THE AVENGERS #34—Well, this was more big fun than we’ve had in the rampup to Bendis’s final issue of the main title. Peterson & Mayhew draw most of the issue with the Dodsons batting cleanup after a terrific artjam featuring Deodato, Simonson, Yu, Cheung, and Coipel drawing the entire team assembled in Central Park and just beating the hell out of a giant Lord Gouzar of, I think, Micronauts fame? The opening tiff between Hill and Daisy is classic Bendis. He even manages to work in a joke about their haircuts later on. And the much-ballyhooed Ultron thing is, in fact, going to be next year’s big event. That has the effect of not putting quite the punctuation I’d prefer on this epic run, nothing like Hickman just did on his relatively much shorter run across town over at the Baxter Building. I predict we’ll get more long-arc resolution next week with the Cage-Joneses in NEW AVENGERS but this right here is basically nothing more than a lateral to the next creative team, Tony’s last line of dialogue apparently feeding directly in to whatever’s coming next with Hickman’s run on this title, and you know what? I can’t wait.
BEST OF WEEK: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #698—Well, damn. I haven’t been picking this up lately, not due to a lack of quality but just because I can’t afford to keep up with its frequent publication schedule, but Dan Slott has been going on and on to such an extent in social media about no one spoiling it that finally, after his fifteenth post or so, I decided I had four dollars to invest and see what was such a great God-amighty deal. And boy! Glad I did. This is insane. I can’t imagine it’s going to stick, but it’s much more ominous, knowing that this original title is about to get cancelled and relaunched with a new adjectival moniker, one that is tonally in rhythm with the quite audacious jump in status quo that we get in this issue, something that might have been set up as far back as #600. I don’t know! Great to see Richard Elson, who was so excellent pulling art duty a while back on JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY, get bumped up for this headlining gig. And I don't recognize colorist Antonio Fabela's name, but he provides thunder throughout. But what a level of craft on just Slott's part throughout the issue. A really well-done re-introduction to the title if you're just dropping in like me. After a compelling opening hook (the web-slinger's greatest nemesis on his deathbed, struggling to utter the name of his secret identity), we race through various aspects of our hero's life, checking in with how he's doing in terms of relating to the NYPD, his job, and of course MJ, before he gets a call from the Avengers and everything is we know is wrong, completely upended. This is the very definition of the term "shock ending," one that will send you all the way back through the issue rereading and suddenly picking up on little hints, things that just seemed the least bit off or that maybe you explained await as nuanced character evolution that is really anything but. That cover is total horror after you’ve hit the last page. Slott and his amazing friends knock this one out of the park and have definitely got me on the hook for the duration.
HAWKEYE #4—Well, I was pretty concerned about what would happen for our first inevitable no-Aja issue, and the good news is we come out all right. I mean, Javier Pulido is certainly no David Aja, the perfectly framed cinematic angles, masterful use of negative space, and innovative panel designwork are all gone, but Matt Hollingsworth’s palette goes a long way toward providing consistency and continuity to what’s gone before. And Pulido’s work has this scratchy kind of indie aesthetic that works for me, somewhat channeling a Beto Hernandez aesthetic. The premise is excellent high-concept fare that is well suited to this title, a VHS tape of Hawkeye committing a U.S. government-sanctioned assassination is released into the world and he has to go to Madripoor to buy it back at the supervillain black market auction. Like you do. Kate Bishop only needs a few pages this month to add to her resume making a strong case for her being this year’s breakout character under Fraction’s pen. Still tremendous fun, you could be reading only this and DAREDEVIL and have nothing but very good things to say about The House of Ideas. Hark! a transition . . .
DAREDEVIL #20—Man, when AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #589 hit a few years back (not as many as the numbers might suggest, Wacker has been cranking that business out!), many folks were wowed by what Fred Van Lente managed to do in a single issue with The Spot, a D-list Spidey villain who nobody ever cared much about. Mark Waid was on-deck to follow that issue on an arc with his usual cohort Barry Kitson and must have just been rubbing his hands together at all the things that either that issue suggested to him or that he already had in mind, because blow me over if we’re not now in the second of a three-part arc featuring the next model of The Spot as an antagonist who is as terrifying as he is horrific. This might be as dark as this series has gotten since this run began and that is really saying something, even given as much that was made of its lightness during those first few months. I mean, a closet full of living slave heads. Gah. I’ve finally made it around to that Landridge/Samnee THOR series they choked in the crib a couple of years ago and it’s a real delight to get to see Samnee’s stellar work back then and compare it with the subtle evolution that’s taken place in just a couple of years’ time. Truly an underrated master of the form. If only I could view his art in a slightly different context . . .
THE ROCKETEER: CARGO OF DOOM #4—This was a hell of a ride. I believe it’s the first non-Stevens Rocketeer story to ever be serialized, quite a leap from the all-star eight-page stories that IDW has been cranking out the past couple of years. With Waid/Samnee/Bellaire, they couldn’t have landed a more crackerjack creative team to push Cliff and the whole crew back into the spotlight, to say nothing of the potentially blasphemous addition of new members to the supporting cast. The art style, while not quite as hyper-detailed as Stevens’, lives up to the original in spirit, particularly in energy and dynamic motion. And of course Waid is maybe the best possible choice to be doing this, crafting brand-new yarns that feel as timeless as they might have under the original creator’s pen twenty or thirty years ago. Three years ago, I thought the world of him, and he’s suddenly burning brighter than ever, seemingly incapable of doing wrong. There is not a single false beat or misstep in either character or plot to be found within these pages. A more-than-worthy addition to the canon.
GLORY #30—Keatinge & Campbell continue to crank it up throughout the issue, this is real solid escalation and terribly entertaining throughout. The battle between the sisters has to be seen to be believed. “Arms exploding” will never never convey the madness. I tell you what, though, old Roman Muradov sneaks in the front door with those first three pages of art featuring the titular character rampaging through Paris in the Twenties in pursuit of Fantomas while member of a league including Picasso, Stein, and, naturally, Hemingway. That first three-panel strip across the top of Page Two is as wonderful a thing as I can recall running across lately. Magdamnificent. This series continues to tear it up, I’m very happy to follow it and brother John PROPHET up north of the one-dollar price-bump, but am rabid for the idea of a series featuring more adventures of Glory in the company of The Lost Generation. What an incredible way to open the issue.
WONDER WOMAN #14—All right, I can’t tell if Akins art has just improved in some subtle way or the content of the script seemed more essential, but this is the first non-Chiang issue that felt like an indispensible part of the narrative and not just a fill-in. Matthew Wilson’s colors remain a thing of lush beauty. I can’t figure out who the prehistoric brain-eating chap is, had halfway convinced myself that it was Orion, but the last two pages of course knock that theory right out. Very good-looking pages, too, it must be said. I dig the design on those vertical lifescan bars or whatever they are, Source measurements, maybe. I hope Siracca is going to hang out and join the cast. Azzarello is building quite the merry band. Can’t wait for things to really get crackling with Orion and Chiang next month.
BATWOMAN #14—And the Amazon hat-trick power-hour keeps on slamming! I don’t know how much more I can take. Liked this one even better than last month. Williams’s layouts and composition are, as ever, jaw-dropping and staggering and probably make four artists give up for every one they inspire because, really, who can touch this guy? A singular talent. Once again, big kudos to DC editorial for letting twenty pages of story run straight through with no ads to disrupt the constant flow of double-splash artistic greatness. That just is not something you see every day. I especially like how balanced the two characters are written, Diana freaking out on how courageous Kate is, even while the opposite is obviously taking place as well. Because, you know, Wonder Woman. Glad to see that Maggie will apparently be the focus next month. This book is a gem, I seriously hope they’re talking to A-list talent to pick up the torch from Williams when he finally takes his interior sequential genius elsewhere.
FABLES #123—The second and final part of a ripping good yarn, here. I said it last month: if you simply must occasionally bench the regular art team for a fill-in, it is a grand and glorious thing to recruit talent as prodigiously gifted as Gene Ha and Art Lyon. Gorgeous lush art showing us just how Bigby wound up with the fate that we have been watching unfold page by page, month by month, lo these past ten years of Mundy-relative time. This two-parter has reinvigorated my love for this series, which, with all the rampant rebooting and –launching that’s been firing up all around the past couple years, is now the longest continual run that I’m still picking up. Will Willingham ever run out of gas? It doesn’t look like it, seems like he’s got enough to get to #200 and beyond. While just kicking out graphic novels and spinoffs on the side like it’s no problem. The man has drunk deeply of some powerful fountain, quite possibly made up out of words.
THE UNWRITTEN #43—The action definitely proceeds apace. In which we welcome Baron Karl Friedrich Hieronymous von Münchausen back to our august narrative, watch him send a carnivorous butcher polar bear into orbit with an ingenious blue salve, and make the twin revelations that all of reality is “a sort of infinite cetacean regression” and that the Bennet sisters are willing, under the proper degree of dire circumstances, to prostitute themselves for nutritive sustenance. In short, sir, the quintessential Vertigo tale.