It's been a long time since I posted here so I figured I'd catch up with some weekly comics. I won't be posting these updates every week, but checking in every once in a while on what's new.
Age of Ultron #7 (Marvel) - Last issue, in which Wolverine and Sue Storm travelled to the past to kill Hank Pym, signalled a big change in this series, and this issue pays that shift off really well. The duo travel back to a present that's now been massively shaken up by the repercussions of that murder; it's great that Bendis is upping the stakes like this, pulling the rug out from under the alternate future that had dominated the first six issues, replacing it with a whole new alternate future. Lots of fun seeing two Wolverines sparring, and there are tons of tantalizing mysteries about the nature of this new reality and what happened after Pym's death to lead to this point. Carlos Pacheco draws the scenes in the past, and they're gorgeous, and then Brandon Peterson takes over for the return to the present, and that's somewhat disappointing. Peterson's faces are really inconsistent, and in particular he makes Sue Storm look really weird in quite a few panels, especially when he tries to make her show emotion and instead just makes her look deformed.
All-New X-Men #11 (Marvel) - A whole issue of people yelling at each other and getting just to the verge of fighting without actually going all the way. And it's pretty fun, actually. Bendis already revealed that the original, time-travelling Angel would join Cyclops' renegade X-Men in the last issue of Uncanny X-Men, so this issue is just an extended exploration of how exactly that happened. Lots of dialogue, most of it dramatic and shrill, but it's refreshing that Bendis doesn't really fall into his familiar rhythms too much here — in general, taking over the X-Men books seems to have freed him up to explore some new voices and to get away, at least sometimes, from his usual writing tics. Not the most exciting issue in its own right but it's another piece of the puzzle and has some nice character beats along the way, particularly between Kitty Pryde and Jean Grey. And Stuart Immonen does a good job of giving the chaos a cartoony sheen.
Animal Man #20 (DC) - Back when I evaluated the first month of DC's New 52 reboot, I predicted that I'd continue enjoying the New 52 "as long as they keep their current creative teams and level of quality." That's turned out to be a very bad joke as DC has squandered almost all the good will and potential generated by the early New 52 successes, constantly shuffling creative teams and generally allowing very few titles to remain or become great. Even Animal Man, which early on was one of the best DC titles, soon lost its distinctive artist Travel Foreman and, even worse, became mired in a boring, purposelessly elongated crossover with Scott Snyder's Swamp Thing. These two books basically took over a year and a half to tell one story, but now it's finally over, leaving Animal Man to (hopefully) recover. This issue is a good sign of that recovery, continuing the metafictional story of a movie that Buddy Baker had starred in. When the first half of this movie played out way back in Animal Man #6, it seemed like filler at best, a stall tactic to keep pace with Snyder's Swamp Thing for the impending crossover. Now, the story takes on new resonances and new meanings in the aftermath of recent events, and this story of a slacker superhero struggling to recover his fractured family weighs heavily on Buddy. There's no direct tie-in to Buddy's real life until the very end of the issue, but there doesn't need to be: every panel seems freighted with secondary meaning and emotion. Very good use of what had previously seemed a throwaway concept, and I hope Jeff Lemire continues to guide this book out of the slog of "Rotworld" with such assurance.
Copra #6 (Copra) - Michel Fiffe's Copra is one of the greatest superhero comics around, especially notable since he does it all himself: writing, art, and self-publishing. Fiffe boldly combines familiar superhero archetypes and tropes — many of them drawn from obvious reference points like Suicide Squad or The Punisher — with a hallucinatory, strangely beautiful art style that renders these action-packed comics fresh and strange. As one letter-writer notes in the back of this newest issue, it's the union of new and old that makes it so special. This issue concludes the opening arc of the series, which focused on a team of government commandos forced to go underground after a villain's destruction of a small town is blamed on the Copra team. This issue is the final showdown with that villain, Vitas, who Fiffe boldly stylizes as an interlocking set of geometric shapes, his head a triangle atop a bulky body with spindly limbs that seem to be latched onto the ovals of his hips and torso. Fiffe's character design sense is impeccable, and over the course of the series' first 5 issues he introduced a massive cast of heroes and villains, all of whom have distinctive individual looks, so that in this issue's all-out melee the characters are clearly delineated even if most readers won't have a firm grasp on names or personalities. The bold style of Fiffe's art and his gorgeous pastel coloring makes these clashes visceral and thrilling in a way that more conventionally realized superhero battles just aren't, and when he cuts loose — as he does on a few pages where Vitas' form is warped by contact with the alien artifact at the center of this conflict — the results are downright stunning. Also notable is the melancholy of this issue's ending, in which Man-Head's final battle with Vitas is overlaid with his captioned memories of the family murdered by the villain, climaxing with a simple, evocative image that the hero succinctly declares "not a stupid memory." Just a great book in every way, and this is a more than satisfying conclusion to the first arc.
Dial H #12 (DC) - This has been one of the best DC titles since its debut: really only Wonder Woman deserves to be on the same tier. China Mieville's dizzying tale of dial-a-hero shenanigans just keeps getting crazier and crazier, adding new wrinkles and new ideas with every issue, never once wasting a moment or settling into a status quo. This issue shakes things up yet again, introducing a whole new cast of dial-users who appear in a frenzied battle in the issue's second half, everything so chaotic that there's hardly a moment yet to absorb quite what is happening here. This is just such a fun book, loaded with humor, bursting with big ideas. While other New 52 titles plod along, repeating familiar stories with familiar characters, Mieville is concocting a whole new lively universe of concepts and characters, starting from the basic premise of an old, forgotten DC title but expanding it at every turn. Alberto Ponticelli seems to be settling in as the new regular penciller now that Frankenstein is gone, and he's a perfect fit, his slightly skewed figures and faces ideal for expressing this title's wild aesthetic.
Earth 2 #12 (DC) - The long lead time involved in comics makes me think that it's just a haunting coincidence that this issue opens with a fight scene staged in the sky above Boston, with the people of Boston looking on in awe and fear. Still pretty unsettling. Anyway, this is the conclusion of the Dr. Fate storyline, which has honestly slowed this book down a bit too much and detracted from its generally strong first year. Here, after all this buildup, the villain is dispatched almost offhandedly, so the story just sputters to a close, having now introduced Dr. Fate as one of the book's heroes. At least the ending signals that Steppenwolf has finally made his presence known, so things should pick up again next month; the Apokolips material in this book has been really good.
Green Arrow #20 (DC) - I'm willing to give Jeff Lemire the benefit of the doubt, but four issues in, his Green Arrow isn't really bad so much as utterly forgettable, with little of substance and little reason to care about any of these characters — the villain Komodo is arguably the most realized character so far, and even he's not too deep. Andrea Sorrentino's art is nice, all moody and shadowy, but doesn't seem especially well-suited to this story, either.
Hawkeye #10 (Marvel) - Matt Fraction's Hawkeye has had a really strong and coherent aesthetic, even when regular artist David Aja is replaced by fill-ins. Francisco Francavilla, this issue's guest artist, doesn't fit as neatly into the series' overall look, but that's appropriate since this issue is a bit of a departure, taking on the perspective of an assassin working for the "bro"-happy mobsters who have dogged Hawkeye throughout this series. It's gorgeous work. Fraction weaves together the assassin's tortured, unhappy past with the present, in which the man, undercover, exchanges some flirtatious banter at a party with the female Hawkeye Kate Bishop. The pages in the present have a warm, calm vibe, with pages laid out in neat rows of square panels, all closeups of faces and hands as these partygoers bond, Kate not realizing who this man actually is. The flashbacks are more fragmentary, with Francavilla's pages exploding into baroque designs, panels fanning out from central acts of violence, yellow and red and orange flowing across the pages to contrast against the cool midnight blue of the Kate pages. Great design, great art, and a haunting story. More proof that this is one of Marvel's very best comics.
Indestructible Hulk #7 (Marvel) - Mark Waid's new take on the Hulk as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent has been pretty fun right along, but it's reached new levels of insanity with this current arc — drawn by Walt Simonson! — in which Hulk time travels to the past and crosses over to the Asgardian realms, teaming up with Thor against Frost Giants. There's nothing here as wild as last issue's cliffhanger pinup of the Hulk lifting Thor's hammer (though that's paid off nicely with some unexpected humor) but it's just a solid, well-crafted issue of action. And seeing Simonson tackle Thor, one of his signature characters, is always a big pleasure.
Iron Man #9 (Marvel) - Kieron Gillen's Iron Man finally seems to be ramping up in a big way, and this is a promising start to what looks like it's going to be an epic new arc. Dale Eaglesham replaces Greg Land for this issue, and the difference is obvious. Eaglesham's art is as slick and shiny as Land's during the scenes of Iron Man and Death's Head stalking the android 451, all glistening metal surfaces, but with far more personality and weight than any of Land's stiff figures. Then, when Tony's confrontation with 451 gets upended at the end of the issue, and the android makes a big deal of using outdated film reels from the past, the shift in style that Eaglesham pulls off makes the effect as jarring and potent on the reader as it must be for Tony — the lush, shaded grayscale of those movie frames is a great contrast against all the shiny metal that dominates the rest of the issue.
The Movement #1 (DC) - Like a bad punchline, DC's tone-deaf attempt to cash in on the "Occupy" movement reeks of desperation. It's just silly, obviously the result of some out-of-touch editors trying to figure out what young people want, and winding up with teens in masks holding up smart phones and tablets emblazoned with the message "I C U." Gail Simone should know better, but apparently doesn't, so she gamely introduces all these generic teen characters amidst confusing and truncated fight scenes, while Freddie Williams II seems to have settled on a new style to imitate, channeling Sean Murphy and doing OK at it — the linework is decent, though the layouts are unnecessarily cluttered. But even a genuinely amazing artist couldn't really salvage such an ill-conceived project, and there's obviously little chance of this making it past its first year.
Swamp Thing #20 (DC) - Scott Snyder ducked off Swamp Thing after slogging through "Rotworld," leaving Charles Soule to pick up the pieces, with Kano providing the art. Soule's doing a pretty good job so far, dealing very poignantly with the aftermath of "Rotworld," which whatever else it did, left the title character feeling less human than ever, more adrift from what he once was. Here, Swamp Thing is trapped in a nightmare by Scarecrow's fear toxin, facing ghosts of the happy human life he might've had with Abby, while outside in the real world his plant powers run amok and nearly destroy Metropolis. There's a nice moment at the end of the issue where Swamp Thing points out that Superman, too, isn't human and only chooses to act human, though Soule has Supes respond in a pretty lame way, urging Swamp Thing to help people. Pretty good stuff, and Kano's art is more cartoony and clean than his predecessors, though he does ape the inventive layouts of Yanick Paquette, who himself was inspired by Steve Bissette's art on the old Alan Moore run. Nice sense of continuity.
Ten Grand #1 (Image) - The debut of a new series by J. Michael Straczynski and Ben Templesmith, distributed by Image on behalf of the new Joe's Comics imprint. It's a rather unexciting debut: Templesmith's art is fabulous, of course, and well-suited to the story's dark mood and supernatural content, his scratchy lines and eerie color work perfectly capturing the sense of menace lurking within this tale. The problem is that JMS substitutes a whole bunch of clichés for real characterization. The hero was a mob hitman until a rival violently cut short his lovey-dovey relationship with a sweetly generic girlfriend whose death now haunts the hero — and it was going to be his last mission before he ran away with her to live happily ever after! Really! The blending of noir/crime aesthetics with the supernatural reminds me in a general way of Fatale, and of course John Constantine too, so maybe with Hellblazer gone this will fill a hole for someone. But there's not enough in this first issue, beyond Templesmith's art, to really set this apart or suggest that it's going to be anything special.
Winter Soldier #18 (Marvel) - The Winter Soldier is so much Ed Brubaker's creation that it's hard to imagine anyone else shepherding the further adventures of the ressurrected Bucky, but writer Jason Latour and artist Nic Klein have done as good a job as anyone could expect. This series is fast approaching its cancellation — though it will surely be back around the time of the second Captain America movie — but it's been a fine continuation of the moody spy movie vibe of Brubaker's run. This issue marks the climax of a recent arc with Bucky trying to atone for one of his past assassinations, but when he comes face to face with the girl he orphaned, now known as the Electric Ghost, she doesn't seem interested in revenge or atonement or anything else you'd expect. In a nice twist, she spends the issue narrating her gradual process of separating from conventional human emotions, through a horrible childhood in a twisted training program, her life as a spy and assassin, her eventual revenge against those who had guided her life. But for Bucky himself she has no anger, and her rhetoric of transformation and transcendence makes her an intriguing villain. Klein's is fantastic throughout, switching between the moody blue-and-gray murkiness that has usually characterized this series' dark spy adventures, and a more cartoony style to illustrate the Ghost's childhood.
Worlds' Finest #12 (DC) - I'm not entirely sure why I'm still reading this companion series to Earth 2. It's usually just mildly pleasant, and it almost always features a whole squad of artists struggling to cobble together the visuals, but there's something about it that I find charming and enjoyable. The premise of these two women, in an unfamiliar world, taking different approaches to finding their own way in their new home, it's very poignant, and Paul Levitz has done a good job of exploring these characters and their friendship, even if not much has happened on the plot front. This issue is more of the same, though the war with Darkseid's creepy henchman Desaad seems to be heating up. Notably, here Power Girl gets her old costume back, "boob window" and all, which a lot of people will be excited about but I see as a step back — and I'm one of the few who had no problems with her sleek, streamlined newer costume. There's no attempt to explain the costume change here; in flashbacks she still has the old outfit and then when she suits up in the present she's back to the classic design. Meh.
X-Factor #255 (Marvel) - The "Hell On Earth War" is almost at an end now, and none too soon — Peter David's long run on this title has been going through a fallow patch with this arc, which suffers from being way too big for the book. David's X-Factor has excelled at smaller stories and character interactions, and its strengths are lost amidst a giant saga of demons fighting on Earth, even beyond the troubling question of why nobody besides X-Factor seems to have noticed all this city-destroying chaos. There's still room here for a few nice character beats, notably the bafflement and despair of Guido when he realizes that something is very wrong with Monet during their fight. Also, the understated sadness of Layla grieving for Madrox, and Tier finally making a decision. This title is ending soon, but thankfully David is promising some character-based issues about, among others, Layla and Longshot, after this storyline wraps up next issue, so hopefully this book will go out doing what David does best.
X-Men Legacy #10 (Marvel) - One of the big surprises of the Marvel Now initiative, Simon Spurrier's take on Professor X's son Legion has been thrilling and inventive and really cerebral. Literally cerebral, in fact, since much of it takes place in Legion's head, where he must contend with an unruly flock of alternate personalities, each embodying one of his many mutant powers, including a golden apparition of his father who seems to be the most sinister of the bunch. In this issue, Legion confronts another of the anti-mutant agitators who he's been tearing through of late, though this time the man — a victim of multiple mutant catastrophes, which have left him burned and confined to a wheelchair — is surprisingly sympathetic and reasonable in his anti-mutant agenda. Spurrier's been patiently building this story and it's really paying off: both Legion and his love interest/eventual antagonist Blindfold are now fully developed characters, and the sense of dread gradually accumulating like a black cloud over their heads is now really starting to thicken.