Jason Aaron (writer), Nick Bradshaw (artist). Cover by Ramón Pérez.
For anyone who hasn’t been reading Wolverine and the X-Men, the series can be summed up as ‘X-Men meets Harry Potter.” In this annual, we go one step further and throw a little Star Wars into the mix, as we get an inside look into the training academy for the Shi’ar Imperial Guard. Kid Gladiator’s banishment to Earth has ended, but as he begins his training to follow in his father’s footsteps, he finds that he misses the Jean Grey School and its surly Canadian headmaster more than he expected.
To be quite honest, Kid Gladiator has never really made much of an impression on me. In Wolverine and the X-Men, he always felt like just a visually colourful character to throw into the background of scenes, and his personality felt like somewhat of a retread of Quentin Quire’s. In just thirty pages though, Jason Aaron has done an excellent job of showing readers who Kid Gladiator is, what makes him special, and why we should care about him. It’s well done, even if this is a book that’s probably a bit too steeped in Marvel obscurity for the average reader– I love this stuff, don’t get me wrong, but it must be rather opaque for more casual fans.
Of course, if you can take this comic at face value – that is, enjoy it as an entity unto itself without the need to know who every ancillary character is, and what’s happening in the greater Infinity storyline that this issue ties in to – Wolverine and the X-Men Annual is a great little book. Nick Bradshaw’s pencils are always a treat, the color (provided by Andres Mossa) is bright and punchy, and there’s the sense of humour that has made the entire Wolverine and the X-Men series a ton of fun.
If you’re a hardcore Marvel junkie, or you just don’t care about identifying every single background character, give this book a shot. On the other hand, if you can’t watch Star Wars unless you can tell Ponda Baba from Nien Nunb, this comic might drive you a bit squirrely. And for that matter, if you don’t like Star Wars at all, you might want to stay far, far away.
Sterling Gates (writer), Neil Edwards (artist). Cover my Mikel Janin.
I’m honestly not sure how to even begin to approach reviewing this thing. It not a story in any kind of real sense, so much as a series of disjointed vignettes and incomplete ideas- a deleted scenes track for the main Forever Evil miniseries. The comic starts with action hero stereotype Steve Trevor rescuing the President Obama from the Secret Society… at least I assume it’s supposed to be Obama, he’s never specifically named, and while Neil Edwards is a decent enough penciller, real-life likenesses don’t seem to be his strong point. There’s also a scene of Killer Frost killing another villain, because what’s a DC comic without the usual violent geek show. Finally, Trevor lists off all of A.R.G.U.S.’s cool MacGuffin technologies in a half-baked exposition dump, which comes across as if someone read Jim Steranko’s Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. comics from the sixties and loved them, but didn’t fully grasp why they were so good.
What makes this so frustrating for me is that left to his own devices, Sterling Gates is a pretty good writer. It seems however that when he’s confined by the demands of larger story arcs (like his Faces of Evil: Prometheus for instance), his work falls flat. This feels like a comic that was ghost written by an editor- if not a marketing director. Maybe once this miniseries is completed, it will read like a more coherent story. For now though, the first two issues of Forever Evil: A.R.G.U.S. have been a disappointment.
“Come Conquer the Beasts pt. 1- Claws and Teeth”
Phil Jimenez (writer, artist and cover)
Well. That certainly was an early nineties issue of Green Arrow.
“Come Conquer the Beasts” takes Wolverine to Africa and on to Madripoor, in an attempt to halt a major poaching operation. And it is brutal. I’m honestly astounded that this comic was released anywhere but the MAX imprint, because it features some of the most horrific imagery I’ve seen in a non-mature readers story. In fact, when the scene shifts briefly to the Jean Grey School students making jokes about Kitty Pryde’s old costumes, the effect isn’t comedic relief, it’s a complete tonal whiplash.
This comic is not a fun read- the subject matter is unsettling at best, and deeply disturbing at worst. Which isn’t to say that it’s bad, because Phil Jimenez certainly accomplished what he set out to do, and that’s deliver a gut-punch to the reader. His dialogue flows well, there’s a great attention to Marvel history, and his artwork- graphic as it is- is top notch as usual. But Jesus… I need to go read an issue of Tiny Titans or something, because this was some heavy material to digest.
Kelly Sue DeConnick (writer), Matteo Buffagni (artist). Cover by Jorge Molina.
Marvel’s big “Infinity” storyline may have wrapped up this week, but crossovers create cash, so we’re immediately jumping into the next big thing, “Inhumanity”. Black Bolt has activated the latent Inhuman DNA inside of unsuspecting people all over the world, causing some to immediately mutate into new forms, and others to enter into transformative cocoons. One of those cocooned is Spider-Girl’s teacher, and when he’s abducted from the hospital, the Avengers dispatch Spider-Woman and Black Widow to help investigate.
Avengers Assemble is probably the most under-the-radar of the myriad of Avengers comics on the rack, but it’s also one of the most accessible. For anyone interested in checking out “Inhumanity” without having to dive headlong into it, this is a decent place to start- Kelly Sue DeConnick’s story is witty and clever, Matteo Buffagni’s artwork is clean and evocative, with bright and peppy colors from Nolan Woodard. And while the pairing of three unrelated spidery superheroines could have come across as forced, the personality DeConnick injects into each of them makes the concept work. Between the approachable story and the strong female leads, this would be an especially good comic to give to girls who are interested in checking out superhero comics but who don’t know where to start… well, it is if you can overlook the one slightly dirty joke DeConnick snuck in, involving a pun on the villain’s name that was just too good to resist. This just looks and feels like a fun, uncomplicated comic book, that works within a larger storyline, but isn’t restricted by it. Check it out.
Sam Humphries (writer), Phil Briones (artist). Cover by Kris Anka
As with Fearless Defenders from a couple of weeks ago, we’re looking at a lame duck series, which faces cancellation after the next issue. Unlike Fearless Defenders, however, Uncanny X-Force’s continuation is already mapped out, as it will merge with the also-cancelled Cable and X-Force to relaunch as a new adjectiveless X-Force series in the new year. Also unlike Fearless Defenders, I can’t call Uncanny X-Force’s cancellation that huge of a loss.
This series has never clicked with me, though I’m not sure why. Sam Humphries is an excellent writer (which I went into last week with Avengers A.I.), and the rotating art teams on the book have all been solid. Nonetheless, Uncanny X-Force always seemed somewhat directionless, and the some of the classic X-Men elements Humphries chose to bring back and focus on haven’t grabbed me- no matter how hard you try, you’re not going to convince me to care about the Demon Bear. Then again, we also get Puck as one of the main characters (who I love more than I usually care to admit), so you take the good with the bad, I guess.
As we jog towards the finish line on this series, Humphries pulls out all the big set pieces- the Earth in under siege by the Revenants (spooky shadow doppelgangers that exist for every person on Earth), and their leader, the returning Cassandra Nova. To save the world, X-Force has to contemplate either killing an innocent child, or sacrificing one of their own. It’s a good hook, but I just can’t get into the story, and with one issue left in the series, I have no reason to try to become emotionally invested now.
“Krypton Returns” pt. 4
Scott Lobdell (writer), Kenneth Rocafort (artist and cover)
In the final part of the “Krypton Returns” storyline, Superman, Superboy and Supergirl each find themselves on the planet Krypton at various points in time prior to its destruction, and each battling the time-travelling H’El. And it’s all so utterly banal that I’m struggling to think of anything worth saying.
None of the characters in this comic book are remotely interesting – Superman and friends are two-dimensional archetypes, complete with leaden dialogue and stock hero clichés. H’el is about as bland as villains come, a half-baked idea, poorly told. The artwork is the same Post-Image, Jim Lee inspired stuff that has become DC’s house-style since the “New 52” relaunch. It’s not bad, but it also look just like most of DC’s other books – though credit where it’s due, Kenneth Rocafort does do some interesting things with page composition and panel layouts. All-in-all, this is just aggressively mediocre, on pretty much every level. The only good thing I can say about Scott Lobdell’s Superman is that at least his a boring, cardboard cut-out hero is better than the jerk-ass Superman who’s been running around in Justice League for the past two years.