Hi there! And welcome to a very special International Women’s Day edition of my comics review column! How is it special? Well, it’s exactly the same as every other week, so we’re treating women equally!
Plus, there’s new issues of She-Hulk and Velvet!
As well as those books, there’s a couple of exciting debuts in the form of Moon Knight and Starlight (hey, that rhymes), the penultimate issues of Trillium and Forever Evil, more Loki: Agent Of Asgard and a bumper Batman/Superman Annual.
You can click the links to head to the forum threads, but you already knew that. Let’s get on with it!
Iron Man #22– ‘Iron Metropolitan’ comes to an end, but it’s not really an ending as Kieron Gillen uses this issue to mostly set up the next big story arc, ‘The Rings Of The Mandarin’ and introduce the next big villain for Iron Man to face. I like this because it once again demonstrates that Gillen is doing some long-term planning, but it does also feel like a lot of the very interesting characters and ideas introduced in this arc are being left behind. I’m sure ‘Troy’ and Abigail Burns will be sticking around in some form, but the concept of Iron Man trying to build the city of the future is something that could have lasted for a lot longer than 5 issues.
We begin right in the thick of the action, with Iron Man, his drones and Abigail Burns (she refers to herself as ‘Red Threat’ in this issue, when previously she was Red Peril) fighting Lord Remaker and The Exile. The good guys look outnumbered, until they are saved by Arno, who is not dead, and has his own suit of armour, which is all kinds of bad-ass. Tony had thought Arno didn’t want a suit, but the truth is that Arno didn’t want Tony to build one for him, he wanted to make one himself, and now he has. I’m glad Arno isn’t dead, and I really like the very slow, subtle way Gillen is planting seeds of conflict between the Stark brothers, it’s a story that could bubble under until #50 or something, it could last the whole of Gillen’s run. With the tide turned, Exile teleports away, and Lord Remaker retreats to detonate another bomb, but before he can get there, he is attacked and beheaded by a mysterious someone who also happens to have a Mandarin Ring. Abigail heads off to find Remaker, and when she does, the same mystery man chops off her hands and steals her rings.
So, the immediate threat to Troy is over, but that doesn’t mean the city is safe, as a handless Abigail lectures Tony and Marc about how, with Tony as it’s figurehead, Troy will always be at risk of attack from Iron Man’s enemies. This is especially true now because of the Mandarin Rings, and how they are drawn towards people with an axe to grind against Tony Stark. So, reluctantly, Tony is forced to resign from his post as ‘custodian’ of Troy, and pass it off to Arno, who the public don’t know is his brother. For most heroes, this could be seen as a win, but given Tony’s ego, this is a serious bruising, and on top of that, Troy was what he was using to distract himself from the revelations of the ‘Secret Origin’ arc. Without that distraction, Tony may spiral out of control, and in fact, we even see him consider drinking at the end of this issue, and it’s a special drink, the last bottle of the Stark Family wine, and from the summer he was born. He doesn’t drink the wine, but instead smashes the bottle against the wall, which is of course, very symbolic. We aren’t getting Tony confronting his past just yet though, as now he wants to hit things, and those things are the Mandarin Ring-Holders, but of course, he needs to find them first.
The issue ends with the big reveal about who the mystery man who stole the rings was, and it’s not a man at all, it’s an elf, and not just any elf, it’s Malekith The Accursed! It’s a shame this surprise was ruined by the solicitations, but I’m still very excited for this upcoming story, Malekith’s recent storyline in Thor was very entertaining, and I always enjoy seeing superheroes go up against villains that aren’t normally their problem (Acts Of Vengeance, bitches!) and seeing Tony Stark against a magical, fantasy villain is a great example of that.
Joe Bennett’s art was once again very strong, and overall, this was a solid conclusion to an interesting arc, that I’m glad is just the start of something bigger.
Loki: Agent Of Asgard #2– This second issue of Loki, whilst probably not quite as good as #1, was still a hell of a lot of fun and another great example of Al Ewing melding different genres together with a sense of humour to create something that feels new.
The issue begins, appropriately enough for Loki’s new sex-symbol status, at a speed-dating event, where an unseen woman is approached by a series of men telling her lies, but she is instantly able to see through them and know the truth. Of course, Loki is the last one to see her, and she starts to mock him about his costume, and ask him why he’s there. He explains it’s part of his next mission from the All-Mother, and so begins the flashback, where he is approached by his Mothers (in the form of a bowl of punch) and tasked with bringing back Lorelei (the younger sister of The Enchantress, who is in this week’s and next week’s episodes of Agents Of SHIELD, so a nice bit of cross-pollination there) back to Asgard, as they are tired of having rogue Asgardians wandering around Midgard without supervision.
Loki tracks down Lorelei across Europe, where she has become a Con Artist, and eventually we see her pull off her big job, robbing 1 Billion Euros from a Monte Carlo Casino alongside two fellow sexy lady bank-robbers. Loki is telling this story to the mystery woman, which is an effective technique from Ewing, as it keeps us guessing about how exactly Loki stopped Lorelei, and her interruptions and questions mirror ours. This heist sequence was a lot of fun, especially when Lorelei uses her powers on a Casino Guard to make him fall in love with her, and the page is a parody of old Romance Comics, complete with cheesy slogan (“She heisted my heart!”). Loki eventually reveals to Lorelei that he is one of the sexy lady bank-robbers, ‘Trixie The Hacker’, which is a surprise to Lorelei, because the Old Loki would never have stayed in a female form for as long as this, which not only demonstrates that this is a new Loki, but also gives us our first glimpse of the much ballyhooed sexual fluidity of the character. Lorelei escapes through a magic portal, and proving he hasn’t changed that much, Loki steals some of the Billion Euros himself.
So how does this lead to Speed Dating in New York City? Well, with Lorelei having missed out on her big score, she’s had to go small, and that means picking the pockets of lonely, love-lorn men, and where better to find them than Speed Dating? Throughout the issue, we are meant to think that this mysterious woman who can see through lies is Lorelei (or at least, I thought she was, but I might just be stupid), but this book never does what you think, and it isn’t, Lorelei is at the next table, and she, along with everyone else in the room, isn’t seeing Loki for what he truly is, but as his illusion.
So who is this woman? Well, her name is Verity Willis, and ever since she was a kid, she couldn’t be lied to, she didn’t believe Santa was real, and she enjoy fiction because she can’t believe it. I think Verity is going to be a very interesting character, and she’s a perfect pick for a love interest for Loki. Who better to match with the Prince Of Lies than someone who can see through any lie? I can’t wait to see her again, and from the looks of the end of this issue, we will, and actually, she might be less of a love interest and more of a nemesis. We shall see. The issue ends with Loki finally confronting Lorelei, and again surprising us, not bring her in. Instead, he recruits her for a crew of his own, for a job that supposedly dwarfs the Casino Heist. So even though we didn’t see any of Old Loki in this issue, there’s another subplot in it’s place, this book is only just getting started, and already I’m intrigued by at least 3 different things.
Lee Garbett’s artwork impressed me once again with how well he balanced the humour and expressiveness of Loki with the more traditional super-heroic action elements. I’m really liking this book, and unlike my previous experiences with younger Loki, the good stuff is good enough to outweigh any annoying references to cosplay or Harry Styles.
She-Hulk #2– After the first issue ended with She-Hulk beginning her new status quo as a Lawyer out on her own, this issue sees Charles Soule begin to flesh that out, by introducing a couple of exciting supporting characters and exploring, with as much verisimilitude as he can, the realities of running your own Law Practice.
We begin almost immediately after the end of #1, with Jen having set up her office… but having no work to do, and just staring at her desk. She opens up the ‘Blue File’ she was left with by her former employers, which seems to be a case where a man in North Dakota sued her and a bunch of other superpowered people (heroes and villains, like Doctor Druid, Tigra, Spectrum, Wyatt Wingfoot and The Shocker), we don’t get any more movement on this, but I’m sure it’s something that will come into play in the future.
Before Jen can really start despairing, the owner of the building, Sharon King knocks on her door to give her a tour, and also tell her that the people interviewing for the role of her Paralegal are waiting. We discover that this building leases exclusively to businesses ran by super-powered people. Sharon herself is a former Mutant who was depowered on M-Day, and she knows how hard it is for meta-humans to rent normal offices, and although the insurance is high, she’s found her niche. When Jen gets to Reception to see the interviewees, all of them except one run away scared, and so she’s pretty much forced into hiring the strange individual that is Angie Huang. Much like the blue file, there’s more to come from Angie, she takes a creepy monkey with her everywhere she goes and she has a lot, perhaps too much experience for the role, along with some mysterious gaps. Angie wants to start right away, but as we saw earlier… there’s nothing to really do. Jen tries to ring around her fellow Lawyers to ask for tips and to let them know to send stuff her way, but they all already know, and have been told by her former Firm to pretty much blacklist her.
Understandably pissed off, Jen calls it a day and heads to a bar to blow off some steam with none other than Patsy Walker, Hellcat! She-Hulk and Hellcat ‘gal-pal’ it up, drinking booze, dancing and having fun. But the real fun begins when Hellcat declares that she wants to go out and punch something, as she, even more so than Jen, has nothing going on. I loved this scene, and how it treated Hellcat like a real person, and showed that being a superhero has kind of negatively impacted her life, she has no real job, no boyfriend, nada. Plus, she’s been drinking as much as She-Hulk, and because she doesn’t have the same super-powered physiology… she is hammered. Hellcat leads She-Hulk to an abandoned warehouse that, according to a SHIELD Agent that was chatting her up, is actually a secret AIM base. They bust in, only to find it empty, but of course AIM is there. Two AIM goons attack, planning to kill a superhero and make a name for themselves in the organization. This, just like the idea of an office complex leasing itself to superheroes because nobody else will, is another cool example of Soule’s theme of how, in the Marvel Universe, superheroes aren’t treated as people, whether it’s by the law or individuals. To these AIM guys, She-Hulk and Hellcat aren’t people, they are stepping stones.
The fight ends in a stand-off, with She-Hulk staring down an AIM guy who has a robot arm around Hellcat’s neck, and man, it was bad-ass, as Jen threatens to kill him, and we get an epic 2-page spread of She-Hulk’s eyes, brimming with anger and Gamma energy. Javier Pulido’s art made just 2 eyes look amazing there, and he was just awesome again throughout. The lay-outs are excellent, all of the characters are brimming with personality, and it was cool to see an issue of art from him that was a bit more superheroic, and got really very Kirby indeed when AIM got involved. Muntsa Vicente’s colours were also great.
After the AIM guy surrenders, She-Hulk helps Hellcat up, and offers her a job as an Investigator. So with Hellcat, Angie, Sharon and the rest of the building, we’ve got the start of a supporting cast. It’s not quite Awesome Andy and the rest of the gang Dan Slott used yet, but it could very well grow into something just as good.
The issue ends with Jen returning to work the next day to find her first ever client, but it might not be one she wants! It’s Kristoff Vernard, the son (Is he actually is son? I can never remember) of Doctor Doom, who wants to defect from Latveria and become a US Citizen! I can’t wait to see how Soule writes about this in #3, it’s going to be great to apply real-world immigration law to fucking Latveria.
Nova #14– Sam Alexander’s journey into space with Beta-Ray Bill continues to be very enjoyable, and to make things even better, this issue is sure to please disgruntled fans of the DNA era of Marvel Cosmic, by bringing back a location, and character that are very familiar and popular.
Nova and Bill are following the chaos in Skaarn’s wake, and begin the issue by saving a ship that he attacked, and working together pretty well. But they can’t keep doing this without knowing where Skaarn is headed, but all Sam heard is that he’s going to ‘nowhere’. As both Bill and us readers will be aware of, Skaarn was actually referring to ‘Knowhere’, the disembodied Celestial head that was a big part of DNA’s cosmic books, and former base of the Guardians Of The Galaxy. Bill and Sam head that way, and along the way, they bond, talking about how much they love being in space (that’s been one of my favourite things about this title, ever since the beginning, it never brushes off how amazing this stuff would be if it actually happened, Sam’s sense of excitement stops the crazy sci-fi stuff from feeling banal, like it sometimes can in, say, the Green Lantern books) and Sam even gets Bill to share some of his origins. We don’t get a recap of how he became all Thor-ified, but it is revealed that, before that happened, Bill was almost sucked out into the vacuum of space before being saved by the Rich Rider Nova, so Bill fighting alongside Sam is him returning a favour, as well as rescuing his people from Skaarn.
Sam and Bill reach Knowhere, and Sam is suitably impressed by the giant, floating head, again, treating something truly out there properly. The plan is for Bill to sneak into the base undercover to find out what Skaarn is up to, whilst Sam waits outside. Skaarn’s plan is to buy, or, as he ends up doing, stealing a ‘War Bringer’ robot, and as soon as Bill confronts him, he warps the robot into reality, right in Sam’s nose, and sets it off. He also tells his crew to kill all of the captured Korbinites if Bill goes after him. Sam’s fight with the War Bringer was good stuff, at first because of the comedy bit where Sam was smashed into an alien woman’s changing room, but then because of how it ended, and how Sam demonstrated his growing maturity and skill as a superhero. He remembers that he used the Nova force to charge Skaarn’s ship, so he should be able to use it to charge other things too. He ties some loose Celestial wires around the War Bringer, and fires Nova Force through it, which basically destroys the giant marauding robot monster. I don’t think the Sam of #1 could have done this, and it’s great to see that kind of character development.
Bill comes back and tells Sam that, in order to stop Skaarn from killing the Korbinites, he’s been forced into agreeing for both of them to be teleported to the other side of the Universe, but Sam finds a way around it, using a projection hologram to trick Skaarn into sending that away, instead of him. But even then, Bill is gone, Sam’s all on his own! Or is he? Because a mysterious voice appears in his head, leading him to find… Cosmo! The psychic Russian dog needs Nova’s help to defeat Skaarn and help bring Knowhere back under control, and we’re going to see that next issue. It’s great to have Cosmo back, and to see that, even if answers to the big discrepancies between the old Cosmic books and the new ones aren’t forthcoming, some stuff is coming back, and you know what? Cosmo as Sam’s permanent sidekick and mentor would be the best use of him I feel.
David Baldeon steps in as artist with this issue, and does a good job, his style is similar in a lot of ways to Medina’s, it has that same youthful energy that fits teen heroes, but it’s a bit less cartoonish, which works for a story with less comedy in it in a different setting than normal. Gerry Duggan is continuing to take Nova to new heights, and given that this issue sees the return of Cosmo, I hope any remaining Rich Rider die-hard hold-outs return here, Sam is a new Nova, but he’s still a great character.
Moon Knight #1– It’s a shame that Warren Ellis spends so many interviews bad-mouthing superhero comics, because he’s a really good superhero writer, and I’d even go as far to say that, as much as I love Transmet, Global Frequency and Fell, his superhero stories are his best work, Planetary in particular is the best thing he’s ever done for me. But it doesn’t matter so much what he says, more what he writes, and now he’s returned to Marvel to write a new Moon Knight series, and no surprise, it’s really bloody good. With this opening issue, Ellis, along with art-team extraordinaire Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire, takes a character that, even under Bendis and Maleev struggled to grab readers and puts a new spin on him, whilst at the same time remembering the past. This issue is only a teaser really, but I can’t wait to see what comes next.
The plot here is a done-in-one mystery that’s not really a mystery, but it expertly sets up what Moon Knight’s new status quo will be, and what Ellis’ take on the character is. We open with Moon Knight having returned to New York after his time in LA during Bendis’ run, and a blogger discussing this news with journalist friend and basically recapping the character’s origins, that he was a mercenary, blah blah, shot in front of a statue of Khonshu, blah blah, went crazy and became Moon Knight, blah blah. We then see Moon Knight making his way through the city, in a bad-ass all-white limo being driven by nobody, to meet the police.
I love the rationale Ellis uses here for why Moon Knight wears all white, it’s because he wants people to see him coming, and Shalvey and Bellaire’s art portrays that beautifully, as, when in costume, Moon Knight is coloured completely differently from the rest of the book. In fact, he’s not really coloured at all, he’s like a black-and-white character in a colour world, and looks amazing. The art throughout looks fantastic, as Shalvey unleashes some stylish layouts and techniques, but this colouring adjustment really stands out as something special. Speaking of the costume, in this issue, Moon Knight isn’t wearing his traditional cape and cowl combo, instead he’s in the all-white suit and tie that he wore in that one issue of Ellis’ Secret Avengers. From the covers of upcoming issues, it looks like we might see the traditional suit, but I personally love the new look, it’s something different, to go with this different-looking book.
Moon Knight meets up with the police, and in cool Ellis twist, the head Cop refuses to acknowledge him as a superhero, because then they wouldn’t be able to work with him. Instead, he’s just Mister Knight, a concerned citizen who wants to help. This is Ellis approaching superheroes in his own unique way, and it’s just cool touch. The case to be solved is a slasher, but Moon Knight quickly works out that there’s something different about it, it’s not random, and the fact that all of the killings are within one small radius leads him to believe that the criminal is hiding out underground in the tunnels.
Moon Knight heads below, where he finds the killer, a former SHIELD Agent who was blown up by an IED and left crippled, who has been killing people to take their limbs and organs and upgrade himself. Shalvey’s depiction of this shambling horror is appropriately creepy, and again, this is a uniquely Ellis villain. The way Moon Knight defeats this guy is also pretty unique, as he throws a ‘Moonarang’ at him without either him, or the audience seeing it. This is not going to be your typical superhero comic that’s for sure.
The issue ends with a flashback to before Moon Knight’s return to New York, with Marc Spector under psychiatric care. Interestingly, Spector’s doctor comes to him and tells him he’s actually not crazy, he really was possessed by the spirit of Khonshu. The nature of Khonshu, and how he has 4 aspects is what led to his split personalities, whether they be in the form of Steven Grant and Jake Lockley, or as Captain America, Wolverine and Spider-Man in Bendis’ run. This is a different take from a lot of the more recent Moon Knight stories, which definitely leant more on the ‘he’s fucking mental’ side of the character, but I think Ellis could be onto something here in really exploring the nature of Khonshu. Plus, there’s only so far you can go with an insane protagonist I feel. Of course, that doctor seemed pretty creepy, so he could just be crazy, at the very end, back in his creepy abandoned base, Marc Spector sees visions of Grant, Lockley, and a very creepy looking Khonshu. It’s going to be fascinating to see what side Ellis eventually falls on.
This was a spectacular opening issue, the art was beautiful, the dialogue strong, and the take on the character new and exciting. If you’re looking for a superhero title that’s a little off-beat, that’s in the same spirit as Hawkeye, then Moon Knight is perfect. Just don’t read any of Ellis’ interviews, they might drive you mad.
The Punisher #3– Frank Castle’s LA fun gets a little less fun for him this issue, as he goes face to face with Electro and the true scale of the Dos Soles cartel gets a bit clearer. Nathan Edmondson is doing a fantastic job so far at mixing a Punisher crime story with a Punisher superhero story, and, as I’ve said before, this really is the perfect compromise between MAX and the Marvel Universe.
The action picks up with Frank up against Electro, and I liked how realistically Edmondson treated this, as Punisher really was out-matched. To Spider-Man, Electro isn’t really that big a threat these days, but for a normal human like Frank Castle, he is hugely dangerous, so much so that he is forced to hide and retreat. If Frank is going to take down Electro, he needs to be able to plan, some good old fashioned internet argument style ‘prep time’. Frank hides until night-time, when he calls Tuggs to come pick him up and take him back to the city, and discuss his next move.
The Howling Commandos are still on Frank’s trail, and we see them at the scene of Electro’s attack, and also looking through Frank’s military service records. Edmondson is taking it slowly with this plot, but it’s working. We the readers know that the Commandos are out there, but the Punisher himself doesn’t, so there’s a nice bit of added suspense. Another subplot that’s moving along nicely is Officer Sam, who we see in the diner worrying about the escalation in crime on the streets and, unusually for a cop, siding with the Punisher, saying he has the right idea. She even puts on the ‘memento mori’ ring from #1. We only just had a ‘Lady Punisher’ in Rucka’s run, so I don’t think that’s what Edmondson has planned here, but it is interesting to see where it goes. I thought she was going to be a love interest for Frank who loved him but hated the Punisher, but nope, this is something different.
This issue also focuses a bit more on the Dos Soles themselves, as we see their leader, Guillermo, chastise Electro for making a scene. We only get little teases about his true plans, but they look big, we see boxes full of the chemical weapon, and to him, the Punisher is a mere annoyance he doesn’t want to be distracted by. This is a level above regular Mexican gang stuff, they are partnered with AIM, and in a few weeks, once the plan has worked, Guillermo says he will be ‘untouchable’.
After finding out the Dos Soles’ location by beating up an informant, the issue ends with Punisher assaulting the Dos Soles’ base and basically wasting fools in classic Punisher style. As I said about previous issues, Mitch Gerads’ art really shines in these action scenes. They are fantastically paced and feel very cinematic. I know comics shouldn’t try and be movies, but this felt like an awesome action movie scene. Certainly better than anything in the two Punisher movies at least! Frank takes out most of the average Dos Soles, but, like at the start, he doesn’t have enough for Electro, who sneaks up behind and fries him, capturing him for the boss to take care of. Frank said he needed time to prepare, but I don’t think this is quite what he meant!
This was another strong issue from Edmondson, the action was exciting and the plots moved forward, you can’t ask for much more.
Avengers A.I. #10– This issue wraps up the Avengers’ journey inside The Diamond, but this story, and the threat of Dimitrios, is far from over. Sam Humphries is telling a big story here, and from the look of the last page here, it’s only going to get bigger, and more crazy, which is awesome.
We begin with a nice bit of comedy in the ‘real world’, as Iron Man and Sunspot struggle to work out how to stop the people rioting about gas prices. They can’t beat them up, because they are just citizens, but they can’t let them just, well, riot, so all they can do is hold them off until the Avengers inside the digital world can do something. Those Avengers make their way to Gascheck, thanks to Gibson, and when they find the rogue app, he appears like a giant red tentacle baby. Andre Araujo has worn his Otomo influence throughout this book, and it returns here, Gascheck looks like Tetsuo at the end of the Akira movie. Doombot tries to blast Gascheck, but it doesn’t work. Instead, Pym has to try talking to him, as it turns out that Gascheck doesn’t realize that he’s hurting people. He was designed simply to help humanity find cheap gas, and that’s all he wants to do. He’s a good app that has been manipulated by Dimitrios, and to save the day he decides to ‘deactivate his higher functions’ (ie, lobotomise himself) and sacrifice himself for the good of humanity. Once again, Humphries’ central theme of how A.I. are just as capable of good as humans are shines through, and when Gascheck turns himself back into a normal sized red tentacle baby, you really do feel sorry for him. At least he’s going to a good home, as the Lovelace Army are going to raise him again.
So, the rioting has stopped, the day is saved, Captain America respects Hank Pym again, and Dimitrios has been foiled. Hooray! But of course, he has another plan up his sleeve, and it involves Jocasta and Monica Chang, who are sent on their first Robot Hunter mission, which is to bring in the rogue LMD, Jessie Clatterbuck. The mission goes well, too well, the MODOCs she is supposed to be with have her tied up, and they are too easy to defeat. Obviously, Jessie being captured is all a part of Dimitrios’ plan, and whilst Monica knows this, Jocasta is unconvinced. What was up with that weird Robot Parrot that Monica saw? That came out of nowhere, but it the kind of odd touch that makes this series work.
The issue ends with another talking animal, as Alexis, under the tutelage of her sister Eton, meditates in front of a talking frog. She concentrates and concentrates, and when she opens her eyes… she’s up in space, surrounded by floating statues of Avengers, and with a version of herself dressed like Captain America, talking about the ‘Avengers Empire’ and how she needs to rescue Jessie Clatterbuck to stop Dimitrios. Is this real? Is this the future? I have no idea, and I love that.
Uncanny X-Men #18– Wow, this is an exceptional issue of Uncanny X-Men. Part of this is down to the beautiful art from Marco Rudy, and part of it is due to the excellent character work done by Bendis on Cyclops. I’ve enjoyed the last few issues of this book that moved the focus towards the new students, but the real star of this title, and of the X-Men franchise in general really, has always been Scott Summers, and this issue moves the spotlight back onto him, with awesome results.
The issue begins with Cyclops and his team returning from a mission, and Tempus badgering Cyke about why he kicked Hijack off the team and saying that he should be allowed back. But before the argument can really begin, they discover that the base has been attacked, and that Kitty and the rest of her team have vanished. They find a Shi’Ar Weapon, which of course, leads them to come to the correct conclusion that they came and kidnapped the young Jean Grey, as we’ve seen in the pages of All-New X-Men and Guardians Of The Galaxy.
Cyclops grits his teeth, and we get a series of flashbacks that fill in the gaps between Kitty and the original team’s defection to this side, and today. The first one sees Illyana bring Kitty to the New Xavier School, for a gripping confrontation between Cyclops and Shadowcat, where she has her first right to his head, ready to phase through and kill him for what he did to Xavier. Since this is a flashback, there’s not as much tension as there could have been, but this was still a great scene, as Bendis gets down to the nitty gritty of whether or not Cyclops was responsible for killing Xavier, and perhaps more importantly, whether he thinks he was or not, as different writers have had him saying contradictory things. It basically comes down to Scott not blaming himself for what the Phoenix did, but rather blaming himself for not being strong enough to stop the Phoenix from controlling him, which makes sense to me. Cyclops also tells Kitty just how truly guilty he does feel, and this seems to be enough for Kitty, and she and Scott sort of reconcile, and agree to move the original team to his side.
I loved the short scene that showed Emma Frost’s reaction to this, how she made it all about her, and how it was a plot by Kitty Pryde to rub a young Jean Grey in her face and piss her off. I love egotistical Emma, such a great character.
After this, there are two really strong scenes with Cyclops interacting with members of the All-New X-Men, which are just rife with awkwardness and pathos. The first is with Young Jean, and man, it’s awkward. How weird would it be to meet a teenage version of your dead wife? And to have her hate you? So sad. Jean handing Scott the copy of their wedding invitations she found a while back, and telling him she can’t imagine how she’d ever get married to him was just heart-breaking. The scene between Cyclops and his younger self was a bit lighter, as Scott basically warns him to stay away from redheads and blondes, and basically women in general, but it ends on a dark note, as Young Scott asks his future self what happened to Professor X. We don’t see the answer, but, yeah, more awkwardness. That’s what I love about the time-travelling X-Men storyline, Bendis is using it to more for interpersonal dramatic scenes than crazy science fiction nonsense, and it’s made for some amazing conversation scenes.
The issue ends with the X-Men still working out what to do, but all Cyclops can do is just unleash a massive blast of angry red energy. Scott Summers is an angry, messed-up man, and as this issue shows, he has good reason to be. It looks like next issue, he’s taking that anger out on SHIELD. I can’t wait.
As I said, a big part of how good this issue was is the art, and man, Marco Rudy blew me away with his work here. The layouts were JH Williams-level good, the present-day pages split into Xs, and the flashbacks split like Cyclops’ fractured eye-beams. I also loved the way he used different styles at times, there was one page that was painted like David Mack (colourist Val Staples deserves a lot of credit for this too), and he also did a good job at homaging classic John Byrne panels. This volume of Uncanny has featured artistic style that you wouldn’t normally associate with superheroes throughout, and this might be the best example yet. I can’t think of an X-Men book that looked this different since Bill Sienkiewicz’ New Mutants.
Action Comics #29– It’s not often that Superman really loses, so when he does, it feels like a big deal. In this issue, pretty much everything that could go wrong for Supes does go wrong, and I’m very excited to see where Greg Pak goes with this, and how well he manages to write Superman under such pressure without going all Zack Snyder on us.
Superman starts out the issue from a losing position, as he’s been stabbed in the gut by Ghost Soldier, with a bunch of those freaky underground monkeys turning into monsters at the same time. Baka tries to help him, but that only brings in Lana Lang’s fellow scientists and excavators, who start firing at him. Superman gets up, to try and help these monkey-monsters and protect Lana and Baka at the same time, but before he can get very far, Ghost Soldier just straight up kills all of the monkeys, chopping them into bits, and causing them to revert to their formerly cute appearances. Ghost Soldier tells Superman that this was the only option, and that surely he couldn’t believe he could have helped everyone? But of course, this is Superman, he never gives up, he always believes, he always wants to save everyone. I love that Pak has brought back that aspect of the character to prominence, yes, it is a bit naïve and old-fashioned for the modern world, but Superman should stand for something better than the modern world, and seeing his anguish and outrage over what happened to the monkeys was very powerful.
Superman and Ghost Soldier fight, which is harder than it would seem for Supes, because of course, Ghost Soldier can become intangible. But even when intangible, he’s still made of particles, and those particles can freeze, which allows Superman to use his ice-breath and stop him in his tracks. There’s one small line here that really stands out to me, and it’s Superman calling Ghost Soldier out for his belief that, because he’s a soldier who has to follow orders, that excuses his actions. Superman doesn’t hold with that one bit. Superman takes off Ghost Soldier’s helmet and looks through it, which allows him to see the location of his bosses, but before that, there’s more trouble to come. A fleet of unmarked military aircraft are on their way with bombs, and Ukur The Beastmaster has returned to take Baka back underground. It turns out Baka is the Prince Of Subterranea, and so even though Superman promised to protect him, and desperately wants to, he can’t let him stay on the surface as he won’t be safe. So Baka is taken home, crying all the way, we haven’t seen the last of him or Subterranea I’m sure.
A pissed-off Superman takes on the planes, but to make things even worse, when he gets back to Lana, it turns out that the Orb she took from Subterranea, that could very well be used to revolutionise energy and save the planet… it’s cracked and broken. So, as I said, nothing has gone right for Superman this issue, except for maybe the fact that Lana didn’t die. I liked the moment of bonding between the two, and Greg Pak continues to write their contrasting inner monologues really well. It’s just great to have a supporting character around again who really knows Clark Kent and Superman, because in the New 52, the likes of Lois and Jimmy don’t seem as close.
The issue closes with a vengeful Superman flying off with Ghost Soldier towards ‘The Tower’, where he’ll come face to face with the commander, a woman named Harrow, who from the artwork, looks to be permanently phased and half-way transparent. Pak has just started to scratch the surface with both this organization and the underground kingdom, I’m very excited for what’s next. Aaron Kuder’s artwork also continues to be fantastic. He does have a cartoonish style, but he can convey serious moments too, he just gets better and better, and is perfect for Superman.
Green Lantern #29– The war with the Durlans takes an interesting turn, and Robert Venditti continues to work wonders here and make me of all people start to like Hal Jordan as a character. I’ve said before that by the end of his run, Johns had sort of Stockholm-syndromed me into accepting Hal, but Venditti has turned him into a much more well-rounded character and, by putting him into new situations, has actually forced him to grow.
We begin on Mogo, where a Fish Lantern finds a hidden stash of the radioactive materials Durlans need to transform, but soon move to Earth, and this might actually be the first time Hal has actually been on his home planet during Venditti’s run, if it isn’t, it’s the 2nd or 3rd time at most. Hal is there to visit his brother, and tell him that he’s going to be gone for a while due to the big War that’s a-brewin’ out in space. He assures Jim that Earth isn’t going to get involved in the War, because it’s now in a Red Lantern sector, and also introduces him to Simon Baz, who, as the only GL allowed on Earth nowadays, has been assigned to protect him. It was good to see Simon again, I think he’s a good character, and with Hal coming back from the dead and Justice League Of America being turned into the Martian Manhunter and Stargirl show lately, he’s kind of disappeared. I hope this signals a larger presence for him in the Green Lantern books.
We get a short scene where Saint Walker talks to Mogo, which, despite the cover focusing on Walker, doesn’t really go anywhere. He’s still depressed and sad. We do discover that Mogo is moving to the front-line of the Durlan War, which is a cool move. The Lanterns having a mobile planet as their base is certainly coming in handy.
The following scene is where the big character development for Hal comes in, as he confesses to Kilowog, Salaak and new recruit Two-Six, that he’s struggling as Leader of the Corps. Even though they were evil, there were still 10 or so Guardians doing that job before, and it’s too much for just one guy to handle, especially when that one guy is Hal Jordan. So… Hal asks for help. Can you imagine the Hal of a few years ago asking for help? I certainly can’t, but then I’m biased. However, just because Hal is stepping back a bit, that doesn’t mean he’s not going to lead the Corps into battle, as he and a bunch of others fly off to the hilariously-named planet Gwottle, where it is believed the draining devices the Khund are using are being manufactured.
The Lanterns are able to stop the Khunds, and disable to the drainers (thanks to Gorinn-Sun, a Lantern made of Lava), but the real big deal here is that the Gwottlens haven’t been conquered by the Khund and forced to join them, they wanted to help, as they see the Corps as tyrants after the revelations about the Energy Reservoir, and they aren’t the only ones. The Durlans really have out-maneuvered the Corps here, and it’s making for a fascinating epic story. However, it’s not all rosy for the Durlans, as Venditti finishes up by showing the last Durlan spy on Mogo freak out because his radiation has gone missing. Soon he won’t be able to transform, and everyone will be able to see his true form, so that’s either going to be good for the Corps, as they’ll find him, or very very bad as he tries to do something drastic to get more energy.
Billy Tan’s art was once again solid, and whilst Martin Coccolo’s fill-in pages weren’t as good, I did appreciate their similar styles, as always for me, artistic consistency is key.
Swamp Thing #29– Man, Swamp Thing never gets a moment’s rest does he? No sooner has he dealt with Seeder and started to dig into the truth behind Capucine, but a new problem turns up in the form of The Sureen. It was obvious from the very start that Swampy shouldn’t have been so trusting of these cultists, but I’m still intrigued as to what their true purpose and motives are. Charles Soule’s run has been excellent so far, and keeps on improving too. If you’re enjoying his She-Hulk, pick up his other book about a big green person, it’s just as good!
Swamp Thing is initially confused about The Sureen, and has no idea who they are. Their leader, Knot, explains that their organization worships The Green, and are there to help the Avatar, and to do things for them that only humans can do. Brother Jonah comes out to confirm that this is true, and also to reveal that he knows Capucine, in fact, he was the Swamp Thing who offered her ‘Sanctuarium Folium Viride’ in the first place. If all of this stuff with The Sureen feels a bit retconny, it is, but Soule makes sure to give a good reason why we’ve never heard of them before. The Parliament Of Trees locked the memories of The Sureen away from the current avatars, because some of the things they could do needed to be kept a secret until they actually happened. It’s a bit wonky, but by the end of the issue, it makes sense. The Sureen say they do all this without asking for anything in return, but they do want one thing… for Swamp Thing to grow a special magic fruit for them to eat as Sacrament. He does this, and The Sureen, along with Capucine and Brother Jonah, get high as balls on this fruit and get as close to the Green as humans can. I’d like to see a story where a down on his luck Swamp Thing starts growing weed and magic mushrooms to make money, that would be amazing.
This partying allows The Wolf and Lady Weeds to sneak away from the house and head back to New Orleans, where, well, they are up to something. The Wolf is looking for a way to get back the money he made back when he was alive, and he threatens a Lawyer to help him get it, and we see Lady Weeds start to get some tattoos all over her arms. I’m very intrigued as to what these two characters are up to, and how they plan to regain some form of power.
Swamp Thing wakes up to find them gone, so he sends Capucine and Jonah off to find them, and then finally asks what the special task The Sureen can do for him is. The answer is that they can allow him to transfer his mind into the body of a human for a brief period. As I said, it makes sense that The Green would want to keep this a secret, as if every Avatar knew they could do this, they would do it immediately abandon their duty. We also find out that the reason they never came to this Swamp Thing before was because the original Swampy was never actually human, which makes sense. Swamp Thing does this ritual, and transfers his mind into the body of a Sureen called ‘Pistil’, but as soon as he does so, it’s clear he’s been double-crossed. He falls unconscious, the Sureen take off their robes and fake bears to reveal that they aren’t what they seem. They zip up the now empty Swamp Thing body into a bag, and disappear. When Alec Holland wakes up in his new human form, his house is on fire and he immediately starts puking up blood. So yeah, that was a mistake.
This was another strong issue from Soule, and Jesus Saiz’s art was great too, I particularly loved the page where everyone was tripping out on his magic fruit, that was beautiful, and allowed Matthew Wilson to break out from his usual green and brown dark colour scheme.
Batman/Superman Annual #1– This annual may be expensive, but it’s well worth reading, and I would even go as far as to say that it’s the best issue of Greg Pak’s take on this book so far.
The issue begins with Superman and Batman in the Fortress of Solitude, checking in on Mongul, who was sent to the Phantom Zone after he tried to conquer the Earth previously in this book (he tried to use a video-game, it was… weird). Batman chastises Superman for just sending Mongul there with no trial or whatever, but as the narration makes clear, he’s just doing that to wind his friend up. Throughout this run, Pak has written the central relationship very well, they are friends, yes, but they aren’t overly friendly, and that little bit of distrust is important. There’s a reason Batman keeps a Kryptonite ring around. Mongul continues to be important, as the real meat of the story begins when his War-World arrives on Earth, and his son, Jochi reveals himself to Superman, and because he and Batman defeated his dad, demands eye for an eye justice. Unless Supes and Bats bring themselves and 2 members of their ‘clans’ with them, Jochi will destroy Earth.
I really like how this Annual expands things out to include the entire Batman and Superman families, it makes it feel like a bigger deal, and a story worthy of the larger page-count. Superman brings in Supergirl and Steel to come with him, his girlfriend Wonder Woman wants to come, but Superman wants her to stay behind and protect the Earth in case anything goes wrong. Krypto tags along too, and apparently Superboy is dead? I dunno. The only person Batman brings along is Red Hood, because he’s the Bat-family member with the most experience with aliens (and from what I’ve seen of Red Hood & The Outsiders, that experience is mostly fuckin’), but Batgirl comes too, as she has been secretly listening into Batman, just like Batman was secretly listening to Superman. I’m not a huge fan of Barbara Gordon being Batgirl (or just Batgirls in general), but in this issue, Pak basically treats her like Oracle, so that works for me. I really liked the scene where Batman tells Batgirl and Jason that they might not come back from this, as they are all just humans going up against crazy aliens. We as fans know that nobody is actually going to die, but it was a strong moment, with Bruce remembering Jason’s death and Barbara’s crippling, as well as a brief, tragic glimpse of Damian.
So, everyone flies on up to War-World, but when they get there, not everything is as it seems. Jochi has been challenged for the leadership, which has led to an all-out tournament, and if he loses, then Earth will definitely be destroyed. Batgirl and Steel sneak off to try and disable the giant laser cannon they’ll use to do it, whilst Batman and Red Hood join forces with Jochi to help him win the tournament as ‘The Batman Clan’. Superman, Supergirl and Krypto also enter as the Superman Clan, and although the actual meat of the tournament is over all too quickly, it was a lot of fun, and not what I expected at all. Superman and Batman’s teams both reach the final, but that’s not quite the victory it appears, as the final as different rules. Whereas in the previous rounds you could win without killing your opponent (of course crucial for Batman and Superman’s sense of morality), in the final, only 1 team can survive. Our heroes have to fight each other to the death, and they have to make it convincing, because if the rest of War-World senses cheating, then they’ll kill them all, and Earth anyway.
They fight, and even though Bats whips out his Kryptonite, he hesitates, and the jig is up, Earth is about to be destroyed. Luckily, Batgirl and Steel are able to disable the laser cannon just in time, but in the process, that causes the entire planet to malfunction, and begin to fall towards Earth. All the heroes are able to escape, and Batman tries to help Jochi come with them, as the rest of War-World is trying to kill him too. Jochi refuses to come, and falls in with the rest of them. Just as War-World is about to impact the planet, Superman is able to suck it into the Phantom Zone, yep, the whole planet, which is pretty awesome. Superman and Batman commiserate over Jochi’s sacrifice, and whilst it’s a bit much to conflate a 1-issue character with Damian Wayne and Superboy dying, it did work.
The issue ends back in the Phantom Zone, with Mongul killing Jochi and regaining control of War-World, so it looks like the original will be back soon enough, let’s just hope his next plan is more like this and less like the initial arc.
This Annual was split into 3 different chapters, each with a different artist, and each of them brought something different to the table. Regular series artist Jae Lee drew act 1, and he delivered his usual high-quality here. Kenneth Rocafort handled act 2, and his style was much more suited to the action-heavy tournament scenes and Philip Tan, who I’m not normally a fan of, did act 3, and it felt like a good half-way point between Lee and Rocafort really. If you’ve been reading Pak’s run on this book, don’t miss this Annual, it’s worth the $6 for sure.
Forever Evil #6(of 7)– The penultimate issue of Forever Evil finally gets the conflict between Lex Luthor’s team and the Crime Syndicate going, and not only does that fight deliver, it also manages to surprise and shock.
We begin with both teams just standing on separate cliff tops looking grim and determined. The Syndicate is in Maine, looking up at the giant crack in the sky that is leading their nemesis towards them. Batman and Lex and the rest are over-looking Happy Harbor, and the remains of the crashed satellite. They head towards it, and at the same time, The Outsider contacts Owl-Man to tell him that Ultraman and The Grid have done something to Dick Grayson, so basically, everything will converge at the satellite. Once inside the base, Batman and Lex find Dick, and he’s been strapped into a piece of left-over Apokolips technology… the Murder Machine. There’s a timer strapped to his chest, and the only way to disable it would be if Dick’s heart stops beating. Basically, Batman can either kill his sidekick and surrogate son, or he can let the whole world die, not much of a choice.
The Outsider sneaks off to take care of the Syndicates mysterious hooded prisoner, but before he can get there, he’s killed by Black Manta, in a really bad-ass moment. I can’t believe that Johns has made Black Manta cool, but he has, and I’m someone who doesn’t normally buy into Johns’ ‘cool’ villains like, say, Captain Cold. I mean, he literally is cool I suppose, but you know what I mean, no matter how hard he’s tried, The Rogues are still lame. Sinestro’s ring detects the energy of Firestorm beneath them, which means that the rest of the Justice League are imprisoned nearby, but before they can do anything about that, the Syndicate come bursting in, and it is on.
The best moments here were Black Adam going right after Ultraman for Round 2, and the confrontation between Captain Cold and Johnny Quick, where Cold just straight up freezes Johnny’s leg and kicked it off. Not only was this Johns removing someone’s leg, rather than their arm like he normally does, but it was just a great scene, especially because Johnny has been featured as the most dangerous CSA member really. I do think Cold’s spiel about how he respects the Flash too much to do this. He’d be a much better villain if he actually tried this on Barry Allen, the Rogue’s weak-ass code of ethics just doesn’t work for me, they’re supposed to be bad guys!
The issue ends with two big moments, the first comes when Lex Luthor steps past Batman to ‘kill’ Dick Grayson and disarm the bomb. The art isn’t actually that clear here, but there’s no way Dick is actually dead, Lex probably just gave him some kind of pill that stops the heart briefly, but still, it gets Batman mad and a fight between them should be sweet.
The other big moment is the reveal about the hooded prisoner. It turns out to be Alexander Luthor of Earth-3, like most of us would have guessed, but Johns provides another twist to it, as Alexander turns out to be the Shazam of his world. He says the magic word ‘Mazahs!’ and transforms into a massive, I presume evil Captain Marvel with a ginger beard. I think this is a very cool move, not only because nobody ever would have guessed it, but also because the major villain of the story being another version of Lex works really well. Plus, seeing Black Adam up against Mazahs should be sweet.
There’s a lot to wrap up in Forever Evil #7, but I’m excited for it. I just hope Johns doesn’t pull a Trinity War and not even bother to end things and just move on to the next thing. This story needs to have at least some closure to it. I said David Finch’s art was unclear towards the end, and that’s true, but this was still solid stuff that you expect from Finch, his style really fits a big crossover book like this. Ever since Avengers Disassembled, he’s perfect for when big shit hits the big pan.
Trillium #7(of 8)– Jeff Lemire’s epic sci-fi romance nears it’s conclusion, and not only was this issue very well-written and drawn, but it mercifully didn’t need turning upside-down as much as the last one! Seriously, #6 was taking the mickey at times, but here, you only have to do it once or twice, which makes it much more effective.
The issue opens with William having a flashback to fighting in WW1, only of course, due to time being re-written, he shouldn’t be remembering that, he’s in the year 3797. In his memories, he sees a vision of the young Nika, speaking Atabithian, which causes him to wake up. Back in the future, Essie tells him that his brother is heading his way. Nika is also at the ruins, where she is approached by an Atabithian, it gives her a Trillium flower, so she is able to understand some of what it’s saying (this issue includes a full key for the language, so now we can all go translate ourselves if we’re that nerdy). The alien takes her to a whole, which is revealed to be the real portal, and made up of all sorts of weird, Kirby-style tech.
Before Nika can investigate however, Pohl shows up, and it’s revealed that her helping Nika get back to the Andes was a ruse so that the British Army could claim the territory. Pohl shoots the Atabithian, and Nika jumps down the hole, into the weird hinterland between the time-zones. She wanders the now desolate temple, and she also sees the ghostly version of herself, who points her in the right direction, which is of course, back to the future, and into the arms of William.
Sadly, they are only reunited for a page before Clayton receives a message that the ship coming to get them off the planet is now in control of ‘The Caul’. I must admit that I’d sort of forgotten about The Caul in recent issues, but it looks like they were very important all along, and probably have something to do with the Atabithians, and the Trillium plant and, well, everything.
This mini-series has been absolutely mental, and I can’t wait to see how Lemire will end it and how it all ties in together. Lemire’s art was of course on a par with his writing here. I loved the page where Nika jumped down the hole, and the way it changed angles. Even if the story here was no good, the art has been amazing and experimental enough to make it well worth reading.
Jupiter’s Legacy #4– After a pretty long break, Jupiter’s Legacy returns, and what do you know? Brandon and Walter’s revolution hasn’t turned out that well. I actually don’t mind the long wait between issues in this case, the story has jumped 9 years into the future, and having to wait a while sells that pretty well. I know it’s not intentional at all, but it worked, and it’s just great to have Millar and Quitely back doing their thing.
The issue actually begins in the past, as we get a closer look at what Sheldon, Walter, Grace and the rest actually found on the mysterious island that gave them their superpowers. It turns out that it wasn’t even an island, it was actually a space-ship, and that it had just been lying dormant for so long that plants had started to grow on it, which is interesting. We see the heroes go into some kind of doorway which takes them to another dimension, where we see more of the aliens that empowered them. There’s still a lot more to know about this secret origin, and the way Millar is spacing it out across the series has been effective.
This flashback is Chloe telling a bedtime story to her son, Jason, who has superpowers like her. She and Hutch have been hiding out in Australia for the last 9 years, unable to be detected by Brandon and Walter, and basically trying to be normal. In fact, they encourage Jason to be overly normal and hide his superpowers. So he has to pretend to crap at sports, to be bad at school, and even let himself be beaten up from time to time. Millar has a lot of fun with the comedy of parents wanting their child to fail, and all in all, it feels very similar to The Incredibles, and how Dash has to hide his super-speed. Millar’s other book this week also feels indebted to that movie, which makes for an interesting experience, but hey, if you’re going to steal (sorry, homage), steal from the best, and The Incredibles is certainly up there with the best superhero stories.
It also turns out that Hutch’s dad, George, wasn’t just an enemy of Sheldon’s, he was initially an ally, and one of the travelers to the Island before they fell out. I like that there’s just as much mystery about the past as the present, and that even though the heroes are dead, they will still be present. Even though Jason seems pretty content to hide his abilities, he is sneaking out to play superhero, and we see him sneak off in a home-made costume to stop a tornado. I can’t tell if Jason is going to turn out to be good or bad, he stops the disaster, but he also steals a little girl’s ice-cream. Hmmm.
This action from Jason however is what alerts Walter that there’s something going on in Australia, so either way, it was dumb. As for Walter and his revolution, Brandon is now the President, in his 9th year of office, but it’s not the Utopia Walter promised, there are riots, high unemployment, and basically, the world is still fucked. Brandon is not best pleased, and shouts so loud that he knocks back some protestors just with his voice. I was a little confused by the next scene, was that whole protest just a plant by Walter to allow Brandon to release his anger? The issue ends with Walter telling Brandon he might have located Chloe, and that he’s sending in a ‘Professional’, who is a scary looking dude with a pencil moustache and a cane.
This was a fun return for this series, and really, it’s where the story really begins. Frank Quitely’s art was, as you’d expect from him, excellent, it’s always worth the wait. I particularly like the way he draws Jason, as, going back to Damian Wayne, he draws kid superheroes like actual kids, which is all too rare in comics. This book just looks fantastic, and the art improves the story and pushes it to that next level.
Starlight #1– The second Mark Millar book of the week, and as much as I enjoy Jupiter’s Legacy, I think Starlight has it beat. I like Millar when he goes for shock value more than most, but for me, his work is best when it’s a bit more poignant and heart-felt. That’s why the likes of 1985 and Superior are among my favourite works of his, and it’s also why Starlight might eventually join them. The big pitch here is basically Millar homaging Fl