New Comic Reviews! (12-15-13)

Image Amazing Spider-Man #700.2

“Frost pt. 2”

David Morrell (writer), Klaus Janson (artist). Covers by Pasqual Ferry and Mirco Federici

It’s been a year since Doctor Octopus became the Superior Spider-Man, but now as a very special Christmas gift, Marvel has brought back Peter Parker… except not really. No, the Superior storyline continues, but in the mean time, Marvel’s releasing a few obnoxiously numbered issues of Amazing Spider-Man featuring some untold tales of Parker’s past. This issue (one of two released this week) sees Spidey struggling to save innocent people caught in a massive blizzard, while across town, Aunt May’s bony old ass is slowly freezing to death. Luckily, Peter gets a much-needed pep talk from the Ghost of Uncle Ben, for about the fortieth or fiftieth time.

I wasn’t familiar with David Morrell’s name, but since Marvel’s official solicit referred to him as an ‘acclaimed novelist,’ I did some research (by which I mean I spent two seconds punching his name into Wikipedia). Lo and behold, he’s actually the guy who wrote the novel First Blood, which was adapted to make the Rambo movies. Who knew? I’ve never read any of Morrell’s books, but I can’t help wondering if he used the same stilted dialogue and complete lack of surprises or twists we get here. This is about as unspectacular as a Spider-Man story can get, with a padded story that really doesn’t warrant more than a ten page back-up feature, let alone two full length issues. I also wasn’t a big fan of the artwork… I won’t win any friends saying this, but I’ve never liked Klaus Janson as a penciller (though he’s a hell of an inker, especially when paired with John Romita Jr.). He does a great job drawing Spider-Man himself, but his other characters and background panel elements are too unpolished for my taste. Very nice colouring though, courtesy of Steve Buccellatto.

All in all, this was a disappointment, especially for anyone who read the solicitations and expected Peter Parker to make any kind of meaningful return. Those fans deserve better… and hell, I paid my four bucks, so do I.

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Astro City #7

“The View from Above”

Kurt Busiek (writer), Brent Eric Anderson (artist). Cover by Alex Ross

You know, for all the time I spend complaining about DC Comics and the “New 52”, I sometimes forget just how consistently good DC’s Vertigo line continues to be. This latest incarnation of Astro City remains as fresh and innovative as ever, even eighteen years after the first book saw print. Kurt Busiek takes hoary old superhero archetypes and breathes new life into them, while Brent Eric Anderson is providing some of the best artwork of his career.

That’s not to say that I unequivocally loved this issue, largely because of its focus on Winged Victory. I’ve always found the character to be problematic, albeit intentionally so, as she embodies a divisive approach to sexual politics that I’ve always found counter-productive. It’s a testament to Busiek’s skill as a writer that he can elicit such an emotional response with his characters while still maintaining a sense of subtlety and restraint – however, as well-written as she may be, I still find it difficult to get behind Winged Victory as a story’s main protagonist.

This month sees the heroine surrounded by controversy, as several female villains come forward claiming that they’ve been working for Winged Victory for years, who they accuse of orchestrating all of her superhero battles in order to win support for her social causes. It’s a clever idea, though because we know that they’re lying, there’s an element of suspense that’s lost, compared to if this story were told with a less established hero. We also learn the details of Winged Victory’s origin, which is surprisingly humanizing – perhaps to her detriment, as the ‘purity’ of her motivations are slightly undercut by having such an ordinary story. The fact that the literal embodiment of female empowerment owes everything to being treated badly by a jerky ex-boyfriend is more than a little trite.

With all of that said, this is still a very good comic, and readers who don’t share some of my particular hang-ups will probably enjoy it a great deal. There’s a lot to like here, I just may not be the ideal person to appreciate them.

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Batgirl #26

“Batgirl: Wanted pt. 3- Ambush”

Gail Simone (writer), Daniel Sampere (artist). Cover by Alex Garner

Here we have another example of a very well made comic, but one that I just can’t get into, because it’s handicapped by its very concept. I was against the idea of making Barbara Gordon Batgirl again from the start – Oracle was a much more interesting heroine, it’s a major and unnecessary character regression, and that’s not even getting into the far more interesting Batgirls who had been introduced following Babs’ paralysis. And while Simone has used her two years on this title to create some very interesting characters and situations, the idea of a PTSD-suffering hero who is gradually becoming darker and angrier isn’t really what I’m looking for in a Batgirl comic either.

The story this time around is that Batgirl is on the run for the apparent murder of her brother, the psychopathic James Gordon Jr. (and spoilers, he’s alive and running around with Amanda Waller in a bunch of other series right now). Meanwhile, her already fractured relationship with her father has been made even worse by the fact that he shot her boyfriend Ricky, sending him into a coma. Now, Commissioner Gordon has been targeted by the villains known as the Disgraced, and it’s up to Batgirl to take them all on to save her dad.

All of that is a great set up, and taken on its own, this is a solid enough issue. I really enjoyed Daniel Sampere’ arwork, especially how he handled the fight scenes inside the Gordon house. The action is easy to follow, but maintains an intentionally cramped, claustrophobic feel – good stuff. The dialogue is clever, the action is exciting, and there’s a strong set piece to resolve the “Wanted” storyline – although intentionally or not, it’s completely cribbed from the end of the “No Man’s Land” storyline from 1999. In both cases, a hero (here Batgirl, there Batman) tried to fix their relationship with Jim Gordon by unmasking, but he turned away and refused to look, explaining that he’s a good enough cop that if he wanted to know who they were, he already would. Admittedly, the result of that back and forth is different this time around, but to see a scene repeated so exactly (and from an arguably better comic) was a bit off-putting for me. And I say that of course with all due respect for Gail Simone, who is a fantastic writer – this just isn’t my favourite work of hers, not by a long shot.

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Justice League 3000 #1

“Yesterday Lives!”

Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis (writers), Howard Porter (artist and cover)

 Justice League 3000 is a brand new series where the team is resurrected in the future as clones, but lacking certain elements of their origins, they’re even more obnoxious and unlikable than the regular Justice League. Wonder Woman is a homicidal lunatic, Superman is an egomaniacal douchebag, and everyone’s pretty much cool about killing without compunction.

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Nope. I couldn’t agree more.

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Cataclysm: Ultimate Spider-Man #2

Brian Michael Bendis (writer), David Marquez (artist and cover)

A super-charged Galactus is preparing to chow down on the Ultimate Earth, New Jersey is a smoking crater, and all Spider-Man and his quasi-amazing friends can do is run damage control. This latest apocalyptic crisis is juxtaposed with flashbacks to the last time everything went to hell, when Magneto unleashed a massive tidal wave on New York City during the “Ultimatum” storyline. Man, it sucks to live in the Ultimate North East.

There’s really no reason for the Ultimate line to continue at this point… what started out as an easily accessible line for new readers is now bogged down in its own weighty continuity, and there’s no stylistic differences between the Ultimate and main Marvel lines. The only character who stands out in any way is Miles Morales, but he could easily be grandfathered into the Marvel Universe. So let’s stick a fork in it and end things already.

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Wolverine and the X-Men #39

Jason Aaron (writer), Pepe Larraz (artist). Cover by Nick Bradshaw

It’s amazing how many violently racist sociopaths S.H.I.E.L.D. has managed to recruit over the years. Their screening process really should be reviewed.

I can’t overstate just how much fun I’ve had with Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men. This is a series that has seen some of the best action, strongest character moments and most hilarious gags of any Marvel title in years. With the book winding down towards its end in February, it’s a little late for me to join in with the chorus of voices singing its praises, but what the hell… it’s my blog, I’ll write whatever I want to.

This issue deals with the continuing fallout of the recent “Battle of the Atom” storyline. Fed up with the two feuding X-Men factions’ nonsense, S.H.I.E.L.D. has responded by activating a series of anti-mutant protocols, including a covert Sentinel program, and sleeper agents placed within the JeanGreySchool. Meanwhile, Wolverine is forced to team up with his arch-frienemy Cyclops. With both men suffering from recent problems with their respective mutant powers, this may be their final opportunity to hash things out – or to finish one another off once and for all.

There are many more things I could say about this comic, but I’ll sum it up in one word: fun. Check it out.

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