Summer is here in the UK, but TWiP keeps on trucking.
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Welcome along once again to This Week In Punchy, the best comics reviews column in the known universe.
And we've got a very good of comics for you indeed, with new issues of Daredevil, Avengers, Wonder Woman, The Shade and Saucer Country! Exciting times!
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Venom #18 – Another gripping issue of Venom, this title really is excellent, and the fact that it's about a C-List character who's already had terrible things happen to him like getting his legs blown off, well it means that you have to expect the unexpected, it keeps you, and Flash, on your symbiotic toes. This issue was the first chapter of the big 'Savage Six' arc, and it was a cracker, with Flash having to protect Betty Brant against attacks from Jack O'Lantern, Megatak and the new Toxin, Eddie Brock. Remender and Bunn did brilliantly with Flash's inner monologue here, you could feel the panic he was going through, the whole issue felt urgent. I also really liked how the series continues to play up the 'dark reflection of Spider-Man' aspect of Venom, as Flash and Betty have their own Gwen falling from the bridge moment. Luckily it doesn't end like it did for Gwen though. The ending was a real surprise too, Flash reveals his identity to Betty, I certainly wasn't expecting that. Let's just hope that he doesn't make a deal with Satan so she forgets! Another cool element of this book that popped up again in this issue was the way it treats Peter Parker, he's presented here as just one of Flash and Betty's friends, if you didn't know any better you'd have no idea he was Spider-Man. It's cool that our main character's lack of knowledge is reflected in the reader's and that Remender doesn't do cheap nudge nudge wink wink gags about it.
Invincible Iron Man #517 – I'm really enjoying how much is going on in this title at the moment, it's bursting at the scenes with subplots, but it's all tied together by the twin master-plans of Tony and Mandarin. At the moment, it looks like Mandy is on top, but you can't count out Iron Man. He's had the Iron Man tech removed from his body, but he's planning on getting it back, and of course there's the secret new Iron Man, with his cool black armour. It is Rhodey in that suit right? It looks like him, but we only got one panel. I suppose it's no surprise that it would be him, but he's been Iron Man before, I would probably have preferred someone new. I really liked the flashback scenes that paralleled Tony and Ezekiel Stane's childhoods, I'm actually starting to feel sorry for Zeke, even though he's a complete psycho. I also love the different art style Larroca uses for these flashbacks, very cool. Good to see that the crazy former Detroit Steel hasn't been forgotten, although I suppose we did see his little head pop up in the background last issue. Spymaster was cool once again, he's a very cool-looking villain, but I'm glad he was beaten, especially since it was from a surprising source, go Wyche! This book is moving slowly at the moment, but the endgame is very promising, I think this may very well go down as the best Iron Man epic ever if Fraction sticks the landing.
Incredible Hulk #7.1 – After a very hit-and-miss opening arc, I very much enjoyed this issue, even if it did immediately reverse what happened. Bruce Banner isn't gone at all, I'm sure we all expected he'd be back, but so soon? It's all a bit odd, where is Aaron taking this? But this issue was a lot of fun, the double-page spread of Hulk just trekking around the world eating what he wanted and riding dinosaurs and using a volcano as a Jacuzzi was just brilliant, the type of crazy that Aaron does best. As was the triumphant return of The Orb! I really like that character, he's a hilariously inept villain, and I like that he's become a running joke in Aaron's comics, first in Ghost Rider, then in Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine, and now Hulk. He was especially hilarious here, and on top of that, he served a purpose with his powers hinting before it happened that Banner was still around. Seeing the Hulk have sex with Red She-Hulk was also a good scene, finally the two of them get some happiness! But of course it's short-lived. Jefte Palo's art was good, but his Hulk was probably a bit too hunched, and this isn't his fault, but I just don't like the look of a Bald Hulk, bring back the beard!
Winter Soldier #5 – The first arc of Winter Soldier ends with what was pretty much a big action sequence as Bucky, Black Widow and Doctor Doom defeat the bad guys, but it was a very well done action scene, especially the fight between Bucky and Dmitri, that was awesome. It was also cool to see Doctor Doom absolutely destroy Lucia Von Bardas. Brubaker really does write an excellent Doom, the scenes with him arguing with Nick Fury were brilliant. I really liked the epilogue scenes too, it was cathartic to see that guy get snipered, and the final page sets us up for some exciting stories in the future. So while this issue probably wasn't the best, it did it's job. I can't wait to see what kind of twisted espionage Brubaker and Guice come up with next.
Daredevil #13 – This book continues it's hot streak with an excellent issue that really ramps up the Omega Drive mega-arc, and also brings back my favourite element of Waid's run, the idea that the new positive Matt is actually way darker than he's ever been. What is it that Foggy found in that drawer? A gun? What? Or was it evidence that Matt was actually a Klaw-Hologram? I loved that twist at the end, it was a double-twist really, first you got the reveal that Black Spectre were actually the Avengers and you think... genius, and then... blam! Matt's not actually there and he's in Latveria. I wonder how long this has been going on, since #3? If so, that's crazy, I can't wait to see how Waid explains this next time out. I also have to praise Koi Pham once again, I used to dislike his art, but on this issue and #10.1, he's really upped his game, this has been his best work since the first arc of Incredible Hercules. Another great issue of DD, I'm loving this run, it seems so simple at first, but there's so many depths to it.
Avengers #26 – It's just really awesome to see Walt Simonson draw Thor again, the sequences in this issue with Thor taking on the Phoenix were absolutely brilliant to look at, he hasn't lost that magic. The rest of this issue was pretty good, but I am a little worried by how this all meshes with Secret Avengers, in that title it seemed like Ms. Marvel was working alongside Protector, but here, she feels betrayed by him, hopefully this will all make sense by the end, but it's annoying. I did like the stuff with Protector and his human girlfriend, he's often been a forgotten man in this title, so it was good for him to get a nice character moment, before he betrays the team!
Avengers Academy #30 – AvX continues to impact Avengers Academy in a variety of interesting and unexpected ways. There were two main stories here, the first was Sebastian Shaw cutting a swathe through the adult staff in a variety of pretty bad-ass ways, the way he took down Hercules was particularly cool. The second story was the conflict amongst the kids of the Academy and the X-Men, and the various divided loyalties, like the one or two Academy members who were mutants. I especially liked the heavy focus on X-23, and I genuinely didn't know which side she would choose, and it made sense that in the end, she'd side with free will. I also liked how the appearance of Sentinel really ramped things up a notch, Juston's robot may be friendly, but to a mutant, he's the equivalent of a friendly cartoon swastika. (try a normal sword)
Fantastic Four #605.1 – I'm not sure how well this issue works as a 'Point One' jumping-on issue, but it was a very strong story, and a very enjoyable look at an alternate reality Fantastic Four, that crucially did tie-in with the main story. This issue was basically 'What if Hitler won WW2 and the Fantastic Four were Nazis?' but it worked very well, it was very interesting seeing this alternate world, and while I get annoyed at the whole 'Reed Richards is evil' thing, it made sense here, because, well, he's a Nazi. The bit where he removed Victor Von Doom's brain was just chilling. I also liked the fact they kept in Ben Grimm's Judaism, and that it was a major plot point. And of course, in the tradition of all the best 'What Ifs', all the heroes are killed and the world is destroyed, standard. Mike Choi's art was very good, I've enjoyed his recent covers, so it was cool to see him draw an interior, he's a great artist. So yeah, another solid issue of Fantastic Four, I just hope it didn't completely freak out any hypothetical new readers.
Thunderbolts #174 – Just like with Avengers Academy, I couldn't get this, stay tuned next week, same Bat-time etc.
Uncanny X-Men #12 – More fun AvX tie-in stuff, I was annoyed at first when they brought in that annoying Savage character, but hid presence redeemed itself with the excellent copulation joke at the end. Brilliant stuff that. But the best thing about this issue was once again Namor, Kieron Gillen just writes the best Namor ever, whether it's his flirting with Hepzibah, or his fight with the Thing, or his hilarious relationship with the freaky prawn queen, he's just brilliant whatever he does, and almost every line is hilarious. When Gillen eventually leaves the X-Men behind, he should definitely do a Namor solo story, that would be most excellent.
X-Factor #236 – A pretty forgettable issue of X-Factor really, as it was mainly focused on the fight between Shatterstar and Scattershot, but there were a few cool moments. I continue to really like the way PAD is poking fun at 'real life' superheroes, Lord Defender is particularly hilarious, it would be awesome if he just up and joined X-Factor permanently, he can be their mascot! Who was that who talked Far Sight into killing himself? Was it Tripp? The version of Tripp who followed Madrox over from an alternate universe? If so, I'm rather confused about his motives, is he working with Mojo? There are too many wheels in motion! Oh yeah, and I also really liked the way Scattershot claimed that Earth was the same as MojoWorld, that was some cool satire. Maybe this issue wasn't that forgettable after all, I may have been too harsh.
Avengers Vs X-Men #4(of 12) – AvX continues to hit all of my event comic buttons, the scale of this thing is just massive, and I'm really enjoying it. That said, this instalment did feel a little less epic than the first 3, and that's probably because it spent rather a lot of time showcasing the various fights we're also seeing in the tie-ins. I also think that, even though it was in space, the Thor Vs Phoenix scene should have probably had words in it, to give it more impact. But by the end of this issue, I was more pumped than ever, not only is it Avengers Vs X-Men, but it's Avengers Vs X-Men ON THE MOON! Plus, the Phoenix is actually here. This is where shit gets real. I also liked how Hickman reigned in his usual Hickman-ness here, and just told the story, no pontificating, just good writing, his issues were what I was most concerned about at the start, because of how different his style is, but he adapted well. Is this JRjr's last issue? If so, it was a great way to bow out, I think he's done some of his best work ever on this series.
The Secret Service #2(of 7) – This is basically Mark Millar's James Bond fanfic isn't it? It is, but it's still an enjoyable comic. This issue ticks all of the Millar boxes, bloody violence, pop culture references, over the top dialogue, social commentary and more bloody violence. I really like the way Millar is juxtaposing the drab and dreary real world of Gary's life on a council estate, with the crazy super-spy stuff his Uncle does. I also liked how Gary's spy training won't be the usual stuff you see in other stories, the idea of subtle persuasion being important and therefore begging money being his first task was a very clever one. The villain is yet to really take shape yet, but there's still 5 more issues, this story has barely begun. Dave Gibbons art was brilliant as you'd expect, the man is a master craftsman.
Supergirl #9 – More solid traditional superhero stuff from Supergirl, and as always, the stand-out features of this title are the brilliant art from Mahmud Asrar, and the very well-developed inner voice that Green and Johnson have given Kara Zor-El. When she's panicking and freaking out over her powers, you really buy into it and feel it, there's a really close connection between reader and main character here, and it's working really well, we as readers are the only people who understand what she's saying after all. It was also good that we got some more detail on the origins of both Silver Banshee and Black Banshee, the flashback sequence at the beginning was very well done. It's obvious that this arc will end with Siobhan as a full-on villain, and that's going to be emotional, but it's great that Supergirl's biggest villain will have a close personal connection to her, making any future fights that much more impactful.
Wonder Woman #9 – Is this the least romantic wedding we've ever seen in the world of comics? Yeesh. The build-up to Wonder Woman and Hell's nuptials begins here, and it's a typically strong issue, with lots of creepiness, I really love Azzarello's take on Hell and the Underworld, the stuff with Persephone freaked me out, and then his talking throne... bloody hell. It was also cool how this issue brought back some of the other Gods we've seen previously, like Strife and War, Azzarello's reinterpretations of these classical characters is one of the best things about not only this title, but the whole reboot in my opinion. We even got a 'new' God here, in Aphrodite, who of course is totally hot and completely naked. I was glad that Tony Akins didn't go for the obvious route of a hair-bra, but instead used clever perspective to keep things PG. Akins continues to do a great job as a fill-in artist, at the start of each of his issues I'm kind of bummed that there's no Chiang, but by the end, I appreciate what Akins is bringing to things. I wonder how Diana is going to get out of this predicament, maybe she'll just marry Hell and this book will turn into a domestic soap opera? Hah!
Blue Beetle #9 – Tony Bedard ties both of his DCU books together as Kyle Rayner, Bleez and Glomulous from Green Lantern: New Guardians pop over for a visit. Well, I say visit, it's more like a traditional fight/realise they're both heroes/team-up deal, but it was still good stuff, Kyle is one of my favourite characters so I really enjoyed seeing him show up here and teach Jaime a few hints about how to be a superhero, such as don't reveal your identity. I also liked that the conflict between the Reach and the Green Lanterns is still here, and as I've said before, the subtle change where it's the Scarab that freaks out rather than the power ring is a good one. It was interesting to see that the 'Fridging' is still a part of continuity post-reboot, I wonder if Bedard will get in trouble for that? Even though it was like 15 years ago, it's still one of the most egregious examples of women being mistreated in comics, hell, it's given it's name to it. Marcio Takara's art was good, he's come from nowhere to really impress me. The subplots of this title kind of took a back-seat this issue, with both Jaime's family and Brenda only getting a page, but though they're moving in subtle increments, I like where they're going, I reckon Jaime's family will figure out he's Blue Beetle on their own.
Justice League #9 – A pretty average issue of Justice League, the only thing in the main story that really interests me is the new villain and his taking down Steve Trevor. It's pretty brave of Johns really to use a new villain, I'm sure most JL fans would have expected him to just bring back slightly altered versions of all the classics like Amazo and Despero and Kanjar Ro, but no, he's doing something new, which for a writer who too often looks back to the past, is admirable. Graves seems like an interesting character so far, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he looks like properly. The little vignettes with each League member were only OK, I liked the Flash trying and failing to be bad cop a lot, Barry Allen has probably been the best part of this run. Where was Aquaman though? Why doesn't he get a flashback? Jim Lee's art was as you'd expect, on the action splash pages it's breathtaking, especially the shot of Superman and Batman in Arkham. The quieter scenes are a bit more problematic though, he's not suited to the small stuff is he? The Shazam! back-up continues to be better than most people on the internet claim, it's clear that Billy Batson is actually still a good person deep down, now, and I like that it's taking it's time, when Billy finally becomes Captain Marvel, it's going to be awesome.
Green Lantern Corps #9 – The trial of John Stewart! It's really cool how the events of the first arc, which was pretty average in a lot of ways have reverberated like this and what at the time seemed like just one moment has become a huge deal that's going to lead into a war. That's good writing from Tomasi. It's also cool how it's not clear that John is in the right or not, yes, he says it was the only way to save the whole world, but was it? He still killed one of his own, complicated stuff from a book about people with magic green rings. It still weirds me out that Guy Gardner has become a voice of reason though, I kind of miss douchebag Guy. I know it's good that he's had character development and all that, but it's not as funny.
The Shade #8(of 12) – Time's Past stories are normally excellent, and this was no exception, as Shade helps out his fuck-up grandson defeat a demon that had possessed his lover. This was a pretty simple story really, and the way that Shade took down the Homunculus was pretty anti-climactic, but this was still a very good issue. The scene where the demon was talking to the Mayor of the town he had just slaughtered was fantastic, and the final sequence where Shade saw his wife again was actually quite emotional. Jill Thompson's art was top quality, I loved the little glint and smirk she gave the Shade. I also found myself really laughing at the Shade's inability to spell 'homunculus', very clever bit that. There's 4 issues left of this series, I'm looking forward to it, it's great to have the Shade's family really explored for the first time. But will we get a Jack Knight guest appearance? Please? It has to happen!
Hellblazer #291 – A very strong epilogue to the 'Another Season In Hell' arc as John Constantine finally gets rid of his evil twin in a suitably twisted fashion. The magic used here is typical Hellblazer stuff, our hero has to murder someone, sleep with a prostitute and then dress his niece up like a skank in order to summon his twin, not exactly Harry Potter is it? This was a very satisfying resolution, but I wonder if it's really the last we'll see of the other Constantine, he's a bad penny, always cropping up. Gael Bertrand's art was very strong, and even though it was meant to be creepy, the way he drew Gemma was... yowza! It was hot. I wonder why John keeps lying about his newly-discovered nephew? I want to see that story and hope it's what's next.
Saucer Country #3 – I'm really enjoying how this book is balancing the science fiction elements with the realistic elements, it's given it a very unique and creepy tone. In every scene you're on the look-out for aliens, and for the truth to finally come out, but Cornell wisely keeps us right on the edge, never tipping his hand. There could be aliens, or everyone could be completely nutzoid. My favourite thing about this issue was the way the aliens were replaced by rabbits in Michael's mind, it's a brilliant idea, and I don't think I'll ever look at a bunny in the same way. I also loved the bizarre scene where Professor Kidd saw some kind of astronaut woman. What the hell was that? This book has something surprising and thought-provoking on almost every other page, that's damn good, and this is early days, things can only get better (Oh all right, they could get worse, but let's look on the bright side).
Saga #3 – More inter-galactic weirdness from BKV and Fiona Staples. In many ways I think that this book is kind of a reverse-Saucer Country. In Cornell's book, the real world is being encroached on by science fiction, but BKV keeps having his crazy sci-fi world interrupted by real world thoughts and feelings. It's refreshing that in amongst all of the weird ghosts and aliens, the real story here is about parenthood, and being in love and all that relatable crap. I may be stretching it, but it's there. There's also the way BKV undercuts the setting by having the dialogue be exactly the same as it would be in the real world, really grounds everything nicely. My favourite scene in this issue was the interrogation with the Robot Prince, it was cool to see him cut loose and be a bad-ass. Even if he is the weirdest looking bad-ass ever. This book is just great, and it's a real pleasure to have new stuff from Vaughan every month, the medium's missed him, and it's awesome to have his imagination back, and working at full capacity.
Conan The Barbarian #4 – The second arc of Brian Wood's Conan run begins, and it's just as good as the first one. Conan and Belit form a plan to rob Argos, the city he barely escaped from back in #1, and it's a pretty good one, in the vein of Luke and Han dressing up as Stormtroopers and pretending the caught Chewbacca. Conan will pretend to be a prisoner, and while they go through the rigmarole of a trial, Belit's crew will look Argos. But of course, it doesn't go to plan, there is no trial and Conan is to be executed at dawn. We all know he'll get out of it, but the fun is in seeing how, and I'm very much looking forward to #5 to see it. James Harren steps in for Becky Cloonan with this issue, and he does an excellent job, his Conan isn't as youthfully cocky as Cloonan's, but he's still the same wiry character. I particularly loved the double-page spread which showed the architecture and buildings of the city, that was beautiful. Harren is a more than capable fill-in. This book, after only 4 issues, is already my favourite Conan run ever, but then I haven't read that much Conan. It's still awesome though.
So there you have it.
My favourite this week is a toss-up between Saga and AvX, what variety!
Join me next week for a relatively quiet column, but with some heavy-hitters nonetheless;
Superman! Amazing Spider-Man! Secret Avengers! More stuff!
Review by: Niam Suggitt