Friday, December 28, 2012

REVIEW: JUSTICE LEAGUE #15

(w) Geoff Johns
(p) Ivan Reis
(i) Joe Prado

I'm torn in my feelings about "Throne of Atlantis".

I really want to like the story, and I very much want to understand how this is a bold, new direction for both Aquaman and Justice League. This week saw the release of the first two parts of "Throne of Atlantis" within Aquaman #15 and Justice League #15 respectively. Since Geoff Johns is writing both titles, he's not limited to cooperating with other writers to convey a singular tale. Instead, this is more like Johns featuring Johns--the characters feel fluid throughout the narrative because they're being written the same way each time, and the story itself is strong because the whole thing is Johns' brainchild. While this situation should have birthed some amazingly epic crossover, the whole idea kind of falls flat. We've seen Atlantis rise up before, and it's kind of starting to get old. I know this is the first time it's happened in the 'New 52', and for that reason, I'm willing to give Johns the benefit of the doubt when it comes to world-building (seeing as he's DC's Chief Creative Officer). And that's why I'm torn over this crossover as a whole: Johns is doing the best he can to make a rather dated idea more appropriate for the modern age, and while it's there are some general missteps made, there's also a lot to like in these pages.

Let's look at the missteps first. I'm worried "Throne of Atlantis" is getting dangerously close to Ultimatum territory in terms of needless death and unapologetic detriment to that universe at-large. In fact, the splash page of the tidal wave looming over Metropolis is eerily similar in look, tone, and feel to the wave Magneto sent to destroy New York City. Upon closer analysis, the similarities become even more apparent. Both Magneto and Ocean Master unleash a massive force of nature upon an unsuspecting human population in an effort to drastically alter the status quo. Both villains are purposefully left out of the issue wherein they cause the destruction, mostly as a means of making them more sinister and foreboding. Lastly, both Magneto and Orm lash out because someone or something is manipulating their emotions through death or destruction.

Now for the good. The fact that Geoff Johns has developed this entire crossover means he's got a lot up his sleeve. There are bound to be plot twists, double-crossings, hidden agendas, and shocking fallouts. Even though the events depicted in Justice League #15 mirror other comic book stories, Johns writers some of the best interpersonal relationships around. For "Throne of Atlantis", he's included a number of plot elements that have been building in both Justice League and Aquaman since their respective beginnings. We see Batman and Aquaman putting aside their personal issues with each other and working together to stop some of Scarecrow's henchmen. The normal, civilan dinner shared by Superman and Wonder Woman gives Diana perspective as to how Clark manages his life outside the League. And Cyborg's slow-burning narrative with his father continues to spotlight Victor's isolation and need to feel human.

The good outweighs the bad, in the end. Justice League #15 has some glaring weaknesses in terms of basic premise, but Geoff Johns' solid character work makes up for it. Additionally, bringing on the stellar Aquaman artistic team of Ivan Reis and Joe Prado was a dynamite choice on DC's part. While Jim Lee's pencils are good, I've always liked Ivan Reis' facial expressions and Joe Prado's depth in shading. I'm excited for "Throne of Atlantis" because I really like stories like this, and I'm confident Johns will do it justice.

GRADE
8/10

Thursday, December 27, 2012

REVIEW: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #700

(w) Dan Slott
(a) Humberto Ramos


*MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!*


*SERIOUSLY. READ THE ISSUE FIRST!*


"Spider-Man is Doctor Octopus now."

"What does that mean?"

"Doc Ock switched his mind with Peter Parker's, Doc Ock's body was about to shut down, and Peter had no way to escape. Now Peter Parker is dead and Doctor Octopus is running around in Spider-Man's body."

"So, Spider-Man's going to be a villain now?"

"No. Doc Ock's psychic 'mind meld' of sorts with Peter made him truly understand that with great power comes great responsibility. Since he's Spider-Man now, Doc Ock wants to be a better Spider-Man than Peter ever was."

"Sounds like Marvel's kind of running out of ideas."

This was the conversation I had with a friend of mine who doesn't read comic books. Yes, when the news was leaked about the big twist of The Amazing Spider-Man #700, I read it. As a journalist (and of course, this is not true for all writers), I find that a 'big reveal' in and of itself isn't the big news--everyone gets the same issue and sees the same twist happen. No, the most interesting part about a big twist in comic books is how much it affects the readers. I told my friend what was happening in The Amazing Spider-Man because whether you read comic books or not, you more than likely know who Spider-Man is and that he has an enemy named Doctor Octopus. Obviously, a non-reader is going to be bored by a plot summary of Siege or Blackest Night. But Spider-Man? It's a character--and, quite frankly, a franchise--that enough people are familiar with, that a change in the title's status quo actually gets mainstream media coverage. This doesn't happen very often, but it's always for something that changes the way we see classic characters that have been around for 40, 50, or 60 years.

In the case of The Amazing Spider-Man #700, that change comes with the apparent death of Peter Parker. My favorite glossed-over detail is that Brian Michael Bendis did this over a year ago in the Ultimate Marvel Universe. The timing of this is important for a number of reasons. The first is that Marvel very much hyped up Peter Parker's death in 2011, making a huge spectacle of it by spreading it's influence across most of the Ultimate comics at the time. The second is that, in a very real way, many Ultimate Spider-Man fans felt a personal connection to the loss of a character they followed for ten years as Marvel established and cultivated a brand new comic book universe. The third is that Bendis had a concrete plan for what was to come after Peter's death. These reasons, and more, formed one of the most poignant and emotional deaths in Marvel's history. Dan Slott has been writing The Amazing Spider-Man for a long time, and over the course of his run, he's built up the relationship between Spidey and Doc Ock to a point where something like a brain switch between the two characters could be more likely than a number of other ways Peter Parker could meet his apparent demise. But this is precisely what makes The Amazing Spider-Man #700 such a failure as a Spider-Man comic book.

Metafiction is great when it's applied correctly. In the case of NBC's low-rated yet critically lauded Community, pop culture aficionado Abed Nadir acts as a bridge between our world and the kooky, slightly-warped universe of Greendale Community College. Here, the metafiction makes sense because Abed is obsessed with TV, movies, video games, social media, and pretty much everything else in our modern lives. His obsession contextualizes how often the show brushes up against surreality. 


The concept of Doc Ock as the new Spider-Man is, in and of itself, a huge act of metafiction simply for metafiction's sake. Spider-Man's crux, for most of his 50-year history, is that Peter Parker is a wonderful, caring, kind, thoughtful, brave individual that the world population regards with skepticism and distrust. The readers always knew Peter was a true hero, while the rest of the world saw him as a menace. Though, in recent years, being a member of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four (for a short time during Johnny Storm's death) has done wonders for his reputation, meaning that slowly, the population of the Marvel universe has come to know and believe in New York's wall-crawler as the hero he's strived to be since his Uncle Ben was murdered. Now, the tables are literally turned. We the readers know that the menace known as Doctor Octopus is inhabiting Peter's body, while the Marvel universe at-large still believes it's business as usual under Spidey's webbed mask.

As my friend so eloquently put it: Marvel is running out of ideas. Dan Slott, Joe Quesada, and Axel Alonso (along with whoever else at Marvel will talk about it) will go on record more than once to defend this massive change in status quo--Thou dost protest too much, methinks. Fans and critics will identify the 'comic book cliche' and insist that this change won't be permanent. This is just background noise. What does it matter if it's not permanent? What matters is how this comic book was written, why it was written so, how the issue pays homage/honors the past 50 years of Spider-Man comics, and how it affects readers. In all of these instances, Slott has come up short with The Amazing Spider-Man #700. Instead of feeling like the grandiose, epic issue this should have been, we got Doc Ock running around in Peter Parker's body, a small cadre of C-list Spidey villains, and a half-hearted attempt to shake things up. 


This brain switch story should have been simply that: a story. In Slott's hands, the idea grew from what could have easily and interestingly been a good mini-series or run on ASM, to a media stunt designed to sell books without thought to the consequences. And yes, I know that Marvel's creative types probably had dozens of hours of meetings to discuss this whole situation, and I'm sure they went over it as many times as they could before agreeing it would work. Unfortunately, Stockholm syndrome is not a viable excuse for needlessly and meaninglessly get rid of one of the most popular comic book characters of all time.

All that being said, I'm excited for The Superior Spider-Man. After some frustrating hours after reading The Amazing Spider-Man #700, I eventually came to accept that this is what's happening--Doc Ock is Spider-Man and that's not going to change for the foreseeable future. So, in the spirit of diminished expectations, I read Avenging Spider-Man #15.1, an issue that's almost necessary to see how Otto Octavius truly morphs into a superior Spider-Man. Then I realized that I shouldn't need to have read Avenging Spider-Man to get the whole story, I shouldn't be required to purchase yet another book that, arguably, has some of the most important sequences from this sprawling narrative. In the end, it became glaringly apparent that Dan Slott's The Amazing Spider-Man #700 was a huge letdown. Slott's literal words aren't terrible, and the dialogue is usually organic and natural for whatever situation Spidey gets into. It's the bigger picture that Slott misses, and it's painfully obvious throughout the entire issue.

The forest is burning and Slott is only focused on one tree at a time.


GRADE
6/10

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

EXTRA! EXTRA! (DEC 19-25, 2012)

All-New X-Men #4
(Bendis, Immonen)

Brian Michael Bendis' run on All-New X-Men marches on with the first meeting between 1960s Cyclops and current-day Cyclops, more insight into the paradox of having the original five X-Men in the present day, and some actual NEW X-Men! As anyone could have predicted, Cyclops and Cyclops have a big ol' eyebeam tug-of-war before Magik teleports the Uncanny X-Men out, but it's really the aftereffects of this standoff that fills this issue's emotional quota. The new mutants are Eva Bell and Christopher Muse who can stop time and heal people respectively--introducing new mutants is one of the big advantages of the Phoenix Force repopulating the Marvel universe, and Brian Michael Bendis is making good use of this opportunity. Yet as enjoyable as All-New X-Men has been, I can't help but feel it lacks a core purpose or idea that drives the series; since the original five X-Men can't possibly just stay around forever, there's got to be a bigger picture we're just not seeing yet.

GRADE: 7.5/10

Indestructible Hulk #2
(Waid, Yu)

Mark Waid is working the same magic with Indestructible Hulk as he is with Matt Murdock over in Daredevil--taking a character that had previously been deeply embroiled with inner demons and dark narratives, then giving said character perspective on themselves and how they affect the world. In Bruce Banner's case, that means shifting from obsessing over curing his Hulk affliction to becoming the scientific monolith he knows he can be. Bruce also recognizes that holding in his resentment and anger isn't a good thing, so he confronts a battle-ready Tony Stark--a fellow genius who has never regarded Bruce as a true equal, for obvious reasons--and the two wrestle it out until they gain enough respect for one another to move forward as colleagues. Waid and Lenil Francis Yu are offering up a Hulk that's completely different from anything we've seen before, taking Bruce Banner's stunning intellect to new heights simply because it's never really been done before.

GRADE: 8/10

Red Hood and The Outlaws #15
(Lobdell, Green II, Faucher)

Jason Todd is not aware that all of his messed up, terrible early years were a result of the Joker's cruel intentions to create a new Robin for himself (as seen in Red Hood and The Outlaws #0). In this "Death of the Family" tie-in, Jason finally comes face to face with the man that beat him to death and who Jason now knows was responsible for all the bad things throughout his life. The problem with Red Hood and The Outlaws #15 is that not a whole lot actually happens by the end of the issue--Joker spends his time proving he knows who everyone actually is, Jason spends equal time feeling less and less confident that the Bat-Posse can defeat the Joker this time around, and Roy takes Kori to Gotham to find and help Jason. There's nothing really inherently wrong with Red Hood and The Outlaws #15, I just felt like there could have been more than just enigmatic clue-hopping and set-up.

GRADE: 7.5/10

Friday, December 21, 2012

REVIEW: FF #2

(w) Matt Fraction
(a) Michael Allred

I've read both issues of Matt Fraction and Mike Allred's FF, and after getting through each, I find myself taking a few moments to reflect on the sheer quality in this series. Fraction and Allred are crafting something extremely special, something that might well be remembered in the same way as Chris Claremont's Uncanny X-Men in the 1980s, Grant Morrison's JLA run in the mid-90s, or Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. FF #2 gets the ball rolling by finally bidding farewell to the Fantastic Four and getting the new team into action with one of Marvel's First Family's oldest villains, Mole Man.

Much like John Romita Jr. or Lenil Francis Yu, Mike Allred produces artwork you either love or you hate--in my experience, there isn't much middle ground. I happen to think Allred's work is fascinating and hearkens back to the 1960s in terms of tone, yet manages to keep a modern style and sensibility. She-Hulk's eyebrow raise is a testament to Allred's ability to completely convey an emotion without having to rely on words. Fraction's laid back, relaxed dialogue fits perfectly with Allred's art because both are rooted in minimalism.

As predicted, the Fantastic Four end up not returning at the four minute mark as promised. But who didn't see that coming? So it's up to Ant-Man and his team to make sure the Earth is safe and the Future Foundation keeps operating. And just like any new job, the replacements are taking a little time to get used to the new office. Scott Lang is forced to explain the meaning of 'ex-con' to the students when a rather unflattering article about the temporary Fantastic Four surfaces describing him as unfit to lead the Fantastic Four, let alone run a school. She-Hulk has to figure out a way to keep a wardrobe without destroying all her clothes each time the team gets into a kerfuffle. Medusa doesn't have servants waiting on her hand and foot like in her kingdom of the Inhumans. And Darla Deering--Johnny Storm's celebrity girlfriend who possesses no superpowers of her own--simply can't wrap her head around what's been asked of her. Somehow, Fraction manages to fit character development for four main characters into a single issue and it's, quite honestly, brilliant.

The choice to use Mole Man as this issue's villain carries a lot more weight than it would seem after a first read. Mole Man's repugnance at the idea of "impostors" calling themselves the Fantastic Four prompts his attack on the Future Foundation, but the encounter really shows how Fraction and Allred are turning the tables on traditional comic book tropes. In almost every subset of mainstream, superhero comics, villains are attached to certain heroes, even if they branch out and come into conflict with other heroes. Joker has terrorized most of the DC universe at one point or another, but he's a Batman villain through and through. Darkseid threatens Earth as a whole, but he's designated a Superman baddy, and the actions of the Guardians of the Universe affect the Earth on a daily basis, but they're rarely seen outside Green Lantern comics. With a new roster of heroes populating the Fantastic Four, traditional villains of Marvel's First Family have a whole new set of powers to contend with. Mole Man's been fighting Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch, and the Thing for decades, so he doesn't really know what to do when he's confronted with a shrinking man, a woman with tentacle hair, a super-strong berserker, and a pink-haired girl that kind of looks like the Thing. And that's not even mentioning the gamut of villains the Fantastic Four have racked up through the years. If Superman suddenly woke up with a totally new power set, his enemies wouldn't know how to fight him.

If you're not reading FF, you should. Fraction and Allred have crafted a series with a near-perfect balance of plot-based, superhero action and organic, character-driven story. Potential is the name of the game here because a new Fantastic Four means a whole new way to tell Fantastic Four stories. 

GRADE
9.7/10

REVIEW: NIGHTWING #15

(w) Kyle Higgins
(p) Eddy Barrows
(i) Eber Ferreira

Dick Grayson's adventures in the 'New 52', as a whole so far, have been somewhat up and down in terms of quality and content. After an initial arc dealing with Haly's Circus, Kyle Higgins has had trouble finding his footing with Nightwing, including an underdeveloped arc about a cult of anarchists looking to 'take back' Gotham, and a short story about Lady Shiva, probably one of the most uninteresting villains ever. Nightwing #15, however, swings into action and utilizes it's "Death of the Family" tag to it's fullest. In other Bat-books, the Joker's methodology has been somewhat hazy--while everyone has theories about what's going on, Scott Snyder isn't letting the cat out of the bag, and there's only so much that can be said before a big reveal--this issue sees a very fleshed out attempt to break Dick Grayson. Not Nightwing, but Dick Grayson. This month's Batman #15 included Bruce's assurance that the Joker does not know the Bat family's identities, but it's pretty obvious he does.

Dick is under a lot of pressure. He's the owner and operator of Haly's Circus and he's trying to keep his newfound entertainment business in Gotham City permanently so as to build up the city's profile while also establishing more structured lives for his performers. It's a noble task, and one that Dick's impassioned about, but it's also a project that keeps getting sidelined for Nightwing-related activities. This month, Dick's heroic life meets his personal for the second time in the 'New 52' as Joker frees Raya from Blackgate Prison to make everything even more personal. Joker's shtick for Nightwing is the idea of being a 'knock-off', a pale comparison to the almighty Batman. Higgins employs a classic Batman trope by having Nightwing find Joker in a warehouse that used to make knock-off Wayne Enterprises products. It's poetic justice, and something only Scott Snyder has really been utilizing recently.

Nightwing #15 is one of the strongest tie-in issues for "Death of the Family" yet. Unlike the other Bat-allies, Dick's life is literally crumbling right before his eyes: everything he's spent the last year building is being destroyed in a succinct and straightforward way. This is what Joker's reign of terror needs to feel like across the board, in all the Bat-titles tying into "DotF"--full of terror, death, and lots of Joker's insanity.

GRADE
8/10

REVIEW: GREEN LANTERN #15

(w) Geoff Johns
(a) Doug Mahnke
(i) Keith Champagne, Christian Alamy, Mark Irwin, Tom Nguyen

For the first time in three months and eleven issues (including this week's Green Lantern: New Guardians #15), "Rise of the Third Army" feels really grave. So far, the new army created by the Guardians of the Universe has been more theoretical in it's horror and scope, mostly growing in the background and scattered panels throughout Green Lantern Family titles. In Green Lantern #15, Geoff Johns brings the Third Army to a horrifying forefront, as well as continuing Simon Baz's journey as the most grounded and believable superhero in a long time.

Even before this issue, Simon Baz rebuffed most superhero cliches. Sure, he's a nobody from some city in Michigan, but Kyle Rayner was also a nobody in an alley. No, Baz stands apart because his journey didn't start with a power ring. Most any other hero you can think of (besides characters like Wonder Woman) begins their story with a mask, with the desire to do good in a world gone bad. Baz is simply trying to clear his name of terrorism charges for something he didn't do. Geoff Johns recognized how normalized the process of character introduction had become in the mainstream superhero world, and how the community at-large had just come to accept it. Sure, there's a whole world of independent comics that explore alternative origin concepts, but applying less conventional character development to a hero as popular as Green Lantern is admirable. (For the record, I love independent comics and the previous statement is in no way meant to undermine the quality or caliber of independent comics or publishers.)

The Third Army is so f*cking scary. I couldn't say that before reading Green Lantern #15. Geoff Johns managed, in two sequences, to achieve what Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern: New Guardians, and Red Lanterns have failed to convey, and that's the pure breadth of this parasitic legion spreading across the universe. Maybe it was an editorial decision, but it seems like Johns simply had to punch things up a bit in order to get a little momentum with "Rise of the Third Army" going. And while the 'crossover' event has been enjoyable, it mirrors Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire's "Rotworld" crossover in that they both seem to be floundering a bit, offering stories with little advancement or affect on the greater tale. Either way, seeing a planet-sized swarm of grey monsters made my stomach drop.

Green Lantern #15 is simply exceptional. Geoff Johns is literally building Simon Baz's character--his moral, his ethics, his personality--from the ground up as he deals with his personal issues while simultaneously trying to learn why he's received a Green Lantern ring and is being approached by a talking squirrel (for those who watched Robot Chicken: DC Comics Special, B'dg's inclusion in this storyline is just awesome.) "Rise of the Third Army" finally feels real, like something ominous and terrible is getting ready to devastate the entire universe.

GRADE
9/10

Thursday, December 20, 2012

REVIEW: WONDER WOMAN #15

(w) Brian Azzarello
(a) Cliff Chiang

With Wonder Woman #15, Brian Azzarello heralds the introduction of the New Gods to DCn52 continuity. The age-old stand-off between New Genesis and Apokolips has been hinted at and mentioned a few times so far in the 'New 52' (see Justice League's first arc, and the conclusion to Justice League Dark's "War for the Books og Magic"), but not yet have the New Gods made any sort of appearance beyond Darkseid's villainy. Azzarello has spent 14 issues (and a zero issue) focusing on Greek gods and goddesses and immersing readers in that world, and now he's introducing a whole new aspect of divinity that's just come tumbling out of the sky, literally. It makes sense that various pantheons of gods would interact on the mortal plane, and it's even more exciting because Azzarello reveals almost nothing about Orion beyond his godliness.

"The Burden of God" is a misleading title because it's supposed to be about one, monotheistic god. Here, though, Azzarello applies the phrase to each and every deity he writes. Diana has to protect her family, Lennox has to find some way to stick it to Zeus, and Hera must figure out how to become a god once more. Since each of these characters has their own agenda, different obstacles present themselves. For dear, sweet Milan, that obstacle is his friend, Orion. 

If you were at all inclined to listen to experimental or avant garde music in the late 1990s and early 00s, you might have possibly maybe heard of Wesley Willis. He was a schizophrenic man who wrote some of the crudest, most simplistic, cheapest, most incredible, mindblowing music I've ever heard. Willis' music was indebted to The Shaggs who pioneered "music so bad it's good" as a genre. Willis wrote songs like "Rock and Roll McDonald's" about going to a fast food restaurant, and "I Whooped Batman's Ass" that pretty much explains itself. Willis was quoted on many occasions claiming that the only way to suppress his inner demons and the voices inside was to create music. It may not have been the most complex or technical, but Willis' music is a testament to creativity as a medium of healing and growth.

Milan is Wesley Willis. Down to the "Rock On!" he spouts when Orion gives him a "joyride" on the New Genesis skiff thingy. Milan has the same body type, hair style, and wacky personality that Willis possessed before his death in 2003. And it's a trip to read.

Milan is a soothsayer, for lack of better words. He obviously has some sort of psychic sense or future sight that causes him great anguish, and he lives in perpetual grunge because of it. There's a theory in psychology called the "Supersanity Theory" that suggests that people with mental disabilities--those we've deemed to have different brain functions than 'normal' people--actually think on a level us normies could only ever dream of. It's like our thoughts exist on an outer ring of consciousness, and people mental disabilities think on an inner ring, something closer to actuality. Milan obviously sees and feels more than most, and a 'normal life' is that cost of that sight and feeling.

Of course, Orion's arrival and Diana's quest to collect all of Zeus' children on Earth come to pass when Lennox confronts Milan about joining the cause to get back Zola's kid from Hades. Milan is hesitant, and Orion stands up to defend that indecision. At this point, it's pretty obvious that Zeus is coming back with a vengeance, and it seems like Orion knows this too because he wastes no time in interrogating Lennox about the final child of Zeus. And in true superhero fashion, they all get into a fight by issue's end.

Wonder Woman is consistently one of DC's best titles each month. Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang are a shining example of what the 'New 52' is (partly) supposed to be about--reintroducing characters by using elements from their previous incarnations and twisting them enough to make them fresh and interesting. Outside of her eponymous title, Diana is oddly written and often comes across as too naive or too brutish. It's really Azzarello's interpretation that makes this character now, and the deep mythology surrounding divinity is great. It very much feels like Jason Aaron took a cue from Azzarello when relaunching Thor: God of Thunder for 'Marvel NOW!' which also features cross-pantheon entrapments. Wonder Woman #15 is a great issue because not only does it completely move the story forward, but it also provides some great character growth for Hera, Zola, and the newly introduced Milan. It's also a great issue for new readers, as you wouldn't need to know too much about what's happened before this to enjoy the events of the issue. DC has a gem with Wonder Woman, and they're Azzarello and Chiang go crazy with the series just to see how fantastical they can get, and the results are amazing.

GRADE
9/10

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

REVIEW: CAPTAIN AMERICA #2

(w) Rick Remender
(p) John Romita Jr.
(i) Klaus Janson

After the first issue received mixed reviews from critics, Rick Remender's Captain America #2 comes in to cement the series as a sci-fi epic to rival the adventures of the Fantastic Four. The difference is, Captain America isn't prepared for an alternate dimension where physics are suggestions more than rules and Arnim Zola has unleashed a legion of mutated experiments. Remender shines brightest when writing a team--he excels at playing various personalities against each other. Captain America sees Remender having to bounce Steve Rogers against himself.

Regular readers of "The Endless Reel" know that I don't much care for inner monologue. I'm putting that out there because I have a predisposed bias against that particular form of narrative, as more often than not, it doesn't effectively convey the ideas/emotions the writer is aiming to show. And while the inner monologue used throughout Captain America #2 isn't awful, it definitely isn't Remender's strongest work. As evidenced by his phenomenal run with Uncanny X-Force, Rick Remender has a knack for ornate diction. It works for Fantomex, Betsy Braddock, and Warren Worthington III, but not so much for Steve Rogers. And really, the monologue is quite toned down from Remender's normal style, yet still it's overly thought out at times. Captain America is utilitarian, and that's not a bad thing--it's a big part of what makes him who he is. Steve Rogers has a very logical, reason-based approach to life and his own behavior, which suggests his thought process is more streamlined, less superfluous. Remender does well to eliminate filler words, but overall, we still get an intimate glimpse at Steve Rogers' thoughts, and it's uncomfortable. But then again, maybe that's exactly what we need from a Captain America comic book--something that puts us out of our comfort zone.

It's difficult to say how Rick Remender's run with Captain America will pan out. With most other 'Marvel NOW!' titles, I've found myself either raucously sold or defiantly opposed. Remender's Captain America is different from most other titles Marvel is currently offering: it sits outside the general Marvel turn of events due to it's setting in Dimension Z, Captain America is completely out of his element (something we haven't seen in ages), yet the fate of a whole universe hangs in the balance.

GRADE
7/10

FEATURED REVIEW: HAWKEYE #6

(w) Matt Fraction
(a) David Aja

"You don't gotta pretend you ain't Hawkguy 'round us, Hawkguy."


Clint Barton was already the most atypical member of the Avengers before Matt Fraction got ahold of him--he was a circus performer turned thief when he met the Black Widow, then he joined the Avengers to redeem himself. Clint's never really been the center of attention (at least, not until he was featured in Joss Whedon's The Avengers last summer), and his brash attitude and style got him into trouble more often than not in the past.

Then he was murdered. By the Scarlet Witch.

Avengers: Disassembled brought about a lot of deaths to convey the end of an era--Vision, Jack of Hearts, Thor--but Clint Barton's was the most emotional and the most poignant because he died saving his fellow Avengers from a Kree warship. In the end, the whole Kree "invasion" turned out to be a cruel trick of Wanda Maximoff's dementia, making Clint's death all the more painful.

Eventually, Clint made his way back into the land of the living (go figure) as Ronin, so as to keep secret his newfound resurrection-ness (obviously, he takes the name Hawkeye again after some time). One would think that killing off a character and bringing him back would make him more meaningful as a result. Unfortunately, this was not the case and once again, Clint was mostly pushed to the side, made to be a tertiary character once again. Now, Matt Fraction didn't necessarily bring Hawkeye to the forefront in recent years, but he is writing one of the best--if not the best--interpretations of the character ever. Partnering Fraction's impecable writing with David Aja's artwork has simply been a joy to read over the past five months.

Hawkeye #6 is a stand-alone story about "Six Days in the Life of Hawkeye", a holiday tale that brings back the Eastern European "bros" from the first three issues. In a very much appreciated nod to multiculturalism, Fraction shies away from favoring any religious traditions or otherwise. Spider-Man wishes Clint a "Happy Hanukkah!", Clint's tenants celebrate a "Joyous Kwanzaa", while Clint himself greets some TV-less neighbors with a "Merry Christmas! If, uh. If that's your thing." To many, diversity is a no-brainer, but it's often difficult to pull off without sounding preachy and/or needlessly politically correct. Here, Fraction makes this feel like a holiday story, not a Christmas story, not a Hanukkah story, not a Kwanzaa story, and not even an atheist story. It's simply a fun tale about a guy under pressure during a time of year for reasons much different than the pressures you or I face every December. And while there's not a whole lot of action in this issue, Aja's stylized fight scenes balance the plethora of dialogue nicely.

Various Marvel heroes make cameos this issue, like the aforementioned Spider-Man, and Wolverine helping to foil a plan by A.I.M. Tony Stark shows up to tell Clint to give it a rest with the tangled electronics cords and just buy some new home theater equipment, and Kate Bishop drops by, naturally, to lay some reality on Clint before he makes a very big mistake. A big part of the holiday season is togetherness, and Fraction does an excellent job making it feel like Clint has real relationships with his teammates and friends, not just professional courtesy. 

Some people have favorite holiday moveis they watch every year. I feel like this will be an issue I read each and every December. Hawkeye #6 is how a holiday-themed comic should be--inclusive, fun, relatable, grounded, visually appealing, and thematic to the season. Throughout the issue, Clint is pushed to be something he's not. In the end, he comes to terms with being himself and liking that person. It's a feeling most of us go through at one point or another, and the backdrop of snowy New York City nights is just so awesome. Fraction and Aja deliver with Hawkeye #6.

GRADE
9.5/10

THE WEEK (DEC 19-25, 2012)

FEATURED REVIEW
Hawkeye #6
(Fraction, Aja)

Captain America #2
(Remender, Romita Jr.)

FF #2
(Fraction, Allred)

Green Lantern #15
(Johns, Mahnke)

Nightwing #15
(Higgins, Barrows)

Supergirl #15
(Johnson, Asrar)

Wonder Woman #15
(Azzarello, Chiang)

Extra! Extra!

All-New X-Men #4
Green Lantern: New Guardians #15
Indestructible Hulk #2
Red Hood and The Outlaws #15
Thor: God of Thunder #3
X-Men Legacy #3

Monday, December 17, 2012

EXTRA! EXTRA! (DEC 12-18, 2012)

Batgirl #15
(Simone, Benes)

While Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's main "Death of the Family" storyline is a vehicle for a much scarier and focused Joker, the model of car seems to be different depending on the title you're reading--last week's Batman and Robin #15 was incredible, but while this week's Batgirl #15 adequately conveys the story, it falls flat more than once. It feels like Gail Simone really doesn't know what to do with Barbara and the Joker together besides dredge up Barbara's feelings of anger and rage, which wouldn't be out of the question normally, but this is supposed to be the sort-of king of all Joker stories (in recent history, at least), and I supposed I just expected more from Simone after a poignant and suspenseful 14th issue. Also, a lot of what was set-up last month in Batgirl #14 doesn't really move forward so much as stays stagnant while the Joker waxes poetic about the hardships of life; not the most interesting use of panel space, but not totally boring. If you ignore the flashback scenes (which I'm sure will be important down the road, but show no indications of being so here), Batgirl #15 is a passable issue that builds upon the greater "DotF" narrative, but only a little bit.

GRADE: 7/10

Fantastic Four #2
(Fraction, Bagley)

After a fun and energetic first issue, Matt Fraction effectively hits the breaks this month and gives readers yet another full issue of build-up to the Fantastic Four's voyage into multidimensional space that's just kind of boring. As well as Fraction writes, it's a bit off-putting to see such utilitarian use of dialogue and narrative--Ben Grimm screaming at Yancy Street seems over the top, Reed and Scott Lang's scientific discussion has no emotional core, and the origin of Darla Deering as a member of the Fantastic Four is very, very weak. Obviously, things pick up next issue, as Reed launches his family into a portal at the end of Fantastic Four #2, but it's just annoying to have to wait yet another month to see Marvel's First Family on their ridiculously awesome adventure. A 'slow burn' story isn't bad, but this issue just feels like filler.

GRADE: 7/10

Green Lantern Corps #15
(Tomasi, Gleason)

"Rise of the Third Army" is becoming more and more of a misnomer because none of the GL titles are actually dealing with the rise of this Third Army, and Green Lantern Corps is a prime example--instead of focusing on the Corps fighting this monstrous parasitic force, Tomasi is focusing on Guy and John exclusively, giving them more personal stories when they should be at the front lines of this incursion. Yes, I know, the Guardians are sneaky and all that, but we're talking about GUY GARDNER, who normally doesn't take crap from anyone, and JOHN STEWART, who's got years of military experience telling him something is wrong. Yet, I like Green Lantern Corps #15, and the story of Guy and his family is told extremely well, it just feels superflous and unnecessary--why do I need to know so much about Guy's father (he's been in three issues so far)? The Third Army seems less like a universe-threatening force and more of an annoyance off in the corner of the of narrative, and if that's how it's supposed to be unfolding, then it's doing so in a clunky and unbecoming manner.

GRADE: 6/10

Iron Man #4
(Gillen, Land)

Things are looking better for Iron Man (not literally, as Greg Land's artwork is pretty underwhelming), as Kieron Gillen puts Tony in his 'Heavy' armor this week for a trip to France to find yet another illegal Extremis virus. Deep in the catacombs of Paris, Tony must fend off a legion of Extremis-infected women who've been stripped of their personality and humanity, effectively making them mindless killing machines. Tony's ethical dilemma over killing people who are effectively dead already is a testament to Gillen's ideals, but the concept struggles to come across smoothly, and the entire issue suffers from a lack of emotional depth. I'm a big fan of Kieron Gillen, but Iron Man has been fairly disappointing since it's fantastic first issue.

GRADE: 6.5/10 

Superboy #15
(DeFalco, Silva)

"H'el on Earth" hasn't been too understandable, so far--H'el himself doesn't have much of a backstory beyond claiming he was Jor-El's assistant, the narrative has been somewhat choppy and fragmented, and the three members of the Super family seem to have weirdly different personalities depending on the title you read. Fortunately, Superboy #15 hits all the right marks by focusing on Superman and Superboy while leaving H'el out of the picture until the very end. The main point of this issue is to show Superboy effectively inheriting Superman's Kryptonian armor, as it's the only thing that can possibly save Superboy's life after H'el's fatal beating. While I still despise Tom DeFalco's inner monologue for Superboy, the narrative is a lot stronger this issue than in Superman or Supergirl, and that's saying a lot for a series that's struggled to find it's footing since day one.

GRADE: 7/10

Friday, December 14, 2012

REVIEW: BATMAN and ROBIN #15

(w) Peter J. Tomasi
(a) Patrick Gleason

After two months of so-so "Death of the Family" tie-in titles, Batman and Robin #15 comes out swinging. Not only does Damian take center stage on his mission to find Alfred while Batman's off tracking down the Joker, but Patrick Gleason's interpretation of the new, faceless Joker might be the scariest and creepiest version of the Clown Prince of Crime yet.

Much of Batman and Robin #15 is a psychological game between Robin and Joker. Damian's only been Batman's partner for a short amount of time, and from what I've read in the 'New 52' so far, it seems like Damian's never encountered the Joker. That's a big deal. Damian already has a penchant for being egotistical and brash when it comes to his ability oppressed by Batman's paternal instincts. Add the Joker's snide attitude and loss of all humanity, and Damian quickly recognizes the Joker is seriously deranged. But when the youngest Wayne sees a video of Joker blinding Alfred by pouring ammonia in his eyes, Damian is all to quick to renounce his oath to not kill anymore by promising to kill the Joker. On the one hand, it shows how determined Damian becomes after he fully understands the terror of Joker's mental instability. On the other, the whole sequence feels rushed and somewhat lacking. If it had only been a page longer, it would have really packed a huge punch. Instead, Damian's promise to kill Joker comes across as childish from a boy readers know doesn't have any philosophical issues with murder outside his father's opinions nagging at the back of his mind.

But really, this issue comes down to one single idea: "Robin's greatest fear is being responsible for Batman's death, and Batman's greatest fear is being responsible for Robin's death." Joker lays it out as simply as he can because that's exactly what needs to be said. Strip away the insanity, the murderous tendencies, and the tricky dialogue, and what you're left with is a character who is actually speaking truths, however twisted they might be--Batman's allies drag him down. They make him weaker because he has to care for them instead of performing at peak efficiency. It might not be what we want to hear, but it's real. This isn't to say that Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, Red Hood, and Red Robin should be done away with (though, I guess we'll see the status quo at the end of "DotF"), just that we, as fans, need to recognize that one of Batman's weaknesses is his family. Of course, when you add the crazy back into Joker, he wants everyone dead!

Batman and Robin #15 is by and far the best "Death of the Family" tie-in issue yet, and is simply one of the best issues of the series overall. Damian Wayne is brash and confident to a fault, and it comes to a head when he faces the Joker, a villain who feeds on traits like overconfidence and uses it to his advantage. This series went through a bit of a rough patch for a few months in the late summer/early fall, but these past few issues have been fantastic. Peter J. Tomasi comes in at a close second for best interpretation of the Joker. And really, the only reason for that is because Scott Snyder developed the Joker's 'New 52' persona, so he's kind of got the best hold on him. If you're looking for a good "Death of the Family" tie-in, but you don't want to go overboard with issues, stick with Batman and Robin.

GRADE
8.5/10

Thursday, December 13, 2012

REVIEW: AVENGERS ARENA #1

(w) Dennis Hopeless
(a) Kev Walker

And there it is! Dennis Hopeless comes in two for two this week with a double-hitter of some of the worst 'Marvel NOW!' titles yet! After the atrocity of Cable and X-Force #1, I found myself wanting to give Dennis Hopeless another chance. What were the odds that he'd screw up two batches of characters, right? Well, if you liked Avengers Academy at all, get ready to hate Dennis Hopeless. In interviews, the man's stated that he's aware of how much fans will be antagonized by his decision in this book, as if it's something to be proud of and tout. If you're aware that what you're writing is going to anger fans, then why? Perhaps, one might think, because it's in service of some bigger agenda, a larger picture we as humble readers cannot yet see. Or maybe it's a bold bold observation about the current state of comic book affairs. Unfortunately, like Hopeless' other 'Marvel NOW!' title, Avengers Arena #1 provides little to no clarification as to why anything is happening. If one of the goals of this 'NOW!' initiative from Marvel is to boost new readership and attract a larger audience, Avengers Arena #1 fails.

Basically, this guy named Arcade wants to see some people murdered, so he's decided to kidnap teenage mutants and super humans to pit against one another until they kill each other. That's it. Arcade even admits that there's nothing more to the situation. Minimalism can be effective when done with style, but this is literally bare-bones storytelling with no backstory for any character, no reason to invest time or feelings into them, and a premise that's Battle Royale or The Hunger Games depending on who you ask. I'm not even going to get into the argument about how all three premises are exactly the same because that would be redundant. What I will say is that even with an arguably narrow and/or specific premise, there are ways to make this kind of tale resonate with audiences, but in the case of Avengers Arena #1, Dennis Hopeless neglects any sort of panache or style when it comes to his dialogue and character development. Every teenager here feels like a carbon copy of the last; there are no distinguishing features or characteristics to differentiate between blond, semi-long hair Boy 1 and blond, semi-long hair Boy 2.

Much like Cable and X-Force #1, there isn't much to like about Avengers Arena #1. The characters are cardboard cutouts of their former selves from Avengers Academy or the ill-fated and consistently neglected by Marvel Runaways, Arcade just seems ridiculous without any real motivation beyond wanting to see some murders. Plus, the entire series doesn't really have a place in the Marvel universe--the only connection it has to anything else is that the characters used to be more integral to what was going on. Now, they're literally on a different planet and totally separate from anything else going on. Why? In what way does that add to the greater Marvel narrative at all? Is this series going to end once everyone is dead? I can't imagine reading Avengers Arena #75 in a few years because it's quite obvious this series won't be around that long.


GRADE
2/10

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

FEATURED REVIEW: CABLE and X-FORCE #1

(w) Dennis Hopeless
(a) Salvador Larroca

How do you spell disappointment? C-A-B-L-E A-N-D X-F-O-RC-E. From previews, interviews, and promo images, Dennis Hopeless' Cable and X-Force seemed like it was poised to take the reigns from the dark and gritty first volume of Uncanny X-Force by Rick Remender. The series features some of the most bad-ass mutants from the Marvel universe and has a vaguely cool plot, yet at every turn, there's another reason to not like this book. In a nutshell which I'll crack open in a moment, Cable is basically a plank of wood now, Hope Summers is a whiny brat, and the supporting cast--Domino, Colossus, Dr. Nemesis, and Forge--are such weak interpretations of the characters that it's hard to not dismiss this series outright. Have you ever wanted to read a comic book about heroes being complete assholes? Me neither, but here we have it.

While drama and suspense are an important part of any ongoing comic book mythology, Cable and X-Force #1 opens with a confrontation between Cable's crew and the Uncanny Avengers, led by Havok, who is technically Cable's uncle. I went through a few thoughts after reading this sequence, in which Havok attempts to calmly talk things through with Cable even though it's glaringly obvious Cable and his team just murdered a number of humans. Cable simply says, "Can't explain it away. Wish I could," before blasting his uncle with a massive energy beam and teleporting away. At first, I found myself off-put by how ridiculously arrogant and condescending Cable sounds, then I reasoned that Cable's always been a bit of a curmudgeon. Finally, I realized that Cable has been a relative mainstay in the Marvel universe for over two decades, that his character evolved over time, and that subsequently, Dennis Hopeless erased all that evolution and growth by effectively devolving Cable back to his boorish, repugnant original self. There's no excuse for rendering years of storytelling void simply to make your main character seem more cool! and dangerous!

Beyond his total lack of empathy for anyone other than himself (or so it would seem to any new reader whatsoever), Cable gets literally no character development. So, not only does Hopeless destroy years of growth, but he's not actively working to make sure Cable stays exactly the same forever. Maybe not. Maybe Cable will get a thing we humans like to call a personality in subsequent issues. But I'm not critiquing future potentials; I'm reviewing what I've read and what I've read is a monstrosity. Later in the issue, Hopeless throws good ol' Hope Summers into the mix, seemingly to glean some emotional nuance out of the narrative with her father. But even after seeing his daughter for the first time since she literally carried the weight of a god before being mature and strong enough to expel and destroy it, all Cable can say is, "I missed you too, kid," in response to Hope's scathing lecture about him being a a terrible father. It's a huge letdown and just goes to show how much Hopeless is screwing up these characters.

Oh, and if you were excited to see Colossus as a fugitive, perhaps an explanation as to why he's on Cable's X-Force team, well then you'd be sadly misled. Colossus shows up for all of two panels with only one line ("RAAAAAAA!!!!") before the story goes back in time a few days to explain how these characters got into such dire circumstances.  It's a cheap move to promote a certain fan-favorite character then neglect to put him in the first issue! As for the rest, I've never read any Domino stories or series, so I had no idea what her power was going into the book. Surprise, surprise, I didn't get any explanation and have yet to go to Wikipedia to check. Dr. Nemesis seems like he was chosen to be in this book at random, as his only reason for being there is to help Cable with a convenient chronic headache problem. Forge is just lame. There, I said it.

Cable and X-Force is now the second 'Marvel NOW!' series that has seriously let me down (I'm looking at you, Deadpool). In general, everything Hopeless strives for falls flat and it's extremely disconcerting. Not very often do I find myself pausing while reading to reflect on how bad something is. Instead of giving readers a fun, intense, action-packed book with awesome characters, Dennis Hopeless wrote a first chapter completely shrouded in thick, unnecessary plot that's metaphorically giving readers a snarky smile to show that it knows more than we do. What a jackass.

GRADE
3/10

REVIEW: BATMAN #15

(w) Scott Snyder
(a) Greg Capullo
(i) Jonathan Glapion

"Death of the Family" marches along this week in Batman #15 with a sort-of interlude issue for the whole event. This month, nearly all the Bat-books have a connection to "DotF", meaning there's a whole lot more narrative going on all around Scott Snyder's central plot. Of course, this isn't to say that this issue is boring, or any lesser quality than any other issue, it's just not as action-packed and/or thrilling as last issue's edge-of-the-seat chapter. Snyder knows how this story has to play out and what that means for Batman and his extended crime-fighting family. Batman #15 is really what this Joker-centric story is all about: the disintegration of Batman's support system. 

We know the Joker sees Batman as a king of Gotham who can't be his best because he has weights tying him down in the form of his allies. Each new Bat-hero that emerges becomes one more person Bruce has to worry about, just one more body to inevitably find, according to the Joker. He's not wrong. The best part of "Death of the Family" is that the Joker is absolutely right--while Batman might consider himself a loner (along with DC's editorial staff), the evidence of decades of sidekicks, allies, and frenemies says differently. Bruce's penchant for taking in outcasts and turning them into shadowy vigilantes points more to his obsessive need for family rather than his isolationism. Sure, every time a new Robin pops up, Bats gets pretty defensive about taking on a new partner, and he never really approved of Barbara becoming Batgirl, but the end result says that Batman needs a strong, extensive support system to maintain his desired crime-fighting lifestyle. Heck, he created Batman, Inc. just to have more allies/soldiers around the world. Bruce needs his family, and Joker knows it.

This month, Bruce reveals a shocking secret about his history with the Joker than sends Nightwing, Red Robin, Batgirl, Red Hood, and Robin into a hissy fit. The actual information isn't so important as the fact that Bruce kept a major secret from his allies. Bruce attempts to convince the others that Joker doesn't actually know anyone's identity and that it's all just a twisted mind game. The revelations from the past make Bruce's words somewhat hollow in the eyes of the others, and they start to question Bruce's ability to keep a clear head in the midst of this chaos. It very much feels like a turning point for Batman and his allies, that they might never fully trust each other ever again, that this is how the family falls apart.

GRADE
9/10

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

THE WEEK (DEC 12-18, 2012)

FEATURED REVIEW
Cable and X-Force #1
(Hopeless, Larroca)
Debut issue! Cable is on the run from the Uncanny Avengers with Colossus, Domino, Dr. Nemesis, and Forge along for the ride.

Avengers Arena #1
(Hopeless, Walker)
Let's hope this isn't a complete rip-off of Battle Royale or The Hunger Games...wait...there's no way it can't be. The premise is the EXACT SAME THING. Plus, even if this was a new, inspired idea, I can't imagine fans of the characters in this book are going to be too happy to see them cut down one by one.

Batman #15
(Snyder, Capullo)
"Death of the Family" continues now that Joker has revealed that he knows the true identities of everyone in the Batman Family.

Batman and Robin #15
(Tomasi, Gleason)
While the last two months were revealed to be a plot by the Joker all along, "Death of the Family" kicks off proper this month in Batman and Robin.

Fantastic Four #2
(Fraction, Bagely)
While FF is going to be my primary Fraction title going forward (not counting Hawkeye, which I will read regardless), Fantastic Four is set to start their year-long/four-minute journey through multi-space, and I'm just pumped to see how ti unfolds.

Green Lantern Corps #15
(Tomasi, Pasarin)
"Rise of the Third Army" trudges along this week with Guy and John facing an increasingly violent Guardian Army. We still don't know why John was tasked to reconstitute Mogo if that would help the Corps...whatever.

Extra! Extra!
Batgirl #15
(Simone, Benes)
"Death of the Family" tie-in issue!

Demon Knights #15
(Cornell, Chang)

Iron Man #4
(Gillen, Land)

Superboy #15
(DeFalco, Silva)
"H'el on Earth" tie-in issue!

EXTRA! EXTRA! (DEC 5-11, 2012)

All-New X-Men #3
(Bendis, Immonen)

After two issues spent building up the return of the original five X-Men, Brian Michael Bendis takes a detour with All-New X-Men #3 to focus on Cyclops and his posse on the run from the law. Scott wants to set up a new 'Xavier' School in the remnants of Weapon X, which at first sounds terrible, but the more you think about it, the more rational the idea becomes -- Cyclops is using a symbol for hate and violence towards mutants as the location for a new revolution. My biggest problem with All-New X-Men #3 is that BMB does not know how to write Emma Frost -- usually, the man can write dialogue for women, but Emma is not a normal woman and that requires a certain voice to shine through, which it does not here. I've enjoyed ANXM as a whole so far, though this issue left me wanting and somewhat worried for the state of Uncanny X-Men when Bendis relaunches it in March.

GRADE: 7/10

Before Watchmen: Minutemen #5 of 6
(Cooke)

Before Watchmen: Minutemen continues to be not only the best title in the BW series, but also one of DC's best books currently being published--Darwyn Cooke's masterful blend of pop art and classic 1960s storytelling just makes sense for a group of heroes pretty much defined by those two elements. Minutemen #5 chronicles the quick descent of the team from a much-lauded crime fighting organization into a pale ghost of the glory they once had; things like Dollar Bill killing himself by mistake, and Mothman's alcoholism. In a last ditch effort to prove themselves to an ever-skeptical public, Cooke introduces Bluecoat and Scout, two comic book heroes in the flesh ready to help the Minutemen dismantle an actual atomic bomb. This vignette about Bluecoat and Scout is simply fantastic and a testament to Cooke's love for this series; instead of focusing on one, probably flimsy storyline (like, say, Comedian or Doctor Manhattan), he's treating this series as a textbook for the rise and fall of America's first superhero team.

GRADE: 9.5/10

Iron Man #3
(Gillen, Land)

Now I like it, now I don't, now I like it...that's how things have been going with me and Kieron Gillen's 'Marvel NOW!' volume of Iron Man--the first issue promised a fun, interesting variety of foes in Tony Stark's search for the Extremis bootlegs, while the second issue used that plot device to bring Gillen's weird neo-Arthurian dream to fruition before falling completely flat midway through. Iron Man #3, however, turns the tides once again in favor of Gillen and Greg Land as Tony goes after another Extremis owner in Colombia using his stealth suit of armor to infiltrate and retrieve the sample without being detected, albeit at the cost of more firepower. Gillen takes his time to explain why Tony is now using a variety of suits instead of the liquid metal armor capable of creating any weapon on any one of the separate models, and it's a fairly simple answer: something specialized works better than something adapting. The final pages are emotion-heavy, though Tony's dilemma may cause some readers to groan over the general trope of seeing the good being an evil deed.

GRADE: 7/10

Stormwatch #15
(Milligan, Conrad)

Harry Tanner betrayed Stormwatch and kidnapped one of it's best agents, all in an effort to gain more power and overthrow the Shadow Council that rules over Stormwatch and all of it's actions. Now, Tanner's returned (disguised as a Shadow Council member) to do just that and he's brainwashed the rest of the team into believing Midnighter is a mole plotting to destroy Stormwatch from the inside out. Peter Milligan's run on Stormwatch has been full of complex mythos, yet he can still write a damn good hissy fit between Apollo and his perceived heartbreaker, Midnighter. It feels like the climax of this arc is coming, as things couldn't get much worse for Midnighter, Stormwatch itself is on the brink of destruction, and Harry Tanner holds all the cards--this is a high-octane series that you really should be reading if you're not.

GRADE: 8/10

Monday, December 10, 2012

REVEW: ACTION COMICS #15

(w) Grant Morrison
(p) Brad Walker and Rags Morales
(i) Andrew Hennessey and Mark Probst

Action Comics has been a bit wonky recently. Yes, Grant Morrison is a weird writer, and yes, his entire take on Superman since issue one has been alternative, to put it lightly. But something about the past few issues ha been even more fractured and seemingly unconnected than usual. I didn't much like last month's Action Comics #14 because it dealt with a situation with which we, the readers, had no prior knowledge or backstory. It felt very much like Morrison simply dropped a story he wanted to tell right in the middle of an already complex and highly cerebral storyline. Mrs. Nyxly has been a mainstay in Action Comics since Clark Kent first moved to Metropolis in the first issue and rented a room in her building. New readers to either Superman or Grant Morrison would not have picked up on the significance the odd name at first, but fans knew immediately that this would have something to do with Mister Mxyzptlk, a longtime supporting character/villain of Superman's. Action Comics #15 reveals a lot about not only Superman's early days, but also about Morrison's run with the Man of Steel and the 'New 52' universe at-large.

Basically, Mxyzptlk is a 5th dimensional magician capable of producing new dimensions on a whim. Old Mxy created a bunch of three-dimensional universes with which to produce heroes for him to challenge and defeat, all in an effort to please the King-Thing Brpxz of Zrfff. Turns out Superman is the favorite of this multiverse because he's the only one who has ever won against Mxyzptlk, and has done so repeatedly. Of course, being a 5th dimensional being means Mxy's challenges aren't necessarily direct or even perceivable in the third dimension--all the hardships throughout Superman's life have directly or indirectly come from Mister Mxyzptlk's interference. Clark continues to "win" because nothing can keep his spirit down--he can persevere through anything Mxy throws at him. If you strip away the layers and layers of thick mythology, you find a simple tale about overcoming obstacles and becoming stronger for it.

There's a lot more packed into Action Comics #15--the meaning behind the golden angels from last issue being one of the most interesting for me--that brings Grant Morrison's vision closer to fruition. It makes sense, as his run is coming to a close with Action Comics #17 in February. The Man of Steel has never been weirder. Well, alright...he was weirder in All-Star Superman, which was also written by Morrison. There, Morrison had the freedom to do literally anything he wanted with Superman without repercussions because it didn't exist in the main DC continuity. Here, with Action Comics, Morrison received a similar amount of freedom, except this time the task wasn't to simply tell the best Superman story possible--it was to create Superman anew from scratch. And while that meant having to adhere to some modicum of new continuity, having his run set in the past has given Morrison the ability to make the 'New 52' universe as weird as it can be.

GRADE
8/10

Saturday, December 8, 2012

REVIEW: HAWKEYE #5

(w) Matt Fraction
(p) Javier Pulido

Matt Fraction continues to astound this week with Hawkeye #5, the conclusion to "The Tape" which has seen Clint Barton tracking down a VHS cassette that contains extremely sensitive and classified information regarding the assassination of a political enemy of the United States government. Last issue, Clint made his way to the island of Madripoor in hopes of outbidding a cadre of super villains intent on getting their hands on something that could destroy the reputations of the US government, S.H.I.E.L.D., and the Avengers at large. For a series that has thus far been more about the fun and goofiness of comic books, "The Tape" has been surprisingly dark. There's no old school Hawkeye profile used as a censor bar, there's no pizza dog, and there's nobody overusing "bro". No, this story is about actual high stakes, and that's why it's so good.

Hawkeye #5's metafictional drama gives it a much more intentional punch than most superhero comics because the story hinges on a relatable and realistic narrative. Obviously, Fraction is likening Du Ke Feng to Osama Bin Laden in terms of what the public knows about the terrorist's death. It's the reason this story is so heavy. Fans can argue that the status quo is different after crossover events like Civil War or Siege, but if you really look at the trend, Captain America is still the leader of the Avengers, the X-Men still exist (albeit in a less organized fashion), and Thor is perennially dead/alive. There are minor changes, but not ones that would be perceptible to a casual reader or non-fan. Unlike the various fallouts from various crossover events over the years, the ramifications of this tape going public would actually change how things work in the Marvel universe -- S.H.I.E.L.D. would lose all credit as an 'international' peace-keeping entity (as well as it's funding and acknowledgements, I assume), the Avengers would be shamed and tried as political revolutionaries, and the US government would fall from grace on the global scene. This tape is extremely important.

But in true Matt Fraction fashion, things aren't always what the seem and the final few pages of Hawkeye #5 will remind you how good Fraction is at writing street-level heroes. Clint and Kate Bishop have been in a few pickles before "The Tape", but this is really the first time we get to see the two Hawkeyes in their natural state together, kicking ass and taking names. Hawkeye is one of the best comic book series currently being published and you're doing a diservice to yourself if you read comics and aren't keeping up with this book. As evidenced by most everything he's writing at the moment, Fraction is incredibly gifted at making comics easy and fun to read instead of a chore in backstory and line-wide events. This is the series to read.

GRADE
9/10

Thursday, December 6, 2012

REVIEW: EARTH 2 #7

(w) James Robinson
(p) Yildiray Cinar
(i) Trevor Scott

Earth 2 #7 is many things: it's a transitional issue between story arcs, it sets the stage for the series going forward, and it's an introduction to a small array of new characters. While "The Gathering" did a fine job of using a new global crisis to bring about a new age of wonders, the narrative was very plot-driven, which meant we didn't get a lot of deep characterization for Earth 2's Green Lantern, Flash, Hawkgirl, or Atom. Really, we didn't even get a clear image of Grundy beyond it's psychopathic need to destroy all life. But that's part of the nature of the beast when it comes to origin stories for widely recognized teams such as the (still not officially called in the 'New 52') Justice Society. Geoff Johns barely pulled off "Origin" over on Justice League. But now that we're out of the shadow of the first storyline, Robinson relaxes a bit and takes a little more time fleshing out an engaging narrative with elements that will seemingly affect the future for years to come.

Let's talk about new characters because, and I won't even lie about this, I want to see as many members of the JSA as possible. Robinson's got an entire series and parallel universe at his fingertips -- let's see an extended roster. Signs point to this happening in Earth 2 #7 with the true introduction to Wesley Dodds, a.k.a. Sandman, as well as the pre-operational version of now female-designed Red Tornado android. Michael Holt, Earth 1's Mister Terrific, also makes his aggressive return as the evil Sloan's brainwashed security guard. I couldn't stop reading this issue. The more Sloan walked and talked with General Khan of the World Army, the more intrigued I became by both men. Sure, they've each been around for a few issues now, but, like the Wonders, they've yet to be characterized beyond their function in a war or military crisis.

Before Earth 2 even began, Robinson stated his intentions to draw out the members of the JSA gradually, introducing them little by little before eventually leading into a full-scale team around the second year of the book. Again, it looks as if things are on track for this to happen as Hawkgirl, whose name we now know to be the slightly altered Kendra Munoz- Saunders, begins to wear away at Alan Scott's natural tendencies to work alone. Kendra and Jay Garrick (the Greek god Mercury-powered Flash) are both intent on building a new team of Wonders, and that's going to lead to a lot of recruitment and additions to the new Justice Society. I know that all seems obvious, I just never really imagined that I'd get to see the formation of the JSA from the ground up. 

James Robinson is seriously making the stuff of legends here, with believable, relatable characters and world building that's slowly becoming on-par with the entirety of Earth 1. Whether you like the costume redesigns or not, Robinson has done a deft job re-imagining these Golden Age heroes for a new generation.


GRADE
8/10