“Please guide me home” – ODY-C #1 is a stunning, beautiful contradiction

tumblr_naplw8nu2D1qlrd4qo6_1280

Since I put ODY-C on my pull list, following the book’s announcement at Image Expo 2013, I’ve moved across the country, started a new job, quit smoking, began a relationship, turned around my opinion on ramen, read somewhere around 1,000 X-Men comics and rewatched “30 Rock” four times. My comic shop owner regularly asked me “Hey, when’s that ODY-C coming out,” and I would dutifully reply that it got pushed back again or that it seemed like Matt Fraction might be abandoning the book as he kept swapping around Marvel projects, backing out of Inhuman and falling behind on Hawkeye. I eventually, almost gave up hope.

But I didn’t and I’m very happy that I did not. ODY-C, written by Fraction and drawn by Christian Ward, is a powerful, self-assured debut from one of comics’ most recognized modern writers and an up and coming artist with a lived-in style. It’s a book that doesn’t feel like it could be created by any other team, in the same way Fraction’s most recent independent, the smash-hit Sex Criminals, felt as if it couldn’t have been made by anyone other than himself and artist Chip Zdarsky. However, where Sex Criminals took the first issue to establish protagonist Suzie’s motivations, back story and unique ability, ODY-C does everything in two pages.

Well, technically 10 pages.

ODY02

Yes, the much vaunted 8-page opening spread is there and it’s glorious but it’s what that spread both shows and doesn’t show which is the real masterstroke of the opening. Before unfurling the spread, The sides hold both a map and a timeline, respectively of the world Odyssia and her crew inhabit. Both have the same impressionistic style Jonathan Hickman popularized in charts and diagrams in The Nightly News, Pax Romana and Secret Wars but they serve dual purposes and those purposes highlight the contrasting worlds ODY-C exists in. While a dry, loose timeline explains the background of Zeus’ actions, the reason for so few men in this world, and the conflict in Troii, it all serves as useful flavor around a shocking, imaginative and gruesome tableau of Odyssia and her companions. It’s a smart move, grounding the physical cost of massive violence against the dispassionate recounting of the bickering and pettiness which leads to it.

That fusion of new-age artistic aesthetic and Western canon is what provides some of the more intriguing moments of ODY-C as well. After the ship takes off to bring its crew of warriors home, we visit the Gods, a seemingly powerful family of conspirators and battling factions all watching the actions of Odyssia from on high. While the issue up to this point, has held all of the action unobtrusively in narration, the shift to word bubblers when the gods appear is jarring and an interesting touch, certainly open to interpretation. Is letterer Chris Eliopoulos attempting to show a difference between the controlled, set as legend story of Odyssia with the more emotion based tales of the Gods? Are we meant to view the Gods as more traditional characters while the soldiers are more untouchable by the comics medium? Are the characters and tropes permanent even when placed them in an unfamiliar medium, while the gods wholely inhabit where they are?

tumblr_nd6wao4No51rk5n91o1_500

To his credit, Fraction doesn’t offer many answers in the first issue but there’s lots of room for debate. So it goes throughout the story, where each of Fraction and Ward’s choices are meant to accentuate both the power of Homer’s original text as well as the new subtext a few changes can bring to these tales. Nowhere is this clearer than in the death of Xylot. While The Odyssey contains many passages referencing Odysseus’ loyalty to his crew as well as the violence he is capable of, the shift to Odyssia’s crew, more in tune with one another and in desperate need of cooperation makes her choice to kill a crew member feel different. She’s no less of a hero and no less worthy of a character than Odysseus when she damns Xylot to the cold reaches of space but it’s a moment that requires the reader to ask something of themselves. Just who is this captain who makes these sacrifices? What is waiting for her back home and is she deserving of taking it upon her return? Reframing these questions, which have formed the backbone of so much of Western fiction as we know it, is the key success of ODY-C #1 and create a strong start for the sure to be long journey to come.

Advertisements

“There is no problem that can’t be solved” – The road to SECRET WARS begins here

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 7.58.35 PM

“Everything dies.”

It’s a mantra that’s popped up for the last two years, spoken by Reed Richards to the Illuminati in Jonathan Hickman’s “New Avengers.” The slow dissolution of multiverse has been the impetus for widespread destruction and the desperation that seems to be the crux of the ongoing “Time Runs Out” storyline which seems to form the basis for this summer’s “Secret Wars” event. Marvel has been pushing Secret Wars as the event where everything changes for months now, first with an impressive array of alternate universe one-pagers and with a barrage of information on creator and editor’s social media pages.

Executive Editor Tom Brevoort has said the genesis for Secret Wars is in Hickman’s much vaunted Fantastic Four run and within the series’ large scale cosmic focus lies a series of hidden clues and hints about the direction of the Marvel Universe and the seeds of this summer’s upcoming event.

With that in mInd, it’s time to go back where it all started with a look back at Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four, what it has set up, the occasional hints in SHIELD and Secret Warriors, his Avengers and New Avengers run, the beginnings of creation in Infinity and how everything could lead to Battleworld. In this installment, it’s time to take a look at Hickman’s first major Marvel work, the “Fantastic Four: Dark Reign” miniseries.

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 8.21.35 PM

Let’s go back to the end of 2008. In the wake of Brian Michael Bendis’ less than stellar Secret Invasion, the seemingly reformed Norman Osborne had won the respect of New York and the president by fending off the invasion of the Skrull Queen and been crowned head of S.H.I.E.L.D. Unable to resist the man he has always been, Osborne assembles The Cabal, a group of villains who will aid him in controlling national policy. While he attempts to keep his new peacekeeping agency, H.A.M.M.E.R., on the straight and narrow, Osborne secretly harbors a hit-list of heroes he wants dead and buried and with the backing of the world, he’s ready to do it.

Osborne’s motivations and actions will change throughout Dark Reign and will eventually bring him to disaster in Siege but for now, he’s unbeatable. In the beginning of Fantastic Four: Dark Reign, he’s moving on the Baxter Building, ready to preemptively take Reed Richards out of the picture. Unfortunately, Reed has already started on a path of self-obsession and discovery which will change the Marvel Universe and define his character moving forward. And it all starts with the Bridge.

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 8.32.45 PM

The Bridge, like the Flash’s Cosmic Treadmill before it, becomes the defining artifact of Reed Richards as Hickman’s run carries on but for now, it’s almost solely a plot device. It’s worth noting that Reed’s newest invention is little more than a manifestation of his own guilt at this point. After tampering with the world for so long, Reed wants to know if the machinations of the Illuminati, their meddling with the Beyonder and the group’s dealings with the Skrulls which lead to Secret Invasion could have been prevented and if so, were they handled differently on another Earth.

Hickman’s focus in this five-issue miniseries is somewhat split. He’s writing Valeria and Franklin as something of comic relief characters. While the First Family is away, the siblings dress up and goof off, initially oblivious to the arrival of H.A.M.M.E.R. before stepping up later. In the series B-Plot, Sue, Ben and Johnny hop through alternate realities and pick up members of the family from across dimensions as they’re dragged along by The Bridge. It’s all fun and funnier than it has any right to be.

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 10.00.32 PM

The real meat of Dark Reign: Fantastic Four, and really the only characterization important going forward is Reed’s actions. Becoming more and more exasperated as he sees the commonalities across dimensions, Reed becomes obsessed with his own place in the dimensional order. Across the surveyed realities, he sees that he alone is the common denominator when searching for peace and he’s ready to discover how and why. By series end, when Osborne has been sent packing after taking a bullet from a trigger happy Franklin, Reed refuses to break down The Bridge and rebuilds it in a secret room of his lab. It’s a defining moment moving forward and certainly one open for debate. How much does Sue know about Reed’s obsession with what he has been across dimensions and what he can do? Reed’s narcissism and focus on himself is a recurring trope in the series and one that will appear time and time again, particularly in the form of those soon to be revealed glowing figures just on the other side of the screen.

Next Up: Who exactly are those people appearing in the Bridge? What do they want and what are they doing? It’s time to jump into Fantastic Four #570.

The Second Annual Vulcan Quiche Awards: Part 4

Screen shot 2013-08-30 at 10.39.32 PMI know this is (holy shit) three months into 2014 but at long last, here’s the top 20 series of 2013. This was an intensely contested category and I really had to whittle the list down to the very best of the best of the best. Let’s get into it.

The Next Generations – Awarded to the finest series of pictorials of the year.

Runners UpANXMEN2012013_int_LR-2-3
This was tough. All New X-Men somehow overcame a limited premise, several overly complicated story arcs, a tie-in to the underwhelming “Battle of the Atom” and some rickety character work to be a fantastic look at the X-Men through the ages and a reflection on how the series has changed. The Allred family overcame some rocky plotting by Matt Fraction and fixed FF, making it one of Marvel’s most unique and recognizable books on the market. Bringing Rafael Albuquerque onto Animal Man took it from an impressive title to one of DC’s finest off-key horror books and a consistent source of nightmare imagery and heartwarming scenes of characters fighting for what’s important.

Twentieth PlaceBruce-Banner-in-Indestructible-Hulk-2Indestructible Hulk

Mark Waid is a man who can redefine a character. Focusing on Banner, the jealous, hopelessly petty, intrinsically flawed monster underneath another monster is the focus and like in Waid’s Daredevil, he’s a character who finally wants to change his place in the world. While stories like “Agents of TIME” dragged along, Waid positioned Banner and Hulk as separate, albeit linked, characters looking to change, even when the world and the people they surround themselves with aren’t so sure they’re ready.

Nineteenth PlaceuxmUncanny Avengers

Uncanny Avengers isn’t a perfect book. It’s often barely a good one. What makes this story unique is that it’s always bold, always pushing the envelope, always relentlessly putting the characters in the worst possible position and watching them hopelessly crawl back from the brink. It’s a technique Rick Remender perfected on Uncanny X-Force but it’s given new weight in Uncanny Avengers with a team who can’t afford to let its secrets stay locked away. Each issue is an event, a talking point, an upcoming Twitter firestorm and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Eighteenth PlaceScreen-Shot-2013-10-05-at-8.33.07-PMStar Wars

If there’s a better introduction to the Expanded Universe than Brian Wood’s Star Wars, I don’t know what it is. Taking the familiar bits of the canon and slowly bringing in the looser character relationships, motivations and world building, Star Wars is a master class in how to make a licensed book work for diehard fans and newcomers alike. Evocative, recognizable and classically nostalgic, it’s a book that makes a galaxy far far away feel never more reachable.

Seventeenth Placehooded-figure-green-lanternGreen Lantern

After years of guidance and hundreds of issues of wonderfully realized worlds, Geoff Johns handed over the franchise he resurrected in a single issue of Green Lantern. While Robert Venditti has done a commendable job moving the series forward and keeping the book a must-read, Johns’ deliberate, wonderfully realized moments between Hal Jordan and Sinestro in Green Lantern #20 made this book an instant classic and cemented his place in the Corps’ history.

Sixteenth PlaceNova's_lifeNova

Casting off years of complicated backstories and Marvel’s often arcane space baggage paid off by bringing Sam Alexander home in Nova. A wonderfully realized, empathetic and true portrait of growing up young, poor and without much guidance, Sam is the perfect character to try to fight for what he believes is a galaxy worth saving and his attempts to right intergalactic wrongs are touching, bold, attention grabbing and often hilarious. Nova often achieves the impossible, being a well written, fun and passionate book, as well suited for first time readers as Marvel junkies alike.

Fifteenth PlaceScreen Shot 2013-08-23 at 12.41.31 PMWonder Woman

A rare example of a writer and artists’ voices defining a DC character, Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s take on Wonder Woman is the boldest book by a traditionally conservative publisher and the results are often stunning. Focusing on Diana’s twisted family dynamics and her attempts at creating a more stable home, Wonder Woman is a deeply human story on the way we reflect and deny the families who define us.

Fourteenth PlacesagaSaga

Last year’s winner, Saga continues to be one of the biggest success stories in independent comics and one of the best examples of the diversity of stories the medium can tell. A “Pulp Fiction”-esque storytelling device brought all the characters together in 2013, letting them bounce off each other and haunt their actions until only love can define them. Saga continues to be an electrifying read and the wait for the next issue is always far too painful.

Thirteenth Placebatman-242Batman

In 2013’s Batman #21, an unmasked Bruce Wayne raises a youthful middle finger to the man who will one day be his archenemy. It’s a defiant wonderful moment but it might as well be Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo flipping off the established canon. “Year Zero” has been a wonderfully realized, exuberant and fresh take on the early days of Batman, both respectful to Frank Miller’s “Year One,” and willing to critique, prod and kill its idols. Snyder’s Batman is everything the New 52 should be: fresh, respectful, modern, hip and unbelievably ready to slash and burn.

Twelfth Placeku-xlargeHawkeye

Matt Fraction and his stable of artists went bigger, more ambitious and infinitely more complicated in their second year of Hawkeye and that’s why it’s on the list but also why it’s not higher up. While the investigation into Gil’s death, Kate’s trip to California and the return of Barney were all great character driven beats, an inconsistent shipping schedule, missed deadlines and switching publication orders left fans wanting more and not in the most friendly way imaginable.

Eleventh Placegg1Guardians of the Galaxy

Brian Michael Bendis skills are all in display in his revamp of Guardians of the Galaxy, his whip smart dialogue, wonderful characterizations, fight choreography and gripping story telling. Like Nova, Bendis built on the past without being enslaved by it and made the Guardians more than just a team of space pirates but a group of heroes like no one else in the Marvel Universe.

Tenth Placeaaron-02Wolverine and the X-Men

What defines the X-Men? Is it their deep history, their very recognizable and personal struggles, their complicated romantic lives or the ongoing stories which define a race and people? Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men takes all of those disparate bits and brings them together into a single cohesive package. Wolverine and the X-Men is the perfect look at why the X-Men work as a franchise and despite some missteps (I don’t think anyone will look back favorably on the Frankenstein’s Murder Circus arc), it’s a stunning, beautiful book, always ready to surprise and remind readers why they’ve invested so much in these characters and this world.

Ninth PlaceAstro-City_1_PanelAstro City

The return of Kurt Busiek’s Astro City is more than just the return of a series which redefined comics. It’s the culmination of all the ways the medium has grown and changed since the series went on hiatus in 2009. Astro City is a wonderful reminder of how a deconstruction of  comics can work, not stripping down and destroying the characters and world but celebrating the way the medium works and how people exist within it.

Eighth Placetumblr_mtyn4dOw4m1qj97xmo1_1280Fatale
In the wake of murder and madness at the end of Fatale #10, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips had a chance to go bigger and broader with their tale of Jo and the monsters who pursue and they made a splash in a huge way. Going back through the past and ending the year in the ’90s Seattle Grunge scene gave the title the same amount of freedom and energy Jo has found. It’s a book mercilessly in command of the story and characters it slowly unravels, pushing Jo and the Bishop closer and closer together into what is sure to be an Earth shaking conclusion in the final year of Fatale.

Seventh Placenew-avengers4-strangeNew Avengers

One of the masterstrokes of Marvel’s soft relaunch has been the company’s decision to pay attention to the past without being beholden to it. In New Avengers, past relationships haunt a team of Earth’s most brilliant minds and the odds the group is up against weigh heavy on their hearts. While dealing with the extraplanar incursions is the narrative thrust of the series, Jonathan Hickman’s writing is sharpest when delving into the minds and motives of his characters. Black Panther and Namor’s tense declaration of war, Reed Richards tentative, inquisitive interrogations of the unknowable Black Swan and Stephen Strange’s slow descent into a power he doesn’t know if he can control create a perfect mix of internal and external tension. These are characters with a history and presence in the Marvel Universe and by pushing them against a threat they don’t understand and have never faced has let all of what makes them icons shine.

Sixth Placemanhattanproj-13-review-9_copyManhattan Projects

In Manhattan Projects, absolute power doesn’t corrupt absolutely, the illusion of absolute power corrupts everyone absolutely. As the team secures its place as the defacto leaders of Earth’s future by killing, bribing and dominating anyone who stands against them, their reach finally extends their grasp. It’s just a matter of time until every unleashed horror collapses in on this team of opportunistic scientific schemers and their grand plans and grander delusions make every issue a tragic, stunning, revolting must-read.

Fifth PlaceincBatman Incorporated

Everything ends and everything begins again. It’s a maxim Grant Morrison has often repeated in his mainstream comics but it’s never been so vivid, so dark and so wonderfully daring than in the conclusion of Batman Incorporated. It takes a ruined Gotham, the death of his son and a final battle with the only woman who could have stopped him to take Batman and Bruce Wayne from a child fighting for the wrongs his parents suffered to a father fighting for the children he’s losing and it’s pulled off with aplomb. Morrison’s operatic conclusion to his years of Batman stories is a perfect end to one of the best DC stories of all time and like the ever-present serpent eating its own tale, the last moments of Batman Incorporated show a future for Bruce Wayne that will only begin again, eternally and forever.

Fourth PlaceScreen-Shot-2014-01-26-at-2.52.42-PMEast of West

Every issue of Jonathan Hickman’s masterpiece in progress, East of West, contains the same line: “We did this to ourselves.” East of West is singularly focused on an apocalypse of our own making, a far flung, splintered dystopia not so different from the world we live in. The end of the world isn’t an act of God, despite the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, it’s an act of very mortal hubris, of greed, blind faith, betrayal and xenophobia and between layers of post-modern myth, biblical apocrypha and buckets of blood, it’s a strangely prescient warning of the doom and divisions we still blindly build for ourselves.

Third PlaceBoomerang07The Superior Foes of Spider-Man

Failure is very, very funny. I guess let’s back up from there. Failure is only funny if it’s backed with delusion, if a person only believes they can’t possibly fail or doesn’t even recognize their failures as such. Fred Meyers doesn’t think he can fail. He’s created a new Sinister Six (with only five members), broken his friends out of police custody (which he put them in), killed the traitor in his organization (actually, that didn’t really work out) and planned a daring heist against one of the most dangerous men in New York (under false pretenses). He’s falling apart at the seams and doesn’t even seem to realize it and the rest of his team of narcissists, functioning alcoholics and has-beens are always taking falls and hits they don’t quite deserve. It’s a series which could fall into tragic melodrama just as easily as it lands its humor and that’s what makes The Superior Foes of Spider-Man so special.

Second PlaceXML2X-Men Legacy

X-Men Legacy is indefinable. It’s neither superhero comic nor deconstruction, neither celebration nor character study. It’s something in between but also separated from. Through David Haller, the man once known as Legion, Si Spurrier and a host of artists have examined the nature of heroism with a character who would reject that label. X-Men Legacy is supremely confident in the story it’s telling, one with both world spanning and very personal consequences and stakes and that care shows in every moment. This is an opening statement from Spurrier and a cult classic in waiting, a wonderful story about what being a hero means and the sacrifices and choices that need to be made to get there.

First Placedaredevil_30_panelDaredevil

“Try the red one.” Spoken by the super-sensitive ninja, Ikari in Daredevil #25, it’s a line that walks the balance of horror and humor, of weakness and strength, desperation and victory. It’s the line that made me fall hard for Mark Waid’s Daredevil. Focused on giving Matt Murdock a chance to escape the sadness, death and desperation which has embodied the character since Frank Miller’s turn at the helm, Waid gave his characters a chance to be more than the sum of their parts. Murdock isn’t just a hero when he puts on the suit. He’s a hero when he sits in a cancer ward, a hero when he tries to rebuild his personal life, a hero everytime he reaches out to someone in need. No longer is Matt Murdock defined by tragedy, he’s defined by how he averts it, how he shapes his life and the lives around him with passion, zeal and a never-say-die attitude. Neither indebted to the past nor embarrassed by it, Daredevil soars by letting a character take control and make a difference, or at least let him try. 

The Year’s Best Comics (So Far…)

Daredevil_26-001Despite weird editorial decisions from both of the Big Two, comic creators have had plenty of room to create some excellent stuff so far in 2013. With the year half over, let’s check in on some of my favorite issues so far, in no particular order.

Dial H #13c6KAC2kIn a cast full of bizarre heroes, Openwindow Man is probably one of China Mielville’s oddest characters. When the entire interdimensional team is stuck in a dimension of chalkboards, the heroes struggle to procure a new dial and the conversation forces all of the heroes to deal with the stakes saving the universe brings with it.

Mielville has done a great job incorporating character specific voices to his work and the chalky, visible lettering and visible thought bubbles give the book a unique, homemade look that perfectly fits his storytelling bent.

Batman and Robin #18street-lamp
Batman is defined by tragedy but his early attempts to come to terms with Damian’s death offers a look at the way the loss of a child ruins more than the Wayne family, consuming the way a hero wages his war on crime.

In a silent issue, Bruce and Alfred try to deal with the loss of a family member. For an issue without dialogue, it’s a strikingly loud one. Alfred’s tears, Batman’s unleashed rage and a primal scream to close the issue make Batman and Robin #18 one of the New 52’s most memorable issues.

New Avengers #7New-Avengers-7-p7-ft-bannerA cold war between Namor and Black Panther has been brewing since the second issue of New Avengers and Namor offers an olive branch in New Avengers #7 but the runaway train to war has already left.

The power of Jonathan Hickman’s work on the title has been the inner conflicts becoming external ones. These are characters who have no reason to work together if it weren’t for saving the world and the tension has shown but here, it boils over, threatening to destroy everything the team has worked for.

East of West #4east_of_west_004-024I’ve already written about this excellent issue but the main point is the way in which Hickman continues to usurp reader expectations of who Death is and what the motives of the people he associates with could possibly be.

Wolverine and the X-Men #24tumblr_mh3fdcXzRF1rlcw3po2_1280Wolverine and the X-Men works best as a hangout comic. We know and presumably like these characters and seeing them try to live their lives, connect with one another and find a way to be more than just a hero is a great way to focus on the fact that these are kids, teachers and killers who still have lives.

Wolverine and the X-Men #24 takes much of the simpering romantic tension of the team and give the characters a chance to act on Valentine’s Day. Kitty and Bobby struggle with separating super-heroism from love, Jean and Quentin get honest about power, legacies and sex, Storm deals with her lingering feelings about T’Challa and her new ones for Logan and Toad gets sick of all these damn lovesick kids. It’s low key, promising and achingly sweet.

Daredevil #26originalThe best thing about Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s Daredevil works because it constantly feels as if anything could happen. From Foggy’s diagnosis to Bullseye’s insane, web-like plots to bring down the Man Without Fear, the sense of constant danger reminds readers that Matt Murdock is the unluckiest man in the world.

The exceptional Daredevil #26 achieves a laser focus by putting Matt on the run. With Ikari’s death threat still hanging over his head, the assassin makes good on his threat, showing Matt that the whole city can and will destroy him. While the proper story is fantastic, the backup, where Foggy goes into a children’s cancer ward and sees how the kids deal with their mortality is a great reminder of what comics can and do mean to all of us.

Manhattan Projects #120b6fd9b29e25be39c830aa1d992df4a4Secret motives run deep in Hickman’s Manhattan Projects and Fermi’s otherness has always been a recurring motif. Since the first reveal the scientist was more than human, Fermi’s real motivation for joining the team has been in question. Now, he strikes back, hurting the one person he has grown close to and losing his sense of agency. Daghalin’s defeated questions at the issue’s end turn a violent bug hunt into a near tragedy and a psychotic Einstein dispatches another threat by issue’s end, moving the imperialistic Manhattan Projects deeper into unexplored space.

Hawkeye #11HAWKEYE01105_d7c8eThere’s a real focus on the senses running throughout Hawkeye. Whether it’s the washed out colors or the slowed down moments of Kate and Clint shooting, there’s a focus on how we view and experience the world around us, the mundane, the heart breaking and the heroic.

Hawkeye #11 takes that feeling into a new direction as Pizza Dog investigates Gil’s death. Readers are brought into an approximation of how the animal feels, filtered through a noir kaleidoscope. It’s a fun, ambitious issue and makes more of a case for the cult appeal of the series.

Green Lantern #20hal-jordan-vs-sinestroLike many readers, Geoff Johns was the name I associated with Green Lantern more than anything else and his final issue on the title proves why. The focus on bombastic action, foreshadowed plot twists, real heart and simmering conflicts gives a sense of finale to a landmark run on one of DC’s greatest characters. It’s the sort of epic, mythic issue that only DC can pull off, with characters who’ve gone beyond heroes and villains and become legends.

“The world is won with violence” – Jonathan Hickman defines the new Golden Age of comics in East of West #4

East-of-West-4-Maos-ReignIt’s hard to place the moment when comics changed, leaving the cigarette butts and undrawn feet of the Bronze Age and entered the new era. I generally put it either in 2002 with the release of the first Spider-Man film and Marvel’s attempts to turn its characters into brands, or with the beginning of Avengers Dissasembled, when Brian Michael Bendis blew up Marvel’s structured universe and focused on the characters who defined the world.

Both point to character driven narrative, a focus on motivation over shock tactics, violence with consequences over violence for posturing and analysis over deconstruction. There are a few writers and artists who have masterfully embraced the spirit of the new status quo: Grant Morrison, Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron, Geoff Johns on his best days, and most importantly, Jonathan Hickman.

tumblr_motxa032U31qknzn8o1_1280Coming up through Image when the company was beginning its creative renaissance and making a name for himself at Marvel during the Secret Invasion/Dark Reign eras, Hickman was uniquely poised for success. He’s always had an eye for blistering, brilliant violence, morally compromised characters and a genius for redefining the place his characters exist in. We’ve seen it as Reed Richards looked inwards to redefine the Fantastic Four’s place in the world, the return of one of Marvel’s most forgotten characters into a cataclysmic event and now, redefining Death himself in his masterpiece in progress, East of West.

Between Manhattan Projects and two great Avengers titles, Hickman has had plenty of room to play with different characters and situations. In this week’s East of West #4, was obviously going to be a fight issue. Death, bringing his wrath on Mao and New Shanghai was going to be brutal and it suitably is but the interesting thing is about who’s playing the cards. A final page reveals that Xiaolian holds all the power over her white rider and a great conversation between Chamberlain and the child horsemen shows the power Death has over all those who have wronged him.

east_of_west_004-024 What takes East of West #4 from being a great comic to one of this year’s best is the way Hickman and Nick Dragotta humanize a destructive force and keep him an enigma. Xiaolian has been defined as a woman with control and agency, one who even with her back against the wall demonstrates total control and her hold over Death is clearly about more than love. Her brutality shows the human face of violence and a sense of dominance mirrored in Death’s massive slaughter. These are characters with a history, a connection that goes beyond love and chaos.

The defining thing about East of West has been the way Hickman and Dragotta have shaded their twisted world. There’s a wonderful sense of building, with a slowly unraveling back story of betrayals and shattered alliances and each new character and event adds additional colors and twists to the characters. Whether it’s Death’s devotion, Chamberlain’s fearless stance against the Horsemen or Xiaolian exorcising her familial demons in a flurry of horrendous violence, East of West is a world constantly in flux and a masterfully presented one that defines where comics are and what they can be.

Stray ObservationsEHYHktC

  • Nightwing has rarely been one of DC’s most exceptional titles but taking Dick out of Gotham and bringing him into Chicago’s twisted urban hellscape has given the book energy it hasn’t had since Night of the Owls. This week’s #22 might be the best issue of the series yet, with the Prankster tightening his grip on the city and Nightwing getting closer to Zucco’s hiding place. I’m going to thank Brett Booth for taking the month off.
  • Astro City #2 went back to the classic style the series is used to, with citizens being called to heroism in the mundane. It’s a solid way to show that despite the series new trappings, it’s still the book I know and love.
  • I’ve sang the praises of Otto-Spidey and Superior Spider-Man #13 is taking the character in a new direction, with Spidey blackmailing J. Jonah Jameson, killing Alistair Smythe and maybe going back to his old ways in a new villainous lair.
  • I don’t really know what to think of Batgirl #22. This is the second issue in a row where the title character has been the target of rape threats and the third in which a woman has. I have to ask, is Gail Simone trying to portray the struggles women face or is she using the same cheap literary devices she has rallied so passionately against?

“This is what I wanted to show you” – Astro City #1 brings us back to the most important city in comics

astro3I never thought I would get to read new Astro City.

Let’s go back to 2009. I hadn’t kept up with any comics outside of mainstream books in a long time, mostly sticking with Batman and the major DC and Marvel events. I was also at one of the lowest points of my life. I was incredibly depressed, drinking to the point of oblivion most days of the week  and helpless to try to find happiness.

I never wanted to make this blog about me or about my life because my experiences aren’t unique and the narrative is less important than who we are and what we take away from the things we experience. It just so happens that Astro City helped to let me take an important, critical look at the things I cared about.

astrocitypanoramaI discovered Astro City in trade at the university library and I devoured the first volume before going onto the rest of the series and collecting as many issues and trades as I could get a hold of before I had the whole series. I went back and explored writer Kurt Busiek’s other works and it got me back into independent, artistic, challenging comic books.

I celebrated the news that Astro City was coming back and holding the first new issue in years in my hands, I felt a wave of excitement, nostalgia and care that comics rarely give me. And of course, opening tbe book brought all of those feelings back. Busiek is simultaneously as challenging, welcoming and whip smart as usual and penciller Brent Anderson leaps back into the sharp, retro design style he nailed in the series first outing.

AstroCity01_zpsd605d2f7Putting new characters such as the paranoid, insane watchdog, The Broken Man, alongside the optimistic powerhouse, American Chibi front and center highlights the inventive spirit the new volume and the return of well loved members of the Honor Guard  and independent characters such as the Confessor makes this world feel as fully realized as ever.

The focus of Astro City has always been on the city’s civilian residents and the way they’re drawn into the super-heroics of the city. Ben Pullman is our guy this time, a seemingly satisfied but ultimately bored programmer who volunteers to be a representative of a whole new world. It’s something of a throwback to the very first issue of the series, where the heroes have to deal with forces beyond their power but that’s not by any means a problem. History is one of the most important parts of a series that succeeds by swimming in the passage of time.

10Busiek is quick to remind us what this series is about, the history of the medium and the way our lives can change and be reflected in the culture we consume. A wonderfully inventive, bleak and cutting final two pages remind readers that much like the heroes, our world can seem irresistibly small when we’re confronted with change. The wonderful thing is that we’re allowed to independently pick up the book, volunteer and choose to be satisfied.

Stray Observations

3083946-gl21Lots of really good books this week. Let’s check out some of the more interesting ones.

  • Jonathan Hickman had two great books this week, East of West #3 and Avengers #13. Both show off his mastery of character specific dialogue. Mao’s honorable but fruitless bluster in the face of Death’s coming attack is a great moment fitting a character we just met and Hyperion’s revelations in Avengers feels like the kind of character moment a lesser author would have handled with less subtlety. Hickman makes both feel masterful.
  • James Robinson’s Earth 2 has weirdly been something of a minor hit for DC and it always surprised me. Earth 2 has felt like a bit of a disservice to the company’s Golden Age characters but the way he played with the Green Lantern mythos is this week’s #13 is really promising.
  • Kierron Gillen’s new issue of Iron Man really showed how to do a retcon well. The revelation about Tony Stark’s past is organic to the character, doesn’t undo his past actions and offers a wealth of storytelling opportunities.
  • Age of Ultron #9 finally had the characters realize what every reader thought of 8 issues ago. I’m curious to see how and if Brian Michael Bendis is going to make all this build up pay off.
  • Bendis is, however, nailing All New X-Men. The way he’s turned Jean Grey into a wild card was such an initially unexpected but perfectly realized characterization and I love seeing how the character deals with recent events like Decimation.
  • Robert Venditti really did a great job on Green Lantern #21, his first issue since Geoff Johns’ departure. I’m not crazy about how young and soft Billy Tan is making Hal Jordan look but I’m super ready to see what these guys can do.

“The Female and the Male, the one who cast her out”: Phase One of Marvel Now concludes with a bang

X_Men_1_SlideBy all approximations, Marvel NOW! has been one of the House of Ideas’ most economically successful ventures, albeit one with some problems, since the launch of the Ultimate Universe and has challenged and dominated DC’s sales every month since the relaunch. With the first wave of new and relaunched titles wrapping up this week, let’s look at the last book and reevaluate some titles that have developed since I initially reviewed them.

X-Menxmen_1_preview4The all female X-team has been a lightening rod for internet applause since it was announced. The web has been clamoring for more positive and widespread portrayals of female characters for years, with much of the conversation beginning with the 2011 cancellation of the X-23 series and the idea for an all female team that doesn’t draw attention to their femininity is a sound one.

Brian Wood’s interpretation of the team doesn’t really jump off the page and it follows the form of his X-Men book pre-relaunch. Once again, we’re following the old tried and true formula of having bunches of characters doing different things with the assumption that they might all come together by the end. It’s dull and expected at this point but he’s got a hell of a cast. Psylocke has become a fan favorite in recent years and Wood has had plenty of experience writing her and Storm but his Kitty Pryde talks like she just started using Tumblr and Jubilee feels like she could be any other character. Dialogue has never been Wood’s strong suit but penciller Oliver Copiel draws dynamic action sequences and quieter scenes with great attention to body language and facial expressions which more than makes up for scripting flaws. The looming threat of the too-long-missing villain, Sublime and a last page cliffhanger are sure to keep readers interested in the title but as it stands, it isn’t living up to the potential of the premise or team.

The Verdict: Wood’s first issue of the relaunched X-Men feels unfinished but there’s plenty of reasons to pick up the next one.

I never felt bad about how dismissive I was to some of the earlier relaunches of the line and I think, for the most part, the way I felt about early issues of some of these series is still the way I feel now. Still, there are a couple that have evolved or fallen since those first issues. Let’s go back and check in on them.

Iron ManIronMan_06_Preview2Iron Man had one of the roughest starts of the relaunch with writer Kieron Gillen clearly having to balance the upcoming cosmic changes to the character with the mechanical Earth based adventures new readers expected. The first four issues suffered dramatically because of this but as soon as Tony headed to space, everything improved.

While Greg Land’s early issues suffered from overuse of photo reference, sending the protagonist into space and requiring Land to draw aliens, spaceships, robots and planets opened his style up for experimentation. His Tony is still inconsistent from issue to issue but he and Gillen are really crafting something special in the new “Secret Origin of Tony Stark” arc.

The (Revisited) Verdict: Tony’s transition into space has opened up the storytelling possibilities but the art still holds the series back from becoming a must buy.

X-Men Legacyxleg_spitI initially dismissed X-Men Legacy as feeling like an unnecessary niche title in an already loaded X-line and vastly, I still stand by that statement. Legacy is undoubtedly a cult book, focused on David Haller aka Legion, one of probably the most maligned characters in the franchise. The magic of the series is how writer Si Spurrier knows how you feel about David and doesn’t give a shit, writing a book that combines character study, low key adventure and heartfelt romance in equal, unexpected measure.

Legacy is one of the most experimental books of the relaunch, with a protagonist who actively dismisses the “speedos and tights set” of the X-Men, a genuinely respectful, loving relationship between Haller and Blindfold and a timely, thoughtful approach to how the rest of the world would build their lives around a people they believe to be a menace. Each issue treads new territory, goes further and further into the hero’s psyche and ups the ante with each new conflict.

The (Revisited) Verdict: Almost undoubtedly the best book of the relaunch.

FFff6-good-for-herI initially dismissed FF as a lesser companion piece to writer Matt Fraction’s excellent Fantastic Four but it’s much more than that. It’s still a companion piece, one very focused on the legacy of the First Family but it has centered primarily on Scott Lang’s hopes to create a new family in the face of tragedy and loss.

When FF clicks, it really works. Lang and Darla Deering’s plans to deal with the Internet addled Yancy Street Gang is exciting, silly and very funny in equal measure. Medusa’s struggle to be a mother for a group of children she doesn’t and doesn’t want to understand is intriguing and offers a fascinating subtext to the issue of family. Mike Allerd’s pop-art inspired pencils make the characters feel like icons in much the same way he brought new millennium style to X-Statix in the ’90s. The problem really is fan service. Tong’s unexpected revelation of his gender identity, The Wizard maniacally hoping for a “heteronormative cissgendered” family and an entire page sequence of Darla trying on hats feel like they were written and designed to be posted to blogs rather than appear in a comic.

The (Revisited) Verdict: Even for a beautifully stylish and well written series, FF needs to decide what it wants to be and stick with it.

Avengersavengers-world-marvel-now-cap-thorAn obscene twice-monthly shipping schedule did wonders to boost the pace of Jonathan Hickman’s universe spanning Avengers team, with early issues not giving much of a look at what the book would become. Revamps of long forgotten characters, introductions of galactic heavy hitters and the looming threat of the White Event have come together to make a great series.

Despite a clear motive and goal for the characters, Hickman has given plenty of room for minor figures and off-beat issues. A recent trip to a Shanghai casino to duel with AIM scientists, an amazing look at a battle for the fate of the Shi’ar Empire and extended ruminations on the nature of creation round out a book that could have been little more than a series of dour battles and down character beats.

The (Revisited) Verdict: Hickman clearly has big plans for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes but readers expecting a classic team book should adjust their expectations and ready themselves for something experimental, intriguing and entirely unexpected.

Superior Spider-ManSuperiorSpiderMan_9_Preview2I was really, really harsh on Superior Spider-Man. I still have a lot of problems with it but I’ll admit, this is the first Spider-Man story I’ve ever really cared about. The Doc Ock swap still feels cheap and ridiculous but the web-head is exciting, interesting and unpredictable for the first time since I’ve been reading comics.

Dan Slott still tends to write very soapy which is par for the course for Spider-Man comics but the pacing is just very off. Plot developments drop off as soon as they are introduced, such as the Avengers questioning Peter’s mental well being, the finally revealed fate of the remnants of Vulture’s gang and Phil Ulrich’s struggles with the Goblin persona, and these give the book a deep sense of worldbuilding with no real story pay off. It’s nothing Slott couldn’t take care of and the book shines when it focuses on Doc Ock and his moments of inner turmoil as he struggles with what it means to be a hero working out childhood trauma on all criminals great and small.

The (Revisited) Verdict: Long live Doctor Otto Octavius.

Stray Notesforce5Hey, at the end of every comic post, I’ll be talking about a couple other releases of the week, just to highlight some of the books I write about less than others. Consider it a conversation starter more than anything else.

  • So, that twist in JLA #4, huh. After Geoff Johns wrote maybe the best single issue of his career in Green Lantern #20, this just felt crazy, unnecessary and a little disgusting.
  • Also, damn it, wasn’t computer lining supposed to help David Finch get his art out faster? Why do we have to keep dealing with Brett Booth?
  • I know I missed it last week, but Fearless Defenders #4 A.U. probably had one of the most fun tie-ins of the event.
  • I can’t really put my finger on it but what’s the problem with the new Uncanny X-Force? I like the story well enough and it’s a great line-up of characters but it just doesn’t add up to anything. The Bishop memory fragments were great and Adrian Alphona killed it on art but the whole book still just feels very, very off.

“To the fall of empires and the illusion of republic” – Hickman’s East of West is a brutal, relevant peak at a fractured America

03-27-2013-072657PM-2Early Saturday morning, I hauled myself out of bed, tossed back a handful of generic aspirin and drove myself to a story. A group of motorcyclists were going to the biggest man-made cross in Illinois to have their bikes blessed before the summer riding season. I was shooting photos, one of the parts of my job I like the best, and it’s the sort of opportunity most smalltime reporters love; a potent image juxtaposing the the holy and the unholy, rebellion and contemplation.

I live in what most Illinois and American citizens would call the middle of shit nowhere. In all honesty, it’s God’s country, one of the most conservative areas of one of the most liberal states in the country, a place where every once in a while, you’ll see a license plate damning abortion, a place where coworkers readily and happily blame women as willing victims of sexual and domestic abuse, a city where I once received gruesome hate mail for supporting the state’s marriage equality bill.

eastofwest2-726x248We’re a nation constantly divided by extremes. Even in areas which seem unanimous in their voice, there’s often dissension. Jonathan Hickman is tapping into that dissension in his second Image series, the apocalyptic western “East of West.” With only one issue under Hickman and former “FF” super-star Nick Dragotta’s belt, the team has already crafted a compelling tale of vengeance, cultural hate and ideologies that never die.

Hickman’s clearly playing a long, dangerous game in his first issue. After an introduction that wisely leaves its faith in the reader, we’re brought into Death’s inner circle. A hardened, bitter badass that’s two parts Jonah Hex and one part pure unadulterated rage, Death’s one of the most compelling parts of a book that begs to be deciphered. His quest, which seems to be half vengeance and half Arthurian quest for the Grail, is intriguing and pairing it against the other three Horsemen of the Apocalypse’s brutal, childish rebirth is bizarre and awesome.

East-of-West-Three-HorsemenWhile Hickman’s holding readers at arm’s length and trusting them to hold on for the ride, the art is compelling, welcoming and fascinating. Dragotta’s apocalyptic imagery as well as his attention to detail in the Civil War flashbacks is impressive and recalls Jerome Opeña’s down and dirty looks at flawed men and women but he admirably gives the child Horsemen an appropriate and unnerving youth that drives home the horror of the things they say and do.

In a book that features such iconic images as three children slaughtering a wounded man and Death kneecapping and murdering the president, the most striking visual is Hickman’s map of the new America, one fractured into seven nations, each bordering up on each other and given passive aggressive, grandstanding names, each with a name trying to declare themselves the real America. It’s a fractured nation, one with a never ending Cold Civil War and one that recalls our own country at it’s pessimistic, deadlocked worst.

“I should be ashamed. But I’m not.” – Matt Fraction’s Fantastic Four #4 gives a stand-alone unexpected weight

ffMatt Fraction is trying something devilishly clever in his Marvel works by writing nothing but loosely serialized mainstream comics. It’s a bold departure from the rest of the publisher’s line and even from Jonathan Hickman’s run on the title. By writing stand alone issues, he’s intelligently given his characters time to shine in a variety of situations while letting the stresses of each issue weigh on the characters.

Fantastic Four has benefitted from this writing style as much as the also excellent Hawkeye but the First Family also has the problem of starting with a premise. From the first issue, Fraction set up Reed’s need to find a cure for his cellular degeneration as well as Franklin’s dreams of a bleak future in space. It’s obviously a long game but one that constantly needs acknowledged.

Fantastic-Four-3Fraction may have made a small misstep in the third issue. When the family makes contact with a living planet, it’s clear Fraction and Mark Bagley were trying to set up a Dr. Who style sci-fi romp with a pure pulp heart but the characterization took a back seat. It’s clear Fraction is trying to highlight Ben’s struggle to fit in as he’s pushed out of his element but it just didn’t mesh together very well. It’s hard to tell if Fraction was setting up the pieces or if he had learned his lesson but the series’ fourth issue pulls it all together in a big way.

Reed and Sue are put in sharp focus here as the family stumbles onto an uncharted planet which worships the Fantastic Four after discovering cave paintings of the team thousands of years ago. It’s a neat premise and it pairs well with Reed’s flashbacks to the early days of his relationship with Sue.

fanfou10Bagley is one of the reason this issue in particular shines. His style has always recalled John Romita Sr. and shows off the facial work that made Ultimate Spider-Man stand out on shelves for years. He’s great with people and his aliens are consistently depicted and well designed. His strength really shines in those pivotal flashbacks though. He brings a certain sense of soft, sunny  nostalgia to Reed’s memories of his wife and it makes the sequence shine.

Of course, that’s all leading to the gut punch. Reed has to rewrite history to remind himself of what’s important in his life. Sue’s written for the first time in the series as a woman who sees and knows much more than she lets on. The future foretold in Fraction’s also excellent FF #3 is coming soon and Reed’s breaking down as the future rushes up to greet him and the family continues to splinter. This is one of Marvel’s best characters written excellently and forced into the only situation he can’t think himself out of. Frankly, there’s no better place for Reed to be.

“Being a superhero is amazing. Everyone should try it.” – Marvel NOW keeps rolling along

ux2We’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.]

AvengersAvengers_1_PanelJonathan 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 Avengerstumblr_mg0pnaMYkY1r159loo1_r1_1280Here’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 Arenaarenaaaa0001It 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-ForcefacemeltHopeless 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.

Thunderbolts2826629-venomMarvel 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 WolverinezaUxbI 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-Mansuperior-spiderman-identityIt’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-ForceUNCXF2013002covVarHow 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 Avengersnice-art1The 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 Defendersfearless-defenders-1bMarvel’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.