Happy Friday and welcome to another What I’m Reading! I went out on a limb and bought a couple of titles I normally don’t this week. One because of the artist, the other because of the general theme. Let’s get into it, then, and see what’s what. As always, remember: this list is by no means intended to serve as a comprehensive review of all of the week’s big releases. It’s only what I’ve personally bought based on my pull sheet at my local comic store. If you want something more comprehensive, I’d recommend comicbookresources.com or newsarama.com. Anyway! Off we go!
1. Lazarus #2 (Image, W: Greg Rucka, A: Michael Lark). After the flawless review I gave Lazarus‘ first issue (10/10), the book inevitably only had nowhere to go but down. It’s to be expected, and not at all out of the ordinary. And so this second issue does just that: not a steep dropoff in overall quality per se, but nowhere near as good as the world-defining first issue. This issue sees our first look at the entire Carlysle family, and the first thing that struck me was that Rucka’s obviously been watching Game of Thrones. The family Carlysle is a pretty fair analogue for the Lannisters: powerful, with a singularly authoritative patriarch; scheming, backstabbing, and, ah, not afraid of incest. Now, this is not to say that GoT is doing something entirely original, but the fact that it looms so large in the popular culture at the moment isn’t lost on me as I make the comparison (and I’m sure it wasn’t on Rucka, either). Intrigue abounds, as the family gathers to decide what to do about the apparent incursion against them by the Morray family last issue. Ultimately, the decision is made so send their family’s lazarus, Forever, down to Morray territory to make a statement of sorts. There isn’t really any development of Forever’s character in this issue, as she takes a back seat to her villainous family, and that’s where Rucka slips up: yes, it’s important to expand the supporting cast, but he does so at the detriment of his main character. Still a great read, and Michael Lark’s art is still pitch-perfect, but Rucka loses points this issue for losing momentum and for shamelessly ripping off the Lannisters. Score: 7/10.
2. Aquaman #22 (DC, W: Geoff Johns, A: Paul Pelletier). The shit hits the fan on all fronts this issue: the Scavenger’s forces attack Atlantis, Aquaman throws down with the Dead King, and the incursion team moves closer and closer to busting Ocean Master out of jail. Oh, and Mera’s people in Xebel have a distressing moment of truth. Sounds like a lot for a twenty-page comic, but what makes this issue work so well is the way Johns balances all the subplots out, overlapping dialogue boxes, cross-cutting scenes together to form one big, meaty, break-neck-paced issue that doesn’t let off of the throttle for a second. Aquaman’s battle with the Dead King yields some surprising revelations that will surely affect Arthur’s future rule of Atlantis. I don’t really want to spoil it, because it’s a pretty major plot point, so let’s just say… nah. On to other things: Swatt, Murk, and Tula’s mission to break Ocean Master out of jail and reassert him as king comes to the surface world, with what could have been stereotypical fish out of water moments played out with humor and authenticity:
“What is that?”
“It’s called a truck, Tula.”
“It’s a land vehicle.”
“I know what it’s for. It just a strange name. Everything is strange up here. Did you see that legged creature in the brush? It was covered in hair.”
Good, honest stuff. There’s not really anything bad to say about this issue, other than, for all its strengths, reading it didn’t quite blow my mind, either. After last issue’s spectacularly-rendered set up, I was expecting a few more fireworks this issue, especially from the Scavenger’s assault on Atlantis, which does in fact wind up getting the short end of the screen time stick. Having said that, though, I can honestly say this book remains one of DC’s best, a shining pearl in an ocean of crap. As long as Johns doesn’t bog it down with senseless crossovers and event storylines, I’d say this book’s going to remain good for some time to come. Score: 8/10.
3. Batman: The Dark Knight #22 (DC, W: Gregg Hurwitz, A: Alex Maleev). When word hit me that the mighty Alex Maleev was on the art duties for this Bat-book, I just had to check it out. Maleev, after all, is one of my all-time favorite artists, right up there with Michael Lark, Sean Phillips, and Steve Epting. I’ve never read anything by Hurwitz; my only working knowledge of him is that outside of men in tights (TIGHT tights!), he’s a crime novelist. So what, then, do we have here? Good question. At least in part because of DC’s ongoing insistence that recap pages are somehow a bad thing and therefore should not exist, I was thrown into the deep end of this issue and had to piece things together for myself. When this occurs, the onus is on the writer to paint a clear picture, hopefully without the overuse of unnatural expository dialogue, so that the reader isn’t completely lost. In this, Hurwitz does a decent job, at least: we have Clayface running around, killing his former crews for some reason. Oh, and he also kidnapped Jim Gordon for reasons that aren’t made clear. The issue opens, however, with a pretty good monologue from Gordon about how Gotham is the type of city that continues to get worse and worse, pushing all men to their limits. This is overlayed against him walking into a hostage situation and mercilessly shooting the shit out of the perpetrators, much to Batman’s horror when he shows up too late to stop the bloodbath. But then Gordon takes a shot at Batman, and Bats figures out pretty quick that this isn’t Gordon at all, but rather Clayface, killing another one of his old crews. So okay, I guess I should have seen that coming pretty easily, but then at the same time, it felt like a cop out. How much cooler would it have been if Hurwitz had had the balls to actually have Gordon go past his breaking point and kill those men, and completely upend his relationship with Batman in the process? That would have had serious potential. Instead we have a gotcha moment that anyone who’d been previously reading the book almost certainly saw coming. Nevertheless, with Clayface standing revealed, he morphs into some chick named Natalya, who has a seriously adverse affect on Batman for reasons that are never explained. My guess is that she died and he couldn’t save her, but again, Hurwitz doesn’t make it clear. Meanwhile, we get back to the actual Jim Gordon, who’s tied up but still relatively mobile in an old theater, where there’s a spotlight nearby that Gordon manages to convert into a makeshift bat-signal, alerting Batman to his whereabouts. It’s a kinda clever moment, but it also strains credibility. The place is abandoned, yet still has electricity? And there just happens to be an opening in the ceiling for Gordon to shine the light through? And there also just happens to be a pile of magazines nearby for Gordon to rip up in order to form the Batman symbol for the signal? Eh, that’s straining credibility a little too much for me. It’s supposed to be this big heroic moment for Gordon, but it winds up falling flat due to all the incredibility. One other thing I noticed about this comic is that this Batman seems a little green. His confidence in himself and his actions can be thrown, which is nice too see. Too often, authors write Batman as this immovable, unquestionable force of nature who is barely human. I’m not sure if Hurwitz is actually writing about a Batman from yesteryear, when he was just starting out, and is therefore more prone to this sort of thing; again, a recap page could have clarified this for me if DC weren’t so stubborn about not having them. Maleev’s typically top-notch art is lost in the sauce: because of the lack of variation in Dave McCaig’s coloring, it’s washed out and muted by all of the blacks, browns, and purples that permeate every page of the book. Each page has a sameness to it that makes a great artist dull. One last thing: the cover. It’s a great, symbolic image of Gordon firing at a range target that’s situated in a Batman silhouette. I could easily take one look at this cover and figure out that Gordon and Batman are having friction, and that’d be enough. But no, DC insists on putting lame exposition over it, something they’ve done consistently with all their books since the ’90s: “When allies become… deadly ENEMIES!” It’s as though DC presumes we’re too stupid to figure a symbolic cover out for ourselves, and feels the need to put quasi-shocking exclamations over it. It’s just annoying, and it distracts from a great piece of art. This issue overall was a real mixed bag. I didn’t hate it, but it certainly had its shortcomings. If Hurwitz can grow as a writer and become more confident, and if Maleev can be unrestrained, it might just turn into a solid book. As it stands, with this issue alone, I can’t justify a higher score than 5/10.
4. Uncanny Avengers #10 (Marvel, W: Rick Remender, A: Daniel Acuna). Remender’s big “can’t we all just get along?” statement rumbles along, sparing none in its wake. The Avengers’ unity squad is divided, proving that Xavier’s dream may be that of pipe. The Apocalypse Twins are on the loose, causing all sorts of mayhem, like bringing back several dead characters under their thrall as the Four Horsemen of Death to plague our heroes. Thus we see undead versions of the Sentry, Banshee, Daken, and the Grim Reaper bother Thor, Havok and Scarlet Witch, Wolverine, and Wonder Man (who, in a neat flip, is a pacifist now and refuses to fight). This in and of itself is nothing new and in fact rather rote, and Remender can’t pull it off with the ominous sense of dread and fear that Geoff Johns did on Blackest Night. So like I said, the unity squad is divided: on the one side, we have Sunfire, Thor, Wolverine, and Rogue, on the other side, we have Cap, Wasp, Havok, Scarlet Witch, and Wonder Man. Wolverine’s crew has tracked down Ozymandias, former scribe of Apocalypse, and are going all Guantanamo on his ass in order to find out the Twins’ location. Ozymandias is made of sand, you see, so there’s no way to really torture him for information. Good thing Sunfire’s there to fuse his arm into glass, which then gives Wolverine something solid to cut at. Aaaaand… scene! Holy shit, these guys aren’t playing around! If this seems really out of character for everyone involved except Wolverine, you’re right. Sure, Wolverine does what he has to do, and maybe you could make the case for Thor understanding its occasional necessity in dire times after all his centuries of warfare, and maybe Sunfire and Rogue just doesn’t give a fuck. But that’s a lot of maybes. It’s also the second place in this comic where Remender stumbles, because I don’t buy this scene for one second. You could also make the case for the severity of the situation, after all, Kang is manipulating events from elsewhere and the Twins on the verge of ending reality or something. But then, couldn’t that constitute every other comic story? This was, ultimately, a poor choice on Remender’s part. You ain’t writing about a secret squad of assassins anymore, dude. Especially after Wolverine got dressed down last issue from Havoc when he becomes aware of the former existence of Logan’s X-Force assassination squad. Which, I suppose, is the crux of why the unity squad split… well, that, and the fact that they don’t seem to get along very well, despite being mutant or human. This is actually a fairly confusing issue; even I couldn’t keep score without flipping to the recap page. Man, good thing that was there! This comic is DEFINITELY not new-reader friendly, especially since the entire book itself is an outgrowth of Remender’s ass-kickingly amazing Uncanny X-Force. (Seriously, one of Marvel’s best series in the last decade.) Having said that, though, Remender does a solid job of moving all of the pieces into place, and Daniel Acuna’s art has improved by leaps and bounds over the course of this arc. There are even a few panels where he has a Greg Land-esque photorealism, but minus all the cheesecake. I wouldn’t recommend this comic to anyone not familiar with Uncanny X-Force, the recent goings-on in the Marvel Universe as a whole, and, say, fifty years of Avengers and X-Men continuity. But if you’re willing to take the plunge and just go with it, it’s a fun, if confusing read. Middle chapters of stories often are, and this one is no exception. Let’s hope Remender starts pulling it all together soon so that it all starts making sense, and that he remembers who the characters he’s writing are supposed to be at their core. Score: 6/10.
5. Wolverine and the X-Men #33 (Marvel, W: Jason Aaron, A: Nick Bradshaw). Another day, another throwdown with the Hellfire Club. Everyone makes their move this issue: Logan, Quentin Quire, Idie, and even Toad the janitor all go on the offensive. Kade Kilgore attempts to make Idie his Black Queen, and in doing so, seems as if he’s sowing the seeds of his own undoing, but for reasons you might not expect. Toad and Quentin continue to effect their escape with some unexpected assistance from Dog Logan, then run smack into Husk, Glob Herman, the nasty snot guy (if you’ve been reading the book you know exactly who I’m talking about and EWWWWW that’s gross), and some others. Beast, Storm, Iceman, and the rest of the teachers are on their way to save the day, now that they’ve pinpointed the Academy’s location, thanks to Krakoa’s timely information. This is pretty much an all-action issue, acting as the the bridge it needs to be as the middle chapter of the five-part “Hellfire Saga.” There are numerous moments that are not only solid action beats, but also solid character-building moments as well. Who knew Toad had it in him to be a hero, after so many years spent as a lackey? But a broken heart is one hell of a motivator, and Husk, for her side of that equation, doesn’t shy away from kicking the guy in the emotional nuts. Story-wise, there’s nothing bad I can really say, because Aaron spins the hell out of this issue, one of his finest yet on this title. My sticking point is still Nick Bradshaw’s art, which is overly cartoony and WAY out of place. His faces look like he’s absorbed all of the wrong lessons from manga and anime: everyone looks like a kid, which is definitely not a good look for, say, Wolverine. As I stated in my review for the previous issue, he comes off as a weak version of Arthur Adams. If it weren’t for the hiccup of the art, this would be a near-perfect issue, as “The Hellfire Saga” hauls ass toward its conclusion. Score: 8/10.
6. Deadpool #13 (Marvel, W: Gerry Duggan & Brian Posehn, A: Scott Koblish). Comedy is extremely hard to pull off in comics. You have to not only have a good understanding of comedic timing, you also have to understand how to interpret that timing on the comic page using panels. It’s tricky, and most writers can’t do it and resort to one-liners, which can easily be worked into the confines of a single panel and thus take considerably less effort. Peter David is one of the medium’s masters when it comes to comedic timing, but even he resorts to puns and one-liners depending on the set up.
And then we have Deadpool.
For a good while now, Deadpool has existed predominately not as a character, but rather as a clown for comedy’s sake. There’s no continuity for the him in the long run, no growth, and ultimately very little to care about. (Very important exception: Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, which played his psychosis not for laughs but as sad, and is the best-written Deadpool EVER.) He’s been used by multiple writers as a vehicle for wackiness for the sake of wackiness. So to put it mildly, a little goes a long way.
But then we have THIS issue of Deadpool.
This is, far and away, one of the funniest comics I’ve read in a LONG time. A send up of both blaxploitation flicks and ’70s comics, there’s not a single joke that falls flat here. (Okay, there’s a couple. Hyperbole AWAAAYYY!!) Even the letter from the editor on the first page had me cracking up: “Thankfully, hidden even further back in Marvel’s files we found this issue, originally shelved by THE MAN back in 1977 as too controversial. Or too stupid, the records were a little unclear.” There’s nothing that’s not a target for Duggan and Posehn as they write a tale of an afro’d Deadpool stumbling onto a Heroes for Hire ad in ’77, and misinterprets it as meaning that Luke Cage (in all his yellow-shirted glory) and Iron Fist will hire him. There’s referential humor galore, as Kiss, The Warriors, Son of Sam, AC/DC, Francis Ford Coppola, team-up books, and the infamous “gun-in-holster” Nick Fury sex scene by Jim Steranko all get sent up with ample aplomb. But the piece de resistance is the villain of the piece: THE WHITE MAN, which of course elicits all sorts of excellent dialogue such as:
“We’ve been hearing more about The White Man.”
“The White Man is no bueno.”
“That’s the word on the street.”
It’s COMPLETELY DUMB, but it works in the same way Airplane! or Hot Shots! works. There’s a lot more awesome I could say about this comic, such as the White Man’s hilariously tenuous connection to the Mandarin, but I don’t want to spoil the gag anymore than I already have. Just buy the damn comic already! Score: 9/10.
7. Captain America #9 (Marvel, W: Rick Remender, A: John Romita Jr.). It took awhile to get to this point and get good, but now that it has reached the penultimate chapter of Cap’s adventure in Dimension Z, this book is on FIRE. Last issue saw a major upswing in quality, and this one is beyond even that. Cap, reeling and spent from last issue’s horrifying death, has returned home, but so has Arnim Zola, still intent on launching his deadly “Zola consciousness virus” into the atmosphere and infecting everyone worldwide with… well, him. Sharon Carter’s there to get Cap back on his feet, but has a revelation of her own that serves to further shake Cap’s confidence. There’s one hell of climactic battle between Cap and Zola, and by the issue’s end, we’ve even had a huge moment of genuine human emotion from Zola, making him an actual character and not just a black-and-white villain. This was absolutely the best issue of this book to date, and it helps to redeem the sluggishly-paced Dimension Z saga. This issue proves one thing for sure: you can take Captain America out of his natural storytelling environment, but he’s still Captain freakin’ America and his ideals and beliefs still ring true. If you haven’t read this book in awhile, I understand, but I’m here to tell you it’s worth a second look. Score: 9/10.
8. New Avengers #8 (Marvel, W: Jonathan Hickman, A: Mike Deodato). Prelude to Infinity time again. Thank fuck that upcoming miniseries is an outgrowth of what’s currently going on with Hickman’s two Avengers titles anyway, or else I’d be seriously annoyed. But there’s still a relatively fair amount to at least be frustrated with this issue. The Inhumans suddenly show up, and they have some vague things to say that, knowing Hickman, won’t make sense until like ten issues down the line. That’s his downfall as a writer: the long game works only so long as readers are willing to tolerate it; wait too long between story beats and other revelations and you’re likely to lose ’em. Now, fortunately, that’s the bad for the issue out of the way. Bridging the continuity gap between this book and Guardians of the Galaxy, Tony Stark is just returning to Earth from his space jaunt over in that title, and boy oh boy does he have some bad news for Reed Richards to chew on: the Living Tribunal, one of the most powerful cosmic entities in existence, is dead, slain by unknown forces that are heading toward Earth (these forces also seen back in Hickman’s Avengers #5). That’s not good. Equally not good? The ongoing war between Wakanda and Atlantis, which, after some extraordinarily well-written kingly debate between Namor and Black Panther, gets kicked into eye-bulgingly high gear by T’Challa. Black Panther is one of the best, yet most underused, characters in Marvel’s stable. It’s great to see him getting the treatment he deserves here. Mike Deodato continues to grow as an artist here as well. He’s been one of Marvel’s finest for awhile, but this issue sees him take his game to a whole new level. One final complaint: the end of this issue sees the arrival of the mysterious alien forces on Earth, but since we’re still a few weeks away from Infinity #1’s release, there’s no context for it. Just a bunch of aliens randomly showing up to conquer. Now, onto bigger things: can Hickman pull off an alien invasion story I won’t immediately hate? Infinity’s being set up to have a considerable amount more going on with it than that, so for now I’m keeping my fingers crossed. As for this issue, it gets an 8/10 based on strength of both the art and the Namor/Panther scenes, which are strong enough to overpower the issue’s other shortcomings.
9. Hawkeye Annual #1 (Marvel, W: Matt Fraction, A: Javier Pulido). Annuals are a tough sell. You’re asking readers to buy an extra issue of their comic at a higher price, generally with content they could give a fuck less about. In years past, annuals were for completist fanboys only, but in modern times, both Marvel and DC have stumbled onto a solution that should have been obvious: tie the annual into the current storyline. Bang! Now you CAN’T miss it, or your story will be incomplete! And you’re paying MORE for it, to boot! And that’s what we have here, as this issue picks up with Kate Bishop and Pizza Dog hightailing it out of Clint’s world and headed for parts west. Los Angeles, specifically. And it was here that it dawned on me just how little we actually know about Kate. When she was introduced in the legendarily awesome Young Avengers, it was established that she came from the lap of luxury, but was prepared to rebel against that shallow lifestyle. And that’s about it. Since then she’s shown up in all of the various Young Avengers minis, and then here in Hawkguy’s world. There’s ample room for exploration and growth, and Matt Fraction digs right in. We learn that her step-mom is only three years older than her, for example. She learns that, for all her father’s generosity, he’s all too willing to stop paying her bills when she refuses to join him on a yacht cruise around the world. And this lands her in a bad spot, because as soon as she lands in LA, she finds she has no money. D’OH! Good thing Whitney Frost, a.k.a. Madame Masque, is conveniently on hand to help her out. Masque is very coincidentally in Los Angeles for no other reason than the story requires her to be there. She sashays up to Kate in her street clothes and gets all buddy-buddy (I thought she was supposed to be hideous under that mask?), and then tricks Kate into joining her at her home before she realizes what’s going on. Shenanigans ensue. For an extra-length comic, this issue was surprisingly light on content. Fraction tries to quirk up the proceedings by adding a cartoony Kate to the dialogue boxes, but it’s too cutesy and ultimately distracting. I dunno. This book was one of Marvel’s leading creative lights until recently, but the last two issues have seen Fraction slide into a rut. I hope he gets out of it quickly, because it’s fast becoming evident that quirk alone can’t keep this ship afloat. Score: 5/10.
10. Hunger #1 of 4 (Marvel, W: Joshua Hale Fialkov, A: Leonard Kirk). This book’s pretty a much do-or-die prospect. The 616 Marvel U is beginning to have contact with the Ultimate Universe (first in the lukewarm Spider-Men), and now, thanks to the weakening of reality or whatever that happened as a result of the end of Age of Paychecks, I mean, Age of Ultron, the 616 Galactus has discovered the Ultimate U and is ready for chow time. OM NOM NOM NOM NOM! That’s a premise that could either be totally cool, or fall flat on its ass. Do or die. At this point the only thing standing in his way is Rick Jones, severely underutilized and, to the best of my knowledge, not seen since the Ultimate Doom trilogy. Rick’s been bopping around the galaxy at the behest of the Watchers, who have him… watching stuff in preparation for his role as the universe’s defender. Considering how little this fifteen-year-old Rick’s ever been used, Fialkov does wonders making it feel like he’s an old familiar character. There’s a great sequence where the Kree and the Skrulls, I mean, the Chitauri, are doing their thing and battling out in space because, y’know, that’s what they do. Rick stumbles onto the carnage and immediately wants to know who the good guys and who the bad guys are, to which Uatu replies, “There is no good or bad, Rick Jones. Only life and death,” at which point Rick has to suss out the situation for himself because Uatu is so completely useful. But a kink is thrown into the battle when a Gah Lak Tus swarm shows up, threatening them all. This is where it could have gotten confusing, because some years back Warren Ellis devised the ultimate version of Galactus as being a sentient swarm of robot bugs or something that absorbed planetary energy. This character iteration hasn’t been seen since the 2005 finale of Ellis’s Galactus trilogy, so it would have been easy for the explanation of who and what Gah Lak Tus is to get bogged down in needless exposition. But Fialkov handles it like a pro, working it organically into the Kree’s and Chitauri’s various dialogues. Rick steps in to intervene and use the power cosmic to destroy the horde, when, in a truly well-written moment of dread, a a literal rip tears through space and slowly, Galactus emerges. The ominous sense of doom is palpable, pulled off masterfully by Fialkov. He’s definitely on my watch list now; I’ve never read him before but he proves here he’s got what it takes to pull off a story with this magnitude. Leonard Kirk’s art is the best I’ve seen from him, which is to say it’s good but not great. His X-Factor stuff was pretty weak both in general and by comparison. There’s a lot to like about this comic, and I’m very excited to see where it’s going. Score: 8/10.
And that’s a wrap. Book of the week: definitely Deadpool #13, an impulse buy that really, really worked out. I won’t necessarily be picking up this book on a consistent basis, but for a one-and-done issue, it was worth every penny.
Buy war bonds,