We’ve now had three months of Marvel NOW! and the new titles just keep rolling along. After the last roundup, there’s been a lot of change. FF, which I initially said was a little below board, has proven to definitively be the best, most stylish series of the bunch. Thor: God of Thunder, which I picked up on the recommendation of a commenter, brought all of Jason Aaron’s stylish, continuity embracing charms to the most godly Avenger. It’s been a neat experiment but with new books still coming, we’ve got a lot more rounding up to do. [Note: I didn't pick up Morbius: The Living Vampire. I'm not a Spider-Man and friends fan and I just don't plan to get into it.]
AvengersJonathan Hickman has been one of my favorite writers of the last three years for his high concept take on the Marvel Universe. He’s best at taking the smartest people in the room and making them do the impossible and that’s why his Avengers is still a bit of a slippery slope.
The first few issues have shined almost solely on the strength of Jerome Opena, who’s bringing the same dark, epic charms to the title that he brought to Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force. It’s a visual treat and the world spanning cast recalls Grant Morrison’s epic work on JLA. It’s not great and I’m admittedly not the biggest Avenger fan but this book definitely has an irresistible hook.
Rating: It’s really not my cup of tea but it seems to be blossoming into something worth reading.
New AvengersHere’s where Hickman hits his stride. The most brilliant minds in the superhero community come together to reform the Illuminati in the wake of an interdimensional threat. It naturally recalls The Manhattan Projects, one of my favorite books of the year, and the hook alone is worth buying it for.
The art edges a little too close to Marvel’s house style but Hickman nails the characterizations. Black Panther’s brooding intelligence and his conflict with Namor’s haughty indifference is page turning and that’s not even mentioning the cold, calculating cynicism Reed Richards and Tony Stark are bringing to the conflict. These are great characters with competing goals, views, and strategies for dealing with the threat they face. With an art team willing to paint these characters in the shades of grey they deserve, this would be Marvel’s perfect Avengers book.
Rating: So close to perfect, it hurts.
Avengers ArenaIt was the toast of pre-Marvel NOW! controversy and naturally, it’s become one of the company’s top sellers. Pitting the company’s teen characters against each other in a series that’s actively drawing from “The Hunger Games” and “Battle Royale,” Avengers Arena just goes for it with old school Avengers and X-Men villain Arcane trying out his old Murder World on a bigger scale than ever.
There’s really not a lot to say about the book itself though. Dennis Hopeless is one of the newcomers to The House of Ideas and he’s clearly more interested in the newer characters he’s created than anything else. It’s a disappointment, especially with one of the book’s big appeals being characters from Avengers Academy and Runaways. It’s nice that there’s a teen focused book on the shelves but it just doesn’t reach the heights of Marvel’s previous efforts on that front.
Rating: It’s trying way too hard and just being aggressively average for the efforts.
Cable and the X-ForceHopeless is getting the fringe titles and it’s clear he’s trying but, boy, is it not working. The return of the Cable and Domino team-up should make those three Rob Liefeld fans wake up from their Doritos induced slumber but the book lacks punch. It’s nice to have Hope around to do awesome mutant action but the team up of Dr. Nemesis, Colossus and Forge as support characters doesn’t add much.
It doesn’t help that issue 3 features one of the most deliriously idiotic story lines in years. As Cable tries to stop a prophetic dream from occurring, the team discovers a fast food company that’s trying to infect the populace with mutant zombie meat. It’s such an aggressively dumb plot that you wouldn’t be wrong to think it was meant to be satire but Hopeless plays it with such a self-seriously straight face that it’s impossible to laugh.
Rating: You can skip this one like you’ve skipped every Cable book since Messiah War.
ThunderboltsMarvel doesn’t really seem to know how to do a dark book at this point. The best parts of Marvel NOW! have been optimistic, intelligent, character driven and thought-provoking books that put their iconic characters into new situations and settings. I’m all for that as DC seems to have embraced ennui and nihilism in their biggest titles. Marvel seems to be trying to bite off some of that style with the relaunch of Thunderbolts, bringing together Thunderbolt Ross (get it, eh, eh), Deadpool, Venom, Elektra and Punisher to destroy threats worldwide.
There doesn’t really seem to be much of a purpose for the team yet. These are some of the most dangerous and capable killers in the universe and they’re mostly just aiding militia fighters in a covert war. Why do they need the Punisher and Red Hulk? Why is Elektra willing to do this? The book doesn’t justify it’s choices well enough and the violence the book promises doesn’t come or provide any of the tension these personalities should bring to the table.
Rating: A massive waste of potential. Even for $2.99 and for the great team of characters, it’s not worth picking up.
Savage WolverineI would love to think I’m a man of refined taste but there’s a primal appeal in watching Wolverine fight dinosaurs, SHIELD agents get torn to shreds and see Frank Cho’s crazy take on the female anatomy. Savage Wolverine is a showcase for the male comic fan’s basest instincts and it’s probably worth indulging in.
Wolverine wakes up in the Savage Land and is pretty quickly killing dinosaurs, fighting barbarians and teaming up with Shanna the She-Devil. It’s pure pulp. There’s no context, no tie-ins to Wolverine’s recent attempts to stop killing and no desire to show these characters’ place in the larger context of Marvel. Frankly, I couldn’t be happier to see the company have this much fun with one of their biggest characters.
Rating: I feel bad about loving this as much as I do. It’s worth seeing if you will too.
Superior Spider-ManIt’s an uphill battle for me to care about Spider-Man from the get go and the Amazing Spider-Man 700 twist certainly didn’t help matters. I like Dan Slott. I think he’s a funny guy who cares deeply about the character but Spider-Man is a character who exists in a virtually impenetrable pocket of the Marvel Universe. No one touches New York in the same way Spider-man does and that’s what makes any lasting change in the character feel so strange.
Superior’s Doc Ock swap feels like a stop-gap and it’s one readers are familiar with. Peter’s not gone, even if his ghost wasn’t there, he still wouldn’t be gone. Once the next Amazing Spider-Man movie comes around, Parker will be back and that’ll be the end of the experiment as the status quo gets reset. For now, the book is uninteresting, the art cribs heavily from Todd McFarlane and Greg Capullo and the writing has the same alternatively dour and overly quippy style that has kept me away from Spider-books for years.
Rating: This is a Spider-Man book for Spider-Man fans and Spider-Man fans only. New comers need not apply.
Uncanny X-ForceHow do you follow up one of the biggest surprise hits Marvel has seen in the last five years? Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force was one of the best X-books in a long time and it seemed impossible to see lightning strike twice. Sam Humphries has been given the unenviable job of doing just that and he wisely sets a different tone for the book.
Psylocke and Storm is a great team up, with both women facing major changes as the return of Fantomex and a divorce from Black Panther have put the women at new positions in their life. Both show off their power as they exorcise their demons and although the group doesn’t have a clear goal, it’s neat stuff to see them team up with Alpha Flight member Puck. It’s a super colorful, stylish to a fault first issue that looks to be a lot of fun especially with a drug dealing Spyral, the return of Bishop and a final page reveal of Fantomex’s new leading lady.
Rating: Don’t think this is a revamp and get on the action packed ride. It looks like it’s going to be fun.
Young AvengersThe kids have grown up. When last we saw the Young Avengers, they were crippled by loss, war and the realizations that the real world is a brutal place to grow up. Kierron Gillen has a much different take on these characters. These are teenagers. They hook up, make out and have fun with the fact that they’re occasionally the smartest, toughest, most dangerous people in the room.
Gillen nails the characterizations here. Kate Bishop is a girl playing the game for the thrill, the sex, the battle, the fun. The relationship between Hulkling and Wiccan feels like the kind of kamikaze love that can only happen when you’re 18. Kid Loki rocks being the self-righteous punk who doesn’t care who you are or what you’re selling. It’s a book that we’ve seen a couple of times before as the team starts to form up to face down a new potential Skrull attack but you can’t find many better characters to spend the time with.
Rating: Until Runaways gets a new volume, this is the premier teen series. That’s not a bad thing.
Fearless DefendersMarvel’s clearly been happy with how much better they look than DC on the subject of gender diversity, sexuality and women in comics but that’s not much of an accomplishment. It’s like me being happy for being taller than my dog. Fearless Defenders received a lot of early press for the team up between shit-kicking ladies Dani Moonstar and Valkyrie and the pair do work really well but this is an action comic first and foremost.
It works on the strength of just that and the rest of the first issue shines for the characterization and bold choices. It’s a fun fight book with these two very different characters taking on pirates and Viking zombies. There’s a lot of style to work with here and this has the potential to be one of the most fun pure-action comics of Marvel’s relaunch.
Rating: It’s the most sexy, violent, empty-headed, pop-culture addled, ’80’s obsessed, straight up fun book Marvel is putting out right now.