I was travelling for roughly 6 out of 7 weeks in June and July. Among other things, that means I fell way behind in my comic book reading. I still managed to make it to the shop occasionally and pick up whatever was sitting in my pull box. But I simply couldn’t keep up with that many comics while on the road.
On the bright side, that meant that I had a huge stack of comics waiting for me when I finally settled down again. Even better, I had multiple issues of most titles. Though I prefer single issues to trades, it can be a lot of fun to read two or three issues in a row. You get a much better sense of where a story is going when its individual installments aren’t interrupted by 40 other series.
Amazing Spider-Man 659-665: In these issues, Spidey joined the FF, took a turn teaching the Avengers Academy, got mixed up with Anti-Venom and Mr. Negative and ditched a movie night with Betty Brant. I read some online reactions from people who didn’t like the first two stories, since they seemed to be about the guest-stars more than Spidey (the Avengers Academy issues were even written by the AA writer rather than the regular Spidey scribe). But I loved them. I like Spidey’s niche in the FF. He’s a perfect substitute for the Human Torch bringing both power and levity. Yet Peter still feels like he’s a little bit out of place, so there’s still some of that typical Parker awkwardness. The Avengers Academy story was just a fun read. It reminded me of classic Marvel Team-Up stories, pairing Spider-Man with the newest hero in a way that shines light on both of them. The one down note for me was the Anti-Venom story. I find Anti-Venom one-dimensional and boring. Plus, I was much more interested in Mr. Negative when he was influencing Aunt May, instead of serving as Anti-Venom’s foil. However, it appears as if the Aunt May/Mr. Negative story was resolved in a side series as she only showed up for one panel. Happily, the title quickly recovered with a great one-shot that focused on Peter’s friendship with Betty Brant.
American Vampire 14-16 and American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest 1-2: American Vampire is quickly becoming one of my favorite titles and a strong contender for series of the year. Both stories take place during World War II. In the main title, Henry Preston is serving in the Pacific where he’s been sent to destroy a vampire nest on the island of Taipan. Skinner Sweet came along for reasons of his own, and Pearl Jones is back in Hawaii trying to unravel the mystery. In the special mini-series, vampire hunters Cash McCogan and Felicia Book are posing as Nazi sympathizers in an attempt to acquire a potential cure for vampirism. Both stories are full of setbacks and unexpected twists, deadly situations and heightened emotional drama. My one small complaint is that the artists don’t do a good enough job differentiating stylistically between Pearl and Felicia and Skinner and Cash. The separate leads should have separate looks.
Astonishing X-Men 37-39: I like what Astonishing X-Men is doing right now. The title is alternating between two stories that are supposedly happening at the same time. In the first, one squad- Cyclops, Emma Frost, Wolverine and Armor- is in Japan fighting escapees from Monster Island. The story is a lot of fun, riffing off of classic Godzilla movies. Yet it also has a strong heart as Armor deals with the emotions of returning to her homeland as a hero for the first time. In the second, another squad- Beast, Colossus, Shadowcat and Storm- has flown into orbit to help SWORD fight off a Brood incursion. Once again, there’s a fun movie flavor to the story. This time, the plot evokes the original Alien. And, once again, there’s a strong emotional component with awkward reunions between Kitty and Lockheed and Beast and Brand.
Captain America 617-619 and Volume 6 #1: The biggest news for Captain America occurred in Marvel’s summer crossover, Fear Itself. James “Bucky” Barnes, who had been carrying the shield, was killed. Back in his own title, James was serving a prison sentence in Russia for crimes he had committed as the Winter Soldier. It was a strong story, with the Black Widow and Sharon Carter working for his release while Bucky fought for redemption. However, the emotional impact was lessened by Bucky’s appearance in Fear Itself, presumably after his release. As for the new title, I should have known that I could trust Ed Brubaker. The reason I’ve loved Captain America for the past seven years hasn’t been Steve Rogers or Bucky Barnes. It’s been writer Ed Brubaker. He delivered a great individual tale. Plus, he set up Baron Zemo as a shadow threat, giving the title the continuing menace that it’s been missing since the Red Skull was defeated.
Dollhouse: Epitaphs 0 and 1: This comic is not for the faint-hearted. Based on Joss Whedon’s television show, the comic is set in the near future. The Rossum technology to erase and replace personalities is about to go global. This mini-series tells the story of those early survivors, the ones who resisted the technology, kept their own minds, banded together and began to fight back. But their experience is not pretty. They are abandoned and isolated. They don’t know who or how to trust. Some become callous killers. Others look for love among the ruins. There are even a few surprise appearances of characters from the TV show. It’s an epic and emotionally satisfying tale so far, but it’s not a place I’d want to live.
Fables 103-106: I’m sorry to say it but, for me, the Super Group story has been a giant misstep. The only good stuff happened in sub-plots that had little to do with the main story. I liked the final confrontation between Bigby’s dad and Mr. Dark. But that had nothing to do with the gathering of heroes and could have happened just as easily without it. Even worse, the plot device of putting together a super-team was contrived and out-of-place. It is possible to tell a great story that breaks the fourth wall and comments on the nature of comic book superheroes. It might have even worked in Jack of Fables, which regularly commented on literary devices and conventions. But it was an awkward digression for Fables and never fit smoothly with the established tone of the series.
Fear Itself: Every crossover walks a tightrope. It needs to tell a main story that is engaging, exciting and complete in its own right. It also needs to leave other strands of story that can be explored in the tie-ins. Blackest Night got it right on both counts. Civil War managed the first, Secret Invasion the second. Fear Itself is teetering on the edge and in danger of falling. The main story is bold and beautifully drawn. However, significant plot points are being designated to the supporting series- specifically what happens to each of the hammer-wielders. The two main story threads- Thor’s expulsion from Asgard and Captain America’s confrontation with Skadi- are going well. But the other scenes feel more like an update about what’s happening in other comic books rather than sub-plots of this particular story. Though, to be fair, there are a lot of pretty explosions.
Fear Itself tie-ins: I sampled a few of the Fear Itself mini-series. My recollection was that the series were hit or miss. But when I looked back, I realized that was because I was including ongoing series. The four mini-series that I sampled contained a lot more misses than hits- Alpha Flight, Uncanny X-Force, Wolverine and Youth in Revolt. Alpha Flight had a decent premise- fighting Attuma after he’s been powered up by one of the magical hammers (see the previous entry). Yet, despite my love for Alpha Flight, it’s a fairly mediocre comic. Youth in Revolt is an attempt to salvage characters from the recently canceled Young Allies series and it’s about as bad as that series had been. I had the highest hopes for Uncanny X-Force because the parent title is so good but this series inherited the violence but not the humor or the heart. Surprisingly, Wolverine has been the only series worth reading, mainly because of the presence of Melita Garner. I like the way that various writers have been slowly building her relationship with Wolverine in one-spots and specials like this.
FF 2-6: First off, I don’t like the all-white costumes. I wanted to give them a try, but then I saw the all-black costumes they wore for mourning and those were so much better. Second, this is a pretty awesome comic if my only complaint is about the color of the costumes. I like the mix of personalities. Peter Parker is a good fit, bringing a similar sense of humor as Johnny Storm. Alex Power is kind of cool as a Mr. Fantastic in training- learning to be a hero, a leader and a genius. The kids and the guests keep the series light and surprising. Oh, and I love the twists such as recruiting their greatest enemies to help defeat the Reed Richardses of parallel worlds. The Inhumans issue was a minor misstep, but one that could be salvaged depending on how that story is integrated in future issues.
Flashpoint 1: I feel a little like Barry Allen. Despite reading comics as fast as I can, I still haven’t caught up with Flashpoint. So it’s not quite fair to compare Flashpoint to Fear Itself. After all, I liked the first issue of Fear Itself. The series didn’t start to wobble until the third and fourth issues. All I can say by way of comparison is that I hope Flashpoint stays steadier on its feet because it’s done a great job of bursting out of the starting block. I like the set-up- Aquaman and Wonder Woman are warring over Europe while Cyborg is trying to put together a team to stop them. And I like Flash’s confusion. Expected allies are adversaries. Expected friends are practically strangers. Now we see if Cyborg (and Geoff Johns) can pull the confused and scattered misfits into a force capable of bringing peace to this world.