Monday, January 01, 2018

Some Marvel trades I've read recently:

All-New Wolverine Vol. 4: Immune

The six issues in this collection comprise a single arc, so full of guest-stars that it makes a pretty solid argument that Laura Kinney has quite thoroughly replaced Logan as Wolverine and, like her predecessor, is a pretty important figure in the Marvel Universe. She also gets a new costume! The color scheme is that of a costume she wore while serving on one of the iterations of X-Force, and now it comes with a sporty jacket.

The reason? Well, probably to goose sales a bit--these are issues #19-#24, so rather late in a modern Marvel run, I guess--but, in-story, Laura's little sister Gabby makes an off-handed comment about how the new duds are bullet-proof. Sure, they have healing factors can recover from being shot with bullets, but that doesn't make getting shot with bullets any fun.

The pair are in the middle of some Wolverine-ing when Captain Marvel swoops down and carries Laura off to a SHIELD helicarrier where Nick Fury Jr. tells here that an alien space ship carrying a dying little girl has crashed onto Roosevelt Island outside. The girl manages to say the name  "Laura Kinney" before succumbing...and, it turns out, releasing some sort of super-alien disease.

Laura goes to investigate, while various Marvel super-geniuses--Beast, Amadeus Cho, Bobbi Morse, Peter Parker, Nadia Pym, Stephen Strange--try to figure it out. Ultimately, it turns out that Laura's healing factor allows her to take the disease in, literally sucking it out of the infected as if her body magnetically attracted it, and then burning it off, healing them. She can only take so much though, so Strange rounds up others that share her mutant healing factor power: Old Man Logan, Deadpool (who hits it off with Gabby immediately) and Daken, who is not wearing a shirt for some reason.

While the first half of the arc deals with Laura leading the others in dealing with the disease, the second half follows Team Wolverine into space with The Guardians of The Galaxy (at this point, their line-up is back to that of the first movie) to find out where the little girl was rocketed from. They end up finding an alien weapons research facility, a space Wolverine (Fang, from the Shi'ar Imperial Guard, who apparently met Laura outside of her own comic in the recent-ish past) and a mess of Brood.

It's all rather serviceable superhero business in terms of plotting, and writer Tom Taylor does a pretty good job of making Laura the center of it without having to force pieces to fit too hard (eventually there's even a pretty good explanation for why the infected girl said only Laura's name when she arrived).

I know in the past I've complained about Rocket Raccoon's rather casual embrace of killing his foes--to the point of murder--in front of the sorts of superheroes who aren't exactly fans of lethal force, but there's a pretty neat moment where his willingness to kill plays both as a joke and a character moment and seems more-or-less acceptable to all involved, despite the suddenness of the moment.

There are some great Jonathan (Gabby and Laura's pet actual Wolverine) in space, and I particularly enjoyed the scene in which he meets Baby Groot.

Artist Leonard Kirk manages to pencil all six issues, with three others inking his work, in addition to Kirk himself on three issues. It's pretty fine work, particularly considering all the various characters and the wildly divergent settings of the six issues. While the changes in inker are noticeable, they are not distracting nor terribly dramatic. As a single unit, this trade paperback is remarkably cohesive, not only telling a single story from start to finish within its pages, but also looking like every page and every issue belongs together.

I really like this Adam Kubert cover:
It took me a while to notice (It's also the back cover of the trade, so I saw the image a lot over the course of the week or so the book was in my house), but I like how Kubert posed Gabby's fists and claws lining up with Laura's, so it looks like she has the three claws that Logan had...or, if you look at it another way, like Laura does.

Daredevil: Back In Black Vol. 4--Identity

This volume collects issues #15-#20 of Charles Soule's run, and it is long enough that I had honestly forgotten all about the fact that there was no explanation given for how exactly the title character got his identity to be secret again after the events at the end of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee's run on the previous volume of Daredevil. That finally gets answered in a three-part story arc here, but first there's a two-parter in which Matt Murdock puts out a hit on Daredevil in order to draw out Bullseye...either in order to get a special serum from him that might help Blindspot, DD's protegee who lost his eyes in the previous collection, or to have Bullseye put him out of his misery. Suicide by supervillain.

Spoiler alert: He's tempted, but he fights back and wins.

Those issues are drawn by Goran Sudzuka, and they're pretty great, particularly since they give Sudzua the opportunity to draw all sorts of various low-level Marvel villains, both milling around in The Bar With No Name when a disguised Matt puts out the hit, or coming after Daredevil.

Regular artist Ron Garney returns for much of the arc that fills the rest of the book: "Purple." How did Matt get his secret identity back? Well, it's complicated and it is, as these things almost inevitably are, actually kind of dumb. It involves The Purple Man, The Purple Children and a massive mind-control machine that can beam mental commands to the whole world.. Once Kilgrave introduces his machine and his plan, you can immediately see how Daredevil will get his secret identity back.

Daredevil: Back In Black Vol. 5--Supreme

This is a bigger-than-usual trade from Marvel, collecting eight issues. The first chunk of those is pretty great, and the sort of Daredevil story that seems quite perfect because it's the sort of story that seems like someone really should have done by now, elements of it are so incredibly obvious, but, miraculously, no one has, so Charles Soule is there to do it. That Soule has a legal background also means that he's maybe the only writer on Marvel's roster who could do this particular story, or at least do it as well and as convincingly as he does it.

The story addresses a rather fundamental aspect of post-Silver Age superhero comics, and tries to address it and change it...because the change would be, in Daredevil's eyes, a good thing that would make the world a better place and could only be accomplished through the law, which is, of course, his particular field of expertise.

Essentially, he wants to establish legal precedence for masked, "secret identity" heroes like Daredevil and Spider-Man to able to give testimony in court without having to unmask and reveal their true identities. This would be a game-changer, as it means instead of tying criminals to telephone poles with notes or dropping them off in nets of webbing at the nearest police station would be a thing of the past.

It is, of course, a heavy lift, given that such heroes are vigilantes and, to a degree, criminals themselves. I don't know enough about any of the relevant issues to tell you if the arguments Soule has Murdock making in court are sound or not, but they sure sounded sound to my inexpert ear. And it is definitely fun to see issues of a comic book about a superhero lawyer devoted to legal drama every once in a while.

There is, of course, a personal stake in this for Daredevil too, since if the judge rules against him, he will be asked to unmask in court, and thus lose his secret identity. I imagine this would be a very dramatic moment if the character hasn't gone through several cycles of losing and regaining his secret identity, but, whatever.

That five-issue arc, "Supreme," follows Murdock's case as he works his way up from a district court all the way to The Supreme Court--and this, I guess, is the very first time Matt Murdock has argued a case before the Supreme Court which, again, seems like something that would have had to have happened by now, given how long the superhero lawyer has been starring in a monthly comic book series.

In addition to the legal drama, Matt has to patch things up with Foggy Nelson, in order to get his help with the case, and avoid the cluthes of Tombstone, who Kingpin Wilson Fisk has hired to snuff out Murdock. In one issue, She-Hulk saves Murdock--this was actually the first time I had seen the new, post-Civil War II version of She-Hulk, which is essentially the same as the original Hulk. Only a female. And she's gray now.

The big villain of the arc, however, isn't Tombstone or Kingpin, but the lawyer Kingpin hires, "Legal," a minor, humorous character from Soule's too-short run on the too-quickly-canceled She-Hulk series. He's a really fun character, and he gives a few great speeches about the raw power of the law and good lawyers.

The arguments before the Supreme Court are presented as a big fight scene, with the Justices jumping off the bench and physically attacking Murdock as they questions him. It's really a shame that artist Alec Morgan, who draws a big chunk of the arc, mostly just draws generic Supreme Court justices rather than sticking to the actual ones, although he does seem to draw Ruth Bader Ginsburg in there, delivering a flying kick to Matt at one point.

All that talk of the importance of the law throughout the arc is difficult not to relate to the current state of affairs in America, but the cliffhanger ending of the very last panels make it clear that Soule has hardly even gotten started at drawing parallels between the current political climate in the real world and Daredevil's world.

I would suspect that this were the end of Soule's run, were it not for that cliffhanger, actually, as "Superme," which features a legal career highlight for Matt Murdock is followed immediately by a story arc in which Daredevil travels to China to help Blindspot/Sam out of a jam that involves The Hand and a scary occult entity.

I rather liked the bit with the punching bag Kingpin was working, which was relatively subtly handled and, again, not something I had seen in a comic book before--at least not that I can remember--despite seeming obvious in retrospect.

I was rather disappointed by Matt putting away his black costume and putting on the older, red one, though. I liked the black one a lot, and I'm not sure how that will impact the name of the series of trade paperbacks, if he is no longer in black, but red.

Defenders Vol. 1: Diamonds Are Forever

Every Marvel Comics fan knows the four main heroes who make up the core of the publisher's famous "non-team": Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Jessica...Jones....?

Okay, so obviously they are just reassigning the name of the old Doctor Strange/Hulk/Namor/Silver Surfer team to a new group here--looks like the retained the old logo, though!--because Marvel Studios/Netflix has already done so for the street-level super-team show. Writer Brian Michael Bendis, who is so often involved with the publisher's attempts to synergize their comics with their mass media adaptations, is taking up the task of a new Defenders book with a line-up that lines up with that of the TV show.

It's an interesting move, given that the various Netflix shows seem pretty taken with Bendis' earlier Marvel comics writing. Bendis, after all, co-created Jessica Jones. He had a lengthy, five-year run on Daredevil. His love for Luke Cage is Internet legendary, as he entangled the character in his Alias run and kept him front and center of his time on the various Avengers books. While Bendis never wrote an Iron Fist series, the character's proximity to Cage meant that he was often showing up in Bendis comics, and he was on various Avengers line-ups during Bendis time on the titles.

For Defenders, Bendis doesn't really have too difficult a task of bringing his four heroes together. Two of them are already married to one another, after all, and two of them work out of an office together. All four are, in the comics universe, long-time friends and allies. So by the time the ten-page prelude story that appeared in Free Comic Book Day 2017 has ended, the premise is more-or-less established. There's a new criminal player in town, and he comes directly at the four superheroes on the cover, retaliating against a the guys' attack on a meeting of his.

That villain is Diamondback, who Netflix subscribers will recognize as the big bad from Luke Cage. This Diamondback looks nothing like either his Marvel comics predecessor or actor Erik LaRay Harvey's TV version, buy he seems to be back from the dead, and boasting super-powers that make him a physical threat to the super-powered characters. Interestingly, Bendis is using him in much the same way Cottonmouth was used in Luke Cage, where that particular snake-themed villain had a silent backer who was kept secret for a while, and ultimately turned out to be Diamondback himself. Here, Diamondback is repeatedly questioned not only about how he's alive and super-powered, but who is backing him, as his attempt to muscle in on New York City's crime scene seems too sophisticated and expensive for him to do solo.

Bendis peppers the first five issues with characters that also appeared in the Neflix-iverse: There's Night Nurse (here rather weirdly portrayed as an incredibly curvy, buxom lady in an old-timey nurse outfit that looks more like a "naughty nurse" costume now; I greatly preferred the Marcos Martin-drawn version from Doctor Strange: The Oath), The Kingpin, The Punisher, Misty Knight and, lurking around the shadows, Elektra. The most relevant character outside of the heroes and their main antagonist, however, is probably old Spider-Man frenemy The Black Cat, who has become the new Kingpin of Crime in Marvel's New York. Diamondback repeatedly meets with her to try and cajole or threaten her into working with him, but she keeps demurring, in large part because she doesn't know who he's working with or for. Their conflict leads to the rather shocking cliffhanger ending, which is shocking enough that it can't possibly be precisely what it looks like.

That, then, is the basic plot: Diamondback is back and trying to muscle in on Harlem and Hell's Kitchen, punching back hard enough at Daredevil, Cage, Jessica and Iron Fist that they form some sort of street-level Avengers to go after him. Other players with stakes in such matters flit in and out.

Bendis is writing in what, for him, is a particularly fleet and fast-paced style, but is still what one might call de-compressed; the trade ends without ever feeling like it has even approached a resolution, with all of the questions asked in the narrative remaining completely unanswered. I'm not sure if the book will just be canceled when Bendis leaves Marvel--it's not in March 2018's solicitations, but it also wasn't among the canceled titles that were recently announced--but, if so, then it looks like this iteration of "The Defenders" will be exactly one story arc long.*

I was much more interested in the choice of David Marquez, Bendis' partner on the stupid Civil War II comic, as his artistic collaborator here. Marquez's style is slick and smooth, and he handles the character moments as well as the action in these five issues perfectly fine, but his style is very much in a more traditional superhero school than, say, Michael Gaydos or Alex Maleev, Bendis' partners on Alias/Jessica Jones and Daredevil. This looks like a superhero comic, more than a crime comic, and it's by the guy who drew one of the publisher's more recent line-wide crossovers. It's sort of refreshing and, well, fun to see this guy drawing things like Daredevil slamming a high-knee into The Punisher's face, or Luke Cage ripping off a shirt, or Jessica Jones beating down Diamondback with a mailbox.

Oh, so Jessica Jones. Marquez's version of the character looks so different than that of Gaydos in Jessica Jones that it seems like he may never have actually read any comics featuring the character before. This is the most superhero looking Jessica Jones outside of a flashback scene I've seen in...maybe ever? I guess Mike Deodato used to draw her in the Avengers comics like Wonder Woman in jeans and a clingy blouse. He looks young and extremely slim, with long black hair several inches longer than that of the more dowdy, middle-aged, chestnut-haired Jessica Jones who can be seen in the Jessica Jones comics that Marvel is publishing simultaneous to this book.

Never forget
Marquez obviously based his design off of Krysten Ritter, which is fine, but it's still a little weird to see two Jessica Jones that look so different. I know style guides are obviously a thing of the ancient past, which is why we've seen things like Alex Maleev's What If...Robert DeNiro Played Namor? version of the Sub-Mariner in a Bendis-written comic before, but you would think that the editors could at least agree on Jessica's hair color.

Doctor Strange/Punisher: Magic Bullets

I was kind of curious about this four-issue miniseries based mainly on how random the pairing of characters seem, coming as they do from two very different corners of the Marvel Universe that rarely if ever intersect (a few issues of The Secret Defenders contained the only story I could think of in which the two of them had much of anything to do with one another).

Writer John Barber addresses this in the most efficient--and thus, perhaps the least interesting--way imaginable, by simply folding the two kinds of adversaries the pair fight individually into one. And so a couple of mob types team up with a wizard type, who gives them demonic powers and opens a portal to some infernal realm that allows for more such demons to pour into New York. The Punisher calls on Doctor Strange for his assistance, and the pair fight the demon-powered mobsters until the day is saved.

There's not a whole lot to it, then, although Barber does riff on an idea from Jason Aaron's run on Doctor Strange, the idea that only magic-types like Strange even see all the eerie creatures that occupy the same space as everyday New Yorkers, in a pretty neat scene where Frank Castle is machine-gunning down monsters with the ripped-out gun from the ghost plane of The Phantom Eagle, but, to the cops and passersby watching it go down, it just looks like he's holding a WWI antique and pantomiming shooting it, like a little kid playing army.

And I thought this passage, in which Strange arms The Punisher with a magic wand to fight their foes, was pretty inspired:

Oh, Frank! You're incorrigible!

Otherwise, this is mostly a mediocre exercise and mixing-and-matching. It was a miniseries, which is why I was pretty perplexed that there multiple artists. Fill-ins make sense on a monthly series, where there's a schedule that needs to be kept, but why did Marvel even solicit this book if they weren't sure it was going to get drawn on-schedule? It hardly mattered if a throwaway series like this started a month or five late, you know? But then, that probably has to do with some aspect of comics publishing I just don't understand, where individual comics are just units, and profits and budgets adhere to quarterly schedules or something, I don't know.

Jessica Jones Vol. 2: The Secrets of Maria Hill

I read Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Gaydos and company's Alias comic, of which this re-titled series is essentially a second volume of, as it was serially published in comic book format from 2001 to 2004, and I never re-read it. So I honestly don't remember exactly what the book looked like, but I also don't remember either hating or loving the art. In the year's since, though, I've grown to actively dislike Gaydos' artwork, which made reading this collection of issues #7-#12 much more of a slog than it might otherwise have been.

As David Marquez's work proves--to choose an artist whose Marvel comics work I had read within 24 hours of reading this--one can draw a comic book that is realistic and that deals with gritty crime subject matter without one's art necessarily needing to look like, say, dirty photographs.

This particular storyline is a bit heavier on action than other Alias/Jessica Jones stories have been, including a scene of multiple Maria Hills fighting an assassin on multiple levels of New York City (Life Model Decoys play a sizable role) and another scene where Jessica fights a Maria Hill LMD after a chase across rooftops. Such scenes just do not play to Gaydos' strengths--they tend to look like ugly Colorforms atop photorealistic backgrounds--and can be difficult to make sense of. There are several passages of the book that are two page spreads that are so uniform in layout that it is actually quite difficult to tell how to read them, if one's eyes are supposed to go across the entire top tier of both pages, then the bottom tier across both pages. Or across the top tier of the first page, then the bottom tier of the first page, and then the same on the facing page. Or, most counterintuitively, up and down in each column, all the way across the spread. The artwork offers no real clues, nor does the script--these action scenes are usually wordless--and they make as much (or as little!) sense read in any of the different ways one can read them (This, I should note, is something I've noticed in other Bendis-written comics, and thus isn't entirely Gaydos' fault, although ideally good comic art guides the reader's eye through it).

There are also scenes that require Gaydos to draw things that just don't fit in his style--water, explosions, electrical blasts--which always tend to just look like the artwork is getting really pixilated. As long as the subjects are cityscapes and people talking, he's on sure footing. Almost everything else though looks off. Take, for example, Typhoid Mary's hair during her brief appearance. not even a drawing of hair, but it looks like a computer tool was used to cut the hair off of one photograph and then paste it atop the head of another photograph. It is extremely off-putting.

It's really too bad, because Bendis' scripting here really isn't that bad--occasionally incomprehensible action scenes aside. Super-spy Maria Hill, the former SHIELD commander, is on the lam, trying to evade the assassins coming to collect the substantial bounty on her head and SHIELD, who are after her too (I think for reasons seen in Captain America: Steve Rogers, but I guess it's not too terribly important). So, in an attempt to be as unpredictable as possible, she writes a ranked list of all the super-people she would turn to for help, and then turns to the one that ranked last. She asks Jessica Jones to find out who put the hit on her.

This involves LMDs, assassins, Sharon Carter and SHIELD, The Hobgolin and even an unlikely meeting with Maria Hill's father. Luke Cage gets a fair amount of panel-time too, as Jessica continues to try and mend her relationship with him, following their estrangement and the circumstances that lead to it in the previous collection.

The best part, by far, is when Javier Pulido shows up for a flashback sequence to an early-ish assignment in Hill's career as an agent of SHIELD, which, as was often the case with Alias's flashbacks, told in the visual style of an older Marvel comic (Here, Pulido's distinctive art style is applied to a 1970s-era SHIELD comic). I know Pulido's artwork, which I love, is a little too cartoony and too flat and flashy for a lot of readers, but whether you care for it on an aesthetic level or not, there's no argument that the storytelling is as clear as a bell, and even when Pulido gets rather artsy and avant garde with his layouts, they are still super-easy to read, one panel leading quickly and efficiently to the next.

While the intended juxtaposition of the clashing styles works exactly as it's supposed to, it has the probably unintended effect of highlighting the deficiencies of Gaydos' work. How much better this book might have been had Pulido just drawn the whole dang thing.

The story works pretty well. Aside from the personal life drama that carried over from the previous collection, the book is pretty self-contained, with the Maria Hill storyline's beginning, middle, ending and coda all fitting snugly between the covers of this single issue. Despite the "2" on the spine, one could pick this book up without any previous knowledge of who Jessica Jones is and what her whole deal is and make sense of it...with only the action scenes and Gaydos' peculiar way of rendering smoke and water to confuse one.

Star Wars: Darth Vader: Dark Lord of The Sith Vol. 1--Imperial Machine

Marvel Entertainment published its first new Star Wars comic after securing the license to once again make Star Wars comics in early 2015, immediately following the main title with a Darth Vader "ongoing" series. That series, Star Wars: Darth Vader lasted just over two years, producing 25 issues, collected into four trade paperbacks. Then it was time to "cancel" Darth Vader and immediately relaunch it with a slightly different title and a new #1 issue.

The Star Wars-branded comics might be selling a great deal better and more reliably than most everything else Marvel is releasing these days, but that seems to be in spite of Marvel, as the publisher is subjecting the invincible brand to the same poor decisions that drag the rest of their comics line down, including over-production** of titles and random relaunches like this.

To be fair, they did take advantage of the relaunch to shift focus to a new time period. While the more simply titled Star Wars: Darth Vader was set in the same between-Episodes IV-and-V time period as its sister book, the new Darth Vader: Dark Lord of The Sith title is set immediately following the events of Episode III. And I do mean immediately; it actually opens with a two-page spread recreating the much derided "Nooooooooooo--!!!" scene. (Here, however, it is rendered as a simple, but oversized and bolded, "No.")

The new creative team of writer Charles Soule, pencil artist Giuseppe Camuncoli and inker Cam Smith focus on Vader's transition from Jedi to Sith, which means instead of the Imperial in-fighting of Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larroca and company's run on the previous Vader book, now we are invited to watch Anakin-turned-Vader as he makes his first halting steps toward becoming the villain we know from Episodes IV, V and VI.

The first five issues of this six-issue collection involve Vader's quest for a light saber of his own. Apparently, Sith don't just use red light sabers because red is their second favorite color after black. No, apparently they must take a light saber from a Jedi, and then, as The Emperor tells Vader, the Kyber crystal inside it must be "made to bleed."

Finding a still-living Jedi whose saber he can take forcefully is in itself a challenge, and we know he doesn't find Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda or Kanaan to take theirs. Instead, he finds a master who has conveniently taken some special Jedi vow to stay out of Star Wars canon until he becomes narratively convenient, which he does here. So the bulk of the book involves a quest of sorts, a right of passage in which Vader must use his formidable Force powers to cruelly kill a whole bunch of people, friend and foe alike, to get a kyber crystal and then, in a surprisingly effective scene, forge his own light saber.

In a way, this is a perfect Star Wars story, in that it takes some extremely trivial aspect of the original movies, something that was perhaps chosen without a great deal of forethought from the filmmakers--that is, what color Vader's light saber should be--and then invested with shared universe mythology until an epic story can be spun around it. (Hell, perhaps the best of the eight extant Star Wars films, Rogue One, was itself a feature-length explanation of why there was an unshielded section of the Death Star in the very first film's climax).

In the sixth chapter, Vader meets The Inquisitors from the Rebels TV shows, and has a brief battle with The First Inquisitor. This was the first time who the hell they are and what their deal was really explained to me, despite the fact that I watched the first two seasons of that show (where it seemed they were basically just there to give the heroes someone to have laser sword fights with).

I did not much care for Larroca's artwork at all--although a Darth Vader comic was maybe an ideal mainstream comic for a guy like Larroca, who is better at drawing machinery than human faces--so I found Camuncoli's to be a great improvement. Despite the frozen face, his Vader is an infinitely more dynamic and dramatic figure than Larroca's was, and I especially dig his take on The Emperor, who looks like a sentient grin in a robe.

The Soule/Camuncoli/Smith comic is followed by a humorous, 10-page short by Chris Eliopoulos in which Vader force chokes a series of Imperial underlings for one disappointment or another, while an increasingly anxious mouse droid--those little things that look like autonomous toy trucks and that i think are meant to clean the halls of Death Stars and Star Destroyers--tries to prep Vader's meditation chamber. It's fun to see the iconic movie villain rendered in Eliopoulous' Charles Shculz and Bill Watterson-inspired style, particularly since Eliopoulos seems to import all of the poses from the first film or two, so his Vader looks familiar but Eliopoulos-ized throughout.

Closing the book, I noticed the back cover proclaims Vader "The Most Fearsome Villain of All Time"...which seems like a weird thing for the publisher that created Doctor Doom to say about a comic featuring a licensed character. Stan Lee must be so disappointed.

X-Men Blue Vol. 1: Strangest

When Brian Michael Bendis took left the Avengers franchise and took over the X-Men franchise, he kicked off his run by bringing the original five founding X-Men forward in time into the present. That was in late 2012 or so, and in the five years since, the team has starred in three different books, relaunched with new titles and new writers twice since Bendis launched All-New X-Men.

That 41-issue run was followed by Dennis Hopeless, Mark Bagley and company's All-New X-Men: Inevitable--that sub-title appearing attached to the trade paperback collections, not the serially-published issues--that lasted about half as long, and, most recently, this book by writer Cullen Bunn and artists that included Jorge Molina and Julian Lopez. Why are these X-Men designated "Blue" instead of the somewhat ironic "All-New"...? Well, Marvel's latest attempts to keep their too many X-Men teams straight have involved color-coding (There was also X-Men: Gold and, soon, an X-Men: Red, in addition to an Astonishing X-Men and various solo titles and spin-offs).

The premise of this third book finds the five founding teenage X-Men rather firmly established in the present, working with Magneto out of a base in Madripoor. The Master of Magnetism is a particular favorite of Bunn's apparently, and while these X-Men are even more suspicious of him than their peers--since, in their time, he was still a super-villain, and had yet to become a more morally-conflicted ally of the X-Men as he's been for the last decade or so of Marvel comics--they keep their suspicions to the psychic conversations that have.

Jean is now their field leader, Beast has been experimenting with magic as he started doing in the previous iteration of their book, and they've all got another set of new costumes, although they are not too terribly blue, as one might expect from the title (I like their boots though).

In these first six issues, Bunn sets them up against familiar, even tired X-Men villains: Black Tom Cassidy, The Juggernaut, a Wendigo, Sentinels, Bastion and a Sinister. Some of them are different takes certainly, as is the case with altered or "mutated" Sentinels Bastion creates, but, well, that doesn't help keep the book's issue-by-issue plotting feel any less exhausted.

Speaking of exhaustion, a few issues in the team gets its own teenage Wolverine. Not Laura Kinney, who ran with them through much of both Bendis' and Hopeless' All-New X-Men, but Jimmy Hudson, the son of Ultimate Wolverine from the Ultimate Universe, who is basically just Wolverine, but young and blond. Between him and Old Man Logan, who is just a gray-haired version of Wolverine, I'm not exactly sure how we're supposed to miss the original if he never actually goes away (And actually, isn't he already back?).

The art is mostly strong, but all over the place, with no less than 10 different artists involved, some offering just pencils, others just inks, others credited merely as "artists." No one seems around long enough to help define the book's look or feel.

Arthur Adams provides the covers though, and he was a ridiculously good job. Most of these are merely team action poses, featuring a handful of characters running and flying toward the viewer, but the cover for the sixth issue, where Hank, Jean and Jimmy are surrounded by about 30 impeccably rendered toughs bearing screwdrivers, chains and various blunt objects it would be no fun at all to hit with?
That is a bravura cover. It appears in the trade unencumbered by the title and the various other verbiage and design elements that, in the above image, obscure various figures.

Zombies Assemble Vol. 1

Yes, like many of you, I assumed I had already read all of the Marvel Zombies comics I was ever going to read, but this one has a few things going for it that the thousands before it did not. First and foremost, it is a manga series produced by Yusaku Komiyama (Unless C.B. Cebuslki can raw too, an this is him posing as a Japanese creator again, I don't know). Secondly, it set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is actually remarkably rare.

It was honestly a lot of fun to see Komiyama drawing those versions of the characters, and rather remarkable to see an artist draw a Tony Stark that looks simultaneously like Robert Downey Jr. and a manga character (All of Komiyama's likenesses of the male characters are pretty spot-on, but his Black Widow and, especially, his Pepper Potts don't look anything like the actresses playing them).

The plot? Pepper has organized a surprise birthday party for Tony, attended by his fellow Avengers (circa the first movie). But when a weird-looking zombie staggers in, they've got a crisis to deal with. Apparently, there is a Chitauri virus that turns people into zombie-like monsters, although it doesn't seem to necessarily kill them, since both Black Widow and Thor become infected and zombified (and obviously the book's not going to kill off like one-third of the Avengers line-up).

From there, it's a race against the clock to stop the virus from spreading and cure the infected, while fighting any zombies that arise.

There are three chapters to the story, which Marvel previously published as over-priced comic book-comics, and then a #0 issue, that has nothing to do with zombies or the story that precedes it, but instead stars Iron Man and Pepper Potts, and is a kinda sorta prequel to Avengers: Age of Ultron.

*But hopefully not! I want Chelsea Cain and Kelly Thompson to take over the two Jessica Jones books--Jessica Jones and Defenders--and I don't much care which writer gets which title. In my dream world, Gurihiru and Brittney Williams will be the artists of those two books. Because I want my gritty, street-level Marvel superhero crime comics to be both funny and cute, dammit!

** This past November, for example, Marvel published two issues of Star Wars, two issues of Darth Vader, one issue apiece of ongoing monthlies Star Wars: Doctor Aphra and Star Wars: Poe Dameron and an issue of the miniseries Star Wars: Jedi of The Republic--Mace Windu. That's seven books at a cost of $27.93 spread across five Wednesdays. If you read Marvel's Star Wars line, how much money do you have left to follow the adventures of, say, a Spider-Man or an X-Men team...?

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