Weekly Comic Round-Up, September 18, 2013 Edition

by Aaron Einhorn
Welcome back! If you’ve followed me here from Comic Hero News, or going even farther back to Underneath My Mask, than you probably remember that one of the regular features I had was a review of the comics I’m reading that week. Full disclosure: This is not everything I read, and it’s not everything that hit the stands this week. It is, however, the books I feel merit being talked about, either because they were awesome or because there was something really, really wrong with them.

So, here we go. What came home with me from The Laughing Ogre? Read on.

daredevil31_c01Daredevil #31
In an era dominated by big events (Yes, I’m looking at you Infinity, Forever Evil and Battle of the Atom), it’s easy to forget how good a stand-alone title can be, even when it exists within a larger world. Mark Waid has consistently been knocking it out of the park with Daredevil, and this issue is no exception. The Jester’s continuing plan to drive Daredevil to the edge of madness continues here as a racially charged trial (that in no way, shape or form bears a similarity to a recent “Stand your ground case”) comes to a conclusion and a riot erupts thanks to the Jester’s leaking of the names of the jurors involved.

Solid storytelling, spot-on characterizations and honest-to-goodness tension as we actually have to wonder if Matt Murdock will be able to defuse this situation, all with a chessmaster villain who is playing Daredevil like a pawn. This is when Daredevil is at his best. I don’t know that this is my favorite title this week, but it’s probably the one I enjoyed the most.

infinity3_c01Infinity #3
Hickman, Hickman, Hickman…

Infinity continues at a break-neck pace, with the Inhumans dispersing to the four winds (setting up Inhumanity, no doubt), the Illuminati stopping another incursion, Doctor Strange being compromised, Thanos getting personally involved, and the space-faring Avengers taking the battle right to the Builders.

And yet…

Much the way I felt during Fear Itself, this feels like an outline, not a story. Everything going on here is great, and epic, and sets up an awesome new status quo. But it doesn’t feel like the characters are actually a part of the story. Hickman needs a certain set of abilities here, but for the most part, the personalities of the characters just aren’t there. This isn’t completely true of course, Captain America has some good moments, as does Maximus, but for the most part, this story is too big to be about the characters, and I find that to be to the detriment of the story – especially compared to what Marvel is doing in their other big cross-over event right now (more on that later).

thunder2_c01T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2
It takes some impressive storytelling to make a reader feel sorry for the world’s strongest man, and yet that is precisely what is going on inside the pages of this book. Len Brown may be the one man in all the world capable of harnessing the Thunderbelt, but he’s still very much a schmuck and a schmoe and an everyman.

Which is made all the more obvious as he hangs out with NoMan (literally the smartest guy in the room) and not one but two more competent THUNDER Agents. Which would be bad enough, except for the fact that Iron Maiden is brilliant, cunning and competent in her own right.

What feels best about this title is that, as a fan of the old series, I recognize the tropes and ideas, but not so closely that I feel like I know exactly what is going to happen.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is probably the best comic that none of my friends are reading, and it’s probably my favorite superhero comic that doesn’t come from one of the Big Two publishers. You owe it to yourself to check this out.

superiorspiderman18_c01Superior Spider-Man #18
It is with an overpowering sense of shame that I must confess that, while I always found the character to be cool in concept, I never read much of Spider-Man 2099. He has a cool costume design and powers and personality that make him a great “Spider-Man” without just being “Peter Parker in the future.” But it never quite clicked for me.

Which doesn’t change the fact that I am loving watching him school Doctor Octopus on “how to be Spider-Man.”

One of the threads that has been consistently running through the pages of “Superior” has been seeing all the ways that Octavius is able to be a better Spidey than Spidey. Watching him succeed at things that Peter routinely failed at has been fascinating. But at the same time, if we’re ever going to get Peter back (and we all know that, eventually, we will), we need to see it fall apart for Octavius. Fortunately, that has started here.

Between seeing Liz Allen and Normie react with disgust towards Spider-Man, watching Horizon in chaos and “Peter” likely to get fired, and the growing resentment of the Mayor and in many ways, the city, Octavius’ charade is unlikely to last a whole lot longer. But the destruction of his carefully balanced house of cards looks like it will be glorious.

I’m in no rush to see this story end, because as much as I, too, want Peter Parker back, watching Octavius self-destruct has been too much fun. He almost doesn’t even need Norman Osborn to return, riding the glider of the Hobgoblin. (And am I the only one who is expecting to see Roderick Kingsley take a not-so-kind view towards Osborn’s portrayal?)

Finally, I have to give a call out to Octavius’ line when looking at Spidey 2099. “Is this cosplay?” I dunno, is it?

uncannyxmen12_c01Uncanny X-men #12
When last we left Young-Scott and Young-Jean, they had turned to the Uncanny X-Men for help in protecting them from the Future X-Men and the other X-Men who live at the Jean Grey School.

Even writing that sentence makes my head hurt.

Look, I am not the biggest fan of time-travel stories, but this has been done so well that it defies belief. Almost every member of the teams is solidly at odds here, and each and every one is acting perfectly in-character. And it’s not as simple as lines being drawn between the different “teams” either. Present-Scott wants to help the original team stay, but Magneto and Emma disagree (and Emma is not even pretending to hide the fact that her decision is partially based on not wanting Scott to moon over teenaged Jean). Meanwhile, Kitty and Rachel have opposed their team in wanting the kids to have the freedom to make their own choices, while Storm and Logan are the most vocal proponents for “Send them back.”

And the future team? They may be united, but I can’t help but feel like there is plenty they’re not telling the present members of the X-Men. Jean isn’t disguising herself as Xorn just for the sake of keeping her face hidden. There is something sinister going on.

But aside from a really compelling story, we’ve also got all of those little moments that make the characters come to life (and which Jonathan Hickman is sadly missing in Infinity). Look especially to Emma, the Stepford Cuckoos, Jean and Future-Jean and how they have been dealing with one another to see precisely what I mean.

We’re on Chapter Four of Ten, and right now, I am confident in saying that “Battle of the Atom” is one of the great X-Men storylines. It may yet end up replacing “The Dark Phoenix Saga” as my favorite, and that impresses me.

Meanwhile Batman Beyond Universe #2 continues the story of powerless older Clark Kent as he enters the Phantom Zone, Captain Marvel #16 addresses Carol’s memory loss and power fluctuations as Binary in a way that is marginally of interest to Infinity readers, but really pulls away from the story we were developing in this title, New Avengers #10 retells the events of Infinity #3 from the point of view of the Illuminati, Secret Avengers #9 shows us how Daisy was subject to the same mind-wiping technology as the Secret team, Thunderbolts #15 uses Infinity as a backdrop as Elektra, Punisher and Venom hunt down the hidden head of the mob families, and Ultimate Comics X-Men #31 puts James onto Tian as an escaped refuge, shows Kitty step down as head of Utopia to become a soldier, and officially turns Jean Grey into an outright villain.

Thoughts? Disagreements? Want to offer up ideas on what books you’re reading this week? Let us know in the comments!

Weekly Comic Round-Up, August 14, 2013 Edition

by Aaron Einhorn
Welcome back! If you’ve followed me here from Comic Hero News, or going even farther back to Underneath My Mask, than you probably remember that one of the regular features I had was a review of the comics I’m reading that week. Full disclosure: This is not everything I read, and it’s not everything that hit the stands this week. It is, however, the books I feel merit being talked about, either because they were awesome or because there was something really, really wrong with them.

So, here we go. What came home with me from The Laughing Ogre? Read on.

astrocity_3Astro City #3: “Mistakes”
Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson have been doing something remarkable with Astro City ever since the very first issue. To this day, the first story in Astro City tugs my heartstrings and has made the Samaritan one of my favorite Superman pastiches. So, was I worried to see the book moving to the Vertigo imprint? No, not really, but I did wonder where it was going to go. This issue is the second issue focusing on Marella Cowper, a customer service representative for the Honor Guard. The first issue showed how she inadvertently caused a massive war and battle in a small South American village, and this issue shows us how she tries to fix it.

As always, Astro City is about the human element to the superhuman tales, and as is not uncommon, our POV character is not one of the heroes, but an ordinary person caught up in the extraordinary. It should go without saying that this is an issue you would be well served by picking up.

avengersarena_13Avengers Arena #13
I was a huge fan of Avengers Academy, and so despite being unthrilled with the premise behind Avengers Arena, as the “spiritual successor” to that comic, I was committed to giving Arena a chance. I’m glad I did.

In this issue, Hank Pym and Tigra, the headmaster and headmistress of Avengers Academy, start trying to track down the missing students, based on a hunch provided by Molly of the runaways. We don’t actually get to see anything involving the Arena, but we do get a really strong investigative story as Pym consults with Captain Britain, Wolverine, S.H.I.E.L.D. and the parents of several of the “missing” kids, and we get to see just how well Arcade has covered his tracks.

It’s still a question what Arcade’s master plan is, but from this issue it’s clear that he does have one. Very solid read from Christos Gage and Karl Moline.

infinity_1Infinity #1
Marvel kicks off their latest “big event” with the return of Thanos, mysterious forces threatening the galaxy, and a cast that dwarfs most of the “event” crossovers.

I have to say that, as event comics go, this one is both grander and smaller in scope than many. Anytime Thanos appears it is something to take note of, but this book seems to be mostly contained to the Avengers titles. Considering that Jonathan Hickman is writing this title as well as Avengers, that makes sense – but it also makes me feel like this could have been restricted to an inter-title crossover.

Nonetheless, we actually get something kind of interesting here, and it helps justify some of the weirder character choices (Starbrand, Smasher, Hyperion) that we’ve been seeing in Avengers start to get used in the pages of Infinity.

Word has it that Infinity will also cover some of the ways that the timeline and continuity have been “broken” by some of the previous cross-title events, so I’ll stick around for that if nothing else.

In other words, the first issue of Infinity didn’t leave me overwhelmed, but it also didn’t leave me annoyed about spending $4.99 for the title.

thunderagents1T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1
I was just a young lad the first time I came across Wally Wood’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. At the time, the license was owned by First Comics, and in the intervening years, it’s moved around quite a bit, including a recent stint at DC Comics where Nick Spencer brought a new version of the agents to the modern era.

Somehow (I’ve missed the drama surrounding how), the license has moved to IDW, and Phil Hester and Andrea Di Vito have brought us a new version of the team. The comic seems to be taking place in contemporary times, but starting with a relatively young team of agents. Thunder and NoMan are a part of the team, facing off against Iron Maiden, and the issue begins with the Maiden having defeated Lightning, destroying NoMan’s body, and taking the Invisibility Cloak (again) and THUNDER (they aren’t bothering with the acronym’s periods within the pages of the book, so while should I?) forced to come to a new solution. That solution is the Thunderbelt, which will end up being worn by Len Brown. In this story, Brown is an ex-hockey player who has been serving as an oddly scrupulous leg-breaker for the local mob. Brown isn’t very smart, but he seems to be loyal and brave, and all but immune to pain, so he’s the perfect candidate for the belt.

We don’t get a chance to see the new Dynamo in action, much less see his initial encounter with Iron Maiden (which will, no doubt, turn romantic), so this very much feels like a “Part One” instead of a stand alone comic. I kind of miss the era when most issues of a comic told a complete story, but hey, I’m so happy to see T.H.U.N.D.E.R. back that I can’t possibly be an unbiased critic here. This isn’t the best version of the Agents I’ve seen, but hopefully it’ll be a more long-lived one than DC’s recent offerings. I know I’ll be buying the next issue.

uncannyxmen10Uncanny X-Men #10
Scott Summers and his team of X-Men (currently consisting of himself, Emma Frost, Magneto, Magik, the Stepford Cuckoos, a very young Warren Worthington III and several brand new mutants) are having an interesting time of it. While Summers himself is still wanted for the murder of Charles Xavier, he and his team are doing their best to find new mutants, save them from persecution, teach them how to use their abilities, and occasionally save the world.

Against this backdrop, Magneto may or may not be collaborating with Maria Hill and the new Mutant Liaison for S.H.I.E.L.D., Alison Blair, and the other heroes of the world, especially the Avengers, may still be trying to stop them.

I don’t know if I know who this version of Cyclops is. He isn’t the idealist I grew up with, he isn’t the militant I found myself puzzled by, but he’s an interesting guy.

Not a lot of action occurs in this issue, it’s more of a set-up issue for the return of the Sentinels next issue, prompted by Scott and team appearing at a pro-mutant rally in Ann Arbor, but it’s still a good character read. For people looking to jump in on Uncanny X-Men, this issue might not be a bad starting point.

Meanwhile, Green Lantern Corps #23 reveals the mysterious reason that the rings have been failing as we discover a threat to all of the major entities, Secret Avengers #7 has the attempt to assassinate the Supreme Scientist fail, Daisy get fired from S.H.I.E.L.D., and Mockingbird get abandoned, Ultimate Comics: X-Men #30 has an all-out war begin between Kitty Pryde’s Utopia and Jean Grey’s Tian, and in World’s Finest #15, Power Girl and Huntress face off against the New 52’s version of Desaad.

Thoughts? Disagreements? Want to offer up ideas on what books you’re reading this week? Let us know in the comments!