*Review Nuggets Dept: Having revolutionized my car’s battery, I can now confidently write single paragraphs about things that came out this week.

- You’d think that this many years later having a bunch of awesomely powerful entities cruise around in space in cube-shaped craft and assimilate others into their ways wouldn’t land as quite so nakedly derivative, but I guess 52 #31 (of 52) didn’t count on the tight grip of popular culture. Obviously, the details are pretty different, at last from what we can glean out of Lady Stix’s evil activities; there’s also both some similarities to the Sheeda from team writer Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers, not to mention a thematic connection to the various sinister or troublesome religions that have cropped up in prior weeks (the Resurrection Cult even an explicit callback this time) - Douglas Wolk even notes a similarity to some of Jim Starlin’s old wicked religion stories, which naturally compliments this issue’s Captain Comet set-up for Starlin’s current Mystery in Space miniseries.

Anyway, lots of doom and destruction as the big villains arrive, graphic skinning and disemboweling presented for your edification while some of the other plots edge forward. I like to imagine John Henry sitting on the couch, picking stray bits of metal off his skin, sending out dozens and dozens of text messages a day, revealing all sorts of vital plot information to his niece, all of it just cruelly deleted. It’s moments of imagined tragicomedy like this which keep me going through the sleepy soap opera parts.

- Speaking of Grant Morrison comparisons, it might be fun to pull out your copy of the most recent The Authority #1 and compare it to the Warren Ellis-written newuniversal #1, since this is pretty much the exact thing Morrison and Gene Ha are apparently trying to evoke/play around with in there book, to limited immediate entertainment value. Ellis ain’t playing; this is straight-up big spectacle comics, with wide panels, big splashes, a who-cares-about-modular-serialization abrupt finale, and lots of overamped planetary change. Obviously someone on the conceptual level didn’t want Marvel’s reimagining of the New Universe to stray too far from the Ultimate mold; artist Salvador Larroca even draws a number of characters to resemble popular actors, leading to a particularly odd moment where a Bruce Willis character seems to be referencing The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable on the same page. Coincidence? Design? If you're drawing characters to look exactly like actors, you're sort of inviting it.

What's for sure is that we get a bunch of half-introductions to simple characters, and the flavor of a mystery that will probably be filled in many issues later. Superpowers breaking out in a realistic world was among the mandates of the first New Universe, so it’d be churlish to blame this new version for working in a premise that’s long ago become overdone, but boy oh boy does this do little to distinguish itself from anything else in either the genre style or aesthetic type. But it’s an ok example of what it is on a technical plane, if you like this sort of comic.

- Much more satisfying from Ellis this week is Desolation Jones #8, another of those ‘conversation’ issues where Jones and some other character or characters discuss LA things that connect to the theme of whatever the current storyline is. This time it’s a famed movie producer who’s trying to get a project of the life of Phillip K. Dick off the ground, and there’s much talk of artifice and conspiracy as the thoroughly ruined Jones attempts to give a shit about anything in the world, with little success. As usual, it’s one of the most relentlessly downbeat comics being published by anyone in the front of Previews, and somehow this seems to draw out the best in Ellis, who seems particularly attuned to issue structure and environment.

But, just as with the series’ first storyline, the art style is absolutely key to the book’s total effect; Danijel Zezelj and colorist Jose Villarrubia (with WildStorm FX) craft a physically menacing Los Angeles for Jones to bum around, hard yellows in the sky and ink blots of shadow on the ground emitting palpably oppressive heat. Zezelj’s work with faces is highly impressive, just the right mix of careful caricature and marvelously subtle emoting. When Jones’ face drains from blue to chalk-white, characters can discuss literature as much as they want without the book losing any of its emotional bitterness.

- I thought issue #1 of The Midnighter was slightly better than writer Garth Ennis’ other recently begun projects, which wasn’t saying all that much, but issue #2 is measurably better than issue #1, since there’s more of an emphasis on comedy. A sinister Holocaust survivor has coerced the title character into going back in time and killing Hitler, and he’s utterly oblivious to any sort of unexpected chronal upset this sort of thing might cause. So Mignighter tries to be extra careful in traipsing around the trenches of WWI on his quest to kill young Hitler and his slick moustache, but things don’t work out well at all. This is still going to depend an awful lot on how funny you think the idea of a leather-clad superhero beating the shit out of early 20th Century French and German soldiers and yelling “Hitler--? Where the hell is Hitler?” happens to be, never mind the bit where a future dictator moans “God, my balls--!” Penciller Chris Sprouse and inker Karl Story also have a moment of visual trouble when Ennis calls for a bit of play with the formal properties of the page -- it took me a few tries to figure out what was even happening on the last two pages -- but it’s still sturdy superhero art. It’s all very lowbrow, juvenile, silly, but now increasingly entertainingly so.

- Finally, the Vertigo pamphlet incarnation of American Splendor draws to a close with issue #4, and headlining artist Gilbert Hernandez, who draws a great yelling face for creator/writer/protagonist Harvey Pekar, and has just the sparkling clean visual skills to make (another) story of Harv trying to fix the shitter a bit more peppy. Also notable is Hunt Emerson’s continuing efforts to inject as much cartoon stylization as he can into Pekar’s resolutely unadorned scripts. Still, the most long-lived satisfaction comes from the book’s final story, illustrated by regular latter-day Pekar collaborator Dean Haspiel, which is fittingly all about a day of publicity for the first Pekar/DC project, The Quitter, also illustrated by Haspiel. Harvey begins to feel sick shortly after the day of signing begins, but he toughs it out while meeting people and trying to derive satisfaction from a job completed. It’s the sort of balance between unique experience and human frailty that lends itself especially well to Pekar’s emphasis on the failingly human and unresolved. There’s a short aside, where Harvey mentions to another Harvey’s daughter, Nellie Kurtzman, that he met her father in 1986, and she replies “That wasn’t a good time to meet him.” And you can see the struggle doesn’t stop at Harvey Pekar, no way.