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Countdown No. 43 

Published by DC Comics. Script and plot by Paul Dini, with Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray. Pencils by Manuel Garcia with David Lopez. Inks by Jimmy Palmiotti with Don Hillsman.

The Deal: Presenting the latest issue of DC's weekly epic Countdown. Countdown picks up where DC's last weekly comic book, 52, left off. Like 52, Countdown is an ensemble book that follows the adventures of some of the company's most beloved B-list heroes, heroines and villains. The cast, featuring notables like Jimmy Olsen (yeah, Superman's pal) and Batman's resurrected sidekick (it's complicated) Jason Todd, is on a quest to unravel some sort of cosmic mystery -- or something like that.

The Good: The big focus of this issue is the funeral of the Flash. SPOILER WARNING: In case you haven't heard, a few months ago the character known as Impulse became Kid Flash and then became the Flash ... and now he's dead. And no, it's not good that the character is dead, but the funeral is handled with a great degree of compassion -- both in the emotive art and the touching script. DC's biggest guns are in attendance and each reacts to the loss of the Flash in a unique way -- from sadness to anger.

The Bad: When the focus of the issue veers off of the Flash's funeral, things get a little confusing. I've read pretty much every issue of this weekly series and I still don't really know what's going on. (Then again, that may be the point.) The comic also references a ton of characters without fully explaining their significance. I mean, not everyone possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of past and present DC continuity.

The Verdict: Countdown No. 43 is pretty engaging fare, but the book is not a consistent read and a tad confusing. I, however, plan on sticking with it so I can actually figure out what the hell is going on.

Thor No. 1

Published by Marvel Comics. Plot and script by J. Michael Straczynski. Pencils by Olivier Coipel. Inks by Mark Morales.

The Deal: Here you go, true believers -- Marvel's much lauded relaunch of its heavyweight mythological hero Thor. For the uninitiated, Thor is a character who's really been around for centuries -- he's based on the ancient Norse god of thunder. Marvel's version is steeped in all that ancient lore, and the company has been publishing comics about the dude since the 1960s. A few years ago, however, Marvel bigwigs decided to kill him off -- although many suspected he was executed in an attempt to revitalize the character. Anyway, Thor is back.

The Good: Looking back on the history of the character, Thor is always done best when he's done big. Big allies. Big adversaries. Big scenery. (I mean, the dude is a god.) And in this brand new No. 1, writer Straczynski succeeds at capturing Thor's big scale and scope. The pages are filled with scenes of warring armies, monsters, giant bolts of lightning and mega-sized castles -- which seems ever grander when juxtaposed with a number of scenes featuring regular humans in Thor's new Oklahoma headquarters. Straczynski's script is light on dialogue and exposition, but that bare approach to text just gives more room for Coipel's art to shine. And just like his writing partner, Coipel has also managed to capture that awe-inspiring feeling with his pencils. His pages contain a sparse array of panels and, reminiscent of Hollywood blockbusters, he utilizes a ton of close-up images. In addition, his storytelling is deliberate and paced perfectly to convey that sense of wonder, constantly making readers wonder -- and fear -- what lies after the end of each page.

The Bad: Well, if you're looking for a story that spells everything out and hands it to you in 22 pages, this ain't the book for you.

The Verdict: Thor No. 1 does not contain a ton of story developments -- but it's also not a padded, decompressed tale. This is a satisfying read; a great start to a property that was, perhaps, weighed down by its own centuries-old mythology. The book's creative team has given us a paired-down comic full of enough shock-and-awe moments to satisfy even the most finicky reader.

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