AVENGERS #028 — This manages to be a pretty gripping issue-long conversation between Banner and Stark. Hickman has been studying his Bendis! A very interesting long-term plot development with the way things resolve with Banner interrogating Tony. I like the way that it’s written how he figures out something’s wrong, noticing first the design and then everyone else’s fingerprints upon it. I’m really not a fan of the way Larocca’s pencils are looking with F. Martin’s colors, hope those guys are about done here because their work is not screaming A-list the way this book needs to. A very cool wrinkle with that last epilogue, there.
NEW AVENGERS #017 — The great DC society riff continues as the heroes of Earth-4,290,001 make a stand against the end of their universe. With a generous portion of Kirby Krackle on the first page, even. Once again, Hickman does a great job striking a tone that’s pretty classic DC while Morales validates it with a style more in keeping with what they’ve got going on across the street, some occasionally wonky anatomy notwithstanding. I am a fan of the way in which Hickman is steering the Namor/T’Challa dynamic. That both-guys-start-cracking-up bit was a direct nod to THE KILLING JOKE, right? Very clever. Really happy about that twist at the end, was positive that the Society folks were flying into certain doom and that their tale was done but it turns out it’s just about to get much more interesting.
ALL-NEW X-MEN #026 — Oh, shit! That opening two-page splash! Totally worth the immediate “it was all a dream” cheat. Because that was the crazy times. Followed by a hell of a damn opening scene. Bendis absolutely murders it. Just a conversation between Scott and Teen Jean, but so monumental. I’m getting to the point that I feel like I’m going to have to swear off mutant books after Bendis is done just out of respect, because I’m going to want that particular The End to be the one that matters, the one that finally at last counts, as far as sequentials go. Like it would be blasphemy to just keep going the next month with new guys and the inevitable new #1. But this one once again does its job, pushes the narrative forward just enough while containing enough solid beats of character interaction to make this single installment feel not only worthwhile but like one of the better books on the rack. And art as breathtaking as ever. Continually stunning material.
SILVER SURFER #002 — Slott does a good job here right off the bat not casting Dawn as the damsel-in-distress but a plucky involuntary adventurer who’s nevertheless able to extricate herself from interplanetary jams. And that was before he manages to sneak in an EPISODE IV paraphrase in the last panel, there. All while our boy suddenly looks like a visorless Alex Murphy, somehow. I dug the splash of all of the Surfer’s possible futures, but I guess I am a sucker for that old trick. The Allreds continue to deliver top-drawer work. It looks like Laura Allred has taken a page out of James Stokoe’s batshit crazy playbook while coloring The Impericon as seen from space.
UNCANNY AVENGERS ANNUAL #001 — I was curious how Remender was going to be able to bang out a standalone one-shot here given the planet-atomizing nonsense he’s been getting up to in the main title, but of course the whole thing is just a Mojo pitch. It’s a little cruel to tantalize us with an Art Adams cover, but Paul Renaud steps right up and does pretty fine work on pencils, inks, and color. The script is deft. Remender knows a thing or two about pandering to demographics. The line about the rumpus dungeon was by far my favorite and almost got me in trouble last night when I couldn’t get it out of my head at a Democratic fundraiser where Wendy Davis was speaking, I kept wanting to grab random Democrats by the collar and scream, “Is this my rumpus dungeon?!” in their face, which, there’s no way that would have played well with that particular demographic. This annual, though, it’s a weird duck, Remender goes all meta- on the last couple of pages, straight up points out that this entire thing was unimportant nonsense cooked up for us masses who’ll devour anything, pretty much stops just short of waving a five-dollar bill in our faces and laughing at us. And then everybody in the pool on the last page! I like to think that Remender is laughing with us, not at us.
BLACK SCIENCE #6 — What a finish! Can this be the end for Grant McKay? Remender does a good job framing those two climactic scenes of Grant vs Kadir and Pia vs the team with a pair of surprising resolutions. But we’re not really supposed to believe Grant is toast, are we? Surely he’s just going to have to find his kids in the onion now. The one problem I had with this issue was the narrative captions, confusion over who was saying what when. It’s obviously Grant narrating at the first but then at some point it switches over to Kadir talking about “Grant and his team” but then it once again switches back to Grant referring to Kadir in the third person, so I know I’m not just making this up, but unless the narrator is explicitly referring to his opponent, I was going along in both cases thinking that it had been the other guy talking. It allllllmost looks like the shade on the caption-box is different, but that’s not really the kind of thing that you want to make subtle. All things considered, though, a hell of a way to go out. Bring on #7 in July!
CHEW #41 — That Tony Chu moves fast when he decides he wants to get happy! What a lovely way to begin the final third of the series. And always charming to spend a couple of pages checking in with that Poyo. Only in this series would an ultra-high-capacity fudge blaster be getting used for extreme urban pacification. This is a hell of a single issue of CHEW, a very rewarding and tightly packed experience all on its own. Case closed, indeed!
BEST OF WEEK: SOUTHERN BASTARDS #1 — Man, damn. I was expecting pretty great things from this, but these boys done knocked it out the park. Terribly compelling from the get-go, this one never lets you go after the dog takes a dump on the opening splash page. Our protagonist is a tough-as-nails older fella who won’t take guff from any of the swine in his former hometown. He’s ostensibly just there for two or three days to see to his uncle’s personal effects now that the guy’s in a nursing home, but it’s already very clear that Earl Tubb’s stay in Craw County is going to last a hell of a lot longer. Jason Aaron digs in and gets right to it, introduces us to an ensemble of innocents and ne’er-do-wells while doling out crucial exposition. The series principal antagonist, Coach Boss, is only mentioned and never appears on-panel. Unless he’s one of the players who attacked the Earl’s father at their homestead forty years ago. It’s a slow burn of a pace that’s a good fit for the material and setting. Jason LaTour delivers 28 pages of full art that depict a jagged world of harsh light that can erupt into murderous violence at any moment. This is a strong debut that promises a hell of a ride.
VERTIGO QUARTERLY: CYAN — This is . . . an interesting theme to hang an anthology on. Seems kind of random and arbitrary but I’m not going to quibble about getting a regular Vertigo anthology. However it shows up is fine with me. As long as the stories aren’t half-baked nonsense. Which is definitely how things commence. I was not delighted to learn that our lead story has Shaun Simon credited on script. Simon overcomes perfectly serviceable Tony Akins art to tell the trite story of a serial-killing artist with a couple of weak twists that had me questioning the viability of this entire endeavor. Which is pretty much the opposite of the way you want to lead off your 80-page anthology. The second story, “918,” is also a strange thing that hinges on some fun with numeric orientation. I did see that Joe Keatinge disavowed the ending (probably in the process of torpedoing future work from the publisher), saying that editorial completely changed it, so I’m not sure what fault lies where. The ending as published is definitely a bit limp. All right. Next up, we’ve got Jock co-writing and drawing a demon dog. That can’t be all bad, right? It isn’t. Of course the panels look amazing, but the story doesn’t really manage to hang together. What’s the significance of the ice cream pops? Shouldn’t there be some? It comes across as thrown together and slapdash. Okay. Next up, we have a former Hot Young Thing feeling envious of this year’s latest model. A tale as old as the hills themselves. It’s not awful, but at this point we’re halfway through the book and I am missing Karen Berger so badly.
But, courage! Here come Monty Nero and Al Davison to singlehandedly save the day with “Much Ado About Nothing,” eight pages that even manage to live up to stealing the Shakespeare tag, that’s how great they are. About halfway through, I started wanting to take pictures of this entire story and send them to people. I’m probably still going to do that. Not only is this the only story that actually manages to integrate the theme of cyan into the narrative in a way that’s seamless, it tells the gripping story of a group of cyber-analysts who stumble upon the perils of using quantum Fourier analysis to unlock three different codes as a counterterrorism measure. To say anything more would be giving it away, but this is the best short story I’ve read since Rian Hughes’s genius piece in BATMAN: BLACK AND WHITE #3 and it works just as hard pushing the medium forward and showing how great we all can be. Worth every penny, all by itself. Which is good news. Cris Peter and Ana Koehler turn in a beautiful-looking but mostly forgettable short before Rodi/Fernandez/Villarrubia crank things up with a horrific tale that does a fine job channeling that old EC vibe, down to the doomed after-the-fact narration and grisly last-page reveal. Tynion/Morazzo/Mulvihill produce another set of pages that are beautiful to look at but feel a bit slight as far as a standalone story goes. Which, I guess I feel the same way about Fabio Moon’s headliner, “Breaking News of the Wonders the Future Holds,” which is a much better title than story. Don’t get me wrong, I adooooore the Bá/Moon, DAYTRIPPER is one of my all-time favorites, but these six pages have too much heavy lifting to do, slotted as they are in the headlining spot of a collection that has been not as much uneven as overall average to below-average throughout. This breezy short would fit very well within the other fare of the twins’ DE:TALES-type output, the art is gorgeous, but at this point, this one would pretty much have to be “The Ballad of Brás de Oliva Dominguez Rides Again” to pull this anthology out of the fire.
So like I said, Nero/Davison make the whole thing worthwhile in the middle here, but it’s testament solely to their nigh-infinite greatness that I don’t feel a bit ripped by throwing down eight dollars for this thing. Leading off with fucking Shaun Simon, man.