It's business as usual for TWiP this week, as Punchy returns with reviews that, while longer than last week's, are still nice and short.
There's a lot of exciting stuff here, including the first set of DC Comics Zero Issues, along with new instalments of Venom, Punisher and Ultimate Spider-Man. Plus, the best new book of the year, Hawkeye is back! Yay Hawkeye!
Amazing Spider-Man #693– The ‘Alpha’ storyline continues to entertain in much the same vein as the first part did. Alpha is a chance to see what Peter Parker could have been like if he had never learned the immortal ‘With Great Power…’ lesson, and basically stayed as a massive jerk. Just when you think the story is going to go where you expect it and that Alpha will be redeemed, Slott zig-zags and the kid gets even worse! What I do find interesting that as much of a douche as he’s being, you don’t totally hate Andy, you empathise with his need to feel special. I guess that the fact that he’s become a media whore is a bit of a comment from Slott on how being a teenager has changed from what it was like in the 60s to now. Also fun in this issue was the return of The Jackal, who has been redeemed in my eyes after being totally bored with him during the Clone Saga, I now look forward to his appearances and seeing just how messed-up he can get. This story is very enjoyable, and as I’ve said before, it’s a very clever way to celebrate Spider-Man’s 50th, it’s looking backwards and forwards at the same time, very cool.
Venom #24– Cullen Bunn’s second issue on Venom is just as enjoyable as his first, with some great individual scenes and moments. Demon Venom was a cool visual, and the idea of having Flash be possessed by not one, but two evil forces is an interesting one. The Venom symbiote comes in very handy for warding off demons it turns out. I also really liked the character of Katy Kiernan (The senator is a Wolfman!), has she appeared before? It seemed like she knew who Daimon Hellstrom was, is she a supporting character from his old solo stories? Her name does have that classic Marvel alliteration. Speaking of Daimon Hellstrom, Bunn is having a lot of fun writing him here, he’s very entertaining indeed. I may not be happy about him turning evil for no real reason, but he’s still cool. Then at the end a bunch of crazy Kirby monsters show up. This book may not be as shockingly serious as Remender’s run was towards the end, but it’s still a wild ride, and still way better than anyone ever expects Venom to be. Thony Silas’ art looked a lot better this issue too, I liked his stuff in #23, but this was a lot more polished, it’s great to see an artist grow over time.
Invincible Iron Man #524– Oh yes, this is how you build up to a final battle. After months and months (and months) of issues, the fight between Iron Man and the forces of The Mandarin is finally here, and it’s great to see everything come together. The Swarm plays a part, Rhodey plays a part, Zeke Stane plays a part! Hell, this is what Fraction and Larroca have been setting up since #1, which is so cool. Not enough writers get the chance to do such long-form with superheroes stuff these days, it’s pretty much just Bendis, Johns, Morrison, Brubaker and now Fraction. My favourite scenes in this issue were the Mandarin ones, where he begins to realise that things are spinning out of his control, it just brought a massive smile to my face. Take that you jerk! Is next issue the last one? Oh man, oh boy, it’s gonna be good. Let’s hope Fraction and Larroca go out with a bang, and leave Kieron Gillen with plenty of cool shit to do.
Mighty Thor #19– After saying I would pick up Journey Into Mystery for the duration of this crossover last month… I kind of didn’t pick up JiM. So as such, I haven’t read Part One of this crossover so I was a bit lost. But not too lost! Most of what’s gone on before was explained, although what the fuck are Manchester Gods? Is it something to do with Morrissey and Ian Curtis? But I got the main gist really, Surtur is stirring up trouble between the Aesir and the Vanir to cause a war and people want to blame Loki, because why wouldn’t they? He’s Loki! The best thing about this arc continues to be getting to see Alan Davis draw some truly epic Thor stuff, the fight scenes in this issue were amazing, and I must admit that Davis is probably my favourite artist for this character (I have just committed Simonson-heresy, uh-oh), everything just looks so good. That woman at the end, is that the girl who everyone on Tumblr draws holding hands with Loki? Is she an old lady now? What is going on? Sigh, I really need to buy JiM don’t I?
Hawkeye #2– After Fraction and Aja’s revelatory take on Hawkeye rocked the comics world last month with #1, could #2 keep up the pace and not be a disappointment? You betcha! This issue is just as good as the first, but also refreshingly different. Fraction is not just going to put Clint through the same street-level stories every issue, and so here we are treated to a fun story that’s a lot more espionagey and also a bit more superheroey. Clint teams up with the other Hawkeye, Kate Bishop from the Young Avengers to investigate what’s going on with the strange arrow signs we saw in #1 and how they connect to some kind of circus. This is of course The Circus Of Crime, and a new Swordsman. The caper that ensues is a lot of fun, and helped a lot by the fantastic, inventive artwork of David Aja, every page just crackles with exciting, hip energy. This is some of the coolest comic art I’ve seen. Of course, Fraction is damn good too, with some very strong dialogue (“casual, casual, casual”) and ideas. I especially like how these seemingly disconnected singe-issue stories are looking like they are building to something bigger, so the Vagabond Code that was in play here was hidden in the background of issue one, and now we have the biggest crime-bosses in the Marvel Universe (Kingpin, Owl, Hammerhead, Madame Masque etc) all thinking that Hawkeye ripped them off. If this book keeps it up, it’s a shoe-in for an Eisner, I tell ya, it’s this year’s Daredevil, only cooler.
The Punisher #15– Even though last issue ended on a moment of triumph for Rachel, with Stephanie Gerard dead at her feet, it doesn’t feel like a victory here. The death of Gerard causes her partner, Christian Poulsen to go fucking crazy and start killing the entire building. But not after placing a 911 call that claims that it’s the Punisher who’s doing the slaughter. This of course brings Bolt and Clemons along, and we’re all set up for an epic showdown. This issue was a manic rush through the building, as Frank and Rachel attempt to stop Poulsen. And they do, but not without consequences. In a shocking ending, Rachel accidentally kills Detective Bolt. I’m guessing that it’s this, the death of a Cop which causes the upcoming War Zone mini-series, which will feature the Avengers going up against Frank. But what about Rachel Alves? I’m thinking she might get one in the back of the head from Frank in next month’s final issue, just so this title can get even more twisted. But I don’t really know, Rucka’s Punisher has done the unexpected throughout. It was great to have Marco Checchetto back with this issue, he did a great job with the amount of carnage on display in this issue (and I ain’t talking about a symbiote, I mean real blood and guts).
Avengers Academy #36– Knowing that this is basically the final story for this book has actually improved things. Not only is Gage going for broke here, but it’s legitimately possible that these characters could end up dead or powerless at the end of it. That oh-so-rare finality is very important here, as it means that what’s going on actually seems to matter. Also a plus for these last few issues is the art of Andrea Di Vito, his clean, classic lines really work for a title like this. The outstanding moments here were the final kiss between Mettle and Hazmat, as his skin is burnt off and he returns to armoured form, which was really quite emotional, and the scenes set inside Reptil and White Tiger’s amulets. I could have done without Julie Power’s big speech though, which was just weird, why did Coat Of Arms just let her go on and on like that? In the end, Jeremy Briggs get to have his own Ozymandias moment, which was very cool, I can’t wait to see just how everything shakes up next time. I will miss this book, but sometimes it’s best for something to end before it just starts sucking. Avengers Academy is going out in it’s prime.
Dark Avengers #180– Most of this issue was just a constant reminder to me that I need to get off my butt and go see the new Judge Dredd movie. The stuff in the future with ‘Boss Cage’ was a very fun homage, but I especially like that Parker is not doing this just for parody’s sake, the events of this future are very tied-in with what’s going on in the present. I will say that the stuff in the present was a little confusing though, what exactly was it that Mach V stumbled on? The FACT dude said he had found Wender, but isn’t Wender that bald dude who is in Sharzhad with the Dark Avengers? Are there two Wenders? One thing I thought was cool was Boss Cage’s flashbacks to his ‘mother’, who is Danielle Cage, who we only know as a little baby. It’s basic fan-appeal stuff to show kid characters in the future, but damn it, it works. What else? Oh yeah, that guy who USAgent goes to visit, that’s Juggernaut right? It has to be! He’s been gone too long for it not to be.
The Defenders #10– This book just keeps getting crazier and crazier doesn’t it? I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s so enjoyable that I don’t particularly care. It’s that same tone that Fraction’s creator-owned books have, and it’s cool to see that translated to a Marvel Book, and also cool to see Fraction get a little jazzy, stuff like Iron Man has been so planned, and this is a great contrast to that. I like it when writers don’t just do the same thing with each book, all four of this week’s Fraction Comics (Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye and this) are very different. This issue features The Defenders battling insects in a post-apocalyptic world, only… it’s our world! This of course means a guest-appearance from Ant-Man (the Scott Lang version), who looks the coolest he ever has when drawn by McKelvie, but then again, McKelvie makes most everything look super-cool. There’s a massive ‘Death Celestial’ wandering around destroying stuff, and we don’t know why, but for some reason John Aman is trying to kill it. Also, Silver Surfer is off in space being chased by that weird blank void, which kills him, and then he meets God. Yes, God. I know. This book is mental, but mental is good. Fraction has a lot to wrap up in only 2 issues, so you just know it’s only going to get even weirder.
Age Of Apocalypse #7– I really love the way Lapham is fleshing out this alternate reality, and how it’s not just about the X-Men (probably because most of them are dead). This issue takes us first to Britain and then, as the cover suggests, to Latveria, where we learn that in this universe, Doctor Doom is actually a good guy. Although, after the twist here with Emma Frost, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that our pal Victor isn’t exactly Superman. It was interesting to see that Pete Wisdom is still a good guy in the AoA world, is he the only virtuous mutant left now then? What a sorry state of affairs! Elsewhere, the character of Horrorshow, aka Graydon Creed gets a bit of exploration, and the scene at the end where he confronts his father was really excellent. I can’t wait to see where that goes next time, it could get very fucked-up indeed. This book continues to be a very grim, but enjoyable series, Lapham is taking his time here, but it is making the world seem truly, horrifyingly real.
X-Factor #243– This ‘Breaking Points’ storyline has been very strong so far. It’s an interesting way to do a big event arc, but considering how many subplots and characters PAD has going with this book, it makes a lot of sense. This issue focuses in on Polaris, and shows us what is her definitive origin, and explains her history of mental issues. We find out that, yep, she is Magneto’s daughter, and that she herself, as a little kid caused the plane crash that killed her mother and presumed-father. Attracted by the magnetic disruption, Magneto had Mastermind wipe her memory, and this is what led to her instability. I wonder if this is stuff that’s going to play out here, or if PAD is just wiping the character’s slate clean for Remender to use in Uncanny Avengers? Leonard Kirk’s art was brilliant once again, what a coup to have him on this title, and while there were only snippets of other subplots here (like Layla and Madrox’s relationship, or Strong Guy being missing), the main stuff with Polaris was strong enough to make up for it. To be honest, Polaris has been such a confusing continuity mess, it’s just good to have everything out on the table.
Ultimate Spider-Man #14– Another exemplary issue of USM, this book is just so so good. Starting with a homage to the classic ‘Professor Xavier is a jerk!’ moment, this issue was just great. Captain America forbids Miles from being Spider-Man, to the objection of Aunt May, Gwen and MJ. I thought it was fantastic how Miles still insisted on paying Cap respect, his good guy nature is very endearing, he’s a nice kid, nothing more. Then, in a very touching scene, May tells Miles to not live in the shadow of Peter, but to be his own Spider-Man. Hopefully that statement will have some impact in the minds of any fans who are still against the new Spidey. Then, in classic Ultimate Spider-Man style, Bendis switches from emotional drama to great comedy, as Miles struggles to use his new web-shooters (so cool that he finally has them). The final part of the issue is a fight between Cap, Spidey and the Rhino, in which Miles proves himself as a more than capable crime-fighter, once again taking the opportunity to use one of the powers only he has, in the electro-shock. I’m actually surprised he used it, I thought the flashback to Prowler’s death would lead to him chickening out and losing, but no! This book is still great, I remember reading the first few arcs of the original USM 10 years ago, and the fact that it’s remained so consistent is mind-boggling. It may be a different Spider-Man, but it’s still good comics.
Action Comics #0– My favourite aspect of Grant Morrison’s run on Action Comics was the t-shirt wearing, low-powered, fight-for-the-people idea of Superman. But that ended up being an idea that Morrison dispensed with pretty quickly, returning quickly to sci-fi aliens and a full costume. But with this Zero Issue, he brought it back, and unsurprisingly, I loved it. This issue shows the New 52 Superman’s first adventure, and it doesn’t go too well, he’s immediately shot with a bazooka and loses his cape. The cape is picked up by a little kid who then uses it to protect his family from their drunken abusive father. It was a great touch to have Superman inspire heroism before he was even really Superman, and the scenes of our hero in action were very exciting, and very well-drawn by Ben Oliver. Morrison also uses this issue to show us Clark’s first meeting with Mrs Nyxly, and it looks more and more likely that his run on this book is some kind of Mr Mxyzptlk epic, an attempt to make Superman’s most ridiculous villain work in the 21st Century. I hope he succeeds. We also find out Jimmy Olsen’s new origin story, although it’s interesting that he’s crashing on Clark’s couch in the ‘Superman’ title, what happened to all his money? This was a strong issue, returning this book to what I personally wanted it to be for a little longer, but still with plenty of the classic Superman feel. The back-up story from Scholly Fisch and CAFU was good too, providing more information about Captain Comet from the previous arc. Is Erik Drekken a name I’m supposed to recognize? It rings a bell.
Batwing #0– Even though the first arc of this title already showed us a lot of Batwing’s origins, his life as a child soldier, his relationship with his brother etc, this issue fills in the final piece of the puzzle and shows us just how David Zavimbe became an associate of Batman. It’s done in pretty much the same way as every other Bat-character, one of his loved ones died. In this case it’s the woman who ran the orphanage alongside Matu Ba that David lived after he had stopped being a soldier. She is killed by a meta-human criminal, and because the Tinasha police is so corrupt, David has to take justice into his own hands, puts on a make-shift costume, and kicks some butt. We are then treated to a montage in which David (I wonder what his codename was before he became Batwing) takes on super-villains all across Africa. Then Batman shows up and the rest is history! This issue was probably not too essential, because if we really needed to know this stuff, we’d already know, but it was enjoyable, and I enjoy all of the parallels Winick draws between David and Bruce Wayne and Gotham and Tinasha.
Green Lantern #0– Unlike most of these Zero Issues, Geoff Johns isn’t using Green Lantern’s to once again tell us Hal Jordan’s origin for the umpteenth time. Instead, in the wake of Hal and Sinestro’s ‘deaths’ in last week’s Annual, we are introduced to the new Green Lantern. And in case you hadn’t noticed, there’s some controversy about it, because the new GL, Simon Baz, is a Muslim! Now normally I’d be rolling my eyes at this stuff, what does a hero’s religion matter? Does anyone care that Kitty Pryde is Jewish? That Daredevil is Catholic? Not really (although DD’s Catholicism is a pretty big deal, I doubt there any Protestants who refuse to read it). But this issue lays on the OMG HE’S A MUSLIM ISN’T THAT EDGY waaaay to thickly, that there’s really nothing else to talk about apart from Simon’s religion. The issue opens with 9/11! For God’s sake! We are then treated to a montage of people being racist against Muslims, which is very on the nose, and then, with no real warning, Simon is suddenly on the run as a wanted terrorist (he stole a van which for some reason had a bomb in it). Then he’s taken to Guantanamo and water-boarded! It’s like Johns had a checklist of ‘controversial things about Muslims’ and just went through them all. Just before Simon is about to get the shit kicked out of him by the US Army, a GL ring bursts in to save him. All I can really say is that there could be a good character under the surface of Simon Baz, and that he could be a good addition to the GL mythos, but this first issue was a bit of a debacle that tried way too hard to be shocking and in-your-face about the character’s race and religion. Plus, if you’re trying to preach tolerance (I think that’s what Johns is trying to do here), why have the character waving a gun around on the cover? Gaaah. Bring back Sinestro! Speaking of… the end of the issue revealed that Hal and Sinestro aren’t dead, which is literally the least surprising thing ever. Maybe another Hal origin story would have been better.
Animal Man #0– This issue basically serves as a massive retconning of Buddy Baker’s origin to make it fit into the ‘Red Vs Green Vs Rot’ theme that’s been a part of Lemire’s take since the beginning. We open with the world’s previous Animal Man getting killed by Anton Arcane, and then see the Parliament Of The Red (or whatever they are called) discussing what to do with their next avatar. I think it’s a pretty cool twist that the only reason Buddy became Animal Man was because of who he would eventually father. I also got a kick out of seeing Buddy’s crappy Z-List acting, although I actually probably would like a movie called ‘Chicken Thief 3’. The way in which Lemire made sense of the aliens that Buddy think gave him his powers was very clever, they did it to maintain his sanity, as to someone living in a world with Superman and Green Lantern, aliens make sense, whereas the idea of ‘The Red’ would not. The scenes with Buddy discovering his powers were great, as was the double page spread of magazine covers filling in 6 months, some of them were hilarious. Overall, this was a strong issue, and one which, whilst a big retcon, is a retcon that was necessary, and one that makes sense.
Swamp Thing #0– Fucking hell, this was one dark comic book. I did not expect to see newborn babies being brutally murdered when I picked up Swamp Thing, it was messed-up to say the least. Much like this week’s issue of Animal Man, the aim of this story was retroactively make Swamp Thing’s origins fit in with the big Rot storyline, and it mostly worked, as we saw just how Anton Arcane, in his role as an avatar of The Rot manipulated the events which led to Alec Holland’s death and transformation. But the best thing about this issue was probably how evil it made Arcane himself. He narrates this issue and is just totally monstrous. We open with him killing the Native American Swamp Thing from the Animal Man Annual, and then see him kill a lot more Red and Green avatars, including the aforementioned newborn babies, which may have been a step too far for some. Jesus it was bleak. I’m now very excited to see this guy get his ass handed to him in Rot-World, bring it on.
Stormwatch #0– We’ve all seen the hints and teases about the links between Stormwatch and Demon Knights, and this is the issue that makes everything clear. Yes, the two groups are one and the same, the Demon Knights eventually became Stormwatch. But there’s more to it than that! We find out that Adam-One, who supposedly died in the first arc, yet is back in this issue for mysterious reasons, is actually Merlin, aging backwards like in TH White. His history lesson to Jenny Quantum was a lot of fun, especially getting to see all of the previous incarnations of Jenny’s century baby. There’s Princess Janeen, who used the power of mathematics, Countess Jeannie, who was just a crusader who killed a lot of folks, and Sister J, who used the power of religion. Then we see the 19th Century Jenny, an escaped slave called Jenny Freedom who had control over Steam and Light. And then of course, the much-missed Jenny Sparks. But this wasn’t just a journey through memory lane, as Adam teases a dark future for Stormwatch, with the team eventually turning on eachother. Will this happen? Was that really Adam? It’s a lot of fun to see the roots this book has set down, and how deep all of the Daemonite stuff is going. I just hope it has a good payoff down the line, so many comics have been dedicated to these villains, it needs to be worth it.
Dial H #0– This issue was complex and strange, but one I stop and really think about it, this issue provided a lot of very interesting information about the secret of the Dial and just how it works. Taking place in ancient times, we see a priestess use a SunDial version of the mysterious device, and transform into a superhero to stop a crazy god snake. The superhero she becomes is ‘Bumper Carla’ who fights crime with a bumper car, which literally makes no sense in ancient Sumeria or wherever. But then later on it’s revealed that Bumper Carla existed in an alternate reality and when her powers were taken by Laoodice, she lost her powers and lots of people died. These heroes that Nelson is summoning are not just coming out of nowhere, they are being dragged from alternate realities. What consequences will this have for the main storyline of this book? I don’t know, but it’s a great twist, and adds a dark undertone to the goofiness of some of these heroes, we may all laugh at Captain Lachrymose, but who knows what tragedies have happened in his home reality?
Sweet Tooth #37– Not long to go now with this book, and this issue really nailed the ‘end of everything’ type feel, as Jepperd goes off to make a final stand against Abbot. Man, I hate Abbot so much, and this issue made him even more evil as he shoots and kills the bird-hybrid kid for no real reason. This issue also featured Gus and Jepperd coming face to face with the secret lab in which Gus was born, and whether or not Gus was responsible for the sickness. The answer we get is surprising, and sure to annoy a large proportion of readers, in that Jepperd says it doesn’t matter, what happens next is what matters. I personally would like a bit more clarity, but there are still 3 more issues left, I think we’ll get some more information soon. One of the best things about this book other than the gripping plot has been Lemire’s willingness to experiment with page design and layout, and this issue featured a good example of that, with two double page spreads filled with panels, but also with a large, painted close-up on Gus and Jepperd. It was visually interesting, and the sort of thing you only really get from a writer-artist. 3 issues left now, I’m simultaneously sad and excited! Sadcited!
The Boys #70– Just when I thought nothing could be more fucked-up than this week’s issue of Swamp Thing, Wee Hughie pays a visit to MM’s mother. Jesus Christ, that was the freakiest thing I have ever seen, and we only saw it in shadow! Damn you Ennis, this was worse than that dude who fucked meat-women in Preacher. The rest of this issue was basically ramping up the final fight between Hughie and Billy Butcher. We find out that Butcher paid Mr Potamus to wank under Hughie’s door in order to get him to move, which is just another minor moment of assholery to add to the pile. There’s also another strange scene with the two Vought characters, which was almost as unsettling as ‘Mother’ in how devoted to the Corporation nameless Vought-dude was. Then… the final fight, atop the Empire State Building (Ennis has a real thing for that place doesn’t he?), Hughie and Butcher face off, and it’s not an epic battle for the ages, but actually quite funny, as Hughie just charges at him, and smashes out of a window, clinging on for dear life, begging for dear life. It’s an odd way to end the issue, the last panel especially was clever, so I’m very excited to see what happens next, will #71 just open with Hughie and Butcher flat as pancakes?
Oh yes, it's good to be back.
My favourite book this week was of course Hawkeye, which is just amazingly amazing. I also really liked Action Comics #0 too, but Hawkeye is just too cool.
Be here next week for even more DC Zero Issues, alongside the penultimate chapter of AvX and a shit-ton of X-Men stuff. It's a great time to be alive!