S.H.I.E.L.D. #3 (Marvel) - This Jonathan Hickman miniseries, a sequel to his previous S.H.I.E.L.D. mini, is a marvel of invention and unfettered creativity. Hickman is probing into the history of the Marvel espionage organization that has previously mostly been associated with Nick Fury. In the first series, Hickman revealed just how far back S.H.I.E.L.D. stretched, as a time-spanning group comprised of various scientists and artists — da Vinci, Michelangelo, Tesla, Newton — who defend the world against cosmic threats like Galactus. In the early 1950s, the organization is riven by a philosophical contest between Leonardo da Vinci, preaching free will and choice, and Isaac Newton, a dictatorial advocate of fate and predestination. This elemental debate takes a back seat in this issue, though, for a mostly wordless battle between the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and the massive power of the Celestial Star Child. There's a very Kirby-esque spirit of constant motion and conceptual overload as S.H.I.E.L.D. throws everything they have at the monolithic threat rampaging through their hidden city. Dustin Weaver's art is glossy and sleek, and his panels here verge towards the epic, capturing the towering, city-devastating might of the Star Child as its laser beams topple buildings into explosions surrounded by bursts of Kirby dot particles. The entire issue is wordless until the battle is over on the last few pages; before that, the only dialogue balloons consist of a conversation between the Star Child and Michelangelo in the Celestial's mathematical language. This is epic and savagely beautiful, building to an impossible crescendo of grandeur by the time the battle has reached its climax. This is how comics fight scenes should be, beautiful and horrible all at once, and even funny as in the series of panels in which Nathan Richards and Howard Stark's expressions change from elated to horrified as they realize how quickly the Star Child repairs its damage.
Uncanny X-Force #16 (Marvel) - The current "Dark Angel Saga," of which this is the sixth chapter, has catapulted Rick Remender's dependably great X-Force series to an even higher level. This book offers epic, apocalyptic action month after month, with the highest of stakes and a cast of varied, interesting characters. Even as the story keeps getting bleaker, as former hero Archangel is fully corrupted by the dark agenda of the genocidal Apocalypse, the comic remains vigorously exciting and often even funny. The latter is mostly due to the presence of Deadpool, a character who can all too easily be annoying but is generally well-written by Remender. In this issue, his battle with the Blob — which memorably climaxes with Deadpool stabbing his adversary in the tongue — has just the right balance of wit and crude humor. Jerome Opeña's textured art is also a major draw here, tending towards an iconic simplicity that's complemented well by the dark, muted color palette. Remender and Opeña pack so much into each issue of this series, so that each issue, this one includes, moves at a frenzied, breathless pace but never feels like it's over too soon. It's this skillful serial storytelling that makes Uncanny X-Force one of the best straight-up action/sci-fi series around.