What I’m Reading 0026: 1/27/14 – TWO-FISTED EDITION!

Two weeks of comics reviews coming at you–BOOM! POW! A VERITABLE SMORGASBORD OF SNARKY, REVIEWY GOODNESS!! LET’S DO THIS!! By which I mean, let’s start with a trifecta of zombie-infested reads…

1. Empire of the Dead #1 (Marvel, W: George Romero, A: Alex Maleev). You read that right: THE GEORGE A. ROMERO is writing a zombie comic. Sounds legit, right? Well, yes and no. Bringing Hollywood-types into the realm of comics to write, and expecting them to be able to pull it off with the same skill and aplomb that they do in their day job often yields mixed results at best. Sure, for every J. Michael Straczynski who turns out a successful comics-writing career, there’s a whole slew of Heroes writers waiting to crash and burn in their turns at Marvel (ahem). Thankfully, Romero proves to be adept at translating a story script-to-panel. So what, then, does the master and progenitor of all things zombie-related give us in his turn in the funnybooks business? Not surprisingly, a zombie comic that’s set in the cinematic world of the undead he’s created. However, don’t mistake this for co-existing with the Marvel Universe (Marvel Zombies covered that nicely), either. This is a brand extension of what Romero’s been doing for nearly fifty years now, and the comic doesn’t hesitate to remind you by throwing in a bit of a twist on a classic scene from Night of the Living Dead that ties one of the comic’s protagonists back to that original film. It’s a nice touch, but a bit forced and unnecessary. Empire sees all of Long Island overrun by zombies, but also under a sketchily-defined marshall law. These zombies aren’t the ravenous, constant threats we’re accustomed to. But rather, they’re almost docile, unthreatening until threatened. The human populace has become so accustomed to their shuffling presence that they almost don’t register as a threat. Think Shawn of the Dead minus the humor and pointed social critique. This begs the question, which is the fuel that propels the series: can a zombie be taught to be human again? It’s an intriguing set-up, and just for added spice, Romero throws a second supernatural curveball in at the end, which could prove to be interesting or incredibly lame. Alex Maleev  Although my mind wasn’t blown, it was a decent enough read that I’ll be back for more. As for Romero, I don’t expect he’ll give up his day job anytime soon, but the fact that the master himself is writing a zombie comic–and not sucking at it–is cause enough for celebration. Score: 7/10.

2. Afterlife With Archie #3 (Archie Comics, W: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, A: Francesco Francavilla). With all the hype, how could I NOT check it out? But damned if Afterlife With Archie doesn’t prove to be a well-executed, mood-drenched piece of zombie fiction. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel by any means, and revels in its tropes. But that’s actually the book’s strength: taking well-worn zombie standards and applying them to the sugary-sweet world of Riverdale is a move that could have failed miserably, if writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa weren’t taking it all so seriously. There’s a pervasive sense of dread permeating every panel of this book, creating an ominous mood that not only can’t be escaped, but also sets the tone for every scene. Artist Francesco Francavilla can be thanked for that, whose retro-noir style is utterly perfect for this book (although I’m a bit disappointed that this gig has apparently stalled the second volume of his Black Beetle). Aguirre-Sacasa isn’t playing it safe, either, just because these are classic characters: without spoiling anything, another of the iconic Archie cast meets a grisly fate this issue. My one real complaint is that Archie himself seems a bit undefined this issue, although that may be my own fault for coming in at issue three. But he doesn’t have much personality other than “resourceful guy who cares about others.” However, that said, it may only seem that way because the supporting cast takes center stage this issue. It’s great seeing the likes of Betty and Veronica treated like real people instead of the cartoon characters they’ve come to be known as over the decades. This comic seemed like a mere gimmick when first announced, but Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla have turned out a solid, if not wholly original, addition to the zombie sub-genre. Score: 8/10.

3. The Walking Dead #120 (Image, W: Robert Kirkman, A: Charlie Adlard). Halfway through “All-Out War,” and the casualties continue to pile up as Negan and his Saviors take the fight to Rick and company. Scorched earth is the name of the game, and the sanctity of their home is thrown into jeopardy. Nary a zombie is to be seen, but with the walls on fire, it’s just a matter of time. Accusations of Kirkman repeating the prison story here aren’t entirely unfounded, but there are critical differences: this is a Rick Grimes who is far more wise and world-weary, and determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past. He’s organized, a true leader, not just someone thrown into the role by circumstance. Negan, too, is a far different threat than the Governor was: whereas the latter was an unpredictable psychopath, the former is a “mere” sociopath, capable of planning, organizing, and rallying his troops into becoming disciplined military units rather than just rabble with guns. Also, the cost of losing is far greater here: whereas the prison was always acknowledged as a temporary safe haven at best, in Alexandria, Rick, Carl, and the rest have carved out a true life for themselves where they can thrive and return to a semblance of normality. That Negan threatens that existence makes him a greater threat than the Governor ever was. BUT… all that analysis doesn’t mean this issue isn’t without its problems. There’s a sense of “been there, done that” in some of the story beats–from Rick’s panic over the possibility that Carl has been injured to the mangling of several of the supporting cast in many a gruesome way. And that doesn’t help quell the accusations that Kirkman’s merely repeating himself with this arc. Is the man out of ideas? Hell, no, and “All-Out War” is going to inevitably lead to the next phase of this book’s evolution–potentially setting up the third act, as it were. (I count the first act as ending with the fall of the prison, and the second act potentially concluding with this story. We’ll see.) Most stories have a bit of drag in the middle, as it serves to set up the conclusion. That sense is keenly felt in this issue, which winds up being decent and readable, but hardly an essential chapter of the overall story. Score: 6/10.

4. Amazing X-Men #3 (Marvel, W: Jason Aaron, A:Ed McGuinness). That Jason Aaron is leaving the vastly superior Wolverine and the X-Men to write this drivel makes me despise the book on principle despite its overall lazy execution. To whit: the X-men fight pirate demons in limbo, all in the service of bringing Nightcrawler back from the dead in a whimsical manner that fits his character. They fight pirate demons this issue, that’s it. Sure, there is a great action sequence featuring Nightcrawler in all his bamf-tastic glory, but that’s about it. Ed McGuinness’s art is as nauseatingly cartoony as usual–shouldn’t this guy be working in animation rather than drawing comics? But that’s a matter of personal taste. Again, it’s Aaron’s paper-thin plot that dogs this book. Maybe it will gain some momentum once Nightcrawler’s back from the land beyond, but at this point, it’s a mash note to that titular character that’s far more style than substance. Score: 3/10.

5. All-New X-Factor #1 & 2 (Marvel, W: Peter David, A: Carmine Di Giandomenico). If Peter David wanted to simultaneously justify the end of his previous volume of X-Factor and wow me with the debut of this iteration, he’s off to an extremely poor start. We’re introduced to Serval Industries, a Google-like conglomerate that’s decided to extend its ethos of improving peoples’ lives by starting its own team of mutant superheroes. They initially induct Polaris and Quicksilver, the former of whom recruits Gambit, currently on the outs with Wolverine the Jean Grey School. (Apparently, it’s frowned upon to be both a teacher and a professional thief.) Polaris’ recruitment method involves coming up to Remy in a greasy spoon and sitting down with him in order to talk Serval up. If that scene sounds familiar, that’s because it’s been played out a hundred times before in other stories. Likewise, every other beat in this plot has been equally beaten to death in comics: from the torture of mutants for scientific gain to the seeming benevolence of Serval that’s too good to be true, there’s nothing here we haven’t seen before. Even David seems bored: his dialogue, usually full of clever wit and turns of phrase, is dull, drab, and not particularly exciting. Di Giandomenico’s art is stylish, but doesn’t do much to help the proceedings either, lacking any real pop to grab the reader. Issue one in particular ends with one of the most jaw-droppingly inane cliffhangers I’ve ever read, relying on the surprise reveal of a character who, at best, is a D-lister from ’90s. Yet David treats her appearance as if we’re supposed to care beyond measure. Seriously, what editor approved this? Did David promise, “Don’t worry, I got it,” and that was good enough? And on David’s end of things, why in the hell did he think this was good enough for mass release? He’s one of the medium’s most talented writers, but he clearly didn’t bring his A-game. Given time, the great Peter David could certainly turn it around. But today’s market is far less forgiving of subpar comics, and cancellation will certainly be in this book’s future if David doesn’t turn it around quick. Score: 2/10.

6. Uncanny X-Men #16 (Marvel, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Chris Bachalo). Issues like this rely on the perception that comic readers have short attention spans. It really wasn’t that long ago that Magneto was the ruler of the all-mutant nation of Genosha (before it got blowed up real good by Grant Morrison), yet here, when Mystique has done the same thing and turned Madripoor into the same, Magneto flips his shit because of some imagined slight involving the more underhanded means by which she accomplished the task. So, okay, I get his moral objection. My qualm is that this is MAG-FUCKING-NETO, and he has the keys to a sovereign mutant nation right in front of him, and he’s made because… what? Mystique is posing as Dazzler? She cut a deal with Hydra to purchase control of the island? What? Sorry, but that just doesn’t wash. It’s the thinnest of rationalizations for him to angrily assault her, Sabretooth, and Blob, and to reject Madripoor altogether. It’s also a callous set-up for the upgoing Magneto ongoing series. Ultimately, issues like this may make sense to newer readers who don’t have much of a sense of the X-Men’s history, but for anyone with a working knowledge of the characters, it’s eye-rollingly lazy. At least Chris Bachalo’s art is on point. Score: 4/10.

7. All-New X-Men #21 & 22.NOW (Marvel, W: Bendis, A: Brandon Peterson & Brent Anderson [#21], Stuart Immonen [#22.NOW]). So continue the adventures of the Young X-Men, merrily trampling their way across many a decade of established continuity because Marvel needed a big selling point to coincide with Bendis’s arrival on the X-books. Good thing he’s at least got focus now on this book, what with the X-kids fighting anti-mutant religious bigots and the addition of X-23 to the cast. Things continue to unravel for Jean Grey, who recently discovered all the horror she’s in for, made worse by the arrival of the Guardians of the Galaxy in issue 22.NOW. But here’s what works: by allowing the original X-Men to witness the crazy scope of what they’re in for, we readers are treated to characters who react realistically to the revelation of how insane their lives are destined to become. It’s the age-old question: if your teenage self could see what you’ve become as an adult, how would he or she react? How would the revelations of destiny affect them? Well, they’d get pissy and/or sullen, most likely. But having these characters respond in realistic ways and act like real human beings rather than snarky tabula rasas is what’s turning the book around. A fascinating new spin on what makes the X-Men great. Score: 7/10.

8. Thor: God of Thunder #17 (Marvel, W: Jason Aaron, A: Ron Garney & Emanuela Lupacchino). Sweet Christmas, does Jason Aaron knock it out of the park with the conclusion of “The Accursed!” With all the cards on the table and all the players in the same room, everything comes to a head in the least predictable fashion possible. Which of course I won’t spoil! And the stage is set for an even more epic confrontation, one that might just involve… Nah! Not telling!  But holy crap is it going to be cool. This arc has suffered for lack of a consistent artist, but Emanuela Lupacchino proves to be the most capable among them. It’s a shame she wasn’t tasked for the entire story, as opposed to the banal and untalented Ron Garney. As I’ve stated before, Jason Aaron is writing the premiere superhero book of his career, and frankly, it’s second only to Scalped as his greatest work of all. But who knows? Time will certainly tell, and the son of Odin could prove to be the mightiest of them all. Score: 8/10.


9. Daredevil #35 (Marvel, W: Mark Waid, A: Chris Samnee). The other shoe drops. With one more issue to go on this volume, Mark Waid has Daredevil do the last thing anyone would expect. If you think I’m telling you, you’re nuts. But the oft-overused phrase “everything changes” DEFINITELY applies. Score: 9/10.

10. Velvet #3 (Marvel, W: Ed Brubaker, A: Steve Epting). Image continues its string of hits by letting Brubaker & Epting do what they do best: tell a kick-ass spy story. Not only is this one of the best books out right now, it’s easily the best book Brubaker’s written in about three years AND one of the strongest with a female lead. DO NOT be left behind when this book takes off. Score: 10/10.

11. Astro City #8 (DC/Vertigo, W: Kurt Busiek, A: Brent Anderson). When her world begins to crumble around her, Winged Victory’s allies, Samaritan and the Confessor, come out of the woodwork to come to her aid. Winged Victory has always been a very womens’-lib focused version of Wonder Woman, and it’s outstanding to see what happens when the entire life she’s built for herself around those principles is torn apart. The best AC has been since it’s Vertigo debut. Score: 8/10.

12. The Massive #19 (Dark Horse, W: Brian Wood, A: Garry Brown). Dying of cancer and his entire belief system thrown into chaos after the events of “Longboat,” Callum Israel is determined to die on his own terms, which leads to him pursuing the crazy man who threatens his entire operation. This book is now firing on all cylinders as it approaches its conclusion and playing to all of Wood’s strengths as a writer: deep, nuanced characterizations, and rich, fully-defined worlds. A wonderful sleeper book that deserves wider recognition, much more so than Wood’s vastly overrated X-MenScore: 8/10.

13. Wonder Woman #27 (DC, W: Brian Azzarello, A: Cliff Chiang). I’m not sure when exactly Brian Azzarello’s masterful Wonder Woman devolved into an irritatingly convoluted soap opera, but that’s where we are. The supporting cast has overrun the book and there’s no clear notion as to whose motivations are what anymore. Still better than 99% of DC’s other output, though. Score: 5/10.

14. Hawkeye #16 (Marvel, W: Matt Fraction, A: Annie Wu). I’ll give it up to Matt Fraction: for all this book’s recent problems, he still managed one hell of a great issue here. (Even if it did ship before #15 for some stupid reason.) It’s essentially a love letter to mentally-ill Beach Boy Brian Wilson and his lost masterpiece album “Smile,” all wrapped up in a mystery Kate Bishop must solve. Kate’s less obnoxious this issue than in her previous solo jaunt, and every loving nod to Wilson rings perfectly and true. This one deserves to be up for an Eisner. Score: 10/10.

15. Wolverine and the X-Men #40 (Marvel, W: Jason Aaron, A: Pepe Larraz). With only two more issues to go until Jason Latour steps up to the plate, Jason Aaron positions himself to go out on a high note and not only give us a coda for what makes the Jean Grey School so special, but also starts Wolverine and Cyclops down the road to mending their friendship. While kicking Sentinel ass. It’s X-nerd heaven. Score: 9/10.

16. X-Men #9 (Marvel, W: Brian Wood, A: Terry Dodson). All right, the hype on this book has officially worn off for me. Brian Wood’s all-female X-squad needs to start coming into its own. The story is so nuanced, it feels like nothing is happening. Worse still, the villains are completely unoriginal and uninteresting. Arkea is about as threatening as Ikea. Yawn. Score: 5/10.

17. Captain America (Marvel, W: Rick Remender, A: Carlos Pacheco). The Mandarin, I mean, the Iron Nail wreaks all sorts of havoc in this issue as for once, a writer treats Nuke like an actual human being instead of a colorless, flag-waving obstacle to be overcome. Cap’s still in bad shape after the events of the Dimension Z arc, weary and quick to anger. Remender’s approach to the character may be unorthodox, but it’s working, relevant, and excellent. Score: 7/10.

18. Avengers #25 (Marvel, W: Jonathan Hickman, A: Salvador Larroca). Jonathan Hickman decides to steal from the X-Men treasure chest and have the original Avengers show up. No, it’s not time travel–it’s an alternate dimension version. Close enough to still reek. Score: 4/10.

19. Avengers World #2 (Marvel, W: Jonathan Hickman & Nick Spencer, A: Stefano Caselli). Stefano Caselli’s always-stellar artwork saves what could have been an otherwise drab affair. In the midst of some AIM Island shenanigans, under-utilized rookie Avenger Smasher gets the spotlight, and the generational results are oddly DC-ish. Which isn’t such a bad thing for Marvel to co-opt, since DC has completely abandoned the concept of generational heroism. I’m still waiting for this title to distinguish itself from Avengers proper, though. Score: 6/10.

20. All-New Invaders #1 (Marvel, W: James Robinson, A: Steve Pugh). This comic exists solely to appeal to the nostalgia factor of a certain sect of comics fans. Jim Hammond, the original Human Torch, is sad and mopey out in the sticks when he’s attacked by a Kree warrior who’s in search of his piece of a Maguffin that, of course, ties back to World War II. The writing is lazy and uninspired, and I genuinely can’t find a single reason for this comic to exist at all. Pugh’s art is decent enough, and the cover is outstanding. Too bad that can’t be said for the rest of the comic. Score: 2/10.

Keep Readin’ Those Funnybooks!



What I’m Reading 0025: 1/9/14

Hello from Antarctica, also known as Oklahoma. Damn, it’s been cold. But hey, it’s, like 60 degrees now. In January. But no, that climate change stuff’s just hokum! The nice thing about being a comics nerd, though: weather be damned, I’m still plowing out there to purchase my wares! With that in mind, 2014’s still off to a great start, with a whole slew of new books on the way, including one that debuted this week. But I’m starting with one of last year’s breakout books instead. Enjoy!


1. FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics #7 (DC/Vertigo, W: Simon Oliver, A: Robbi Rodriguez). After months of me praising the covers on this book, this issue finally breaks that trend. What the hell’s going on here? What am I looking at? Okay, okay–eventually I figured it out, but I shouldn’t have had to stare so hard or for so long. Poor color choices made the cover image rather indecipherable at a glance, which is very, very bad, since the first selling point of any comic is its cover. All those dark tones run together, blending into the black background yet clashing with the bright blues of the wormhole that’s being leaped through. (Trust me, it’s a wormhole.) Just a mess, though an extremely rare misfire for cover artist Nathan Fox. Inside, however, the story shines and crackles as we get the conclusion of the origin of the team’s newest member, Rosa Reyes. She’s more than a little socially awkward, but with good reason, as we discover. The wonder of this book is all of the completely off-the-wall physics concepts writer Simon Oliver comes up with–in this case, involving wormholes. Yet he also makes you feel for the characters involved, and doesn’t get too caught up in the weirder, bigger picture (a lesson Jonathan Hickman could learn in his Avengers titles). In just two issues, Rosa has become a fully-realized, three-dimensional character that fits perfectly with Adam and Cicero and their bizarre world.  The situation she gets involved in this issue–a prison break involving a wormhole generator–is a perfect balance of physics madness and straight-up crime, with Rosa caught in the middle without her team to back her up. The resolution is flawless–heck, if it weren’t for that garish cover, this entire issue would be perfect. Jump on now before this comic get too much further into its run. Score: 9/10.


2. The Walking Dead #119 (Image, W: Robert Kirkman, A: Charlie Adlard). Never let it be said that Robert Kirkman only does things halfway. He called this story “All Out War,” and he damn well meant it–as of now, both sides have taken heavy casualties and there’s no sign of any letting up. The cracks in Ezekiel’s facade begin to show in a big way after the events in last issue, and it could impact Rick’s strategy against Negan. No time for that, though, because Negan’s bringing the fight to Rick! And so does “all-out war” itself reach Rick’s community, potentially threatening everything he’s built. The most exciting aspect of this story is Kirkman’s ability to make the reader feel very “in the now” as events are occurring. The chaos and madness of war is a frightening, frenetic, fast-paced thing–and Kirkman makes sure we know it by making us feel its presence at every turn. And in it all, the (vast) supporting cast all get little moments to shine as actual human beings: Aaron mourns the death of his boyfriend Eric, Jesus gets to philosophize about the futility of war among zombies, Michonne gets to be a bitch at the best time possible. Carl also continues to prove that he’s grown up before our very eyes in this series, in that Rick trusts him to be in charge while he’s away as much as he would any adult. Even Heath, never the most fleshed-out of supporting characters, gets a moment amid the din to show us the kind of guy he is when he’s not having to kill zombies. I mention all this to make a point: that despite everything–the zombies, the world-rebuilding, the war, the “Negan is just the Governor done differently” nonsense–this is a book about people who are just trying to survive in a world that’s gone completely insane around them, and cope with it as best they can. Robert Kirkman hasn’t forgotten that for a minute. So to all the haters out there, or to the folks who moan because Daryl Dixon isn’t a cast member in the comics–get over it. This is a consistently fantastic book that’s become the bedrock of Image’s astounding output. Score: 8/10.


3. Cataclysm: The Ultimates’ Last Stand #3 of 5 (Marvel, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Mark Bagley). That’s a lot of (presumably) dead X-Men on the cover. Too bad the X-Men don’t show up at all in this issue! Maybe this is symbolic, though, of how little the public at large cares for the Ultimate X-Men anymore. Are they doomed? Hell, is anyone doomed? At issue three out of five, it feels like very little has actually happened–which tends to be Bendis’ stock-in-trade. By the end of issue five, things will probably feel complete, but probably not a second before. In this issue, lunatic Reed Richards and Miles Morales are enlisted to go to the 616 Marvel U to retrieve information on Galactus, who’s busy destroying New Jersey as a means of protesting Chris Christie’s highway lane closures. What the duo discovers is extremely humbling, but it doesn’t exactly bode well for the long-term health of the Ultimate U, or at least most of the characters in it. At least this time as death is being doled out, it isn’t Jeph Loeb’s hack-ass writing it. Unfortunately, however, amid the clamor of trying to write the situation with a vast sense of urgency, Bendis misses the mark on much else. Including depth. What this story boils down to is, “Trouble! Hurry! Respond!” and very little else. Which is unfortunate, because taken at face value, it’s still an exciting read. But face value is actually worth very little when there’s nothing much else beneath the surface. Is this a fun issue? Sure. But do I wish anything more had occurred? Definitely. Score: 6/10.


4. Sex Criminals #4 (Image, W: Matt Fraction, A: Chip Zdarsky). What, you didn’t think there would be sex criminals without the sex police too, did you? Suzie and Jon find that out the “hard” way (insert erection joke here) in the midst of their daring bank robbery (for the realest of reasons: to save a library). The sex police are at first a seemingly fascistic bunch, made worse by the fact that they’re not actual police. Who are they? What puritanical reason do they have for stopping people from having sex in public and committing crimes? How are they not affected by the Quiet (or “Cumworld” if you prefer)?  Fraction neatly sets these questions up, but gamely dodges them and instead focuses on Suzie and Jon’s frenzied reactions to having their time-frozen world set upon by the po-po. Being novices to the world of sex criminality, Suzie and Jon’s resistance goes about as well as you’d expect. My one real gripe with this issue is that Fraction insists on inserting more flashback sequences for Suzie, which really aren’t necessary here. They don’t slow the pace of the story up too much, but if he keeps this up, he’s going to lose momentum. Still and all, though, this book is absolutely on fire. Because at the end of the day it’s not about the raunchy jokes, the sexytime, or the general weirdness–it’s about Suzie and Jon, two people meeting each other and falling in love. What more can you ask for? Score: 8/10.


5. Fatale #19 (Image, W: Ed Brubaker, A: Sean Phillips). I’ve given up trying to figure out when Brubaker’s going to wrap this story up. When the paychecks stop rolling in, I suppose. The Seattle arc wraps up here, with highly predictable results. If you can get past that, however, this has been one of the book’s better arcs, clearly told from the heart (Bru grew up in Seattle in the ’90s) with a keen eye for the details of an underground rock scene and inter-band dynamics. And that is a great cover, and the set-up for the next arc gets us back to modern times and is quite a doozy. But at the same time, I can’t help but feel the book’s on autopilot, for all the unoriginal twists and turns the story’s taking. Jo is bad. Yes, we know. She literally drives men crazy. Yup, got that too. There are evil Lovecraftian villains who want her for their own nefarious ends. Gotcha. But Brubaker, buddy, you’ve got to give me something new to work with, okay? Like maybe an end to this story… Score: 5/10.


6. Avengers World #1 (Marvel, W: Jonathan Hickman & Nick Spencer, A: Stefano Caselli). Ah-ha! Bet you thought that, since this book spins right out of Infinity, and is called Avengers World, then perhaps it would take a larger, global or even interstellar view of the Avengers, right? That seems logical, right? Tough luck, sucker! There’s literally nothing to distinguish this book from its sister title Avengers, which is of course also written by Jonathan Hickman. It’s the exact same team of Avengers fighting different villains. In fact, in the backmatter, the editor even admits that this book exists to fill the void left by Avengers coming off its bi-weekly schedule. Wotta rip-off. As for the story, it’s actually not too bad, and is a pretty good jumping-on point for new readers. There’s not much you need to know prior to jumping aboard. It’s a solid, decently-told story involving a sea monster with an island on its head, and the Avengers–most of whom are, in what’s becoming Hickman’s default style, written interchangeably–who must stop it. The real star of this book, however, is the always-awesome Stefano Caselli’s art. As usual, his animation-cell style is crisp, clear, and drop-dead gorgeous. With him on board, even the most pedestrian tales have that much more going for them. Not that this story is OVERLY bad or even pedestrian, per se–it just feels forced and, worse, an unnecessary cash grab. Score: 6/10.


7. Wolverine #13 (Marvel, W: Paul Cornell, A: Alan Davis). Rarely has Wolverine been brought so low as Paul Cornell has taken him. Without his healing factor, Logan is a shell of his former self–unable to cope with his mortality. So naturally that’s Sabretooth’s cue to step out of the shadows and rub Logan’s nose in it that much more! There’s something about a good villain who revels in causing the hero pain that can only be brought about by someone who knows them at every level. Lex Luthor to Superman. Green Goblin to Spider-Man. Joker to Batman. And Sabretooth to Wolverine. Cornell’s saved the best of this volume for last. His Sabretooth isn’t some frenzied lunatic–he’s a sadistic monster, but a rational, calculating, even level-headed one. He knows exactly how to hurt Logan the most and it’s by his inaction that he does so. “Killable” has been a pleasure to read because not because of the tired trope wherein the hero loses his powers, but rather in the emotional depths Cornell has plumbed in Wolverine, reducing him to a state we’ve never seen before: vulnerable, and frightened of what it means to be truly human. Back in the day Larry Hama touched on these themes right after Magneto ripped Logan’s adamantium out, but not with this degree of finesse or subtlety. (Truthfully, there’s not much subtle about Hama’s style at all. Loved his Wolverine run anyway.) Unfortunately, Alan Davis isn’t quite up to the task of complementing the story in equal measure artistically. He’s gotten plain lazy in a very John Byrne-esque way, in that he’s opted to add less detail and more heavy inks to hide that fact. It’s not a mess, but it’s clear evidence that he’s past his prime. Oh well. Ryan Stegman takes over next month with the new volume, and his hyper-kinetic style couldn’t be more different. Of course, at some point Logan will get his healing factor back. But it promises to be a fun ride leading up to that inevitable conclusion. Score: 8/10.


8. Green Arrow #27 (DC, W: Jeff Lemire, A: Andrea Sorrentino). Jeff Lemire’s run on Green Arrow has been an excellent but sometimes frustrating thing. While he’s certainly injected a level of focus, intrigue, and outright fun into the book that was sorely lacking beforehand, he’s also leaned a bit too heavily on certain tired old superhero tropes for my taste. His biggest fault in this regard is currently being played out in the current arc, “The Outsiders War:” the old “everything the hero thought he knew was WRONG!!” bit. Here’s a nice bit of clunky dialogue from Shado that perfectly summarizes what I’m talking about: “You already know what I’m talking about. You’ve always known it, but you’ve buried it deep down, refused to accept the truth…” Ugh. That reads like somebody just cribbed their dialogue out of a stock “ominous phrase” textbook. And then there’s Magus, who shows up out of nowhere to reveal to our titular hero the secrets of his past, just like Stick in Frank Miller’s Daredevil. Actually, exactly like that: Magus is even a blind martial arts expert too, to boot. Don’t get me wrong, this book is still one of DC’s strongest (and that’s a very, very select few), but Lemire needs to ditch the tropes and come up with his own ideas, or ultimately, even with Andrea Sorrentino’s phenomenal art, it won’t mean squat. Fortunately, he’s playing the hell out of these cliches, but that can’t last forever. But hey, if nothing else, check out the quasi-return of old-school Green Arrow on the final page! Score: 7/10.

Keep Readin’ Those Funnybooks!


What I’m Reading 0024: 1/2/14

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!


What I’m Reading 0022 & 0023: “Oh My God Why Am I Later Than A ’90s Image Book?!” Edition

Ho, lads! I think we can all agree the holidays suck for having much in the way of free time. Especially when you’re working retail. And then quitting your job, and then inundated with trying to find a new one. Good times! Which doesn’t leave much time for blogging. Time to rectify that situation now, by catching up on some quick hit reviews from the last two weeks. Brevity is my friend here, because I’m in a hurry to get up to date. And away we go…

1. Savage Dragon #192 (Image, W & A: Erik Larsen). Hmm, remember awhile back, when we were all led to believe this issue would see Dragon’s demise? Yeah, don’t believe the hype. Shock tactics will only get you so far, and then you have to walk the walk, too. The pacing’s terrible and the payoff to the “Dragon is going to die!” hype is one helluva letdown, to say the least. Malcolm may be the star for now, but don’t believe for a second he’ll remain so forever. Larsen admits in the lettercol that this issue was late due to numerous rewrites, and it thoroughly shows. Score: 4/10.

2. Sex Criminals #3 (Image, W: Matt Fraction, A: Chip Zdarsky). Strip away the X-rated humor, as well as the David Lynch-ian time freezes, and what are you left with? A really very sweet story about two people discovering each other and falling in love, which is a universal tale anybody can relate to. Fraction manages to avoid every single trope of such an endeavor, and moves the overall story forward in a much more satisfactory manner than the previous issue. One of the best, most unique books on the stands. Score: 9/10.

3. Wonder Woman #25 (DC, W: Brian Azzarello, A: Goran Sudzuka). Azzarello’s radical 21st century reinterpretation of Wonder Woman continues, with just a couple of slight hiccups. First, the supporting cast is threatening to overshadow the book’s star (especially since she’s currently garnering more attention for her shared-title role in Superman/Wonder Woman and the hype/outrage over her appearance in Batman/Superman). And second, any issue where Cliff Chiang’s not pencilling is automatically, noticeably weaker. Nothing against Sudzuka, but Chiang simply has this book’s number.  Otherwise, a perfectly satisfactory issue in one of DC’s most-underrated titles. Score: 8/10.

4. Uncanny X-Men #14 (Marvel, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Chris Bachalo). Once per decade, some genius decides it’s time to trot out “the new generation of X-Men” and introduce a whole slew of new characters into their already-overloaded continuity. Usually, the majority of these characters don’t go very far and are swiftly forgotten, which is part of the impetus to introduce new rookies. This conceit–the introduction of new X-characters–is half the reason Bendis’s Uncanny exists. This issue spotlights new recruit Benjamin Deeds, whose powers are, superficially at least, pretty useless in battle. Cue Emma Frost to take him under her wing in her own unique (read: legally-questionable) way, and prove there’s more to him than meets the eye. A well-written, character-driven issue, although a bit inconsequential, as savvy readers know Benjamin probably won’t last long past Bendis’s tenure anyway. Score: 7/10.

5. X-Men #7 (Marvel, W: Brian Wood, A: Terry Dodson). After being derailed for a couple of months during “Battle of the Atom,” Wood’s superb X-Men gets back underway with the introduction of the Sisterhood of Evil Mutants.Although the inclusion of “mutants” is a bit of a misnomer: as of this issue’s end, typical Daredevil foe Typhoid Mary is getting in on the fun. Wood’s ability to turn convention on its ear like that, as well as his outstanding character work, make this book stand out among not only the X-books, but the rest of Marvel’s output as well. And it’s fortunately very stand-alone, which means it’s perfect for the casual reader. Score: 8/10.

6. Cataclysm: The Ultimates #1 of 3 (Marvel, W: Joshua Hale Fialkov, A: Carmine Di Giandomenico). If indeed Cataclysm heralds the end of the Ultimate universe, the Ultimates drew the short end of the stick in terms of farewell gravitas. Instead of kicking all kinds of Galactus ass, they’re stuck fighting possessed Irishmen. And instead of heavy hitters Cap, Thor, Iron Man, and Nick Fury leading the charge, we’re stuck with Hercules, Falcon, and someone named Monica Chang. They’re hopelessly outclassed,which is an apt metaphor for the condition this book finds itself in anymore: the glory days are long past, and all we’re left with now are the reheated leftovers. Score: 3/10.

7. Avengers #23 (Marvel, W: Jonathan Hickman, A: Leinil Francis Yu). What sucks more than having to fight Thanos for Earth? Having to break through his fleet first while already exhausted from defeating the Builders, which is the position Captain America and friends find themselves in here, the penultimate installment of “Infinity.” The issue is, like all other installments of this story thus far, fairly straightforward: Avengers + cosmic allies vs. bad guys. Still, it’s a pretty rollicking adventure, even if by this point I am “Infinity’d” out. Cap’s tactical prowess is on full display, but the individual characters are more like pieces on a chess board moving around rather than fully fleshed out people. Entertaining, but emotionally devoid. Score: 7/10.

8. Daredevil #33 (Marvel, W: Mark Waid, A: Chris Samnee). Note to Mr. Waid: if you want me to invest in your story about a racist organization infiltrating New York’s justice system, it’s best not to digress for a Kentucky Universal Monster mash. And this issue’s even worse than the last: more than being just a weird detour, it relishes in its bad cliches such as DD walking into a hallucination and succumbing to its wiles before ultimately figuring it out. And there’s a talking snake attempting to seduce Matt to the dark side, too, if you want your cliches any more ham-fisted. And then the whole thing ends with a moot point. I’m not sure who Waid thought would enjoy this story, but evidently he wrote this one only for himself. Score: 4/10.

9. 100 Bullets: Brother Lono #6 of 8 (DC/Vertigo, W: Brian Azzarello, A: Eduardo Risso). If the cost of being a good guy is that those around you must suffer, what’s the point? Lono tries like hell to cling to his new leaf, but the drug cartel standing in his path has other ideas. It looks like Lono might finally be succumbing to his baser instincts to CRUSH KILL DESTROY, which is of course what fans are waiting for… but at the same time, would undermine the redemptive storyline Azzarello has been unfolding. Which is of course the point: playing fans’ expectations against the needs of the story. A smart, tightly-written potboiler that’s ramping up the tension as it heads to the finish line. Score: 8/10.

10. The Walking Dead #117 (Image, W: Robert Kirkman, A: Charlie Adlard). Negan proves there’s depths more to his personality than previously thought this issue: rather than being an outright sociopath, as has been the assumption, he proves he actually does have a moral code, albeit an extremely warped one. The hardcore violence of “All Out War” takes a momentary breather this issue (with the exception of the Saviors-on-zombie action) for some well-paced, quieter character moments. Though not the best jumping-on point for new readers, this issue, and by extension the “All Out War” story, is amazingly entertaining. Score: 9/10.

11. Saga #16 (Image, W: Brian K. Vaughan, A: Fiona Staples). All the disparate players of this critical darling’s third arc move into place, and that place happens to be Oswald Heist’s home. Prince Robot IV arrives, which brings us back to where issue twelve ended and thus full circle, and the drama ramps up proportionately. Especially with a second uninvited guest arriving onscene. All the action is poised to jump off like mad, but the real question at this point is where Vaughan is going with his muckraking journalists, hot on the trail of the scoop of the century: star-crossed lovers Marko and Alana, whose relationship will undoubtedly prove to be the galaxy-shaking news with a major impact on the series’ never-ending war. Score: 9/10.

12. Black Science #1 (Image, W: Rick Remender, A: Matteo Scalera). What happens when one man’s ambitions, arrogance, and flaunting of the conventional rules goes too far? When the rules of science are ignored? There’s a bill to be paid, and for Dr. Grant McKay, it turns out to be a pretty huge one. Pulpy sci-fi and John Carter collide in one of the best-looking books out  there thanks to Dean White’s insane color palette over Matteo Scalera’s economical pencils.  It’s a bit emotionally sparse thanks to starting up in media res, which stops me from falling head over heels for this book like other reviewers have, but it’s a damn fine book nonetheless. Now if Remender can dial back the pacing next issue and give me a reason to care about Grant McKay, Image will have yet another feather in its recent hot streak cap. Score: 8/10.

13. Sidekick #4 of 12 (Image/Joe’s Comics, W: J. Michael Straczynski, A: Tom Mandrake). After last issue’s disastrous attempt at impersonating a new hero in a new city, Flyboy gets to fall just a little bit further here as Straczynski hits the end of the first act, and not a moment too soon. Anymore dragging Barry through the mud was going to become tedious. The story crackles along, but is stalled by the art: Mandrake comes off like a less-talented Brent Anderson, his characters stiff and unlifelike, his expressions off just enough to be noticeably wrong. I’m not sure where JMS is going with Barry’s  mystery woman, but she has the whiff of a siren or a succubus, and if that proves to be case and she’s responsible for Barry’s woes, I’m calling foul. Scraczynski has a long history of getting lost in the middle of his stories. Fingers crossed, that won’t prove to be the case here, but I’m ready just in case.

14. The Massive #17 (Dark Horse, W: Brian Wood, A: Garry Brown). Callum Israel proves that moral conviction is a matter of opinion when a man is dying. This was easily the most intense, thrilling issue of The Massive to date, and it stems from Wood’s ability to but a human face on a man driven to extremes while desperately trying to make sense of a world gone  crazy. The environmental themes are handled with a deft hand rather than used as a bludgeon, and the eye for detail is excellent and well-researched. One of the most-overlooked books today, and easily the best from Dark Horse. Score: 10/10.

15. Kick-Ass 3 #5 of 8 (Marvel/Icon, W: Mark Millar, A: John Romita Jr.). It had to happen: at some point, the career criminals would get sick of Kick-Ass and his merry band of troublemakers and decide to permanently get them out of the picture. The sub-plot with the Juicer gets short shrift as a result, but that’s pretty much my only complaint here. Meanwhile, Dave discovers the pleasures of a normal adult life while everything he strove to build crumbles around him. Millar and Romita Jr. are firing on all cylinders, ramping up the tension as the saga of Dave Lizewski rockets to its seemingly-inevitable conclusion. Score: 9/10.

16. Powers: Bureau #8 (Marvel/Icon, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Michael Avon Oeming). Not reading this book? Has Bendis’ mainstream work soured you on his style? Think Powers is simply long in the tooth and therefore must be past its prime? I feel sorry for you, then. Brian Michael Bendis is currently holding a master class on How To Write Comics Well, and if you’re missing out, you get a FAIL! This issue begins a new arc, too, making it a perfect jumping-on point for new and lapsed fans alike. The X-Men may be Bendis’ current bread and butter, but this book highlights his true strengths. Score: 9/10.

17. Wolverine and the X-Men Annual #1 (Marvel, W: Jason Aaron, A: Nick Bradshaw). This Infinity tie-in gets us back to Kid Gladiator, last seen being yanked off of Earth by his father, Shi’ar leader Gladiator, amidst AvX. His brash presence has been missed, along with the unintended humor it brings. KG is having a hard time adjusting to a normal Shi’ar school, and although he’d never admit it aloud, misses the Jean Grey School something fierce. Fortunately, the Avengers’ war against the Builders trundles its way into his neighborhood, giving him something to hit. This issue won’t likely win any converts, but for longtime fans, it’s a real treat (especially with Aaron bowing out of the book in February). It’s fun, with a warm gooey center at its heart and a wicked sense of both action and humor. Score: 8/10.

18. Wolverine and the X-Men #38 (Marvel, W: Jason Aaron, A: Pepe Larraz). Why Jason Aaron is ditching this book to write the vastly-inferior Amazing X-Men is beyond me, but this issue is a great showpiece for why this comic stands out not only among the typically-dour X-Men books but among Marvel’s entire stable as well: It’s smart. It’s funny. It has warmth, heart, imagination, and despite having a full roster of off-the-wall personalities, manages to leave none of them neglected or flat-feeling. This issue picks up with the fallout of “Battle of the Atom:” SHIELD has revealed itself to have Sentinels in its arsenal, and Wolverine wants answers. Pepe Larraz’s art is a bit undeveloped stylistically; he’s workmanlike but not flashy in the least. Only four more issues to go until Jason Latour takes over the writing chores. Enjoy it while you can because there’s not likely to be another Marvel book quite like it. Score: 8/10.

19. Infinity #6 of 6 (Marvel, W: Jonathan Hickman, A: Jim Cheung). And in the end, what was it all for? A shout-out to “Kree-Skrull War?” A grand space opera? A straight-up Avengers yarn? A cynical attempt at cashing in on the event comic craze? All of those things, really. In the end, it comes down to a down-and-dirty throwdown with Thanos, whose bastard son “Thane” (I can’t get over how lazy that name is) turns out to be nothing more than a deus ex machina and of course plays a critical (read: convenient) role in ending his father’s threat. Oh, and Infinity also serves to set up Hickman’s next big Avengers opus (which will presumably also be a slutty event comic). But hey, it’s over! Event fatigue can now subside… at least for awhile. Cheung’s pencils are as crisp and clean as ever, at least, making this book a beauty to look at, anyway. Score: 7/10.

20. New Avengers #12 (Marvel, W: Jonathan Hickman, A: Mike Deodato). This Infinity epilogue has two features that elevate it immediately above the common stock: Mike Deodato’s ridiculously good art, and the insanely brilliant dynamic between warring leaders Black Panther and Namor. Hickman shows the long shadow this war has cast on our heroes, with something akin to PTSD bearing down on each of their psyches. And a dire warning is cast, that is both ominous and well-handled: that this war against the Builders was just the beginning, and something bigger is coming. (Maybe an explanation for how the Builders, who claim to have “built” and populated the universe, in direct contradiction to everything that’s ever been said regarding the Celestials.) But hey! This book has been Hickman’s haven for big ideas and tough moral compromises, making it a shining jewel among the Avengers line. Score: 9/10.

21. All-New X-Men #19 (Marvel, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Brandon Peterson). The X-Men fight a religiously-motivated mutant hate group, and because this type of bigotry is new for the Young X-Men, we’re expected to act like we’ve never seen it before as readers. Yawn. Bendis turns in a pro forma script, and Peterson’s bland art (usually crisp and clean), is over-inked by Israel Silva. Maybe next issue. (And as an aside, maybe Young Beast will ditch his idiotic and useless ’90s goggles next issue, too.) Score: 3/10.

22. Uncanny Avengers #14 (Marvel, W: Rick Remender, A: Steve McNiven). Remender decides to finally move his “Ragnarok Now” story forward… five or six issues too late. And in the most piss-poor, shock-tacticky way imaginable, which I won’t spoil here but anyone who’s read the outrage online knows what I mean. It’s nothing more than a cheap trick, and not even Steve McNiven’s art–typically awe-inspiring but oddly lackluster here (maybe because his typical inker Morry Hollowell isn’t on the job with him)–can save the day. Frankly, the only thing keeping me going on this book is the larger picture, which is: heroes fighting heroes means the bad guys get to accomplish that much more. But even that may not be enough after this debacle. Score: 1/10.

23. Hawkeye #14 (Marvel, W: Matt Fraction, A: Annie Wu). Talk about a fallen angel. This book used to be the cream of Marvel’s crop. Now? Over the last four issues (five including the annual), it’s completely lost any and all focus. Clint’s battle against the bros, and his need to avenge his friend Grills, has gone from being the book’s central focus to some sort of mostly-forgotten subplot. Worse, each issue alternates focus between Clint and girl-Hawkeye Kate Bishop now, with alternating artist Annie Wu filling out the Kate issues. Unfortunately, Wu’s no David Aja, and Kate is certainly no Clint. In fact, since she went off on her own, Kate’s become less a character and more a caricature. And that caricature is impetuous, annoying, and has a distinct inability to speak any dialogue that isn’t quirky and peppy. Fraction, what the hell, man? FOCUS! Score: 2/10.

24. Aquaman #25 (DC, W: Geoff Johns, A: Paul Pelletier). Johns’ Aquaman run comes ’round the bend to its conclusion with not a bang nor a whimper, but more of a “meh.” Atlan the Dead King folds like a card table when finally thrown down upon by Arthur, and more or less everything falls into place the way the reader wants it to because Johns was ultimately too lazy to write it any other way. Paul Pelletier’s art is decent but nothing to write home about, which is a pretty apt description of the majority of Johns’ run here. He had the potential to write an epic on par with his work on Flash or Green Lantern, but I guess his need to be a corporate monkeyboy for DC negated his creative impulses. A shame, really. Again, you won’t hate yourself for reading it, but it won’t set you free, either. Score: 5/10.


And that’s it. Twenty-four reviews for two weeks, which is one hell of a weighty proposition. But I did it! I hope you learned something, kids: don’t slack on your blog duties. I’ll be back next time with a more regular What I’m Reading for this week’s goodies.

Keep readin’ those funnybooks!


What I’m Reading 0021: 11/17/13

A quick bit of housekeeping, before getting on to this week’s reviews: thank you to everybody, few though you are, who are supporting this blog. It takes more than a little of my time to maintain it, but doing so means a lot to me. So even though there’s relatively few people reading my words, the fact that you are is pretty awesome. Tell your comics-loving friends to check me out! Now, time for some comics reviews (which are, by the way, considerably sturdier than last week’s round of duds). And away we go….


1. Astro City #6 (DC/Vertigo, W: Kurt Busiek, A: Brent Anderson). Meet Thatcher Jerome, the latest man on the street character to star in an issue of Astro City. Thatcher’s a nice enough guy–for a dude who does shakedowns for the mob, anyway. His beat is the riverfront, where the Ambassador’s big Ditko-esque interdimensional doorway plonked down back in issue one. Jerome, who lives by the creedo “if a door’s open, walk through it,” doesn’t hesitate to walk right up to that door and proceed to… knock politely. And then the Ambassador asks him in, and the two strike up a rather unusual business arrangement from there. What’s interesting about Thatcher is that at no point does he ever really come across as a bad guy; in fact if the comic didn’t outright say at one point that he collects for the mob, we’d have no reason to think he’s anything other than a decent, blue-collar joe. The type of guy you’d go have a beer with after a long day’s work. He’s not overly ambitious and is pretty happy with his lot in life, but his association with the Ambassador presents him with a unique opportunity to have more for himself. Will he or won’t he take the leap of faith required? Unfortunately, the story doesn’t trade too much in building tension over what decision Thatcher will come to, and that’s where this issue, solid though it is, makes a misstep: it’s so straightforward in embodying Thatcher’s personality type, it never actually amounts to any sort of drama from it. It’s humanity by the numbers; point A to point B and thank you sir that’s that. But this being Astro City, even a slightly off issue is still better than most. It’s certainly not the worst issue of this volume of AC to date; but its flatness and pro forma nature lead me to believe my initial assertion of this volume: that Busiek’s out of major ideas and this comic has overstayed its welcome. Score: 7/10.


2. FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics #5 (DC/Vertigo, W: Simon Oliver, A: Robbi Rodriguez). How the hell did Adam’s father die? Was there more to it than a simple physics accident? And what the hell’s a quantum tornado?! Good questions all, and Adam, taking a sabbatical from the FBP after the events of the book’s first arc, visits his Uncle Eli to try for some answers. Good weed, reminiscing, and a tale or two about the fateful day Adam’s father disappeared forever are all on the menu in this issue, which serves as an epilogue for the first arc. I’m really enjoying the direction this book’s taking as it builds its world. The introduction of “physics insurance” and the possibility that a company called ACI is in some way rigging the game to discredit the FBP and open up the private sector to handle physics disasters are thoughtful additions to the overall story of physics gone wild that lend a more human and political level to the story. Adam is proving to be a more nuanced character than he seemed at first; hopefully Cicero and new character Rose (introduced at the end of this issue) continue to grow as well. The flashback sequence is skillfully handled as well, showing us a time when physics breakdowns were less routine and their presence was far deadlier as a result. Vertigo has had a shot in the arm recently in terms of line-wide quality and this book has a lot to do with it. There’s no other book quite like it on the stands today, and that in and of itself is reason to check it out. Score: 8/10.


3. The Walking Dead #116 (Image, W: Robert Kirkman, A: Charlie Adlard). No, that’s not Andrea with a pixie cut on the cover there. That’d be Holly, former girlfriend of resident badass Abraham, who was killed by the teeny-tiniest of little arrows back when this whole Negan debacle began. And guess what? Holly hasn’t forgotten that fact, although I have to confess I’d pretty much forgotten about her. Damn you, Kirkman, for introducing so many characters and having killed 75% of them! Anyway, Rick’s assault on the Saviors’ compound seems to have hit a snag as this issue begins, but Rick is able to turn that to his advantage and continues on with his plan anyway, which involves one hell of a cool strategic move that reminds us all that this book is about a world mostly populated by ZOMBIES. There’s some great action sequences, although the first of the two double-page spreads is a little superfluous (it must be noted that Kirkman LOVES his double-page spreads, regardless of whether or not they make the most sense pacing-wise). And of course, it has a guy named Jesus kicking all kinds of ass, which makes all other complaints TOTALLY worth it. Although the zombies are relatively few and far between these days, TWD is still one of the most consistently-entertaining books on the stands. You couldn’t ask for a more fun counterpoint to the dour times the TV show is currently rolling around in. Score: 9/10.


4. All-New X-Men #18 (Marvel, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Stuart Immonen). It’s hard to believe that just three months ago, I was issuing a 0/10 rating to issue fifteen of this series, because this book has been given a serious shot in the arm vis-a-vis “Battle of the Atom” and this first post-issue is on FIRE. (It’s also worth mentioning that last week’s Amazing X-Men #1 had nary a mention of “Battle” despite being the first X-book to come out in its wake, whereas this issue picks up right where that crossover left off.) I thought for a second I was reading Uncanny X-Men due to the presence of Team Cyclops, but the Young X-Men’s defection to his side means that they’re the focus of this book now, and presumably Team Wolverine will take up residence in the sister book (especially now that Wolverine and the X-Men is ending in February). It’s an interesting change in dynamics, though. What that says is that this book’s stars are the Young X-Men, and whoever they happen to be hanging around at that time is entirely incidental. But we also have Kitty Pryde coming on board at Cyclops’ New Xavier School, although she suddenly seems quite non-judgemental where Cyclops’ murder of Xavier is concerned. This is quite an about-face from her position before the big team swap, and I hope it will be addressed soon. There’s all sorts of fun things to enjoy: the Young X-Men’s responses to their new home, the former headquarters of Weapon X. (“This is my room? It looks like a converted prison cell.” “That’s because it is a converted prison cell.”) Best of all, at least for old-school X-Men fans like me, there’s a great, playful sequence between Illyana and Kitty, recalling the heyday of Claremont’s mid-’80s run. It’s really nothing more than two old friends finding each other after years apart and discovering they can pick up right where they left off… but it’s great. It’s lighthearted, and reminds us that these two characters are human beings as well as superheroes (or an occasionally evil demon sorceress, in Illyana’s case). My only real gripe is the needless new costumes Immonen dreamed up for the Young X-Men. There’s really nothing wrong with them, per se (except for Beast’s stupid and pointless goggles), but it’s a cosmetic change for the mere sake of it. The Young X-Men are here to stay with Team Cyclops (at least until the next status quo-shaking crossover), and the last panel tells exactly what we need to know: there’s no looking back, only forward. Deal with it. Score: 8/10.


5. The Superior Foes of Spider-Man #5 (Marvel, W: Nick Spencer, A: Steve Lieber). There occasionally comes a time in my What I’m Reading posts when I come across a comic that’s so good, so damn well executed, I literally can’t think of anything negative to say about it. This is one of those comics. It’s smart, well-paced, has a wicked sense of humor, and all of its characters are lived-in and believeable (okay, I’m still waiting for Overdrive to be expanded upon, but at least we get to see him in action this issue). The art is great and couldn’t be better suited to the story. If I had to name the three best comics Marvel’s publishing right now, this book would be among them. Period. Now I will say this: this is also the kind of niche book that can get the axe pretty quickly if word doesn’t spread on it and translate into sales. So DO THE RIGHT THING and read this damn comic, and buy some extra copies for your friends. Score: 10/10.


6. X-Men Gold #1 (Marvel, W & A: Various). How do you celebrate fifty years of the X-Men? By publishing a big jam issue featuring fan-favorite writers (and one or two artists) who have impacted the X-Men over the years (mostly… I’ll get to that in a minute). Of course, there are a few names who couldn’t make it to the party: Andy Kubert, Jim Lee, and Scott Lobdell are contract DC men now; John Byrne is persona non grata (although it would have been polite to have at least mentioned him on the introduction page alongside Claremont); Dave Cockrum and Jack Kirby have both passed away; Grant Morrison is busy living in Grant Morrison Land; Neal Adams is also living in Neal Adams land; Joe Madureira is somewhere unknown jacking himself off with mad glee that he’s successfully managed to fool people into believing he has talent for almost twenty years now; Marc Silvestri is firmly entrenched at Image. Of all the no-shows, that only leaves John Romita Jr. as a big question mark. Given the guy’s typically-prolific output, it shouldn’t have been too much to ask that he contribute a few pages. Oh well.

So who does that leave, then? Well, first and foremost, we got Stan Lee scripting a plot by Louise and Walter Simonson (with Walt on the art duties) about the original five X-Men. Although, “scripting” may be too much of a stretch, as the dialogue seems to mainly consist of stock Lee-isms: “Your banal bumbling will avail you naught! To the Beast shall go the prize!” “My power is too dangerous! I must never let the girl I love get too close to me!” “I can sense his anguish! I’d move heaven and Earth to ease his pain– for only then would I ease mine, as well!” Ugh. The “story” is non-existent, too: Beast, Iceman, and Angel are locked in a race to get to the Danger Room, and the first one there gets a date with Jean. Wow, way to reduce the team’s only female character to an object of desire rather than a human. Truthfully, this story, at only five pages, is nothing more than an excuse to indulge in nostalgia and say, “Look, we got Stan Lee to write an original X-Men story!” Walt Simonson looks like he spent about five minutes on each page’s worth of art, too, which certainly doesn’t help.

Chris Claremont fares better with his story, which is set roughly around Uncanny X-Men #173, just after Mariko jilted Wolverine at the altar but before Cyclops married Madelyne Pryor. Of course, anyone who has read anything from Claremont in the last 15-20 years knows how badly his writing style has aged, but that’s hardly the point. This is an exercise in nostalgia, and Claremont getting to write the team from the vaunted Paul Smith era certainly is cause for those of us old enough to remember it to say, “HOLLA!” The story revolves around a rogue Sentinel running around in China, making more, smaller versions of itself and generally being a pain in the ass for all concerned. But we also get guest appearances from the Starjammers, Lilandra, the aforementioned Maddie Pryor, and even Lockheed the dragon. It’s a fun blast for anyone with fond memories of the Claremont run (I grew up with it and for me it will always be the standard by which all other X-Men stories are measured). I only wish he could have been paired up with a better artist than his New Mutants collaborator Bob McLeod. Was this guy’s art always this bad? Yechh. Everyone looks awkward even just standing around; his action shots are stiff; his proportions are off; there’s very little dimensional depth. Despite the glaringly bad art, though, this really is the story to beat in this collection.

Roy Thomas doesn’t fare so well, and unfortunately, he gets stuck writing Banshee and Sunfire, two characters with whom he’s not associated. It’s not that his story is necessarily bad, per se, but it’s a weird choice. The two characters are en route to meet with Cyclops and Xavier just prior to the events of Giant-Size X-Men #1, but they wind up in Memphis of all places, get into a stereotypical (though mercifully brief) misunderstanding fight, indulge in horrifying cultural stereotypes (Banshee actually says “begorrah!”), and kiss and make up when they discover they both love, uh, country music. And Elvis. It’s a useless, unnecessary throwaway story with downright awful art by one Pat Oliffe (NOT an artist with any sort of historical ties to the X-Men) that is plainly a gross rip-off of John McCrea. All of which is too bad; Thomas is one of comics’ great historic writers, and he deserves better.

Len Wein gets to write a story about Wolverine’s first impressions of the team, all of which involve killing them. Yep. And while this might seem extremely out of place now, it’s important to remember that when he first joined the team, Wolverine was secretive and mistrustful of everyone around him. Hell, I don’t think he was drawn without his mask off until Byrne came on board. Also, as subsequent issues would reveal, he’d been a deadly government operative in Canada (no jokes), so it was pretty natural for him to think about ways to kill people. Wein is joined by some artist named Jorge Molina, who, like Oliffe, has no big prior connection to the X-Men and thus really has no place on this book.

Finally, the issue is rounded out by a tale by the vastly-talented, yet woefully underappreciated Fabian Nicieza, who ventures back to the moment in the “Fatal Attractions” crossover that Xavier was pushed over the edge by Magneto, tossed his scruples aside, and wiped Magneto’s mind clean, leaving him in a vegetative state (although he’d just watched his former best friend yank Wolverine’s adamantium out through his skin, so I’ve always been pretty forgiving). The story plays out like a dream, a jumble of disconnected images as Magneto’s mind slowly turns off and Xavier and Magneto, two old friends, say goodbye to one another. (Postscript: Magneto got better.) Salvador Larroca’s art is detailed and powerful, lending the story a special poignancy.

In all, this book was one hell of a mixed bag. The high points are great, but the low points range from meaningless to awful. For an anniversary issue of all things X-Men, the editors really should have taken more care to a) make sure it had good, meaningful stories, and b) had creators involved with historic ties to the X-Men. This shouldn’t have been that hard to do, and it would have made this comic quite a bit more special. In the end, it’s decent, but hardly makes a definitive statement about the heroes “sworn to defend a world that hates and fears them.” Score: 6/10.


7. Cataclysm: Ultimate Spider-Man #1 of 3 (Marvel, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: David Marquez). When is a Spider-Man comic not a Spider-Man comic? When Spider-Man’s only in it for five freakin’ pages, that’s when! That’s right, we only see the title character, Mr. Miles Morales, for five pages this issue. Bendis did a great job of expanding the superheroic supporting cast in the last arc in this book (Jessica Drew, Cloak and Dagger, Bombshell), but now, that same supporting cast threatens to take over the entire comic. And also, just what kind of a comic is this? It’s less a Cataclysm tie-in than the next issue in the ongoing USM. Seriously. Neither Galactus nor any of the events of Cataclysm show up or even resonate until the final page. So that sucks, but it also leads me to believe that this isn’t the end of the Ultimate universe. Consider: why would Bendis go to all this trouble to build up and flesh out Miles’ supporting cast right before the Ultimate universe ends? Sounds pretty unlikely to me. However, to that end, points must be deducted for the noteworthy absence of Miles’ father. The guy hasn’t been seen in five or six issues, and up until “Spider-Man No More,” he was a pretty important character in this series, not to mention an interesting one. I hope Bendis isn’t forsaking the the human side of Spidey in favor of the superheroic. At any rate, like I said, this comic is less a Cataclysm tie-in and more simply the next issue of Ultimate Spider-ManWhich is not necessarily a bad thing. Score: 7/10.


8. Thor: God of Thunder #15 (Marvel, W: Jason Aaron, A: Ron Garney). Welcome to the realm of Alfheim, land of the light elves, where it’s less Tolkien and more Candy Mountain, which is more than a little off-putting. Midway through “The Accursed,” which is Marvel and Jason Aaron’s attempt at reminding you that Malekith from Thor: The Dark World also appears in comics, the League of Realms stops off there for a few beers to lick their wounds and so Thor can try to get his disparate team on the same page. All of which is a fine idea, until it’s time to battle Malekith again in Jotunheim (land of giants, frost and otherwise) and all goes south pretty quick. This story, and this issue in particular, has proven to be a fun, if slightly featherweight, romp. Aaron knows how to play up the stock character traits of each of the various Nine Realms denizens to great effect: the trolls are surly and aren’t shy about wanting to kill everyone; the giants are humorously dimwitted; the dark elves are edgy and cold. Being a relatively new Thor reader, I’m not sure how these interpretations stack up against those of old, but it’s still damn fun. As the quest to stop Malekith continues, even Thor finds himself in doubt, which is a surprisingly human touch to bring to the God of Thunder. Malekith is a canny, crafty opponent, and brute force alone isn’t going to get the job done. Despite Ron Garney’s sloppy, undisciplined art, Jason Aaron’s crafting a quest tale that’s the total opposite of his Gorr saga in terms of tone. Now on the one hand, this shows Aaron’s range as a writer, but on the other, it makes the book uneven in the long run. But whatever. As long as it’s still consistently entertaining, I’m all in. Score: 8/10.


9. Wolverine #7-8 (Marvel, W: Paul Cornell, A: Mirco Pierfederici & Alan Davis). Wot’s this? An… actual good comic by Paul Cornell? The man who burned me countless times before, most recently on the jumbled mess that was his StormWatch, but let’s not forget his witless Lex Luthor opus in Action Comics and his overrated debut on Captain Britain and MI-13? Bottom line, Cornell is one of those writers who has been vastly overhyped across the years, yet he seems to keep getting work nonetheless. So forgive me if I was less than intrigued when last year’s initial Marvel NOW wave issued forth this Cornell-penned comic featuring everyone’s favorite Canadian occasional-berserker, especially since it was accompanied by the mandatory new volume/new #1. But lo and behold, my curiosity over Logan losing his healing factor got the better of me. Thanks to a, ahem, “sentient virus from the Microverse,” Logan no longer has his defining mutant attribute, and the results are devastating. For the first time, he’s human. He can be hurt, he can bleed. He can die. Hell, he can even get ragingly drunk, and it turns out his resistance is pretty low without that vaunted healing factor. Watching Wolverine stand hesitantly at the mirror, afraid to shave for fear of cutting himself, is one of the greatest, most human moments I’ve ever read for the character. Cornell has done a masterful job of presenting and plumbing new depths of Logan’s character, something that’s often forgotten by most scribes who would prefer to write a brainless killing machine. Issue eight sees Logan journey to Wakanda to try to track down a villain who can control viruses to use against the Microverse virus. While there, he gets into a (mostly)-psychological battle with Black Panther, who’s still being kind of an ass about ex-wife Storm. This naturally doesn’t sit too well with Logan, and fisticuffs ensure, but Cornell wisely plays off of misunderstanding-fight tropes for a much more clever payoff than simply seeing Black Panther and Wolverine hit each other. This is extremely good stuff. My one complaint is Alan Davis’s ever-increasingly sloppy art, which has over the last fifteen or so years gotten so sloppy that these days, he can barely render basic human anatomy that’s in correct proportions, and his inks are muddy and overbearing. If you like a unique, more cerebral, character-driven take on Wolverine, this is the book for you. No doubt fans of berserker-mode Wolverine hate this book, but that’s just fine with me. Score: 9/10.

…And now I’m torn between whether or not to continue this renumbered Wolverine volume, or to stick to my guns and leave any and all renumbered series on the shelf. Damn you, principled stand!!

Keep readin’ those funnybooks,


What I’m Reading 0020: 11/10/13

Something of an odd week, this, in that no one or two books stood out as being particularly mind-blowing or even strong. In fact, there’s actually a few crap books that sneaked their way into my wares! Such is life, though. You can’t always know what you’re getting into and occasionally even the best creators let you down. With that in mind, let’s get down to business with the latest X-Men book to infiltrate the masses.


1. Amazing X-Men #1 (Marvel, W: Jason Aaron, A: Ed McGuinness). I guess Marvel couldn’t bring itself to go too long without publishing a book with the adjective “amazing” in its title. (Note to the Spider-Man office: fuck you.) And because Marvel also can’t go too long without walking through the revolving door of death it’s currently embraced, this needless spin-off of Wolverine and the X-Men jumps right into the pool head-first by bringing the much-missed Nightcrawler back from the beyond. Readers may recall Nightcrawler bit the dust back in ’08 during the “Second Coming” crossover, the victim of a Nimrod-class Sentinel. It was a powerful, shocking moment: I had to actually turn the pages back and reread them to fully register what had just happened. It was also completely needless, and a testament to how casually Marvel treats death anymore. Anymore, the company line is this: “We want you to shell out your money for the event of the sudden death of this character you love, and then we want your money a second time when we make an event out of their return.” Thus, instead of working Nightcrawler’s return into the framework of Wolverine and the X-Men–which could have easily been done–we’re treated to this spin-off book instead, all in the name of a) increasing profits by producing a new book, and b) getting the excess hype to go alongside a new #1. With all that in mind, then, I entered this comic very, very hesitantly, because I have an extremely difficult time buying into a comic that I know is more a product of corporate groupthink and marketing than of genuine creative impulse.

How’s Amazing X-Men stack up, then? Well, in a word? “Meh.” As I stated, this story could easily be fit into the framework of its parent book, Wolverine and the X-Men. The setting is the same, the characters are the same, the writer is the same, and the seeds for this yarn were planted in that book. Sure, by slapping a #1 on the cover and throwing (dubiously-talented) superstar artist Ed McGuinness into the mix, Marvel’s guaranteed a sales bump. But the story is pure Jason Aaron: a good mix of familiar characters thrown into a wildly PG-13 Ennis-style situation that’s handled in an ultimately fun way. And that’s the key positive takeaway for this book: it’s damn fun, provided you don’t think too hard about it. Unfortunately, I do tend to overthink this stuff. We open up with Nightcrawler in Heaven, and it doesn’t take too long for him to get into some swashbuckling antics when some demons, lead by his father Azazel, show up to get into some mysteriously-motivated shenanigans. (Props to Aaron for having the balls to bring Azazel back, the focus of one of if not the most-hated X-Men story of all time, “The Draco.”) All of this coincides with the bamf infestation at the Jean Grey institute reaching a breaking point with Beast, who, determined to flush them out once and for all, uncovers a portal secreted into the building, which of course is never a good thing. This is the origin point of the bamfs, and it turns out to be the link to… wherever Nightcrawler is. In between we have hijinks, demons, antics, humor, inappropriate casual sex-talk between Wolverine and Storm (no I DO NOT like this out-of-character bullshit “plot twist”), and the sudden and utterly meaningless appearance of…. Firestar?… at the Jean Grey Institute to join their staff. And here’s where the whole shebang falls apart for me: Firestar has no history with the X-Men, outside of briefly being a member of the Hellions back in the day. She’s more associated with the New Warriors, and even once the Avengers. So what’s the point of throwing her into the X-Men as though she’s always been there? It’s completely illogical, considering she’s NOT a popular, fan-favorite character whose presence will be guaranteed to draw attention/sales. Similarly, when the team begins poking and prodding at the bamfs’ mystery portal, it’s Wolverine and Northstar, of all people, who fall through and discover the flying pirate ship that may or may not be captained by Nightcrawler. Wolverine makes sense, because he and Nightcrawler are bestest buddies, so their tearful yet macho reunion is highly anticipated. But Northstar? Why? They HAVE NO PERSONAL CONNECTION! Why not Storm, Kitty Pryde, or Colossus? This is every bit as random and nonsensical as the Firestar business.

Summing up, it strikes me that Aaron was given all the leeway in the world to tell whatever the hell story he wanted, regardless of whether or not it made sense. It’s self-indulgence at the expense of logic and cohesion. And unfortunately, that makes this book one hell of a swing and a miss, despite its more fun aspects. Hopefully these flubs are righted as the story continues, because the return of Nightcrawler is something that should be celebrated, not overburdened. Score: 5/10.


2. Cataclysm: The Ultimates’ Last Stand #1 of 5 (Marvel, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Mark Bagley). And so the (almost-certain) destruction of the Ultimate universe begins. It’s been thirteen years since this pocket world of 21st-century interpretations of classic characters broke all the rules and, in subsequent years, got bogged down in its own continuity and ever-increasing obsolescence. And now it seems it’s time to close the books on this chapter of Marvel. Galactus is in the house, and after making short work of the Vision in last week’s 0.1 prelude issue, it’s time to chow down like a freakishly skinny Japanese guy in a hotdog-eating contest. His arrival is met with the kind of large-scale mass panic you’d expect. After all, nothing like this has ever been seen in the Ultimate U, which hearkens back to the kind of overwhelming dread and desperation first seen back in Lee and Kirby’s seminal Galactus Trilogy. SHIELD is outmatched, Spider-Man is utterly lost, and the Ultimates are as about as threatening as flies biting at a horse, which just goes to show that this “more realistic” version of the Avengers just doesn’t have squat on the real thing. Bendis’s writing feels slight, but that’s due to the fact that the dives right in to the chaos and fear resulting from this catastrophe. It’s go-go-go right from the start. The problem is, that approach leaves the issue itself feeling pretty thin on actual content. Unfortunately, that happens on occasion with Bendis when he breaks into full-on action mode. If anything’s truly off-kilter, it’s Mark Bagley’s art, which comes off as sketchy and rushed, possibly due to the scrachy Art Thibert-style inks of Andrew Hennessy. Or maybe, I dunno, Bagley just wants a paycheck, although I’d hate to think that of one of my favorite artists. In all, a taut, effectively-written (though thin) read, and it opens up the very real possibility that this is… THE END. Dunt dunt dunnnnnnnn!!! Score: 6/10.


3. Captain America #13 (Marvel, W: Rick Remender, A: Nic Klein). I guess Carlos Pacheco was told his sucky art was too sucky for this book, because out of nowhere, here comes penciller Nic Klein to save the day. Klein’s an artist of a different color than Pacheco, rougher around the edges, with a bit of the ol’ Klaus Janson-style inks thrown on top for good measure. This issue sees Cap get off his sad-sack and start doing what he does best again: kicking ass for ‘MURIKA! ’80s-relic Nuke is on the loose in eastern Europe, killing at will in a fictitious country that supposedly wronged the United States in some way that makes sense only to him. (Nuke is essentially the worst-case scenario of a jingoistic, deluded ultra-right-winger with an automatic weapon.) And anyone who’s ever read Miller’s “Born Again” story knows that Nuke’s one bad mofo when it comes to battle, and he’s pretty indiscriminate about outright murder in the name of his country. This is Cap’s first foray into combat since returning from Dimension Z, and boy, does he have some issues to resolve. (Death of his adopted son? Death of Sharon Carter? Back to that man-out-of-time feeling he wrestled with for years after getting out of the deep freeze in the first place? Check, check, and check.) Nuke’s pretty much the ideal opponent, except in one regard: he kicks Cap’s ass at every turn! The battle turns more desperate as the pages turn on, as Cap realizes he’s outmatched, even with Falcon at his side. Meanwhile, we get some more insight into the Iron Nail, a former SHIELD agent gone rogue and is out to… well, do bad things, essentially. His plan isn’t exactly made concrete yet, but we are treated to a great flashback sequence featuring the REAL Nick Fury, Dum-Dum Dugan, and, yup, even the Winter Soldier, all dolled up in his Soviet-assassin persona. Too bad this sequence is a glaring CONTINUITY ERROR, since his interaction with Fury is a direct contradiction to his introduction back in the early issues of Brubaker’s run, wherein Fury stated that the Winter Soldier was nothing more than a Cold War myth, which of course means that Fury has never had any interaction with him. Whoops! I’m sure they’ll either a) gloss over their mistake by saying Fury lied on the outset, or b) pretend there was no error to begin with. Silly editors! What’re they supposed to do about stuff like this, anyway? Oh wait IT’S THEIR JOB TO CATCH THINGS LIKE THIS!!! Ah well, we live in a world where somehow, within the confines of “continuity,” Cap can be on the other side of the universe in Infinity, funny and deaf over in Uncanny Avengers, and getting his ass kicked in eastern Europe here. Does this make it okay? No. Sadly, it just makes it expected. Otherwise, this was an extremely solid book, much more focused than Remender’s work in Uncanny Avengers and rolling forward with a quickness. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Cap hasn’t been this good in years, and yes, that includes the last couple of years on Brubaker’s otherwise-seminal run. Score: 7/10.


4. Guardians of the Galaxy #6-8 (Marvel, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Sara Pichelli, Olivier Coipel, and Francisco Francavilla). I admit it: I don’t immediately get the critical love this book is receiving. After scoping out the first two issues and not being particularly impressed, I decided to give it a second chance thanks to the inclusion of amazing artist Francisco Francavilla in number eight. Y’know what? Still don’t get it. Issues six and seven deal with the arrival of Angela in the Marvel Universe, which is one of those things that’s kinda a big deal if you were reading Spawn twenty years ago and/or like your angels in the sexy variety. (I’m sure there are those who do; after all, this is a day and age where dinosaur erotica flourishes.) Or if you just like Neil Gaiman giving Todd MacFarlane his comeuppance. Count me among the latter. Back to the issues at hand: issues six and seven are mainly Angela and Gamorra tussling, with an epilogue of Peter Quill deciding that she really wasn’t doing anything wrong and letting her go after his cheap-ass shot to the back takes her down. So basically, the whole sequence, for two issues, boils down to a misunderstanding fight, with no real evidence given as to why we should care that Angela’s here in the Marvel U. So for those two issues, I’m throwing a cumulative score of 6/10, based more on the strength of the Sara Pichelli and Olivier Coipel art than anything else.

However, the ship rights itself to a certain degree with issue eight, an Infinity tie-in. Sure, event comic tie-ins are a dime a dozen, and most of them aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. But this puppy is a pretty well-crafted yarn in and of itself, focusing on the Guardians being summoned to SWORD HQ to rescue it from Thanos’ forces (of evil!). The Guardians take their time, plan their attack, and damned if they don’t pull it off, with more than a little of that A New Hope rescue-the-princess flair. Of course the real star of this show is Francavilla, who, although not the most obvious choice for a cosmic space opera, turns out to be PERFECT at creating that grand, sweeping feel that’s part of what makes the original Star Wars films so awesome. He has a fine eye for the details that truly matter, and uses empty space perfectly to convey the vastness of space. If only this guy weren’t so in-demand, he’d be a shoo-in for regular artist on this book, which would leave me incapable of not purchasing it monthly. As it stands, I’m still not sold on its necessity other than as a mandatory hype-builder for the upcoming movie. The characters, though fun, are fairly thin. (“I am Groot” got old FAST. Does this guy ever actually DO anything?) Gamorra and Drax are badass warriors. Peter Quill is the hesitant, yet natural, roguish leader. Rocket Raccoon is the comic relief. Groot is Groot. But why do these characters exist together? What is it about them that makes this book anything other than an advertisement for Marvel’s film division? In three issues, I really couldn’t tell. There was nothing about the plot that made it particularly compelling, other than it was just… fun. And for my $3.99 a pop, I’d like a little more than just “fun” for a book where I really don’t care about the characters. By contrast, Savage Dragon is fun, but Erik Larsen has taken great pains to make me care about the characters over the years. Superior Foes of Spider-Man is fun, but it also has brains and a mean sense of humor. And maybe Bendis will eventually get there, but he hasn’t docked at that particular spaceport just yet to make me feel this book is at all necessary. Issue 8 Score: 7/10, Averaged Score for all three issues: 6.5/10.


4. Green Arrow #25 (DC, W: Jeff Lemire, A: Andrea Sorrentino). Aaaaand speaking of books that are unnecessary tie-ins, I give you Green Arrow #25, a COMPLETELY unnecessary tie in to the “Zero Year” festivities currently plaguing the Bat-books. As if it weren’t bad enough that formerly-talented writer Scott Snyder is trying to remake the wheel so capably immortalized in Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s “Year One” arc lo so many years ago, now the geniuses in DC’s editorial loony bin are dragging not only this book into it, but also The Flash, Green Lantern Corps, and Action Comics. Way to milk it, guys! Bravo. There’s no better way to say, “This story is IMPORTANT!” than to have it spill into books that would better be left alone. So what we’re left with is the brakes being put on Jeff Lemire’s greater GA story AGAIN (the first time happened in September’s inane Villains Month, although I have to admit that Lemire at least pulled off one of the few truly good issues) so that DC can wank itself just a bit more. The tale here takes place six years ago, when Gotham was plunged into a city-wide blackout that coincided with a not-at-all-like-Sandy superstorm rolled through, resulting in mass chaos. This chaos was when Batman first showed up on the scene, his legend arose, blah, blah, blah. These goings-on also JUST HAPPEN TO COINCIDE with Oliver Queen returning to life after being presumed dead for a year while he was trapped on that island learning how to get his Hawkeye on. Even more coincidentally, just as he returns, he discovers his mom is actually in Gotham, playing nursemaid to those dispossessed by the superstorm. And, hell, even more coincidentally than THAT, his mom gets kidnapped, he shows up to bow-and-quiver the hell out of the situation, and then, most coincidentally of all, MEETS BATMAN FOR THE FIRST TIME. Holy cow, that’s a lot of coincidence. It’s almost like Lemire climbed to the tip-top of Bullshit Mountain (thank you Jon Stewart) for this issue. Oh wait, that’s COMPLETELY what it’s like. It sucks seeing such a capable (though Canadian!) writer as Lemire at the mercy of editorial mandate; I can only imagine the ridiculous conversation that took place leading up to this issue:

LEMIRE: “Okay! I’ve got all these kick-ass plans for Green Arrow, eh. It’s really going to reinvigorate the character, and put him a bit more in lockstep with the TV version.”

EDITOR: “Great! Can’t wait to see it. Oh wait, do you mind shoehorning a flashback issue in where he meets Batman? Like right as Batman’s getting started?”

LEMIRE: “Uh… that really doesn’t make sense. Green Arrow’s a relatively young kid and hasn’t been operating as long as Batman, eh.”

EDITOR: “So? Line-wide sales are down because nobody likes our New 52 universe. We know it’s bullshit but y’know, what can you do? We’re two years in at this point so there’s no turning back. In for a penny, in for a pound.”

LEMIRE: “Yeah, but, throwing a flashback issue in just two issues after you guys made me detour for Villains Month is going to REALLY throw the forward momentum of my story off, eh.”

EDITOR: “Look… it’s okay. Nobody cares about stuff like that! What they care about is BATMAN being in the book.”

LEMIRE: “I’m pretty sure they care about the book because it’s about Green Arrow, not Batman. If they wanted a Batman book, why not just buy one of those, eh?”

[Editor pauses, thinking.] EDITOR: “…Nah. Just do it, okay? Or we’ll bring Ann Nocenti back to write this thing, or possibly get Marc Andreyko on it just ’cause he’s openly gay and that makes for good press. Okay?”

LEMIRE: “Siiiiigh…. eh, okay.” [Lemire leaves, head hung low, dejected.] SCENE.

…And that’s pretty much all you need to know about this one. Utterly skippable, and frankly, you should skip it just on principle, just to fuck with DC for thinking they can pull crap like this. Lemire does his best, and Andrea Sorrentino is phenomenal as usual, but this time, it’s just not enough. And we have nobody but DC’s editors to thank for that. Score: 4/10.


5. Detective Comics #25 (DC, W: John Layman, A: Jason Fabok). Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Jim Gordon is a cop in Gotham City. The last honest cop, as it were. He’s up against the wall facing rampant crime on the streets and rampant corruption within the police department. He refuses to go on the take, and winds up getting a beating for it. Fortunately, he has a new partner in his war on crime: a mysterious vigilante known only as “the Batman.” And together, they forge an unlikely alliance and become the greatest force for good the city has ever known. Sound familiar? It should: it’s the refrain from every Jim Gordon story ever told since Miller and Mazzuchelli’s “Year One” codified it back in ’87. Sure, the details are a little different here, but the essentials remains the same. More “Zero Year” banality; this one’s even worse than the Green Arrow tie-in because the story’s so shamelessly unoriginal. John Layman gives it all he’s got, but he hasn’t been given much to work with. I’m sure there’s plenty more that could be said about the Batman/Gordon partnership; but DC was content to give him the same ol’ car they’ve had for years and tasked him to make it run in peak performance again simply by slapping a new coat of paint on. Which is a shame; in the last twenty-five years, Jim Gordon’s gone from being a tame supporting character to one of the most three-dimensional, fully-realized characters in comics. This guy could easily carry his own ongoing comic; so why DC feels the need to constantly relegate him to Batman Begins-rehash status is beyond me. Though technically a squarely mediocre issue, its sheer unnecessity knocks its score down mightily. It’s bullshit, but then, what isn’t at DC these days? Score: 2/10.


6. Trillium #4 of 8 (DC/Vertigo, W & A: Jeff Lemire). Jeff Lemire’s sci-fi love story epic rolls on, ever so slowly giving us clues as to what the hell’s actually happening. It seems the temple in question, the scene of the time-space switcheroo between Billy and Nika, might just have a wormhole in it. And that the Atabithi of the future seem to have a tangible connection to the “jungle savages” of the past. But none of that matters to Nika’s commanding officer, Pohl, who’s more than content to just blow the damn thing to hell, leaving our leads on a seriously precarious cliffhanger by the end of the book. Lemire’s on a roll here; his rampant inventiveness is on full display here for all to enjoy. It’s on work such as this and The Underwater Welder where his singular voice truly shines: he takes the weird, and adds a distinctly humanistic twist to it. Sort of like Grant Morrison with better-written characters. Not much else to say on this one other than: buy this damn book, if for no other reason than there’s NOTHING else like it being published today. Score: 8/10.


7. Fatale #18 (Image, W: Ed Brubaker, A: Sean Phillips). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Fatale just keeps kind of trundling on, refusing to end, each issue not showing us anything we haven’t seen before. Look, I get it. She’s a bad lady, who has a bad effect on men. And she can’t help it. And Lovecraftian monster-men are after her at every turn. Time to resolve this bitch, okay? This issue sees the continuation of Brubaker’s big love letter to the late-era grunge scene in Seattle (circa 1996), where our heroine’s sudden appearance (as an amnesiac) wreaks all kinds of havoc in a local band that almost made it but not quite. There’s, shockingly, the requisite murder, paranoia, lust, and general undercurrent of creepiness that’s been central to every issue of this comic thus far. Too bad it’s selling like hotcakes, or Bru might have had the wits to wrap it up by now (remember when it was supposed to just be twelve issues?). As it stands, it’s pretty much the comics equivalent of “The Song That Never Ends.” Good execution, at least, but COME ON, MAN! Let’s end this story already! Score: 5/10.


8. Ten Grand #5 (Image/Joe’s Comics, W: J. Michael Straczynski, A: C.P. Smith). One of the main reasons (okay, pretty much the only reason) I hadn’t quit reading J. Michael Straczynski’s slogging, sagging Ten Grand was the phenomenal Ben Templesmith art. Well, congratulations, Straczynski! Templesmith is suddenly off the book for personal reasons, and now so am I for practical ones! As you can see from the sample C.P. Smith art above, Straczynski didn’t even attempt to find a similar replacement painter to lend the book a sense of artistic continuity once Templesmith bolted. Smith’s constrained, almost-art deco-style couldn’t be more of a polar opposite from Templesmith’s barely-controlled chaos. It’s not his fault he’s not his predecessor. But it is his fault that he sucks. Smith’s art is a sterile, emotionless thing; trying to appreciate it is like trying to dry-hump a chunk of marble. Not much else I can say on the art front. Straczynski’s story plods along at a snail’s pace; this issue sees our hero, …uh, what’s his name?… oh yeah, Joe Fitzgerald enter into Purgatory to try to track down the soul of his dead lady-love, Laura. While there, he hangs out with Charon (for no apparent reason he’s portrayed here as the classic Grim Reaper but with a yellow safety vest on over his cloak… I guess this is what passes for humor in Straczynski’s mind?) as he crosses the River Styx, and gets into a scuffle with the lost souls of some bad dudes he killed back when he was a mob hitman. And then he goes deeper into Purgatory and for some reason stops being able to remember who Laura is. If all of this sounds vaguely nap-inducing, you’re right: and that’s been the curse of this book for the last few issues, which is a shame since it had such a strong start. But it’s a real problem when your lead character is so poorly-defined that I can’t even remember his name five issues in. Or that your basic premise is so convoluted it takes three paragraphs on the recap page to tell. Straczynski has a nice set of ideas here; the problem is in his execution. It would have been more fun to dive into Joe’s world of ghosts, demons, and his own recurring resurrection in some one- and two-issue stories rather than just leap into the whole shebang whole hog. There’s something to be said for letting your readers get to know your character and their world so that he feel like they have something to invest in long-term. As it stands, I could really care less about Joe, Laura, and whatever the hell else this book is about. Score: 1/10.


9. Protectors Inc. #1 (Image/Joe’s Comics, W: J. Michael Straczynski, A: Gordon Purcell). This comic is too much of a grab-bag of other, better comics and half-thought-out ideas to even be properly called a mess. Calling it a mess would imply that there was some sort of attempt to do GOOD with this debacle, rather than just rush out the third Joe’s Comics book just so Straczynski could prove he’s prolific. Where to start?Even the title itself reeks of unoriginiality: Protectors Inc.? Smells a bit too much like New Universe relic Kickers Inc. There’s not an original thought in this entire comic. Not one. So I’m going to just count them off. Our story starts in World War II (1), where a mysterious meteor imbues Captain America Rip-Off #5,097 with superpowers (2). He’s not the only one; the resultant wave of super-powered people, all of whom happen to be heroes, results in the Allies swiftly winning the war (3). Captain America Rip-Off #5,097 returns stateside wanting to do good, but his peers and the subsequent generations that follow want none of that (4), opting instead to coast on corporate sponsorship (5). Eventually, Captain America Rip-Off #5,097 grows disillusioned (6), and fades away from the public spotlight to live life as a private citizen (7). It turns out, he’s now earning a living as a lawyer (8), while the next generation of heroes, coasting on their corporate sponsorships, get into the occasional gratuitous fight with one another (9), which the public barely notices anymore due to apathy (10). But suddenly, one of them is mysteriously murdered (11), and it looks like Captain America Rip-Off #5,097 will have to come out of retirement to put the mystery together (12). There is literally nothing good to say about this comic. And Straczynski doesn’t even pull his blatant rip-offs off with any skill or finesse: I call Captain America Rip-off #5,097 that not only because of his basic nature, but because the character is so sketchily defined there’s literally nothing else to say about him. Corporate sponsorship and superheroes? We’re told about it, but unlike in, say, Jupiter’s Children, we’re given no examples of it whatsoever to persuade us it’s happening and that it’s a bad, shallow deal. And the murder in question. It happens off-panel, and is indicated by nothing more than a flash of light and a disappearance. The only reason I knew what was going on is by checking the trade ads for the issue. And then there’s Gordon Purcell’s truly abominable art.He must have the ability to suck a golf ball through a garden hose to get a professional gig, because seriously, this is some of the most inexcusably poor art I’ve seen in a VERY long time. Imagine if Jerry Ordway and Dave Gibbons had a baby, but the baby held his drawing pencil with his ass cheeks, and you’ve got an idea of what we’re looking at here. He can’t even render an interesting cover (see above). In all, this is by far the worst comic I’ve read all year. If there was a score lower than zero, this book would get it in a heartbeat. Taken together with the lackluster turn Ten Grand has taken, and the fact that the man has three more comics on deck for the first quarter of 2014, and you suddenly have a picture painted of a writer who’s been out of the game for a few years and wants to prove he’s back in a big way. But Straczynski, ol’ buddy, you know what would prove that more than anything? Quality over quantity, my friend. Quality over quantity. Score: 0/10.

And that’s a wrap for this week! Let it be a lesson to you: not every week is going to be populated with the best comics you’ve ever read, nor is every comic you buy going to be worth your money. But that’s a risk you take buying funnybooks, isn’t it?

Keep reading ’em anyway!


What I’m Reading 0018 & 0019: TWO-FISTED EDITION!!

Back when I used to work part time at a comic store, there’d be the occasional subscriber we dubbed a “two-fisted reader.” These were the guys who bought so much on a weekly basis, they needed both their greasy mitts to hold their wares. One guy in particular would buy EVERY Marvel book and EVERY DC book each month (only exception: Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E., which lead to many a joke about how awful that book must’ve been. Incidentally it was Geoff Johns’ first published work, so I guess he’s laughing now). So since I’m cramming two weeks’ worth of comics into this edition of What I’m Reading, I’ve decided to dub it the Two-Fisted Edition. A phrase which, incidentally, takes on a whole new meaning in the porn industry. Fortunately, this ain’t porno! So without further ado! I give you… TWO weeks worth of comic reviews! Remember, brevity is typically not my friend, either! But if you’ve made it this far, then you’ve already wandered into my trap!


1. Velvet #1 (Image, W: Ed Brubaker, A: Steve Epting). Ed Brubaker is back to doing one of the things he does best: the spy/espionage thriller! It’s been since the early years of his Cap run that he let loose in this particular genre, but in just one issue, he proves he still has a black belt in it. As an interesting side note, this book now stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Greg Rucka’s Lazarusmaking the former Gotham Central collaborators the foremost authorities today on writing Ladies Who Kick Ass. Coincidence? Velvet centers on a fairly basic theme, but one rife with intriguing possibilities: what if Ms. Moneypenny was ten times more of a badass than James Bond could ever hope to have been? That brings us ’round to Velvet Templeton, who, as what basically amounts to a secretary for the director of super-duper top-secret spy organization ARC-7, has more than a few secrets of her own. All those secrets are threatened to be brought to the light, though, when Jefferson Keller (our Bond-esque man of the hour), is shot dead exiting an operation. No one knew about his operation outside the agency. And no one alive was talented enough to get the drop on him. So it was either dumb luck, or… there’s a traitor in ARC-7. This isn’t exactly the most original premise, but what flips it on its head is the involvement of Velvet, who has in truth been gathering intel from ARC-7’s various spies for years (mostly by banging them) and is the agency’s ultimate, best-kept secret: the spy hiding in plain sight, where no one would ever, ever think to look. Brubaker takes all the familiar 007, Man From U.N.C.L.E., and Mission: Impossible tropes and works them into one taut, tightly-wound package, and then sets the story in 1973 for a little bit of retro authenticity. Steve Epting’s art is top-notch as usual, and the coloring embellishments by Elizabeth Breitweiser lend it a shadowy, moody feel. Of course by the end of the issue there’s a double-cross, leading Velvet to be set up to take the fall for Keller’s murder, but since this is a series built off of familiar tropes, it’s not too hard to see coming. But the fact that you do see it coming, and then don’t care, speaks volumes about Brubaker’s ability to navigate this genre like no other. This book, along with Sex Criminals and the aforementioned Lazarus, has my vote for best debut of the year. After the doldrums that have plagued Fatale lately, it’s great to see Brubaker back to proving why he’s one of the industry’s best writers. Score: 9/10.


2. Sex Criminals #2 (Image, W: Matt Fraction, A: Chip Zdarsky). In which Matt Fraction’s dirty little odyssey continues, and we learn the origin of Suzie’s new time-stopping beau Jon. As revealed last issue, Jon can stop time too when he has sex. (Or rather, when he ejaculates, but you get the idea.) The issue picks up with Suzie and Jon inside that bank, surrounded by cops, only now the cops have been joined by some mysterious peeps in white who can apparently defy Suzie and Jon’s joint time-stoppage. (And they speak in white-on-black speech bubbles, like Morpheus from Sandman, but that’s really just a cool little detail rather than being the point.) We’re also treated to Jon’s backstory, most specifically how he learned about sex, which is pretty much what would happen if a thirteen-year-old boy learned about sex by watching Kevin Smith movies. Jon gets hooked on porn pretty quick, especially once he rubs one out for the first time and discovers that, yep, he can stop time. Which leads to many an escapade involving tugging one out, walking into a sex shop, and stealing their porn. As time goes on, it turns out Jon is more turned on by what he can get away with when time is stopped, rather than the novelty of stopping time in and of itself. Which is what leads him to think that robbing a bank is a good idea. This issue didn’t quite have the rampant zing that its predecessor did, as Jon isn’t quite as interesting a character as Suzie. He’s more than a little shallow, but it’s obvious that his thrill-seeking is ultimately going to put him on a collision course with Suzie once she realizes he’s not as cool as she thinks he is. Now that the origin stories are out of the way, it’s should be interesting to see where Fraction ultimately goes with this out-there series. Provided he doesn’t get too caught up in its more quirky attributes, it promises to be a fun ride. Score: 8/10.


3. Daredevil #32 (Marvel, W: Mark Waid, A: Chris Samnee). This is an extremely out-of-left-field issue. Hot on the trail of the Jester for the part he played in last issue’s race riots, he discovers Jester was in fact hired by those racially-intolerant rascals in the Sons of the Serpent. He then discovers that the Sons’ origins are tied to a mystical book called The Darkhold, which naturally leads DD to seek the help of Dr. Strange, who in turn sends him to see… Jack Russell, the Werewolf by Night? Um, okay? DD then treks to Kentucky of all places, where he’s immediately surrounded by the most horrifyingly  small-minded, backwoods redneck stereotypes you can shake a spitoon at. And just as quickly as Matt thinks they’re hunting black people with, um, pitchforks and torches, it turns out they’re hunting… monsters! That’s right! A werewolf! A vampire! A mummy! A zombie! Frankenstein’s monster! What, was the Creature from the Black Lagoon at a day spa? Because nothing ties into a story about a bunch of racist zealots trying to undermine the New York justice system than a bunch of Universal movie monsters running amok in the backwoods of Kentucky. Which leads to Daredevil getting shot, of course, so that this nonsense can be dragged out into the next issue. Ostensibly this is, superficially at least, a Halloween-themed issue, which I could have gotten behind in theory if it were a one-off instead of a piece of a larger, more down-to-earth story. Waid’s run on Daredevil has thus far been lauded for its creative use of characters we ordinarily wouldn’t see DD face off with, but I’m sorry, this is a bridge too far. And with this volume (and possibly Waid’s run?) ending in February, it would be a shame if it were marred by such a weak issue. Turn this ship around next month, Cap’n Waid! Score: 4/10.


4. Wolverine and the X-Men #37 (Marvel, W: Jason Aaron, A: Giuseppi Camuncoli). The endgame is here at last: in the penultimate chapter of “Battle of the Atom,” the Bad Future X-Men (now revealed as “the Brotherhood”), with the Young X-Men as their captives, attempt to course-correct the time stream by sending the wee ‘uns back home where they belong. Too bad they can’t go, for reasons Jason Aaron doesn’t even attempt to explain because they’re so convoluted. Even the Beast’s explanation is, “duh, we broke time.” Broke time? How the hell do you BREAK TIME!?!? If time were so badly broken that you couldn’t seen five teenagers back to where they belong, then then how the hell were not one but two squads of future X-Men able to travel back to the present day?! Gah, time travel gives me a headache. But then again, so do poorly-thought out plots. So, desperate and out of other viable options, the Brotherhood decides on the most suicidally insane course of action possible. Which of course means heading to Cape Canaveral and getting SHIELD involved, because we obviously didn’t have ENOUGH characters in this story!! Okay, okay, I’m bitching. “Battle of the Atom” has, at heart, been a crazy, convoluted, fun ride, so it makes sense that those attributes would get ramped up as the story heads to its conclusion. And despite its logistical headaches, it really has been fun, so to bitch about its nature is beside the point. I could tear apart the logistics of just about every story ever printed, but at the end of the day, it’s their execution that counts most of all. The Clone Saga? An interesting idea on the drawing board, but some of the worst execution in the history of comics. “Battle of the Atom?” Inherently silly at times and maddeningly convoluted, but still fun at the end of the day. And that’s exactly what I want in a big, crazy superhero punch-’em-up crossover: something that doesn’t forget to be fun amidst all of the self-importance and multicolored fisticuffs. Score: 7/10.


5. Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #28 (Marvel, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: David Marquez). Miles Morales’ quest to a) bring down the insidious Roxxon Corporation, b) hit puberty, and c) not allow the entire Ultimate line to be cancelled thus confirming its own irrelevance concludes here. Spider-Man and his amazing friends get into a throwdown with the Roxxon brain trust, who has been responsible for the illegal experiments that resulted in Cloak and Dagger, Bombshell, and indirectly, Spider-Man himself having super-powers. The conclusion is a little pat and predictable, but ultimately (sorry, poor choice of words) satisfying. Miles, of course, decides that he’s totally Spider-Man and won’t be melodramatically crying, “SPIDER-MAN…. NO MORE!!” from within a darkened alley in the rain, while lightning strikes behind him. There are actually a couple of moments in this issue that leads me to believe that we aren’t quite as finished with the Ultimate universe as Marvel would have us believe/fear, but who knows what the results will be post-Cataclysm. Whatever the case, Bendis ought to pat himself on the back for a job well-done with this volume, trying something that’s never been successfully handled in the past (that’d be having someone else wear the Spidey suit) while staying true to the spirit of the character. As for this issue, it feels more like the end of a first act rather than the end of a series, so that’s promising, too. David Marquez’s art has a grace and fluidity that’s a perfect match for Spider-Man; I predict big things for him in the future and would love to see him draw a regular Spidey story. In all, a satisfying read, even if there’s a lot of extraneous questions plaguing it. Score: 7/10.


6. Uncanny Avengers #13 (Marvel, W: Rick Remender, A: Daniel Acuna). And so Uncanny Avengers plods on, without any actual forward momentum. Remender’s been banging the drum on this story for about four or five issues too many now without much significant plot progression, and it’s well past tedious by this point. Undead Banshee and Daken wale on Havok, Cap, and Wolverine, respectively, and Scarlet Witch and Wonder Man get their groove thang on as they prepare to create a parallel Earth for all mutants to inhabit, rather than try to peacefully cohabit the globe with regular humans. There’s a weirdly out of place joke shoehorned in revolving around Cap’s present inability to hear thanks to Banshee’s wail, and a pretty cool scene where Thor shows off a greater depth to his weather-controlling abilities than we’re used to seeing. Other than that? There’s literally nothing else to say about this issue. And now that we’re ten issues into this promising on the outset/weak in execution storyline, that’s a significant problem. Maybe had Remender taken more time to plant the seeds for this arc before jumping into it and then shortened its length, it would have worked better, because there’d be less need to continuously stop and re-establish the status quo. Jumping into such a lengthy story in just the book’s second arc is also extremely risky, and I’d say the hits have NOT outweighed the misses in this case. The actual tangible content for this arc thus far could have encompassed five issues, tops, as opposed to being twice that thanks to all of the extraneous padding. And since this issue failed to resolve anything that’s transpired thus far, ending in yet another eye-rolling declaration of “To Be Continued,” it can be assumed that this trend will continue. A good, strong editor might have headed this off at the pass, but clearly, Tom Brevoort’s too busy playing pattycake with the comics news media and hyping future projects to actually give a shit about what’s going on in his books. Daniel Acuna’s art continues to grate; but that’s more a matter of personal taste than anything else. His style has never worked for me, as it consistently comes off as sloppy and unrefined. I will give the cover props, though. The contrast of dark blues on a bright green-yellow background provides an eye-catching image that immediately makes it stand out among the other titles on the shelf. This is a title that needs a course correction quickly, or even with Steve McNiven soon coming onboard to take over the art chores, I’m going to have to drop it. Which is quite a shame, because all the ingredients are there for a great comic, but Remender just can’t seem to find the proper balance between them to make it work. Score: 3/10.


7. Aquaman #24 (DC, W: Geoff Johns, A: Paul Pelletier). In your classic “everything you thought you knew was wrong” issue, Aquaman discovers the truth about his lineage, and the reason Atlantis sank into the ocean. Let’s just say neither revelation is very pretty for our boy of the orange shirts. It turns out Aquaman is actually the descendant of king Orin, who violently overthrew his brother, Atlan, to ascend to the throne. Atlan’s family was then murdered and he narrowly escaped with his own life, and then, using some pretty gnarly dark magic, he sank Atlantis into the sea. Needless to say, this does very little to improve Aquaman’s already-grumpy disposition, especially when he discovers he’s been comatose for six months while the now-assholish version of Atlan has been wreaking all kinds of havoc in Atlantis. But at least he got a beard out of the deal. Being a huge fan of ’90s harpoon-handed Aquaman (Peter David! Respect!), I have to say he simply looks more kingly with a beard, dammit. Although Johns’ execution on this title has been a little uneven overall, I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t exactly the type of story that works best for Aquaman: his fierce sense of independence colliding with his sense of duty to the throne, with Atlantis and its ever-fickle denizens caught in the middle. Other writers have tried different approaches to Aquaman over the years (remember when he had a hand made of magic water and was working for the “lady of the lake” or whatever?), typically to little success. Which is why it’s so hard for this classic character to hold his own title for very long. Well, that and the fact that he swims and talks to fish. But there’s a wealth of depth (no pun intended) to Aquaman as a character, and Johns is the first writer since Peter David to really hit the nail on the head where the guy’s inner workings are concerned. It’s a shame his run only has two more issues to go, because I feel Johns probably could have crafted a long-term run on par with his Flash and Green Lantern epics, if only he weren’t too busy as chief creative whatsit to keep his interest focused on writing anything long-term anymore. Ah well, it is what it is. Enjoy it while it lasts, because even with the talented Jeff Parker taking the reigns starting on issue twenty-seven, this is probably as good as it’ll be for awhile. Score: 8/10.


8. The Massive #16 (Dark Horse, W: Brian Wood, A: Garry Brown). I had to do a double-take after reading this issue to make sure I hadn’t missed number fifteen on accident, because the main character, Callum Israel, changes so damn much in this issue without any explanation, that missing an issue seemed to be the only logical explanation. But nope, fifteen was tucked away safely in a long box with all the rest of the issues. So what’s the deal? Israel’s suddenly got a massive hard-on for some Norwegian whalers who are essentially subsistence fishermen, except that they’re killing and eating whales. These aren’t even endangered whales; the whaler in question specifically states–and backs up with evidence–that he and his people are only killing eight or nine whales a year, tops. They’re not selling any parts of the whale for profit, and they’re using every part of it, just like American Indians of old with their buffaloes. But that doesn’t matter to Callum. A whaler is a whaler, and he has a larger point to make, even if that means recklessly picking a fight he doesn’t have to and abandoning his non-violent ideologies. This shift in his mood could probably be chalked up to the fact that he’s dying of cancer, but nowhere in this issue does writer Brian Wood make that entirely evident. This sort of murky characterization is the one thing that’s plagued this title from the start; which is a very weird complaint for such a typically character-driven writer as Wood. The story’s great, the amount of thought and detail put into this post-crash world is at times staggering, which makes for a very pretty car, but it’s the characters who ultimately drive the car, and right now, some of them are barely big enough to see over the steering wheel. Mag is another example. For the entirety of this series, this former mercenary has been pushing Callum to embrace violence when necessary, which Callum has ardently resisted. But now that the shoe’s on the other foot, what does Mag do? He openly states he wants no part of Callum’s current mission. Maybe that’s down the fact that it’s ultimately unnecessary, but you’d think the guy who’s been pushing for a more aggressive stance would be onboard with taking down some whalers by any means. These sort of inconsistencies are what’s keeping this series from going from good to great; it’s as though Wood can’t quite commit to it beyond its basic premise. Fortunately, it’s a fantastic premise, but he’s going to have to get more consistent with his characters–not to mention flesh them out–for this to graduate to the level it’s capable of being at. Score: 6/10.


9. The Sandman: Overture #1 of 6 (DC/Vertigo, W: Neil Gaiman, A: J.H. Williams III). I promised myself I wouldn’t geek out and fawn over this book, like so many others, and automatically write a 10/10 review for it based solely on the fact that it even exists. But damn Gaiman if he didn’t give me good reason not to follow my own dictates. First and foremost, check out that Dave McKean cover, because it wouldn’t be a Sandman comic without it. (Where ya been, dude?!) All apologies to J.H. Williams III, but this book wouldn’t be what it is without those fantastically eye-catching McKean pieces gracing every cover. So how about what’s inside? J.H. Williams III may be the single best artist for the Dream King since Kelly Jones, although it must be said that each storyarc in the original volume had its own individual artist that always seemed a perfect fit for whatever the topic at hand was. (Charles Vess’ Shakespeare issues, for example: I simply cannot imagine another artist rendering them.) Williams uses his unique design sense to evoke a sense of dreams themselves, or to just spice up a scene that might have been boring to draw otherwise. A scene involving the Corinthian speaking to a desk clerk, for example, is merely two people standing and talking. But in Williams’ hands, the scene becomes a two-page spread of a mouth, with each tooth taking on an individual panel. It’s an extremely cool trick; although new readers to the world of Morpheus might be a little confused as to its meaning. (Twenty-five year-old spoiler: the Corinthian has mouths and teeth in his eye sockets.) Later in the book, there’s a fold-out spread that, while excessive and unnecessary, is extremely fun to look at, if for no other reason than the insane amount of detail Williams put into it. Now, how about the story itself? It’s a great set-up, prompting the reader to say, “Huh?” at the end, and leaving us hanging from a cliff (for the next TWO FREAKIN’ MONTHS… grrr) to find out what the hell’s going on. But let me back up. The story opens up with Morpheus meeting the Corinthian, who has escaped into the waking world and has been getting his serial killer on. Morpheus tells Corinthian that he is intent on uncreating him as punishment for this, which opens up a !!!PLOT HOLE!!! since in “The Doll’s House,” Morpheus seemed surprised to learn the Corinthian wasn’t in the Dreaming anymore like he was supposed to be while Morpheus had been imprisoned. Hopefully this oversight isn’t an oversight at all and gets corrected over the course of the next five issues, or Gaiman’s going to have a lot of cranky Sandman fans to deal with. But since Morpheus is whisked away by forces unknown before he can deal with the Corinthian, and since that in and of itself sets up the remainder of the series, it seems unlikely. Morpheus is pulled across the universe by an irresistible force, something that shouldn’t be happening in the first place, and finds himself confronted with a parliament of beings claiming to be Dream, also. Sooner than you can say, “Whaaa?” Morpheus says “What?” for you. As I stated before, this is a weird, intriguing set up, one that promises to reveal more about Dream than has been previously. It’s fun to see Morpheus caught off-guard by this unforeseen turn of events; it even makes him seem more, dare I say… human? So in a nutshell, what we have here is both a gleeful revisitation and a solid story in its own right. It’s been sixteen years since Gaiman last wrote Morpheus, and in that time, he’s lost none of his skill or understanding of the character. And frankly, it’s been too long since Gaiman wrote a comic, period, so all told, I have this to say to both Gaiman and his creation, Morpheus: welcome back, sir, and it’s about damn time. Score: 9/10


10. Saga #15 (Image, W: Brian K. Vaughan, A: Fiona Staples). Yes, the cheesy romance novel look of the cover is intentional. It probably has something to do with the fact that Marko and Alana are hiding out with cheese-author D. Oswald Heist, so just deal with it. Their hiding out involves playing board games with Heist and Marko’s mom, Klara; the board game in question involves arm-wrestling, drawing, and psych-outs. It’s brilliantly silly fun, but with a point: while our main characters are distracted by playing this game, they’re also trying to figure out just how the hell they’re going to live since neither of them have a job and they’re wanted fugitives. Oh, and Alana winds up blowing Marko, and Klara, seeing it from afar, thinks she’s praying, which is pretty damn hilarious. There’s a bit too much inertia this issue where Alana and Marko are concerned for me, and the plot involving The Will and Sophie (the artist formerly known as Slave Girl), while explaining why The Will has been seeing his dead lover The Stalk lately, is a bit too obvious. And where’s Gwendolyn while this nasty bit o’ business is going on? Your guess is as good as mine; presumably we’ll find out next issue. But her absence is pretty glaringly obvious when it’s so noticeable that her presence would have changed the course of The Will’s predicament entirely. So a bit of a miss this issue, but even when it’s off, Saga is still head and shoulders above nine out of ten other comics on the shelves. Score: 8/10.


11. X-Men: Battle of the Atom #2 of 2 (Marvel, W: Brian Michael Bendis & various, A: Esad Ribic & various). Okay, before I even get started reviewing this comic, something that’s bugging the CRAP out of me: Frank Cho is credited as artist on the cover, yet he didn’t draw a single page in this issue! What the hell, guys?! Cho drew issue one (much to my dismay). The infinitely more-talented Esad Ribic drew this issue (except for the epilogues), and that is a night and day difference both in quality of art and in style of art. Editorial fuck-up alert! (DC did this a few months ago when they credited an issue of Aquaman to Geoff Johns on the cover, when in fact it was a fill-in issue by John Ostrander.) This might seem like a silly thing to get hung up on, but… how hard is it to make sure the cover trade dress credits the people who actually created the issue?! Well, on to the story itself. “Battle of the Atom” concludes here, and it’s as wacky as you’d expect. The Brotherhood collides with the combined forces of the Young, Modern, and Future X-Men, with Sentinels running around trying to kill them all (and they actually score a couple of kills in there!) and generally stoking the paranoid feelings that humans will never accept mutants among them, since these Sentinels are SHIELD models. What the what?! It seems that when the Brotherhood launched the SHIELD Helicarrier’s entire payload at the gathered mutants, that included Sentinels that not even Maria Hill knew about. Obviously, this does very little to shore up the X-Men’s “can’t we all just get along?” position. The good guys ultimately win, of course, but even when they win, they lose: because they “broke time” (and again, how does one do that, exactly?), the Young X-Men are stuck in the present. Although apparently that breaking of time isn’t a two-way street, because the Future X-Men are perfectly capable of returning to their proper time, which is incredibly convenient for writers who just want an excuse to keep the Young X-Men around. It also lets Bendis shift the pieces on the board around a little bit, as the Young X-Men and Kitty Pryde migrate over to Cyclops’ team in Uncanny X-Men, since they don’t feel wanted or particularly trusted anymore on Team Wolverine. Son of a–! But I’m not convinced Kitty would choose this path, since her stance has been pretty staunchly anti-Cyclops since the whole schism went down. After all, this is the man who killed Professor X, and the only people thus far who have been content to follow him are those who are convinced he isn’t culpable in the man’s death, but rather the Phoenix force is. But that’s like stating a drunk driver isn’t responsible for running over a classroom full of kindergarteners; his car is. So while I’m yet to be convinced in the veracity of Kitty’s actions, time will tell. Right now she’s just pissed that Wolverine & company didn’t have her back earlier in this arc when she was trying to plead the case for damaging the timestream by allowing the Young X-Men to stay in the present, which to me seems like quite an irresponsible thing to do. But whatever. These big “event” stories can’t just happen without some kind of status quo shift at the end; the unfortunate side of that equation is that event comics happen so frequently anymore, their status quo change-ups wind up coming off as cheap stunts. Frankly, it would seem that Kitty and the Young X-Men switching to Team Cyclops is actually the only thing that’s been accomplished by this ten-issue ruckus, and that’s severely disappointing, because as I stated, that’s pretty implausible and out of character for Kitty. So what, then was the point? I guess the long-term ramifications will be explored in the individual x-books, which are being joined next week by a fifth core book, Amazing X-Men. (Because Marvel could only go so long without having a comic with the adjective “amazing” in its title, I guess.) As for this issue, it ties up the “Battle of the Atom” story well enough, I suppose, but certainly leaves me wondering: what the hell was the point? Score: 7/10.


12. Infinity #5 of 6 (Marvel, W: Jonathan Hickman, A: Jerome Opena). Aaaaaand speaking of “what the hell was the point,” here we have the penultimate issue of Infinity, where it’s revealed that all it actually takes to defeat the Builders is for everyone to rally and really, really WANT to win thanks to Cap’s inspiration. No bullshit. It turns out that for all the hype surrounding the Builders, all it took was people fighting back for them to stand defeated. Wow… talk about a cop-out, and talk about a logical inconsistency, since people “just fighting back” against the Builders has met with utter failure at EVERY TURN up ’til this point. Look, I get it. Hickman wanted his Independence Day moment, where a rousing speech was all it took to marshal the forces of good to win the day; where everyone’s chest is swollen with pride and determination and cowboy-esque grit and they get the job done JUST BECAUSE IT’S WHAT THEY WANT. It’s also convenient for the story, naturally, because they had to win at some point, and so why not take the lazy-writer’s way out? Equally disappointing is that the Builder story wound up tying into the Thanos story in no way, shape, or form, nor did it have anything to do with the alternate Earth incursions that have been plaguing the crew in New Avengers and have been thrown into this book as almost an afterthought. So basically, what we had, instead of two seemingly-disparate arcs dovetailing together nicely, are two disparate arcs that should have been kept as separate stories. Hell, maybe I’m wrong; there’s still the sixth issue to go, after all. But after all the build up, all the hype, all the pervasive defeats and “Oh-my-god-we-will-never-ever-be-able-to-win” moments, to have it all come down to this is beyond disappointing. Hickman has, for all intents and purposes, pulled a fast one on readers who thought they were getting something other than a typical alien invasion story. Readers like myself. >:-( And again, maybe I’m writing the whole shebang off a little too quickly since there’s still one issue to go, but the writing seems to be pretty clearly on the wall on this one. Well-intended, well-set up, but ultimately, a swing and a miss. At least Jerome Opena’s art is still kick-ass. Score: 3/10.


13. Cataclysm #.1 (Marvel, W: Joshua Hale Fialkov, A: Mico Suayan, Mirco Pierfederici, & Leonard Kirk). It’s Galactus’ chowtime, and boy oh boy is the Ultimate Earth looking mighty tasty! Good thing Vision’s on the case, for all the good it will do, since she’s just a glorified robot and the likes of Silver Surfer and a cosmically-powered Rick Jones didn’t do jack against the Big G in Hunger. Vision is out to save the Earth by any means necessary, even if that means igniting a doomsday weapon she’s been saving for a rainy day. A doomsday weapon which does nothing put irritate Galactus, of course. But let me backtrack, because there’s something going on in this issue that I want to address, and that’s the fact that this female Vision and the Falcon are romantically involved. This callback to the old school Scarlet Witch/Vision relationship is obnoxious by its very nature; we’ve seen this before, and a gender-reversed version in the Ultimate universe is simply not necessary. But beyond that, seeing the two of them lying in bed together is just…. creepy. She-Vision doesn’t look like a red-faced normal dude in a yellow and green costume and basically passes for human. She-Vision looks like a a freakin’ robot. And all apologies to Roy Thomas and the infinite amount of humanity and pathos put into the classic Scarlet Witch/Vision relationship, but FALLING IN LOVE WITH A ROBOT IS JUST GODDAMN WRONG. And this being the Ultimate universe, which is a more grounded and (relatively) realistic version of the 616 Marvel U, having this sort of relationship exist at all just feels less like inventive writing and more like throwing a bone to a classic storyline by trying to co-opt it into this reality. Jeez, it’s just gross! And probably against the law! Okay, so what else? Vision flies off into space to intercept Galactus, and if you thought this was going to go well, you haven’t read very many comics. Fialkov does a decent enough job pulling this issue off; but with Hunger having already served as the prelude to Cataclysm, I fail to see what the point of this issue is. Yes, a character dies, but as with the character who died in Hunger, it’s nobody anyone cares about and is thus completely expendable. That mentality puts us dangerously close to Jeph Loeb’s in Ultimatum: “Let’s just kill characters for the sake of doing it!” Having three artists crammed into one twenty-two page comic helps confirm my theory that this issue was a total rush job put out to appease the masses while they wait for the main event to start. The three artists’ styles mesh well enough that there’s no jarring shifts along the way, fortunately, but at the end of the day, I just have to wonder one thing about this comic’s existence: what’s the point? Score: 4/10.


14. Kick-Ass 3 #4 of 8 (Marvel/Icon, W: Mark Millar, A: John Romita Jr.). As we reach the halfway point of Dave Lizewski’s last hurrah, two things become very, very evident: not everyone’s getting out alive, and Hit-Girl isn’t getting out of jail anytime soon to save Dave from his own arrogance/stupidity this time. As Dave and Justice Forever try to regroup after their disastrous attempt at “having a ‘Batman: Year One’ moment” against the mob, the Juicer oversteps his bounds and Kick-Ass finally mans up and decides to kick his freeloading ass out of the group. But for whatever reason, several members take the Juicer’s side (despite the fact that he has never contributed anything) and begin to freeze Dave out of his own team, going so far as to block him from their Twitter accounts! Believe me, in the world of Kick-Ass, this is a big deal. But the fact that such a mundane thing is a big deal gets right to the heart of what this series is all about: a bunch of emotionally stunted young people trying desperately to prove their worth by dressing up and playing superhero. Dave’s the only one who seems to be truly enamored with the idea of being a real-life superhero; the rest are more or less just in it either for kicks or because they’re utterly superficial (or both). Hit-Girl’s attempt at breaking out of jail, so off-handedly bragged about last issue, ends in disaster, so much so that Millar only shows us the aftermath rather than putting us through the paces of watching her fail. And what an after-party it is: never before has Hit-Girl been brought this low, made this desperate, and shown as the deeply angry person she truly is, irony-free. Millar’s pulling no punches here, as the mightily-pissed off Rocco Genovese proves as well. This is a cold, calculating player who is utterly devoted to destroying Kick-Ass and all his cronies, and who has the gumption to pull it off. The walls are closing in on Kick-Ass, and he’s too busy getting laid by his new girlfriend, who’s actually a spy for the mob, to notice. Things are getting dark, the end is here, and everything’s on the table and up for grabs. Which is just how Mark Millar likes it. Score: 9/10.

Okay, folks, that’s it! I’m getting a cramp from all this typing. It’s been fun, but I’m in no hurry to cram two weeks worth of comic reviews into one post again anytime soon.

Keep readin’ those funnybooks,