Time to review some comics! I don’t have much for my increasingly-canned intro, so let’s ROLL!
1. Savage Dragon #191 (Image, W & A: Erik Larsen). Well, Larsen laid an egg here, after a string of recent excellence. There’s numerous sequences competing for attention here, but none of them are executed with any particular amount of finesse. We have, in order: Dragon’s space-daughter Lorella fighting against a Virus-Dragon (don’t ask) on a ship hurtling toward the sun, with no explanation given for what’s going on (fortunately this at least is rectified later in the issue); a prison breakout that results in nothing more than the needless and anticlimactic death of a longtime foe; an assassination attempt that acts as nothing more than an excuse for the old Dreadknight armor to get trotted back out; and finally, Malcolm’s girlfriend breaking up with him because of pressure from her parents. Any one or two of these would have been more than enough for a single issue, and decompressing the story load would have done wonders for fleshing out the plot points crammed in here. Nothing is really given room to breathe, and by that turn, nothing feels like it has much weight to it. Larsen gets in this frenetic pacing mode occasionally; it usually precedes him rushing to get to the next major storyarc. With Dragon’s death and the succession of Malcolm the major plot-to-come, it’s fairly obvious he’s itching to get there–too bad he’s running faster than his particular writing skills allow for, at least in this issue. Score: 5/10.
2. Uncanny X-Men #12 (Marvel, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Chris Bachalo). Not a lot of ground is gained in this installment of “Battle of the Atom.” Young Cyclops and Jean Grey enlist Modern Cyclops’ rogue (no, not that Rogue!) X-Men to assist them in their bid to remain in the present and POTENTIALLY DESTROY THE SPACE/TIME CONTINUUM INSTEAD OF JUST GOING HOME AND NOT DOING THAT. Their insistence that risking all of reality, and all the lives therein, is worth their personal freedom to choose their own fate is a bit of a non-starter for me. Yes, the present sucks, but it’s already happened, dammit! The notion of fighting your destiny is a noble one, but frankly Young Cyke and Jean come off as naive and a bit petulant in their ongoing insistence that they can fight fate and to hell with everything/one else. As do Kitty Pryde and Rachel Grey, going against the grain of the rest of the X-Men in order to fight for the first generation’s freedom to choose and, again, possibly destroy all of reality. There’s a whole argument to be made as to whether or not they already did so the instant they were brought to modern times, and whether or not that act altered reality or created a divergent timeline, but I digress. The heart of this argument is, for me, an essentially selfish one when weighed against the lives of so many others, and thus puts me on the side against their personal freedom, which is an odd place to find myself. What a mark of good writing! The best writers force the reader to challenge themselves and their preconceived beliefs, which in a very unexpected way, Bendis and friends have done here in this crossover by asking: is the greater good more important than an individual’s personal freedom to choose their own path? It’s an age-old question presented as only the X-Men could. (Different scenarios call for different responses: no the “greater good” of the United States is NOT worth illegally wiretapping its citizens, just to pick a completely random example.) As for this issue, like I said, not a lot of ground is gained as Modern Cyclops decides to take up his younger self’s cause. The opening scene is a great one for Maria Hill and SHIELD, which humorously hammers home what a headache the X-Men would be for her. (“I had a dream the X-Men blew up the moon. …It was a very vivid dream.”) And of course the last page, neatly summarized in a brief meta-moment by Emma Frost: “The message boards would love this.” Yes indeed they would, just as I’m loving this story. Score: 8/10.
3. Thor: God of Thunder #13 (Marvel, W: Jason Aaron, A: Ron Garney). Uh, what the hell HAPPENED this issue? After twelve straight issues of the finest writing of Jason Aaron’s career, such a steep, precipitous drop in quality is unfathomable. But it has happened: once the finest book being produced by Marvel has suddenly turned into a crass advertisement for the upcoming Thor: The Dark World film. It’s all here: Malekith the Dark Elf is brought back into play, as are Sif and the Warriors Three. The story is paper-thin: Malekith is pulled out of his imprisonment in Hel by his disciples, all so he can go on a murderous romp throughout the nine realms. Thor, Sif, and the Warriors Three follow in order to stop him. That’s it. Anyone trying to tell me this issue, and the rest of this arc, is anything other than a blanket attempt to cash in on the upcoming film sequel is utterly full of shit. Ron Garney’s art is and always has been lazy; why he continues to land such high-profile gigs such as this book is beyond me. Frankly he looks as though he laid out some rough sketches for each page and then had the mightily talented Ive Scorcina save his ass by coloring over all his shortcomings. I had a feeling this book might lose something post-Gorr, post-Esad Ribic, but I had no idea it would drop THIS far in quality. A sad state of affairs; I can only hope subsequent issues raise the bar back to at least SOMEWHERE near this book’s former glory. Score: 2/10.
4. New Avengers #10 (Marvel, W: Jonathan Hickman, A: Mike Deodato). In the latest “Infinity” installment, Jonathan Hickman gives us more insight into Thanos’ plan on Earth, and what he really wants. He’s after his bastard son, who is among the Inhumans, putting king Black Bolt in a sticky position: kill all Inhuman children ages 16-22 or have all of Attilan annihilated. But despite this thorny predicament, this is a fairly lightweight issue, chock-full of debate among the members of the Illuminati regarding this and the rest of the crises on Earth, i.e. the rest of Thanos’ as well as the incursions of alternate Earths, which up until “Infinity,” had been this book’s primary focus. How Hickman intends to tie this disparate plot thread into the larger tapestry of “Infinity” remains a mystery at this point, which isn’t helped by the fact that it’s been put on the backburner until now. Less an essential chapter of “Infinity” and more of a segue to the third issue of that series, there’s not too much here that’s necessary to the overall proceedings. Lots of good character stuff, though, including Dr. Strange’s denial/cover-up of his recent defeat at the hands of one of Thanos’ minions, as well as Namor outright lying about Atlantis being completely obliterated (as opposed to the fact that Namor actually screwed over Black Panther in order to secure safety for his people and further his war with Wakanda). I would have liked to have seen more forward progress, but then, that’s sometimes what tie-in issues to larger events do: tread water as a stop-gap to the next main issue. The trick lies in the execution. Even Deodato’s art is off a bit this issue; in certain panels peoples’ faces are distorted-looking, and Beast’s size in relation to the other characters is completely overblown. Not a completely horrid issue by any means, but don’t expect to feel like the larger picture of “infinity” is going to be bettered by this outing. Score: 5/10.
5. Infinity #3 of 6 (Marvel, W: Jonathan Hickman, A: Jerome Opena). Thanos learns a serious lesson in this issue: do NOT fuck with Black Bolt. And that’s all I’ll say on that front. This issue serves as the turning point for both the wars in space and on Earth, as the war against the Builders finally shifts in a positive direction once Captain America starts taking a more active hand in the battle strategy. It’s nice to see our heroes starting to rally and win some after getting their asses kicked thus far, although Black Bolt’s victory may prove to be Pyrrhic at best. We also see the Starbrand finally prove his worth, although making this guy an Avenger so soon after his introduction still strikes me as more of vanity move on Hickman’s part than something the character has proven to have legitimately earned. But, at least in terms of power set, the guy definitely gets a chance to shine this issue. This is the rare issue in a large-scale story like this that actually feels like a turning point; where Hickman’s going to go from here is anyone’s guess now that all bets are off. As with any story such as this, however, there’s very little doubt that the heroes will prevail; where a writer truly proves his or her worth his in the details of how they got there. Is the victory truly earned, or are the characters merely going through the motions, acting as chess pieces for the writer’s amusement? As we’re only at the halfway point of this Infinity gauntlet, I can only hazard a guess as to how events will play out, but as of now, everything points in the direction of solid craftsmanship winning the day. Score: 7/10.
6. Daredevil #31 (Marvel, W: Mark Waid, A: Chris Samnee). Despite silly-looking Silver Age villain the Jester on the cover there, this is one deadly serious issue. Mark Waid not only comes up with a perfect allegory for the Trayvon Martin case, he also comes up with a way to address the public’s outrage over the verdict in a way that’s both smart and tactful without being preachy. It’s a very, very delicate balancing act here, as the entire subject is one that is extremely touchy and still fresh in the public’s mind. But that’s why comics like this exist, to challenge, to provoke thought and discussion, to rise to the challenge of their subject matter. Waid handles the situation in a mature way, playing “What If?” as the prosecutor, defeated in court for not being able to prove a racist old harpy’s guilt in the shooting death of a black child, beyond a reasonable doubt, suddenly decides to take justice into his own hands and reveal the jurors to the public, thus inciting violence, riots, and very, very serious threats of death. But only Daredevil can “see” the truth: the prosecutor, of course, did no such thing, but media manipulation courtesy of the Joker, er, the Jester broadcast the doctored footage across the country for the world to see. Immediate confusion results, and the reader is challenged by the notion of illegal mob justice (in this case representing a sense of actual justice) versus the fallacies of the court system (in this case performed a grave injustice by allowing the murderer of a child walk free). Despite the fact that the prosecutor is being set up by the racist Sons of the Serpent organization, who have in recent issues been infiltrating New York’s court system, the issue challenges the reader straightaway to take sides on this issue, by neatly illustrating that there are no sides, only victims. My hat’s off to ya, Mr. Waid. Score: 10/10.
7. Powers: Bureau #7 (Marvel/Icon, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Michael Avon Oeming). The usual Powers “write-for-the-trade” mentality is shuffled aside for this issue, as Walker and Deena take a breather and deal with the fallout of the last arc’s events. Which is to say: Walker finds out Deena is pregnant thanks to the especially-icky guy who was getting powers semen on people and impregnating them via osmosis. Including men. While all this is going on, the agents are dealing with a homicide that eventually leads to a version of DC’s Triplicate Girl gone terribly wrong: the woman multiplied into five versions of herself, but then the multiples went off and decided to live their own lives without her permission. So she’s paying them back in kind for ruining her life in the only way she knows how, by putting bullets in their heads. Which opens a bizarre, only-in-comics philosophical issue: is she truly committing murder, since the duplicates are actually part of her? This issue had everything that has made Powers great over the years: a unique homicide involving superpowers, witty repartee, great character work, and Bendis’ deft sense of pacing holding the entire thing together. If you dropped this book due to its erratic shipping schedule and/or disillusion with volume three, now’s the time to come back, because the creators are writing and drawing the hell out of it like it’s 2001 all over again. Score: 8/10.
8. 100 Bullets: Brother Lono #4 of 8 (DC/Vertigo, W: Brian Azzarello, A: Eduardo Risso). For a comic called Brother Lono, Lono sure doesn’t do much this issue. At all. Still wringing his hands over all the blood he’s spilled in his past, Lono guiltily fantasizes about biting an offending individual’s finger off (and swallowing it, naturally), then gets drunk and passes out the rest of the time. So it’s up to the supporting cast to fill in the blanks for the remainder of the issue, which is not a good sign since so many members of said supporting cast, the villains of the piece in particular, are so poorly fleshed out. We basically have generic drug dealers espousing the traditional razor-sharp Azzarello dialogue in lieu of actual character development, which is a serious problem this series has had from the start. I really want to care about Lono’s struggle to become a better man, but it’s hard to when Azzarello keeps giving that plot point (which should be the main point) short shrift when compared to the goings-on of the drug dealers who want to use the grounds of the church at which he’s staying as a staging ground for their operation. And this is a legitimately concerning issue, since we’re now at the halfway point of this miniseries, and I’m still waiting for everything to congeal and move forward. Azzarello famously juggled second- and third-tier characters’ arcs amidst the larger story of 100 Bullets, but there he had space to breathe and allow for his plot points to grow organically at their own pace. But here, it seems he’s trying to take his time again, but with only four more issues to go, I’m not certain everything isn’t going to wind up feeling crammed in at the end. And now that the story of the World’s Hottest Nun has taken its own unexpected turn, all these tangles don’t look to be straightening out anytime soon. Score: 5/10.
I may currently be unable to meet my personal goal of getting at least four posts up a week on this blog, thanks to a super-hectic work schedule, but don’t think I’ve abandoned it. If nothing else, I’ll always squeeze in a What I’m Reading installment each week, at least until my time frees up a bit and I have more time to write. After all, I’m still reading comics every week, which means I have the opportunity to steer you all in the right direction for how to spend your hard-earned money every week, too. (Hint: buy less DC.)