I may have to get the collections, if only to read the stories in a big chunk, without these months of delays and fill-ins separating them.
It also seems to me that All-Star Batman & Robin (#6 written by Frank Miller, pencilled by Jim Lee, inked by Scott Williams) is meant to be seen in a similar "nature of the superhero" light. This issue's set pieces involve rookie heroes Black Canary and Batgirl, and Batman musing about "all these wannabes." It's still not anywhere near a plot; but honestly, the book's erratic schedule may actually be working in its favor: if it comes out so infrequently, why not spend the $2.99?
Sinestro fights Soranik Natu in Green Lantern Corps #14 (written by Dave Gibbons, pencilled by Patrick Gleason and Angel Unzueta, inked by Prentis Rollins), and basically, both of them win the battle in different ways. I've called "Sinestro Corps" a big excuse for fighting (not that that's a bad thing), but what's great about this issue is the way in which it plays with the reader's expectations. It's unlikely that Sinestro, bad as he is, will be "allowed" to kill Dr. Natu, beloved as she is; but it's more unlikely that Natu, a rookie GL, could hold her own against the No. 1 Renegade. The issue's solution is pretty clever.
Just like that, the Jodi Picoult Era is over, as J. Torres writes and Paco Diaz draws Wonder Woman #11, another brick in the Amazons Attack wall. Diana heads back to Themyscira to protect it from a nuclear strike, and finds the wreckage of Greg Rucka's excellent "politicizing" of the Greek pantheon. Much of the rest of the issue shows us various Justice Leaguers and Justice Socialites fighting the invaders. It's better than a Picoult issue, but it's hardly the best the book's been. Three more issues of this -- one WW, two AA -- right?
Is it too late to put Kurt Busiek in the Countdown rotation? He's done a fine job with Jimmy's involvement, even though Superman #665 (pencilled by Rick Leonardi, inked by Ande Parks) isn't part of the main story. This particular issue shows us Jimmy's "origin," coming from homeless newsboy to Planet photographer and Superman's Pal. I've liked Leonardi's work for a long time, probably going back twenty years, so he's good as always, and Parks' lines are thick enough to give his figures the appropriate weight. The story's fun too, in case I didn't make that clear.
As for the main book, Countdown #40 (written by Paul Dini and Tony Bedard, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Manuel Garcia, inked by Mark McKenna) focuses on three scenes: Donna et al. fighting yet another group of "natives," Holly questioning the shelter's priorities, and the Pied Piper and Trickster hooking up with the Penguin. It also checks in with Jimmy and Mary Marvel. The "Ray Palmer" story is getting a little tedious, as is the Holly story, and the Jimmy story is getting better coverage in the Superman titles as of late, so that leaves Mary Marvel and the Rogues to salvage the issue, and Mary's scene is a little too short. Garcia and McKenna provide decent art -- nothing groundbreaking; kind of in the Brad Walker/Eddy Barrows range.
Thankfully, Countdown #39 (written by Dini and Sean McKeever, pencilled by Jim Calafiore, inked by Jay Leisten) starts off much better, as Karate Kid and the last of Triplicate Girl break into Oracle's office. Holly meets Athena -- but is it the same Athena who was mad at Wonder Woman last week? -- and the Suicide Squad comes after Piper and Trickster. Art is fine; I thought Calafiore was a good fill-in artist back in the Peter David days of Aquaman, and he's better here than he has been on the series. Maybe it's the inks. I liked this issue more than I did the last one, and it may well be because Countdown (unlike 52) does action pretty well. The talky Monitor backup (by Dan Jurgens) even goes a long way towards explaining the nature of the threat, which is nice considering that we're at the one-quarter mark.
Speaking of threats to the multiverse, wasn't She-Hulk #20 (pencilled by Rick Burchett, inked by Cliff Rathburn) not only Dan Slott's last issue, but also some kind of panacea for Marvel continuity at large? Generally, though, it's a quick and dirty wrap-up to Slott's years with Shulkie, including the by-now-familiar "here are the stories I would have done if I had the time" teases. It's not entirely successful -- or, maybe I should say it would have been more successful had I read the Jen-as-judge issues from the last part of Slott's first series. Anyway, it's not bad. Slott hasn't had much room to do his own stuff for a while, with all the crossovers the book's been part of the past few months, so I guess this is one last example of the unadulterated book.
Fantastic Four #548 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Paul Pelletier, inked by Rick Magyar) kicks off the full FF's (Reed and Sue included) battle with the Frightful Four, so it's good clean superhero combat. Much the same is on display in Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four #4 (written by Jeff Parker, pencilled by Mike Wieringo, inked by Wayne von Grawbadger). Both are highly recommended for all your FF needs.
Welcome To Tranquility #9 (written by Gail Simone, drawn by Neil Googe) brings the Devil, more zombies, and Freefall (right? with the purple hair) to town. The main story's fine, but the backup (pencilled by Leandro Fernandez, inked by Francisco Paronzini) is quite good. It explains, in the best EC tradition, why the Coyote Kid has such a mad-on for zombies. I still enjoy the series, although I don't think it'll be around much longer.
More spooky goings-on abound in Detective Comics #835 (written by John Rozum, drawn by Tom Mandrake), as the Scarecrow decides to use puh-sychology on his victims instead of that old crutch, fear-gas. The notion that Batman could be pushed To The Edge (TM) even by the Scarecrow's gruesome new tactics is a bit hard to accept, and Mandrake's art isn't for everyone, but overall it's fairly effective.
Nightwing #135 (written by Marv Wolfman, pencilled by Jon Bosco, inked by Alex Silva) presents exposition via interrogation, as Vigilante facilitates Dick's flashbacks to how he busted Metal Eddie back in the day. It's about how you'd expect, considering that most of the information has already been provided in previous chapters, but it's good nonetheless. Bosco's figures are a bit clunky, and Silva uses a lot of blacks, and overall they're in that same "DC house style" mode. It's about time for this story to end, though.
Remember what I said about Busiek's fine Jimmy Olsen story in last week's Superman? It applies just as much, if not more, to this week's Action Comics #853 (pencilled by Brad Walker, inked by Livesay). Jimmy, as his superheroic alter ego Mr. Action, tries to help Superman take out the Kryptonite Man. Extra points for the special last-page appearance.
Finally, this week's other "Countdown doesn't make everything suck" entry is (All-New) Atom #14 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Mike Norton, inked by Trevor Scott). Atom, Donna Troy, Jason Todd, and Bob The Monitor go to "Heaven," find Blue Beetle, and fight all manner of dead bad guys. The Internet is already buzzing over the new catchphrase, "Stupid jetpack Hitler!" It's a fun issue, but it does kinda feel like treading water. The fun wins out, though.