It's a sombre TWIP this week as we wave goodbye to Jason Aaron's Wolverine and Brian Wood's Northlanders. We'll miss those guys!
But of course, as one series ends, another begins, and there's a couple of new titles to celebrate, welcome aboard to America's Got Powers and The Secret Service!
Credits & Solicit Info:
Yes, it's time for another instalment of your favourite comics review column. Is that a bit presumptuous? Probably, but you know it's true.
This week is a pretty decent week, there's the aforementioned farewells and hellos, but there's also the best issue of Hickman's Fantastic Four yet, a flashback issue of Demon Knights and #2 of the much-ballyhooed Saga.
Avenging Spider-Man #6 – The Omega Effect begins, and it's a very good beginning, I just hope that any readers of AvSM who weren't reading either Punisher or Daredevil weren't totally confused. But then again I suppose that's their own faults for not reading two of Marvel's best books isn't it? This issue was mainly set-up for the actual story, with all 3 heroes (and I use that term loosely, who knows what Frank is?) plus Rachel Alves meet, fight for a bit, and then team-up to take on some Hand Ninjas, which is pretty much standard for a Daredevil story really. I liked how Waid and Rucka wrote Spider-Man, especially the bit where he tries to fight himself from making a joke about Frank Castle dating again, but just can't do it, that was a great moment. I also liked how they brought in the 'nobody dies' thing that Slott established in the pages of Amazing, a clever use of continuity and one that makes a lot of sense when Punisher is involved. Marco Checchetto's art was very strong as usual, I'm looking forward to having 3 servings of his art this month. In fact, my only problem with this issue was the extended American Football analogy at the end, but that's my problem, I'm sure all you lot understood it.
Mighty Thor #12.1 – This issue reminded me a lot of the 'Ages Of Thunder' series of one-shots that Matt Fraction did a few years ago, which remain not only his best Thor stuff, but some of the best work of his career. So having Fraction revisit some tales of young Thor and some actual Norse Legends was a lot of fun and a real highlight of his run. I loved seeing some of these stories depicted in the Mighty Marvel Fashion, especially the most famous one, in which Thor has to pretend to be a woman in order to get Mjolnir back and kill a shit-ton of Frost Giants. Barry Kitson depicted all of this wonderfully. I also liked how Fraction unified all of these tales with the notion of Thor doing everything to protect his family, and in particular Loki, and the suggestion that Loki's trickery goes beyond what we thought. It's interesting, and given that Loki is now a child again, raises some interesting questions about his future. For now, he and Thor really are brothers, but how long can that last? Oh yeah, and how freaky was skinny Volstagg? That just wasn't right! He's meant to be voluminous!
Winter Soldier #4 – Another very strong issue of Winter Soldier, featuring some very exciting action and a lot of plot-thickening. Seriously, how thick is the Lucia Von Bardas' evil plan? Wheels within wheels. I loved the Doom-on-Doom fight, with Brubaker excelling himself with the pompous dialogue of Doom. I also really liked the fight between Bucky and Arkady, it was brilliantly drawn by Guice. Hell, everything in this book is brilliantly drawn by Guice, he's really upped his game and given this book a truly unique look. So now it looks like Von Bardas plans on firing some Latverian nukes, but where is she aiming them? The US? Avengers Tower? Who knows?
Wolverine #304 – Jason Aaron wraps up his run on Wolverine in fine style, with an issue that not only serves as a kind of 'greatest hits' for his tenure as a whole, but one that also sets up stuff for the Wolverine & The X-Men title for the future and works as a fine action issue in and of itself. The main set-up is that Sabretooth, the newly minted Kingpin of all Asia is having a supervillain party, which Wolverine crashes, leading to violence. This fight was awesome, drawn brilliantly by the master of gore, Steve Dillon, and a great twist on the old 'Sabretooth tries to kill Wolverine every year on his birthday' story. In amongst Logan laying waste to a lot of his villains, Aaron brings back a lot of familiar faces, including Maverick, Dr Rot, The Adamantium Men, Kade Kilgore, one of the Buzzard Brothers, Melita Garner and the other ex-girlfriends, Yukio and Amiko, Wolverine's dead kids, Fat Cobra, Daken and more. It was awesome, and managed to make the zillion different artists work really well, it was great seeing the likes of Garney, Acuna and Guedes back drawing Wolverine again. This was a great issue and a great ending to one of the finest Wolverine runs ever, Cullen Bunn has a lot to live up to, that's for sure. And that's not forgetting that Aaron is still writing Wolverine every month in W&XM. So it's goodbye, but not really. SNIKT!
New Avengers #24 – It's the first tie-in issue for AvX, and this issue does a good job at straddling the line of showing the big event, but also not forgetting the various subplots that were already going on. Well, it's more like the only subplot, as this issue picks up on the Luke Cage/Jessica Jones drama, as they argue about how the can raise baby Danielle and also be Avengers. Bends writes the dialogue of this argument exceedingly well, but it seems like Jessica is being a bit narrow-minded to me, it's either be Avengers in the Mansion or not for her, why doesn't Luke just suggest that they live elsewhere and still be Avengers? It's not like Spider-Man, The Thing, Wolverine, Daredevil and others live there. The way the issue ended with Luke staring angrily as he flew headfirst into Cyclops' beams was very effective, what's going through his head? Is this his last fight? But as I said, there was more here than just Luke and Jessica, there was the set up for Avengers Vs X-Men, and this issue had some strong stuff which ties into the crossover, I particularly liked Storm's moment where she leaves to side with the X-Men, and Captain America allowing it. I also liked that some of the Avengers didn't know what the Phoenix was. This was a great example of how to do a tie-in, and not only does it make me excited for the next issue, but it made me want AvX #2 right now. So job done. Oh yeah, and in amongst all the drama, Bendis managed to fit in some funny stuff too! I loved Spider-Man's reaction to finding out about the Jean Grey School.
Avengers Assemble #2 – More fun action from Marvel's movie-stars, as details of the Zodiac's plot continue to emerge. I was very intrigued by the opening bit, with the mysterious voice talking to the members of Zodiac and guiding them to his will. Who is this disembodied voice? He wants cosmic balance or something, it has to be someone we know, a classic Avengers villain. The fight between Iron Man and Taurus was very good, Bagley really is the perfect artist for big bright superhero battles. I also like how Bendis has given us an explanation as to why it's this group of heroes who has to stop this threat. We all know that it's really because of the movies, but in-universe, it's because there's some kind of conspiracy and they have to keep it to themselves. I think Bendis is having a lot of fun writing the Hulk, he's normally so wordy, so it must be cool to write a big green dude of few words. This title continues to be fairly inessential, but it's fun and it is whetting my appetite for the film, which is out in less than 2 weeks in the UK! Oh yes.
Secret Avengers #25 – A satisfying conclusion to Rick Remender's first arc of Secret Avengers, and one that sets up a lot of interesting stuff for the future. The team thinks that they have defeated the Descendants and that the threat is over, but it's not, and dun dun dun! Ant-Man is actually working for Father! I wonder what kind of robot he is? A Deathlok? An Adaptoid? Or maybe he's just being mind-controlled? But I'm guessing the real Eric is dead. And Eric O'Grady isn't the only dead Secret Avenger either! Human Torch was 'killed' and although it looks like he'll live on as a disembodied intelligence, it's not quite the same is it? It was good that we did get an explanation as to the back-story of Father and everything in this issue, and how it ties in with Uncanny X-Force, although I'm surprised Captain Britain didn't mention that he recently came across the Orb Of Necromancy. On top of that, this issue managed to give each character something to do, and I'm glad to see that the flirting between Venom and Valkyrie was carried over from Venom's own title. It'll be interesting to see how those two books interact and reflect eachother. Gabriel Hardman's art was strong as usual, he's become one of my favourite artists. Next up is an AvX tie-in, but I'm looking forward to what comes next with these pesky robots.
Fantastic Four #605 – This was the best issue of Hickman's FF ever I think, and that's mainly because it wasn't insane cosmic nonsense for the sake of it, but insane cosmic nonsense that was tied in with the characters. Reed and his dad travel to the future, and find out that due to the serum the kids gave him, the Thing is now pretty much immortal, or at least, he'll live until the year 6012. Seeing these glimpses of the future was a lot of fun, but there was a real sadness here, the scene where a millennia-old Ben talked to the statues of his long-lost friends was really tragic and effective. Reed returns with a renewed sense of family, and settles down to have a beer and watch the boxing with Ben and Bentle. This was just a great issue, and showed that Hickman can do real human emotion when he tries, which only makes it more annoying that most of his work is so sterile. I hope this issue marks the tone for the rest of this run, because for me, this was what the Fantastic Four is all about. Yes, there's time-travel 4000 years into the future, but in the end, the book is all about the family and the characters.
Uncanny X-Men #10 – A good issue, and one that manages to not only tantalise and tease us for AvX (even though it's already started), but also to tell it's own story of the X-Men taking on Unit. That was a great fight, Unit is just such an interesting, creepy villain, and it was fun to see him take everyone out in different ways. I particularly liked how he took down Emma Frost and Namor, by basically making them do eachother. The fallout from this fight is the most interesting thing however, Emma and Scott are having some relationship trouble, Colossus is no so scared of losing control that he's asked to be imprisoned, and Unit is talking to Hope about the Phoenix! Uh-oh. It's a good job the Phoenix isn't coming to Earth anytime soon isn't it? What's that? Oh shoot! I also liked that this issue set-up the idea that the conflict between the X-Men and the Avengers wasn't just about Hope, as Cyclops' vanishing off to protect her demonstrated to Captain America that he doesn't really want to protect the world, just the mutants. It's great that this fight has so many sides. Oh yeah, and Agent Brand knows about X-Force, that's going to cause problems for sure. Carlos Pacheco was his usual awesome self on art, it's just a damn shame he couldn't do the whole thing. Speed it up Carlos!
Ultimate Comics X-Men #10 – A rather light issue, but it did feature one truly awesome moment. The bulk of the story was taken up with the rioting prisoners destroying the camp, and that was good, but the real meat here was the vote over whether or not they should kill the human guards, and Colossus' shocking decision not to go the Xavier way, but to kill them brutally. I say it was shocking, and it was at first, but when you think of it, it isn't really, he wasn't fairly well-treated like Storm was, but imprisoned deep below ground and tortured. He's not going to be a pacifist is he? But still, a great moment, and one that demonstrates that this ain't your daddy's Ultimate X-Men. (If your daddy is young enough to have grown up with the Ultimate X-Men... damn, you must be young, don't read this column, it's not appropriate!). At the end, the events at Camp Angel catch up to what went on in the first arc with Stryker's robots, I wonder how many people are gonna die next issue? Lots.
The Secret Service #1(of 7) – Another Millarworld title begins, and so far, it looks like being another pretty big success. The premise here is basically a James Bond type spy story but set in the real world. No superheroes here. The opening scene with Mark Hamill getting killed was a pretty good laugh, and I'm interested that his kidnapping does seem to tie into the main plot, the central mystery here is about a bunch of famous science fiction actors getting kidnapped. This is a typical Millar idea really, and it allows him to get in some funny references. I found the stuff set on the council estate with Gary very interesting, it's rare to see depictions of the British Working Class in comics, and this, to me, seemed fairly realistic (not that I'm working class, I'm decidedly in the middle), and it's going to be fun to see Gary go from the Chav we see here to a spy. The artwork here of course came from Dave Gibbons, and as befits a living legend, it's fantastic, his style works here because of the realism, he's always drawn even the most fantastical of things in a way that grounds them, and he does that here. If there's any justice in the world, this new project here will outsell DC's retread of his past. But that's a pipe-dream isn't it? For now, let's just enjoy some fantastic art, a cool new concept from the master of high-concepts in Mark Millar, and await the inevitable blockbuster movie.
Superboy #8 – Yeesh, I'm really getting lost with this book now. Every issue starts off in a completely different place to where the last one ended, and this issue had a whole new bunch of villains in there. Gone are Templar and Centrehall, now we have some weirdoes called Omen and Harvest. What? I guess it's my own fault for not reading Teen Titans, but for the first 5 or so issues this title did a decent enough job of standing at least somewhat alone. Now though... this 'Culling' crossover seems to have come out of nowhere. I suppose I'll have to check out the Teen Titans annual that kicks it off, but really, I'm not that interested in following the story, especially since it's going to involve a book written by Howard bleedin' Mackie. I may have to drop this book, which is a shame because on it's day it can be pretty damn interesting, and the fight between Superboy and Grunge here is a case in point, that was a really entertaining battle. I think DC made a mistake in tying this book so closely to Teen Titans so early on, it didn't allow either book to develop it's own identity. At least we got to see some more Gen13 characters, and now Beast Boy, who is red for some reason.
Green Lantern #8 – Man, the Indigo Tribe are really creepy, they make for much better villains than any of the other Corps have, whether Yellow, Red or Black. They just skeeve me out. I think it's very interesting that they seem to have been founded by Abin Sur, perhaps as some sort of illegal prison? It adds a new dimension to a character who is too often afforded saint-like status. I liked that this issue found time for both Hal and Sinestro to do something cool, lately I've found that Johns has focussed too much on Sinestro and Hal has just been along for the ride. But here we had Sinestro going full-on street-brawler and killing one Indigo Triber and then Hal still managing to win a fight with a severely weakened ring. Doug Mahnke's art was excellent as usual, especially Hal's awesome Tron-Cycle. This book continues to be really strong each month, having Sinestro as co-star really has re-invigorated it, against all the odds.
Frankenstein: Agent Of SHADE #8 – This was a damn good issue of Frankenstein, perhaps the best so far, which is great, but also a shame since Lemire is leaving the title soon. Let's hope Matt Kindt can deliver stories as good as this one. Frank and Lady Frank head to Castle Frankenstein to find their son, whom they had thought to be dead. The events of this issue really were tragic, I felt for Frank a lot, it really got to the underlying tragedy of his existence. He's a monster, and any happiness he has, like being a father is taken away from him because of it. It was interesting to see the differing reactions from Frankenstein and his wife to the death of their son, Lady Frankenstein quits SHADE in disgust, but Frank stays, the team is the only thing he's got. I also liked what happened in this issue with Ray Palmer, he also quits SHADE, are we finally going to see the Atom in the new DCU? Alberto Ponticelli continues to be great on art too, I think the slicker inks of Walden Wong have really improved the look of this book. Next issue looks like being a lot of fun, as Lemire drops Frankenstein into the events of his other title, Animal Man. A good way for him to bow out I think.
Grifter #8 – Nate Edmondson ends his Grifter run in the same way he begun it, with Grifter jumping out of a plane. This was a strong issue, and one that really demonstrated this book's strengths, it can deliver a great action set piece. The fight between Cole and a Daemonite in the body of his brother Max at the Eiffel Tower was excellent, well-paced by Edmondson and well-drawn by Daniel Sampere, an artist who is new to me, but did a good job. I liked that Cole did end up killing Max, it showed he's a bad-ass not to be messed with. The last page of the issue is also interesting, indicating that the events of these opening 8 issues have been manipulated by Tsavo all along, and that he wanted Max to kill the other Daemonites. That's an intriguing development. It was kind of weird how this issue killed of Sofia so quickly, but then I guess Edmondson kind of had to clear the decks for Tieri and Liefeld's run. I'm intrigued about that run, Liefeld gets a bad rap, but he does know how to deliver action, and Frank Tieri is a very underrated writer. I think their Grifter could surprise a lot of people.
Demon Knights #8 – A strong issue which takes a break from epic warfare, and flashes back in an attempt to explain the relationship between Madame Xanadu and Jason Blood/The Demon. Which one does she truly love? The man or the monster? We are treated to a lengthy flashback from Xanadu's POV which would seem to indicate that it's Jason she loves and that she only sleeps with the Demon to pacify him. But then at the end the waters are muddied by the Demon's own recollections, which tell us the opposite, that Xanadu really does want to shag a demon. I don't think it really matters which is true in the end, it gives a nice sense of mystery to the Xanadu character, we don't know what to expect from her. I was also interested in the concept introduced in this issue of there being many different Camelots, is this a meta-textual quantum theory thing? Or is it just that Merlin has founded many Camelots as his appearance at the end in Alba Sarum would seem to suggest? Speaking of Merlin, his killer looked like a Daemonite to me. We've seen references to the Demon Knights in Stormwatch already, so this development is interesting, showing just how long have the Daemonites been present on Earth. The art in this issue was very good too, Diogenes Neves does his usual excellent job in the framing sequences, and Bernard Chang delivers some great stuff in the flashbacks, he's an underrated artist I think, he needs a big title to help him break out.
The Shade #7(of 12) – The Shade's Barcelona journey comes to a satisfying conclusion. The revelation that the Inquisitor is now working for Hell was a good one, and sets up a nice dichotomy for Barcelona's hero and villain. The hero is a vampire who is a devout Catholic, the villain is a priest fighting for Hell, very cool. I'm not sure quite why Shade was able to unleash such power at the end and why he was thinking about his wife so much, but it was a great moment, wonderfully drawn by Javier Pulido, who is just brilliant. I'm guessing this stuff with Shade's wife and that big red demon will be explained in the next issue, which is a Times Past story set in 1901. I wonder what's the deal with that villain at the end? He looked Egyptian, something to do with the British Museum perhaps?
The Unwritten #36 – This issue did a wonderful job of bringing two minor subplots together and really demonstrated how well thought-out the mythology that Carey and Gross have created is. Not only does this issue revisit the Tinker on his quest to find his lost love, but it also features the return of everybody's favourite foul-mouthed rabbit, Pauly Bruckner. The two characters join forces in an attempt to escape the mysterious 'wave' that is wiping out the worlds of fiction. Not only does this chase lead to lots of great literary cameos such as Alice In Wonderland, Sancho Panza, a shit-load of magic swords and a lot of other literary locations, but we also get to see Pauly's children, in a scene that reminded me a lot of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I'm guessing that the events of this issue and the 'wave' were caused by what Tom did in #35 in killing the Leviathan. The worlds of story are being destroyed, but what does that mean? It's going to be exciting to see how this issue effects the main story, and although I'm itching to get back to Tom and Richie and all that, I'm also very much looking forward to the next Pauly and Tinker appearance (even if he's no longer a rabbit). What's the betting that they'll run into Lizzie Hexam?
Saucer Country #2 – I kind of feel like this issue should have been combined with #1 to form a bumper-sized debut, because really, this issue improves on the first one in pretty much every way (except art, Ryan Kelly is equally awesome here as he was last mont) and makes whatever problems I had with #1 disappear. This was just a damn good comic with some great moments and enticing mystery. I loved the scene with Arcadia trying to explain what happened to her advisors and trying to keep them onside, that was the West Wing kind of feel I was looking for. And then the sci-fi is there creeping around the background. How does the professor know that he's about to be offered a political job? Are those little figures aliens? Or is he just crazy? I like that Cornell is still keeping his cards close to his chest, there's a possibility that Arcadia could just be mad, she could have snapped after being anally raped. But then again, her ex-husband is also seeing aliens, so what's going on? I love that ambiguity and sense of confusion. I also really liked the explanation as to why the aliens that Arcadia 'saw' look like the clichéd 'Greys'.
Northlanders #50 – The final issue of Northlanders is not just the ending to the Icelandic Trilogy, but it also seemed like Brian Wood summing up everything he thinks about Vikings, and why and how that culture died away. Here we see the last stand of the Haukssons, as it all pretty much falls apart. But it's not just that they were defeated, but that there whole way of life was no longer valid, Iceland had changed, there was religion and politics now, not just a man taking for himself. Danijel Zezelj's art was fantastic as usual, I loved his splash pages, the desolate backgrounds were perfect. I'm sad to see Northlanders come to an end, it's been a strong series, albeit a little inconsistent, but it's great that Wood managed to tell 50 issues of fairly realistic Viking stories. I know that we've got his run on Conan to tide us over in terms of sword-based action, but I'm sad that my monthly comics pile will be a little less diverse in terms of genre from now on.
Saga #2 – After the much-hyped #1, Saga now has to demonstrate how the series is going to work going forwards. And on the basis of this issue, it's going to work really well. BKV throws in a load more crazy concepts into the mix here, and I just dig how fucking weird this Universe he's created is, Magic that can only cast by telling a secret, a weird spider-assassin, a train that looks like a dragon, an agent that's a sea-hors. It's just mad. I just hope that there is some logic behind this and BKV isn't doing a 'ninja zombie dragon robot pirate' thing like what was the trend a few years back. But I reckon we can rest easy on that score, Vaughan has always imbued his high-concepts with real depth and I think this is no exception. This is demonstrated by how well-developed the characters of Marko and Alana already feel, and how I'm already invested in them. This is accomplished not only through strong dialogue, but also the clever technique of the infant daughter's narration. Fiona Staples' art was once again top-notch, it's great that whatever craziness BKV throws her way, she takes it in her stride and makes it look awesome and fit in a world that kind of makes sense. Did anyone fill-out the questionnaire in the back? Some mental questions!
Haunt #23 – This book continues it's excellent run with an issue that was a little less crazy, but no less good. Daniel returns to New York and finds out that he's the subject of a murder investigation. Which makes sense, I was waiting for the fall-out of that violent outburst. We also find out that the Church that Daniel used to 'work' at was not an ordinary church, but part of the evil Second Church. It seems like a rather convenient retcon, and in some ways it's silly that this never came up before, but I can buy Daniel not paying enough attention to notice all of this fucked up shit, he was too busy smoking and sleeping with hookers. Was anyone else kind of freaked out by the scene of Kurt watching his wife having sex? Her blank expression was kind of worrying. But not as worrying as the giant fire-monster that's tearing up the city! Nathan Fox kicked ass on that thing, it was recognisable as a monster, but also looked like flame, constantly shifting. Fox really is bringing it on this title, this book is flying under too many radars, and it shouldn't be, because it both looks, and reads awesome.
America's Got Powers #1(of 6) – Jonathan Ross and Bryan Hitch's new superhero/reality TV satire series is this week's Review Group pick, so that thread is where you'll find my longer review.
Conan The Barbarian #3 – Another very good issue of Conan, and I was surprised that it was so good considering there was no action. Well, Conan got some action with Belit, but you know what I'm talking about. That sex-scene was very well done, it was sexual without being sleazy, perhaps because it was drawn by a female artist it felt a bit less exploitative as most comic-book sex-scenes? I dunno, but it was good. Cloonan really is brilliant on this book, there's the aforementioned sex stuff, but the flash-back with Conan hunting in the Cimmerian Mountains was also excellent, as was everything else. It's a shame she's gone for the next 3 issues, I'm not familiar with fill-in artist James Harren, what's he like? I was confused by the final scene, was Conan seeing visions of the future? If so, what was with the shot of him in what looked like a French Foreign Legion Uniform? I'm not particularly well-versed in the Hyborean Age, but I'm pretty sure there isn't a society with clothes like that!
Another column over, another day, another non-existant dollar.
I think my favourite book this week was probably Wolverine #304, it was a great summation and farewell to Aaron's run, one of the best Wolverine runs of all time in my view.
Join me next time for a helping of AvX, THUNDER Agents, Defenders and The Rocketeer! Glorious.
Review by: Niam Suggitt