YOUNG AVENGERS #1 — As the biggest PHONOGRAM fan in at least the great state of Texas, I was beyond elated when this book was announced. Gillen/McKelvie/Wilson reuniting on any book is a cause for celebration, and I can’t think of a better team to shepherd this cast of characters in a post-Heinberg/Cheung era of the Now!. Massive anticipation for this thing. And it did not disappoint. My only problem is that the first five pages were so nuclear fantastic, the rest of the issue couldn’t possibly live up to them. I mean, I could go on and on and on about just that first scene. I’ll try to keep it down. We do, here, benefit from Fraction’s dead-on minimalistic character work he’s been rocking over on HAWKEYE, Kate Bishop is a much more engaging character than she was a very few months ago (and it’s not like she was ever less than completely well-rounded under Heinberg’s pen). Opening the series with her waking up post-coitus in orbit on Noh-Varr’s ship and then watching him dance to “Be My Baby” is quintessential PHONOGRAM and a perfect hook before they drop the thunder on that two-page twenty-one panel shot of glory that is just about the most fun I’ve had on a Wednesday night in the last little bit. Just a thrilling bit of business, loved it loved it loved it. Okay, but so, there was the rest of the issue, we meet our entire cast in a series of deftly handled exchanges that actually put the rest of them (excepting Noh-Varr and Kate) together by issue’s end. Gillen does fine work dialing us into the characters whether we’ve read every page upon which they’ve appeared, skipped CHILDREN’S CRUSADE in lieu of actually signing up for delays and waiting for the trade, or never read an issue of YOUNG AVENGERS in our lives. The art was as gorgeous as I expected it to be. The cliffhanger felt a bit limp for the first issue, but I’m very excited to have this one coming out monthly, though already concerned about the B-team if McKelvie/Wilson can’t keep up the monthly schedule.
MINUTEMEN #6 — Wow. This one was a slow burn but definitely well worth it here in the last chapters when Darwyn Cooke finally hits the gas. It’ll certainly make a hell of a single-sitting reading. As previously noted, Cooke nails the tone of Hollis Mason’s narrative voice and of course he draws the hell out of it, but the greatest compliment I can offer this series is that I accept the incredibly audacious and wildly ambitious retcon that it inserts into the mythos. I mean, it doesn’t contradict the original series but it tucks just a humdinger of an idea in the folds there that is so balls-out, my eyebrows are still as far away from my eyes as they can get a full week later. Azzarello still has to bring his two on in, but Cooke has now finished up both of his series, which means that for the first time, we can step back and evaluate a significant part of this thing as a whole. I don’t know, you guys, my brain keeps telling me I shouldn’t but I found this one quite enjoyable and really loved SILK SPECTRE.
WONDER WOMAN #16 — Azzarello/Chiang/Wilson guide us through another installment of the Wonder Woman mythos crashed into Greek mythology with the crowd from New Genesis orbiting the proceedings. I am a fan of the way Azzarello is extending the phrase “new god,” packing in even more meaning than we’ve seen before now. The art is still just as good as it gets. Not just a whole lot happens this time out, but the pages are so pretty to look at, that’s fine with me. (this completely got by me, but Dylan Todd points out that Milan's appearance is based on Wesley Willis, which really escalates my enjoyment of this entire situation. Good on ya, Cliff Chiang!)
BATWOMAN #16 — This is nothing more or less than another installment of greatness, J.H. Williams III at full strength more than ably abetted by W. Haden Blackman on script, Dave Stewart on colors, and Todd Klein on letters. Kate & Diana conclude their two-month (real-time) plummet into the fray and finally engage Medusa and all those scary monsters. The spread of the six Dianas doing battle with the six-headed Hydra is really and truly one for the ages. I shudder to think at what’s coming next month.
FABLES #125 — “Back to the main narrative then.” Thank you, Willingham! Or Ambrose? Isn’t it Ambrose narrating? These are probably so much more coherent and retainable in trade. I actually thought Stinky was quoting flash-sideways Martin Kimi with “The heart wants what the heart wants,” and got all choked up about Season 6 before checking and learning that it was actually some of the best dialogue that Woody Allen ever wrote, for himself, as ever. Stinky’s subsequent paraphrase is another one for the ages. Briar Rose’s summation of the past fifty issues is a head-shaking bit of business. This Prince Brandish fellow is certainly an interesting sort. With the opening of this arc, it feels like we finally got our book back after a bit of time spent wandering through the woods.
CHEW #31 — Man, it’s been however many weeks and I’m still so sad about last issue. That entire opening scene/flashback finds new ways to twist the knife. Fortunately, good old Layman and Guillory have another montage cued up to see us out of this mourning. Of course the con panel is the best. Guillory’s handwritten lettering jokes never fail and it’s great to see the creators, Eisma, and I guess a Bruno-donkey? “Death to the Chicken-Eaters?” Oh no! Plenty of horror to be found in the backmatter, as well, that sequence with the Chog turning around is chilling, and I really really hope Layman isn’t joking about DEEP SPACE POYO and SON OF POYO. There’s nothing anywhere or –when like this book.
THE MASSIVE #7 — ? ! ? ! ? ! ? !
PROPHET #33 — Graham and friends return with another slab of future science madness with Milonogiannis taking a ride on interiors. That Page Two/Three splash is worthy of Kirby, the ruins of the Hyperconscious Row, just magnificent even in its wreckage. This book feels alien, the creators have envisioned and crafted their world with such exact precision that it really breathes like the impossible future waiting for us at the end of the centuries. This is enhanced in no small part by Joseph Bergin III’s choice of quite radical colors to highlight the shifting scenes. I’ve been waiting with no small amount of anticipation for that one guy to turn up, should have known that he’d be reduced to a corpse-battery, perfectly in keeping with the established tone thus far. Really need to reread the first year’s worth of issues back in a single sitting, sure I’m missing all kinds of cool little recurrences. This is a dense one and well worth the multiple rides.
FF #3 — It got pretty dark pretty quick over here in the land of Allred. Uncle Johnny has crashed back into the present a few days past the team’s scheduled return with the unfortunate news that Dr. Doom, Kang, and an Annihilus from an alternate timeline merged into a composite being and then straight-up killed the other three founding members of the team with a series of specifically tailored deathtraps (actually, in The Thing’s case, he might still be falling down some endless wormhole or some such, but same difference). The best part, though, is that he gets a costume redesign that is vintage Allreds. In other news, the Moloids are pursuing their own agenda, which Fraction is smart enough to immediately illustrate jacks up their sustained end-consonant thing to new levels of creepiness. So with all that, what better way to break all the ultimate doom tension than a romp featuring Scott and Darla-wearing-a-towel versus a trio of pranksters from The Yancy Street Gang? I can’t believe it hasn’t occurred to me now, but of course we’re going to have to have a face-off between those assholes and the Tracksuit Mafia Draculas over in HAWKGUY. I’m really a fan of the way they shift the tone from total the-end-is-nigh horror there at the top with Uncle Johnny’s tale of what awaits the team in the other title to the breezier fare with the Moloids and Scott/Darla, all the way to that page that seems like it’s going to be a perfect moment, a forbidden kiss in Time’s Square at midnight on New Year’s Eve, only Scott flips it back over again, drops a first-principles phrase worthy of Hickman. “End Doom.” Apparently, that’s the macro-arc of this entire team, and I’m so glad I dodged all the interviews that were going on last summer because Fraction was just running around telling everyone that was the case while Hickman was still bringing it all in for a landing, and it is much better to arrive at that linearly through the narrative proper. And but the Allreds. There’s no one like them anywhere, the pages they produce, just singular glory that splits the difference between Silver Age beauty and a peek into a parallel dimension that’s more science fact than fiction.
UNCANNY AVENGERS #3 — Well, no one expected that this was going to be like monthly. It doesn’t matter, these pages, Cassaday & Martin can have as long as they want (though I presume they’ll be benched after the arc concludes in a few weeks in #4 and that at least #s 5 and 6 are already in the can). Remender does fine work doling out the team dynamics character by character. It is interesting to watch Captain America chafe under the command of a man that he’s handpicked as team leader. One bit of weirdness, though, we burn two pages and a panel on Cap fighting the Red Skull’s control, wanting to beat the shit out of mutants and then breaking free in a defiant splash page. Well done, only on the very next page, four panels later, he’s still screaming at Havok, questioning his leadership decisions. Even if it’s supposed to illustrate that Steve still has problems with the situation, even while not under telepathic influence, the momentum is pretty screwed-up. But that’s a small quibble, this is series remains nothing but great fun, total widescreen glory by one of the very best art teams in the industry and Brother Remender swinging for the fences even harder than during his celebrated run on UNCANNY X-FORCE.
BEST OF WEEK: AVENGERS #3 — All right, I just realized that this is the third Avengers title I picked up this week. That is admittedly a little bananas. As entertaining and concept-maximizing as the other two are, though, this one simply isn’t afraid to dream a little bit bigger. As they did with Remender back in UNCANNY X-FORCE, Jerome Opeña and Dean White continue to push the boundaries of what was previously thought acceptable in a mainstream superhero comic book. The pages look painted, lush tones that seem more likely to have turned up in a Marvel Graphic Novel back in the eighties when they were still numbering them (collect them all!). Hickman again does a fine job balancing his eighteen protagonists, shifting the emphasis this time out to the lesser-known reinforcements, shining brief spotlights on them all through a combination of dialogue and action beats with Captain Universe in particular stepping up and living up to her name. The way that shot of them all appearing on Mars was colored really reminded me of the cover of I want to say #7 of Bendis’s original NEW AVENGERS run, that first shot of them all as a team. This issue is satisfying on several levels, as there is more than enough slam-bang slugfest action to satisfy whoever just wants to watch the Hulk beat the shit out of everything, but that’s taking place throughout a discussion regarding creation and parenthood that stretches what should even be possible during a super-powered free-for-all that is very refreshing. All of this made reading this book a terribly enjoyable reading experience, but the level upon which is succeeds most and sent me nuclear was when I looked up the translation of the invented language that the Adam of the new species utters as soon as he is born. It’s not going to mean that much unless you have a fondness for a line of books that Jim Shooter launched twenty-seven years ago to celebrate Marvel’s twenty-fifth anniversary. But it’s really terribly thrilling and casts that white flash from the opening montage in #1 and again from Captain Universe in this issue in a whole new light. This opening arc was a hell of a thing, and Hickman and his crew are only getting started. And I still think I prefer the Illuminati title, even.