ComicsAlliance's Chris Murphy reviews the biggest -- and best -- comic books hitting the shelves this week.


The lengthy "World's Most Wanted" storyline concludes this week. With Norman Osborn now in charge of H.A.M.M.E.R. and wielding the power Tony Stark once had, Stark's gone to great efforts to conceal valuable information about both the identities of fellow superheroes as well as the secrets behind his technologies from Osborn. And it's come at great personal sacrifice to Tony. But the two men have been fighting through proxies and concealed plans so far. Now, finally, they're confronting each other metal faceplate to metal faceplate with all the hydraulics-strengthened punching and explosions that entails.

Writer Matt Fraction has done some impressive work in this arc so far. He's brought Pepper Potts out from behind Tony Stark's shadow and made her into a hero in her own right. He's made former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Maria Hill into a likable character following her previous stint as a cold one-dimensional antagonist. He's taken Iron Man's new-found mass popularity and Osborn's latest incarnation as the supposed greatest Machiavellian plotter ever to grace the pages of a comic book and used both to his advantage as assets to strengthen his story rather than as complications to awkwardly fit into his narrative. And the ending's just as satisfying.Potts, Hill and Black Widow's sabotage mission inside H.A.M.M.E.R. headquarters lets the supporting characters thrive and ties in well with the central showdown. And that fight's a lot of fun. Osborn, you see, seems to be under the belief that he's about to take part in your everyday knock-down drag-out fight between two people wearing finely tailored killing machines. Stark, on the other hand, knows differently. And so when Norman forgets to bring an ingeniously devised scheme to a mastermind fight it's pretty much over before it begins.

Of course, Tony doesn't exactly come out of the fight without a scratch. But the twist that ends the issue and begins the next arc is well done and has me just as excited about what's to come as I am about what I just read.

ONE PROBLEM -- The Brave and the Bold 28

I'm about to put my fanboy hat on. You may want to stand back and look away, because this isn't going to be pretty.

I'm a big fan of J. Michael Straczynski. I feel I should be honest about that so that if you're not as excited by his works as I am, you should know to take anything I say about him with a grain of salt. When I first heard he would be doing some work for DC, I was intrigued. I know that he'd always expressed an interest in writing Superman, and I'm still looking forward to that, whenever it happens.

But in the meantime DC's had him relaunch four characters in four issues from the old Red Circle Comics imprint and then moved him over into telling one-shot stories in "Brave and the Bold." Now, Straczynski's got strengths and weaknesses as a comics writer. He tends to do better work when he's got more creative control and does his best work with characters that are either his creations or that are reinventions. But what he really excels at is handling ongoing story arcs. He's very good at having every individual story both be satisfying on its own while at the same time including enough focus on the larger plot arc to keep a reader interested in what's to come. And so what's DC done since getting him? Hand him all one shot issues.

DC, listen very carefully: You're doing it wrong.

Seriously, this is like getting Brett Favre out of retirement and then telling him you really want him to play linebacker. This is getting Slash to join your band and them handing him a keytar. This is getting Tim Burton to direct your film and then telling him that at no point can the color black appear on screen. In other words, this is an unfortunate example of not properly identifying the best fit for the talent at hand. Now maybe this is what Straczynski wanted to do. Maybe he figured only handling single issue stories would lessen the risk of higher-ups meddling in what he's writing. That certainly something he's been repeatedly burned by and it's left him scarred. But whatever the reasons, the results have been less than excellent so far.

So, then, we have "The Brave and the Bold" 28. Another one-shot story in DC's series of one-shot team ups, this time featuring The Flash, the fastest man alive, and the Blackhawks, a team of ace pilots. Um, one point first. Despite what the cover indicates, during the issue The Flash is unable to run and the Blackhawks do not have access to their planes. So if the defining abilities of these characters are what most interests you about them, you're out of luck.

Instead Barry Allen, in a very Twilight Zone-like plot, ends up stuck in the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II and is rescued from a German attack by the Blackhawks, themselves stranded in the fight while on leave. Allen must come to terms with the difference between the rules of being a superhero and the rules of being a soldier. It's actually a very interesting premise that I enjoyed reading, but it takes most of the issue to reach it and then gets introduced and resolved in about two pages before the issue ends. Some events are inferred to happen between panels in a one page summary that could have been a fairly interesting two or three issue arc on its own. Unfortunately, the flip-side to the fact that Straczynski's good at telling longer stories is that he tends to have ideas too big to be easily contained in one twenty-two pager. And I will continue to look forward to the day he writes something for DC that gives him the opportunity to build some dramatic momentum.

I HAVE LOST MY FAITH IN DOG -- Puppy Power: Bo Obama

What's the right description for when something that's gone too far goes too far again? Tooer far? Too farther? Three far? I know, I know, that's terrible, right? But in my defense terrible has lost all meaning for me because I just read "Puppy Power: Bo Obama." The latest and perhaps most out of left field offense in the genre of Obama related comics.

If you were mildly annoyed by Bluewater Comics' Political Power series milking every dollar it could out of the aftermath of the 2008 election, and if you got a little angry when someone told you Marvel would be printing "Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers," then looking at this comic may cause blood to flow openly from your tear ducts. "Puppy Power: Bo Obama" is the first, and, if there is a just and benevolent force in charge of the universe, only comic in Bluewater's "Puppy Power" series.

It's a profile of the first dog presented from the perspective of President Obama's Portuguese Water Dog himself. He tells the reader how he came to be part of the Obama family, he talks about the history of the pets of Presidents, and he gives a brief history of the White House. All while bearing a passing resemblance to Sprocket from "Fraggle Rock" and displaying the ability to have his front paws change between normal dog paws and disturbing human-like hands as needed.

You'll hear all sorts of fun facts. Did you know that Taft owned a cow? Or that Portugese Water Dogs have webbed feet? Or that Bo likes to defecate on the White House lawn? It's all there. Oh, and here's another delightful tidbit. If the depiction of the President's dog presented here is to be believed as accurate, he's kind of a racist. He's fine with cows, horses, elephants, and all sorts of dogs. But you bring up cats and he starts to get angry and lets the disparaging comments just roll off his long, floppy tongue. At one point he actually turns to the President and exclaims "My first new law . . . No more cats in the White House!!!!" I know, I know, it's supposed to be cute, dogs hate cats, ha ha ha. But it happens so often and with such fervent distaste that the underlying idea of "some things are just different from other things and will never get along with one another" is pretty blatant and a little uncomfortable, to be honest. It doesn't help that the one depiction off a cat comes off looking strangely creepy.

I realize that this is a comic about an adorable cartoon dog designed to get children interested in how their government works and that I am in no way the target demographic. Okay, with the possible exception of falling into the category of "someone who enjoys making masochistically ironic purchases". But at this point I'm starting to be convinced that ironic purchases may be what's keeping Bluewater's lines in print. And if that is the case I'd simply like to suggest that we've made ourselves suffer enough and we should all stop now.


Other comics of note: Dark Horse published a "Sugar Shock" one-shot, written by Joss Whedon with art by Fabio Moon. It's not new material, as it's all been made available on Dark Horse's MySpace page (and is still available in three different segments). But if you're a fan if Whedon and haven't read this yet, you now have less of an excuse for missing it. In fact, if you're a fan of laughing and haven't read this, you really owe it to yourself to give it a shot, as it's a hysterical tale of a rock band composed of three women and robot who're invited to what they believe is an intergalactic battle of the bands. Also out this week is "Chew" #5, the end of the first story arc of John Layman and Rob Guillory's excellent new series published by Image. The fifth issue firmly establishes this as a title that's likely to be good for quite some time. Finally a personal favorite mini-series of mine, "Uncle Sam" by Steve Darnall and Alex Ross, is being released in a deluxe hardcover edition by Vertigo this week.

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