Ho ho ho! Welcome to a very special Christmas edition of my comics review column! We’ve got a bumper selection of comic book presents under our metaphorical tree, including more Superior Spider-Man, the penultimate issues of FF, Young Avengers and Fantastic Four, a lot of Image stuff, like Saga, Umbral, Zero and Black Science, plus more Batman ’66, Wonder Woman and Uncanny Avengers!
For the last time this year, click the links to head to the OH forum discussion. This week, I was accused of having an anti-Marvel bias, so what can you do to best that?
Superior Spider-Man #24– Dan Slott and Christos Gage continue to tell a very exciting story here with ‘Darkest Hours’, and it’s interesting to see how getting possessed by the Venom symbiote could end up being a good thing for Doctor Octopus here.
Now that he’s ‘the Superior Venom’, Otto is acting even more, well, superior and irrational, shouting at Aunt May for how she treated Anna Maria last time, and also trying to intimidate Mary Jane. It’s during this rant that he reveals to MJ that he is once again bonded to the symbiote, and she tells the Avengers. I’m guessing that Otto is going to explain away all of his recent irrational behaviour on the symbiote, even the stuff that happened beforehand. This will provide an answer about why he’s been so strange, but put everyone, including MJ off the scent of the real reason. So once again, SpOck will have survived being unveiled by the skin of his teeth, just in time for the Goblins to attack. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll eat my hat.
The main story stuff here was pretty standard, Superior Venom is even more of a dick than regular Superior Spider-Man, he attacks Cardiac, and soon heads off across the city, trying to stop all crimes, from mugging down to just texting while driving. He’s gone off the deep end, and it was great to see, especially as he bust out the hilarious old ‘Lethal Protector’ line, I loved that. There is an added sense of danger here, as, due to the drugs he takes to keep the symbiote in line, Flash Thompson’s body has become dependent on the creature, and if he doesn’t get it back soon, he’ll die. That should add an exciting extra level to the next issue, making it a race against time.
In terms of subplots in this issue, it was actually relatively light, mainly focusing on the various Goblins. We see the start of a conflict between the Green Goblin and the Hobgoblin, as GG impersonates Hobby and takes his cut of the money the various villain ‘franchises’ make. I can’t wait to see the two Goblins collide, that arc is going to be amazing I’m sure. The other Goblin scene involved Green Goblin and Menace continuing to try and prise the real identity of Spidey out of Carlie. She’s still keeping schtum, so Green Goblin is forced to dose her with Goblin serum and make her one of them so she’ll talk. Oh dear, that does not look good.
Humberto Ramos’ art continues to contribute a lot to this story, he draws symbiotes better than pretty much anyone, and his cartoonish style really emphasises the evil look on Peter Parker’s face when he finally snaps at Aunt May.
This was a great issue of a great story, it was a lot of fun seeing what Superior Spidey bonded to Venom, and Slott and Gage used this idea to really further a couple of personal storylines to good effect, and pretty much explode them really. The extra-sized final chapter to ‘Darkest Hours’ should be amazing, you’ve got the Avengers involved, a ticking clock on Flash’s life, and oh yeah, a bunch of pissed-off Goblins in the background.
Thor: God Of Thunder #16– ‘The Accursed’ really is growing into a very interesting story, and this issue in particular really surprised me with how far Jason Aaron was willing to go with Thor as a character, and how dark his actions were here. Now, the end of this issue would seem to reveal that Thor wasn’t really in control of those actions, but still, it was shocking stuff indeed.
The story picks up in the aftermath of Oggy’s death, and the revelation that the Frost Giants have sided with Malekith. Thor is of course, fucking furious, and once to attack, but the rest of the League Of Realms hold him back, as, if Thor were to attack a Frost Giant, it would mean starting a war that could destroy all of the Nine Realms. Malekith is able to escape, and after using some lightning to dig a grave for Oggy (which was awesome, a great use of Thor’s powers), the League continue in their quest, which now takes them to Vanaheim. There, they find yet more dead Dark Elves, but in a cool twist, these elves weren’t killed by Malekith, nope, they are two tribes that killed each other, driven to mistrust by Malekith’s actions. This really serves to increase Malekith’s evil, he’s not just killing a shit-ton of people himself, but he’s causing way more harm indirectly.
The League realise that Malekith has been ahead of them every step of the way, and that this means there is a traitor in their midst. Everyone except for Thor points the finger at Warizia, which I suppose makes some sense, she is a Dark Elf after all, but she vociferously denies it. Thor however, has other ideas about who the mole is, and he thinks it is Ud, the Troll. He has Warizia truss him up with magic, and, despite the protestations of Honeyshot and the Dwarf, he kills Ud, smashing his head in with Mjolnir. After avoiding starting a war with the Frost Giants at the start of this issue, Thor has now just gone and started a war with the Trolls. So what the hell’s up with him? Hmmm…
Thor decides to disband the League Of Realms, and he and Warizia head off on their own to Midgard, where, in the back of a New York City butcher shop, we discover that Thor has put the Dark Elf High Council, in order to get them to put their tribal differences aside, and come together to stop Malekith. Of course, Dark Elves don’t solve their differences through talking, they fight, and Thor interrupts this, which might cause even more trouble. Malekith soon shows up at the butcher shop, which causes Warizia to believe that Thor betrayed her, and for her to blast him with some magic, which causes some kind of weird worm to burst out of Thor’s mouth. It’ll be interesting to see what this worm was doing to Thor, was it just allowing Malekith to know what he was up to, or was it controlling him and making him kill Ud and break up the League? I almost think it would be more interesting to make Thor have done that himself, to make him a really flawed protagonist.
Ron Garney’s art continues to be excellent, and he is joined this issue by Emanuela Lupacchino, who draws the segments set on Midgard, her style is pretty similar to Garney’s anyway, but I think it was cool how the colours from Ive Svorcina really kept things looking unified.
For an issue that got pretty dark when Thor killed Ud, Aaron still provided plenty of humour, particular when the story moved to Midgard, I think that kind of thing is necessary, and it’s that added dose of levity that has made me a fan of Thor after many years of not really being bothered, both in the comics and the films. I’m excited for the final chapter of this story, and to see where Aaron is taking all of this, will we get a war with the Trolls? I would like to see that.
Daredevil #34– The man without fear returns to New York for a typically excellent issue of this title that really sets the stage for a fantastic final few issues before the relaunch and move to San Francisco.
Mark Waid and Javier Rodriguez, who once again moves from colourist to penciler with consummate ease, kick things off with Matt Murdock consulting with Doctor Strange about what went on down in Kentucky, and Matt revealing that he has the Darkhold, and showing it to the good Doctor. Strange tells Matt that along the bottom of these pages is the true name of the devil, and that the Sons Of The Serpent believe that knowing this name allows them to control people. He also sets up a very cool potential storyline for the future, Matt has lied to Satana, and that is a very very bad idea indeed. It should be great to see Daredevil go up against the literal daughter of the actual Devil. I must say, these last few issues have made me really want to see a Mark Waid-written Doctor Strange series, he writes the character well, and much like with Daredevil, he seems very adept at looking at Strange and his powers in cool new ways, like here, where being in a very non-spiritual area of New York weakens him. On his way out, Matt asks Strange if he can cure Foggy’s cancer with magic, but Strange says he can’t, which is a bummer.
Matt does the usual superhero thing of standing on a rooftop looking glum and inner-monologuing, but much like he’s done throughout Waid’s run, he snaps out of it, and gets on with his plan. First up is to get Kirsten McDuffie back on side, as we get a very fun scene of them flirting in the park, that ends with Matt ending the whole ‘I know that you know but we’re going to pretend’ thing, as he definitively tells her he is Daredevil, and that he needs her help to stop the Serpents.
Also helping out is Nate Hackett, who hooks up a satellite rig for Matt, that, thanks to the Avengers, is able to hack into pretty much any communications device in the city, and allow Matt to talk into it. This is needed because the Sons Of The Serpent are hidden in the general public, and he needs to be able to speak to everyone to speak to any of them. Matt tells the people of New York that they have been manipulated into race riots by the Serpents, and then directly addresses his enemies, telling them that he has their book, and that unless they hand over the Jester to him, he will burn it. To prove that he’s not bullshitting, he has Kirsten read out the secret true name of Satan, which really gets their attention.
Matt heads off to collect the Jester, but whilst he’s gone, Kirsten decides to give a speech herself, where she basically calls for calm, to not get angry, because that’s what the Serpents want. It’s pretty stirring stuff, but unfortunately, the Serpents can pick up the sound of wind behind her, and know that she’s up high somewhere. Daredevil realises this too, and, after dropping off Jester at a police station, it’s a race against time to save her. Waid and Rodriguez try and trick us into believing she is shot, but in the end, Nate saves her and Daredevil takes out the Serpent snipers.
The issue ends with a real gut-punch however, just when you think Matt and Kirsten have got a big win, she gets a call from the office from someone who’s crying, and the message… it’s about Foggy. What a fucking cliffhanger! Is Foggy dead? I have no idea! I can see Foggy’s death being the catalyst for Matt to move across the country, but equally, this could just be another trick from the Serpents. Oh man, I literally cannot wait for the next 2 issues of this title, it’s always been excellent, but now that an ending of sorts is nigh, there’s an added sense of danger, and Foggy could actually be dead. Aaargh.
Uncanny Avengers #15– After an absolutely crazy last issue where Rick Remender killed almost every character he has off, this issue was probably always going to feel like a bit of a let-down (unless Remender decided to kill everyone else too), and it was, but it was still a very enjoyable read, full of the usual insanely epic scale this title is used to, tied in with some pretty cool character moments.
We open with Captain America and Havok racing towards The Twins, unaware of everything else that’s been going on, and having some pretty fun banter, with Cap showing a surprising sense of humour by still pretending to be deaf. However, just as they come across another load of crab monsters, Havok is teleported away, leaving Cap on his own. Havok has disappeared of course, because of the Mutant Rapture, which the other Unity Squad members failed to prevent, on account of them brutally murdering each other. Uriel and Eimin were aware of Scarlet Witch’s plans, and have stopped it, so everything is happening as intended, all of the Mutants on Earth are being teleported to their ship and placed into stasis, so they can be taken to a new planet. We see all of the various different groups of Mutants get raptured, Cyclops’ team, both X-Forces, Sabretooth, the Jean Grey School students, Sunfire and Cannonball from the Avengers, all of ‘em.
Whilst all this is going on, Wolverine is in the midst of battle with Grim Reaper and Daken, and they explain how all of this is because the Mutants were in all of those different groups, that they were divided, which really does make sense. The ‘Schism’ has been the cause of a lot of great stories, but it has hurt the mutant cause. Of course, before the fight can end, Wolverine himself is raptured.
The story then moves to the Wasp, and her fight with the Horsemanified Sentry, which on the surface is a mis-match, but Wasp more than holds her own. It was great to see her grow to giant size and just stomp on him, and wow, her sting weapon looks to be more powerful than ever. Horseman Sentry is a very effective, creepy villain, his dialogue is very portentous, but it works, and that page of him ripping off his burned head and revealing just a brain with eyes was so weird and awesome. McNiven’s art really sold that moment, a brain with eyes could look goofy, but under his realistic style, it has the right scary effect. McNiven’s art feels like it’s back to it’s best with these last two issues, and he is the perfect artist for this epic story. Just as Sentry has Wasp at his mercy, Thor comes back, and as you’d expect another round of Thor Vs Sentry is always welcome and always awesome. However, it’s Wasp who saves the day, as she uses her ability to talk to insects to summon a giant fucking Dune worm to eat the Sentry.
Back on the space ark, Captain America tries to go it alone against Uriel and Eimin, but they pretty much kick his ass easily and start doing some monologuing. Then, out of nowhere, a giant fucking Kirby-looking Celestial dude arrives and starts floating near the Earth. This guy is ‘Exitar The Executioner’, and the Twins are going to let him destroy the whole planet, and all of the Humans left on it. Thor and Wasp go to see The Watcher (who is more omnipresent than usual these days, they really are setting up his death heavily), and he says that the arrival of Exitar is Thor’s fault, because of what he did that Jarnbjorn axe that was used by Uriel to kill a load of Celestials, and that Exitar was drawn here by their deaths. The scale of this story blows my mind, and how the time-travel was all used to set it up, going back 1000s of years, it truly is epic. Thor asks Uatu if there’s anything he can do to stop Exitar, but nope, it’s a thumbs down, and Earth is going to be destroyed, no more humans.
I have no idea how Remender is going to write his way out of this cliffhanger, but I’m excited to see it. Despite not featuring the shocks of #14, this didn’t really let up the pace, big things are happening here, and the action was better than ever thanks to McNiven, I’ve been saying this series is underrated for a while now, and it is getting more attention now, but for the wrong reasons, let’s hope this issue gets people talking about more than supposed fridging, gets them talking about how crazy epic this storyline is.
Young Avengers #14– With the universe saved from the threat of Mother, it’s time for the Young Avengers and the other teenage superheroes of the Marvel Universe to celebrate with a New Year’s Party that, for me at least, was a step up from recent issues, apart from one segment.
Throughout this run, the saving grace of it all has been Jamie McKelvie’s amazing artwork, so whilst it’s a shame that he’s only drawing 5 pages here, the other artists who contribute are all great too, and they provide a bit of freshness. The opening, McKelvie drawn pages feature Kate Bishop getting ready to go to the party, putting on her make-up and mask, etc, etc. Miss America comes to teleport her, and they have a fairly interesting, but pretty awkward conversation, about Kate not wanting to be called Princess.
The next segment focuses on Wiccan and Hulkling, and apart from a fun bit poking fun at how a teen superhero comic can’t really show the characters drinking, when they obviously are, it was basically a soppy mess. I keep coming back to this, but I still really think it was a mistake for Gillen to not really go through with the idea of Billy manipulating Teddy into loving him. Just handwaving it all away as being ‘true love’ really doesn’t work, because true love is kinda bullshit. Call me cynical, but I really see this is as a missed opportunity to make both of these characters actually interesting, rather than the bland cut-outs they are now. It’s clear that most Young Avengers fans (and Gillen himself) view Wiccan in a far different light than I do, and probably do believe in the power of true love, and I accept that, but to me, his role as the ‘demiurge’ and saviour of the world is just too fucking much, and everyone just deferring to his greatness, from Prodigy to Miss America, rubs me the wrong way. The story ends with Wiccan and Hulkling having an embrace to ‘their song’, and it’s just so sickly and awful, I hate it. Gillen, you should have turned Wiccan into a reality-altering villain when you had the chance. The art from Emma Vieceli was good though.
The next part focuses on Miss America, and a bit of focus on her is a long time coming, as I’ve said before, throughout this whole series, she has been nothing but cool outfits and attitude, which is not enough. Here, after buffing off an advance from Rockslide, she has a flashback about her past, and we discover that she comes from a Universe that was controlled by a version of Billy Kaplan who became a full-on Demiurge, and how her parents and the Demiurge stopped the universe from ending, but at the cost of her parent’s lives. Angry at this, she leaps through a dimensional hole, and into our universe. Also, she is literally a princess, which puts a cool spin on her constantly referring to Hawkeye as that. There’s a lot of cool stuff introduced here, especially with regards to America’s reactions to the ‘real’ Wiccan, and how she met her God, and he was an idiot, but really, it’s all too little, too late. If this wasn’t the penultimate issue of this run, I’d be excited for a future arc exploring more of America’s past, but we aren’t going to get that. Much like with Wiccan, Miss America really feels like a missed opportunity. But again, the art, from Christian Ward, was great, I loved his work on The Infinite Vacation, and he was a great fit for such a weird little vignette involving alternate worlds.
The final segment is more Hawkeye, and is drawn by Annie Wu, which is cool, considering she’s drawing the Kate Bishop issues of Hawkeye, although it does highlight that Gillen and Fraction’s takes on the character really don’t mesh well at all. Kate is chatting with Transonic and Kid Gladiator (who is hilarious as always), when a shirtless Noh Varr shows up for a very awkward chat, which does a good job at filling in what was only told last issue through facial expressions, about how Noh Varr fucked things up by wanting to get back with one of his evil exes. Kate walks away, all mopey, only to be dragged onto the dance floor by… Speed? Yep, Tommy is somehow not dead, and he’s dancing the night away. Gillen doesn’t explain how he’s back just yet, but Kate doesn’t care, and the issue ends with Kate and Speed kissing as 2014 begins.
This was a better issue than most of the series, probably because it’s structure remind me of Phonogram 2, but also because there were whole segments only focusing on characters I like. It’s knocked down a peg by the crappiness and treacliness of the Wiccan/Hulkling stuff, but that’s a problem throughout the entire run, their drama is dragging everything else down. But even though I enjoyed the Miss America and Hawkeye scenes, it is still, as a whole, too little too late. It’s hard to care about them, or Noh Varr, when they’ve been little more than ciphers for the previous 13 issues. At least Tommy is back and there were some funny cameos, but once again, this title is a big disappointment. It just wasn’t for me in the end, it’s not a crime, but I really wanted to like it, a shame.
Fantastic Four #15– The penultimate issue of Fraction’s (and now Kesel’s) run on the Fantastic Four goes some way towards explaining just what the heck has been going on, but I have to admit… I’m still feeling kind of confused by it all.
The issue opens with a flashback to #1, with the FF back in time at the dawning of mankind, and where Reed received the bite from that Dinosaur that caused him to discover their powers are breaking down. Only, for some reason, this flashback is different, and ends with Johnny getting bitten. It’s not clear whether this is just a fever dream on the Torch’s part, or history being changed, but I’m leaning toward the former. The ‘real’ Fantastic Four meet up with their alternate universe counterparts, and the reason for their powers’ malfunctioning is revealed. I may have misread this, but from what I gathered, the alternate FF, after losing their powers at the hands of Doom, sent a flare containing those powers out into the multiverse, in the hopes of finding other versions of the Fantastic Four to come help them. They knew to do this because they previously had gone to another reality and dealt with another ‘Doom The Annihilating Conqueror’, an event which is a universal constant, that happens on every reality. Our version of the FF received these extra powers, but it was an overload, causing their bodies to break down. In order to solve this problem, our FF have to give Stevenson Storm and his team their powers back. It’s all very complicated, but I think it makes sense. I think.
They get ready to so, and it seems to work, until the alternate FF are trapped in a time bubble by Scott Lang, who is working for Doctor Doom in exchange for Doom resurrecting his daughter. The FF have their powers back properly, but they aren’t perfect, and are in fact at their original levels, so Thing looks a bit more melted than rocky, and Sue can’t make forcefields, she can only turn invisible. Ant-Man confesses his betrayal, and agrees to help the Fantastic Four to stop Doom, by helping them find a temporal anomaly to break the time bubble. Luckily, he knows exactly where one is, in the form of OG Jean Grey. Jean is a prisoner of Kang, but she is busted out by Doom, who needs to use her status as an anomaly to hide from Kang. The FF intercept Doom, but they in turn run into some of Kang’s troops, and in the midst of battle, Doom escapes to the Time Platform with Jean. The FF aren’t able to follow him, but they are able to make sure he returns straight back, and so the fight resumes.
Jean is able to open the bubble and give the Fantastic Four their full powers back, but as soon as she does so, Doom tries to kill her. Ant-Man leaps in front of the bullet, redeeming himself really, and now Doom has to deal with 2 fully powered versions of the FF. Well, he has more than that, as Kang The Annihilating Conqueror shows up to, I assume, annihilate and conquer. He is about to kill Doom, but then we find out just what he got up to when he and Jean travelled back in time. Doom tampered with the ‘cosmic power siphon’, giving it a time limit, so that it would stop working for Kang, and allow Doom to absorb both his powers, and Annihilus’, creating, you guessed it, Doom The Annihilatiing Conqueror.
I do think it’s a little odd that the end of this story is playing out in an alternate reality, but I suppose FF is dealing with the ‘real’ world, and I’m guessing the two stories will dovetail a bit more next month. I apologise if this review is a bit more recappy than usual, this is a complex story, and writing out what happened is really more for me than you guys, but I think I get what’s going on now. I think I’m going to do a big re-read of this and FF before #16, see if I really do get it.
The art from Raffaele Ienco was once again solid, I’m annoyed that Bagley isn’t still drawing this story, but Ienco is a decent replacement and I particularly like his Kang.
FF #15 – Whereas this week’s issue of Fantastic Four spent most of it’s time unravelling complicated plot stuff, FF this week just went for pretty much a straight-up action issue, as we see Ant-Man’s plan to attack Doom come to fruition. Of course, this being FF, it isn’t your standard action issue, with plenty of humour and weird bits in there too.
The issue opens with Scott taking everyone through is big plan, which is basically, use a bunch of robots to attack Latveria and distract all of the Doombots and soldiers, then to have the FF bust in, have Alex and Ahura rescue Alex’s parents, use that old Magician guy to take away Doom’s magic, and then smash all of his technology, giving him no room to escape before Ant-Man can ‘finish’ things.
The attack begins, and Lee Allred has a lot of fun turning it basically into a video game, which makes sense for a book with a lot of kid characters. The various Future Foundation students are split into 2 teams (one representing Caesar, the other Sun Tzu) controlling the various robots and competing to see who does the best. Bentley is upset at being given a team of terrible gamers, so he pumps them up with the ultimate gamer diet… energy drinks and sweets. Driven hyper by all of this sugar, the robots are able to continue to kick ass.
After the FF bust in, Alex is able to free his parents, and at the same time, we see more of the mysterious Ravonna, who Alex decides not to free. However, we then see that she could have escaped at any time. Who is she? Well, we soon find out, as she interrupts Franklin and Val’s interdimensional travel, trapping them before they can get back to the Marvel Universe, and revealing that she is… Val! Wha? That is a crazy reveal, I love it.
Seemingly unrelated to Ant-Man’s attack on Latveria, it’s various embassies are also under attack, as the Inhumans are on the hunt for Medusa and Ahura, who they think are dead and have traced to Latverian embassies. They don’t find who they are looking for, but they do find Maximus The Mad, who has been shrunken down by Scott, so I guess it’s not unrelated, he deliberately planted him to draw an attack from his brother. It was a little weird to see the Inhumans like this just after Inhumanity started, but hey, one last hurrah for Karnak I suppose.
Scott’s plan seems to be going well, but he still has to stop Doom from becoming an Annihilating Conqueror. Luckily, Doom himself doesn’t seem to want to become one, as he keeps refusing Kid Immortus’ suggestions he does so. Of course, it looks like ol’ Victor can’t ignore this multiversal constant, as Uatu shows up to watch, and Kid Immortus tries to force the transformation. Doom stops the melding, but emerges with Kang’s powers, and proceeds to attack his alternate reality selves, and The Watcher, before Medusa, She-Hulk and Ms Thing arrive to stop him and siphon off his power. They manage to do so, but knock themselves out, leaving Doom standing, weakened, but standing, and only a few steps away from regaining his annihilating, conqueringness. However, Ant-Man is in the way to stop him, and that’s going to be one hell of a final battle.
This was a really enjoyable issue, the art from Michael Allred was excellent as ever, and Lee Allred once again brought the humour (the Bentley scenes, and Caesar Vs Sun Tzu) as well as the drama. The ending few pages here were epic, and the reveal about Ravonna is brilliant. I can’t wait for the final chapter and for Scott Lang to save the day.
All-New X-Men #20– Thankfully, the cover to this issue is misleading, as we don’t get a kiss between young Cyclops and X-23 and all of the weird ickiness that goes with that… yet. It’s clear that Scott has a thing for X-23, but Bendis is going to take it a bit more slowly than the cover would suggest. It’s a heck of a cover though, the sort of surprising image that probably would attract new readers back when the comics industry had new readers.
The story here, much like the last issue of ANXM, is fairly simple. X-23 (now with hair) wakes up and is angry and freaked out about where she is, especially because where she is, is Weapon X and for some reason teenage versions of the original X-Men are there. It’s pretty bloody confusing, so X-23 understandably tries to escape, but she is talked down by Cyclops, who has a crush on her, and explains just what the fuck is going on. Interestingly, Jean Grey starts to read X-23’s mind and discover what happened to her in Avengers Arena, but Kitty tells her to stop, so it looks like that truth is going to be teased out for a while too, or maybe Bendis is just leaving it for Dennis Hopeless.
Throughout the conversation between Cyclops and X-23, Bendis’ dialogue excels, both in the main back and forth, and also the stuff on the sidelines from Iceman and Beast. Bendis’ dialogue is unique enough that people either love it or hate it, but if you love it like I do, it makes even slower issues like this one a real pleasure. So, X-23 is talked round, and agrees to help Kitty and the team track down the Purifiers who were after her.
I just praised Bendis’ dialogue, and here, he goes full on monologue, as the head Purifier (who turns out to be the son of William Stryker) goes on a big spiel about why he hates Mutants, and how the existence in the present of the original team is proof that they are not human, as no human would tamper with the timeline like this. The X-Men bust into their compound, and after shutting down the power and alerting the Purifiers to their presence, and a hilarious bit where Jean makes Stryker Jnr say some stupid things, the fight is on. It’s a pretty good fight, and it was cool to see X-23 in action with this group, I think every X-Team needs at least one angry person with claws. The fight ends with Stryker freaking out and blasting everyone with some strange power. It looks like Stryker Jnr is a mutant, much like in X2, so that adds a cool wrinkle to him as a villain, making him a massive fucking hypocrite as well as a religious zealot.
This was another brilliant issue of All-New, as I said, Bendis’ dialogue makes even quieter issues sparkle, and the addition of X-23 to the cast is going to be a lot of fun, especially as we inch closer to the cover becoming a reality. The artwork from Mahmud Asrar and Brandon Peterson was very good too, both of them fit into the template that Stuart Immonen has established for this title, and they way they split it, with Asrar handling the opening dialogue-heavy scenes, and Peterson the fight against the Purifiers, worked really well.
X-Men #8– Brian Wood’s X-book continues to get better and better for me. The initial Arkea arc that at the time seemed rushed, now works a lot better, since it’s being continued, and the idea of a ‘Sisterhood Of Evil Mutants’ makes a hell of a lot of sense as adversaries for an all-female team of X-Men.
The issue opens with Typhoid Mary breaking into the Mansion and stealing all of the Arkea files, which is easily picked up on by Rachel Grey and Psylocke. Psylocke gives chase, and allows Mary to think she got away. The X-Men call up John Sublime to tell him about what’s happened, but he already knows, as he’s been kidnapped by Lady Deathstrike, who forces him to tell her what Arkea really is. He tries to stop her from opening it, warning her how dangerous and powerful his sister is, but when Deathstrike does open it… it’s inert, the sample is dead. This is good news for Sublime, in that he now knows his sister can be killed, but bad news too, as he lets slip that there are other fragments of her still out there. Typhoid Mary grabs those locations out of his mind, leaving him a gibbering mess. Deathstrike and Mary go off in search of an Arkea fragment, leaving Psylocke able to bring Sublime back to the X-Mansion and tell everyone else what’s going on.
The location of the first Arkea fragment, which is a meteorite, is coincidentally right near the cabin in Norway where the Thor villain Enchantress has been exiled to. Deathstrike and Mary come across her, and after a brief fight, come to an understanding. Deathstrike explains that, with Arkea, she can restore the Enchantress’ powers, and then some, and she also agrees to do the same thing for Mary, to fix her split personalities permanently. And so, a Sisterhood is formed, and it’s a pretty formidable team. I was very surprised to see the Enchantress show up here, but this is the kind of thing I like, this team, featuring a Thor villain and a Daredevil villain, really makes this title feel like a part of a wider universe, which is something X-Men books can sometimes struggle with.
Brian Wood also continues to develop the subplot with Bling, as she discusses her problems with being rejected for a date with Mercury to Jubilee. Wood makes an interesting point about how the X-Men are supposed to be all super-tolerant, but nobody is doing anything to stop people being a bit homophobic towards her, and then it takes a surprising turn, as Bling kisses Jubilee! Is that on? Isn’t Jubilee a teacher? How old is she supposed to be anyways? It’s confusing, but it may just have been to make Mercury jealous, it was hard to read her expression.
As I said, this title, after a shaky start, is getting good now, the art, from both the Dodsons and Barry Kitson, was great, and the villains are awesome. I do think that maybe it was a bad idea to do an issue that was so villain-centric when the main heroes aren’t really that well established, but it doesn’t matter when the story is well-written.
Wonder Woman #26– Whilst I’ve very much been enjoying the last few issues of this book, they have been a little slow, so this issue, that ramped up the action a bit and ended with a pretty major event, was very welcome indeed.
The main crux of the issue involved Cassandra’s kidnapping of Milan, and the attempts from both Orion and Wonder Woman to rescue him. Cassandra is trying to get Milan to tell her where the First Born is, but he refuses, and before she can really put the screws in, Orion shows up and furiously starts kicking the crap out of the Jackal Men. I’m a big fan of Orion as a character, so it was cool to once again see him get a bit more focus, and for Azzarello to really start examining what makes him tick, as well as his temper. Wonder Woman, Hermes and Siracca also join the fight, and I was pleased to see Hermes and Diana on the same page again.
In the midst of battle, Cassandra rips off Milan’s blindfold, and he is able to see where the First Born is, and well, he’s in the midst of another fucked-up torture scene at the hands of Apollo. Milan sees poor old First Born (never thought I’d say that) in a bath full of milk and honey, covered in flies that are eating him ‘from both ends’, which is just… ewww. But even after seeing this, Milan refuses to tell Cassandra where he is, even going to say that he’d rather die than tell her. Cassandra is about to make just that happen, when Wonder Woman just straight up tells her that the First Born is on Olympus. Whilst this does manage to save Milan’s life, it’s not exactly a smart move on Wonder Woman’s part, firstly because, well, Cassandra now has what she wants, secondly, because Milan now feels worthless, and also because she hasn’t really saved his life, as Cassandra stuck a bomb on him that will detonate in 1 minute. To save Milan, Orion boomtubes him off to New Genesis, but we have no idea whether or not that will work, for all we know, they both blew up on the way. So basically, Wonder Woman fucked up, which is refreshing.
To make matters worse, once she returns home, something else has gone terribly wrong, as Zola has ran away. This was due to some extremely sneaky manipulation by Strife, who basically used Lennox’s decapitated head to guilt Zola. 2 people have died to protect her and her baby, how many more will before the end? Zola leaves thinking she is protecting Diana, but really, she’s just causing more trouble as she walks straight into the hands of Dionysus.
This was an excellent issue of Wonder Woman as usual, but I think the extra action and the events at the end elevate it back to the heights we know this title can reach. The last few have been slow, but now, with Zola possibly heading for Apollo, the pace should quicken, and more epic shit is going to go down. I actually think you need these slight pauses for the big stuff to have meaning. It’s the same as in Invincible, you need stretches where smaller stuff happens so you know what big actually is. Goran Sudzuka’s art was great as ever, if we can’t have Chiang, he’s the next best thing, and I love his take on Apollo.
Animal Man #26– With the news that this title is coming to an end with #29, this issue took on added importance and meaning, as it dawned on me that the crazy stuff that is set up for Buddy Baker’s future here could actually happen, that there will be consequences here that count, and man, that is exciting.
Most of this issue takes place on the strange alien world that Animal Man was zapped to at the end of last issue. Buddy is confused, surrounded by weird aliens he doesn’t understand, and most importantly, confronted by a giant rampaging monster that is stomping the shit out of everyone. It soon becomes clear that these aliens seem to have similar abilities to either Animal Man or Swamp Thing, and that they are supposed to be fighting each other. Buddy, along with the giant rampaging monster, is the last man standing, and A-Man is able to tap into the monster’s own power to kill it, which is pretty awesome. I remember starting a thread on the old Newsarama about whether or not Animal Man could take the abilities of humanoid aliens (like say, Superman), and it causing a big row, but this issue would seem to indicate that he can. I dunno, I don’t want to open that can of worms again.
So, Buddy is alone on this weird planet, but he is soon confronted by a weird spindly green dude called ‘The Bridgewalker’ who reveals that the powers of The Red, The Green and The Rot are not simply limited to Earth, that all planets across the universe have their own Reds and Greens, and that the planet they are on, Seed Planet is in charge of keeping the universal balance. The Bridgewalker is dying, and so he summoned a bunch of Avatars from around the Universe to Seed Planet for basically a Royal Rumble to decide who will be his successor. Since Buddy won, he has to become the new Bridgewalker and leave his old life behind and be some kind of cosmic sage. Buddy of course, is having none of this, he desperately needs to return to Earth and save Maxine. He is able to convince The Bridgewalker to allow him to go home, in exchange for, whenever the Bridgewalker does die, which could be weeks from now, could be years, he will return to Seed Planet and take up the mantle. Bridgewalker gives Buddy a ‘godseed’ that will help prepare his body to become the new Bridgewalker, and also gives him back his access to The Red, which is where Animal Man heads straight to.
There, he is confronted by the bodies of all of the Totems, and a ranting King Of Limbs, who basically is going to kill him.
This was a crazy issue that really could change things up for Animal Man. It makes sense that the idea of The Red would be apply to other planets as well, and with this title coming to an end, I could actually see Buddy Baker becoming this ‘Bridgewalker’ and going off into space. I also think that this ‘Godseed’ might be the thing that brings Cliff back from the dead. The art from Cully Hamner was also excellent, he draws some awesome weird aliens, and there were a couple of very cool double-page spreads where the Bridewalker explained stuff to Buddy. It’s a shame that Albuquerque needs a fill-in so soon, but hey, Hamner is pretty much just as good.
I can’t wait for the final 3 issues of this book, it’s been one of the most consistent New 52 titles, and whilst I’m sad to see it go, Lemire is going out on a high.
Green Lantern: New Guardians #26– The various Green Lantern books continue to be very enjoyable in the wake of Lights Out, and whils this title is not as central to proceedings as the others (which is necessary, Kyle is supposed to be dead) but it’s still very well-written, as Justin Jordan explores some cool and weird sci-fi concepts.
This issue is basically a war between the Utopian Exurans, and all the pissed of alternate reality Exurans who have had their lives turned into Dystopias, with Kyle, the Guardians and Carol Ferris caught in the middle. To make matters worse, Kyle can’t use force to stop the battle, as the planetary safety system that made Exuras such a Utopia, tries to stop violence, and if he were to unleash his full power, the system would strain itself too hard and just blow up Exuras. With the Dystopian Grandfather controlling the dimensional gateway and pretty much fracturing reality, time is of the essence, but there doesn’t seem to be much of an apparent solution.
In the end, it is diplomacy, not violence that solves things, as the Guardians are able to convince Dystopian Grandfather that the Utopians are not monsters, but just people, and that if he goes through with his plan, he will be just as bad as them. Basically, two wrongs don’t make a right. The portals are shut down, and some of the Dystopians are left behind. Whilst it was as bit odd that the Guardians, not Kyle were able to save the day, Kyle at least was able to defeat the Dystopian Nias in their fight, and at the end he lays down the law. Kyle tells the Exurans that they should use their dimensional portal to make every version of their planet into a Utopia, and if they don’t… he will. Carol is surprised at Kyle just throwing his weight around like that, but Kyle seems fine with it. Could this be a sign of things to come? Will power corrupt the White Lantern? The ending of this issue was also very interesting, with the Guardians discussing what Kyle saw behind the Source Wall, and how something is coming and Kyle isn’t ready for it. I wonder what this threat is? New Gods?
The art for this issue was once again solid, I love Brad Walker’s style, and even though he didn’t draw every page, Geraldo Borges is a solid fill-in. The GL titles really are in good shape at the moment, and with all of the foreshadowing going on, they don’t seem to be stopping any time soon.
Batman ’66 #6– Another incredibly fun issue of Batman ’66, and at this point it’s actually quite hard to review this title. The plots are pretty much a load of enjoyable nonsense.
The main story here is actually not from Jeff Parker, and instead Tom Peyer steps in to pit Batman up against the villainous Bookworm, who is just hilarious. I especially love his henchmen, Endpaper, Bookplate and Joyce Carol, that is funny. Bookworm’s plan is to build up as much knowledge about Batman as possible, and create a ‘Batcylcopedia’ which will allow him to predict every move the Bat makes, as well as figure out just who it is under the mask. This being Batman ’66, his plan is unnecessarily overcomplicated, involving stealing a giant checkbook and attacking a matchbook museum, but since they all involve books, it makes sense. In the end, Batman is able to trick Bookworm into thinking that his secret identity is Alfred by using using terrible british slang. It was great to see that a writer other than Parker was able to nail the unique balancing act that this title requires, how it can’t be too dumb, and whilst Peyer did lean a bit closer to outright parody, he still got it spot on. The art for this story comes from Ty Templeton, who is one of my favourite, underrated artists. I loved the Spider-Man/Human Torch mini-series he did with Dan Slott, and he just has a classic style that suits a retro series like this one.
The second story, from Jeff Parker and Ted Naifeh is a slight affair featuring Batman and Robin going up against Olga, Queen Of The Cossacks and all of the Russian stereotypes that entails, but it was funny as ever, and included some very cool moments, like the visual of Batman and Robin riding bears, and also a very interesting 1-page interlude that showed Barbara Gordon at work in the Gotham Library and a strange magic book. These stories haven’t shown much in the way of continuity so far, but this scene indicates that we are going to see some more continuing plotlines, which is cool, there are only so many ridiculous villains.
This title is always a big barrel of fun, and it’s a pleasure every month, I think everyone should be reading it, whether in print or on the iPad, it’s so good.
Black Science #2– Whilst the first issue of this series really dropped us in at the deep end, with this second instalment, Rick Remender takes a step back, and starts develop the various characters and also explain a bit more of what’s going on. Of course, since those characters are trapped in some kind of insane space-war between Germans and Native Americans, there’s still plenty of craziness to go around.
The issue begins with a flashback to just after Grant McKay has completed ‘The Pillar’, and here we see that he’s not your average scientist hero, he celebrates by cheating on his wife, smoking some pot and being all introspective. He believes that with ‘The Pillar’ and having the ability to travel between universes, he can help mankind. Of course, since The Pillar has been sabotaged and they are trapped in some alternate world, it might not be that helpful.
The story then moves to the present day, and the aforementioned Germans Vs Native American space war, where our main characters are trapped. Someone has smashed the homing beacon, so they can’t just go home, and the timer is also fucked, and that means that everyone is going to be stuck in the middle of this war for the next 4 hours, which is going to be dangerous. The danger is not far away, as a German soldier stumbles upon the group, and stabs Grant. Luckily, one of the group, Kadir, can speak German, and so they discover that if they want to save Grant, they need to find a Shaman from the Native side.
Throughout this issue, both in another flashback, Remender does a strong job of developing a few of the non-Grant characters. We find out more about Kadir, who was the man who provided funding for this project, and a he really is a massive prick. Ward also seems like an interesting character, he has military training, and it looks like his back-story is that he pulled a bit of a Wikileaks and revealed to the public that the US Army was killing civilians with drones. This got him a dishonourable discharge, and 5 years of nothing, until Grant McKay trusted him and brought him on as security for his team. Hell, even though all he does in this issue is tell jokes, the fact that he does that when nervous is an interesting tic for another character, Shawn. In the previous issue, all we really knew about was McKay and how he was in an alternate reality, now we know about the rest of his team, and also some of what motivates him.
Remender is still showing that inventive side, with the setting of this particular reality, but all of that counts for nothing if you don’t care about the characters, and now we do, as flawed as they all are. Matteo Scalera’s art was excellent once again, the scale of the battle going on above the character’s heads was excellent, and he demonstrates a great sense of design, as well as awesome facial expressions, Kadir’s dickhead leer just makes me hate him.
This issue was a big leap up from the already excellent #1, I could tell that the first issue really was just scratching the surface, and man, I can’t wait to see what else Remender and Scalera have up their sleeves.
East Of West #8 – In less than 10 issues, Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta have created a huge, epic world in this title, and I’m really enjoying how each issue of this current arc is focusing on one specific character and revealing more about them, whilst at the same time continuing Death’s quest to find his son.
I’ll start with that stuff, because it’s relatively short, Death and his two companions are going down that strange spiral staircase that came out of the sea, and have been doing so for 2 days apparently. Death knows where to go though, because apparently he helped to build this structure, and that it’s a prison. Death plants a flower in front of one patch of wall, which opens up a door for him, which he enters, to see ‘The Oracle’, who is chained up, and man, she is creepy looking. She’s got a big bulbous brain, and there are tentacles coming out of her eyes, not the prettiest visual. Death is willing to offer something in exchange for the location of his son, but what is it he’s willing to trade? We’ll have to wait until next issue to find out. Hickman is taking it slowly with this plot, which is odd considering how quickly things moved for Death in the first arc, but I don’t mind, as it allows for more focus on supporting characters.
The character under the spotlight this time is President LeVay, who has returned to the White Tower to find that there is unrest in the city, and people are rioting against her. It’s not clear why they are rioting, as the public can’t know about the 3 Horsemen, surely? But it doesn’t matter why, really, just that they are, as a flashback reveals that one of the biggest demands the Horsemen made of LeVay was that she keep the people in order, that their plans require a sedate populace. If LeVay can’t keep ‘the cattle’ under control, well, then they’ll just kill her like they did everyone else and find somebody to replace her. This is a great explanation for just why LeVay gets so hands on at the end of the issue, going down onto the streets to question some protestors herself. She basically asks them what it will take to make them stop, attempting to bribe them, and when they refuse… she shoots 3 of them in the head and allows the other to go free and spread the word. It looks like LeVay isn’t going to use politics or diplomacy to restore order, she’s just going to scare the shit out of everyone. I bet FOX News wouldn’t give Obama nearly as much crap if they knew he was willing to kill people in cold blood.
Nick Dragotta’s art was fantastic as always, I mentioned the creepiness of The Oracle, and that is obviously all down to him. Everything else looks great too, and Frank Martin’s colours also continue to be fantastic. This is a great looking book on top of the fascinating story. This issue added a much more modern political element to things, and really, this book is becoming a hybrid of so many awesome genres, science fiction, western, apocalyptic horror, and now, politics. Hickman is ambitious, perhaps overly so most of the time, but here, that ambition is paying off big time, each issue brings something new and exciting.
Pretty Deadly #3– With this issue, I feel like I’m finally starting to ‘get’ Pretty Deadly. The first 2 chapters, whilst lovely to look at thanks to Rios, really were very confusing and I had a hard time working out just what the hell was going on. But with this issue, DeConnick reveals a lot more about Ginny’s backstory, and we learn just what the importance of several more of the characters are, and just how they are all connected. I still don’t think it’s as good as a lot of the hype, but now things are a lot clearer and I enjoyed it a lot more.
There are still some scenes and moments that don’t really work, like the opening ‘Bones Bunny and Butterfly’ stuff, which just seems disconnected and pretentious at the moment (although it did have an armadillo in it this time, which was cool), and also the conversation between Johnny Coyote and that bird didn’t make much sense either. But once the story moved to the aftermath of Ginny’s fight with Big Alice last time, everything starts to coalesce a lot better.
Ginny and Sarah have an interesting conversation, which basically boils down to the fact that Ginny wants to find Fox and kill him, and Sarah wants to protect her friend, who she believes is a good man. Why does Ginny want to kill Fox? Well, all of this is pretty much explained in a story he tells to Sissy, which expands on the legend of Ginny we heard in #1. It looks like Fox was the man who locked his wife up in the tower, leaving her to father Ginny with Death. Fox offered his life in exchange for Death bringing back his wife, and when Death refused, Fox blinded himself.
Fox would have returned to the land of the living, but then he found out about young Ginny, who he wants to take with him. Fox claims that he is her only living relative, and that he has rights. Ginny doesn’t want to go with him, because he killed her mother, but Death strikes a deal. If Fox goes to a river of blood, and slays a beast that will rise from it, and bring the body to Death, then Death will stop Ginny from killing him, and make it so that she cannot come to the real world except in dreams. Fox goes to this river, where he finds a crying black woman (Sarah?) and prepares to kill the beast, but when it rises, it’s a load of arms holding… a baby. Unable to kill the baby, who has different-coloured eyes, so she’s probably Sissy, he runs away with her. So it looks like the reason Ginny is after Fox and everyone is because he killed her mother, and somehow, Sissy is some kind of monster. It’s all a bit strange, but it makes the events of the last 2 issues make a lot more sense. Of course, given that this is all a new twist on what we learnt in #1, there is probably a lot more to this back-story.
Whilst Fox is telling this story, the rain is lashing down, and it causes a flood which eventually washes everyone away. What caused this flood? No idea, but then confusion pretty much rules when it comes to this series.
As I said before, Emma Rios’ art is what makes me overlook any dissatisfaction I have with the writing in this title, everything here just looks beautiful, the layouts are inventive, the characters are full of personality and everything combines perfectly with the omnipresent Jordie Bellaire’s colours.
Back in my review for #1, I said that I thought this series would read better in trade, and I think I am being proven right. After reading #3, what happened in #1 and #2 is far less confusing, and I imagine that after a few more, I’ll be fully turned around on this title and loving it. In this day and age, you need to give titles room to grow and explain themselves, you can’t expect #1 to give you everything.
CONTINUED IN THE COMMENTS