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This week is a real humdinger, with so many good comics up for review, there's Rick Remender's last issue of Venom, the start of an epic Thor event, a new Gambit series, a double-helping of Becky Cloonan on Batman and Conan and more insanity from Punk Rock Jesus.
Venom #22– Rick Remender’s final issue of Venom is just as good as the previous 21 and change have been, and it’s a fine way to bow out, focussing heavily on a fascinating central character and his inner demons. The plot here is simple, it’s Flash chasing down Jack O’Lantern one final time, but the thing that makes the story work is the narration from Flash and the, no pun intended, flashbacks to his childhood and how his father fucked him up. These scenes were incredibly powerful, and you really feel for the character. I just can’t believe that Flash Thompson, the 1-dimensional bully from Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man run has evolved into this, one of the most complex and interesting heroes in Marvel’s stables. It was a process that started before Remender, but he took the growth of the character, threw in a symbiote and against all odds, made a fantastic comic. I legitimately care what happens to Eugene Thompson now, and there aren’t many superheroes you can say that about, I like Batman, sure, but I don’t really care about his personal life as if he was real. This issue was a summation really of everything this book has been about under Remender, a conflicted, deeply trouble man struggling with his past and the monsters both real and psychological within him. I’m sad to see Remender leave, but he’s going out on a high note, plus, he’ll still be writing the character in Secret Avengers, and the incoming Cullen Bunn has already demonstrated he can handle this book brilliantly in the previous arc. I’ve been praising this book for months now, and if you still haven’t been paying attention, this final Remender issue may ironically give you a great jumping-on point as to what Venom is about these days. If nothing else, the artwork from Declan Shalvey should appeal to everyone, but as I said, this was a great finale to a great run, well done Rick, now let’s see what Cullen has up his alien sleeves.
Mighty Thor #18– I don’t read Journey Into Mystery, so I don’t know if the events of this issue have been set up there or not, but for me, this stuff, despite kind of coming out of nowhere, got me pretty excited for what looks to be an epic Thor story. Strange mystical fires are popping up all over Broxton, and Thor can’t do anything about it. Plus, a bunch of Magpies are also catching fire and Jeff The Goth from the last arc seems to have been possessed by something. It’s bad shit. Loki goes to see Freyja and we get a flashback to the war between the Aesier and the Vanir, and how the Vanir went to Surtur for help. Hmmm, mysterious fires, massive demon-god-thing that’s made of fire, could there be a connection? This basically spells a team-up between Thor and Loki, and some fun back-and-forth-dialogue between the two brothers. Then at the end there’s a great scene where the frickin’ World Tree is on fire! The title of this story is no joke, everything does indeed burn. The best thing about this issue is that Fraction is joined by Alan Davis on art, who does his usual Alan Davis thing by being totally fucking awesome and making everything look fantastic. I guess I’ll have to break my JiM-duck next week by picking up part 2 as I’m actually interested in what’s going to happen, I just hope it’s not as annoying as it’s Tumblr-fans are. I like Gillen and I like the idea of Kid Loki, so we shall see.
Incredible Hulk #12– The final issue of ‘Stay Angry’ is here, and it’s yet another outrageously fun issue from Jason Aaron. Hulk wakes up in a secret underground prison in the middle of Antarctica which was built by the League Of Nations a hundred years ago and has just been forgotten about, even with it’s cute old-timey robots. Wolverine and The Thing are sent to find out why Hulk is there, and a hugely entertaining fight breaks out. We’ve seen these 3 fight each other many times before, but Aaron managed to work in some new bits, I particularly liked Hulk making Wolverine stab himself and the absolute ownage he gave to The Thing when he broke of a piece of his face and CRUSHED IT INTO POWDER. Oh yes. It’s also great to have a fight scripted by a writer who knows these characters really well, Aaron is of course closely associated with Wolverine, but his take on Ben Grimm was equally strong. The artwork from Carlos Pacheco was great too, and it’s probably the best work I’ve seen from him in a long while, when he has time to just do one issue, he’s awesome, it’s when he has to do a longer storyline that his work becomes scruffy and rushed. In the end, Hulk escapes from Wolverine and Thing by turning back into Banner, and we find out just what it is this crazy ride has been leading up to… Banner has taken all of the different artefacts he’s collected and synthesised them into a cure for the Hulk! Of course, we know it’s not going to work, but I’m interested to see what’s going to happen next, and how Aaron’s run will dovetail into what Waid has coming up.
Gambit #1– I’m not ashamed to admit it, I like Gambit. I’ve liked him ever since the 90s X-Men animated series, and despite his cheesy accent and excruciating romance with Rogue, have always liked him as a member of the X-Men who is, almost literally, a wild-card. But I haven’t really read any of his previous solo stories, in fact, I used to believe that the only X-Man capable of maintaining a solo series was Wolverine, but hey, it’s the 2010s now, maybe Gambit can work? And on the basis of this issue, I think he might. This was a solid opening issue, and while it’s not quite as strong as some of Marvel’s other recent debuts like Hawkeye and Captain Marvel, I’m excited enough to pick up #2 and think that James Asmus’ take on the ragin’ cajun is a good one. The story starts with Gambit questioning how much his character has changed, he’s no longer a dangerous thief, he’s a lame-ass teacher, so he decides to go have some fun and steal some shit. What follows is a very cool and very fun story where Remy LaBeau turns up the charm and does bad things. I think it’s interesting that Asmus has paid so much attention to the sexual side of Gambit, we see his naked ass in this issue, and he flirts with multiple women. It’s a little jarring at first, but it’s something different from most superheroes, and hey, as a man I’ve seen plenty of female superhero butt, it’s about time the ladies got some cheesecake (is it cheesecake if it’s a dude? What’s the preferred nomenclature?). It was also refreshing to see an X-Men character in a story that’s not really about the X-Men, not about oppression or fighting Magneto, but just a thief off having fun and getting into trouble. So whilst this issue didn’t blow me away, I had a lot of fun being pulled along by a charismatic hero and Clay Mann’s excellent artwork, if you’re a Gambit fan, check this out, if you’re not… I wouldn’t say definitely try it, but there is a distinct lack of ‘ma cherie’ and other silly nonsense that may have put you off before.
New Avengers #29– This was probably the quietest and least eventful AvX tie-in Bendis has done so far, but I think it was the best. Yes, it was page after page of people talking, but that’s what Bendis is best at, and this was him in full flow, getting to the heart of some great characters and really humanising a lot of the craziness that’s gone on in the course of this crossover. The opening few pages are a flashback to WW2, with the Invaders taking on the Red Skull. The focus here is on the relationship between Captain America and Namor, allies back then, but now at War with each other. In an attempt to reach out to Namor, Cap has called a meeting of the Illuminati, and it’s here that a lot of interesting conversations are had and questions many readers might have are answered. So we find out why the Avengers aren’t just using the Infinity Gems to stop the Phoenix Five, we find out why the Fantastic Four (Thing aside) are remaining neutral, and we get a great insight into how much this whole shebang is affecting Professor X. The scenes with Xavier here were just excellent, he feels like a failure because of how his students are acting, and it breaks your heart. Of course, in amongst all of this pontificating and arguing, Bendis provides some humour in the form of a frazzled Tony Stark who is constantly saying the wrong thing due to how stressed he is. I like this take on Tony, and how even through the jokes, the despair of this situation was still there. In the end, Namor does show up to meet Cap for another fantastic dialogue scene, two old friends, now at odds, still respecting each other. Of course, this story takes place before Namor fucked Wakanda to hell, so that may change, but it was still powerful stuff.
Avengers Assemble #6– Brian Michael Bendis demonstrated his versatility this week, alongside a very dialogue-heavy issue of New Avengers, comes an action-packed instalment of Avengers Assemble. The Movie-Vengers and the Guardians Of The Galaxy jet off into space to find Thanos, but on the way get into a battle with the Badoon and Bendis lets Bagley loose with some awesome space battle-scenes. The bit where it’s revealed that it was actually Bruce Banner inside the Iron Man suit was an odd one though, I feel like it probably sounded like a better idea when Bendis came up with it than it ended up being, but it was something new all the same. The best thing about this issue was probably the bit at the end where Hawkeye fucked up and basically killed both the Avengers and the Guardians, oh Hawkeye you rascal. It looks like Thanos is going to win at the moment, so just how are the Avengers going to turn things around? It’ll be interesting to see. It was also good to see Bagley draw a lot of the other, non movie star Avengers, although what was Valkyrie wearing? Yeesh.
Fantastic Four #609– I must admit that the whole ‘Nu-Earth’, Future Defenders story is my least favourite of Hickman’s various subplots, so the prospect of their return in this issue didn’t fill me with excitement. But it wasn’t all bad, this issue marked the end of the plot, so we’ll hopefully not see this lot again, and plus, we got the awesome image of Galactus as a space-ship, which was just really cool. Other plus-points were the 2nd Hulk/Thing fight in a week, Spider-Man showing up again, and getting to see Johnny Storm almost use the Cosmic Control Rod and be a bit more mature. Ryan Stegman’s art was OK, his style is a bit more cartoonish than this book has been in a while, but I was getting into it by the end. I have to say though, I’m basically ready for Hickman’s run to end and for Fraction to take over, and bring some Allred-shaped fun to these books. These last few issues are a waiting game for me, let’s just hope Hickman can keep things interesting.
Spider-Men #4(of 5)– Oh man, this issue was, it was, it was emotional. I’m going to admit it, I cried. The last time a comic brought a tear to my eye was the Peter Parker funeral issue of Ultimate Fallout, so it’s no coincidence that this follow-up story has done the same. When Peter and Aunt May are talking about Uncle Ben, and they realise it’s real… Oh jeez, it hit me right in my emotional core. And MJ! Oh my god! That broke my heart too. I don’t even know if I’m looking forward to their inevitable meeting in #5, it could be do much. Thankfully this issue wasn’t all raw emotion, otherwise I probably wouldn’t be able to write this, as Bendis has some fun at comparing and contrasting the Marvel and Ultimate Universes. There’s Gwen’s incredulity at MJ being a super-model, Peter finding out his Ultimate counterpart dated Kitty Pryde, Nick Fury’s reaction to his alter-ego being white, and Peter meeting a still-drinking Tony Stark. These are all basic, fan-service bits, but they really work, and you can forgive them because of the emotional heft of the rest of the comic. I also like the little stuff Miles is getting to do here, he’s the secondary character for sure, but he has his moments, like messing with the web-shooters and working out where Mysterio is. Even though I’m sad that Ultimate Peter is dead, Miles is still awesome. Sara Pichelli’s artwork was brilliant as usual, she’s going to be a big star after this. Oh wow, even writing this recap is making my eyes a little sore, well done Brian and Sara, you did it, you got to me! Now don’t mess up the ending!
Superboy #12– So has Lobdell left this book then? Is it exclusively a DeFalco joint? If so, this could be a good thing, as this is the first issue in a while that a) continued on from where the last one left off and b) didn’t have an incomprehensible tie-in with Teen Titans. The story here is that, in order to feel more human, Superboy goes out on the town with his landlady, a Paris Hilton parody and her friends. The main thing of interest here is continuing to see Superboy act in strange and unexpected ways, he is not slipping into a secret identity or trying to hide who he is, and it’s interesting, what has set this book apart is Superboy’s unique alien perspective, and it’s fun to see him do things like drink alcohol and approach it in a completely detached way. Of course, it’s not all partying, there’s some kind of demonic threat which Superboy has to fight, and the way DeFalco and Rocha depicted this fight was actually pretty cool. So yeah, this was a decent issue, and I’m very much looking forward to #13 actually making sense as a continuation of this one. No more crossovers! What’s that, they’re doing a crossover with this book and Superman and Supergirl? FFS.
Batman #12– After the Earth-shattering events of the last few issues, with long-lost siblings and all sorts of other craziness, Batman takes a step back with a quieter issue, and it only kind of works. This issue focuses on Harper Row, the mysterious girl who has shown up once or twice before in Snyder’s run to help Batman. Here we find out a lot more about her, she’s emancipated from her father, she has a gay brother who gets gay-bashed a lot, and despite being about 18, has a job working on the Gotham City electrical grid, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. I’m kind of conflicted about Harper, she seems interesting enough, but where is this going? I’m guessing she’s going to become a new version of that hunchbacked dude Batman used to have do his tech for him, what was his name? Harold? Although part of me thinks it would be hilarious for Harper to become the new Batgirl, partly to piss off all of the Stephanie and Cassandra fans. Oh how they would bitch. But for me, the most interesting things about this issue were the way Snyder continued to flesh out the world of Gotham City, explaining how it’s power grid works, and also how Batman has managed to use that to his advantage and explaining just how he doesn’t get caught on CCTV, that was cool. I found it interesting that Harper and her brother lived in The Narrows, is this the first time that element from Batman Begins has appeared in a comic? Are DC finally being sensible and bringing in Nolan’s ideas to the comics? How long until Rachel Dawes and John Blake show up? Becky Cloonan did her usual excellent job on art, the character of Harper is right in her wheelhouse, although it was a shame that she didn’t manage to do all of it. Andy Clarke was a good fill-in though.
Frankenstein: Agent Of SHADE #12– This was an odd issue of Frankenstein, a lot of stuff happened, and I really get the feeling that Kindt had to rush the ending of his story in order to get the book ready for the upcoming Rotworld tie-in. There was cool stuff here though, I liked the idea that Satan’s Ring wasn’t a ring of spies but a literal ring that you would wear on your finger, and the idea of it being a self-fulfilling prophecy that caused all of this was clever. Did anyone else think that when Khalis was accidentally bringing things back to life that he’d be bringing back each of Frank’s constituent parts? That would have been crazy, unfortunately he only brought back to life the slightly-less crazy dead Leviathan. It also feels like Kindt is leading up to Frank turning on SHADE here, he now has his own army loyal to him, I’m guessing this will lead to conflict between him and Father Time. Alberto Ponticelli’s art looked especially good this month too, he got to draw some really mad shit, and he pulled if off brilliantly. So yeah, while this issue was rushed, it was the kind of rushed that is sorta good, so I’m looking forward to what comes next. And what comes next is someone called ‘Victor’ and the Rot. Is that… Victor Frankenstein?
Grifter #12– It blows my mind how quickly this book has gone from being a relatively down-to-earth crime/sci-fi mash-up to a full on massive alien space-ship getting blown to smithereens. But it’s not a bad thing, Liefeld and Tieri are going for it with this book, and it’s a whole lot of dumb fun. In this issue, Grifter and Deathblow are captives of the ridiculously over-the-top Helspont who rants and raves at them before Grifter reveals he deliberately let himself get caught, and breaks free to cause some explosions. This book is everything that’s good about Liefeld-style comics really, it’s bug, dumb and full of massive guns and plot twists. Scott Clark returns on art this week, and it’s as good as usual, he manages to make all of the Liefeldian bombast a little bit less… silly, for want of a better word. I just realised that everything I’ve said about this issue is a back-handed compliment, but I genuinely did enjoy it, I swear.
Demon Knights #12– More medieval adventures from what The Outhouse has dubbed ‘The First Stormwatch’. This issue features the Demon Knights inside Morgaine Le Fay’s tower and coming face to face with the evil witch. Morgaine’s plan was a bit convoluted I have to say, but it was redeemed by Vandal Savage’s brilliant line about genitalia, that was great. The best scene in this issue was either The Demon breaking out of his shackles by repeatedly switching back and forth between his Jason Blood and Demon forms and the burning fire that brings, or King Arthur’s heroic sacrifice, which was damn Arthurian if I must say so myself, and especially appropriate during this current Patriotic Fever that Britain is under. The ending was good too, The Demon turns on everyone. It’s just annoying that we’ll have to wait 2 whole months for the continuation of this story, that’s my one real gripe with these zero issues, they are halting momentum for quite a few books.
American Vampire: Lord Of Nightmares #3(of 5)– Scott Snyder continues to brilliantly develop a very deep and very realistic world for American Vampire. Not only does this issue tell us more about his take on Dracula and the human slaves he has (Renfields), but we are also introduced to a new concept, ‘The Firsts’ a group of Vampires who are the last of their particular species. I also continue to be very interested in the more scientific perspective Snyder is looking at Vampires from, they are a race, a genetic quirk, not magical. The stuff where there is something in the blood of a Carpathian which automatically makes them evil is very intriguing. I also loved the way Snyder and Nguyen did that scene, instead of focussing on Hobbes and Felicia, we see a bunch of animals in the wilderness, the food chain in action. I’m also interested by what we are finding out about Hobbes’ past, it seems that he used to work for Dracula, was he a Renfield?
Punk Rock Jesus #2(of 6)– Man, this book is weird. I mean, I wasn’t exactly expecting a series about a clone of Jesus Christ to be conventional, but Sean Murphy is really surprising me here with the kind of story he’s telling. I don’t know what I expected, but it’s not this, and that’s a good thing. There’s a lot of plot in this issue, but the main thrust here is a very vicious satire of reality TV and the very unscrupulous boss of the J2 show, who is just one evil mother-fucker. Not content with taking the second Jesus-clone and killing it, he’s also slipping the mother booze in order to increase ratings. We also get another flash back to Thomas’ childhood in Belfast, which although a bit of a basic interpretation of ‘The Troubles’ makes sense in this pulpy world, there’s no room for shades of grey in this kind of book, heck, you can tell that just from the art. I do wonder how these flashbacks will dovetail with the main plot, what is it about Thomas’ past that means he is working for J2? There’s also development with the scientist, who has made herself pregnant, I assume also with Jesus-dna. There was also a polar bear! This book is just mental, and I’m loving it, I can’t quite believe Warner Brothers is publishing this, nice to see them take a risk in the age of Before Watchmen. Murphy’s art was of course brilliant, but I am continuing to be impressed by his writing, this dude is the full package.
Conan The Barbarian #7– Conan and Belit return to Cimmeria, and Becky Cloonan returns to the title. This was another very strong issue, and although it wasn’t as action-heavy as the last few, it continued in it’s excellent use of narrative captions. Wood’s voice here really does remind you of fantasy fiction, and everything is lent an epic feel. I did feel however that Wood could have made the reason for Conan’s return a little clearer, people were talking around the imposter Conan before we really knew what was going on, and it was confusing. Sometimes the best way of telling a story is just to be linear, shocking I know. But it’s a mild complaint, by the end of this issue we know what’s going on, there’s a dude going around and pillaging Cimmerian villages whilst pretending to be Conan, so he has to stop him. Also interesting in this issue was the way in which Wood depicted Belit, and her frustration at not being taken seriously by the Cimmerians, she is being given real depth here, she’s not just some sex-pot in a chainmail bikini, she is a proper character, which is good to see.
Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou!
I think my favourite of this week's fine four-colour offerings was the first one I read, Venom #22. It really does blow my mind how good Rick Remender has made a Venom comic, and his final issue is up there with his best, Cullen Bunn has a lot to live up to!
Join me next week for more fun stuff, Image's two big books, Fatale and Saga are out, along with Round 10 of AvX and only Michael Bloody Allred drawing an issue of Daredevil! Woah!
Written or Contributed by Niam Suggitt
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