By Molly Jane Kremer and Jarrod JonesOur Week In Review serves to fill in the gaps our frequently verbose comic book coverage leaves behind. Each week, we take a brief look into the books that demand attention.

STK665588Action Comics #40

DC Comics/$3.99

Written by Greg Pak.

Art by Aaron Kuder; colors by Wil Quintana.

JJ: Y’know, for a second there? I really thought that the defining Bizarro tale of the New52 was going to be Forever Evil, I really did.

The lesson that should be gleaned from this is to never underestimate Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder. When the sun finally sets on the New52 and we’re all that much older and that much wiser, we’ll write our retrospectives and meaningless lists concerning the best (and the worst) that particular era brought to our lives. And when I do (and you know that I will), Pak and Kuder’s run on Action Comics will be right up there among the best. And this issue will transcend era and remain one of my most prized possessions. (Hell, I’ll probably hound Pak and Kuder at some convention in the near future to scribble their names all over it.) Action Comics #40 might be the greatest single issue DC Comics has published in years.

You’ll have to excuse me. I don’t get this pumped over a superhero book very often these days. A great Superman story is really hard to come by all on its own, but a timeless, fully realized, one-and-done Superman story? That sort of comic hasn’t seen shelves since the John Byrne era. (Just guessing here, but the issue’s title, “Mirror Cracked” is probably an intentional shout to Bizarro’s first Post-Crisis appearance in Man of Steel #5, “The Mirror, Crack’d…”) After enduring a mind-numbing year of the Doomed saga, Pak and Kuder take a moment to wash their hands of the editorially-mandated sagas designed to bleed hard-earned cash from reader’s pockets for an adorable, rambunctious, and downright beautiful tale featuring everyone’s favorite backwards-ass super-being, Bizarro. The effects are astonishing.

What’s accomplished here is an earnest meditation on the absurd, and in order to accomplish that, Pak eschews continuity right out of the gate: We see Superman hurtling through some kinda interdimensional doorway only to be thrown face first onto Bizarro World. (There isn’t a suitable explanation for any of this, and I get the feeling that’s totally the point.) What ensues is the reasonably kooky antics of Bizarro and his Injustice League, who face off against each other once Doomsday makes a seemingly random appearance, leading to the first full appearance – because NOBODY demanded it! – of Doomzarro.

That would be a lot to soak in if the book held any bearing on the goings-on in Superman’s world. The best part about all this tomfoolery is that it doesn’t. No, that’s not right. The best part of all this foolishness is Greg Pak’s palpable exuberance, and Aaron Kuder’s astonishing artwork. Everything in this book is a testament to Kuder’s commitment to the comics artform, a soppy valentine dreamily espousing his passion for the craft with every breathless splash page, one after the other. If I enjoy another comic book this year as much as I enjoyed Action Comics #40, I will be happily surprised. Essential reading.

10 out of 10

MSMARV2014013-DC11-9d582Ms. Marvel #13

Marvel Comics/$2.99

Written by G. Willow Wilson.

Art by Takeshi Miyazawa, colors by Ian Herring with Irma Kniivila.

MJ: After concluding the previous storyline that revolved around her many battles with the Inventor, Ms. Marvel #13 feels like the books is starting anew. (Which means its a good jumping on point.) Takeshi Miyazawa, this issue’s guest artist, is a perfect fit for illustrating Kamala Khan’s adventures. (Let’s all close our eyes and remember his pencils on the flawlessly superb Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, shall we?) His expressive manga-esque pencils are, as they were then, a prime communicator for the exaggerated dramatics of, well, being a teenager.

While the last story arc followed the story of a young person finding her place in the world, this arc looks to be Kamala discovering more about that spot she’s made for herself. Her Inhuman heritage (and how she deals with it) comes back to the forefront, and writer Wilson makes a pointed and timely reference to religious extremism: Kamala, in the midst of defending Jersey City from a villainous Inhuman, tells her foe, “There’s always that one group of people who think they have special permission to terrorize anybody who disagrees with them. And then everybody else who looks like them suffers.” Yet again, this comic makes me wish everyone in America was reading it; there should be more fictions promoting respect and tolerance like Ms. Marvel does, all within a wonderful, colorful candy shell.

But all that isn’t to say the pumping teenaged heart of this comic has skipped a beat; Kamala crushes on a boy her strict parents might actually find suitable, plays World of Battlecraft, and is appropriately dreamy – but it seems he has some secrets of his own. The issue’s final page makes this budding relationship look to hold real promise. Already thirteen issues in without a single stumble, Ms. Marvel is still the book to beat for matching amounts of action and humor, and so, so much heart.

8.5 out of 10

ANTMAN2015003-DC11-16b0fAnt-Man #3

Marvel Comics/$3.99

Written by Nick Spencer.

Art by Ramon Rosanas; colors by Jordan Boyd.

JJ: Scott Lang doesn’t seem like much of a superhero these days, but that’s kind of the point behind Ant-Man. The man is tamping down his usual derring-do for the benefit of those he cares about the most, and so his life has taken on the airs of responsibility: Relocating to Miami would be a colossal hassle for anybody, even if they weren’t a certain, size-defying Avenger, but compound that change in geography with starting your own business, placating an easily annoyed ex-wife, and creating a suitable environment for your growing teenaged daughter, and well… Life can get plenty complicated. Even if you’re not on a first name basis with thousands of worker ants.

Nick Spencer, Ramon Rosanas and Jordan Boyd’s Ant-Man might be the definitive anti-superhero story: It actively de-iconizes the tropes of superhero gallantry in order to get right to the center of Scott Lang’s tremendous heart, but it still brings with it all of the fun. And while the book does offer the standard, run-of-the-mill fisticuffs (this is a Marvel comic, after all), the real enjoyment of Ant-Man is found in the travails of Scott Lang’s manic life. Spencer’s comic is a character study above all, and the insight we get from the mind of a former thief-turned repentant hero is utterly fascinating (and frequently hilarious).

There’s something oddly compelling about a man who would name his right-hand ant Tony Wilson (which, whatta riot) while taking a gravely serious approach to the upbringing of his own daughter. Scott’s a man of at least two facets – the fact that his ego doesn’t repel the reader is evidence of Spencer’s solid characterization – and though he can be a doof more often than not, we’re satisfied with the knowledge that Scott’s motivated by what’s best for Cassie instead of the almighty buck. But everyday’s a journey. And Scott’s the sort of fella who can literally make an anthill into a mountain.

9 out of 10

Southern-Cross-Cover-612x942-aadbfSouthern Cross #1

Image Comics/$2.99

Written by Becky Cloonan.

Art by Andy Belanger; colors by Lee Loughridge.

MJ: The latest in excellent sci-fi from Image Comics, Southern Cross is a noirish whodunit set within a grungy, Blade Runner-esque vision of interstellar travel. Still in the midst of her co-writing gig on DC’s Gotham Academy (also a fantastic read, if a very different one), Becky Cloonan pens this series solo, along with Andy Belanger’s (IDW’s Kill Shakespeare, DC’s Swamp Thing) magnificent pencils. His talents are definitely showcased here, revealing an artist finally and fully allowed to let loose on the page, with great, eye-grabbing results.

Cloonan does a formidable job of getting some initial exposition out of the way without letting it feel either clunky or long-winded, and Belanger’s amazing single – and double – page spreads are the perfect backdrop to Alex’s almost-gothic narration. There’s an unmistakable 80’s sci-fi vibe (amongst other things, Alex’s hair – when freed from her cap – is short, shaggy, and headbanded to perfection), and the exteriors of the ship are gorgeously rendered in exquisite detail: Panoramas of the Southern Cross tearing through star-filled spaceways are a nearly psychedelic, jaw-dropping experience. The interiors of the ship, however, aided by Lee Loughridge’s moody colors, are gloomy and dark, effortlessly communicating the tension and claustrophobia inherent in being locked within a tin can for a week, surrounded by the secrets (and maybe even the perpetrators) that killed someone you loved.

Alex Braith, our protagonist with a mysterious and violent past, is on the tanker/shuttle Southern Cross heading towards Titan to investigate her sister Amber’s (also mysterious) death. We’re introduced to much of the ship’s crew, including her dashing Captain (Belanger really excels at drawing some handsome dudes – no lie – and Captain Mori Tetsuya is prettttty dreamy), and Erin, Alex’s annoying bunkmate (who is also there to investigate Amber’s unfortunate demise). The book’s world, and the ship itself, is incredibly realized and fleshed-out; it’s apparent that Cloonan and Belanger put a huge amount of effort into the design and architecture, and it pays off in a very big way. Southern Cross is a small, intimate and thrilling story told on a massive scale, using its outstanding first issue to lay the foundations for what promises to be a truly riveting series.

9 out of 10

Agree? Disagree? What comics did YOU read this week? Let us know in the comments section below.