As I read my new comics the other week, I was struck by how many of them were really good. Some amused me. Some left me awestruck. But they all made me happy, as comic after comic was great. So here’s my surprisingly sunny set of summer reviews.
Avengers Academy 34: The best Avengers book has been on autopilot lately with guest-stars and event tie-ins but Christos Gage has decided that it’s time to kick in the afterburners again. Jeremy Briggs and Veil invite the current team to meet with them in a quick series of vignettes. Jeremy then shares his plan to cure their powers and save the world. But the offer goes awry when half of the team expresses interest while the other half rejects. The team is torn in two. And Briggs shows that even a supposedly benevolent dictator is still a dictator when someone disagrees with him. I love the quick pace, the emotional choices and the balanced use of a big cast.
Daredevil 16: This is a very different Daredevil book, but it’s still great. Daredevil has been having trouble with his powers lately so he gets Tony Stark, Ant-Man and Dr. Strange to take a look. The downtime allows Mark Waid to retell Daredevil’s origin and catch the reader up to speed on current events. Chris Samnee does a great job of keeping the flashbacks both distinctive and interesting. Samnee isn’t quite Paolo Rivera but their styles are similar enough that he makes a wonderful replacement to the departed Rivera. Finally, the closing scene in which Foggy confronts Matt about his erratic behavior is a great set-up for future issues.
iZombie 28: Chris Roberson’s zombie book has had its ups and downs but it ends on a high note. I lost interest in the book when Roberson’s attention strayed from his main character and he spent too much time with less engrossing sub-plots. But in this final issue, Roberson returns attention to the star of the series, Gwen the zombie. This story is about her choices- what she’s willing to do to save the world and how she would do it differently than her mentors. The supporting cast is used well here too. I actually thought this was an extra-sized finale because so much happens but it’s not. Roberson simply squeezes every last bit of entertainment out of this book before he says good-bye.
X-Factor 241: This was one of the few disappointing books I read this past week. It was alright but it wasn’t as great as I’ve come to expect from X-Factor. I enjoyed some of the scenes of character interaction, such as Madrox and Havok teasing each other about leadership and Polaris offering romantic advice to M. I also appreciated Peter David’s attempt to set up the alternate universe trio as a new threat but I’m not convinced yet. That’s also part of the problem. This issue was mostly set-up for something else. It’s a decent middle issue but it’s not a great start to a new story.
Amazing Spider-Man 690: This was my favorite issue so far of “No Turning Back.” I don’t find Morbius to be all that interesting and the Lizard hasn’t been much better in this particular story. However, I was fascinated by the most recent twist in the Lizard’s status quo. He’s been forcibly changed back into Curt Connors but the Lizard is still in control. It was a lot of fun to see the Lizard struggling with mammalian features and even starting to enjoy them. I also liked the visits with the other employees of Horizon. Dan Slott has been doing a good job lately of building them into interesting individual supporting characters, rather than a nameless band of co-workers.
American Vampire 29: Is it too early to call this the best story of the year? The Blacklist has been one of the best arcs in one of the comics’ best series. The two stars, Skinner Sweet and Pearl Jones, are working in an uneasy alliance against a coven of Hollywood vampires. There’s power and ambition, passion and hate, intrigue and surprises, betrayal and brutality. And it all features characters that we simultaneously fear and love.
Angel & Faith 12: Compared to American Vampire, Angel & Faith is like comfort food. But that’s still pretty yummy. I’ve especially enjoyed the current story, Family Reunion. It’s been great to see the two leads, Angel and Faith, hang out with old pals Willow, Connor and Gunn. In this issue, the crew (minus Gunn) has traveled to Quor’toth, the demon dimension where Connor grew up. It’s a well-told tale that gives us insight into Connor, highlights Angel’s guilt for being an absent father, and contrasts Willow’s sunny disposition with Faith’s surly attitude.
Aquaman 11: I have to say that I enjoyed the first Aquaman arc a lot more than this second one. Black Manta should be one of Aquaman’s most compelling villains but he’s spent too much time “off-stage.” Furthermore, they haven’t done a good job of differentiating the flashbacks from the current story. They could have used a different artistic style or color scheme so that we would immediately recognize if we were in the present or the past. Without that, the story has been unnecessarily confusing at times. At least in this issue, they share the origin stories for a couple of Aquaman’s former teammates. It’s nice to see them fleshed out, even if it’s two or three issues too late.
Astonishing X-Men 52: This is a big change of pace story for the Astonishing team. The past four issues have focused on a big battle with the Marauders and with Northstar’s upcoming nuptials. This issue turns the spotlight on Karma. Unlike Aquaman, it bounces around in time without being confusing or disruptive. We learn why Karma rejoined the X-Men and discover how she was infected by one of their villains. It’s a great time-out and transition from the first to second story arcs.
Green Lantern 11: Hal Jordan and Sinestro make for a great odd couple. Their dialogue is awesome. Sinestro is perennially and insufferably arrogant, even when Hal rescues him from imprisonment. And Hal has perfected the put-upon partner from his days of dealing Green Arrow’s diatribes. I also admire the way that Johns continually sets up the next threat even as Hal and Sinestro deal with the current one. In this issue, they finish reestablishing the Indigo tribe but they lose the Black Hand in the process. It’s a great way of keeping each issue interesting while also providing a hook to the next one.
Green Lantern: New Guardians 11: This is the big one. Kyle Rayner and the New Guardians attack Larfleeze’s home of Okaara. It’s a huge battle with all-out Lantern action. Tony Bedard works some nice beats into the story as well. There’s a great sequence where Munk, the Indigo Lantern, tries out everyone else’s powers to see which would work best against the orange constructs. There’s an emotional reveal when Kyle discovers Glomulus’ connection to Larfleeze. And there’s a great twist when the New Guardians discover who actually stole their rings. New Guardians has been giving us wonderfully colorful action and this issue is no exception.
Near Death 10: Jay Faerber’s noir series has specialized in done-in-one adventures but with this issue he proved that he can write a great cliffhanger too. I don’t want to say more than that. Trust me. This is a really good series and it’s worth picking up before it’s prematurely canceled.
Star Wars: Darth Maul: Death Sentence 1: I was excited about the return of Darth Maul. He’s a great villain and I was sad that he was killed so quickly in the prequel trilogy. But it’s possible my expectations worked against me as I wasn’t impressed by this story. I don’t know enough about Darth Maul’s brother to care about him as a character and the conversations between them didn’t tell me enough to make me interested. I’m also ambivalent about Maul’s new body. His physical presence was part of his appeal and that seems to be diminished by new robotic legs. At least the last panel was great. Darth Maul’s hatred for Jedi is intense. That bodes for more exciting action in the future and means I might not give up on this series quite yet.
Wolverine and the X-Men 14: I’m skipping the huge Avengers vs. X-Men event but that doesn’t mean I’ve been entirely successful avoiding it as it keeps popping up in books I read regularly. In some cases, it’s an annoying digression. In other cases, it can be an amusing interlude. Count this one among the latter. Jason Aaron presents a date between the Phoenix-empowered Colossus and regular ol’ Kitty Pryde. Colossus tries to impress her with his otherworldly powers, resulting in some great visuals and awkward moments. Meanwhile, we see the havoc that this ongoing battle has brought to the community as Kitty tries to hold the school’s staff together with guest instructors Doop and Deathlok. Aaron uses a light touch to show us- and his key characters- the corrupting influence of absolute power.
Winter Soldier 8: Ed Brubaker’s Bucky is a cool spy thriller. It owes more to James Bond and Jason Bourne than it does to Superman or Spider-Man. It’s dark and moody, with great twists and surprises. The Black Widow makes a great co-star. And I really like the way they’ve used Jasper Sitwell as the SHIELD contact and supervisor. I also like the post-cold war feel. Bucky and Natasha are former Soviet agents who are now free agents in a wide-open world. It sets up all kinds of old animosities and new possibilities.
X-Men Legacy 270: Not a lot happens in this issue. At least nothing that important. Magik has imprisoned a number of Avengers in limbo. Rogue is invited to tour the new super-prison but decides to rescue the Avengers instead. She focuses on Miss Marvel and they set aside their past differences in a show of friendship. That’s it. Despite what could have been a strong emotional hook- the final reconciliation between Miss Marvel and Rogue- this issue felt like it was marking time until the crossover finished with a lot of superfluous fight scenes.
Hawkeye 1: It’s hard to come up with new ways to say, “this was great” all the time. The new Hawkeye is awesome. It’s excellent. It’s cool. It’s even a little humorous. I enjoy this street-level view of Hawkeye (we barely see him in costume). I love the stripped down approach and the human-interest angle (the big story is that Hawkeye adopts a dog). I love the juxtaposition between action and boredom- fighting bad guys in one panel, falling asleep in the vet’s waiting room in another. I hope that we see Kate Bishop (aka Hawkeye II) soon but that’s a relatively minor complaint for a comic this much fun. Did I mention it’s great?
Bloodshot 1: The new Valiant is taking an inspired approach to storytelling. They’re reviving their classic characters from the ‘90s but they’re stripping them of most of their superhero connections. Yet they haven’t made the mistake of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. These are still exciting comics. They’re straight science fiction or action-adventure tales that are both familiar and refreshingly new. Bloodshot is a former warrior whose body has been resurrected like a Frankenstein monster to become an immortal super-soldier. But reviving someone and controlling them are not the same thing. Bloodshot rebels against his new masters only to be killed and resurrected again and again and again. It’s not a nice comic. But it’s definitely an interesting one- one that has something to say and one that doesn’t feel like anything else on the stands today.
Before Watchmen: Nite Owl 2 and Comedian 2: It’s hard to separate the discussion about Before Watchmen the project from Before Watchmen the stories. Personally, I always thought that the proof would be in pudding. Are the stories interesting? Are they inventive? Do they approach superheroes from a slightly different angle? If the answer is “Yes,” then these stories and comics were worth doing. So far, I’ve been suitably impressed. The series have been markedly different from one another but they’ve each been excellent in their own way. The Nite Owl series is about Nite Owl’s partner Rorschach as much as it is about the title character. We watch their current adventures. But more importantly, we’re treated to scenes from their childhood. We learn that these two masked men have more in common than we ever realized though they’ve reacted it to in different ways. It’s a strong story and I’m certainly enjoying the trip so far. The Comedian series is even better. Comedian, who was one of the least-developed characters in the original Watchmen, is given surprising depth here. We see inner turmoil that we hadn’t expected. And Brian Azzarello does a great job of weaving the Comedian into historical situations in surprising ways. These are worthy comics, and I’m glad I get to read them.