Having Avoided Death, I Post Some Capsule Reviews

Greetings! I still exist, despite a bout of dental havoc that had me laid up on painkillers and antibiotics for eight freaking days. Chad has been taking good care of me, and thus I can now return with a bunch of capsule summaries of books from the last couple weeks.

Avengers #2 (Bendis, JRJR, Janson, White): Bendis continues solidifying the new primary Avengers lineup with the addition of Noh-Varr. I don’t have any prior experience of Noh-Varr, but he seems likable enough. He has kind of a “Sheldon Cooper and Longshot get it on” vibe that I appreciate.

This issue ends with the abrupt arrival of a major X-Men villain, which seems a bit incongruous. I’m not sure how much of a red herring that’s going to be, given that we’re already dealing with Kang/ Immortus, but I’m willing to see where it goes. I do wish Tony Stark were a little more cognizant of his current dire financial and logistical straits, though– either Bendis is playing fast and loose with continuity, or Invincible Iron Man‘s current “Tony tries to rebuild his holdings” arc finishes up before this issue.

Fantastic Four #580 (Hickman, Edwards, Currie, Mounts): Um, it’s Arcade and the Impossible Man! Arcade seems to be having himself a mini-renaissance– he was in the Dazzler one-shot this month, too. Unfortunately, he’s never quite grown past his B-list Riddler tics, and it’s kind of hard to work up any excitement about him. Likewise, Impy seems terribly restrained here, keeping in mind that I haven’t seen a book with Impy in it for fifteen years or so.

Oh, and there’s another baffling two-page future history of Nu-Earth sequence, and, uh, Dragon Man and the other kids in Reed’s Brave New School have figured out how to cure the Thing. Sort of. But! Arcade and the Impossible Man! Majority of the book! Exploding Impossible Man toys!

Yeah, I’m not sure about this narrative arrangement either, but I find myself enjoying the hell out of it regardless. Just, please, someone figure out something else to do with Arcade already.

Young Allies #1 (McKeever, Baldeon, Sotomayor): Firestar, Gravity, Arana, Nomad, and Toro… don’t exactly team up, but they do take on a bunch of bad guys in this extremely efficient first issue. You meet everyone, you get a good handle on their personalities, there’s a fight, and it’s over. It’s a refreshingly clear-cut introduction, and David Baldeon’s art is fantastic, a bit reminiscent of Stuart Immonen with a slightly more expansive feel.

Arana and Nomad, in particular, sell this for me; they’re really the only established partnership in the book, and their banter is both realistic and hilarious. I could read an entire series focused on them and feel like I was getting my money’s worth. Throwing in Firestar is a bonus, although she hasn’t had much significant screen time yet; adding Gravity ensures that Chad, at least, will pick this book up as long as Marvel cares to publish it. (I don’t get it, but hey, there are worse people to be married to than a Gravity fanboy.)

Avengers Academy #1 (Gage, McKone, Cox): The other new team book of that week showcases a bunch of the teenaged characters from Norman Osborn’s failed Initiative, thrown together under the guidance of some disgraced Avengers. While the kids work together to find out why the Avengers have offered to train them, the adult mentors are shooting for personal redemption after their own setbacks and defeats.

It does rather read like the Doom Patrol to the Thunderbolts’ Suicide Squad, to be sure, but I don’t think that’s a problem. Gage gives every character a compelling reason to be at the Academy, which offsets the “who are these people” factor and lets you roll with the concepts. I particularly like Finesse, a young woman who’s got about the same power set as Monet from Generation X. Refreshingly, Finesse seems to lack an obnoxious, complicated family history– she’s a straight-up psychopathic polymath with no social ties, and I can get behind that concept.

If you don’t like struggling-superhero redemption stories, or you just can’t bring yourself to give a crap about Tigra and Speedball, you might give this one a pass. Otherwise, this is a quirky book with a lot of high concept, and it’s worth a read.

New Avengers #1 (Bendis, Immonen, Von Grawbadger, Martin): Well! Now that the onslaught of Avengers first issues is over, I’ve found the one I like the best. New Avengers plants Bendis squarely in his quip-tossing, hanging-out-with-the-guys comfort zone, and the results are incredibly endearing. Danny Rand lends Luke Cage a dollar to buy Avengers Mansion from Tony, for Christ’s sake. There’s no way you can hate that.

Immonen’s art suits the humor. When Peter Parker crams in a bit of dinner, mask pulled up to his nose, it’s hard not to think of Brad Pitt in Ocean’s 11, constantly stuffing his face through entire scenes. Iron Fist is appropriately bemused and whimsical, genially tolerating all of Luke’s command angst. Victoria Hand, dragooned into the role of operations coordinator, is put-upon and defensive. Her body language speaks volumes about her ambivalence towards Luke and his team. This is good, and I want more like this.

The team dynamic here is far less fractious than the Tony-Steve conflict of the main Avengers title, and less square-jawed than Steve’s covert team in Brubaker’s Secret Avengers. There’s a sense of camaraderie between Luke, Danny, Jessica, and the other members of the team; the pace is relaxed, everything is congenial. It’s a fun read, with none of the tension or timestream-threatening high stakes of the main title.

Short Week, Short Reviews

New comics on Thursday night plus a lot of stuff going on at home and in the office equals one wiped-out Department operative. I’m going to run down a few things I read this week in no great detail and beg your forbearance as a result.

Cover for Avengers Prime #1 by Alan Davis.

AUGH IRON MAN ARMOR WITH TEEETH

Avengers Prime #1 (of 5) (Bendis, Davis, Farmer, Rodriguez): Alan Davis has been a favorite of mine since Excalibur, and this book has some nice work in it. He’s a little overshadowed by heavy inking and dark atmospherics, sadly, but I think that’ll ease up as the story progresses. This issue is all setup; the newly-reunited Avengers suddenly lose Cap, Tony, and Thor to a transporter accident that dumps them in three of the Nine Worlds.

Cap’s plot arc starts off fast and lively with a bar fight in Svartalfheim. Thor and Tony have worse luck, landing in vastly less hospitable parts of the World Tree. I notice that Avengers Tony is a lot terser and more brusque than IIM Tony, too– does he have some kind of inferiority complex when he’s up against Cap? I think most people would, but the more abrasive Iron Man annoys me a little. Looks like this will be fun, though.

Heralds #1 cover by Jelena Djurdjevic.

Oooh, hey, a Jelena Djurdjevic cover. Dig that Abigail Brand!

Heralds #1 (of 5) (Immonen, Zonjic, Fairbairn): This is a weekly book, a short sci-fi summer team-up for Emma Frost, Jen Walters, Patsy Walker, Valkyrie, Abigail Brand, and Monica Rambeau. While I am one hundred percent behind the Women of Marvel project, I’m a little dubious about this book. The team’s rationale for existing seems forced and, in the specific mutual-disdain case of Frost and Brand, entirely out of character. Brand’s mostly there so there can be a giant-monster-and-escaped-clones incident at an Earthside SWORD facility, which doesn’t make much sense to me either– isn’t SWORD the near-Earth response team, based at the Peak and keeping all their troublemakers there? Did I miss something? Why the hell would Abigail Brand even want to go to a Scott Summers-arranged surprise party for Emma Frost, anyhow, knowing how badly Scott’s treated Hank of late and how shitty Emma is to her? It doesn’t add up, and I’m worried that that basic inconsistency will only get worse as the book goes on.

Also, I’ve seen a couple previews of this book where the major MacGuffin character is touted as being new to the Marvel Universe. I’m fairly sure that’s not so, and that she’s an extant former herald of Galactus who’s just been handed a Pixie-style retcon. That makes me nervous. Pixie Strikes Back was fun, but when I tried to review it, a cursory check of Wikipedia to see if I’d actually gotten the basics of the plot down resulted in an acute bout of “wait, even for Wikipedia comics summaries, this is way not what I just read.” Immonen’s avant-garde approach to narrative can get pretty tangled at times, and I hope this character doesn’t suffer for it.

Cover to Serenity: Float Out by Patric Reynolds.

A square-jawed cover for a square-jawed pilot.

Serenity: Float Out (Oswalt; Reynolds; Stewart; Heisler; Whedon): Patton Oswalt’s first comic-book endeavor is a by-the-numbers elegy for Wash, the fallen pilot of Joss Whedon’s Firefly series. That’s far from a bad thing, though. The framing is simple: Wash’s old colleagues from his pre-Browncoat days get together and reminisce as they christen a new ship. As a narrative form, it’s the five-paragraph essay of comics, and Oswalt handles it deftly. I was particularly impressed with Oswalt’s grasp of Firefly‘s hyperkinetic Chinese/ Wild West/ SF patois– every caption and line of dialogue added to my sense of immersion in the setting. Patric Reynolds provides craggy, expressive linework, and, well, you’ve never seen a bad Dave Stewart coloring job, have you?

Float Out isn’t cutting-edge visual storytelling, and it doesn’t need to be. Oswalt sets out to prove that he can create a solid, short narrative and tell it well, and he does that. I understand that’s a skill a lot of novice scripters could stand to learn, and reading this book should prove instructive for anyone wondering how a first published comic should read.

Review: Siege #4

Siege 4 cover by Olivier Coipel, Mark Morales, and Laura Martin.

That's three madmen down and a Heroic Age to go.


Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Olivier Coipel
Inker: Mark Morales
Colorist: Laura Martin

First off, I’m reviewing this issue from the airport in Seattle– on Monday afternoon. How, you ask, considering that I get my pull on Wednesdays like the rest of you? Well, I spent part of my long weekend in Portland, OR, home of Brian Bendis… who had comp copies burning a hole in his pocket. Bendis dropped some off at Things From Another World, I scooted over there on my way out of town, and the Sentry’s your uncle. So, hey, thanks, Bendis! Thanks, guys at TFAW!

Speaking of Bob, this issue puts the entire “what do you do with a guy who makes the Beyonder look sane” question to rest for the moment, and it’s actually pretty satisfying. Better yet, Coipel’s art is what sells it. The Sentry’s been one of the major annoyances of the Dark Reign– too powerful to play nice with everyone else, too unbalanced to be really compelling as a character– and getting him off the board gives me the sense that we may actually get some forward momentum going from here on out. That’d be a welcome change from the previous year and a half of dealing with twinked-out, superpowered lunatics…

…which brings us to Norman Osborn. He gets his in the end as well, although Spider-Man isn’t actually involved. Neither is Tony Stark, oddly– it’s all Steve Rogers’ show, set up to provide us with a little insight into Steve’s new motivations going into Secret Avengers. I certainly don’t mind Steve’s redesign, but I feel like Spider-Man should’ve had the last laugh in the ongoing Osborn drama, or maybe Tony Stark. After all, Norman was a Spidey villain from day one, and the entirety of “World’s Most Wanted” was about his vengeance on Tony. That being said, I don’t think we’ve seen the end of Norman’s plot arc yet, so I’m not counting either Peter or Tony out of the final reckoning.

As for our final, and arguably biggest, psychotic madman, Loki… well. His comeuppance delivers a serious hit to Thor’s entire status quo. If you have any interest in Thor and the Asgardian arc plot whatsoever, you will need to read this issue (and, if you’ve got them, Siege: Loki and New Mutants #11, both of which appear to provide big hints as to Loki’s possible fate). After all the buildup Loki’s received in the last year, this is the sea change in his relationship to the rest of the Marvel Universe, and you will need to see it even if you’re not actively following the Siege.

While I don’t always find Thor a terribly compelling character in his own right, and I’m only starting to come around to his fandom, I want to see where Kieron Gillen and Matt Fraction go with what Bendis has done here. Asgard falling appears to be the least of the Asgardians’ worries at this point in the game. Siege #4 sets up a state of affairs that can’t be ignored… and yet, over and over again in Gillen’s run, we’ve seen the gods’ childlike naïveté and willful ignorance lead them into disaster. I don’t know how long it will take the various Thor creative teams to play this one out to its end, but I expect a lot of mayhem before it’s all over.

Bendis has cleared the decks for next week’s Avengers launch in grand, cinematic style; although I have quibbles with Osborn’s eventual fate, I can’t say I’m unhappy with the denouement here. The Loki plotline is worth the price of admission on its own. Most of all, though, I’m just glad to see the Siege and the Dark Reign well and truly done; it’s past time we moved on to some new storylines and new ideas.

Review: Spider-Woman, Agent of S.W.O.R.D. #5

Spider-Woman #5 cover by Alex Maleev

Jessica Drew, escaping again...

“Issue Five”

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Alex Maleev
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit
Model for Spider-Woman: Jolynn Carpenter

I couldn’t find an official title for this installment of Jessica Drew’s adventures post-Skrull-captivity. As the first four issues have largely served to enumerate Ms. Drew’s considerable list of psychological challenges as she gets back into the heroic life, I guess “Issue Five” is as good a title as any.

Jessica’s issue of the month this time is simple. In trying to do the right thing by surrendering to the Madripoor cops after issues 3 and 4’s HYDRA rampage, she’s just managing to get herself and everyone around her in more trouble, this time with the Thunderbolts. And, really, that’s all that goes on here. Jessica escapes from Madame Hydra, spends a couple days recuperating from her injuries, turns herself in, and is confronted by the Thunderbolts, who have come to Madripoor to retrieve her.

The comparative lack of action here is a letdown after the tense and unsettling psychodrama between Jessica and Madame Hydra in issues 3 and 4, but I think that’s how I’m supposed to feel about it. Every good noir has a sequence where the plot stops moving, the exposition gets heavy, and then the guys with guns kick down the door and things get started again. Bendis captures that moment of fatalistic calm nicely in this issue; Jessica’s attempt to stare down a police inspector feels as futile as Sergeant James’ excursion beyond the Green Zone in The Hurt Locker. As Spider-Woman, Jessica’s useless when confined to the boundaries of the law (even in a place like Madripoor), and the cultural barrier between white super-heroine and Asian desk cop might as well be uncrossable for all the good it does either of them.

Jolynn Carpenter, Alex Maleev's model for Jessica Drew

...and Jolynn Carpenter, the woman behind the mask.


Art-wise, Alex Maleev continues to fit the book perfectly. His work is all grit and heavy ink, with very few bright moments. Plus, he’s one of the Marvel artists who’s upfront about his use of models, and Jolynn Carpenter provides Maleev with plenty to work from– her facial expressions are evocative and her poses are actually plausibly within the realm of normal. I feel like there’s more to the interior art than just “hey, look, Spider-Tits,” even if the covers are a bit gratuitous at times, and that’s a nice feeling to have from a comic.

All around, it’s a solid effort, even if it is really just 22 pages of getting people from point A to point B for the next big fight scene. Sometimes, that’s all you really need, but I can’t help wishing for a little more tension in this issue.