New Comic Reviews! (4-12-14)

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Superior Spider-Man #30

“Goblin Nation pt. 4”

Dan Slott and Christos Gage (writers), Giuseppe Camuncoli (artist and cover).

 Regular readers of this blog will no doubt remember that I’ve often been critical of the Superior Spider-Man series and its assorted tie-ins. Though most of the individual comics have been well written and drawn, the main concept (that Peter Parker was killed, and his body commandeered by Doctor Octopus, who declared him to be the new, Superior Spider-Man) rubbed me the wrong way from day one. I didn’t like the way that Parker so thoroughly failed in his final battle, and I especially didn’t like all the plot-driven stupidity that was necessary for Otto Octavius to operate as Spider-Man for more than a day. Every single supporting character had to ignore the radical differences between Parker and Octavius’ behaviour, attitudes, speech patterns etc. And that’s hard enough to accept from Spider-Man’s friends and families, but from the myriad of telepaths, sorcerers, mutants and gods he associates with on a daily basis? That demanded too much suspension of disbelief, even from me. Yeah, I know these are superhero comics, and anything goes… but while you can set pretty much any kind of crazy rules for your fictional world to operate by, if you don’t follow those rules, the narrative ultimately falls apart.

 With that lengthy tirade out of the way, this issue is nothing short of excellent. At this point in the story, everything has pretty much gone all FUBAR. The Superior Spider-Man’s reputation lies in shambles, his illegal activities have been revealed to the Avengers, and his girlfriend has been kidnapped by the Green Goblin’s forces. In addition to that, the Goblin has commandeered Mayor Jameson’s army of “Goblin Slayer” androids and is using them to wreak havoc on New York City… and if all that isn’t enough, the Green Goblin is well aware that Otto Octavius’ mind is in the driver’s seat to Spider-Man’s body. One brief glimmer of hope remains, as Peter Parker’s suppressed consciousness has begun to reassert itself over Octavius… and since it’s no secret that Parker is coming back full-time next month, it’s pretty obvious where all of this is heading, but to get there… what a ride.

 The final days of the Superior Spider-Man has turned out to be a surprisingly emotionally impactful story. Octavius is forced to put aside his arrogance to see his legacy as Spider-Man for what it truly is, for all the good and evil he’s been responsible for, and the decision he is ultimately forced to make to save the woman he loves is genuinely moving. I also absolutely loved the double-page splash that accompanies the return of Peter Parker’s consciousness, where he’s surrounded by a web of old comic panels, recalling nearly every major Spider-Man milestone of years past. I’m a sucker for that sort of thing, and as soon as I got to that page I was immediately smiling from ear to ear.

 If all of that isn’t enough to convince you to buy this issue, dig this – the comic also reprints the first issue of the exceptional new Black Widow series in its entirety, at no extra cost. How awesome is that?

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ImageMarvel Knights: X-Men #5

“Haunted pt. 5”

Brahm Revel (writer, artist and cover)

 In this final issue of the Marvel Knights: X-Men miniseries, Brahm Revel has officially lost me… actually, I’m not sure he ever really HAD me, but this story has certainly changed from what it started out as, and that change hasn’t been for the better.

 “Haunted” began with a small team of X-Men descending on West Virginia, where they quickly discovered a drug cartel that had been harvesting mutant DNA and transforming it into powerful narcotics. The situation was further complicated by the appearance of two young mutant girls- Krystal, who possesses the ability to influence the actions of others, and Darla, who could transform memories into physical beings under her control. And of course, since the X-Men’s memories are filled with all manner of monsters and super-villains, our heroes are now stuck fighting doppelgangers of all sorts of demons from their past.

 For me, the two biggest problems with this comic are the mutant girls. Darla is an obnoxious, petulant teenager, whose drug-addled antics has led to the near-destruction of her hometown, immeasurable property damage, and untold ruined lives. She’s the villain. Krystal, on the other hand, is an obnoxious, petulant teenager whose selfishness led her to inadvertently murder her mother, risk the lives of dozens of unwitting mental thralls, and caused Darla’s mental breakdown. Somehow, Krystal is ostensibly one of the heroes. Both of them ultimately entirely avoid facing responsibility for any of their actions.

 I also question whether the X-Men can be considered to be heroes in this series. The dubious moral decisions made by the X-Men range from allowing Krystal and Darla to lie their way out of their crimes, to allowing Krystal to mentally subject an army of heavily armed bikers and force them to charge guns a-blazing into a warzone. Granted, the bikers in questions are Grade A assholes who probably deserve whatever’s coming to them, but it still makes me uncomfortable seeing “heroes” turn anyone into mental slaves, and sending them to their likely deaths.

 The entire premise here is also inescapably silly, and seems like a rather forced excuse to throw in whatever characters from the past that Revel felt like including in the story, free from the constraints of current continuity. That’s not a problem to me in and of itself – Kurt Busiek and George Perez did almost the same thing in the JLA/Avengers miniseries, and I unabashedly love that book – but here the effort seems wasted, since the ensuing battle scene is so (intentionally) chaotic that it quickly devolves into barely comprehensible nonsense.

 All in all, Marvel Knights: X-Men feels like a missed opportunity, a framework of good ideas that never came together, and as a result was far less than the sum of its parts. What a shame.

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Suicide Squad: Amanda Waller #1

“Sacrifices in the Storm”

Jim Zub (writer), André Coelho (artist); Cover by Giuseppe Camuncoli.

 Although there are a lot of characters that suffered from detrimental “New 52” redesigns, Amanda Waller fared worse than most. Visually, she was changed from one of the few plus-sized characters in the DC Universe into a skinny, generic, Halle Berry lookalike. Her personality was streamlined to the point of self-parody – on the outside, Waller is as tough as nails, but deep down she’s vulnerable, haunted by the hard decisions she’s been forced to make. The subtle nuances that made her so fascinating in the old DC Universe – the moral ambiguity, the ruthless and calculating nature balanced with an unwavering commitment to do what she believed to be right, no matter what the cost – all these things allowed her to work as a hero, an antihero, a villain, whatever role the story required of her. The “New 52” neutered her to the point of being little more than two-dimensional set-dressing, a familiar name attached to a hollow new character with none of her predecessor’s wit or charm.

 With the new Amanda Waller now the subject of her very own one-shot story, have any of these problems been addressed or corrected? Nope. In fact, I have no idea why this comic exists. “Sacrifices in the Storm” introduces (and kills off) a few new characters, none of whom have any real depth to them. The story has no real ramifications to it, and it doesn’t tie in to any current stories – in fact, according to an editor’s note in the very first panel, by the time it was published, this story was already five months out of date. There’s a token attempt to add some depth to Waller’s personality, but really, “Sacrifices…” only shores up the already existing clichés.

 If you’re not a fan of Amanda Waller, there is no conceivable reason you might feel the need to pick this one-shot up. If you are a Waller fan, you’re probably already annoyed with DC right now, and this book will only frustrate you further. Spend your money on something more worth your while.

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DC Universe vs. Masters of the Universe #6

“Cracking Skulls”

Keith Giffen and Tony Bedard (writers), Pop Mhan and Eduardo Francisco (artists). Cover by Mikel Janin.

 From the pages of fanfiction.net comes this wacky crossover that re-enacts the kind of battles every child of the 80s had with their action figures at least once. This issue sees the miniseries culminate in a final stand, with Justice League Dark teaming with the Masters of the Universe and their unlikely ally Skeletor, against an army of mind-controlled heroes and villains, who are all under the thrall of (I kid you not) Dark Orko. Really,there’s not much more to say than that – either you’re sold by the idea of Superman and He-Man teaming up to fight Orko, or you’re completely mystified by the concept. In either case, it’s a hell of a lot more satisfying than the last time they crossed paths, back in 1982’s DC Comics Presents #47… though come to think of it, that comic had Superman straight-up giving Skeletor a kidney punch… so I guess it’s kind of a wash after all.

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Silver Surfer #1

“The Most Important Person in the Universe”

Dan Slott (writer), Michael Allred (artist). Covers by Allred, Francesco Francavilla, Chris Samnee and Matthew Wilson.

 This latest attempt at a Silver Surfer ongoing series is one of the cornerstones of the “All-New Marvel Now!” event, and it certainly is… interesting. The story revolves around the Surfer being conscripted to fight for an impossible space empire against an unknowable enemy, with the life of an Earth woman on the line – a woman who is seemingly ordinary in every way, but is also apparently the titular Most Important Person in the Universe.

 Both in visual and narrative terms, this series recalls the work of Moebius – not just his own two-part Silver Surfer story from the late 1980s, but also his more personal works, like Arzach and The Airtight Garage of Jerry Cornelius. One thing that sets this take apart from its predecessors though is Dan Slott’s decision to move away from the Surfer’s signature purple prose. The more humanized dialogue makes the story much more accessible, and allows Slott to slip in some of his signature humour.

 As of this first issue, this series feels like more style than substance, but we’re also just getting out of the blocks. Certainly, there’s enough to like here to come back next month to see where things are going.

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Worlds’ Finest #21

“First Contact pt. 4”

Paul Levitz and Greg Pak (writers), RB Silva (artist and cover).

 Stop me if you’ve heard this one – Power Girl is a female character who went from being complex and nuanced in the pre-“New 52” DC Universe, to a one-note shadow of her former self. Though once one of my favourite DC characters, Power Girl now has just two gears to switch between – irrationally angry, and insufferably mopey. Throw in a less-than-compelling villain, and the duelling monologues for Batman and Superman that stopped being cute years ago, and you end up with a comic that I have almost no interest in.

 Almost, mind you. This comic does have Power Girl German Suplexing Kaizen Gamorra through an inter-dimensional portal, and that’s pretty damned awesome.

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