Age of Ultron #8 (Marvel) - Kind of a filler issue, which basically boils down to the idea that, despite Wolverine and Sue Storm having remade the world by killing Hank Pym, everything still sucks big-time. With Ultron out of the picture since Pym never invented the killer robot, the world is instead devastated by magic, as embodied by Morgana Le Fey, who shows up here leading an army of what look like Doombots. It's a basic idea and if things are ever going to get back to normal it probably had to be communicated, but Bendis probably didn't need to dedicate a whole issue to it, and this alternate future isn't nearly as interesting as the original Age of Ultron one. Also, Brandon Peterson's art doesn't have any of the glaring inconsistencies it suffered from last issue, but it's still sketchy and a big step down from Bryan Hitch.
Avengers: Enemy Within #1 (Marvel) - The crossover between Kelly Sue DeConnick's Captain Marvel and Avengers Assemble kicks off here, following up on plots that have been hinted at in Captain Marvel's series lately. As an introduction to this big crossover, this is very underwhelming. Captain Marvel first arc was great but it hasn't reached those heights again, and this issue is a whole lot of nothing, with the only real advance being that a relic of the accident that gave Carol her powers has been stolen. DeConnick has lately been slipping into some pseudo-Bendis chatter dialogue and it never fails to be grating, as seen here in the exchanges between Carol and Spider-Woman. There are some charming bits between Carol and Thor that play much better, but on the whole this is quite disappointing, and I really miss when DeConnick's Captain Marvel was a fun aviation/sci-fi/war/adventure genre mashup rather than the more conventional superhero soap opera it's become.
Batwoman #20 (DC) - There's no question that this series loses a lot when J.H. Williams III isn't on art chores. Trevor McCarthy isn't trying to channel Williams as much as he had been on some of his other arcs, which is probably a good thing, and he's on his way towards defining his own, less grandiose, more grounded look for this series. Better than an imitation, but the fact is that this is about a lesbian redhead with vampire-pale skin who fights crime in sleek black; this book demands grandeur, it demands Williams' commitment to telling the whole story in fanciful double-page spreads. This is a calm-before-the-storm moment, though, so the more subdued style works, and McCarthy's depiction of an all-too-brief meeting between Kate and her lost, thought-dead sister Beth is great, the sisters' white skin against a stark white background, like two ghosts in a void. Too bad Williams can't think of much for them to actually say.
Conan the Barbarian #16 (Dark Horse) - A new arc starts for Brian Wood's Conan, following several arcs that challenged this book's central relationship between Conan and the pirate queen Belit. This is a great start, too, as the reunited lovers relax in a city of pleasure and take a drug, a yellow lotus flower, that sends them on a journey through their own minds and pasts, dealing with the guilt, regret, and uncertainty that have shadowed their romance. The book opens with a sexy, sensual interlude that provides this arc's artist, Davide Gianfelice, with a great opportunity to draw plenty of curves and naked muscles, and then the lovers are off on an internal journey that's as sensual in its own way. Wood skips effortlessly from one memory, one setting, to the next, giving the issue a smoothly surreal vibe as Conan confronts visions of his past, obvious symbols of his conflicted feelings for his pirate queen, the woman who killed his old crewmates and then became his lover, as well as visions of a possible future that was cut off by Belit's recent miscarriage. The art is sumptuous and strangely concrete for an issue concerned with dreams and fantasies. Gianfelice's a perfect fit for this book; as good as some of the other artists have been, Belit and Conan haven't looked this sexy or well-defined since Becky Cloonan drew them.
The Dream Merchant #1 (Image) - A new Nathan Edmondson series with art by Konstantin Novosadov, a new name for me, with a sketchy, cartoony sensibility that reminds me of a less polished or distinctive Nick Dragotta. A not bad debut, but not as conceptually punchy or immediate as Edmondson's best work with the two Jake Ellis miniseries or Dancer. A mental patient haunted by dreams goes on the run with a cute but tired-eyed girl who'd worked in the mental hospital, after they're attacked by a group of creepy black-robed apparitions. Not exactly thrilling out the gate, and the central character is far too defined by his recurring dream and nothing else.
Fatale #14 (Image) - Concluding a recent trip through the past in a series of standalone issues focusing on previous eras' incarnations of the eternal femme fatale. This issue finally returns to Jo, the book's main avatar of the fatally alluring femme, albeit in a tale set during World War II. This is, at last, the story of Jo's first meeting with Walt Booker, then an American military sergeant who rescues Jo from a would-be sacrifice at the hands of the mysterious supernatural cult that's been pursuing her (and her predecessors in this role) so doggedly over the centuries. This is a book where individual issues seldom stand out if only because the series as a whole is so consistently strong: Sean Phillips is doing his usual amazing work here, and Ed Brubaker is building a complex and far-reaching mythology in which, essentially, the usual noir conceit of the doomed man and the dooming woman has a sinister supernatural explanation hidden in the shadows. This is another piece of the puzzle, and with this arc having filled in a lot of back story and history, it will be interesting to see how the series builds on this mythology when it returns to the story's present next issue.
FF #7 (Marvel) - Mike Allred never fails to bring out the best in a comic. Matt Fraction's Fantastic Four has been decent, despite art from the generally unexciting Mark Bagley, but it's in FF, with Allred's aesthetic driving the book, that he's really letting loose and having fun. That this issue opens with an image that's very evocative of Kazuo Umezu's horror manga The Drifting Classroom is presumably no accident; that series trafficked in gruesome gore perpetrated against children, and it's precisely the fear of such disaster that's been driving Scott Lang, still grieving for his daughter as he tries to wrangle a massive new family of super kids. But Fraction and Allred are all about transcending such grief and fear, not wallowing in it, and this issue's battle with the Wizard — a villain pathetically trying to force a family into existence for himself — is positively poppy, packed with images of such vibrancy and good-time superhero fun that it's impossible not to smile. Best of all: the ant-sized Scott discovering that Medusa's eyelashes have the same powers as the rest of her hair. Also, a rather unexpected tie-in to Fantastic Four that makes sense of Blastaar's appearances in that book. This is a consistently fun and funny book that also has a ton of heart, and always makes room for scenes like Scott's emotional admission that he can't avoid every risk to his charges and loved ones. There's also Darla's growing acceptance of her own role, despite her Thing costume, as this group's Johnny Storm, an immature youth gradually growing into responsibility.
Iron Man #10 (Marvel) - Well, this is weird. Last issue introduced the idea that the alien robot 451 was a part of Tony Stark's past, and this issue pursues that thread full-bore with a totally wacky Ocean's 11-style heist movie vibe, complete with gathering-the-team montage. Kieron Gillen really commits to it, unfurling the secret history of Tony's father Howard through this bizarre heist set-up. I'm not sure it really works, and if all this eventually leads to is telling Tony something new about his birth, I'm not sure it will be substantial enough to sustain a full arc, but it's at least interesting so far. And Dale Eaglesham's art, realistic with just a faint cartoony curviness in his line, is a real joy, especially as a replacement for Greg Land.