Superman #3

superman 3

“Unity Saga, Part 3”

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Pencils by Ivan Reis

Inks by Joe Prado and Oclair Albert

The Story So Far: 

Earth has been zapped into the Phantom Zone.  Superman is on the case, trying to discover how, and why the Earth is in the Phantom Zone, and who is responsible.

Spoilerific Review:

Livewire shows up at STAR Labs to try and force the scientists there to pump up her power level.  She quickly comes to realize that the scientists at STAR have bigger fish to fry.  They think that Livewire created the anomaly that they are researching, which she’s not.  Superman shows up and blames Livewire for the anomaly, but it quickly becomes clear that the anomaly is due to the Earth being in the Phantom Zone.  The scientists were attempting to map the Phantom Zone, but they don’t realize that they are inside it.

Meanwhile Rogol Zaar, who was banished to the Phantom Zone for destroying Kandor, forms an alliance with Jax-Ur, a Kryptonian scientist who was also imprisoned there for destroying one of Krypton’s moons.

Superman tries to get the Justice League’s help, but the heavy hitters are all subdued by the radiation from the Phantom Zone’s atmosphere, so he goes to the Hall of Justice to recruit the Atom, Ted Kord and Ryan Choi for help.  While Ray heads over the STAR Labs, Superman flies up into the sky to confront Rogol Zaar and Jax-Ur’s invasion army as the issue ends.

What Works:

The very “Bendis-y” cutaways to Adam Strange, floating in space where the Earth SHOULD be and Superman admonishing looters to “put it down” and “cut it out, now”.  Just a little bit of humor in what feels like a much heavier take on Superman from Bendis’ work over on Action.

The scenes with Zaar and Jax-Ur are well written and well drawn.  Reis’ pencils are stunning in the space scenes.

What Doesn’t Work:

“Superman versus the unstoppable Rogol Zaar!”, the cover proclaims.  Only, not so much.  They don’t face off in this issue.  It’s a small thing, but when I see something like that on the cover, I expect fisticuffs.  There were none.

The issue dragged a little, which is pretty common in the middle of an arc.  We’re setting up for the big showdown, and that is good, but this felt like a bit of a chore to get through.

Rating 3/5

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Immortal Hulk #5

hulk 5

“In Every Mirror”

Written By: Al Ewing

Pencils By: Joe Bennett

Inks By: Ruy Jose

 

Bruce Banner was dead.  Then he got better.  Then he died again.  He came back.  Well, resurrected by the Hand is more like it.  Then he died again.  Came back.  It became apparent that the he wasn’t just being resurrected.  He was IMMORTAL.  Or, more accurately, the Hulk is immortal.  Now, Bruce wanders the country, trying to make use of the Hulk as a means of redemption for himself.

Walter Langkowski, Sasquatch of Alpha Flight fame, goes looking for Bruce but ends up in the hospital after getting stabbed.  Bruce is there waiting…

The Spoilerific Summary:

The issue opens with a flashback to Captain Marvel confronting Langkowski on Alpha Flight Space Station.  She (and the rest of Alpha Flight) are concerned that Walter is spending too much time as Sasquatch, and that he is being more aggressive in combat than he once was.  Walter concedes and turns back to his human form, only to realize that he’s losing control of Sasquatch.

Jumping back to now, and the hospital in Minnesota.  Bruce confronts what he thinks is Walter, but Sasquatch tell him that he is not Langkowski, and he wants to talk to the “real” Bruce Banner.  Sasquatch mortally wounds Bruce, but as we now know, the Hulk is immortal, and he turns.

Hulk and Sasquatch fight, and Hulk realizes that Walter is, in fact, possessed.  Thinking that perhaps it is Tanaraq again, Hulk gets a mighty shock when he sees Sasquatch’s reflection in glass and he stands revealed as none other than Brian Banner, Bruce’s abusive—and deceased—father.

This revelation allows Sasquatch to get the upper hand, and he taunts Hulk as he beats him down.  We see Hulk’s new sinister façade crack a little and a tiny bit of the old “Hulk Smash!” Green Genes pokes his head through.  When Hulk regains his senses he realizes that Gamma radiation is what made Sasquatch, and Hulk, of course, absorbs radiation, so he does just that, “eating” all the radiation in Langkowski’s body, returning him to human.

Hulk then leaves the hospital, but not before he catches his own reflection in a car window, revealing that he didn’t just absorb the radiation from Sasquatch…but also Brian Banner!

What Works:

The story.  I’ve been a Hulk fan since the late 1970’s.  If you read my bio on this blog, you’ll see that Hulk was my first comic.  I grew up on the old Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema, Bill Mantlo Hulk.  I matured with the Peter David Hulk.  I grew to an adult with Bruce Jones’ Hulk.  Hulk has been in my life for almost my whole life, and while I have liked some iterations and detested others, this version is, and I say this with no intended hyperbole, the very best the Hulk has been in decades.  Hulk as a monster just WORKS.  Hulk as a sinister force for good?  Works.  Story-wise, this is my absolute top pick title right now for superhero comics.

The cover.  Alex Ross’ main cover is stunning, the green and orange of Hulk vs Sasquatch highlighting what’s to come in this issue.

What doesn’t work: 

Joe Bennett.  I’m not a fan, sorry to say.  I’ve liked his work when he’s working with human subjects.  Like his Spider-Man issues.  But his monsters are just too…exaggerated.  I’m not the kind of reader who stops reading a comic based solely on the art, but if I was, this would be a book that I would drop.

Rating 4.5/5

Captain America #3

cap 3

“Winter in America, Part III”

Written by: Ta-Nehisi Coates

Pencils by: Leinil Francis Yu

Inks by: Gerry Alanguilan

The Story So Far:  Hydra overthrows the US Government, led by…Steve Rogers?  Well, not Steve Rogers.  Captain America returned to overthrow Hydra, but the damage is done. People don’t trust Cap anymore.  Neither does his government.  With his support system dwindling, Cap turns to Wakanda for support and information as a new threat rises from the ashes of Hydra:  The Power Elite.

Spoilerific Summary:

In Alberia, Agent 13 is nearly ambushed by an escort arranged by Thunderbolt Ross, but she thwarts the attempt.

Meanwhile Cap is undercover in the American Midwest, trying to get a feel for who this new threat is.  He finds that a company known as Power Enterprises is picking up where Hydra left off, providing jobs and education and health care to those who need it most, forming a base of loyalty built on Hydra’s groundwork.

Steve later confers with T’Challa and Okoye, but they do not have any new information on Power Enterprises.  They do, however, locate a Weapon Plus lab beneath a mine in a small town Cap was visiting.  Inside is Zeke Stane, who tried to destroy Wakanda (see Coates’ first volume of Black Panther), along with several hundred Nuke clones.  Steve Rogers being Steve Rogers, he wants to save the Nuke clones, but Black Panther tells him that there’s no way to do so.

Cap, Panther, and Okoye breach the lab and fight a literal horde of Nuke clones.  In the scuffle, Cap is stabbed before a virus uploaded into the lab kills all the Nuke clones.  Okoye sees something on a screen and runs to tell Steve that Sharon Carter is in danger.

The issue ends as Sharon is interrogating the last surviving ambusher from the beginning of the issue.  She is interrupted by a hooded figure, who kills the ambusher by draining his life force.  The hooded stranger is revealed to be Viper?  Maybe?  Or it might be Selene.  Not sure.  Guess we will find out next issue!

What Works:

Relevant storyline:  A Captain America that no one believes in is a pretty powerful analogy for times that are definitely trying for the United States.  Cap is no stranger to political messages, though, from punching out Hitler to responding to the September 11th terrorist attacks on the US, Steve Rogers has remained an everyman superhero.  A man for the people.  And so he still is.  For ALL the people.

Intrigue:  Coates deftly weaves a web as the reader hangs on for the ride.  Much like his previous and current runs on Black Panther, there’s a lot of guessing to be had, and ultimately it will all pay off.

The Art:  The always amazing Leinil Yu turns in yet another solid issue here.  I wasn’t always a fan.  There was a time (right around Superman: Birthright) that I would cringe at the sight of Yu’s name on a cover.  I got over that, quickly, with his run on Ultimate Wolverine vs Hulk, which, while a sub-par—and often delayed—story, housed some of Yu’s best work.  Here, some 10 years after the end of that series, he is turning in work even better than his mid-2000’s art.

What Doesn’t Work:

Nothing.  This one’s is one of my favorite books on the stands right now.  It’s up there with Brubaker’s run on Cap already, and Coates’ run is only three issues in so far.  Political intrigue, prescient issues, and a Captain America that MEANS something.  I’m all in on this title.

Rating 5/5

United States vs. Murder, Inc. #1 (of 6)

murder inc 1

Written By: Brian Michael Bendis

Art by: Michael Avon Oeming

SPOILERS ABOUND FOR THIS ISSUE! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

The Story So Far:

Well, uh…that’s up for debate.  There doesn’t seem to be any concrete answer as to whether this is a continuation of the Icon series or a totally new story, so I’ll just treat this as the latter.

Spoilerific Summary:

Issue #1 opens with a man falling from a building, narrated by his daughter, who we discover is nine year old Jagger Rose.  The caption puts this eleven years in the past.  She’s telling the story of her dad’s death to her class.  The horrified teacher only has a moment to realize that this just happened days ago, when the class is interrupted by Jagger’s uncle, Jake.  Jake informs the teacher that he needs to take Jagger for some family business.  That business, it turns out, is to tell Jagger that her father was pushed off the building, he was whacked. And Jake has the guy who did it.  He offers Jagger the chance for revenge, which she takes even before Jake is finished saying the words.

Flash forward to a 14 year old Jagger accompanying her Uncle Jake on a hit.  He tells her that if she’s going to be an enforcer, she’s going to have to be good.  Really good.  She’s a pioneer, there’s no other female mod hit…persons.  Jagger would be it.  Jake sets her up for her first kill from a rooftop across from their target and talks her through her first kill.

Flash forward to “one year ago” which, if my math is correct, shows us a 19 or 20 year old Jagger Rose meeting with Don Bonavese, who appears to be in charge of the mob.  Jagger is there to make her bones.   She stands ready to engage in a hand-to-hand battle to the death with a mobster three times her size as the issue ends.

What Works: 

Bendis Being Bendis:  Back in 2000 there were two things that pulled me back into comics after a three year absence.  One was Chris Claremont on Uncanny X-Men.  The other was Ultimate Spider-Man, by Brian Michael Bendis.  Some people love him, some hate him.  I’m the former.  I’ll read anything he writes, and after reading Ultimate Spidey, I deep dove into Jinx and Fire and later Powers.  There was a time when I would pick up books just because Bendis’ name was on it.  I feel like this both hearkens back to his Goldfish-era days of crime comics and proves that he is reinvigorated with the move to DC.  In later weeks, I’ll be reviewing his Superman and Action Comics monthlies (both of which are just as stellar, but for different reasons), but for this week, United States vs. Murder Inc #1 is a fantastic reboot/continuation of a great concept: what if the Mob had won their war with the FBI in the 1930’s?

Oeming’s Art:  A little different than his style on Powers, but just by a hair, Oeming’s turned in some of his best work on this issue.  The action flows, and it’s always fun to look at. The rooftop scene where Jake is talking Jagger through her first hit is particularly good.

The Colors:  The coloring by Taki Soma is amazing, and really pulls the story together.  Blues, greens, purples, and reds highlight this issue, giving it a cartoony (but not TOO cartoony) feel.  You feel Jagger’s emotions in the scene where she takes her vengeance on her father’s murderer, accented by the blue hues.

What Doesn’t Work:

What’s Going On:  Well, frankly, it would be nice to know if this IS, in fact, a continuation of the previous series.  I suppose more will come to light soon enough.  It is Bendis, after all.

The Colors:  What?  Didn’t I just praise the colors?  Yeah.  And while they work, and beautifully so, I can’t help but wonder what this would look like as a black and white book.  Probably just the nostalgia talking.  So this isn’t REALLY a “What Doesn’t Work”, it’s more of a musing on my part.

Rating 4.5/5

West Coast Avengers #1

WCA 1

Written by: Kelly Thompson

Art by: Stefano Caselli

SPOILERS ABOUND FOR THIS ISSUE! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

The Story So Far:  Well…nothing.  This is the first issue.  However the recap page does tell us that Kate Bishop has moved to California to become a private investigator.  And she needs some back-up.

The oversized first issue opens with Clint Barton, in the first of many “talking head” style interviews, discussing Kate Bishop’s leadership abilities.  He tells the camera that they need only look to the Santa Monica Land Shark incident for proof.

In a flashback, we see Kate, Clint, America Chavez, and Kate’s boyfriend Fuse tackling a horde of quadrupedal great white sharks.  Nothing they throw at the problem works, until Kate figures out that if she can steer the leader back into the ocean, the others will follow.  She creates reins with an arrow and line and does just that.  More video interviews are intercut into the action, and really, the rest of the book.

Later, Clint convinces Kate that she needs a team, and she puts up an advertisement, which results in hilarious applicants, like Bread Man and The Dutch Oven.  Gwenpool shows up to invite Kate out for tacos and gets conscripted, and Quentin Quire buys his way onto the team with the caveat that his funding comes from selling out to a film crew, making a documentary about a super team that lives together.

Soon the new team is put to its first test in the form of Tigra—somehow now fifty feet tall and feral—attacking Santa Monica.  Kid Omega offers to shut Tigra’s brain down, but Kate declines; she is worried about ill effects on Tigra.  All the team’s efforts fail.  Just as Kate is about to give Quire the go-ahead to flip Tigra’s switch to “off”, a golden-haired surfer dude with a head about a size and a half too big shows up, plant’s a kiss on Kate (much to Fuse’s chagrin) and announces himself as BRODOK—Bio-Robotic Organism Designed Overwhelmingly for Kissing—and that he is here to save the day, as Gwenpool curses in confusion and we leave off until next issue.

What works:

The interviews.  I loved the Office and Parks and Recreation.  I love people talking to the camera.  It works here as well, for comedic effect as well as it’s traditionally expositional intent.

The Leads:  Hawkeye and Hawkeye.  I love them.  They are great characters, and I’ve been a fan since Fraction’s Hawkeye series.  Honestly, this is one of only two reasons I decided to pick up the book.  The other is Kelly Thompson.  I don’t know her work, and want to familiarize myself with it before the big Uncanny X-Men relaunch later this fall.

The comedy:  This is the kind of book that needs the jokes.  And they come fast and furiously.  I rarely laugh audibly at a comic, but Quentin Quire’s getting punched out by Tigra followed by his furious interview had me doing just that.  It’s well timed.  Except Gwenpool.  More on that in a moment.

 

What doesn’t Work: 

Gwenpool.  Told you we’d get back to her.  I dislike her.  Really, I do.  Of course, I’m not much of a Deadpool fan either, and she’s basically just a clone (not a literal one, mind you) of Wade Wilson, who is a clone of DC’s Slade Wilson.  A copy of a copy of a copy.  And just as boring as the first copy.  Sorry, Gwenpool.  You gotta go.

Other than that, this was a fun first issue.  Thompson’s comedic writing is refreshing, and Caselli’s art fits the bill.  I’ll be back for at least a few issues to see how this turns out.

Rating 3.5/5

Extermination #2 (of 5) Review

extermination 2

Written by Ed Brisson

Art by Pepe Larraz

SPOILERS ABOUND FOR THIS ISSUE, AND FOR ISSUE #1 OF EXTERMINATION!  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

The Story So Far:

Ahab makes his return to the Marvel Universe in spectacular fashion.  He shows up looking for Young Cyclops and murders Bloodstorm, (the alt-universe half mutant/half vampire Storm), who dies protecting Cyke, who then fends off Ahab.

Meanwhile, a mysterious could-be villain abducts Young Iceman and murders Cable.  The supposed baddie is revealed at the end of the first issue of this mini-series as a younger version of Cable himself!

Issue #2 opens with Young Cable abducting Mimic (Calvin Rankin) in a grocery store in New Jersey, telling him he needs Mimic’s “services”.

The action then shifts to the Xavier Institute where the teams are dealing with the fallout of last issue.  They assume that both attacks were perpetrated by Ahab, and Kitty suggests that they split into four teams and each team takes a Young X-Man to protect while the teams all search for Ahab.  Young Scott doesn’t like this idea and he storms out, followed by the other three time displaced X-Men, and is promptly attacked on the lawn of the Institute by Ahab and his hounds.  The X-Men respond, and Rachel Summers is wounded while Ahab seems to have converted Old Man Logan into one of his Hounds.  Logan turns on his fellow X-Men as the issue ends.

What works:

The humor:  More specifically, the lack thereof.  At one point, Bobby Drake (the older version) quips “great, more kid versions of X-Men.  What could possibly go wrong?”  And that’s it.  That’s all the humor.  And that’s all a story with this much at stake really needs.

The flow:  Brisson keeps the action moving swiftly.  The story is never boring, and there’s still mystery, which keeps the reader on their toes.

The art: Larraz’s pencils and inks are simply amazing.  There’s a two page spread early on in the issue when the X-Men are meeting to discuss their plan of action. That’s spread should be a poster.  Simply gorgeous.  Deftly merging action and quieter moments is not an easy task, but Larraz is up to the challenge.

The cliffhanger: I’m a sucker for a good cliffhanger.  I’m a fan of shows like 24 and Alias and Homeland, where they are used more often than Bendis uses one-word word balloons.  But a well timed, well crafted cliffhanger can make or break a story.  So far, Brisson has two.  And I’m hooked.

What doesn’t work:

Not much.  This story is clicking on all cylinders right now, and hopefully it will pay off in a big way when this is all done and we are heading into Uncanny X-Men #1.  I’m along for the ride.  Are you?

Rating: 4.5/5