Monday, February 16, 2015

Birthday & Hiatus

It's my birthday today. I turned 28.

As a present to myself, I'm going to have Comics Matter go dark until sometime in the second week of March. At the beginning of that month, my wife and I are spending a week in Mexico, and between now and then I have a fairly tight schedule between work things, preparing for the trip at home, and getting my PopMatters and CSBG stuff finished ahead of time so I'm not writing them during my vacation. As such, the simplest, easiest thing to cut out of my calendar is this blog, since it's just my personal jam. So no new Weekly Action Comics Weekly reviews until I get back from my trip, and February's Monthly Dose will be heavily belated, and nothing else is going to get posted here for a bit, either. Once I return, I damn well ought to be recharged enough to get back to something resembling regularly scheduled programming.

Happy birthday to me. See you all in less than a month, but not much less.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #616

In 1988-89, DC changed Action Comics from a monthly Superman-focused series to a weekly anthology, also changing its name to Action Comics Weekly. It lasted 42 issues before reverting to a monthly format. I am going to review all 42 of those issues, one per week (give or take) for 42 weeks. This is the sixteenth of those reviews.
For what I think is the first time ever, the order of the stories this week was exactly the same as last week. Weird.
I really liked seeing Hal Jordan use his powers in innovative ways to escape the safe, but I was not such a big fan of the scenes with the villains. The as-yet-unseen head villain is annoying with her arrogance and lack of a face, and the rest of the bunch are gratingly childlike. They also look terrible, just bizarre character designs that seem to neither have a function nor make any real statement about who they are. They look strange for the sake of it. So these characters don't do it for me, but that's alright, because all the better for Jordan to ultimately stomp them into the ground. The highlight this week was his escape, though, as I said. He chips the yellow paint away with his ring, using it as a physical tool rather than an energy conductor/manipulator/whatever the right word is, which I thought was a clever little detail from Peter David. Just because Jordan's powers are negated doesn't mean his ring is useless, and that's nice. He then creates a green drill to make a hole in the un-yellowed part of the safe, through which he shoots a beam out and makes a Hulk knock-off construct that frees him. It's a series of smart, quick-thinking moves by Jordan, making me like him and believe in him as a hero in a way I don't know I ever have in this series before. Of course, he then verbally beats the crap out of Arisia, and even though he feels bad afterwards, he doesn't really do enough to try and make up for it because he's in such a hurry to track down the baddies. That was disappointing behavior, an soured me on him only moments after I'd been so staunchly in his corner. Between the Arisia business and the 3 pages worth of obnoxious villains, this story ended up being mostly a letdown, but it opened with a very interesting and entertaining use of its main character.
Blackhawk is boring this time around. Martin Pasko doesn't have the same zippiness or humor in his writing as Mike Grell did, which makes the narrative move much more slowly. Also, this story is not nearly as intriguing—it's a conspiracy/murder investigation rather than a treasure hunt, and the man hiring Blackhawk here (Leslie Richardson) doesn't have any of the mystery of the nun from the first story. Leslie lays it all on the table right away, which makes me care less about what happens, because he's just a talking plot hook instead of a real character. On top of the actual mission being dull, the opening three pages have pretty much nothing to do with it. They're just sort of check-in scenes where we see what the rest of Blachawk's crew is up to right now, which mainly consists of them talking about what they're up to amongst themselves, so that's a decent amount of wasted space. Especially considering Blackhawk later repeats to Leslie almost all of the info those first few pages provide. This is not unclear or even badly written, it's just progressing at a crawl and not capturing my interest. Hopefully there will be some action next week, and things will pick up from there.
It sounds insane when I say it in my head, but Wild Dog may have been my favorite story in this issue. It did squander its first 2 pages, spending more than 25% of its total space—for some reason this was only 7 pages instead of 8—on inefficiently recapping last week's events. But the heart of the narrative was what came next, when Daniel Crown, the kid who witnessed Wild Dog shooting some robbers, got in an argument with his friends at the comicbook store about whether or nor Wild Dog is a "real" superhero. It's a debate I imagine took place in real comicbook stores at the time, and certainly several of my problems with the character were brought up by Daniel's opposers. It was good to see these complaints addressed in the actual comic; that display of self-awareness made me more forgiving of Wild Dog's bad points. He may be flawed and not fit into everyone's definition of "hero," but he knows that and so do his creators, and they're doing their thing anyway, which is admirable in its way. The rest of the story sees Daniel equipping himself with his own mini version of Wild Dog's battle gear, getting cash from his neglectful, alcoholic mother and buying his weapons from pawn shops. This naturally leads to him going out on his own patrol (he has a moped) and finding Wild Dog in the middle of a hostage situation. Daniel decides his hero needs back-up, so chances are he's about to involve himself directly in the violence, which can't possibly go well for anyone. I look forward to seeing Wild Dog being he's forced to face the negative influence of his methods and message. I don't expect him to change his mind, but it might, at least, add some much-needed depth to his character.
Not surprisingly, it turns out Superman didn't kill the man he threw against a wall last week. There was, evidently, some sort of transceiver implanted in his brain that allowed someone to remotely listen in on him and also kill him from a distance. No sooner do Superman and the doctors figure all that out then the transceiver is used to blow the dead man up, which Curt Swan, inker Murphy Anderson, and colorist Petra Scotese draw like the Sun firing confetti. Everything that happens here feels important to the unfolding mystery of the obscure evil organization who supposedly killed Bob Galt's fellow Superman worshippers. That said, this isn't a very compelling chapter, since it's mostly just information being delivered to Superman by two random doctor characters, who could easily have been only one person, instead. Supes no doubt needs to know these details, and both of these pages were needed in order to properly explain them to the audience, but even so, just learning about the transceiver and what it does without anything else happening was not all that thrilling a read.
There's a whole lot of fighting in this installment of Nightwing, and Chuck Patton makes it all look great. Speedy fights Wen Cheng, and then Nightwing fights Cheshire, and in both cases, the good guys don't do so well. The villains get the drop on them, and Speedy ends up knocked out, while the last panel of the whole thing is Nightwing's face only inches away from Cheshire's poisoned fingernails. Even though this narrative hasn't totally grabbed me so far, I liked this beat because it was brisk, action-packed, good-looking, and tense. Things are heating up all over now that Nightwing knows Speedy lied to him and they have both finally come face-to-face with their foes. I can't imagine there are too many chapters left in this arc, actually, because this felt like the beginning of the end, with little left to do but have Nightwing somehow best Cheshire, and then save and simultaneously confront Speedy. These might be wild assumptions on my part, but it seems like the only logical development, though I guess Nightwing might get beaten and then he and Speedy would find themselves captured together. Then they could deal with their personal shit, rally, and win the day together. Either way, a final battle in which one or both good guys get free from the bad guys' clutches can't be too far off, and based on this, I'm rather looking forward to it.
So I'm still not positive I understand what the hell happened in this Black Canary story, but I am positive of this: Vincent Scales was the main bad guy, and he basically gets to win, because by the time Dinah figures out what he's up to, she also learns that he has terminal cancer and will die within months. That may not sound like a victory for Scales, but he never has to pay in any direct way for the wrong he's done, and as vague as that wrongdoing may be from my vantage point, it would've been nice to see some kind of consequences. This story wasn't strong or well-built enough to pull off an ending this morally ambivalent; if nothing else, it needed to land on a solid beat of Black Canary winning, so we could've had some meager payoff despite the befuddling lead-up. Without even offering that, this narrative concludes just as unsatisfactorily as it moved all along, and thought I'm not sure of all the details, I definitely know I was never convinced to care.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Black Canary/"Bitter Fruit - Conclusion"
5. Blackhawk/"Mission: Implausible"
4. Green Lantern/"Safe at Home"
3. Superman"Dead Men Tell no Tales"
2. Nightwing/"The Cheshire Contract Chapter Four: Counterpoint"
1. Wild Dog/"Fatal Distraction Chapter Two: Battle Gear"


Two weeks ago, PopMatters put up a piece I wrote about Toyo Harada from Harbinger and Dario Agger from Thor, a pair of supervillains who are also CEOs, but who wield both their business powers and superpowers in different ways and to different ends. This week, at the same site, I had a column about Ales Kot, Morgan Jeske, Sloane Leong, and Ed Brisson's Change, talking largely about how tough a nut it is to crack. Also, on CSBG, my new 1987 And All That was posted looking at two issues of Daredevil. I swear I didn't pick that title because of all the hype around the upcoming Netflix series, but it was certainly a happy accident.

Something I Failed to Mention
I got nothing. Usually when I write a post, even for this blog, I find myself leaving something out that I initially meant to include because there's no space for it and/or there's no comfortable way to fit it into the rest of what I've written and/or I can't find a good way to articulate it clearly. With the three pieces above, though, I pretty much covered al the ground I wanted to when I began. This is not to say that there's nothing more to say about those topics than I already have, but the points I wanted to make were made satisfactorily in every case, at least by my own standards. I still have a Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review to bang out today, and I haven't yet read all my new comics from the past two weeks, so...I'm going to stop wasting time writing this paragraph and get into some reading or other writing now.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #615

In 1988-89, DC changed Action Comics from a monthly Superman-focused series to a weekly anthology, also changing its name to Action Comics Weekly. It lasted 42 issues before reverting to a monthly format. I am going to review all 42 of those issues, one per week (give or take) for 42 weeks. This is the fifteenth of those reviews.
So what started as a typical delay quickly turned into a full week off from this Action Comics Weekly project, but just like Wild Dog and Blackhawk, I'm back!
Green Lantern kicks off what is essentially a whole new arc. Yes, Arisia's new career as a model is a thread that began a few issues back, but here we jump to it being in full swing. Hal Jordan, meanwhile, has left Chicago and all the fear-about-no-fear stuff behind, and is ready for a brand new threat to introduce itself. Which, of course, it promptly does. At a technology expo of some kind where Arisia is working as a spokesmodel, two supervillains named Siphon and Castle show up to steal things and cause mayhem. Hal gets into uniform and engages with the bad guys, but Castle ends up trapping him in a new hi-tech safe of some kind. Castle gets thrown in their first, but his power, which is simple yet impressively powerful and effective, is to switch places with any other person. So he teleports Hal into the safe and himself to freedom, which ends up being a better move than Castle even knew, since the inside of the safe is entirely yellow. So Hal is stuck with limited air in a box nobody can open and that his powers won't work against. That's where the story ends, a strong cliffhanger considering Hal was totally fine and hadn't even met his new foes at the start of the issue. Between the solid ending and Castle's cool superpowers, there's plenty to like in this story, though none of it breaks any ground. It is decent, middle-of-the-line superhero comics through and through.
Most of this Blackhawk story centers on him hiring Natalie, a woman he knows from his past but is new to me, and for all I know is a brand new character. She's a former/failed model/actress with a sweet red eyepatch to go with her Communism. I think that's what she hinted at, anyway...she and Blackhawk have a playful but cryptic patter that, while fun to read, isn't always all that easy to follow. This may be due to Martin Pasko being the writer for Balckhawk now instead of Mike Grell. Pasko originally wrote Secret Six for Action Comics Weekly, a story with a lot more mystery than Grell's Blackhawk had, so perhaps Pasko is trying to infuse some of that into his turn with this character. Whatever the case, Rick Burchett's art is still the main selling point for Blackhawk, as it has been all along. He does such a nice job of making Blackhawk into someone who's lovable despite his crassness. That's what makes Blackhawk's adventures so entertaining, his carefree attitude and constant good humor, and it's not his dialogue that captures that spirit, it's the art. If he looked more serious, the same words might come across as overly aggressive or callous, but with Burchett it works the way it's supposed to, as the simple humor of a warrior who's amusingly wrapped up in his own machismo.
I still don't care for Wild Dog one bit as a hero, but this time Max Collins pulled out a storytelling gimmick that I actually liked. Granted, having Wild Dog keep a "combat log" only highlights what a Punisher rip off he really is, since it's an obvious stand-in for the "war journal." But then at the end of the story, we see a young boy who witnessed Wild Dog shooting some robbers writing about it excitedly in his diary, followed by a page of the Quad City's newest serial killer writing in her own diary about why she's decided to become a murderer. So all together, there are three journal entries from three different characters, all serving similar purposes. Both Wild Dog's log and the young boy's diary show us the underlying craziness and potential danger of a "hero" like Wild Dog, and the woman's diary gives us some insight into the mind of another killer who believes she's acting in the name of justice. It's all about the psychology of those who feel they have the right to decide who lives and who dies, and the influence that kind of thinking can have on other people. As much as that worked for me, the scene where Wild Dog unloads his gun at the legs of three guys holding up a gas station was a perfect example of why I just can't get into this character. His methods are so excessive, especially considering the low-level crime he tends to fight, at least compared to the typical comicbook vigilante. Seeing one maniacal man with a gun shoot up a bunch of arguably less insane men with guns just doesn't connect with me, unless there are going to be actual consequences. So far, there are few-to-none for Wild Dog, so he has no reason to stop the madness, which continues to grate my nerves.
Superman saves a life, but then—gasp!—he may have taken one as well. It's a straightforward one-two narrative punch, and though I'm sure there's more to the man's death that meets the eye, it's nice to end on a beat of doubting Superman's control of his abilities. Up to now, he's pretty consistently played the expected role of the perfect, streamlined do-gooder. Even the suggestion that he might've used excessive, lethal force is something new for this narrative, a nice refreshing splash of negativity. And boy, the dead guy sure does slam his head hard against the wall, so maybe Supes killed him after all. Both Roger Stern's script and Curt Swan's art leave room for doubt, is what I'm saying, and that was a smart new direction to move in, surprising but still fitting easily into the establish flow and momentum of the narrative.
After hinting at it a few times before, and then implying it heavily for a couple more pages this week, it is finally confirmed that Roy Harper is not, as he claimed, working for the C.B.I. He quit two months ago, and this whole mission to stop Cheshire that he's pulled Nightwing into is, in fact, entirely personal. Again, I say, this is a Speedy story more than a Nightwing one, but at least now Nightwing's got some stakes of his own. His best friend got him involved in a very dangerous situation, without allowing any of their other friends to help, all based on lies. Sadly, other than a pretty stellar opening page and then the final-panel reveal of Speedy's deception, the rest of this chapter held little of interest. Cheshire as a loving mother was alright, and so was seeing Speedy coming unhinged, but both of those scenes were truncated so we could get more of Nightwing talking to some British government official and then, later, with the rest of the Teen Titans. Those conversations were both largely dull, as was Nightwing's phone call with Speedy in between, and all told this boring chatter took up around half the page space. I'm hoping now that Speedy's lie has been exposed, the pace can pick up a little, because so far this story has been dragging, and this week was probably the dragging-est of them all.
I have so little to say about Black Canary that I haven't said already. This week, a character I was sure I knew was a villain, the guy with the goatee, behaved in a way that made him seem like he might in fact be fighting for the good guys. To have one of the few things I felt certain about get turned on its head like that only further cemented for me how poorly I have managed to decipher this narrative all along. After it concludes next week, I should really take the time to go back through it from the beginning and see if I can figure out just where/how I got so damned lost. The real headline here, though, is that it's ending next week. I'm looking forward to that.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Black Canary/"Bitter Fruit Part 7"
5. Wild Dog/"Fatal Distraction Chapter One: Night Patrol"
4. Nightwing/"Tracks of a Killer!"
3. Green Lantern/"Freaks!"
2. Blackhawk/"That Was no Lady..."
1. Superman/"Fatal Flaw?"

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Monthly Dose: January 2015

Monthly Dose is a semi-regular column where I read one issue each month of long-completed series.

100 Bullets #27: This issue presents what is, essentially, a piece of historical fiction, wherein JFK's assassination might have been carried out by Joe DiMaggio as retribution for Marilyn Monroe's clandestine murder. None of those names I just mentioned ever get said aloud, but they're not exactly kept secret, either. There's a record-breaking baseball player whose celebrity wife also has a relationship with the President, and is then murdered for it, so Graves gives the player the attaché with the hundred untraceable bullets, and on "November twenty-second. Nineteen Sixty-Three," the player takes a shot at the President in Dallas. You don't really need to hear anyone's name to know who this story is about, or who it's inspired by anyway. We're even told that there were other shooters, and no one knows whose bullet actually did the job, so this version of events fits with both the official story of what happened and many of the more popular conspiracy theories. None of which matters all that much, anyway. The real point of this narrative in the context of the larger series is to establish just how long Graves has been doing the thing where he gives people the attaché, and how much influence he has or at least used to have back in the day. Though the narrative of the baseball player is the focus, the takeaway has to do entirely with Graves, which speaks to how well Brian Azzarello writes the issue. He gives us background on one of the most important characters (and perhaps the most inscrutable) without needing to remove any of Graves' mystery or natural intimidation. If anything, he's more intriguing and scary than ever. The strongest aspect of this issue, though, has nothing to do with Graves or the baseball player, at least not directly, and may not even be something Azzarello wrote. It's the entirely silent background story about the two nurses (or maybe she's a nurse and he's an orderly/resident?) who sneak off for some romance and it angers a patient so much that she dies. Eduardo Risso weaves it in quite easily without it stealing the spotlight or taking up too much space, and he makes it light and funny somehow despite the darkness of the resolution. The old woman always makes me laugh with her classic, almost cartoonish curmudgeonliness. I'm not totally sold on the JFK/Monroe/DiMaggio thing, if only because JFK conspiracy talk feels trite, but I like the expansion of Graves and I love the B-plot, so I enjoyed more of this than I didn't.

Automatic Kafka #3: To escape the clutches of the shadowy National Parks Service, Automatic Kafka decides to become a celebrity (at the Waring's suggestion). It's a clever move, one that makes sense considering both Kafka's history and goals. He was always partially just meant to be a star, a member of a manufactured superhero team that had merchandise and marketing from day zero, so cashing in on his name now is a pretty easy thing to do. And with the whole world paying attention to him once again, it becomes considerably harder for the NPS to make good on their threat to make his life miserable, since the NPS would rather the public not know what kinds of secret, evil government shit they're really up to. It does take the issue kind of a long time to get there, but in between the scenes of Kafka talking to the NPS and then the Warning, we see him as the host of a gameshow called The Milling Dollar Detail, where the contestants are literally killed at the end if they can't guess one random, secret detail they have no good way of knowing. It's a bleak but not unbelievable vision of the evolution of popular entertainment, in the same way Kafka is a severe yet logical reimagining of both classic android and classic superhero characters. Between a fresh appearance from the Warning, the two pages with four panels each of Kafka in ads for various parody products, and all of the scenes of Detail, this was the funniest issue by far, though a dark comedy to be sure. It was also the least story advancement in an issue yet, but the progress that did get made was very interesting and unexpected, and it resulted in a lot of solid material. I was also really impressed with the visual changes that accompanied the Detail stuff; Ashley Wood does those pages in a wash of blue, a much softer and more inviting color than we've seen used so dominantly in this series before. Along with that, only the middle third of those pages have actual panels of them, and the top and bottom tiers are filled with the overlapping logos of a bunch of imagined, mostly satirical companies, all presumably sponsors of Detail. It was a great way to fit a bunch of jokes in a small space, and along with the coloring, it helped those parts of the narrative pop on every level. Predicting the direction of this comic is a futile exercise, and that's what I like most about it. This issue was a perfect demonstration of the kinds of sudden turns Automatic Kafka likes to take, and of how effective they can be.

X-Force (vol. 1) #27: This was a pretty classic X-story, dressed up in the hyper-90s aesthetic and attitude this book has always had. There's a human who hates mutants, so the bad mutants want to kill him, and the good mutants want to stop the bad mutants because that's what good mutants do and who needs more reason than that? And that's fine; I like a good action comic just fine, and this is definitely that, but it doesn't particularly stand out because there's nothing special going on. It's 100% the one-sentence synopsis I provided above, nothing deeper or more complex to it, or at least not that we're shown within this issue. Are twists coming, are there narrative wrinkles yet to be discovered? Probably, but this opening beat is all surface, characters stating their feelings aloud and X-Force fighting the MLF primarily because no other heroes are available, as opposed to some more compelling connection between the two teams. They've faced off before, but that was when Stryfe was running the MLF so Cable was personally invested. Now, it's a more generic mutant-related problem, and it's only through spying on the Commission for Super Human Activities that X-Force even know about it and decide to get involved. Before that happens, we see the MLF kidnap their target, Henry Peter Gyrich, and learn that not every member of that team gets along or agrees on what level or mercilessness is appropriate in the field. I imagine this dissension amongst the villains' ranks will come into play later, but for now it's merely something we discover exists. Afterwards, X-Force splits into three teams and invades the MLF's base, and they win some fights and lose others, which was to be expected. That's where things resolve this month, with some of X-Force doing well and other doing horribly in the midst of this somewhat misguided rescue mission. All fine, but none of it grabs me or makes me especially excited for next time.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Elsewhere/Snow Day

It's been more than a month since I've done one of these Elsewhere posts, mostly because of the holidays affecting my schedule and those of the sites I write for. Since last time, I've had two 1987 And All That posts go up on CSBG, one on Captain America #325-336 and another on Little Shop of Horrors. Most recently, I had a piece go up at PopMatters discussing how I like but mistrust the entire cast of Hinterkind.

I live in Massachusetts, so today is officially a snow day, as Juno has the whole state pretty much buried. The last two days have been spent preparing for this storm, both at work and at home, so I haven't had time yet for what should've been this weeks Weekly Action Comics Weekly Reviews. Once again, that post will be late. I doubt if it'l be today, even though I technically have the time, because I am enjoying doing nothing in the midst of the blizzard, and will most likely let inertia rule my time. Even writing this tiny post is starting to take it out of me.

Something I Failed to Mention
The Captain America issues I discussed work on one level which I did not explore in my column, as a commentary on the current state of comics and the industry's handling of its more popular, well-established characters. Steve Rogers struggles with feeling like he's outgrown his original identity and purpose, which creates conflict when the government demands he go back to fighting who they say and being their obedient soldier. It's easy to map this onto the idea of the character of Captain America getting to big and complex and modern to fir into his original concept, and the fear his creators understandably have that fans might not enjoy seeing that much growth or change. Similarly, when the government brings in John Walker, a more focused, violent, show-boaty kind of guy, the comic itself presents the readers with a choice: do we want Steve Rogers the fully-realized human or John Walker and his violent spectacle? Obviously the book favors Rogers, but part of how it does so is by giving us Walker as a comparison, a watered-down and obnoxious version of the Captain America idea that isn't enough to satisfy.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #614

In 1988-89, DC changed Action Comics from a monthly Superman-focused series to a weekly anthology, also changing its name to Action Comics Weekly. It lasted 42 issues before reverting to a monthly format. I am going to review all 42 of those issues, one per week for 42 weeks. This is the fourteenth of those reviews.
Sick of wordiness
So haikus only this week
A fun, weird challenge
Hal's ring removed fear
Cool concept, explained too fast
With lame, sappy end
Great art, great story
A truly scary villain
Solid two-part tale
Cheshire gets her man
It's still a Speedy story
Fluffy, but not bad
Recap again? Ugh!
But Supes gets to save the day
And looks fantastic
I didn't have room to say it in the poem but this is a fantastic first page
Catwoman murders
And then frames Arthur for it
Dark, twisted justice
I'm still so confused
One awesome action panel
Otherwise, whatevs

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Black Canary/"Bitter Fruit Part 4" [It's really Part 6 but "Part 4" is what it says]
5. Green Lantern/"Bring me a Man"
4. Nightwing/"First Blood"
3. Catwoman/"The Tin Roof Club Part Four"
2. Superman/"Death Comes Calling..."
1. Phantom Stranger/"Death God"

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #613

In 1988-89, DC changed Action Comics from a monthly Superman-focused series to a weekly anthology, also changing its name to Action Comics Weekly. It lasted 42 issues before reverting to a monthly format. I am going to review all 42 of those issues, one per week for 42 weeks. This is the thirteenth of those reviews.
Woo, boy, I am sure starting to let that "one per week" promise slip, huh? But as my parents recently pointed out to me while visiting this weekend, if I miss a self-imposed deadline once in a while, who's going to punish me? I will try to get back to posting these reviews on Sundays more regularly again, but obviously this one is coming in a few days late. Forgive me.
This might've been my favorite Green Lantern chapter yet. The art hasn't done a lot of cutting loose in the Green Lantern story so far, but Tod Smith goes big here, getting to be the star of the first five of the eight pages. Hal Jordan spends those pages in a nightmare world of his own imagination, as influenced by Mind Games' mental superpowers. Up to now, we've only seen him turn people into homicidal maniacs, but apparently he can also influence other emotions as well, at least when he mind-blasts someone directly instead of through his machine. So he puts Jordan through a bunch of intense, negative feelings, things like hate and guilt, which manifest as crazy hallucinations, meaning Smith gets to play around a little. He also gets to draw a Hal who's on the brink, sporting some awesomely exaggerated expressions of anger and contempt. Eventually Mind Games tries to make Hal experience fear, which backfires since of course Hal has no fear. I liked this for a couple reasons, primarily that it tied together what had seemed up to now to be two concurrently running but non-intersecting threads: Hal's questioning of his fearlessness and the Mind Games threat. Also, it speaks to a larger issue, which Hal himself recognizes. For Mind Games' attack to fail, Hal would have to literally possess no fear, not even the kind that's buried deep or wholly ignored. Does this indicate damage, a flaw in Hal's personality? Acting fearlessly is heroic, but a legitimate absence of fear, an inability to feel it even when being controlled by another person, that may be symptomatic of deep dysfunction. It's definitely worth exploring, and as that seems to be Hal's intention, I'm still on very much on board. Mind Games seems to be taken care of for now, an appropriately quick defeat for such a lame villain, and one which moved the narrative in an interesting direction.
This is not a Nightwing story; it's a Speedy story in which Nightwing features prominently. At least, that's the only conclusion I can draw based on this first part. The story centers on Speedy's mission for the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation, which I guess was a thing in the DCU at this time) and revolves around Cheshire, who is Speedy's ex and the mother of his child. Remove the part where he asks Nightwing for help and this is a nice, clean, Speedy story with solid stakes. On the other hand, if it weren't for Speedy showing up in need of a partner, Nightwing wouldn't even know anything about what happens in this story. So why is he the title character? I assume it has mostly to do with him being a more popular (and, admittedly, better) character, plus maybe some as-yet-unrevealed plot detail that makes this narrative a better fit for him. Whatever, the fact that it's really a Speedy story doesn't make it bad. Nightwing is an amusing narrator, he and Speedy have a nice friendship, and the conversation between them about how they are both former wards of millionaire superheroes is interesting if a little obvious. Do I care about Cheshire trying to assassinate random ambassadors? Not really, but her villainous monologuing was fun. I also liked the looks of all three main characters. They were extra 80's, but it suited them, and everyone's outfits looked practical even if they didn't age all that well. I found this an entertaining but not quite exciting read, unremarkable save to say that it was actually a Speedy story.
Even though Tom Grindberg's art is not as standout as Kyle Baker's was in the first Phantom Stranger story back in Action Comics Weekly #610, this ended up being the best story, visually, in this whole issue. Grindberg is inked by Dennis Janke and colored by Petra Scotese, and all three of them really bring it when it comes to the horror elements. The opening page's final panel of the young woman who aged so suddenly it killed her, lying on the floor of the bus like the world's most terrifying ragdoll...I got chills. And Ah Puch is gloriously grotesque and enormous, believable as a god and a viable foe for the Stranger. Part of me feels like I've seen the concept of a book that kills the people who read it before, but I can't place it, and the added touch of having them grow old while having their faces sucked by magical leeches makes it compelling even if it's not original (which, again, it might actually be). I don't have a ton of experience with the Phantom Stranger, but this seemed a pretty good beginner story, with an obvious threat presenting itself, one that can and no doubt will serve as a perfect opportunity for the Stranger to show off the full breadth of his power. I am anxious to see that, especially with this particular opponent and in the hands of this artistic team.
This was the first time reading Superman in Action Comics Weekly felt like a slog, which was hugely disappointing. Recap, followed by super-dull housecleaning-type stuff, followed by the hint of a start of something dramatic and worthwhile, which came right at the end. There's reason to be hopeful about next week's installment, I suppose, but that doesn't make this week's any better. The five panels of info-dumping at the start already felt like a waste, or at the very least an inefficient way to remind readers of what's happened so far. But to follow them with two sizable panels of Clark Kent hiding Bob Galt in his apartment was just plain boring. The panel that came right after those, where Superman thinks to himself that Galt will probably be safe in the apartment, was really all that was needed to establish where Galt would be while Supes continued the investigation, but instead we had to spend time seeing Galt get dropped off, possibly the dullest scene ever. Clark Kent wasn't even wearing the amazing jacket he's had on in every other issue, and when we finally saw Superman in costume, it was small and action-less. I felt a little let down by this, because Superman has been so impressive up to this point, but everyone is allowed one off week, and it took three months worth of weekly chapters for Superman to have a real stinker.
Holly dies suddenly, and Selina mourns in her way, first getting drunk and then trying to get revenge. Selina knows that Holly's house didn't just blow up randomly; Arthur, Holly's husband, must have been responsible, trying to take his wife out so that the brooch Selina gave her could be all his. It's a simple enough hook, and it works well, bolstered considerably by Barry Kitson, Bruce Patterson, and Adrienne Roy's art. The explosion itself is bright and huge and devastating, and the page which follows, in which Holly slowly dies in Selina's arms, is done mostly in tight shots and lit only by the fire, making it intimate and pale and oh so sad. The real standout panel is two pages later when Selina confronts Arthur, and we see her standing over him on his bed, brandishing her whip, obscured by shadow but still terrifying and intimidating with her glowing eyes and fierce-looking cat ears. These are all good-looking pages, and the scene between Selina and George is tightly written, doing what it needs to do for her character and the plot without dragging its heels or taking up too much space. I'm starting to get into the groove of this Catwoman story now for real, and with Holly's death amping things up considerably, it's bound to get better from here.
I could've sworn that last week, in the scene where the mysterious Mr. Scales was talking on the phone, there was some dialogue about Hector Librado being terminated or some similar word. Apparently I misunderstood, though, as Librado is still alive, having survived the attempt on his life when another patient in the hospital happened to wake up and see him being strangled. Just one more detail I either missed, misinterpreted, or never understood. This Black Canary story has become a chore to get through, because I am so far from being invested in it at this point. It has never been clear to me what the stakes really are or why I am meant to care, there are still major players I know next to nothing about, and on top of everything else, it's slow-moving, with none of the hard-hitting street-level action I was hoping to see from this character. While I still enjoy Randy DuBurke's art and find his down-to-Earth style to be pretty perfect for this reality, it doesn't do anything original or interesting ever, really, save for that one panel a few weeks back where we first saw Black Canary in costume. Since then, it's been a by-the-books story art-wise, and Sharon Wright's narrative has never been totally accessible or even moderately interesting to me. I feel like I'm repeating myself, but I don't have anything new to say, because my problems with this story are the same every week. I'll stop for now, and try to find a new angle from which to approach my criticism next time.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Superman/"Wicked Business!"
5. Black Canary/"Bitter Fruit Part 5"
4. Nightwing/"The Cheshire Contract!"
3. Catwoman/"The Tin Roof Club Part 3"
2. Phantom Stranger/"Can't Judge a Book..."
1. Green Lantern/"Head Trip"