Guten Tag! Wilkommen to yet another edition of my glorious comics reviews column. This week is a big ‘un for sure. There’s the final issues of the ‘Battle Of The Atom’ and ‘Lights Out’ crossovers, as well as the penultimate chapter of Infinity. There’s also new issues of Superior Spider-Man, Avengers A.I., Kick-Ass 3, a whole bunch of DC Annuals and perhaps the biggest thing in comics all year… the return of Neil Gaiman to his most famous creation, Sandman: Overture. It’s good, it’s damn good.
As ever, click the links to go the Outhouse forum discussion, this week, I’m mostly arguing about Lying Cat from Saga. I think it’s a terrible, lame concept, but others seem to love it, what side are you on?
Superior Spider-Man #20– With all of that time-travel nonsense over with, and Horizon Labs shut down, it’s time for the Superior Spider-Man to move on to the future, but try as he might, Doc Ock’s past keeps catching up with him. In this issue, Dan Slott brings several elements from SpOck’s life before he became SpOck back to bite him in the ass, and it’s great to see a lot of these chickens coming home to roost.
First up is Peter Parker’s doctoral thesis presentation, which initially wows the professors, until Doctor Lamaze blasts Peter for plagiarising from Doctor Otto Octavius! I really like this move, and it shows how, for all the thinking outside of the box he’s done, Ock is still the same arrogant fool. He’s being accused of plagiarising himself in essence, and it may scupper all of his plans for Parker Industries, and that could spell bad news for a lot of people, as not only has he put all of Peter Parker’s savings into it as collateral, but Sajani Jaffrey and Jay Jameson have also invested. At this point, I’m looking at all of Otto’s decisions with one eye on ‘how fucked is Peter Parker going to be when he comes back to this?’ and this whole situation is totally going to screw Peter in so many ways.
At least Ock still has his burgeoning relationship with Anna Maria. Of course, at the same time as developing his romance with her, he’s ruining all of Peter Parker’s other female entanglements. MJ has been alienated, and seems to be moving towards a relationship with that Fireman, Carlie Cooper is pretty much onto him and is warning everyone else to stay away, and more immediately, Black Cat is now a full-time enemy. I loved how Slott went against what the cover to this issue suggested, and had Spider-Man fight Black Cat rather than flirt. It’s a clever move to have Ock not be aware that Spider-Man and Black Cat have a personal history and to just see her as a villain, and who knows, this move could be his biggest mistake.
I’ve kind of wandered away from my whole ‘Doc Ock’s past comes back to haunt him’ through-line, but the issue does feature throughout, and end with, the return of Stunner. If you don’t remember Stunner, because hey, she’s from 90s Spider-Man, and those were dark days, she was Octavius’ lab assistant, who, whilst obese, was able to create a virtual reality version of herself that was super-buff and super strong. She was in love with Doc Ock, and in this issue, she wakes up from a coma at the exact same moment as Peter Parker in Doc Ock’s body dies, and swears vengeance on the man she thinks killed her one true love… Spider-Man. So, not only is SpOck being accused of plagiarising himself, he’s also being punished for the murder of… himself. This is so cool, and it’s so good seeing Spider-Man’s back against the wall, and imagining how he’ll think his way out of these messes.
Camuncoli’s art was great throughout, and the best bit was that amazing panel of SpOck freaking out at Lamaze’s accusations and the impressionistic Superior Spidey appearing in the background, so cool. This book is, as we all know, so good, and as we near the endgame and the upcoming Goblin War, it’s great seeing Slott fully explore all of the ramifications and possible stories this concept can bring. Whoever thought that Stunner would return? Nobody, but it’s happened, and it’s
Avengers #22– This issue of Avengers isn’t the most action-packed chapter of Infinity, but it does a damn good job at bridging the gap between this week’s #5 and the upcoming final issue, and it also features some of Hickman’s best character work.
My biggest problem with Jonathan Hickman has always been that he gets way too caught up in his grand cosmic plans and endgames, that the characters within them suffer, and yes, whilst the romance between Cannonball and Smasher, and the doubts that Manifold is having do come out of nowhere here, it’s great to see them at all, and given the epic scale of what’s been going on in Infinity, it does kind of make sense. The Avengers haven’t had time for character moments, but now they do, and it’s very interesting indeed.
We pick up right where Infinity #5 left off, with the Avengers and their allies heading back to Earth to fight Thanos. We see Cannonball and Smasher making out, and there’s a fun scene with Sunspot’s reaction to this new development. The friendship between Cannonball and Sunspot has been one of the rare comedic parts of Hickman’s Avengers run (along with the absent from Infinity Superior Spidey) so it’s good to see that appear again, and also for Smasher to get some development, which she hasn’t had since her origin issue really. We then see the attack on Titan which Thanos was told about in Infinity, with Falcon and Hyperion leading the charge, and then Black Dwarf, one of Thanos’ lieutenants returns to the story. He was dismissed by Thanos for failing to conquer Wakanda, and now we see that he’s taken over SWORD’s Peak Station, and oh man, is he pissed, it’s going to be great to see him go up against the Avengers.
After this, the preparations for the final battle begin, Captain America is now back in contact with Iron Man, and a plan is forming. They need to break Thanos’ blockade, and to do that they have to go through The Peak. It looks like the plan is for Manifold to teleport a select group behind the blockade, which makes sense. Manifold however is kind of scared, he’s never done anything on this scale before. As I said, Manifold’s fear is sort of coming from nowhere, but it does make sense, this is on a much bigger scale than anything he’s done before with either the Avengers or the Secret Warriors. Captain America and Captain Marvel try and reassure him by telling him not to over-think it, to not over-mythologise and to just think of it as a job, as a fight like any other. Thor on the other hand has another point of view, he does believe in grand cosmic destinies and that all of his life and Eden’s life has lead to this moment. This was a grand speech, and I’m not sure which side of the coin I’m on. I suppose Thor’s view and the two Captain’s views represent the two sides of Hickman stories, the grand cosmic clockwork, but also the small people within them. Oh man, I’m getting meta on your asses now!
Anyways, it was some great Thor writing, and it has me pumped for the last few parts of this epic story. Leinil Yu’s art was once again excellent. Part of what’s made Infinity so good is not just Hickman writing all of it, but it’s the art, Cheung, Opena, Weaver, Yu and Deodato are all top-level artists, and they all have similarish styles, it’s just all so good, I’m sad it’s nearly over, but sill very excited indeed.
Avengers A.I. #5– After a crazily fast-paced opening storyline, Sam Humphries slows down a little, and we get a very enjoyable issue that starts to delve into who these characters are, and also develop the ongoing Human/A.I. conflict.
Let’s start with the character on the cover of this issue, the mysterious Alexis. She and Vision head to New York to try and stop an angry protest at the banks, caused by what Dimitrios did a few issues ago, where he randomly redistributed money from one person’s account to another. Of course, because these problems were caused by A.I. the appearance of these two, even though they are Avengers, only makes things worse. To add to that, Alexis starts freaking out again, seeing visions (no pun intended) or weird alternate versions of herself, and also little glimpses of the future, like what Vision is about to say next. She bursts off, and people think she’s gone crazy, but she’s actually inside her own head, fighting a giant version of Dimitrios that is ‘The Encryption’ that’s blocking her memories. She defeats The Encryption after a fun fight, and is on her way back to being restored. She doesn’t have her memories yet, but they will come, and she now knows that she is one of The Diamond’s ‘Original 6’ and is ‘The Protector’, not just of A.I., but of all life. I like that Humphries hasn’t gone all the way here, and that there’s still a lot of things that can be revealed in the future. Alexis then uses her precognitive powers to see which protestor is going to blow himself in the near future, and throws him into the air, saving everyone, which is of course, a good thing.
Hank Pym meanwhile, is in kind of a funk after the death of Victor Mancha, and has locked himself in his lab. After some very funny scenes with Doombot (I don’t think Doombot will ever not be hilarious to me) and Monica Chang, Monica gets into Pym’s lab, and finds him… playing video games. It turns out that Pym is trying to create an ‘Infinite Game’ (isn’t that just Animal Crossing?) but really, it’s all a way for him to cope with his being bi-polar. I’m not sure if Marvel have ever actually come out and outright said Pym is bi-polar before now, but it makes sense for his character, and I love that he’s mapping his entire brain and trying to hack himself so he’ll stop being depressed. Monica tries to get Hank to snap out of it and realise that Victor’s death isn’t on him, but it’s not working just yet.
Of course, Hank’s depression is kind of all for nothing, as it turns out that Victor isn’t actually dead! Tumblr, stop your weeping now! Yes, Victor is still alive inside The Diamond and the conflict with Dimitrios is far from over. This was a very strong issue of this book, and as I said, after the hyper feel of the first 4, a bit of a slow-down was necessary. I know feel like Humphries has a better handle on these characters, especially Pym and Alexis, than before, and he still managed to cram in some great moments of humour and mad ideas.
Valerio Schiti stepped in on the art with this issue, and I was once again very impressed by him, it’s not quite as perfect for an A.I. world as Araujo, but it was very good superhero stuff, and the facial expressions were fantastic, which is paramount for a book with this level of humour and weirdness.
I think this issue marks the way this book should be going forward, with Humphries leavening the craziness with a bit more focus. But hell, I love the craziness too.
Guardians Of The Galaxy #8– The Guardians step into Infinity, with a very enjoyable issue full of the usual Bendis blend of great dialogue and fun action scenes, as well as some brilliant art from Francesco Francavilla. You wouldn’t think his style would work for a space book, but it does.
We begin with the Guardians learning about Thanos’ attack on Earth, and arguing about what they should do. Gamora wants to attack right away, but Star-Lord is more cautious. Bendis then does something that will please a lot of old-school (well, DNA-era) Guardians fans, he moves even closer to explaining what went on inside the Cancerverse. Gamora asks him why he and Drax and Nova didn’t just kill Thanos when they had the chance. Whilst we don’t get any concrete answers here, I can just feel that an answer is coming soon, and when it does… oh man, I’m excited. Star-Lord deflects, and asks why Gamora didn’t kill her ‘father’ when she lived with him. Gamora is understandably pissed off, and flies off on her own, presumably to try and kill Thanos herself.
The rest of the Guardians meanwhile are contacted by Agent Brand of SWORD, and are tasked with saving her from Thanos’ forces that have overran The Peak Station. This is a stealth-mission, so Groot and Drax won’t be much use, so it’s basically just Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon Vs a whole army. They bust in, rescue Brand, and start taking names. I very much enjoyed these action sequences, the in-fight banter was top notch (an actually good Star Wars reference!) and Bendis even made fun of the whole ‘Murdered You!’ catchphrase thing that Rocket has going on.
But really, 2 people and a Raccoon-thing don’t really stand a chance against all these aliens, and our heroes are quickly surrounded. Star-Lord calls for Drax and Groot to help out, but their ship has been discovered and they can’t help. But something does come to the rescue, or rather, someone, as Angela blasts into the room and saves the day. I was actually surprised to see her show up, as I expected her to be gone for a longer than 21 pages, but I suppose Gaiman was still listed as a consultant, so I should have expected it. Either way, it’s a cool moment, and a great set-up for next issue.
Francavilla’s artwork, was, as I said, great. His style isn’t really what you’d think of when picking an artist for this book, but it’s always best to try something new, and I think it works here. I especially liked the colouring here, and how he had the yellow on Star-Lord’s costume and the red on Rocket Raccoon’s really stand out. I’m still not really sold on those outfits, but Francavilla is making them work.
X-Men: Battle Of The Atom #2– It’s the final chapter of one of the best X-Men events of recent years, and I have to say… it was a bit of a let-down. Most of this issue was just one big fight, and after all of this mess, it doesn’t seem like that much has really changed for the X-Men. I mean, none of the present-day characters even died! What is an X-Men crossover for if not to randomly kill people off?
That said, the big fight that we did get was pretty good, especially because Esad Ribic was drawing it. I was surprised to see him involved in this type of story, but it really worked, and man, that splash-page of the Sentinels was amazing. Because yes, this issue involved Sentinels. It turns out that the missiles SHIELD were firing on the X-Men weren’t just ordinary missiles, nope, some of them were Sentinels. This raises a lot of cool, interesting stuff for the future, how can the X-Men trust SHIELD now? Will Wolverine carry on as an Avenger? I’m excited to see that plot play out.
In the course of the battle, a couple of Future dudes die, including Beast, Jubilee, Colossus and Xavier. This of course drives Xorn-Jean even crazier, and she rounds on the two characters most closely linked to her, Cyclops and Wolverine. She blames them and their arguments for the terrible future, and that fight is probably the highlight of the issue, there was so much emotion behind it. In the end, it’s up to the original X-Men to defeat Jean, and they do so, but it’s a shame that Ribic couldn’t draw these last few pages of main story. Camuncoli is good, but you could tell he was rushed here. Jean-Xorn explodes, allowing the Brotherhood to escape.
And that’s the end really, there are a few epilogues, where we see the rest of the future X-Men head back to the future (minus Storm and Black Panther’s daughter, Kymera, who is staying in the present to hunt the remaining Brotherhood members) and Ice-Master gives a little tease that Nightcrawler is coming back soon. Despite Xorn-Jean’s arguments, Cyclops and Wolverine don’t patch up their differences, and Wolverine tells Cyclops to leave SHIELD to him. We also see Jubilee bond with Adult Shogo, which was a pretty nice scene, and then, at the end, something big finally happens, as Bendis and Immonen have Kitty Pryde and the Original 5 X-Men defect from Wolverine’s side to Cyclops’. Oh man, that was actually pretty cool. I think that moment is the only thing spinning out of this crossover that has me excited. I suppose the possibility of the Future Brotherhood still being around is cool, but really, I’m more interested in the characters we know, and the ongoing ideological war between Wolverine and Cyclops. This looks like being the next big step.
So yes, whilst this was a bit of a damp squib of a finale, this has been a fantastic event, and the future still looks bright for the X-Men. This group of books hasn’t been this good since the 80s!
Infinity #5(of 6)– It’s the penultimate issue of Infinity, and no big surprise here, it’s bloody good, especially because, at the end, the two seemingly separate plotlines finally start to converge, as the Avengers discover what Thanos has done, and plot a course back home to Earth.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, there’s still the matter of those death-crazed Alephs to deal with, but in the end, they are actually dealt with fairly easily, as the Avengers have now inspired the galaxy to fight back and win. It’s here that Hickman brings back the concept of an ‘Avengers World’ with the pretty awesome image of a bunch of aliens hoisting up a giant ‘A’, Iwo Jima style. Hickman started using this phrase in #1 of Avengers, and of course, there’s a new series using that name starting up, and man, after reading this issue I am much more excited for that series, especially if it’s this grand in scale. Of course, it’s not all just the Avengers inspiring people, we do still get to see the Hulk smash an Aleph. I suppose there is an issue here with how easy the Alephs were defeated, but I’m not sure we’ve seen the last of them and The Builders. So, after saving the Galaxy and inspiring billions of aliens, Cap, Thor and the rest stop for a part and a drink, only for Gladiator to spoil the mood and tell them that, in their absence, Earth has been conquered by Thanos.
Most of this issue was focused on the Earth-based side of the story, so I loved it, and we got some very interesting developments. Ebony Maw captures Thane, but not after giving him a costume to control his powers. We’ve not seen too much of Thane so far, but he seems like he could be a great addition to the Marvel Universe, and man, Ebony Maw is just a fascinating villain, you’re not sure what he’s up too, and he could very well be moving against Thanos here. Speaking of Thanos, he’s deep in the heart of the Illuminati’s secret base, trying to gain access to the WMDs they created in order to destroy other Earths in the Incursions. It turns out Black Bolt is still alive (yay!) and that’s how Thanos gains control of the bombs, as Supergiant reads his mind. We also finally see Thanos come face to face with Thane, and whilst it is kind of silly that the only motivation for this whole story is because Thanos wants to kill his son, I do like how crazy it makes Thanos seem, and from Avengers #22, it’s clear that this is Hickman’s intention, plus, it does link nicely with Jason Aaron’s recent mini-series.
Meanwhile, The Illuminati are back from dealing with an Incursion, and they team up with Maximus and Lockjaw, and head to Wakanda, and then to the Necropolis to make a final play to save Earth from their own bombs. As Thanos is just about to kill Thane, he receives a transmission from Titan… that the Avengers have attacked it, and are on their way. Oh fucking yes.
This final issue has a lot to do, but if Hickman can pull it off, then this will definitely go down as one of the best crossovers ever, and I say that as someone who loves most crossovers, even ones that most people hate. The dual artists of Opena and Weaver continue to do great work on this series, and I have to say that Weaver draws the best Lockjaw ever, apart from maybe Kirby himself. I think Jim Cheung is returning for #6, which will be good, but these two have done fantastic work here, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for them (the return of SHIELD? Maybe?).
Kick-Ass 3 #4(of 8)– The half-way point of this series is here, and things are really starting to move quickly now, as Mark Millar ratchets up all of his various subplots and even adds a new one into the mix.
After their failed attempt to do a ‘Batman: Year One’ to Rocco Genovese, Kick-Ass and Justice Forever make their way back to their home base, in time for a big confrontation with The Juicer, who has been auditioning new members for the team behind everyone’s back. Kick-Ass is pissed, so he kicks Juicer out, but this only pisses everyone else off. I liked how Mark Millar referenced Civil War here, it’s funny to me that he can now reference his own stuff like this. The commentary continues as Dave translates his anger at Juicer and the rest of the team turning on him by arguing on the CBR forums about Villain’s Month and Canadian superheroes. Now, whilst Millar obviously should have used The Outhouse here, it was still funny stuff and a nice reminder that Dave Lizewski is very much like you and me. I didn’t think the detail of Todd fucking one of Dave’s old teachers was very funny though, sometimes Millar gets too crude even for me.
What’s less crude is the advance in the relationship between Dave and Valerie, which is still surprisingly sweet. I know Millar is known as the master of putting rape in comics and being awful, but scenes like this, and quieter stuff like Superior and 1985 show he can be nice sometimes. Of course, now that I say this, Valerie will turn out to either be a villain or be raped and murdered next issue, so yeah.
The Genovese plotline continues, as Chris is forced by his uncle to beat up the Guard who let Kick-Ass through last issue, and we see what Rocco’s big plan is, to unite all of the New York Gangs under his rule. Millar interestingly spins off a new plot here, as Vic Gigante, the crooked cop who has been working for the Mafia since the first series has had enough of Rocco, and starts a plan with his fellow corrupt cops to rob Rocco and flee the City. How does he plan on doing this? They are going to dress up like superheroes of course! You can just see how badly this is going to turn out for Kick-Ass and everyone else.
Hit-Girl only has 3 pages in this issue, but they are effective, as she is tied to a gurney after a failed escape attempt, and it seems like Millar is going to delve a bit into what makes her tick, as the Psychiatrist brings up her mother. It’s been a brave decision for Millar to keep Hit-Girl on the sidelines of this series so much, and it’s working for me, building the anticipation for her escape to fever pitch.
Romita’s art was of course, excellent as ever, but for me, this was the best issue of this Threequel so far, all the plotlines are moving quicker now, and hyper-violence is just around the corner. Plus, Millar is actually showing a softer side for once.
Action Comics Annual #2– As you all know (presumptuous, moi?) I don’t read Scott Lobdell’s Superman series, so all of these incursions from him and the plotlines in that book into Action Comics are really starting to tick me off. I have no idea who H’el is, no idea what this ‘Oracle’ is and don’t really have any desire to read the rest of this little ‘Krypton Returns’ crossover.
The story here is a fairly clever one, because of H’el time-travelling around and fucking up Krypton’s history, he’s caused a ‘Temporal Tornado’ (not a Time-Quake, that’s Age Of Ultron) and the Universe could end. He’s also brought Krypton back from the dead, but it’s a dark, evil Krypton that he rules. This giant stone Watcher rip-off called The Oracle calls Superman, Supergirl and Superboy to this Krypton to try and save it. There’s some bickering between the 3 Super-family members, Superboy is possessed by the Oracle to give an exposition dump, and then Faora shows up to send each Super-person through a time portal with a task they need to do to save Krypton. After sending them to the past, Faora is killed by H’el, who swears he won’t be defeated, and then, on to the individual issues which I won’t be reading.
The basic plot idea of having Superman, Supergirl and Superboy travel back in time and visit Krypton is a good one, and the tease of Superman meeting his mother was quite well-done, but this whole thing is surrounded with so much Lobdell stuff I have no interest in. As I said, I don’t know who H’el is, nor do I care to find out. This should have been a Superman Annual, so I wouldn’t feel tricked by it and could have avoided it. I know I sound like a whining idiot because I keep buying these Lobdell issues when I could just not, but I am excited for Pak and Kuder’s run, and there is some small bit of completism that remains in me, I am ashamed by it, but it’s there.
I will say that Kenneth Rocafort’s artwork in the first two thirds of this book was excellent, he’s a really good artist, and I liked how he drew Faora to look like Antje Traue, who played her in Man Of Steel. It’s just a shame that he didn’t draw the whole issue, Dan Jurgens is a solid artist and a Superman legend, but his style is not compatible with Rocafort’s really. So, if you’re reading Lobdell’s nonsense, pick this up I suppose, but if you’re just reading Action like I am… this shit makes no sense.
Green Lantern Annual #2– I don’t read Red Lanterns, so I missed Part 4 of ‘Lights Out’, but thankfully, based on this issue, I didn’t miss much, and this final chapter turned out to be an enjoyable ending that sets up some very interesting possibilities for the future of the Green Lantern Corps.
We start with pretty much everyone on Ysmault, home of the Red Lanterns, with Guy getting pissed of at Hal for John Stewart’s death, even though he isn’t dead. They need to find a way to get to Relic, and the way they do so is for Carol Ferris to unleash one of those ‘love tethers’ to find Kyle Rayner. Yep, it turns out that the subtext and little moments we’ve all been noticing recently have been spot on, Carol does fancy Kyle! I liked how Hal was initially really pissed about this, but soon realised he had to be professional, the Hal Jordan of a few years ago probably wouldn’t have been able to let that go.
Where is Kyle? Well, he and the new Guardians are at the Source Wall with Relic. Relic thinks that behind the wall is the source of the Light Reservoir (man, writing this stuff down again makes it all sound really stupid, but it works when Venditti does it) and they are trying to stop him from touching the Source, because as we all know, if you touch it, you’re trapped forever. Relic then attacks Kyle, thinking he can use his unique White Lantern powers. To save Kyle, the Poke-entities burst out, and that gives Relic an even better idea, he can use them instead, and he starts to trap them.
But then, just in time, Hal, Guy and the rest of the Green and Red Corps show up and a big ol’ battle ensues, which is pretty entertaining, especially for Guy as a Red Lantern, maybe I should check out that book after all. Meanwhile, John Stewart is chilling with the Indigo Lanterns, and making plans, after some inspiring courage from the new recruits he’s with, they teleport their way into the big fight, as Natromo goes off to do some mysterious ‘building’. The climax of the fight happens when Kyle Rayner sacrifices himself, by smashing both himself and Relic into the Source Wall. It turns out that the key to replenishing the reservoir isn’t Relic or the Entities, but a White Lantern. So, Kyle and Relic are in the wall, and Relic dies, but with his mission complete and the Reservoir replenished. However, Kyle… is nowhere to be seen, he’s also dead. I’m furious! I haven’t even finished the issue yet but I’ve already posted 3 Tumblr rants about how DC hates half-latino heroes and also White Lanterns. Raaage! My baby!
Ahem, anyway, more on that lately. The Indigos teleport everyone home, but wait a minute, Oa was destroyed, the GLs don’t have a home! Well, they have a new one, as the new base for them is Mogo! It turns out he does socialise after all. Natromo has built a new central power battery, and to paraphrase the Blue Lanterns, all will be well. Although actually, it isn’t, Hal tries to get everyone to say the Oath and be all triumphant, but quite a few of them don’t say it, and look downcast. These Lanterns realise that, now that the know that using the rings depletes the life energy of the universe, they can’t in good conscience carry on being GLs. Yes, they managed to replenish it this time, but Kyle is dead, and there may not ever be another White Lantern. This is an interesting dilemma for the Corps, and I’m interested to see where Venditti goes with it.
Of course, Kyle isn’t actually dead, so put down your Tumblr pitchforks, he comes out of the Source Wall, having seen something truly terrifying that shocks even Paalko. The Guardians say that Kyle’s return has to be kept a secret, and I’m very interested to see where Justin Jordan takes this mystery in New Guardians.
Overall, this was a strong end to an enjoyable crossover, it wasn’t too long, and it all made sense, so that’s a plus. Venditti has shown himself to be a worthy replacement for Geoff Johns I think. Sean Chen’s art was also a plus-point, I’ve liked him ever since he drew Iron Man with Kurt Busiek, and he always delivers solid, traditional superhero work. I’d like to see him do more GL stuff.
Aquaman Annual #1– John Ostrander returns to the pages of Aquaman, to tell another fun story about The Others that picks up pretty much where his previous story, Aquaman #20, left off.
Aquaman is swimming in the Ocean, when he’s attacked by some mutated animals. It turns out these animals are also attacking the island home of one of Aquaman’s team-mates in The Others, the total bad-ass that is The Operative. There’s a little bit of lame, unnecessary drama with The Operative not approving of his grandson Jason’s relationship with Sky, the newest member of The Others. But that’s soon done away with by the attack of some evil flying monkeys. In the course of the fight, Operative’s grandson is electrocuted by a mutant eel, and the helmet of Vostok is stolen by some of those pesky monkeys. Sky takes Jason into the Ghost Lands to heal him, and whilst in the Ghost Lands, our heroes discover that the person behind this attack, and the theft of Vostok’s helmet, is a mysterious sorceress.
Aquaman gets the other two members of The Others, Ya’Wara and Prisoner to join in (I liked seeing a bit more of what Ya’Wara gets up too when not part of this loose grouping, did anyone else think she’d make for a good guest-appearance in Swamp Thing?) and they head off to Hong Kong to fight this sorceress, whose name is ‘Madame Xan’. And yes, the similarity to Madame Xanadu is deliberate, as she turns out the be Morgaine Le Fay, Xanadu’s sister. Morgaine wants Vostok’s helmet to allow her to breathe in space and escape the Earth, which she believes is dying, however, it rejects her, and she instead vows to save the planet from the people on it.
The Others arrive, and instead of getting into a fight straight away, Morgaine tries to manipulate each member into joining with her to save the planet. These scenes were pretty rote, with every character instantly realising the trick, but the plot was saved by the fact that, surprisingly, one of The Others actually allowed Morgaine to possess her! Yes, Ya’Wara showed weakness, and let Morgaine in, and that almost cost the team this fight. However, in the end, Aquaman blasts her with a laser from his trident and wins. It was fun to see Aquaman go up against Morgaine Le Fay actually, because as she says, she has history with Kings named Arthur.
After the fight, Ya’Wara feels disgraced by the fact that she unwittingly betrayed her friends, and quits, and there’s also some stuff about how Sky can’t date Jason because he’s not a Native American. I’m not sure when or where these plotlines will be picked up, but I am interested in seeing them. The Others are a great bunch of new characters, and John Ostrander has a good handle on them. I certainly wouldn’t be averse to a mini-series by him.
The artwork here from Geraldo Borges and Netho Diaz was solid, unremarkable superhero stuff, but I think Borges in particular stood out, and kept a consistency with Pelletier’s style. If you like these new characters that Johns introduced, definitely pick up this Annual, it may not have anything to do with the crazy shit going in the main book, but it was enjoyable, and as I said, it’s about new characters, the New 52 needs to be more New than old rehashes in my book, and this stuff actually feels fresh.
Swamp Thing Annual #2– In the most recent issue of Swamp Thing, Charles Soule set up the upcoming battle between Swamp Thing and Seeder (AKA The Floronic Man) over who gets to be the Avatar of the Green. In this issue, the build-up to that sure to be epic fight begins, as Swampy takes a journey into the heart of the Green and also into his own past.
The issue opens with a very well-written and intriguing monologue about the nature of the green, and about it’s conflict with the red being about food, about how certain beings need to eat to survive, but plants, the green, don’t. We see a strange look at an alternate world where humans live on photosynthesis, but also a look at some of the earliest Avatars of the Green, including an awesome Diplodocus Swamp Thing. It turns out that the person giving this speech is a former Avatar and member of the Parliament of Trees, and he’s a rather fat-looking jolly Swamp Thing. I like how Soule is exploring the concept of the Parliament being, well, a Parliament here, and how the different members disagree and fight. We’re seeing a similar thing with the Parliament of Limbs over in Lemire’s Animal Man at the moment, and whilst that battle for control has been a lot more violent, it’s cool to see these parallels, and that these two books are still linked, even with Rotworld over.
This previous Swamp Thing has put his support right behind Alec Holland in the upcoming fight, so he’s brought him to the Green to help him develop his strength and prepare. To do this, Swampy has to visit another former Avatar, Lady Weeds, who is pretty bad-ass. She teaches Swamp Thing that his powers are much more potent than he thinks, and that he is more than just the Swamp Thing body, the whole fucking Earth is his body. I do have some concerns about Swamp Thing becoming way too powerful, but since Lady Weeds is also teaching this same stuff to Seeder, he’s going to need it. Lady Weeds also delivers an excellent flashback, where we see her defeat a rival for the Avatar crown, and also that she caused the Great Irish Potato Famine out of spite, which is all kinds of fucked up.
After picking up Lady Weeds’ lesson, it’s time for one last former Avatar to talk to our hero, and it’s one we’re already very familiar with… it’s the original Swamp Thing! Yes, it’s the plant that thought it was Alec Holland, the character from all of those classic Len Wein and Alan Moore stories. It’s easy to forget that the current Swamp Thing is actually a different character to the classic character, so it was a lot of fun to see them meet and to see the differences, even if they are basically the same entity in a lot of ways. Alec is pissed at his predecessor, blaming his failures for the fact that he had to become Avatar, and they have a small fight, but in the end, they make peace, and classic Swamp Thing delivers an important lesson, that if Alec doesn’t want to compromise, to change who he is to win, he can just say ‘No’.
I am very excited for the fight between Swamp Thing and Seeder, and this Annual really built up that anticipation even more. Most Annuals are pretty disposable, but this one really isn’t, it’s an integral part of Soule’s ongoing story, and he uses the extra page length really well and develops the world of this character even more. The artwork was also fantastic, with Javier Pina and Kano delivering a lush depiction of The Green, as well as getting across the true power of these characters, and also imbuing them, even though they are weird plant-monsters, with a lot of humanity and personality.
Damian: Son Of Batman #1(of 4)– In many ways, Damian Wayne is the reason I started to care about Batman again. Throughout the 1990s and the early part of the 2000s, the world of Batman felt stagnant, the same characters doing the same shit and nobody being willing to change things. But then Grant Morrison and Damian came along, and things started moving again. Of course, I was sad when Morrison killed off Damian in Batman Inc, but it was his creation, and his story, and I accept that, but that doesn’t mean I’m not pleased as punch that one of Damian’s co-creators has returned to tell an out-of-continuity story with him. It’s just a shame that it’s not Morrison that’s come back, but Andy Kubert, the artist who first drew the character way back in Batman #655.
I am being a bit harsh, as Kubert’s art here is fantastic, he’s always been excellent, but I really am loving the fact that little bits of his legendary dad, Joe Kubert’s style is seeping into his work. Part of that was because Joe had been inking him, but that’s still continuing on after Joe’s death, which is great to see. But as good as the artwork is here, I don’t think Andy is much of a writer at this point, of course, this book isn’t bad per se, it’s just a bit boring and average. I will say that I will be buying the rest of this series, and that Kubert should be given time to grow as a writer, like his dad did, but if you’re looking for something on a par with what Grant Morrison did with Damian, then this ain’t it. But as I said, it is well worth reading for the art.
The plot here is pretty simple, in this alternate reality, Damian didn’t die, and is still Robin as an older teenager. As he and Batman investigate a mass of dead bodies and fish down at the docks, Batman sees one of those famous ‘Joker Fish’, which explodes and kills him. Yep, Batman is dead. Damian is of course pretty pissed off, and he goes to see his mother and grandfather, Talia and Ra’s Al Ghul to ask for the help from the League Of Assassins to get revenge on whoever killed Batman. They refuse, and cut ties between the League and Damian. Interestingly, Ra’s tells Damian that he should become the new Batman, which he refuses. Why would one of Batman’s biggest enemies want a new Bats? I like it when Ra’s is a bit unpredictable and weird like this.
So, as his other family has refused his help, Damian tries to take revenge on his own. In what is probably the worst part of the issue, he goes after all of the villains who claim to have killed Batman, and kills them. I don’t have a problem with this idea really, but it’s the way Kubert did it, with the likes of Mister Freeze and Killer Croc claiming they killed Batman on some kind of villains-only version of Facebook, which is just stupid, even for Batman villains. At least Jackanapes went to the papers. In another weird scene, Damian goes to Catholic Confession, to, duh, confess his sins, and it seemed liked the Priest here was meant to be Commissioner Gordon, which also, makes little sense. After this, Alfred confronts Damian with his suspicions about who’s been killing all these villains, and goes on about how Batman was against killing, blah blah blah. Damian storms off, saying he doesn’t need Alfred, and that he’s going to find The Joker, but then… Batman shows up, completely alive.
It’s quite a surprising ending, and I am interested to see what that deal is (he’s probably a clone made by Ra’s), and there is the fact that the person who ‘killed’ Batman probably isn’t The Joker, but really, the story here is kind of dumb. It all depends on the next few issues if it’s the good kind of dumb or the bad kind of dumb. I wouldn’t exactly recommend this book, but the art is amazing, if you like Damian as much as me, certainly pick it up, but don’t go expecting Morrison is all.
The Sandman: Overture #1(of 6) - This is it, the long awaited return of Neil Gaiman’s legendary Sandman! Although, for me, it isn’t really that long awaited. I wasn’t even born when the first issue of Sandman came out, so it wasn’t until this summer that I finally got around to reading all 10 volumes, plus Endless Nights, Dream Hunters and the Death minis. Needless to say, it deserves it’s reputation as one of the best comics of all time, and I am very excited to have Gaiman return to the world of The Endless, especially because he’s joined by the brilliant artwork of JH Williams III.
This story is a prequel to the original Sandman run, aiming to show just how Morpheus was weak enough to be captured by those sub-Crowley occultists in #1, and whilst we don’t know much about the plot after this first issue, that final 4-page fold-out spread blew my mind, and shows just how epic the scale of the War that so weakened Morpheus was. The issue begins on an Alien planet, with a race of sentient plants that can dream, one of these plants is visited by a form of Dream that also looks like a plant, and they talk, until this Dream is attacked by fire. I’m guessing this is a separate version of Dream to the one we’re familiar with, and his/it’s death is what causes the end of this issue.
We then move across the galaxy to London in 1915, where one of Gaiman’s most terrifying creations, The Corinthian returns. I’m a huge fan of this character, both of the evil original we see here, and also the nicer version that appears in later Sandman stories. The visual of a man with mouths for eyes is just so creepy, and seeing him once again prey on a vulnerable young man was both brilliant and scary.
After this, the story moves again, as both Destiny and Death of the Endless appear, with Destiny watching these events unfold in his book, and Death being rather worried for her younger brother. Once again, it’s just brilliant to see these characters again, and Gaiman steps effortly back into writing everyone really, it’s like he’s never been away. I will say that I did find that his narration in this issue was a bit more flowery and prose-like than ever before, but I suppose he has been writing books without pictures pretty much exclusively since 'Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader?', and it can be hard to switch gears. That said, the long narration describing the new, and very cool character of George Portcullis was wonderful, and did feel like a bit of a short-story. George Portcullis is the manager of Dream’s London Office, and he’s there to allow Morpheus to intercept The Corinthian before he can kill, and unmake him. The conversation between Morpheus and Corinthian is very cool, and it explains a lot of back-story that came into play in The Doll’s House story, and sets up just how Corinthian was able to roam free and become a serial killer.
Just as Morpheus is about to unmake Corinthian, he is called away by a powerful, unknown force, but not so powerful that he can’t slow it down and stop off in The Dreaming to arm himself for battle, putting on his weird helmet and all that. This also allows Gaiman for some more cameos, from the likes of Lucien and Merv Pumpkinhead, which were great fun. I’m assuming that the likes of these characters and the other Endless won’t appear again in this series, so a little bit of fan-service to start off is tolerable. It’s just a shame Matthew The Raven wasn’t around at this point.
Morpheus is then whisked off to… a meeting of loads of versions of himself? This is a fantastic 4-page spread as I said, and there are loads of different versions of Dream here, including a Robot, a Tree, a fish, a guy with a moon-shaped head, and more. We also see the Cat-Dream, a version that has appeared before in Sandman. I initially assumed that all the different forms that Dream took were just the same person, changing appearance, but now it looks like they are different entities entirely? I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out. It’s clear from this issue that the story Gaiman has to tell here isn’t a Before Watchmen-esque cash-in, but something new and different and not just a box-ticking exercise like many prequels.
JH Williams III is one of the best artists in comics today, and here, he delivers his best work since Promethea. I feel that Williams’ style suits a story that’s more than just your average superhero stuff, like Batwoman was (and really, the story of Batwoman was below average), and here, Gaiman’s script matches his ambition. On Batwoman, his art was overly elaborate for such a simple story, and made things confusing, but here, it works, basically, I’m the only person online glad that he’s left Batwoman, because that was a waste of his talents, even though Williams himself would obviously disagree. There are some amazing layouts here, like the page that reintroduces The Corinthian being made up of Teeth, or the way the panels are inside Destiny’s book, or the George Portcullis pages being, well, Portcullis-shaped. This made each page look different and exciting, the colours from Dave Stewart are also hugely important, with him using a variety of different styles and techniques throughout. Williams also uses different styles, particularly on the pages with all of the different Dreams. This book is just beautiful to look at, and even if you aren’t familiar with Sandman, it’s worth buying just for Williams and Stewart. That said, I did choose the Dave McKean cover, because it’s not Sandman if Dave McKean isn’t on covers, even a latecomer like me knows that.
So, at the end of the day, this is a fantastic return for Gaiman and Sandman, fans of that series will love it, and I can only imagine how good this must be for people who have been waiting 10 years or more for it, rather than Punchy-come-lately, who’s been waiting 3 months. One of the best comics ever is back, and it’s not missed a beat, a cause for celebration methinks.
Saga #15– I’m running out of things to say about Saga at this point. It’s just so consistently good every issue, and I can’t just keep on banging the drum about how effectively BKV juxtaposes crazy science fiction concepts and realistic human relationships. It’s repetitive for me and for you, my dear readers. Basically, this issue is just as good as all the others, and the various subplots move along very nicely indeed, so I’ll recap ‘em and give some thoughts.
The Tabloid Journalists meet up with one of Prince Robot IV’s family members (who is kind of a bitch, but also a bad-ass) and ask her about Alana, who served under her in the army. We find out a bit more Alana back-story, and then one of the journalists is hit by a sniper. I liked how he wasn’t angry at being shot, he was actually pleased, because it would help him win awards, and was there a little hint of these two journalists being lovers? Interesting. Countess Robot X takes out the sniper by fucking nuking the building they shot from, and that just shows how hardcore this war is.
Back on Quietus, Marko is actually getting out of his depression, as the family and Heist start playing a boardgame, Nun Tuj Nun, which looks like a hell of a lot of fun. Of course, fun in this book is pretty shortlived, as an argument soon breaks out over what Marko and Alana are supposed to do with their future, they can’t stay with Heist forever, and they don’t want to raise Hazel in a space-ship, but they can’t get jobs as being seen in public together would be a death sentence, so what can they do? Alana storms off, angry and being told what she should do as a mother and wife, and when Marko goes to calm her down, she once again tries to deflect the argument with sex, and tries to suck his dick. This scene was funny, but I think the forthrightness of sex in this book is getting a little old at times, yes, these people like to fuck, and there’s some point about not slut-shaming or something (whatever ‘sex-positive’ comics are, this is one of ‘em) in there, but it just makes Alana seem like a weirdo. Oh no, I’ll probably be accused of sexism after saying that, it just felt weird, but I suppose, Marko did realise it was weird, and he stops her. They do kind of resolve the argument about their future, and up in the Lighthouse, Heist reveals that there are some industries that Alana and Marko can work in. Oh, and Marko does get his blowjob after all, hooray!
The most interesting plot involved The Will, as he finally gets his ship fixed and decides to ignore his vision of The Stalk and go after Marko and Alana with Gwendolyn. Slave Girl/Sophie gets a bit more focus here, as she wanders off and has a vision of her own… of her mother. Then, Vaughan reveals a hell of a twist, this whole planet that they’ve been crash-landed on is full of a parasite called ‘Heroine’ that’s in all of the animals and plants (so, the food) that tries to trick people into staying put and joining the eco system. The space-ship repairmen got it, and that’s what’s behind The Will’s vision of The Stalk, and why she’s tried to talk him out of leaving. The issue ends with Sophie stabbing The Will in the neck under the influence of Heroine, and man, it’s a great ending. I’m sure that The Will will survive (he and his shitty cat are probably the most popular characters in this book), but it was a great surprise, and explains a lot about the last few issues. This book never does what you’d expect it too, and that’s brilliant.
Just as I run the risk of repeating myself about Vaughan’s story, the same applies to Fiona Staples’ brilliant artwork, which is just so consistently good. I loved Fox-Man who helped fix The Will’s ship, and basically everything looked great, the fact that she pencils and colours this book makes it even more impressive. The cover was also great, a cool homage to Romance Novel covers that’s just a great fit for this book and it’s audience.
So yeah, Saga is still fucking good, no shit Sherlock, what a surprise.
The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys #5(of 6)– The penultimate issue of this series, and I think now, after the Girl’s conversation with Phoenix Witch, this story kind of retroactively makes sense. Not that it should make sense, because it’s not that kind of story, but I feel like I get what’s going on a bit more, and I know what to expect in the final issue.
Gerard Way, Shaun Simon and Becky Cloonan kick thngs off with the Phoenix Witch out in the desert, picking up masks, and then we see the emotional heart of this series for me, Pornodroid Blue being chased down by BLI operatives, and unfortunately, they get her and take her into custody. The story then moves over to The Girl, and a battle between the remaining Killjoys and some bad buys, and in the process, both Cherri Cola and The Girl are shot and… they die. What the?
I think the best scene in this issue was the one that followed, where Korse (Grant Morrison) is taken into ‘The Tube’ to be reprogrammed and have his homosexuality removed. This was a truly scary scene, even though it was all dialogue, and it really got across the fascistic, totalitarian regime that is Battery City, and it was great to see Korse break free, and declare that there’s nothing wrong with him. You go Grant!
You know when I said that The Girl was dead? Well, she isn’t really, and she has a nice ghost chat with the Phoenix Witch, who explains her back-story. Her mother was the leader of The Killjoys during ‘The Analog Wars’ and when she was captured and turned into a skeleton zombie, her soul escaped into The Girl, who was still a foetus, and she was charged up with her mother’s anger and rage. Apparently, The Girl is some sort of bomb, and that’s why she can’t go to Battery City, and why they sent that Cat to keep an eye on her. She may also have the ability to charge up Destroya, the messiah of the droids in Battery City, which Pornodroid Blue has found out in the desert (she manages to escape her captors really easily). The Girl goes back into her body, retrieves her cat, and shows the people watching that she knows he she is and… boom.
I can’t wait for the final issue to see what kind of crazy shit goes down, will Destroya rise? Will The Girl explode? What will Korse do? So many questions, and all of it to be handled in style. Cloonan’s artwork was once again fantastic, I think this may be my favourite thing she’s ever drawn, and Way and Simon’s writing was excellent too, this has been a confusing jump into a strange world, and as such, the weird dialogue has worked, but they showed here that they can also do exposition and not just cool quips. But the quips are cool. So, bring on the final issue basically, it should rock and indeed roll.
And that’s that.
My favourite book this week was Sandman: Overture, but I also loved Infinity and the Swamp Thing Annual, all were excellent and well worth your time.
Make sure you’re back here next week for another good week, there’s the return of Superman Unchained, the first issue of Cataclysm: Ultimates’ Last Stand, a new era for Iron Man, another new X-Men book that’s supposed to be Amazing and more Fatale.
See you then!