What I’m Reading will be a weekly (hopefully) rundown of reviews on the new comics I’ve read that week. It is by no means a comprehensive look at every single title for that week or even the “big dogs” of the week. If you want a look at Superman Unchained #1, you won’t find it here. Because I didn’t buy it. Because I wasn’t interested in it. Capice? I have limited funds, limited time to read, and frankly limited interest in overloading my brain with sub-par fare. So without further ado, here’s What I’m Reading, 6/27/13 edition:
1. Fury MAX #13 (Marvel/MAX, W: Garth Ennis, A: Goran Parlov). Never, ever, let it be said that Garth Ennis lets his readers off light. Even when he’s off his game, he still manages to pull you down into whatever depths of Hell he’s plumbed this time. Case in point: Fury MAX, which has from start to this, the finish, been more or less a case study in Nick Fury’s seemingly-endless war for America and the ultimate futility it’s wrought. For those expecting a rehash of the over-the-top stylings of Ennis’s first Fury exploration, 2001’s eponymous miniseries, this series may have been a bit of a disappointment. Frankly, I was one of the above, until I caught onto what he was doing: peeling back the layers of the ugly side of the American Dream, one by one, until in the end here, Fury is left with nothing more than an empty past killing for what amounts to nothing, and no one meaningful in his life to show for it. Every character’s story comes to a tragic close that echoes the isolation Fury feels as he realizes that he’s spent his life fighting for a lie. Goran Parlov’s superlative art is deceptively cartoony, but has a basic emotive quality to it that lends to the starkness of the proceedings herein. If you thought Ennis’s Punisher MAX run was bleak… well, you ain’t seen nothin’. But whereas the latter showcased Frank Castle’s ultimate mental instability in his never-ending war on crime, Fury takes a different tack: in the end, Nick Fury knows exactly what he’s done, and because of it, is broken, alone, and has nothing to believe in. Suicide might not sound so bad if you had lived the life he had. I applaud Ennis for this taut, low-key, emotionally draining story. Each issue was a winner to varying degrees, but it all adds up to a 10/10 score, this final issue in particular.
2. Hawkeye #11 (Marvel, W: Matt Fraction, A: David Aja). Lucky the Pizza Dog takes center stage in this mostly-self-contained story, and no, it’s not as stupid as the first seven words of this sentence might sound. The story is mostly silent, and is told completely from Lucky’s point of view. Fraction and Aja pull off a neat trick with deciphering the dog’s thoughts as various signs and pictograms. It takes a little getting used to at first, and I have to admit I had to review more than one page several times to make sure I was getting the point of what was being conveyed. But the ingenuity at play here is undeniable. Fraction has captured lighting in a bottle in this series, and this issue is a solid showcase for just how left-of-center this book really is. Could we have an issue of Thor featuring a dog or some sort of animal that really made sense? Nah. But this issue feels completely at home as both an interlude from Clint Barton’s travails and also an advancement of the overall plot, as the Bros move forward with their schemes. For sheer ballsiness and creativity alone, this issue deserves an Eisner nomination. At this point saying some aspect of Hawkeye deserves an Eisner is like saying the sky is blue, but what the hell, my hat’s in the ring on this one. Score: 9/10.
3. Daredevil #27 (Marvel, W: Mark Waid, A: Chris Samnee). Everything Waid’s been building toward since issue one comes to a head this issue, as Daredevil confronts the man responsible for the recent upheaval in his life and the nasty piece of work that is Ikari, a villain whose origin is one of those great “why didn’t they think of it before” bits. I won’t spoil who the big bad is, but suffice to say, I never saw that coming — even if his recent backstory as to why he’s in his current state is a bit too convenient and pat. The hallmark of this series thus far is, frankly, the reinvention of Mark Waid, a writer who I’d frankly thought very little of for a very long time. But his ability to tell a Daredevil story that doesn’t trot out the same ol’ “let’s see how much we can destroy his life” tropes that have been in play more or less since Frank Miller wrote the book on ’em is nothing short of astounding. Everything about this book rings true of Daredevil, yet at the same time it’s like nothing you’ve read before on the character. Chris Samnee has proven to be a more than adequate replacement for Paulo Rivera on the art duties; his clean linework and excellent sense of pacing is on full display here and lends the issue one hell of a kick. And oh, that ending: damn, that’s harsh. And that’s all I’ll say about that. With what’s basically been the first act of Waid’s run coming to an end, these guys have nowhere to go but up. Major, major props all around. Score: 8/10.
4. Wolverine and the X-Men #32 (Marvel, W: Jason Aaron, A: Nick Bradshaw). The absolute funnest X-Men book to come around in a long, long time keeps right on rolling in this part 2 of “The Hellfire Saga.” Aaron’s pulling together all the threads he’s been weaving over the last couple of years, and they’re coming together nicely. Kade Kilgore has formed an opposite number for the Jean Grey School For Higher Learning, a nasty bit of business with Sabretooth as the reluctant headmaster, and they’re gunning to put a hurt on Wolverine and his pals. Now all of this, taken out of context, sounds a bit like reheated leftovers when it comes to the X-Men universe. But it’s the little details that Aaron brings to the story that make it shine: Iceman’s crazed snowman attack; Lockheed’s incredibly serious (and possibly lethal) take on his temporary role as headmaster; Wolverine’s new use for whiskey; the mere presence of Master Pandemonium, a welcome returnee from Aaron’s Ghost Rider days. Everything’s just a little off-kilter here, giving this book a very unique feel among not only the X-Men books, but in fact all of Marvel’s line. Sometimes, though, the sense of the weird is a little too overbearing and feels out of place: for instance, Sauron’s statement that “these young mutants are a sad pathetic statement on the fortitude of today’s youth. It makes me glad I never had any children of my own I allowed to live,” is supposed to be funny, but it’s so casual that it actually winds up falling flat of both menace and humor, given the circumstances. Serious doings are afoot, and there are numerous times when it almost feels like Aaron’s not taking the proceedings seriously. This is compounded by Nick Bradshaw’s cartoony art, which feels completely out of place here. He’s basically a less-talented knockoff of Arthur Adams, and his style could not be more wrong for this book. This is a serious situation, with real life and death implications for the characters… so why is it being drawn like a Saturday morning cartoon? The art betrays the intended seriousness of the story on every level. This book is still a unique, fun read, but it could tilt into self-parody very quickly if some of these issues aren’t dealt with. Score: 7/10.
5. X-Men #2 (Marvel, W: Brian Wood, A: Olivier Coipel). Don’t ever say Brian Wood isn’t ambitious. This book comes at you with everything it has, full-tilt and shit, man, it’s only the second issue. More crap is happening than you can shake a Morrison at, yet somehow, Wood manages to keep a tight reign on things and the story proceeds fluidly. Buyer beware, though: this book is NOT for the uninitiated. Hell, I thought I was an old pro at the X-Men universe, but even I had to stop and check Wiki on a couple of characters. Hint to the editors: THIS IS WHY RECAP PAGES EXIST! Oh wait, there is one, it just doesn’t give you all the backstory necessary to make sense of everything. Here’s what I know: Jubilee is powerless and back at the mansion with a mysterious baby in tow that she kinda sorta found/adopted/kidnapped. Then, John Sublime (nice callback to Morrison’s seminal run) returns, only it turns out he’s some sort of parasitic shit-tick of an alien consciousness, and he’s on the run from his sister, Arkea, who’s also a parasitic shit-tick of an alien consciousness except that she inhabits machinery, not people. And she’s pissy for whatever reason, so she inhabits Karima the Omega Sentinel (who’s comatose, of course) and starts going apeshit and generally being an unpleasant individual. Got all that? ‘Cause again, it’s only issue two, so I assume this shit’s not gonna get any clearer. ANYWAY… despite all that convolution, I really did enjoy this issue. “Holy fuck, are you SERIOUS?!” you might be saying. “After all THAT?” Well, yes, actually. The trick Brian Wood pulls here that works so well, and frankly holds the entire issue together is the characterization. Each character has an individual voice, a stake in the proceedings, and frankly feels important. What’s more, Wood really, really nails the relationships between the characters, each of whom feel as though they really have known one another for years and are a family. This book was marketed as “the all-women X-Men book,” but I frankly didn’t notice, which is another great move on Wood’s part. They aren’t X-Men, they aren’t X-Women, they’re just… people. Gender be damned. Score: 8/10.
6. All-New X-Men #13 (Marvel, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Stuart Immonen). Is Bendis even trying anymore on his mainstream stuff? Issues like this tend to make me believe that no, he’s just happy cashing the check. Thirteen issues in, and what have we accomplished? Well, the original five X-Men are here in modern times. Check. And they don’t like what they see, so they decide to stick around and try to fix things before they themselves have an opportunity to fuck up. Check. And… we’ve spent thirteen issues now basically just hanging around and talking about it. Check check. Decompression is one thing–and it’s something Bendis has done well and can still do well when he’s trying–but Jesus Christ, enough already! DO SOMETHING OTHER THAN HAVING FOUR-PAGE SITCOMMY CONVERSATIONS! Granted, he really does try to get things moving here. Mystique and her new (-est) Brotherhood of Evil Mutants are up to shenanigans, and the motivations for their recent actions are brought to light… but are resoundingly dull. And then there’s that first page… it’s meant to be an in media res moment of shock before we’re pulled back in time six hours to the events that led up to it, but frankly, it was pretty damn obvious what’s up if you’ve been reading the last couple of issues and know who’s involved. I will give Stuart Immonen props for his quality pencils, but his art alone isn’t enough to fix this mess. Bendis needs to get his head out of his ass and start pulling this story together ASAP, and quit drawing everything out so damn much. Thirteen issues in, and I feel like we should only be at about issue six or seven, for all that’s actually occurred. Score: 4/10.
7. Uncanny X-Men #7 (Marvel, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Frazer Irving). Here’s the other side of Bendis’s X-Men coin: Cyclops’ little group of outcasts, running amok and acting all like they’re the second coming of Magneto or whatever. Oh, wait, Magneto’s actually following Cyke now, which is I guess supposed to be showing us just how far gone Scott Summers is post-AvX. Far gone’s not really the right phrase for it, but “in denial” is. It would be nice to get an idea of what’s going on in Cyclops’ head, and how he can possibly rationalize his current actions. Now, if this were All-New X-Men, I have no doubt that Bendis would have spent every issue so far with Cyclops ruminating on this, that, and the other, and we’d actually have a pretty good idea of where his head’s at. Too bad that, a mere second arc in, Bendis decided to chuck all that storytelling logic out the window and have our heroes go on a jaunt into Limbo. Surprise! Wait, what? Talk about opposite extremes: All-New‘s problem is that it’s taking forever to get anywhere because every single panel is devoted to never-ending conversation about what the characters are feeling every second of the day, and Uncanny‘s problem is that it’s skipping over all that character-y stuff completely. It’s too bad Bendis can’t seem to find a happy medium between the two books, because the basic idea of where he’s trying to take them isn’t half-bad. And frankly, I like the idea of seeing where he’s ultimately going, and how he’s going to put the house of Xavier back together again. But at this point, he couldn’t be any further from that revelatory “a-HA!” moment that pulls everything together, where we readers look back and see the big picture and suddenly it all makes sense. So, what’s this issue about, anyway? Well, like I said, Cyclops and company, including his new mutant recruits, all of whom have personalities about as deep as my last shit and powers that are similarly original, have been pulled into Limbo. Why? Because Dormammu wants to throw down with Magik, who’s been being bad (again). And he wants control of Limbo, because he’s a dick and I guess he figures the real estate’s cheap enough in Limbo that he could make a hell of a killing. They fight, Magik appears to lose, Magik pulls some cray-cray shit and wins. One of Cyclops’ bottom-of-the-barrel recruits, a guy called Goldballs or something (no, really), freaks out and wants to go back to his normal life, which at this point I’m wishing I could do when reading this afterbirth of a comic, and then Magik seeks out the help of Dr. Strange with her mojo whatsits. I know I sound sarcastic as all hell, but really, that’s what happens in this issue. That, and because this is a Bendis comic, a lot of pointless yapping that adds jack shit to the proceedings. Frazer Irving’s bizarre monochromatic art style does absolutely nothing to help here; let’s just say that he needs to go back to the drawing board. And stay there. This issue is a pretty concise summary of everything that’s wrong with latter-day mainstream Bendis: puffed up, yet wholly empty. Score: 2/10.
8. Aquaman #21 (DC, W: Geoff Johns, A: Paul Pelletier). Aquaman‘s taken a little while to get going, but then, so did Johns’ regular monthly Green Lantern run, so I’m willing to forgive that now that its engine is up and running. What we have here is the best damn take on Aquaman since Peter David had the sheer balls to replace his hand with a harpoon back in the day. This issue brings together the last few issues’ worth of follow-up to “Throne of Atlantis” (seriously, how good was that story?!) together, and it’s a hell of a thing to behold. When the Scavenger’s grand plan becomes apparent on the last page, it takes a moment to dawn on you just how much shit is about to go down. Mera’s return home to Xebel leads to an unfortunate revelation, but it’s nice to see Johns revisiting the groundwork he first laid for the character back in Brightest Day. Paul Pelletier does some of the best art of his career, as he’s clearly trying to prove himself to be a worthy successor of the mighty Ivan Reis. In a world where not all that much seems to be going right for DC right now, here’s a book that stands out for its sheer quality in a more or less straightforward superhero story. Score: 8/10.
9. Justice League of America #5 (DC, W: Geoff Johns, A: Brett Booth). And here’s an example of Geoff Johns not playing to his strengths. JLA is a sort of corporate concoction, designed to play off of events in Justice League, which is evident by next month’s “Trinity Wank, ” I’m sorry, I mean “Trinity War” crossover. The book has a great premise, honestly: the government, distrustful of the Justice League and their lameness in not swearing fealty to the interests of the US, forms its own Justice League (…of America!) in order to quell public unease. But there’s a nastier truth underneath that gloss: the government wants a team that, if necessary, can go toe-to-toe with the League and take them down in a straight-ahead fight. And the suddenly-skinny Amanda Waller (boo, New 52), is pulling the team’s strings, so immediately long-time readers know there’s an inherent shadiness to the proceedings. The team has a good mix of characters, too: Catwoman, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, Hawkman, and, uh, Vibe, among others. Everyone has a different motivation for joining the team, the trick for leader Steve Trevor will be getting everyone on the same page and working as a cohesive unit. Sounds like a fun enough premise, right? It is. But Johns is so intent on throwing EVERY! DAMN! THING! at you at once, that it doesn’t quite gel. Especially with the knowledge that in just a couple of weeks, this book’s true purpose will be served, in enabling a crossover that he dreamed up and nobody asked for except for DC’s beancounters. Brett Booth’s art doesn’t help matters, either. A holdover from ’90s Wildstorm, it’s a bit evident that he’s only really employed because he’s buddies with Jim Lee. His characters are cartoony and flat and have very little spark to them. Matt Kindt writes a decent enough back-up feature that explains how the Martian race was driven to extinction in the New 52 universe, but it’s so-so in execution at bet. This book can be saved, but not until Johns starts letting it stand on its own strengths, instead of as a springboard for his next crossover event. Score: 5/10.
10. Captain America #8 (Marvel, W: Rick Remender, A: John Romita, Jr.). Hey! After eight ponderous issues, it can finally be said: THINGS HAPPEN IN THIS ISSUE! BIG things! It’s been a hard trudge to get to this point, but there’s a great payoff. For the first time since about issue two or three, I’m genuinely excited to get the next issue of Cap. The underlying premise of Remender’s big Dimension Z opus is this: can you take Cap completely out of his element, and in fact into a type of story we’ve never seen him in before, and still tell a Cap story? Results are mixed thus far, mainly because it feels like the book’s moving at a snail’s pace. Honestly, we’re at issue eight of a five-issue story, and that’s no bueno. The larger story could have been better served by breaking it up into smaller arcs for pacing’s sake, but Remender wanted to go big and has floundered a bit. Granted, it’s tough to pull off a story of this length for any writer, but there are enough examples of it being done right (including Remender himself!) that it makes me feel the author has bitten off more than he can chew, here. There are all kinds of great ideas being batted around, but it’s been exhausting getting to this point, and there are still two issues to go. Romita Jr.’s doing some of the best art of his career, aided immensely by the immortal Klaus Janson on inks. This issue may wind up being the corner Cap needed to turn in order to bring it all back home, and for that, it’s an worthwhile thing indeed. Score: 7/10.
11. Powers: Bureau #5 (Marvel/Icon, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Michael Avon Oeming). Now here’s an example of where Bendis is still getting it right. Four volumes in, and Powers is still one hell of a ride. I was worried after the vestigial tail that was volume three that Bendis was just going to keep milking it for a pretty penny, but Bureau has proven me wrong. The new setting, with Walker and Pilgrim now working for the FBI, has been a breath of fresh air and has really focused the book. As of this issue, Walker is undercover trying to bust a ring of ne’er-do-wells who are implicit in a bunch of women getting knocked up with super-sperm. Walker’s cover gets busted here, and oh, do the sparks fly. The pacing is whiplash, with a serious sense of urgency in every scene that delivers an immensely engaging read. Oeming does his usual greatness; it’s nice to see him back to the heavy inks that he had moved away from for awhile. As I stated, this book serves as evidence that when he’s writing something that his heart is truly in, Bendis is still a force to be reckoned with in comics. Here’s hoping he can get some of that magic working on his mainstream books too. Score: 9/10.
12. Fatale #15 (Image, W: Ed Brubaker, A: Sean Phillips). There’s been plenty of rah-rah about the latest Brubaker/Phillips joint, so the heapings of the praise is just going to have to wait. To be honest: this is my least-favorite of their collaborations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I dislike it. (But can we get back to Criminal or Incognito soon, please?) Anyway, the last handful of issues have slowed the pace of the overall story a bit, being one-shots that delved into Jo’s sordid past. This issue does a bit of the same, but ties it into the present-day arc. Yet another hard-luck man gets caught in Jo’s wake, but that doesn’t mean you’ve read this story before in earlier issues. A solid read, but I’m getting a bit anxious waiting for the story to wrap up. Score: 8/10.
13. Jupiter’s Legacy #2 (Image, W: Mark Millar, A: Frank Quitely). If Mark Millar was trying to create a comic about utterly despicable people whom I hate with a fiery passion, congratulations, he’s done it! The characters of this book are selfish, self-absorbed, shallow, and pretentious. But by design, duh. And with a sense of, like ,TOTAL irony. The children of the original superheroes of what we would refer to as the Golden Age have all grown up, and their collective apples have fallen about as far from the tree as possible. A perfect example is this issue’s opening sequence, where Brandon, son of Superman aggregate the Utopian, is trying to do what he thinks is helping people by telekinetically lifting a cruise liner through the air so it can get to its port faster. Trouble is, he’s drunk as fuck because he’s an irresponsible asshole, and starts to lose the ship. Luckily, the Utopian shows up, rectifying his mistake, and gives his boy a right scolding, which sends Brandon off in a snit because he has daddy issues like no other, and because he’s too much of a petulant idiot to realize he really fucked up. The Utopian, by contrast, comes off as a paragon of preachiness as he reprimands his son. “I’m ashamed of your behavior! Disgusted by this shallow celebrity you seem to have chosen for yourself!” Because that’s another thing Brandon’s generation has going for it: celebrity and the endorsements it brings, which are a large deciding factor in his and his peers’ choices in life. Later in the issue, the Utopian’s brother, who’s sick of being told that they can’t interfere in the government doing its job (despite the fact that he’s come up with a means to permanently fix the financial crisis, among other things), comes down with a nasty case of Cain syndrome (which at this point he really hasn’t earned) and decides the Utopian ought to be offed, and enlists Brandon in the cause, which he’s totally down with since he’s sooooo put upon by his old man. The young characters are a paper-thin allegory for today’s celebrities gone wild, who are famous simply for being famous, and the older generation of characters are pretty much stock scolding-parents at this point. Quitely’s art is, well, Quitely’s art. Either you like him or you don’t. There’s a lot of potential for good, serious storytelling here, but honestly Millar needs to flesh these characters out or this book is just going to be a parody of itself. Score: 4/10.
14. Lazarus #1 (Image, W: Greg Rucka, A: Michael Lark). This book has all the makings of a disaster. Here we have Greg Rucka, known mostly for his hard-hitting criminal work and his “meh” superhero fare, working on a new book with Gotham Central co-conspirator Michael Lark, working on a futuristic take on America where the infrastructure has fallen apart and society is in pieces yadda yadda yadda. Been there, done that. Like I said… this book has all the makings of a flop, but surprisingly? It’s not. In fact, it’s quite beautiful. The basic premise is that in the near future, a clutch of wealthy, powerful families have divvied up what’s left of America into territories, and when I say “families,” I mean it in closer adherence to the mob than I do anything else. Because these families are ruthless. To that end, each family has a Lazarus, or a chosen member who undergoes a biological process that essentially makes them an unkillable enforcer. The Carlyle family’s Lazarus is named Forever; in the opening sequence, we see her shot to pieces, die, and then get right back up and dismantle the living shit out of her attackers while they’re still trying to figure out what’s happening. But the trick is this: Forever has no concept of true human emotion. She’s not some naive blank slate, but when she later asks her doctor if what she’s feeling in the wake of killing these men is what normal people feel, the doctor lies and tells her no, it’s not. But something’s nagging at her… Her brother, Jonah, later figures out that someone from within his camp has been working for a rival family, and gives a group of families, one of whom is the traitor, an ultimatum: give up the spy for execution, or they all die. The outcome is not one I’ll spoil here, but suffice to say, it triggers Forever’s nagging guilt and suspicion over her role in life. It is very, very, difficult to set up a world so convincingly in just one opening issue, but Rucka and Lark have done it. As I said, this book is a beauty to behold. I absolutely cannot wait to see what comes next. Score: 10/10.
…And that’s it, folks! It was a big-ass week, and I had a lot of ground to cover, so sorry for the long-windedness. SUCKER! IF YOU GOT TO THIS POINT, THAT MEANS YOU READ THE WHOLE DAMN THING!! I’ll be back in a few days with more Ill Diablo Likes Comics, and back next week for a fresh round of What I’m Reading.
Until next time, I remain…