It’s been a crazy week on the ol’ comics Internet, that’s for sure. Comics Alliance is gone and DC Comics are blacklisting this very site! Now, you may think that given last week’s DC-less column, that the blacklist went the other way too, but it’s not so! Yes, DC is back with a vengeance on this week’s TWIP, with new issues of Action Comics (with all of the writing snafus that come with that), as well as Aquaman, Swamp Thing and a very good and very unorthodox instalment of Animal Man.
But of course, Marvel is still a presence, there’s more Age Of Ultron, more Hawkguy, a controversial issue of Superior Spider-Man, and Kieron Gillen’s Iron Man changes directions very unexpectedly indeed.
As always click the links to head to the forum discussions, which are a damn good time!
Superior Spider-Man #9– If you’re the kind of person who pays attention to Internet comics outrages, then you’ll now that this comic is this week’s (and yes, there is pretty much one a week these days). Over the last 8 issues it seemed like most fans had kind of come round to liking Superior Spider-Man, or at least accepting it. Doc Ock was in Peter’s body, but Peter’s memories were still hanging around like Obi-Wan and it was only a matter of time until things were back to normal. But they were wrong, in this issue, Ock goes inside his and Peter’s shared brain and gets rid of those memories, effectively killing off Peter Parker all over again. It’s a genius, ballsy move, and one I think is really going to pay off. If anything, this second ‘death’ of Peter hits even harder than the first one, because we were not expecting it like we were in ASM #700. I love that Slott is not going to rest on his laurels, he’s managing to make Spider-Man unpredictable for the first time in a long time, and I love that. We thought we knew that Peter would find his way back, but now… that shred of hope is gone, where do we go from here? We don’t know, and that’s exciting. But this issue is about more than just the end result of Otto winning out, how Slott and Stegman take us there is very compelling indeed. The battle inside the brain is very well done, and Ryan Stegman does an excellent job of getting across abstract things like memories in a visual way. It was great to see a lot of dead supporting characters and villains show up as memories, and I also really dug the little nod at Stan Lee’s poor memory when Peter can’t remember if his surname is Parker or Palmer (Stan accidentally called him Palmer in a very early issue of Amazing Spidey). I also found it interesting how Slott made sure to demonstrate both the bad things and the good things that Octavius has accomplished as Spider-Man, how his harder edge actually has some positives. This is a complex story, about more than just a villain pretending to be a hero, it’s about different approaches to heroism, and challenging the old-fashioned moral code that Spider-Man has always had. A true Spider-Man for the 21st century! I have really enjoyed this book so far, and with the gutsy change at the end of this issue, I love it even more, weep all you want Internet, Slott is telling his story, not trying to please you, and it’s working incredibly well.
Iron Man #9– I don’t hate Greg Land as much as most people, but man, it was cool to see Dale Eaglesham draw this book. He’s such a great artist and this was a fantastic looking comic. This issue picks up where #8 left off, with Tony hunting down 451 for the crime of destroying the Voldi society and killing millions. We get a cameo from Star-Lord, which was cool, and even cooler, the return of Death’s Head, who Tony hires to help him track down 451. Of course, Death’s Head betrays Tony and hands him over to 451, and that’s when things get weird. 451 sits Tony down in front of an old film projector (this is on a Badoon ship, how the hell did it get there?) and shows him a film of his own father, Howard Stark, getting ready to tell Tony some deep, dark secret. And who’s standing next to Howard on this tape? Only 451 himself! What the fudge? This is some crazy stuff, and I can’t wait to see where it’s going. It really looks like Gillen is going to shake things up in the backstory of Iron Man, and I’m very intrigued into what the hell Howard Stark was up to, and if it ties into Hickman’s SHIELD and other things. Part of me is thinking that this is cynical movie tie-in stuff because of Howard Stark’s largish roles in Iron Man 2 and Captain America: The First Avenger, but I trust Gillen and Howard was barely mentioned in Iron Man 3, so it’s probably not. This was probably the best issue of this title so far, due in part to the excellent art from Eaglesham (I like how he’s continuing to do weird panel stuff like he did on Hulk) and also for the bonkers twist at the end. I hope it gets even weirder from here on in.
Indestructible Hulk #7– I spent most of my review of Indestructible Hulk #6 talking about how awesome it was that Hulk picked up Mjolnir, so I was pretty cheesed off that this issue begins by explaining that Hulk wasn’t really holding the Hammer, he was just being pulled along by Thor willing it back to him. Way to be a buzzkill, Waid! (although he said on Twitter that this gag was Walt Simonson’s idea, so… way to be a buzzkill, Walt!) Other than that, this was another strong issue of Hulk, there’s some great, large-scale stuff with Thor and Hulk fighting the Frost Giants, but Waid also continues to develop the supporting scientist characters he introduced. We find out that Melinda Leucenstern used to work for Baron Zemo, and most intriguingly, we discover that Patty Wolman has a life-threatening illness and only joined up with Banner because she wants to commit S.B.H., that is, Suicide By Hulk. That’s all-kinds of messed-up and a very interesting concept. Just like with Daredevil, Waid, despite being a wily old-timer, is coming at these classic characters with fresh eyes and doing things that many other writers would not think to do. And even though he crushed my Hulk-with-Hammer dreams, Walt Simonson’s art on this title is still great, as I’ve said before, he’s just as good as he always was, and seeing him draw classic Thor one more time is a real treat.
Hawkeye #10– Marvel’s coolest title continues with a look into the origin of the mysterious Clown who showed up at the end of last issue and shockingly killed poor Grills. We discover that he was the child of Circus owners in Eastern Europe somewhere, who, when his parents were killed due to some War or another, was rescued by the Tracksuit Draculas (bro) and inducted into a life of crime. It’s a fairly simple origin, with plenty of tragedy behind it (not only dead parents, but his brother too), and it looks like this guy is going to be a great villain. Along with the origin flashbacks, we see The Clown in flirtatious conversation with Kate Bishop at one of her father’s fancy parties. Not only is this a very interesting conversation filled with insights about how Kate views her life as Hawkeye and as a superhero, but also how someone from Old Europe views the crazy new world of New York City, how it’s a city that doesn’t really appreciate it’s history, it’s always moving forward, unlike many other places around the world. And then to top it all off, we see Grills get killed again! Not cool Fraction, not cool. The artwork for his issue comes from Francesco Francavilla, who is normally one of my favourites, but his work here was some way below his usual standards, and seemed rather rushed. It was still good, and fits very nicely with the style of this book, but it was not his best work, which is a shame.
All-New X-Men #11– I continue to really love what Bendis is doing with the X-Men titles. Each issue delivers action, drama and interesting character interactions (as well as lots and lots of talking), all masterfully drawn by Stuart Immonen. This particular instalment deals with the fall-out of OG Angel deciding to join Cyclops and his Uncanny X-Men team. This of course leads to a lot of arguing between both sides, but mostly it’s all about Jean Grey’s reaction. She kind of flips out, and tries to stop Warren leaving, and gets involved in a mind-battle with the Stepford Cuckoos. I think what Bendis is doing with Jean fascinating. Because she’s dead most of the time, Jean is often put on a pedestal as this perfect, virtuous woman who was everyone’s true love. But by using a young version of the character, we are getting to see the person behind the myth for the first time in years and see that she’s a complex character even without the manipulations of the Phoenix. Jean is very powerful, and because she can’t control it, she is dangerous. This is the most interesting the character has been in a long time, perhaps even in my lifetime. Also interesting was the idea that was raised in Jean and Kitty’s conversation, that the dynamic between the OG X-Men has been completely changed, whereas before they always stuck together, forming X-Factor and all of that stuff, now, they are split. Throughout this series I have been most interested in how the arrival of the original team has effected the modern-day characters (hell, that was Beast’s intent, to have it make Cyclops change his ways), but now we have to think on how it’s effected the original team themselves. These guys aren’t a plot device, Bendis is treating them like real characters. Of course, there is still plenty of good stuff to be wrung out of present-day reactions, for example, next issue we’ll see the OG team come face to face with the Uncanny Avengers and Cyclops’ brother Havok. Correct me if I’m wrong, but at the point in time that the original team have been plucked from, does Cyclops even know that his brother is still alive? Oh yeah, and Mystique is continuing to stir up trouble, that’s fun stuff, I liked how she’s not just targeting mutant-related stuff, she’s stealing Tony Stark’s money too. This is just a brilliant comic, each issue of both this and Uncanny are momentous occasions for me!
Age Of Ultron #7(of 10)– After last issue’s shocking ending (well, shocking to me at least) where Wolverine killed Hank Pym, it’s a whole new world for Age Of Ultron, and since I’m a sucker for alternate universes, I enjoyed seeing how things have turned out differently for the world without Ant-Man. It’s a simple pleasure, I know, but it’s one thing I can’t shake, parallel universes are just fun. We only get a little bit of info about this one, but it’s tantalising stuff. The biggest change seems to be that Iron Man is in charge of the world, but there’s more to it than that. Instead of the Avengers, the Defenders are the biggest team around, and they are made up of very different versions of familiar faces. Captain America only has 1 eye and is now a Colonel, Cyclops is similarly impaired and is called Cable. Janet Van Dyne is Captain Marvel (and seems to be in a relationship with Cable, which is interesting, especially since last week in Uncanny Avengers she was flirting with his brother, I guess even across universes, Janet has a thing for the Summers boys). The Thing has holes in his body and he seems to be the only member of the FF still around, and there’s more changes than that. Your enjoyment of this issue will probably depend on your appreciation for parallel universes, and since we all know that this reality is not long for this world, you may not have the patience for it, but I personally dig it. Age Of Ultron has certainly not turned out how I expected it to, and that’s probably a good thing. Just like with last issue, I really liked how Pacheco and Peterson were used to draw the different time-periods, they are both doing excellent work here, and whilst it’s a simple technique, it’s always effective. Also, Pacheco draws a great T-Rex.
Thanos Rising #2(of 6)– Now, this is a Jason Aaron cosmic comic! In this issue, Thanos’ origin continues and well, Aaron brings the darkness and edge to it like only he can. We see Thanos’ intellectual curiosity grow and grow, so that, spurred on by the mysterious girl (who is obviously Death right?) he moves on from dissecting lizards and animals, to kidnapping and experimenting on people. And then at the end, he’s doing it to his own mother! It’s sick stuff, and made even better by the fact that it’s taking place in Paradise. Titan is so idyllic and peaceful that they have no concept of murder. On his world, Thanos invented murder, he invented torture. That is a brilliant idea, and one which really shows how bad of a dude Thanos is. But crucially, Aaron is still managing at this point to make Thanos sympathetic and understandable. He’s a monster, but he doesn’t want to be. Simone Bianchi’s artwork is very strong here, the best I’ve seen from him since Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight probably, he’s perfect for the alien society of Titan. One thing I think is a bit odd about this title is that so far Thanos’ brother Starfox has been kept off screen. Is this because the character is too goofy to feature in a comic that is (presumably) aimed at people who see Avengers 2 or Guardians Of The Galaxy? Or is there something more to it? Hmmm…
Action Comics #20– My feelings about this issue are much the same as my ones for #19, this is a decent enough comic, but given the abortive nature of Andy Diggle’s tenure on the title, it’s kind of pointless. I actually read this issue more closely than I normally would in an attempt to pin-point what was written by Diggle and what was by Daniel, but I couldn’t really spot anything. As I said, the comic itself is good, we see Superman fight the strange ‘Hybrid’ that Lex Luthor has created, and discover that this whole thing is a plot by Luthor so he can save the day and be seen as the hero, which is just classic Lex really. We haven’t seen much of him in the New 52, but it’s good to see he’s still the same bastard. Is this the first appearance of Dr. Shay Veritas? Or has she appeared before? I certainly am not familiar with her, but my Superman knowledge is not complete. The best thing about this main story, what with all of the writing kerfuffles, is that the artwork by Tony Daniel is great, this is probably my favourite stuff from him since he worked with Johns on Teen Titans a few years ago. The back-up story from Lobdell and Philip Tan was actually pretty interesting, we get to see a young Jor-El and Lara, and there are a few interesting little continuity bits, like the fact that Lara was originally Jor-El’s bodyguard and was engaged to Jax-Ur (a Phantom Zone criminal) before she married him. Is the guy who shoots the Science Council dude at the end supposed to be Zod? He’s referred to as Colonel rather than General, so who knows?
Aquaman #19– Maybe I was distracted by the wasp that was buzzing around my room as I read this, but I found this issue of Aquaman to be really disjointed. Johns tries to accomplish a lot in this issue, and a lot of stuff happens, but I felt like each plot detail wasn’t given enough room to really sink in (no pun intended). The search for ‘The Scavenger’ continues, and there’s also Orm in prison, and the conspiracy to return him to the throne. Johns introduces a new character who of course has a mystery behind him and then you’ve got the original King Of Atlantis who attacks Mera. Mera escapes, but she somehow gets to wherever it is she comes from (isn’t it an alternate dimension?) and runs into some guy who claims to be her husband. It’s all too much! Oh, and in yet another attempt to make Aquaman bad-ass rather than goofy, Johns introduces a new version of Topo the Octopus, who is now a massive cthulhu monster rather than just an octopus. Most of the developments in this issue are interesting when taken on their own merits, but I just feel like they should not have all been in the same issue. Maybe I’m crazy, I dunno.
Animal Man #20– Taking a break from the depressing aftermath of Cliff Baker’s death, Jeff Lemire returns us to a story we last saw in #6, the movie career of Buddy Baker. This means that most of this issue is us seeing the film he was in, ‘Tights’, where he plays a washed-up superhero called ‘Red Thunder’ in a depressing drama reminiscent of The Wrestler. I really enjoyed this when Lemire did it in #6 and it’s just as good here, especially since John Paul Leon is drawing the movie sequences. This issue features the rise of Red Thunder, as he becomes famous. Lemire gets some fun commentary and digs in on reality TV and the nature of fame here, and we also get a shout-out to American Vampire, which is very cool. And then of course the fall, where Red Thunder loses his fame and has to fake his own death. I think it was very effective to end the movie sequence on Red Thunder’s son, paralleling him with Cliff. Buddy is watching the movie, and he and the audience are thinking of Cliff rather than the fictional kid (they are both fictional, I know, but you know what I mean, one of them is double-fictional or something). Then at the end, we find out that Buddy has been nominated for an Oscar for the movie! I love this idea, Lemire introduced the idea that Animal Man was a hero with a big connection the media early on, what with the evolve or die t-shirts and of course the movie, but it kind of got lost in the mix with all of the big Rotworld stuff, so I’m glad to have it back. This was just a great, almost self-contained superhero story, if you read this and #6 together it makes a great short superhero story. I hope there’s more Red Thunder to come, it’s a cool idea to do every year or so, and man, I’ll take JPL art however I can get it.
Swamp Thing #20– This was a very good issue of Swamp Thing, and one which made me think that, given the mess the Superman family of books are in, they could do worse than give Charles Soule the reigns of Action Comics. This story guest-starred Superman, and for me, Soule wrote the character really well, and had him use his powers in some pretty cool ways, such as bouncing his heat vision off of the Daily Planet globe to save people from far away, that was a great moment. Of course, this is not a Superman book, what’s important here is Swamp Thing, and Soule does a good job with him too. After being gassed by the Scarecrow, we spend a lot of the issue inside the mind of Alec Holland, and we get to see his fears, about how he made the wrong choice to fully become Swamp Thing at the end of Rotworld. These were very effective, creepy sequences and I think Soule has got a very strong handle on the dichotomy between man and monster. In the last issue with Swamp Thing, the character was struggling between protecting the plant world but in doing so harming humans, in this issue he talks to Superman about how to stay human, and it’s intriguing stuff. I’m very interested to see how Swamp Thing continues to walk that line. The ending was cool too, I wonder if this mysterious woman is the person who building all of the Oases that Swamp Thing had to destroy last issue? Kano’s artwork was very good in this book too, not especially flashy, but very effective. Luckily, I think the best thing he draws is Swamp Thing, which is a big plus, that famous face has rarely looked more tragic and ugly whilst still being human.
So there you have it.
My favourite comic this week is a toss-up between Superior Spidey and Animal Man, it’s rare that I give it to a DC book, so, in the spirit of reconciliation, I’ll give it to Animal Man #20! Congrats to Jeff Lemire and John Paul Leon, this is a more prestigious honour than even the Eisners!
Make sure you join me next week for a slightly shorter column, featuring the likes of Batman, Thor, Justice League Of America and the Avengers!