Good morrow handsome sirs and fair maidens! Welcome along to another exceptional comics reviews column from yours truly, Niam ‘Punchy’ Suggitt!
This week is pretty darn packed, even if there are only 2 DC books. Marvel unleash a torrent of excellence on us, with the final chapter of Kieron Gillen’s revelatory ‘Secret Origin Of Tony Stark’ story in Iron Man, there’s more Daredevil, some FF, Indestructible Hulk and more! But in sadder news, it’s the final issue of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, and even though it’s obviously coming back, it’s still a bummer.
Plus, Image are back in big way, with more of Matt Fraction’s Satellite Sam and Sex Criminals, as well as the debuts of two intriguing new series, Velvet and Pretty Deadly.
As always, you can click the link to access the forum discussions, which this week include complaints about how Rick Remender just makes every character hook up with each other, and also people being baselessly accused of misogyny. But then that’s every comics discussion these days isn’t it?
Iron Man #17– Kieron Gillen wraps up the epic ‘Secret Origin of Tony Stark’ storyline, with yet another shocking revelation. I’m not sure how I feel about it at the moment, but man, it’d ballsy, and I’m very excited to see where Gillen is going with this.
After initially revealing that Tony Stark had been manipulated since before his birth by 451 to be a technological messiah capable of piloting the Godkiller ship, Gillen swerved us by having Tony not actually be able to pilot the humongous death-robot. Why did this happen? Well, it’s because Tony is not the baby that 451 tampered with.
Once again flashing back, Gillen shows us that Howard Stark was nowhere near as trusting of 451 as we thought, and that he set about monitoring what was happening to his baby. Howard discovers that 451 had built in a failsafe that would cause the baby to die at Age 30. Howard worked to counteract this, and removed it, but he did more harm than good, as the baby was still born damaged, and was unable to breathe without technological help. Howard and Maria hid this baby, and adopted Tony as a decoy so that 451 would never now. This baby, named Arno, is still alive today, and has spent his entire life in a Hospice, inside an Iron Lung (hey, he’s an Iron Man too, very clever!), unable to speak except through a Stephen Hawking type deal, and waiting. Tony meets with him, tells Arno that because 451 is dead, he is free, and they plan to work together.
The revelation that Tony Stark is adopted is massive, and as I said, I’m not sure how I feel. It raises a lot of questions, like why the heck does Tony look so much like Howard (is it just the facial hair?) and what are the odds that a genius would adopt a baby who would turn out to also be a genius? But then that gets back to the very core of this story really, the question of nature or nurture. 451’s initial reveal said that Tony Stark’s genius was pre-designed nature, but now we see that really, it’s all nurture.
But there are a lot of exciting plots that can spin out from this. Who are Tony’s real parents? What is Arno’s personality like? Could he become a villain? Will he ever come into contact with the Godkiller? What does this Arno Stark have to do with the other one, the one from the year 2020 (which is only 6 and a bit years away)? Man, Gillen has turned Iron Man’s world around all over again, I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Carlo Pagulayan’s artwork was once again very strong, even when it’s just breakdowns finished by the inker, Scott Hanna. I think he’s brought a great half-way point between Land and Eaglesham for this book, and I’m glad he’s sticking around.
Indestructible Hulk #14– Another very enjoyable issue of Waid’s Hulk, and one that has a lot of fun revisiting the character’s origins.
The first few pages, before the plot really begins, are just a massive ball of awesome, as Hulk and Banner-ROB try and make their way to the final Chronarchist, only to be waylaid by all sorts of villains in crazy time-periods and situations. So we see Hulk fight the Abomination on the Moon, during the Moon Landing, he goes up against Sandman in Ancient Egyptian times and finally, against Fin Fang Foom on Christopher Columbus’ ship. This is Waid just having a blast with time-travel, and as I’ve said before, it’s a nice break from the more dour, realistic (if such a concept can be realistic) time-travel stories in other Marvel books. Adding to the fun is the fact that Hulk himself keeps shifting into other forms. So whilst he starts as the current version, we also get to see Mister Fixit and Gladiator Hulk from Planet Hulk show up again, which is always cool.
Eventually, Hulk and Banner do get to where they are trying to go, which is the Hulk’s point of origin. Waid does a good job here of reminding us of who the players were on that day, like General Ross being a dick to Bruce Banner, and the villainous Igor, but for Hulk aficionados, it’s nothing new. Luckily, we do find out more about the Chronarchists, and it turns out that Zarrko, the dude who sent Hulk on this quest, has been behind everything the whole time! Which in hindsight, is pretty obvious, but hey, the best twists always are. Basically what happens is that, just as Bruce Banner pushes Rick Jones into the trench and is about to get irradiated and Hulked up, present-day Hulk and Banner arrive, and Hulk pushes Banner into the trench too. Robo-Banner is able to get himself back inside his own, younger body, but what happens to the Hulk is much more interesting. What the hell happens when the Hulk is irradiated by Gamma Radiation? He becomes a Double-Hulk! With spikes and all kinds of hair and glowy eyes, it’s pretty awesome. Double-Hulk! How the hell is Banner supposed to stop this, and how has it fucked up the time-stream? Next issue is going to be crazy.
The art here was a bit of a mish-mash, with Mahmud Asrar drawing the first 5 or so pages, but then Kim Jacinto the rest, and they don’t have styles that mesh very well. In the previous issue, Jacinto’s style did complement Scalera’s, but here, one is very smooth and fluid, and the other a bit jagged. Both are good, but it was a disconcerting change. I did love Jacinto’s Double-Hulk, and seeing Asrar draw Fin Fang Foom did really bring to mind how similar he is to Immonen (although unfortunately, Fin Fang Foom didn’t put anyone in his pants this issue). So yeah good artists, but perhaps too different. But at least we got Double-Hulk.
Nova #9– More Infinity tie-in fun, as Sam Alexander goes up against Proxima Midnight’s strongest lieutenant, Kaldera. The best thing about this title is how Loeb, and now Wells have been writing Sam as an inexperienced kid, and how he doesn’t do things the traditional, expected, superhero way, and there was a lot of that here.
So, when Kaldera challenges him to unarmed combat, he accepts, but then cheats and becomes Nova anyway. It’s not something you expect from a hero, and that’s what makes it interesting. So, because he cheated Nova pretty easily defeats Kaldera, but there was some interesting stuff in this fight, especially when he picks up the helmet of another Nova that Kaldera killed, and it glows and says ‘transfer complete’. What transfer? Is Sam going to get this dude inside his head like Richard Rider did with Worldmind? Or has it increased his powers? That certainly was intriguing.
The ending was also good, with Proxima Midnight punishing Kaldera and locking her up in box without killing her. It looks she is going to be Sam’s first nemesis, and it’s going to be very exciting when she returns.
The New Warriors subplot continues here, with Justice and Speedball helping Sam to cheat, and getting all pally with his mother and sister. Now that we know that there is going to be a new New Warriors team and that these 3 are going to be on it, I am actually more interested in where this is going, although this plot does really bring with it my only real issue with this book at the moment, and it’s that Paco Medina’s artwork makes Speedball and Justice look the same age as Sam, when they must be at least 10 years older. In all other aspects, Medina’s art is great, but man, everyone looks way too young. Maybe he should just give all the adults beards.
Daredevil #32– Even though I’m not a big fan of Halloween as a holiday, and have a very low tolerance for Halloween-themed stories (especially in US sitcoms, with their oh-so wacky costumes, ugh, and fuck you if you have a Halloween-pun-themed Twitter name, it’s so lame), I did enjoy this spook-tacular issue of Daredevil, where he teams with the Legion Of Monsters, mainly because it didn’t really call attention to it being horror-themed and actually continued the main story in a way that makes sense.
After last issue ended with Matt Murdock walking in on what looked like Foggy committing suicide, Waid and Samnee reveal what was obvious in the first place, that it was fake, and that it was a dummy created by The Jester to fuck with Daredevil. I’m really enjoyed how Waid is writing Jester here, he comes across as a different kind of villain, and he really is doing the same rebuilding job he did with The Spot here. But I do love how that old layer of goofy incompetence is still there, as Jester’s plan fails because Matt Murdock is blind, and can’t see that the dummy is Foggy. He’s not phased by it at all and just leaves, but not after taking out some corrupt cops. This use of Daredevil’s blindness was not only a clever way for him to get an edge on the villains, but it also plays into the end of this issue as well, a nice bit of foreshadowing.
Matt and Foggy start to research the Sons Of The Serpent, and in amongst plenty of jibes about Foggy’s eating habits, we discover a lot more about their history, including their connection with the occult. Their origins are tied to a mysterious book called ‘The Darkhold’. Daredevil of course doesn’t know much about the occult, so he goes to visit someone who does, Doctor Strange, who points him in the direction of Jack Russell, AKA Werewolf By Night. I loved the scene between Daredevil and Doctor Strange, and how once again Waid comes up with cool new wrinkles and ways to reference Matt Murdock’s powers, how he doesn’t like to go inside the Sanctum Sanctorum because of all the weird smells and noises, and magical stuff that messes with his radar. I also loved the way Waid set us up for the reveal of where Matt was headed. A place where old ways are practiced, with otherworldly customs, Strange’s dialogue and Samnee’s shadowing art makes you think it’s Transylvania or some place like it, but nope, it’s Kentucky. That’s just a fantastic, funny moment, although I might not feel that way if I was from Kentucky!
Matt heads to Stone Hills and doesn’t really like what he sees. Or rather, what he doesn’t see. We the reader see Serpent insignia all over the place, but what Matt hears would seem to indicate that this place has all the worst aspects of the American south, racism and lynch mobs. They even describe the black people as monsters! Matt rushes off to save them, but because he’s blind, he doesn’t realize that the monsters aren’t black people, but literal monsters. The Legion Of Monsters! We knew it was coming from the cover, but it was awesome to see them appear, and for Daredevil to once again be plunged into an aspect of the Marvel Universe he’s not normally comfortable in. I particularly liked his interactions with Satana, and how Waid connected her father to Daredevil’s costume, another very cool little continuity nod.
In the course of the battle with the rednecks, Daredevil is shot, and it’s very surprising indeed, especially because at the end, it looks like he’s dead. Are the Legion Of Monsters going to rebuild him? They did the same thing with the Punisher, is this going to be the triumphant debut of Franken-Murdock? I would certainly like to see that!
This was just another fantastic issue of a fantastic book, Waid and Samnee are simply a brilliant team, and it’s getting boring just praising them, but they deserve it. This is probably the only thing with zombies and werewolves and Frankenstein that I’ll enjoy over the next fortnight. Thank you Daredevil, Waid and Samnee, for making Halloween marginally less shitty. (I almost said sucky then, but I realized that might be misconstrued as a vampire pun).
Uncanny Avengers #13– This was a quieter issue than the last few, but it was still excellent, and it shows how good this book, and how baffling it is that so few people online seem to be discussing it.
I think the smaller scale of the battle sequences was because Remender made them much more personal. So the opening fight between Havok and Horseman-Banshee was much more dialogue-heavy, and had a lot of Havok’s inner thoughts about his relationship with Banshee, how Vulcan killed him, and about the failure and/or success of Xavier’s dream. That personal ante was upped even further by Horseman-Daken’s torture of Wolverine, which was just brutal, both physically and mentally for poor old Logan. I especially liked how Remender tied Wolverine killing Daken into the Red Skull’s plans. It’s been a while since we’ve actually seen the Red Skull in this book, and at times, you can forget that the villains of this arc are reacting to another threat, so it was cool to have that reminder, and to know that the plan for this book remains as large as ever.
The way Horseman-Banshee was defeated was quite interesting, with Wasp flying down his mouth, and growing inside him, exploding his windpipe. It was hardcore, and I imagine some fans will be shocked to see Wasp, normally among the most flighty and passive Avengers, get so gory, but I liked it, and because Banshee isn’t actually dead, I didn’t mind. The Banshee fight also lead to the best thing about this issue, Captain America being deaf. All of the stuff with Cap not being able to hear and shouting everything was really funny, and since this book is normally heavy and dark, it was a nice bit of comic relief, especially because it came from an unlikely source.
The biggest plot developments in this issue involve Scarlet Witch and Wonder Man, who seem to have come around to working with the Apocalypse Twins, but it later turns out that Wanda has another plan. She is going to rapture up the mutants, but they aren’t going into pods to sleep, they are coming up in attack mode, to take out the Twins, which should be fun. Wanda and Simon then get it on, in a surprisingly steamy scene for comics. I first started reading the Avengers with the Busiek/Perez run, and their relationship was a big part of that era, so I’m glad to see it properly back.
Of course, the other characters in the story aren’t aware of Wanda’s secret, and that doesn’t bode well for her, as Rogue and Sunfire come across a beaten and battered Wolverine, who tells them that they need to stop Wanda. The tension between Rogue and Scarlet Witch has been bubbling since #1, but next issue it looks like it’s going to boil over. Rogue has Wolverine claws, and she’s coming for Wanda! I don’t think that’s quite what’s meant by ‘Unity’.
What else? Hmmm. Acuna’s artwork was fantastic as always, I’m sad to see him leave, and even though Thor didn’t do much in this issue, those two pages of him opening up a portal to bring down rain was awesome. I said this issue was smaller, but it wasn’t really, it was still crazy epic-sized.
Young Avengers #11– It’s a shame that the return of Adult Loki (well, he’s really more like Teen Loki) was spoiled by the announcement of the upcoming ‘Agent Of Asgard’ series and also by Tom Hiddleston, because it was a pretty cool moment, and it really should have been a surprise. But hey, in this day and age, there’s really no such thing as a surprise, and even though I do feel that Teen Loki is yet another example at playing to the Tumblr-crowd, at the moment, he does seem a lot less insufferable than Kid Loki was. Let’s just hope he doesn’t compare himself to Jon Snow next issue.
The reason for Loki’s transformation is because in this issue, the team discover what’s going on with Hulkling and their League Of Evil Exes. Leah phones up Loki and they find out that she is working with Mother and they have Hulkling trapped in the Mother Dimension. Mother and Leah’s scheme is to unleash all of the alternate reality versions of the Young Avengers onto Earth to cause chaos, and turn the adult heroes against the kids. I do find the idea of making the struggle between teenagers and their parents into overt text a bit odd, but that may be because I’m not a teenager or a parent, so I don’t have a dog in the fight, and don’t particularly hate my parents at the age of 24. To me, it feels a bit overblown, but I’m sure for this book’s target audience, it’s perfect.
Loki needs more power to take on Mother, so he gets Wiccan to zap him, and whilst he’s now a teen… he doesn’t have his full powers, so they need to change plans, and Plan B is for Wiccan to become the Demiurge. You all know I think Wiccan is a terrible character, and the fact that once again he’s the most important special guy in the world is infuriating. But I’m going to try and hold my tongue, and hope that my theory about Billy manipulating the whole universe to make himself a Campbellesque hero holds true. It pretty much as to if Gillen doesn’t want everyone who isn’t an idiot to puke.
I’m more interested in what’s going on with Marvel Boy, he seems to be tempted by the teasings of his exes, and he even goes so far as to shave his beard. It looks like someone other than Wiccan and Loki are having character moments now! Hooray! Now let’s hope for Miss America to actually have a personality sometime soon. Prodigy also had a good moment here, as he actually did some thinking, and got in touch with pretty much every other teen superhero in the Marvel Universe (or at least, every other teen superhero that hasn’t been gloriously murdered in Marvel’s superior teen Avengers book) in a page that reminded, me strangely of a scene from Wayne’s World (or maybe Wayne’s World 2) where Wayne constantly repeats ‘and they tell two friends’. I dislike the pop-culture references this book actually makes, so I’m just making up my own now.
There’s also some nonsense about how Kate is almost 21 and how she might turn evil, but it seems like that’s just nonsense because Noh-Varr is already 21, and you’re young if you still think you’re young or something pat like that. Basically, the fight is on for #12, let’s hope Wiccan dies!
This book has improved, but it still annoys and frustrates me, but perhaps a lot of that is because of the over-praise it gets from everyone else, I may be that shallow, I don’t know. I do know that McKelvie’s artwork is still consistently excellent, it is worth reading this book for him and Mike Norton. Even Emo-Loki doesn’t look too bad. I really don’t understand the love fans have for Loki, is it because of Tom Hiddleston’s excellent performance? Or is it because he’s skinny and a bit effeminate at times? Is he one of Lisa Simpson’s ‘Non-Threatening Boys’? If so, that’s ridiculous, because Loki is anything but non-threatening. Man, reading this book and more importantly, thinking about it, doesn’t half make me feel old and out of touch.
FF #13– Another very fun issue of FF, Lee Allred has really brought a much bigger sense of goofiness to what was already (should that be ‘allred-y’?) a silly book, and for me, it’s really paying off.
In this issue, we see what happened when the portal exploded at the end of #12. Ant-Man shrunk everyone down to microscopic size, and they escaped to the Blue Area of the Moon on the Impossible Man’s pants. Yes, you read that right, it’s pretty darn hilarious, especially when She-Hulk realizes where they are. Scott Lang new about what Doom was having Alex Power do all along, and so he’s managed to outmaneuver Doom and give himself time to plan… on the Moon. Because the time-stream is in flux, Kid Immortus doesn’t even know where the FF are.
Ant-Man plans to stay in Uatu The Watcher’s house, but Uatu wants them gone, but, in a crazy scheme, Scott waves an Ultimate Nullifier in Uatu’s face, and ties him to a chair. It turns out that the reason Uatu wanted the FF out, was because he has a female Watcher around on a date, and they were planning on getting it on. I’m not sure I ever wanted to think about Watcher-sex (I’m sure there’s some porn of it on the Internet somewhere, Rule-42 or whatever) but it is funny, and it shows the irreverent tone the Allreds are bringing her so well.
So, the FF have free run of the Blue Area, and the kids proceed to run off and have some fun. I really liked the reveal of how the Blue Area adapts to however you personally breathe, which meant that the fish kids could take off their helmets and swim, as for them, it was water. Of course, playing on the Moon isn’t particularly safe, and the kids run across the Red Ghost and his Space Apes, although for some reason there are multiple versions of them, trapped in some kind of weird dimension, perhaps where Red Ghost goes when he becomes intangible? I dunno, it was weird, but like most things in this book, it was funny, especially when the Moloids started copying the Apes (and of course, the Cling Eastwood reference).
In the end, things get a little bit more serious, as Scott realizes he needs to change his approach to Doom, he shouldn’t be trying to kill him in revenge for Cassie’s death, he needs to teach these kids the way of peace. It was good to see that Lee Allred can do more than just comedy, and that he’ll be able to see the darker side of Fraction’s story through. This book is just consistently great, even when it gets a bit too silly, the art from Michael Allred carries it through, and there is that darker side to it. Just a unique, fun ride, I can’t wait to see what happens when the FF and Doom do finally collide.
Wolverine & The X-Men #37– This is the penultimate chapter of ‘Battle Of The Atom’, and it pretty much does what penultimate issues are supposed to do, and that’s set up the big finale with a doozy of a cliffhanger.
The issue opens inside of Cyclops’ head, as Jean-Xorn tries to manipulate him, and she pretty much succeeds, buying the Brotherhood time to escape from the school. I liked how Aaron didn’t just have the two sides of the X-Men immediately team up to go after them. The tensions between Wolverine and Cyclops have not gone away, and they argue here, with Wolverine initially not wanting Cyclops’ team to help at all. It would have been easy to have this threat cause everyone to properly reunite, but I’m glad that’s not happening, the X-Men books have been so good lately with all of the ideological and moral splits, I want it to continue.
The Brotherhood (I was surprised to see that Molly Hayes and Xavier weren’t dead, but Xavier was appropriately crippled) and their prisoners, the OG X-Men, are still reeling from the discovery that the Originals can’t be sent back in time, so Future-Beast moves on to Plan B, and that’s to attack Cape Citadel, the military base that Magneto attacked waaaay back in Uncanny X-Men #1, and where the X-Men made their first ever public appearance. This of course draws the attentions of SHIELD, and we get the welcome return of Maria Hill’s hatred of the X-Men, which is always funny.
Before the big battle, Aaron makes time for a small scene between Quentin Quire and his future, Phoenixed-up self, which was good stuff. I don’t feel that Aaron has done as well as Wood has at making sure his own book’s unique tone and characters have been present in the crossover, but this scene made up for it, and so did the fun stuff with the various Icemen.
The X-Men head to Cape Citadel, and another big-ass battle with the Brotherhood begins, and it looks like the X-Men are winning, but it was all a trap. Even with Xorn-Jean as the only one left standing, she is able to use her powers to cause the 3 SHIELD heli-carriers at the scene to open fire against their will, making the X-Men believe they are being attacked by the humans, which doesn’t bode well for the future, dystopian or otherwise.
This was another very enjoyable issue of a fantastic crossover, and it really did feel like a big tribute to 50 years of the X-Men, not only because all of the characters were there, but because it returned to Cape Citadel, and even smaller stuff, like Jean-Xorn’s last line of the issue being ‘hope you survive the experience’. For long-time X-fans, this story has just been a treat, and Aaron has set things up very nicely for the final chapter next week. Giuseppe Camuncoli only provided breakdowns for this issue, and you could kind of tell, things looked a little rushed, but it was still strong stuff, and considering this event has been weekly, a small price to pay, especially since Esad fucking Ribic is drawing the finale.
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #28– And so, the 3rd volume of Ultimate Spider-Man comes to an end, but it’s not really an ending, it’s more of a new beginning for Miles Morales, and an issue that has me excited for whatever it is that’s next for him after Cataclysm (as long as whatever’s next doesn’t involve going to the 616 Universe, but I really think that’s unlikely).
The plot of this issue was very simple, with Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Bombshell, Cloak and Dagger attacking the Roxxon corporation and taking out not only Mr. Roxxon, but also his evil Brain Trust. I really enjoyed this confrontation, it’s been a long time coming, and it was made even better by the fact that Bendis revealed that Roxxon knew that Miles is Spider-Man. In fact, Roxxon is actually behind Miles becoming Spidey, as it was he who employed his Uncle Aaron to sneak into Oscorp back in #1. The 3 pages of repeated, narrow panels, with Roxxon explaining himself to an intense, silent Miles were very well done, especially with how Bendis makes it into a Batman Begins reference. Roxxon tries to intimidate everyone because he has the Police in his pocket, but Spider-Woman pulls rank on him thanks to her being an Agent Of SHIELD, and he’s taken in, as are Layla Miller and the other evil scientists.
So, Miles and the gang have won this battle, and Miles returns home to tell Ganke, that, yep, he is Spider-Man, in a great, iconic splash-page from David Marquez, who really has grown into a fantastic artist. At first, I thought his work was a bit stiff when compared to Pichelli, but now, it’s fluid and awesome and perfectly suited to this book’s tone and Bendis’ style. His return is complicated however by the fact that Roxxon has implicated his dad in some shady shit. We already know that Jefferson is a former petty criminal, but now it sounds like he was a bit more than petty. I’m excited to see where this plotline leads when this title returns, and by the fact that mysterious plotpoints from the past are still going to be important. There’s Miles’ dad, the whereabouts of the other 41 super-spiders, and more Roxxon stuff. The fact that Bendis is setting this stuff up proves to me that the Ultimate Universe is going nowhere.
At the end of the issue, Jessica Drew is debriefed by Black Widow/Monica Chang and it looks like they are planning on putting together a new SHIELD team made up of the ad hoc group in this issue. I’d definitely like to see that, one of the best eras of Ultimate Spidey with Peter Parker was when it became a quasi team book with Human Torch and Iceman, and doing that with Miles could be good, because from the little we’ve seen of them, Ultimate Cloak and Dagger, as well as Bombshell, are exciting characters. Maybe they’ll be the new Ultimates after everyone else dies? From the cover of Cataclysm Spider-Man #1, it does seem like the association is continuing, though I’m not sure Cloak could absorb Galactus like he did to Sterns in this issue.
I’m sad to see this title come to an end, but it’s not really ending, Bendis and Marquez are doing the Cataclysm mini, so that’s basically #29 onwards. Hopefully a new #1will bring more eyes back onto this book, because it really is one of Marvel’s best, and I think the fact that the Ultimate Universe has been floundering a bit has hurt it. Cataclysm needs to shake things up, and I think it will, and that the future is bright for Miles.
Aquaman #24– After delivering two of the best Villain’s Month issues, Aquaman returns with a fascinating story that delves deep into the history of not just Aquaman, but also Atlantis itself, and explains a whole lot of back-story.
Aquaman has woken up after being in a coma for 6 months, and he’s in Antarctica with only the treacherous Vulko for company. Vulko tells Aquaman that the Dead King and the Xebels have taken over Atlantis, and that Mera is missing. They then head into a massive crevice, which leads to a secret, ancient temple, with 6 massive statues and a throne made of ice. Aquaman sits on the Ice-Throne, and is given a mystical vision about what really went down when Atlantis sunk.
The story goes like so: Atlan was the King of Atlantis, and he was working to unite the world, by inviting all peoples and races to live there. But his brother, Orin, disagreed, believing that the races should be kept separate. Orin leads a revolution against his brother, and drives Atlan out of the Kingdom, as well as killing Atlan’s wife and children. It’s all pretty standard quasi-medieval stuff, but it’s decent enough. Atlan goes into hiding, and forges the Artifacts of Atlantis that Aquaman and The Others have used throughout this series. He comes back to Atlantis for revenge, and in the process, sinks it down to the bottom of the ocean. Most of the people died, but some could breathe underwater, and some of the races evolved into strange, different forms, such as… The Trench! Yes, the seemingly villainous Trench creatures are actually former Atlanteans. It’s clear from stuff like this that Johns has planned a lot of this back-story out since the very beginning of his run, and it’s cool that, even though he’s leaving soon, this will seem like a complete story.
Aquaman busts out of the Ice Prison, and Vulko tells him that he’s not actually descended from Atlan, but from the evil, racist Orin, which I think is a cool twist, especially for a storyline and setting where so much is made of ‘Birthrights’. Both Aquaman and Ocean Master’s claims to the throne are based on a lie, and it looks like the Dead King, who is Atlan, is actually in the right. It’s complex really, Atlan is responsible for sinking Atlantis to the sea, but he was driven to it by his brother. It’s not quite Game Of Thrones, but it’s not far off.
This was a very enjoyable issue, that really re-contextualizes a lot of Johns’ run so far, and I’m excited to see how it plays into the ending. Will Aquaman renounce his claim to the throne? I think he might. Paul Pelletier’s art was once again very strong, he gave the flash-back sequences an appropriate sense of grandeur, and man, that double-page spread of Atlantis’ fall was epic. Aquaman seems to be swimming (heh) under a lot of people’s radars at the moment, but it’s still very much worth reading, and if you dropped it, you should pick it back up.
Justice League #24– Following on from the Secret Society Villain’s Month issue, Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis fill us in even more on the strange, backwards world of Earth-3, in particular the life of Ultraman, and it’s very entertaining indeed to see how fucked-up his world is compared to ours.
We begin with Krypton about to explode, with people trying to escape, but then Jor-Il and his wife Lara kill them all, because they want their son, Kal-Il to be the only survivor. They send him to Earth, because he will be able to rule over them, and it’s clear that the House Of Il is nowhere near as nice as the House Of El. All throughout Kal-Il’s journey through space, he is told Fascistic messages about how weakness must be destroyed, and about how strength is the only way. It’s dark, twisted stuff, and it’s just great fun to see this funhouse version of the familiar DCU in far greater detail than ever before. Kal-Il of course crash-lands on the Kent Farm, but even Ma and Pa Kent are bad on Earth-3, Martha is a junkie and Jonathan a wife beater, again, it’s fucked-up. Baby Kal crashes down, and in a great, disconcerting scene, he lasers off Jonathan’s hand, and, even though he’s a baby, he can speak, and he tells the Kents that they are his parents now. But really, they are more like his prisoners. They try and escape when he’s 7, so he kills them and burns down the farm.
Johns then quickly shows us some more scenes from Earth-3’s past, like Ultraman killing President Lee Harvey Oswald (What the heck?), Hal Jordan being given the Power Ring, evil Superwoman Lois Lane seducing Ultraman, and finally, the arrival of whatever it is that destroyed the Crime Syndicate’s world. From the Secret Society issue, I thought it was the Anti-Monitor, but now it looks like it was Darkseid.
From here, the story moves to the ‘real’ world, and Ultraman’s musings about how our world coddles the weak, and how that goes against nature. I think it’s interesting that Johns seems to be indicating that the CSA believe they are doing the right thing somehow, that they are trying to toughen up this world so that when Darkseid comes back, it will be ready. It’s an interesting twist, and it manages to make this story less, as Ultraman says, about good and evil, and more about strength and weakness. The Grid gives Ultraman on overview of what’s going on, and Johns helpfully throws in a tidbit about how Ultraman will have to keep moving the Moon to keep the eclipse going. There were a lot of nitpicks about that moment in Forever Evil #1, so it’s cool to see it addressed.
Ultraman is supposed to go to Kahndaq to investigate an anomaly, but instead, he drops in on the Daily Planet, to see his our versions of Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen are comparable to his. It turns out they obviously aren’t. Earth-3 Lois is obviously the evil Superwoman, and Earth-3 Jimmy was some kind of pornographer who took pictures of Lois. Man. Ultraman intimidates the Planet staff, and is about the attack Lois (he’s long wanted to rip apart his version of her, but can’t because she’s equally strong), when the Kahndaqi problem he was supposed to check out comes to him. Yes, it’s Ultraman Vs Black Adam! That is going to be an epic fight next issue I can tell. We’ve seen Superman and Shazam have some awesome battles, but now we’ve got 2 evil doppelgangers (well, Black Adam isn’t really evil, but you know what I mean) set to go at it, it should be brutal.
This was another good issue of the Forever Evil crossover, it gave us plenty of cool insight into the incredibly messed-up Earth-3, and even developed The Grid as a character. Ivan Reis’ artwork was another big plus-point, because he’s drawn Superman and the other Justice Leaguers so often over the years, seeing him draw evil versions has a lot of impact. I may be alone, but I am enjoying this crossover. It’s not as good as Infinity, but not much is, this is Johns at his best, and it’s a far better event than most of his previous efforts.
Pretty Deadly #1– This new Western series from Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios should be right up my alley. It’s a Western, and I love Westerns, and I also enjoy DeConnick’s work for Marvel, and the previous collaboration between her and Rios, ‘Osborn’ was excellent and it’s been praised by many other reviewers and comics professionals. However, I have to admit that I did find this first issue a little bit disappointing. Now, I wouldn’t go as far as to rip up my copy, but apart from the fantastic art from Rios, I wasn’t really feeling this.
I am willing to give it a chance though, because I get the sense that the story DeConnick is trying to tell hasn’t really started yet, and that’s because the main character of Ginny doesn’t actually appear until the last page. Instead, the main story here focuses on Fox and Sissy, two mysterious wandering travelers who run into trouble. They arrive in a town, and tell the story of Ginny, the daughter of death for money. I did like this sequence, most of the time I roll my eyes when comics try and do poetry, but I think DeConnick did a better job than most here, and it’s the sequence that best showcases the melding of art and story, with the intriguing Tarot cards.
The problem with this issue comes from the number of characters introduced, and the fact that they aren’t really fleshed out. There’s Fox and Sissy, some creepy ginger dude, a huge woman called Big Alice, a black family, and more. It’s not clear who these people are, and what they have to do with Ginny at all. To make things even more confusing, when Fox and Sissy meet up with their partners out in the desert, they shoot at each other, making me at least think they were enemies. So, a few pages later, when they are all sitting round the same campfire, it was rather disconcerting. I suppose DeConnick is going for a dream-like, lyrical feel here, and the framing device and narrations of ‘Bunny’ and ‘Butterfly’ show that a lot, but instead of finding this muddiness appealing, it just jarred. This issue basically plunged us too much into a world and setting, and didn’t explain enough about it.
I will continue to read it, because I am intrigued by what’s going on, and the final page of Ginny appearing was actually a decent cliffhanger, but this title is certainly not great just yet. I get the feeling some people are just praising every Image Comic with a #1 on it these days, because their track record has been so strong. This was not the best first issue, but it could very well be a good series.
As I mentioned, what was good was Rios’ art, which was spectacular. I’ve always liked her, but this is her best work yet, and Jordie Bellaire, who because it rhymes I have to call a ‘colourist extraordinaire’ once again provides fantastic colours. With Western stories, colour and landscape is all-important, and Rios and Bellaire deliver. I think if you’re interested in this book, it might be better to wait for the trade. Sometimes mystery and unexplained characters can hook you, and sometimes it can just confuse, and here, it confuses. Let’s hope answers and clarity are forthcoming.
Satellite Sam #4– Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin continue to amble on with their tale of 1950s TV, and whilst this issue does have some fantastic moments, I am beginning to wonder about where all this is going.
I think the problem with this title is that there are so many characters, and a lot of them don’t get spotlight scenes that often, and because Chaykin’s character work is fairly repetitive (ie everyone looks great, but they also look the same) you forget who is who. Perhaps Fraction should not have the character bio page at the start, but instead use ‘Fraptions’ like he did on Uncanny X-Men. As an example of how there are loads of characters only getting little bits to do, the first 2 pages here are about Maria Melato, an actor on Satellite Sam who has barely done anything in the series up until now. In this issue, we see her husband, and see that her Mother-In-Law hates her and is racist. Then, Maria and her family don’t appear again for the rest of the issue. It’s mainly there to show how racist the past was. It’s the same for the scene that reveals that Guy Roth, the writer of Satellite Sam, is gay. That scene is just Fraction showing us a bit of how being a closeted homosexual worked in the 50s (and add another sleaze dimension), and whilst that probably will go somewhere, as another character notices Roth hugging another man, it’s still indicative of how disjointed this book feels.
What should be the main plotline of Michael investigating his father barely moves at all here, and neither does the LeMonde Network’s struggle for FCC funding. Of course, I probably am being impatient, Fraction and Chaykin are planting a lot of seeds here, and if and when they do all pay off, it could be very good. It’s a bit like Robert Kirkman’s Invincible and all of it’s various subplots, I guess I just get more excited by intergalactic Battle Beasts than I do racist mother-in-laws. That’s comics fans for you!
To Fraction’s credit, he does try to tie a lot of this issue’s events together by having everyone listening to the famous ‘Shot heard round the world’ baseball game between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Being British (and also a Cubs fan) I’m not too knowledgeable about baseball history, but thanks to Don DeLillo’s novel ‘Underworld’ I know all about this game, and it was cool to have it pop up here, and really, when you think about New York at this time, a lot of your positive feelings will be about the dominance of their 3 baseball teams. It’s probably the most ‘Mad Men’ this book has felt, and it’s probably why I liked it so much.
This book is enjoyable in moments, the dialogue is snappy, the art is great, and the sheer sleaziness is a lot of fun, but in the macro-sense, I’m still not feeling it. You have to applaud the efforts of the creators though, this is a unique comic, and even if it’s not quite pulling off it’s ambitions, the fact that it actually has ambitions is better than most.
Sex Criminals #2– I enjoyed the second issue of Sex Criminals a bit more than the first, and that’s probably because I think it fulfilled the ‘comedy’ part of ‘a sex comedy for comics’ much better than #1. This is probably because this issue focuses on Jon, and it’s a lot easier to make (and for male creators to depict) male sexuality and approaches to sex funny. I don’t want to generalize too much, but girls discovering sex is (as depicted in the media) a lot more personal and quiet, and that was reflected in #1, whereas boys discovering sex is basically filthy porn and jerking off, and it’s a lot easier to make that amusing.
This dichotomy is most obviously expressed by the different names for the slowed-down-time that Jon and Suzie use. Suzie calls it ‘The Quiet’, which is lyrical and thoughtful, whereas Jon just calls it ‘Cumworld’, which is, yeah, it’s very male, and very funny.
This issue continues the framing device used in #1, with Suzie and Jon robbing the bank in The Quiet/Cumworld, but we find out more about it, and see that there are other people able to access it, and those people seem to want to stop the robbery. We then have Jon regaling Suzie with how he discovered he could stop time by ejaculating, and it’s a tale that’s rather familiar. He was intrigued by sex, but didn’t know anything about it, until he found some porno in the woods. I personally am too young to have had a ‘porno in the woods’ moment (I could just go on the internet, hooray!) but it’s a common cliché, and one that’s treated as the cliché it is. Jon uses Cumworld to learn about sex, he sneaks into a bank, jerks it, and then goes into a nearby sex shop to look at all the magazines, books and videos he wants to. Fraction and Zdarsky excel here at coming up with funny porno names, they are even better than the fake sex positions in #1. Jon also tells us how he exits Cumworld by getting another erection, and this leads to a very funny scene where he pops up in the middle of the sex shop and is chased away.
Perhaps the only scene I didn’t really like here came at the end of the issue, where Suzie imagines Jon’s ‘porno-crush’, the hilariously named Jazmine St. Cocaine, lecturing her about not disrespecting pornstars and insinuating they were abused, stuff like that. I get what Fraction was going here, he’s trying to reflect complex, whatever-wave-we’re-on-now feminist opinions, but I think raunchy sex comedies like this shouldn’t start trying to be respectful of porn at the same time as having joke pornos like ‘Crazy For Cock Volume 9’. Can you imagine if, after the transsexual prostitute scene in the 40 Year Old Virgin, Steve Carell had started lecturing people on the horrific reality of transphobia rather than making jokes about adam’s apples being as big as penises? Fighting transphobia and sexism and all prejudice is important, and has a place, but not in silly sex comedies.
This book can either be funny and sleazy, or it can be respectful, I don’t think it can be both, but I suppose I am interested to see it try, the way this book has spread it’s attentions onto the female just as much as the male is different from most sex comedies, and this could be another step. It just felt jarring to me, like when The Wizard started rambling about heteronormativity and cisgender in the pages of Fraction’s FF.
But apart from that, this is still a great book, Zdarsky’s artwork is perfect, and pretty much unique, and the tone it strikes is mostly spot on. I laughed more at this issue than the first, so yep, the sex comedy for comics could very well be becoming a reality. Just not cumming a reality we hope.
Velvet #1– The second Image #1 this week, and unlike Pretty Deadly, I really felt that this one lived up the hype. Like most other right-minded human beings, I loved Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s espionage-tilted take on Captain America, and it’s fantastic to see them do something with that same feeling and tone, but without those pesky superhero trappings. The elevator pitch here is basically ‘What if Miss Moneypenny was secretly even more bad-ass than James Bond?’ and even though they already made Moneypenny pretty bad-ass in Skyfall, Velvet Templeton has her beat I think.
Set in 1973, Velvet Templeton is the secretary to the Director of ARC-7, a spy organization so top-secret, even other spy agencies don’t know they exist. After Jefferson Keller, Agent X-14 is murdered on a mission, the agency is sent into chaos, and when a former agent, Frank Lancaster (X-02) is believed to be behind it, Velvet Templeton thinks something is fishy. I liked how almost all of the agents at ARC-7 seemed to be white men with dark hair, sort of indicating that they are all James Bond homages, just different Bonds, and perhaps referencing the somewhat common theory that Bond is not a person, but a codename.
The tone of this book seems to be sort of halfway between the dark, depressing reality of John Le Carre spy novels, and the more action-packed, sexy James Bond stories, and Brubaker pulls it off really well. Brubaker also packs in plenty of interesting character details about Velvet, with a few intriguing flashbacks and a teasing central mystery about just how and why she was given the position of secretary, when as we see in this issue, she’s a more than competent field agent. There’s also a mystery about the present to deal with, as, due to her misgivings over the guilt of Frank Lancaster, Velvet visits one of his former safe-houses, where she discovers his corpse, and also that she herself has been set up. Another white dude with dark hair (Roberts) appears, and accuses her of being a traitor. However, because he thinks she’s just a secretary, Velvet is able to kick the butt of not only him, but also his men, and go smashing out the window.
So not only do we have the mysteries of Velvet Templeton’s past, but we also have the question of who is framing her, and how far does the conspiracy go? This was just a perfect first issue, the characters are already interesting (it does help that they are somewhat archetypical, but Brubaker is already moving past the Bond comparisons I feel, I’ve probably over-done it here myself), there’s plenty of action, and most of all, the world of spies in 1970s Britain feels fully realized. We’ve seen Brubaker write stories set in the past before, on Fatale, on The Marvels Project, and he really nails a sense of time and place like few other writers can.
Steve Epting’s art is also fantastic, he brings the same slick, but dark feel to this as he did to Captain America, and the facial expressions he gives to Velvet have gone a long way to building her as a character in a short space of time, especially in that flashback where she and Keller smoke a joint.
If you’re a fan of Brubaker’s Captain America, you need to check this out, if you like spy novels and movies, you need to check it out, and hey, if you liked the trailer for Captain America: The Winter Soldier that came out this week, you should buy this book, it’s the same people who came up with that story, but darker, more in the real world, and with a bad-ass chick. There’s even a Jess Nevins article, what’s not to like?
Uncanny #4– One of the biggest things that sets Andy Diggle apart for me as a great writer, is the way he does big action scenes. He does some of the best action set-pieces around, if you read The Losers, or Six Guns or Silent Dragon, there’s stuff in there that’s better than any Hollywood movie (and I include the pretty bad Losers movie in that). This issue of Uncanny is pretty much entirely devoted to Weaver and Maggie pulling off a heist, and it is just fucking great, although that may be because I’ve spent the last 3 weeks immersed in GTA V and this issue reminded me of that. But I reckon even if I hadn’t played GTA, I’d still have loved this.
We begin with perhaps the best demonstration yet of Weaver’s powers. He’s back in New York, and waiting for a fellow criminal who he pretends he wants to hire to be his wheelman for the heist. Just as the guy is about to accept, he places his hand on the money, allowing Weaver to touch him, steal his awesome driving skills (I imagine he can slow down time like Franklin in GTA V, shit, I need to stop referencing) and knock him out. I loved that moment, and it showed how Diggle is thinking outside of the box here, and really using superpowers to enhance his crime story.
After this we get an awesome, extended chase and action sequence through the City, as Weaver, driving a Garbage Truck, tries to take out the car carrying their target, that guy with a briefcase full of secrets about everyone with powers and how to give people powers. It’s a thrilling sequence, with Diggle largely allowing Aaron Campbell to tell it, and it’s great. I said that Diggle does great action sequences, but a lot of that is really down to the artist, and Campbell does his best work so far here. I think I’ve said this before, but when you’ve got a Sean Phillips cover, and the interiors are just as good, you know you’re onto a winner.
At the same time as Maggie and Weaver are trying to chase this car, the mysterious Deacon Styles is also running into trouble, as his skyscraper is attacked by some black helicopters. This leads to the discovery that Styles has a power, he seems to be able to kill people with his mind, and he does this to Helicopter pilot, causing a massive fucking crash, that’s once again, very well paced and drawn. In the end, Diggle throws another twist at us, with Weaver and Maggie succeeding in getting to the car, but it’s empty! They’ve been set up, and are immediately attacked by some SWAT goons. It’s a great ending, and it was pretty obvious that Styles wasn’t telling the truth.
I’m really enjoying this series, I really urge everyone to check out the trade, you won’t be disappointed, this is a crime comic with a really cool sci-fi edge, and it’s doing a better job than most genre mash ‘em ups and melding the two worlds.
Boom! I think we rocked there, if only just a little. My fave comic this week was either Velvet or Daredevil, with Iron Man as an outlier, because for once, everything I thought I knew actually did turn out to be wrong! You go Gillen! But srsly, check out Velvet, and if you’re not reading Daredevil, you’re probably as dead as the Legion Of Monsters.
Next week is a 5th week, which used to mean a quieter time, but not these days, Marvel is basically like normal, and DC are releasing a load of Annuals at once, which means everything’s more expensive. But it’s not all bad, especially as Saga returns, along with the penultimate issue of Infinity and the first issue of the Damian: Son Of Batman mini-series. I’ve missed that evil child, it’s great to have him back, albeit in an alternate reality.
Oh yeah, and a little book called Sandman returns with Overture, you might not have heard of it, it’s very niche. It’s a shame the writer of it never made it and that he’s had to return to this poxy little project just to make ends meet isn’t it?
But yes, Sandman is back, and I am pumped! See you in a week!
You can follow me on Twitter @NiamSuggitt and I have a blog thing at niamsuggitt.tumblr.com. In other self-promotion news, I was on a Podcast this week chatting about professional wrestling with my good pal Kieran Shiach. If you’re interested in that other spandex-clad fighting medium, head over to nicedaypodcast.tumblr.com to listen, or search for Have A Nice Day on iTunes.
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