52 #48 (DC Comics)
Uh oh, it looks like it’s time to start wrapping up the Montoya vs. the Crime Worshippers storyline, and you know what that means—a metric ton of unnecessary first-person narration, recapping a large part of the Montoya thread from the past 47 issues. This issue also marks Montoya’s first use of the binary gas, making what I’ve been dreading for 48 weeks now an inescapable reality—Former Gotham City police detective Renee Montoya is now The Question II, also known as DC Legacy Character That Nobody Asked For Or Is The Least Bit Interested In #27, a character bound to be even less-successful than the not all-that-successful original hero whose name has been co-opted (see also the recently cancelled Firestorm, and the extremely low-selling Blue Beetle and Tales of the Unexpected). Pencil art comes courtesy of a seemingly rushed but still strong Darick Robertson, who gets to draw “The Question II” and Nightwing beating up a bunch of animal men to save Batwoman and stop Mannheim’s mad plot to transform Earth into Apokalypse With a K; as of the end of this issue, they’re only halfway there.
The back-up feature is the origin of the Birds of Prey, as drawn by Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood. Mark Waid does a decent job of recapping a rather long and troubled history, avoiding the nonsensical Batman/Oracle tiff. Scott does very nice work in the last panel; it’s downright shocking to see a superhero artist who can draw different faces and expressions these days. The biggest BoP news is that which comes in this week’s DC Nation panel, though. Fellow Columbusite Sean McKeever taking over the title from Simone? Well, alllll right!*
Avengers: The Initiative #1 (Marvel Comics) Okay, between New Avengers, Mighty Avengers, Marvel Adventures Avengers and The Ultimates 2 quarterly, we probably don’t need another Avengers title. We do, however, need another Dan Slott-written title, so I accepted this book with open arms. And I’m glad I did. Over the last few years, Slott’s developed a rep for one of Marvel’s go-to guys for funny stories (See Spider-Man/Human Torch and the consistently entertaining She-Hulk), but he’s also a very skilled crafter of stories, one with a (too rare) understanding of and love of the Marvel Universe’s whole catalogue of characters, which he often makes fantastic use of. In other words, he’s ideally suited to this series, which spins directly out of “Civil War” and deals with the army of Marvel superheroes being turned into an actual superhero army.
It’s the least ha-ha funny story from Slott I’ve read in quite a long time, but it’s very well-written, and structured as your basic basic training sort of military movie, only with new and/or younger superheroes being signed up by Pro-Reg heroes and trained. It answers quite a few of the questions raised (and never really answered) by Civil War or any of it’s many tie-ins regarding how registration works.
It features quite a few of the little-seen, book-less Marvels like Hank “Yellowjacket” Pym, War Machine, Justice and (briefly) Triathalon, plus a passel of brand-new characters, something both of the Big Two fictional universes sorely need occasional injections of.
The art is courtesy Steffano Caselli, who recently drew the Young Avengers/Runaways crossover and did some time on Devil’s Due’s G. I. Joe books, and it’s nice and loose here, with nice renderings of a lot of characters old and new. The cover is from Jim Cheung, and like this week’s Justice League of America, it’s a rather annoying half-cover, but the design works better split in half; whichever half you buy, you get half of Iron Man and a huge crowd of nobody Marvel’s behind him.
Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America #1 (Marvel)
This series is a really good idea. I remember back in the early ‘90s, when I was just inching my way into the wider DC universe from the more comfortable setting of Gotham City, I was sort of disappointed that DC didn’t do more stories about the world reaction to the death of Superman. While the Superman books focused on the reaction of Supes’ supporting cast, I woulda really liked to have read a whole comic about Batman mourning the death of his best superfriend, or another of J’onn J’onnz thinking, “Oh great, does this mean I have to catch all the meteors headed towards earth now?” So kudos to Marvel for taking their wider universe into account with this particular temporary death (Or perhaps those kudos should go specifically to J. Michael Straczynski, who gets a “From an Idea By” credit at the beginning of the issue?)
At any rate, this is the first of a miniseries assigning the five stages of grief to various Marvels, with Wolverine kicking the series off with denial. Voicing the sentiments of comics readers everywhere, Wolverine’s not buying it that Captain America is really truly dead, given the regularity of superheroes coming back to life after getting themselves killed. And he’s not going to buy it until he can smell the dead body for himself. (I know— Ew). He goes to Bucky “Winter Soldier” Barnes for help sneaking onto the SHIELD Helicarrier to ID the body, and Bucky turns him down (Prediction: Bucky will be dressed as Captain America by the time this series ends, which explains his presence here).
At the risk of spoiling the surprises (uh, spoiler warning?), he ends up recruiting Daredevil and Dr. Strange to help him, questions Crossbones and stares down Iron Man and Yellowjacket. Finis.
The story is by Jeph Loeb, and I was pleasantly surprised that there was no first-person narration, a bad habit of Loeb’s that has increasingly been used as a crutch (In Superman/Batman, he’d have both of them narrating simultaneously, which drove me absolutely bonkers). And there was really only one panel that made me absolutely cringe—Page two, panel four, when Bucky says, “Nobody would want to see what I saw. Don’t you get it? It was-- The Death of Captain America.” Jesus, that’s melodramatic.
On it’s own, it’s fairly dramatic in a superheroes-fronting-on-one-another kind of way, but it doesn’t match up very well with the events of New Avengers, recent issues of which have had almost the exact same plot (The New Avengers, including Wolverine and Dr. Strange, infiltrate the Helicarrier to get at Cap’s body, and end up face to face with Iron Man) and seems to contradict aspects of this story. At this point, I’m starting to feel like a broken record pointing out that Marvel insists on spreading storylines across multiple titles (which is fine) but doesn’t ever make them match up (which is not). Either tell stories contained in a single comic book series, or edit the comics so that the story makes sense from title to title.
Leinil Yu handles the art, and it’s almost absolutely perfect. You’d have to look really, really closely to find anything at all to complain about, really, but they’re too insignificant to even mention. I will say this, though. Dr. Strange’s astral form? It doesn’t wear the Cloak of Levitation. That’s twice now, Yu.
Detective Comics #831 (DC) Harley Quinn’s creator Paul Dini writes gets the chance to write her once again, and the result is a great done-in-one Batman story (and perhaps the greatest Harley Quinn story this side of Mad Love. Considering the frequency with which different artists work on this book, I would have preferred a Dini pal (and excellent Harley artist) like Bruce Timm or Ronnie del Carmen on art, but Don Kramer does his usual very decent job here. And Simone Bianchi sure draws the hell out of Harley, doesn’t he? Wowee zowee.
The Irredeemable Ant-Man #7 (Marvel) According to Paul O’Brien’s analysis for Publisher’s Weekly, this is Marvel’s lowest-selling title by a significant margin, and is almost certain to be cancelled soon. I for one am rather bummed to hear it, as it’s a consistently fun book with perhaps the most unique outlook of any book Marvel’s currently publishing (which may account for those sales numbers, or it could be the fact that it launched with a six-part story arc instead of a more accessible done-in-one origin; I don’t know). This issue should give it a decent shot in the arm, on account of the Mighty Avengers guest-starring. Frank Cho’s cover from Mighty Avengers #1 is cleverly recycled, with Ant-Man as drawn by regular artists Phil Hester and Ande Parks inserted. As for what these Avengers are doing in this book, Ant-Man has followed Ms. Marvel back home to use his super-shrinky powers to watch her shower (yes, he’s Marvel’s only super-voyeur) and then hitches a ride into their battle against the Mole Man’s minions, during which he has a brief battle with the Black Fox, stealing his sack of jewels after ant-punching him in the, um, jewels. If IAM does get cancelled in the near future, perhaps it will have a more successful future as a Max imprint book, given Ant-Man’s hobby.
Justice League of America #7 (DC) It’s the long-awaited conclusion of the eight-part story arc giving us a brand-new Justice League line-up (and carrying writer Brad Meltzer past the half-way point in his 13-issue run on the title). Taken as a single issue, this is pretty disappointing, from the half of a cover image I got on the one-of-three covers to the cheesy fold-out to the reveal of the “new” headquarters to the usual offenders of over-narration and grating first-name basis all the heroes are on. I say “disappointing” in part because I’ve seen Meltzer do better, and he does have some good ideas, he just communicates them rather poorly, over-writing every scene. (With a co-writer or a strong editorial hand, this would be a much better book).
I also say disappointing because I just plain love the Justice League, and I love the idea of Roy “Arsenal” Harper and Jefferson “Black Lightning” Pierce joining them, and think the concept and characters deserve better than this often embarrassing book. Ed Benes and Sandra Hope continue to be very, very good artists, but this issue really lacked the gasp factor it needed to correspond to the script (For example, Lighting seems very impressed by the trophy room, which looks like the rec room of a very rich nerd with an addiction to DC Direct replicas; Wizard has run more exciting trophy room images; and the view from the satellite is hardly something to get excited about…they had one of those 25 years ago our time, nine or ten years ago their time). We’ll nitpick this thing to death later in the week, as there’s too much to pick at in the truncated format of “Weekly Haul.”
Madman Atomic Comics #1 (Image Comics) Despite my love of Michael Allred’s artwork and storytelling sensibilities, particularly the character design that’s gone into his Madman and Atomics books, I wasn’t sure if I should pick this new series up or not until after I’ve read Madman Gargantua!, which I’m still planning my bank heist to pay for. I’ve only read Madman sporadically over the years, as it shifts publishers so often it’s not an easy book to get into from start to finish. Anyway, I opened this in the shop and saw one panel with both tentacles and Santa Claus, and that’s all it took. It’s actually a easy read, as it is essentially a recap of every previous Madman story (even the Superman crossover, thanks to a cleverly obscured “S”-shield), a sort of greatest hits collection, only with all-new panels by the incomparable team of Allred and wife/colorist Laura Allred.
Midnighter #6 (DC/WildStorm) What if The Midnighter and Apollo were ronin samurai in medieval Japan, and Apollo wasn’t as powerful as he is in The Authority? That seems to be the point of this Imaginary Story style one-issue story by Garth Ennis and frequent collaborator Glenn Fabry. I have no idea what it had to do with the last five issues or The Authority in general, but there’s a lot of people getting violently cut down by swords, so that’s kinda cool.
Omega Flight #1 (Marvel) Spinning out of their several-panel cameo in the most annoying Brian Michael Bendis-written story ever, Canadian superheroes Alpha Flight make their return to headline status in a try-out miniseries that deals with some of the fall-out of “Civil War” (as all new Marvel series seem to be doing at the moment). I’ve never read any previous iterations of the team or their title, but writer Michael Avon Oeming does a pretty decent job easing newbies into the story, introducing us to Sasquatch and Talisman while explaining the big picture situation that leads to the reformation of the team. Basically, supervillains are fleeing the U.S. in droves now that every state has it’s own superteam, and Canada’s an attractive option for the likes of, oh, the Wrecking Crew, who appear in this issue.
Tony Stark and the U.S. would like to give Canada some superheroes to help out, and thus far they’ve offered Arachne and U.S.Agent. Sasquatch is reluctant to get involved, but if he doesn’t lead the team, someone from the states will. Omega Flight doesn’t quite hit the ground running at the same pace that Mighty Avengers or the new New Avengers did, but it’s not as slow as, say, Justice League of America or the old New Avengers either. Scott Kolins’ art is as sharp as ever, if not a little sharper. But as decent as the story is and as nice as the artwork is, there’s nothing here to really separate the book from any of the other dozen or so superteam books currently available from the Big Two, and it’s certainly not as good as the best of the current pack. If you had to try only one Marvel super-team #1 this week, I’d definitely suggest you make it Slott’s Avengers.
Runaways #25 (Marvel)
You’d think co-creators Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona exiting Runaways after 36 issues (including the “first season” in addition to the re-launched, current volume of the book) would herald doom for Marvel’s best new title in forever. After all, could anyone other than BKV write this collection of teenage misfits with superpowers who speak in Whedon-esque dialogue? Well, Joss Whedon would be a good candidate and, as it turns out, that’s exactly who Marvel tapped to take over. His stay will supposedly be a short one, but thus far it’s a welcome shot in the arm. He brings the kids to NYC, where they meet two surprise guest-stars I dare not spoil (one of which is pre-spoiled by a future cover solicit, but I doubt you’ll see the other one coming), recapping their past perfectly well (this is actually a very easy jumping-on point, Buffy fans) and keeping up the character arcs BKV initiated. New penciller Michael Ryan has a style that doesn’t fit as aesthetically well as Alphona’s, but after seeing the Runaways drawn by so many other artists in the past (Mike Norton, Steffano Caselli, Skottie Young) it’s hardly a deal-killer at this point. This book seems to be in as strong as shape as it’s ever been creatively, and I imagine sales will also be on the upswing pretty soon. It’s nice to see a big-name like Whedon taking on a smaller title and group of characters that need his name more than, say, the X-Men.
Superman #661 (DC) Well this is an unexpected place to find a pretty good Wonder Woman story, but these days, you gotta take ‘em wherever you find ‘em. Lois and Clark watch Princess Diana perform at a fundraiser, then meet up with Diana Prince afterwards (I hate the secret identity thing, by the way) to talk mythology, when—Great Hera!—a cursed succubus-esque immortal captures Superman, and it’s up to our star-spangled heroine to save the days. It’s a decent done-in-one by Kurt Busiek and Richard Howell that acknowledges Wondy’s dumb-ass new direction (secret ID, execution of Max Lord, frustration with cafes of all types) without over-doing it, and focuses on the interesting relationship between Wonder Woman, Superman and Lois (probably best explored during Phil Jimenez’s run on Wonder Woman). The art is laid out by Howell and finished by Eduardo Barreto, so it’s no surprise that it’s great looking, and their Wonder Woman is a nice compromise between her current costume and her more modest Silver Age one (unlike Benes’ Wonder Woman, for example, she’s not threatening to pop out of her top, and you never find yourself wondering inappropriately about whether she shaves or waxes). Confidential to DC: Please add Busiek to the list of potential Wonder Woman writers, right below Phil Jimenez and Gail Simone, and waaay above Jodi Picoult and Allen Heinberg.
Superman/Batman #33 (DC) Woohoo! Man, you have no idea how excited I am about this issue! Not because it was great or good or even not-lame, but because it finally draws to a close the six-part epic sequel to a little-read storyline from Mark Verheiden’s brief run on one of the Superman titles, illustrated by four different pencillers. In this issue, the Blackrocks rain down on Earth, possessing Jimmy Olsen and a few others, while the World’s Finest storm the aliens’ HQ and meet a surprise villain, whom the cover to your right has been altered to hide the identity of, despite the fact that it is the only villain the two of them have ever fourth who has a big toothy grin like that and an eye in the middle of his forehead. Have I said too much? Also note that Lobo, Zook, Loose Cannon, Hawkgirl, Sparx, Nightblade, Joto/Hotspot and Argent don’t actually appear in this issue at all. The Silver Age Hawkgirl, whom I assume is simply an at mistake, does, however. Next issue brings us the Metal Men, although I’m so goddam weary of the titles Bunch of Crazy Shit Happens For Six Issues format that I don’t know if I’ll have the strength to read it.
*This good news not only because McKeever is a good writer and BoP is in need of a good shot in the arm, but because it most likely means Simone is freeing up some room on her plate for a new project. The ill-fated Wonder Woman is a prime candidate—“Simone” may lack the cache of “Picoult,” but if she can do a decent job and deliver scripts on a monthly basis, it will be an improvement over the last two writers—as is the rumored Black Canary/Green Arrow, given that Simone has written most of the Canary stories over the last few years (and all of the good ones).