BOOK OF THE WEEK: Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan #1: At convention appearances over the last few months, Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan writer J. Michael Stracyznski has been fond of saying that this prequel comic will employ "quantum storytelling" to relate a tale of Watchmen's big blue hero, a super-powered being who can pretty much do whatever he wants. What does that mean? Well, it turns out that Dr. Manhattan will jump across boundaries of time and space to tell a disjointed narrative of not just how, but why, this godlike creature came to be. There's no clear sense of when this book is set—scenes take place during the original Watchmen, in Manhattan's childhood, with the crime-fighting group the Minutemen in the 1960s—and we're left with a temporal jumble of impressions that somehow add up to the life of a very strange and potent individual.
Some of the Before Watchmen comics have employed similar diary-style first person narratives with no real conflict and have, as a result, felt kind of boring. For a character like Dr. Manhattan, though, who can use his abilities to put himself in any place and time in existence he wants, it's basically perfect. Even if you don't think Alan Moore's original Watchmen needs any more exploring, you've got to admire the storytelling technique going on here. Also, the rare interior art by Adam Hughes is a major treat. This is definitely one of the best of the Before Watchmen outings.
All-Star Western #12: In 1880s Gotham City, bounty hunter Jonah Hex, psychiatrist Amadeus Arkham, and guest-starring mercenary Tallulah Black find themselves captured and near death at the hands of the Religion of Crime, an ancient sect of criminals that worships the teachings of Cain—the one who killed his brother back in the Bible. Of course, the rough-and-tumble Hex and Black are nothing if not resourceful, and they're going to employ any means they can to get out of this trap, including calling in favors from some ancestors of very familiar Gotham denizens.
Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Moritat's All-Star Western continues to be a colorful and action-packed look at a more primitive (yet familiar) Gotham City. Moritat's art in particular deserves praise for combining the grit of the Wild West with the kinetic forms so essential to Eastern art (ala anime). Basically, come for the amazing action, stay for the seeds of Gotham's future that are being planted in these pages.
Batman Incorporated #3: Talia Al Ghul's criminal organization, Leviathan, has begun to dig its roots deeper and deeper into Gotham City. Batman knows he's in trouble, so to learn all he can about his enemy he's called in some extra help: himself, in the guise of Matches Malone, a seedy Gotham crook who's served as Bruce Wayne's way to infiltrate organized crime for years. This issue provides a really fun chance to see Bruce Wayne's street-level detective skills at work; turns out he's still pretty good without a Bat-computer.
Also, the art by Chris Burnham is, as usual, fantastic; he really gets to have some fun here with a few new additions to Batman's international family of crimefighters. Though Batman Incorporated is clearly building to something huge, an issue like this can easily be enjoyed as a one-off chance for Bruce Wayne to work his Bat-magic.
Justice League Dark #12: The team's been betrayed by one of their own, and now the remaining members of this magical group of heroes has to track down the evil sorcerer Felix Faust as well as their turncoat member, both of whom are in possession of the Books of Magic, ancient artifacts that promise great and terrible power to those who wield them. Jeff Lemire here continues his incredibly and strangely fun exploration of the darker side of the DC Universe, which, in this issue, includes a few surprise appearances from characters that you might've thought forgotten.
The mind-bending magical environments where our heroes fight also gives artist Mikel Janin a chance to create some really epic compositions. This book might be a little more straightforward and action-y than you'd expect from a series starring characters who originally appeared in the more adult Vertigo line of comics, but it's still very, very entertaining.
Secret Avengers #30: Trapped in a country full of super-villains, the covert-ops, Secret Avengers are tasked with recovering three magic artifacts in the possession of Max Fury, an evil clone version of Nick with serious dreams of world domination. Fortunately for them, they brought one of their newest recruits—"Agent Venom," aka Flash Thompson, one-time bully of Peter Parker and now a military officer charged with putting the Venom symbiote to good use. After months of teasing us with this thing, writer Rick Remender has finally let loose with the Venom action, giving us a really wild, chaotic issue full of almost nothing but super-villains beating the tar out of each other.
Remender's script moves at a quick clip, making sure readers don't have a chance to get bored. Like other writers on Secret Avengers, Remender has kind of (though not completely) ditched the "covert" angle of the book here, but in its place he's given us some of the best full-blown action the title has ever seen. When you read this issue, you can see it as a blockbuster movie, and in this case that's a good thing.
Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye #8: On the planet Clemency, a group of Decepticon ex-soldiers who just want to be done with fighting have taken up a pretty alright scavenging business. Unfortunately, even though the war's over, the Decepticon Justice Division—a group of ruthless killers who keep order in the Decepticon ranks by any means necessary—isn't going to let them leave the battle behind. The DJD comes to Clemency looking for revenge, but instead, somehow, they find their prey allied with the Dinobot known as Grimlock. Oh yes, there are great fights to be had.
This issue of More Than Meets the Eye is simply wild; in particular, artist Alex Milne has a ton of fun with the designs for the DJD, who are a bunch of characters we've never seen before. One has, basically, a garbage disposal for a chest. Another can take his face off and put it on his victims to wipe out their brain. This is crazy stuff that you don't see in Transformers a whole lot. No-holds-barred sci-fi stories with transforming robots at their center? Yeah, that's a winner.
Unwritten #40: After being gone from his own series for months, star Tom Taylor here returns to The Unwritten as a mega-celebrity in the midst of a world storytelling tour. He's got a message for the people of the planet: don't let good stories die, because they're literally the center of existence. Unfortunately, anyone with that level of fame tends to attract negative attention, which in this case takes the form of Pastor Filby, the leader of the cult-like "Church of Tommy" who's convinced that Tom Taylor is indeed a fictional character brought to life who's come to save the world using his magic powers.
Of course, if you've been following The Unwritten, you know that there's at least a little bit of truth to that, but that's not the story Tom Taylor wants to tell. After months of this confrontation budding, we finally get to see Tom and Filby duke it out using the power of fiction here, and it is awesome. Unwritten continues to be a must-read comic for anyone who's obsessed with the power of stories.