It’s a solid week from Marvel Comics as we ramble on about the books that need ramblin’ about. This list isn’t always about what’s the best for the week, but it’s the stuff we just had to squawk about. Luckily for everyone involved, we mostly can’t say enough good stuff about this week’s Marvel releases!
“My Bad Penny”
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: David Aja
Colorist: Matt Hollingsworth
Featuring some amazing full-page illustrations by: Annie Wu
Now that’s comics. Matt Fraction and company get experimental in this story about Clint Barton trying to help the beautiful femme fatale, Penny, steal a safe from the tracksuit Russian gangsters. Hawkeye #8 breaks every conceivable rule of storytelling and does it with panache. Every page features Aja’s hyper-stylized panels and unpredictable layouts while Fraction’s story is alive with terrific dialogue and multi-dimensional characters.
Fraction and Aja break their own narrative using full page illustrations by Annie Wu. These are beautifully illustrated mock-ups of old-school romance covers that serve the story as plot reveals or character studies, or serving as bridges between scenes. Think of them as chapter introductions done with stunning and sexy retro illustrations.
The story centers on Penny, who begs Clint to help her steal a safe from the Russian mob. She arrives in Clint’s apartment at an inopportune time because Hawkeye’s ex-lover Black Widow, ex-wife Mockingbird, and current girlfriend Spider-Woman are visiting. The three’s reaction serve as a hilarious story moment but also effectively reveal Hawkeye’s relationship with all three. This is the type of storytelling this book does, deep character moments through a simple turn of phrase or expression. Aja gives the ladies a retro mod look that serves the characters’ roots and gives the book its own artistic identity.
The heist is awesome, and Hawkeye tries to do the right thing, perhaps for the wrong reasons as he is clearly mesmerized by Penny’s never ending sexuality. But it’s his altruism that makes him a fish out of water. The two manage to steal the safe but Clint gets arrested. Penny is not grateful because Hawkeye read her pile of romance comics. What does that have to do with anything? Read the book.
Hawkeye is filled with quaint and human moments that when contrasted with the rest of the Marvel Universe make both worlds more three dimensional. Hawkeye is portrayed as a normal dude with abnormal skills who finds himself in fantastic situations on a regular basis. Fraction just nails Clint’s character, and it can be said without a moment’s hesitation that David Aja is the best illustrator and visual storyteller in comics today. The whole story is grounded in reality, but the issue’s conclusion reminds readers that this is the Marvel Universe and there are some very scary people not limited to reality now after Hawkeye and the safe. The stakes have been raised in the most delightfully experimental and compelling super-hero book in decades.
Review by: Marc Buxton
Young Avengers #2
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artists: Jamie McKelvie with Mike Norton
Color Artist: Matthew Wilson
Fact! I never read the original run of Young Avengers. Fact! I felt it was a blatant attempt to cash in on the success of Geoff Johns’ Teen Titans which was running at the time. I was, of course, not qualified to make such a judgment, as I didn’t read the book. Fact! I’m an idiot. My bad. In an attempt to atone for my foolishness, I’ve decided to give the Marvel NOW! Young Avengers series, by Phonogram creators Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie a look.
Oh, boy. What a look it is. This is one fantastic comic. I mean, I don’t want to spoil the rest of the review by jumping right into the unabashed praise so early, but sometimes, that’s how it’s gotta go down. From the first page recap/tumblr send-up (which is so perfectly dead-on), to the bizarre white-panel sequences where Billy and Teddy are exiled, to when they’re “sent to their rooms,” Young Avengers #2 just seems to utilize everything that you can do with a twenty page printed comic.
There’s a real sense of horror in Young Avengers #2. Not the kind of horror that involves blood or zombies or anything like that. When you’re sixteen, the adult world is against you. You hate your parents, but you also really love them and the thought of something happening to take them away from you, thereby denying you the privilege and security of hating those you love, is somewhere in your subconscious. Young Avengers #2 brings that right out and puts it on the page. It’s really kinda sad. Whatever it is that Wiccan brought back when he thought he brought back Hulkling’s Mom is pretty awful. And of all the horrible things we’ve seen it do, it can also make what every sixteen year old thinks (that the adult world is out to get you and they just don’t understand or care) kind of a reality. Including, y’know, people like Captain America or Scarlet Witch.
But it’s not all Twilight Zone and existential terror. There’s also Kid Loki to lighten the mood and keep the weirdness going (and remind everybody that this team needs new codenames…badly). And there’s Jamie McKelvie’s perfect grasp of body language and comic timing to kind of ground everything in “reality” even when there’s an inter-dimensional mom-monster warping everybody’s perceptions. This is good comics, folks. And I’d like to just give them a little carryover love from the first issue for apparently introducing The Ronettes to a whole segment of comic readers who hadn’t had the pleasure before. If that alone ends up being the legacy of Gillen and McKelvie’s Young Avengers, then they’ve earned my undying loyalty.
Avenging Spider-Man #17
Writer: Christopher Yost
Pencils: Paco Medina
Inker: Juan Vlasco
Colorist: Dave Curiel
One unexpected result of the Superior Spider-Man storyline is how comedic some of the stories have been. Otto’s selfish and evil nature is so exaggerated that every day interactions become hilarious as readers get to experience the mundane through the eyes of a sociopathic mad scientist. It’s like a Russian matryoshka doll of archetypes, as the mad scientist is hidden in the body of the hero.
This duality allows writers to put OctoPeter in some square-peg/round-hole situations that are as engaging as they are funny. Avenging Spider-Man allows writer Christopher Yost to explore the relationships and interactions Dan Slott doesn’t have time for over in Superior Spider-Man. This time around, OctoPeter is asked to babysit the Future Foundation kids, and indeed, hilarity ensues. It’s also interesting that this title doesn’t have ghost Peter along for the ride, so essentially, Avenging Spider-Man is the only title where Otto serves as the true protagonist.
OctoPeter’s reactions to the FF kids are hilarious, as the usually insular and angry scientist must endure the energetic but gifted young geniuses. Of course, Otto takes particular interest in Bentley 23, the Foundation kid who styles himself a mad scientist in training. It seems Bentley will create a device that will destroy all of time and space, so the Time Variance Authority must step in to destroy the kids before reality collapses. This is where the book turns from humorous to poignant as OctoPeter has an unexpected reaction to the idea of children being threatened. Slott has done an excellent job of exploring the theme of the hero within, and Yost continues it here. Otto fights with uncharacteristic fury to protect his charges, a fury that surprises even him. But it’s the vileness inside him that allows him to threaten Bentley into abandoning his experiment and save the kids. And of course, a Death’s Head appearance is always welcome, as the Authority sends the bounty hunter to do their dirty work.
Slott’s story is pretty loaded, so it is great that Marvel has a second book that focuses on Spidey’s interactions with other parts of the Marvel Universe. It doesn’t seem like Slott’s story has room for Otto’s adventures in babysitting, but it’s fun to see the Marvel Universe from Otto’s very unique and often narcissistic viewpoint in Avenging Spider-Man. My only criticism is that while the conflict is simple and effective, it’s mired in some haphazardly introduced fantastic elements.
Avenging Spider-Man #17 is the story of a villain who is changing in subtle ways and unexpectedly finds himself in the selfless role as protector. But the use of the Team Variance Authority effectively removes the story from anything we can relate to. The whole thing, even though it has Moloids, mutants, and a Dragon Man, is surprisingly grounded, but the book loses focus using a threat so unearthly. Yost never really explains what the Authority is, he just relies on the reader’s ability to make assumptions. Still, this problem is drowned out by the issue’s humor and heart. The art comes across as a bit muddled, but the character designs are spot on even if some of the action is confusing.
Review by: Marc Buxton
Uncanny Avengers #4
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: John Cassaday
Color Artist: Laura Martin
Warning: Major Spoilers Ahead! I still haven’t gotten used to seeing the name “Avengers” after the word “Uncanny” but no worries because this is the best post-AvX title. I’ve been a huge John Cassaday fan since his Captain America run and his pencils are elegant and beautiful, carving perfect lines out of our favorite superheroes. Rick Remender’s storytelling has raised the bar and despite Uncanny Avengers being slow to release issues (making right now a perfect time to pick up the first four issues), the tandem of Cassaday and Remender is worth the wait.
In the first three issues, the Red Skull has returned and World War II and the Nazi regime is just like yesterday. In anticipation of the Nazis fall, Red Skull’s Chief Science Officer, Arnim Zola, recorded his consciousness inside a cloned body to be awoken 70 years later. Mutants are sprouting up all over the world since the end of AvX and the Red Skull has again found a cause for his hatred. Like the Jews in WWII, Red Skull wants mutants eradicated from the planet. This time he has a secret weapon even more dangerous at his disposal: the brain of the deceased Professor Charles Xavier. After the powerful mutant Avalanche wreaked havoc upon New York City, the Skull and his team of S-Men have capitalized on the mayhem by using his new brain grafted psychic powers to take over the minds of the population.
Now, the Skull has taken control of Cap’s mind poisoning him with his rhetoric of hate. He does quite a number on the people of America saying the country has become “an uneducated population fixated on competition, material wealth and voyeurism. Violent monsters doused in antibiotics to offset their diet of sugary sweet drink and mounds of carcinogenic cow flesh!” It seems hard to argue with the slime of humanity that is the Red Skull as far as the state of our country goes and our steady decline in the 21st century of giving more attention to reality TV than our own children. But that’s the trap he wants Cap to fall for and while a salient point is made, this is still our country and we will not fall victim to hate. Remender does a remarkable job of laying out the parallels of mutants and anyone that we may see as “different” in the USA.
Finally a blast from Havok and an assist from Rogue distract the Skull long enough for Cap to get his wits about him. He levels the Skull with a blow from his shield. While he is down and crawling to a nearby puddle with Cap in pursuit, you realize that he isn’t inching towards just any puddle, he’s moving towards the S-Men’s Dancing Water as she creates a portal for the Skull on the water’s surface to transport him to another place. The fallout is huge as regular citizens have torn apart their fellow New Yorkers thinking that they were mutants under the Red Skull and Honest John’s influence.
In the epilogue, it is three months after the attack and Havok, Wanda, and Sunfire are on the run in the city. Wanda is reading a map and Alex finds the manhole cover they are looking for and finds the skeleton of Immortus, dead for centuries, with writing on the wall with a message for the new team. And then, Onslaught appears. Well, not just Onslaught, but with a little Red Skull and Charles Xavier thrown in for good measure. Whoah! I didn’t see that coming.
Review by: Jarrett Kruse
Uncanny X-Men #2
“Poink Is the New Bamf”
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciler & Colorist: Chris Bachalo
Inker: Tim Townsend
Last issue, it was revealed that Magneto is a traitor to the cause, reporting back to SHIELD about every move Cyclops makes. This role reversal introduced an unexpected dynamic to Uncanny X-Men, as Magneto is helping humanity against the underground brotherhood. The genius of this character shift comes in the idea that Magneto will still serve as an antagonist, but this time his traditional role is tempered by the fact that he’s acting altruistically. Bendis hurts his narrative a bit by not picking up where he left off with Magneto’s big reveal. Instead, Uncanny X-Men #2 opens with some effective soul searching by Emma Frost, who expositions her way through the fallout of Avengers vs. X-Men and into her engaging relationship talk with Cyclops. It’s interesting to see Emma in her weakened and uncertain state, without her psychic powers, and she fears the quiet of the world when not surrounded by the thoughts of others. Without her powers or characteristic confidence, Emma’s most noteworthy role is as a teacher. This is fascinating for a woman who once styled herself a queen.
Cyclops’s role as rebel leader is also explored in the scene, as Bendis characterizes Scott through quiet dignity and self-assuredness. He serves as Emma’s foundation through her uncharacteristic moments of weakness. The character moments are spot-on and engaging…there’s just too darn many of them. Bendis’ character work is so strong, and this being a new book, he needs to establish conflicts and motivations, but there is a sense he lingers too long with his characters. This critique may be unfounded, because when he does bring the action, it’s these character moments that drive his physical conflicts. But X-Men stories need to move, they need to be dynamic and pound with momentum. One hopes the action arrives soon or this book can become mired in self-importance.
While the pacing needs work, one place this book excels is in the sense of design. Just look at the X-Men’s uniforms designed by Chris Bachalo. Emma Frost, who once stood regal as the White Queen, is now decked out in black to indicate her insecurity. Cyclops uniform is also dark, marking his fall away from the light. Ironically, only Magneto wears white to mark the contrast with the rest of the team. This symbolic representation of Magneto standing on the side of the angels is a constant but subtle reminder of where Magneto stands.
Bendis needs to spend time establishing his new mutant characters, who all seem to talk with the same voice, which is not to say this universal voice is ineffective. Some of the banter involving the kids with Ilyana is hilarious, and Bendis does a great job of establishing Magik as the only member of this team with confidence and purpose. So much so that every scene she appears in has a sense of impending danger for all those around her. A few pacing adjustments and a little bit of clarity regarding the newer characters will allow this title to take its place alongside the, so far superior, All-New X-Men.
Review by: Marc Buxton