Hi-dilly-ho neighboreenos, and welcome to the first edition of What I’m Reading for 2014. I’m getting off light this week, as only three books from my pull sheet shipped! As usual, my ratings scale is relative mostly to my enjoyment factor of a particular title, not necessarily my novice-level skills as a critic. With that in mind, let’s begin with the latest issue of one of the breakout books of 2013…
1. The Superior Foes of Spider-Man #7 (Marvel, W: Nick Spencer, A: Steve Lieber). I’m not sure cover artist In-Hyuk Lee got the memo, but Superior Foes is actually supposed to be the thinking man’s fun comic. Not the “posing Jim Lee-style and looking so cool” type of book at all. Hopefully, this aberration is his only cover for this book, because it’s really very misleading as to what kind of comic this is. This issue sees an interlude to the main plot that details the new female Beetle’s origin, now that it’s been revealed she’s the daughter of albinic Spider-foe Tombstone. As per usual, Spencer’s characterization is top-notch: Tombstone is written in a blue-collar, Tony Soprano-esque manner, and his daughter Janice (the future Beetle), makes me think of Meadow Soprano–if she had ambitions of being a costumed supervillain. All of the details are there and feel right, but if anything, this issue suffers from being too much of a good thing. At seven issues in, Spencer’s first arc should be wrapping up, not spending an entire issue in an interlude that, frankly, could have been told in half the pages or less. There’s a completely unnecessary two-page spread of Janice’s evening in journal form, showing how she manages her time in a crunch. And then there’s an extremely amusing sequence involving the Fixer and Baron Zemo that’s priceless–but also completely unnecessary. Janice’s backstory could have been told in six to eight pages, and then the rest of the issue could have moved the plot along. But oh well. It’s still a superb read and a minor misstep in an otherwise near-perfect book. Buy this title now before Marvel axes it! Score: 8/10.
2. New Avengers #13 (Marvel, W: Jonathan Hickman, A: Simone Bianchi). What “Inhumanity” has to do with this issue is beyond me, other than Black Bolt was arbitrarily slapped on the cover (PS… he’s MIA post-Infinity). That, and Marvel’s hoping that by tattooing that particular trade dress on as many of their comics as possible, someone might actually give two shits about “Inhumanity.” “Oh, new Inhumans are spontaneously popping up all over the world? And society at large is distrustful of them? No, that’s nothing like the X-Men at all!” But I digress. This issue gets back to the matter at hand that’s plagued this book from its inception: the incursions of alternate Earths the Illuminati are desperately trying to stop. It’s a pretty esoteric concept, and it gets weirder this issue as we witness the failure of another Earth’s Illuminati to stop some villains known as Black Priests, who are apparently the ones behind the incursions, from killing them without breaking a sweat. Unfortunately, the Priests haven’t really earned their badassery, because they’re just showing up this issue. We know nothing about them, but, in a time-honored comic book cliche, we’re being TOLD they’re, like, sooooo badass because they’re effortlessly killing some inconsequential alternate-earth duplicates of our titular heroes. We’ve seen this a hundred times before, so until Hickman gives me a REASON to CARE about the Black Priests, I’m uninterested. (For crying out loud, the Avengers just got done fighting THANOS! It doesn’t get much more badass than that.) As for the rest of the book, we get some more vaguely ominous dialogue from the captive Black Swan that leads to the return of Reed Richards’ bridge from Hickman’s Fantastic Four run, which is a nice callback. And it actually serves a purpose too, and isn’t just a tip of the hat to the author’s previous work: using it allows the heroes to witness their own demises on the alternate Earth at the hands of the Black Priests. What’s it all mean? It means that Hickman isn’t done by a long shot, which is great, since this book is so thoroughly engaging and original, especially when compared to the oversaturated Avengers proper. Simone Bianchi does his usual stand-up job on the interiors, but Mike Deodato would be welcome back at any point. Although certainly not the most new reader-friendly book on the stands, New Avengers continues to push the boundaries of what a team book is, and that is not a bad thing by anyone’s estimation. But, can ANYONE tell me what the two pages with Dr. Strange was about, though? Hickman’s biggest flaw as a writer is his propensity toward being a teensy bit too vague and emotionally aloof at times in favor of the greater concept. And while this is without a doubt a concept book at its core… give me something to care about, man. Score: 7/10.
3. Aquaman #26 (DC, W: Jeff Parker, W: Netho Diaz & Paul Pelletier). Geoff Johns is a tough act to follow, even when he’s not at his best. Who followed him on The Flash? How about on Green Lantern, what’s that guy’s name? Vendetta? Vagina? Vegetarian? Does anyone care? And so too do the fates threaten Jeff Parker, sentenced to follow Johns’ good-but-never-great run chronicling the tales of Arthur Curry, a.k.a. Aquaman, a.k.a. comics’ longest-running joke of a character. Now, it seems to me that the smart play would be to do something unexpected, write some grand gesture announcing to the WORLD that he’s unafraid to put his own stamp on the character. So, what does Parker do? Nothing of the sort, actually. This comic is so ho-hum it nearly caused me to fall asleep–and the thing’s only twenty pages long! Aquaman pulls off an underwater rescue mission? Check. King Aquaman isn’t trusted/liked by his Atlantean council, nor the city’s people? Check. Aquaman fights a sea monster? Check! See where I’m going with this? There’s nary an original thought to be had in this issue. It reads like a primer for the character by way of checking off the cliches most often associated with him. Okay, I lied, there is one original notion: Mera using her hard-water abilities to launch Aquaman out of the sea and into the air, like some Super-Soaker cannon that can shoot the man clear across half the world. And that’s just stupid. The art, too, is bland: Netho Diaz draws the first half the issue, followed by returning artist Paul Pelletier, and neither artist seems particularly interested to be there. Maybe if they were working from a better script? Parker better produce some magic fast, or the loss of Geoff Johns is going to doom this book to cancellation regardless of whatever else he eventually pulls out of his hat. Score: 4/10.
And that’s a wrap! Easy week. Three comics? No problem. It’s these weeks where comics for me ship in the double-digits that things get tricky! But oh well. It’s all for the love of the game!
Keep readin’ those funnybooks!