Rapid-Fire Reviews: Channuchrismakwanzukahkaa-New-Year Edition!

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Or – “Where’s My Santa On The Shaver, Dammit?”

Sometimes the holidays turn into a blur of food and family and spectacle, like the Roman Empire right before the Dark Ages. When that happens, it’s good to have Rapid Fire Reviews: Reading the comics, so you don’t have to!

Previously, on Everything: Morpheus usually appears as a tall, thin man with bone-white skin, black hair, and two distant stars looking out from the shadows where his eyes should be. Most often they are silver or white, but when he becomes angered, they have Review_Bubble_copy.jpgbeen known to turn red. Morpheus’ appearance ranges widely ‘depending on who’s watching’. People generally perceive him as wearing a style of dress appropriate to their region and era. He appears to be light skinned when interacting with white characters, but the people of “Tales in the Sand’s” primordial African city see him as a star-eyed black man. Although he is most often seen in human form, Morpheus appears as a huge black cat when speaking to the lonely cat-pilgrim of “Dream of a Thousand Cats” and as a cat-headed god when addressing the Egyptian feline goddess Bast. The Martian Manhunter sees Morpheus as a Martian god in the shape of a flaming alien skull and identifies him as Lord L’Zoril, but Mister Miracle, looking at him simultaneously, sees Morpheus as a man. However in Season of Mists, he appears in the same form to all the Gods (Bast comments “I much prefer you in cat form, Dream old friend”). In The Dream Hunters, which is set in ancient Japan, Morpheus appears as a Japanese man to a Buddhist monk and as a fox to a fox spirit. It is unclear whether Morpheus’ appearance is determined by the expectations of onlookers or if he chooses to manifest himself in different forms. He does deliberately change the style of his clothing to be less conspicuous when he visits the waking world. He customarily wears black, sometimes with a flame motif. In battle he wears a helmet made from the skull and backbone of a defeated enemy god. This helmet, which resembles a World War II-era gas mask, is also his sigil in the galleries of the other Endless.

NA1.gifNew Avengers Annual #3: Somewhere along the line during Dark Reign, Clint Barton (current Ronin, but historically the Avenger known as Hawkeye) developed a personal vendetta for Norman Osborn, and apparently lost everything he ever learned about strategy and leadership. Captured by the Dark Avengers (including a Norman Osborn who strongly resembles Triple H) his teammates are forced to spring him from Avengers Tower. Spider-Woman, Mockingbird, Ms. Marvel and Jessica Jones, in costume for the first time in years as Jewel attack just in time to spring Barton, and the issue ends with the New Avengers having to regroup in a new hideout where they are greeted by… STEVE ROGERS! This issue is weird for a number of reasons, not the least of which is Jessica’s nonchalant return to the life she has repeatedly sworn to never return to, the stiffness of the art, and the fact that the issue doesn’t really give out four female leads much to do or say. The whole issue feels off, somehow, whether it be because of its timing (coming right after the team just had to spring Luke Cage from Norman’s clutches in the regular book) because of the Steve cameo, or just because of Dark Reign saturation. Either way, it’s good but not great. My New Year’s Resolution for this book is more costumed Jessica madness in the near future. 2.5 stars.

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MA1.gif Mighty Avengers #32: Quicksilver suffers from a crisis of conscience this time out, knowing that his beloved daughter hates him due to his lying about having been Skrulled during Secret Invasion, the better to hide his own nefarious lunacy over the last few years. Hank Pym’s Avengers have been getting around lately, and this issue is no exception, as they foil a half-dozen plots in the first few pages of this issue. As for Norman Osborn, it wouldn’t be a Marvel book without him, and he bobbles a play that allows the legendary Absorbing Man to run free again. Loki shows up playing ‘Scarlet Witch’ again, and both Dark and Mighty Avengers show up to take down the big bald evil guy. ‘Sorby really turns the tables, though, when he manages to absorb the powers (thanks to a little push from Loki) of a COSMIC CUBE! Can Norman and Henry co-exist long enough to take down the giant menace? I’m having a few doubts… Any situation where HERCULES is the voice of reason is probably somewhat compromised already. Still, this book isn’t bad, thought the art (by Khoi Pham) is oddly unpleasant, and there’s still a bit of Norman Osborn overdrive going on. Once again, good but not great. My New Year’s Resolution for this book is a greater focus on the team dynamic and less of the mystery of the Scarloki Witch.  2.5 stars.

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DA1.gifDark Avengers #11: Speaking of the corduroy-haired Hulk Hogan of the Marvel U’s New World Order, Norman Osborn looks really creepy when drawn by Greg Horn, looking more than a little like Greg Proops of ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?” fame. Molecule Man still has the Dark Avengers entirely in his clutches, and Victoria Hand makes her first act as the head of HAMMER unequivocal surrender to a psychotic super-power. Molecule Man dissolves her clothing (which is very odd to me, and seems to serve no purpose other than giving Mike Deodato a chance for some cheesecake shots, and we finally discover the real truth behind Bob Reynolds, The Sentry: Just like Owen Reece, Bob’s power turns out to be manipulation of the building blocks of reality. Victoria is sidelined (and has the line of the issue to a comatose Norman in “Please don’t make me touch your nakedness…”) and Sentry effortlessly undoes everything that Molecule Man has done in the last couple of issues and then detonates the villain with only a word. Sentry lands and reveals what he has learned about his powers and the fact that he cannot die (which indirectly seems to answer the question about how he is fine after getting shotinnaface a couple issues ago.) The team returns home, Moonstone predicts bad things in the Sentry’s future, and Norman melts right down. The end of Dark Reign is coming, and my New Year’s Resolution for this book is a super-dramatic meltdown and resolution of some plot threads. 3 stars.

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AI1.gifAvengers: The Initiative #30: We really need to figure out a shorter way to write ‘Norman Osborn.’ For the duration of this articles, I’m going with Norm-O. The origin of Trauma kicks off our issue, while Penance fights his former New Warriors pals under the tutelage of the Taskmaster. Nightmare transforms Camp Hammond into a horrible dreamscape, and returns Penance all his memories (which were somehow lost along the way, but I swear that he had his full memories during his limited series a couple years ago.) The New Avengers Reserve Warrior squad springs Night Thrasher, Penance takes down Nightmare single-handedly, and the Constrictor suddenly finds out that his new girlfriend Diamondback is working for the other side. Lots of political intrigue here, though Nightmare’s appearance is undermined by his simultaneous villainy across the street in recent issues of Doctor Voodoo. All in all, this is probably my second favorite Avengers title of the month, but the entire premise of the Initiative is pretty threadbare in this four-crossovers-down the road from Civil War environment. My New Year’s Resolution for this book is a whole new focus under Norman’s successor (whom I suspect is someone that we have known and loved for many moons…) 3 stars.

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BN1.gifBlackest Night – The Flash #1 (of 3): I am really getting a bit tired of buying miniseries that could have been presented in a much better format (whether in a character’s own title, as part of the greater crossover, or as a guest-star somewhere else.) In a previous issue of Blackest Night, The Flash (Barry Allen) sent a message to everyone identifying the threat from space and giving some tips on how to stop the pseudo-zombies. What hasn’t been shown, thus far, is what Wally West has been up to, and how the villains of the world respond. This issue also provides some insight into what will have been to happen in the last issue of Flash – Reborn, whenever it may come out, and also points out the startling mortality rate among members of Barry’s Rogue’s Gallery. The body of the Reverse-Flash is animated, as is Barry’s old-friend Solovar, former king of Gorilla City, and the current lineup of the Rogue’s prepares to kill ‘em some dead folks. In fact, I think that Captain Cold’s use of the word “zombie” here is the first appearance of that word in Blackest Night to date. Either way, Scott Kolins kills the art here, delivering a pretty to look at issue that still has an appealing roughness around the edges. Johns’ script, on the other hand, is all foreshadowing and no follow-through, teasing us with what is to come more than anything else. My New Year’s Resolution for The Flash is more moments that SHOW his awesome and fewer characters just talking about it… 3 stars.

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DX1.gif Dark X-Men #1 (of 5): In the wake of the Utopia crossover, Norm-O’s Dark X-Men were down their most useful players, leaving behind a manic-depressive, a woman who has no idea who she is, a butcher, and a man whose head is full of voices. The remaining mutants are sent out to investigate a strange almost-suicide by hundreds of people who chanted “I’m an X-Man!” as they nearly lemminged off a cliff. When they interview one of the kids thus possessed, the team (if you want to call it that) finds him suddenly transforming into a mutant, which screws up both Omega and the Mimic, causing them to overload with mutant energies, and the strange little boy suddenly recognizes Mystique as his mommy. Of course, Mystique is wearing the face of Jean Grey to piss off Cyclops, and the boy’s real mother IS Jean Grey’s clone, so you can’t blame him for being somewhat confused by it all. He transforms into his real self: Nathan Grey, the hero who once called himself X-Man. There’s also a segment of something having to do with Hope, the girl from the future, but there’s not enough context for me to judge it. Overall, this is intriguing, but the character base feels kind of familiar for anyone who has read Dark Avengers, and overall there’s just too much Norm-O. My New Year’s Resolution for this book is more Mimic, less angst.  2 stars.

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DV1.gifDoctor Voodoo – Avenger of the Supernatural #3: The history of Jericho Drumm and Stephen Strange gets an interesting tweak, as we reveal that Doctor Voodoo’s patron saint, Legba, worked together with a previous Sorcerer Supreme to keep a monster called Ogoun out of our reality. In the present, a very Vertigo-looking Nightmare, Lord of the Dream, has possessed the Son of Satan, and conflicts with Voodoo himself. Jericho’s power-objects (the Orb of Agamotto and the Vishanti) are stolen from him, and he is forced to fight more possessed guest stars, in the form of Johnny and Danny, the Ghost Rider brothers, The Hood, and more, before managing to possess the Sorcerer Supreme himself. Remender gives us a taut and kind of scary story, but I find myself wondering how appropriate a tale it is to launch the book. Three issues in, and all we’ve really seen is Jericho failing and his status quo (which had barely even been established) being destroyed. The art is interesting, reminding me a bit of Mike Mignola, but overall this series has been brushing the edge of fascinating too often without actually getting there. My New Year’s Resolution for this book is a full-fledged “Hell, Yeah!” badass moment for Doctor V, and maybe even some time spent basking in the glory of being Supreme. 2 stars.

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DP1.gifDoom Patrol #5: Keith Giffen is an anomaly among comic writers, a fan who isn’t a fanboy, someone who loves old concepts and characters but has no problem in trying to change their status quo and make ‘em relevant. This issue continues the battle between original Doom Patrol and their dead second incarnation. The dead Negative Woman and the living Negative Man’s force selves combine to form Rebis (a nod to last Vertigo incarnation of the team) Cliff Steele’s brain in a robot body fights his own carcass, and the Chief meets his ex-wife Arani in combat. Chief loses his legs in the battle (they were, at least, non-functional limbs at the beginning of the story) and a living black hole seals the deal for the Doom Patrol. Elasti-Girl (or Woman, I’m not sure) finds the wisdom in using her mind as well as her enormous fists. In their co-feature, the Metal Men fight living mannequins, giving us an outlet for the aggressions leashed by that gawdawful Old Navy ad series. Even without Kevin Maguire, it’s a cute tale, and the Bwah-ha-ha being back makes me very happy. Both halves of this book, while oddly matched, are equally fun and my New Year’s Resolution for this title is many happy issues yet to come. Worst case scenario, we’ll have characters to get blown away in cold blood ten years from now to kick off the new crossover event. 3.5 stars.

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HM1.gifHouse Of Mystery #20: Even though Fig Keele thinks she created the House of Mystery, it has long been a feature of the Dreaming (as well as comic books from DC and Vertigo) and its former caretaker isn’t the kind who gives up lightly. In this issue, the entire House is trapped in “The Space Between,” and odd little proto-dimension where the ghosts of lost loves are given sorta corporeal forms. Under siege by these creatures, Cain (the first murderer of biblical lore, and the aforementioned caretaker of the HoS) and the new denizens of the House are quickly forced to come to an agreement about whose domicile it is. They stave off the army of ghosts, while Fig makes a deal with creatures called The Conception, which costs her nothing much but her newfound love, Harry. Harry may actually be a living embodiment of the House of Mystery, but in either case, all Mephisto wanted was their love… Metaphorically speaking, mind you. Cain and Fig are allowed to keep the actual House itself, embarking on a partnership (and allowing Cain to tell one of the most frightening tales within the tale yet.) Fig and the surviving characters will be facing 2010 with a whole new living arrangement, and my New Year’s Resolution for House of Mystery is a good solid series of stories, and stories within the stories as well. 3 stars.

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IW1.gif Immortal Weapons #5 (of 5): So, the previous issues of this series have been about the mysterious pasts of the Immortal Weapons, as they should be. Fat Cobra, Bride of Nine Spiders, Dog Brother #1 and The Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter were all new characters created for this series, and had untold backstories. My worry has been what would happen in THIS issue, as The Prince of Orphans is not only a very OLD character, but one of the oldest comics has to offer. Not only that, his origin is very much like the origin of Iron Fist himself. That issue is taken care of by telling the story in current time, as Danny Rand is called by John Aman to assist him in capturing a lost mythical creature, one of the lost dragons of K’un Lun. (Hopefully this one won’t try to eat Torq.) The Prince of Orphans faces the threat of a cadre of ghostly spearmen, while Iron Fist fights off the dragon (albeit a dragon more than twice as big as Shou Lau the undying.) The Prince keeps the Fist in the dark, though, and the end comes quickly and somewhat confusingly. The Iron Fist backup story ends with the rescue of the lost boy from the sewers of New York, as we knew it had to, and the young girl Jada growing into a responsible adult thanks to Danny’s tutelage. It’s a puzzling ending, honestly, and this isn’t nearly as compelling as the tale of Fat Cobra or Tiger’s Daughter. My New Year’s Resolution for this tale is a new start for Iron Fist, maybe even an Immortal Weapons ongoing team book… 2.5 stars.

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IP1.gifInvincible Presents – Atom Eve & Rex Splode #2 (of 3): Atom Eve is an adorable character, in her little cheerleader outfit with her pink power signatures, which makes her ongoing drama as a central character in Invincible’s regular book a little bittersweet. Still, this issue helps to fulfill my cute superteen quota, as she meets Rex Splode, they embark on a flirtation, and Rex realizes that his boss isn’t a good guy at all. He accidentally blows up the man’s head (if that sentence is even possible, and is forced to destroy an entire mansion to cover his tracks, not exactly the actions of your average superhero. The issue ends with a cryptic sort of fillip that I’m sure will lead into the big finale next issue. Rex Splode has never been my favorite member of the Invincible cast, but this series has made me really appreciate him and regret that he died in the Invincible wars some months ago. Still, Atom Eve is like pizza, sex, and Fat Cobra: even at it’s worst, it’s still pretty damned good, and this issue sports some wonderful art by Nate Bellegarde, ending up with a very satisfying affair overall. My New Year’s Resolution for Atom Eve is a return to form after her power problems are resolved (especially since I attribute them to hormonal changes due to her spoilery medical condition in the main title.) 4 stars.

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JSA1.gif  JSA All-Stars #1: My thoughts on this particular title are many and varied. On the one hand, a team the size of the JSA does deserve more than one title. On the other, the breakdown of characters leaves a lot of my favorites on both sides. On the one hand, it’s a book that has Power Girl, Cyclone, Stargirl, Judomaster and Damage. On the other hand, it’s anchored by Magog, the worst of Alex Ross’ various Kingdom Come leftovers. Still, Freddie Williams puts together an entertaining art job, making all the characters look interesting, even those whose costumes are patently ridiculous. Power Girl and Cyclone get some girl-time, romance blooms in odd places, and an old-school JSA villain (well, 1999-ish old school, to be honest) raises his not-really-a-head. I’m reserving judgement on this title, since this is just the kickoff, but there’s enough goodness (and I have enough faith in Matt Sturges) to give this book a good shot at greatness. My New Year’s Resolution for this book is more charm, more Cyclone, more romance, more girl-power, and maybe a long, looooong coma for the buzzkill named Magog. 3.5 stars.

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JLA1.gifJustice League of America #40: Dead guys abound in the Justice League, and with the presence of JL Detroit survivors Zatanna, Vixen and Gypsy (who are, I might add, the ONLY survivors of that League, as Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Elongated Man, Batman, Vibe and Steel are all pushing up various daisies. Interesting to notice that ALL the male members of that team are dead…) their dead partners were bound to return. The Black Lantern Vibe and Steel play on their friends fears and emotions, trying to psyche Vixen and Gypsy out, while Doctor Light is forced to face her predecessor in the role. In a very distasteful sequence, the original Light threatens and intimidates her, burning away her clothes, leaving her kneeling, practically naked before she blasts the corpse to ashes. Vixen and Gypsy likewise overcome their zombies, and Zatanna arrives from defeating the corpse of her father just in time to leave the entire League (save Gypsy) unconscious on the floor. I understand what they were going for here, and putting the JLA through the wringer always comes right before a revamped team, but this issue goes a bit too far with the disturbing Doctor Light moments, making me want to dislike the whole package. My New Year’s Resolution for this title is a good, long stretch of brilliance, with strong characters and a reason for being a League. 1.5 stars.

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No1.gif Nova #32: It is a sad fact of comics on the 21st Century that we’ve become so used to the whole “dark mirror” ridiculousness that everyone has to have their own evil other, the ultimate, big stupid nemesis. For Nova, that nemesis has always been The Sphinx, who pulls Nova and Darkhawk to Egypt at some point in the timestream. A time-tossed Mr. Fantastic appears, helping the Human Rocket and the Cosmic Raptor to fight against living sand creatures. Black Bolt arrives, carrying a body wrapped in cloth, who turns out to be… Namorita? Rich is stunned to see the girl he crushed on back in the New Warriors days as more than a memory and some scraps of DNA, and I’m not entirely sure what this is all about… It’s an interesting diversion in an interesting series, but the Sphinx appearing as the deus ex machina to save ‘Hawk and ‘Va from destruction in the wake of last issue is nicely handled. I wonder if Abnett and Lanning are going to bring either Black Bolt or Namorita back through the use of time-twisting in coming issues, or if that would be too cheap a tactic to use in a book like this? Nova continues to be an interesting take on one of Marvel’s most underrated 70′s creations, and my New Year’s Resolution for this book is more entertaining and engaging stories as we lead up to issue #50.  3.5 stars.

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PS1.gifPS 238 #42: Recent issues of this book have deepened the long-standing mythology of the kids of PS238, and hinted that, just maybe, the standard Kryptonian powerset that is soo prevalent among superhumans may not be an accident (at least not in this reality.) Argonaut (once known as Captain Clarinet) has been sent in to handle first contact with a spacecraft from Argos, the home planet of Atlas, who bears a resemblance to a certain blue-haired Kryptonian we all know quite well. Argonaut gets beaten up by the head of the “invasion force,” a shady character called Dax-Ra, who is surprised and horrified to find that Earth allows “feral talents,” undifferentiated superpowers to live. Through the efforts of Moonshadow, American Eagle, Cecil Holmes and 84, Dax-Ra is slowed down, but it takes the arrival of Atlas with a radioactive chunk of Argonite to finally bring him down. Strangely, though, the girl called 84 (because she is the 84th person to register the flight, invulnerability, strength, superspeed powerset) is also felled by the Argonite. Hmmm… This book is always a delight, taking the superhero ephemera we’re all familiar with and putting it in the hands of schoolkids (where most of it, honestly, makes a lot more sense.) PS238 is one of the titles I look forward to every month, and my New Year’s Resolution for the book is twice as much of the awesome that I’ve come to know and love. 4 stars.

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SW1.gif S.W.O.R.D. #2 : This book shares a failing with Doctor Voodoo, in that we’re immediately thrown into a big “everything you know is wrong” storyline before we actually KNOW anything about the book. Abigail Brand, The Beast and Lockheed continue their battle against the giant robot known as Death’s Head (the original, not version 2.0) who has come to take Brand’s half-brother into custody for theft of his boss’s property. At the same time, Henry Peter Gyrich begins taking Earth’s alien population into custody, from Adam X to Beta Ray Bill to Carolina Dean of the Runaways. Even Noh-Varr of the Kree isn’t immune (though, oddly, he doesn’t use his new powers or ugly new suit) from Gyrich’s reign of terror (or is that ‘reign of Terra?’) Brand and Beast manage to work out a deal wherein her brother goes free and isn’t killed, and return home just in time to find Gyrich ready to get rid of her half-extraterrestrial butt as well. It’s a cliffhanger, and it’s a compelling one, but I would really have liked to see Abigail as the head of a functional S.W.O.R.D. for at least an issue or two before we started dismantling everything. Maybe it’s just me, but even as good as this issue is, it would have been more satisfying if we’d started the book with a different arc, or even seen S.W.O.R.D. in extensive action to bridge the gap between Astonishing X-Men and this book. My New Year’s Resolution for this book would be that S.W.O.R.D. doesn’t fall apart because of Gyrich’s power play…  2.5 stars.

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We1.gifThe Web #3: The Red Circle titles had a pretty high-profile launch in the DC Universe, then launched this book and The Shield out of the crossover. This issue features the Web facing the new Batgirl, and by extension, Oracle, both of whom want to convince him that he needs to take more responsibility for the free agents he has given super-powers to, his Web-Hosts. When the Web tries to get his contractors under control (making the idea seem completely untenable and unworkable by extension) the response is a big clusterschmozz fistfight. Oracle’s intel helps him to find Dr. Archer, and take him into custody, only to find that Archer isn’t the brains of the operation. In the Hangman backup, Hangman gets involved with human trafficking, but Tom Derenick’s art is so dark and Neal Adams-y that I can’t really focus on the story itself. It’s hard to integrate characters into an existing universe, especially after decades of stories set in that universe, but both The Web’s story and the Hangman’s feel derivative. The first feels like remarkably like the Blue Beetle series that came right after Crisis on Infinite Earths, and the second like the ‘Wrath of the Spectre’ backup from the ’70′s. With a little more footing beneath them, both characters have potential, but I’m just not feeling the sensawunder here. My New Year’s Resolution for this book is a revolutionary idea or two, something that will pull both tales up into greatness of their own. 2 stars.

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WW1.gif Wonder Woman #38 : Wonder Woman has had a rough couple dozen issues, as her mother, her patron gawds, and even her Amazon sisters have turned against her. We open with Diana in chains, her only ally an old enemy in the form of Artemis of the Bana-Mighdall. With Wonder Woman in chains, Achilles the Olympian realizes that he has been played by Alkyone to gain control of Paradise Island. Donna Troy arrives, having regained her own mind just in time to find that she was key in torturing both her sister and her mother, but Alkyone has prepared, having channeled the spirit of Genocide into herself and her sisters. Achilles frees Diana, Alkyone makes a sacrifice to a monster, and a creature arises from the Ocean… The monster is identified as The Cottus, the creature responsible for Diana’s physical form. “Meet your TRUE FATHER,” screams Alkyone, as we fade to black. Gail Simone’s Wonder Woman has been building up to this for some time now, and I’m glad to see these plotlines finally converging in an exciting manner after many months. Genocide is much more interesting as a malevolent possessing force, and Achilles realization of what a tool he is comes in an excellent manner. This book is one of the best of this lot, and my New Year’s Resolution for Wonder Woman is a defining moment for Gail, for Diana, and for the title.  4 stars.

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