This yearly dose of new Hernandez Brothers’ work is always cause for celebration — very few creators can say they’ve been chronicling their creations’ lives for thirty years, aging them in real time (you’d have to go to daily newspaper strips like Gasoline Alley or For Better or for Worse to see anything similar, and neither of those is still publishing new material), and both brothers are still capable of tremendous storytelling. Gilbert’s the more operatic, as the many descendants of his Palomar character Luba follow film careers (which lets him go off on sf/B-movie riffs), get into bad relationships, and navigate the modern world, sometimes tragically; then again, he’s always been the more unrestrained of the two (his current monthly comic, Blubber, is all weird sf/X-rated id, psychotherapy accomplished in pencil and ink). Jaime contributes two stories, the last looking in on Maggie and Hopey, and as usual he’s a quieter but more disciplined creator; he can make you smile, and then with a few well-placed words and gestures effortlessly break your heart.
Spider-Man/Deadpool #2 — Writer: Joe Kelly; Pencils: Ed McGuinness; Inks: Mark Morales; Colors: Jason Keith
Ms. Marvel #4 — Writer: G. Willow Wilson; Art: Nico Leon; Colors: Ian Herring
All-New Hawkeye #4 — Writer: Jeff Lemire; Art: Ramon Perez; Colors: Ian Herring with Ramon Perez
Old Man Logan #2 — Writer: Jeff Lemire; Art: Andrea Sorrentino; Colors: Marcelo Maiolo
All-New All-Different Avengers #7 — Writer: Mark Waid; Art: Mahmud Asrar; Colors: Dave McCaig
The Ultimates #4 — Writer: Al Ewing; Art: Kenneth Rocafort; Colors: Dan Brown with Kenneth Rocafort
All-New Wolverine #5 — Writer: Tom Taylor; Art: David Lopez and David Navarrot; Colors: Nathan Fairbairn
Guardians of the Galaxy #5 — Writer: Brian Michael Bendis; Art: Valerio Schiti; Colors: Richard Isanove
Weirdworld #3 — Writer: Sam Humphries; Art: Mike Del Mundo; Colors: Mike Del Mundo with Marco D’Alfonso
Lots of new Marvel books — a baker’s dozen — so to save time let’s take them as one big group. Deadpool #7’s a $9.99 anniversary issue (plus, movie, and who would have thought an R-rated Wade Wilson flick would end up getting rave reviews?), so besides the regular story from the regular creative team, we get six other tales, each ten pages, spotlighting one of Deadpool’s Merc Squad: Terror by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook; Stingray from Tim Seeley and Mike Norton; Slapstick from Ben Acker and Ben Blacker (those are the two writers listed, but those names look sketchy to me…) and Danilo Beyruth; Masacre by Mike Hawthorne and Terry Pallot; Foolkiller by Amy Chu and Emilio Laiso; and Solo by Duggan and Phil Noto. The other Deadpool comic, Spider-Man/Deadpool #2, is by Wade’s original ’90s-era creative team; Kelly was always effective at balancing the comedy with enough angst to make us care about the character, and he’s very good at the byplay between the upright Spidey and the more morally-pliable Wade; given that the latter has just accepted a contract on the man he thinks is the former’s boss — Peter Parker — there should be enough hi-jinx and action to sustain this book for at least a couple more issues. Ms. Marvel continues to be the least-changed relaunched book, since Marvel obviously didn’t want to mess with the qualities that had made it a hit; this issue starts with a five-page scene at the Khan household that shows how good Wilson is at making her Muslim characters, foreign to many readers, seem funny, relatable and normal (it’s no accident that she’s already won a couple of awards for it), and then gets into a new plot about Kamala having to juggle family, school, and Avengers-level super-heroing without going crazy: a great jumping-on point for new readers. Totally Awesome Hulk continues to be, like Superior Spider-Man, a much better-than-expected take on what looked like a stupid idea (make Amadeus Cho the Hulk) — but we shouldn’t be surprised, given that Greg Pak first made his reputation by taking an even dumber-sounding idea (the Hulk acting like Conan the Barbarian on an alien world? Really?) and turned that into a long-running hit; mix in the Frank Cho art, and a big fight with Fin Fang Foom, and you’re good to go. Hawkeye continues its Jeff Lemire plotting experiments — this issue mixes flashbacks to Kate’s childhood with present-day swashbuckling by Clint, as he tries to rescue the weird Inhuman big-brained kids they’ve all been chasing — with artist Perez doing his usual good job of creating different styles to illustrate the diverse time periods. Old Man Logan‘s second issue has the older Wolverine, trying to make sure that his dystopian future doesn’t come to pass on his new Marvel-Earth home, looking to take out the Hulk, only to find that the big green guy isn’t Bruce Banner any more; Sorrentino’s expressionistic, dark-toned art, all shadows and pouring rain, gives it some emotional heft. All-New All-Different Avengers starts with a classic Silver-Age-situation cover — Ms. Marvel gets kicked off the team! Oh noes! — and then parlays it into a Dark Vision story, with lots of the usual well-drawn action from Asrar and compelling characterization from Waid; meanwhile, The New Avengers wraps up its first arc and, for the first time, has Ewing seeming like he’s comfortable with the group, as he juggles hidden elder-god threats along with future and present-day versions of the team clashing, and ends up with a satisfying, unexpected resolution and a genuine happy ending. Ewing also scripted Ultimates #4, and that title continues to be his version of a cosmic/high-concept book, as the team ventures completely outside of space and time to find elements of the Blue Marvel’s past, and we get an origin story of sorts; Rocafort’s art, reminiscent of Leonil Francis Yu’s in its precise, fussy detailing, manages a good balance between the multiversal and the merely-human aspects of the tale. All-New Wolverine guest-stars the Wasp, as she and Laura go all Fantastic Voyage to try to combat the nanites killing X-23’s clones; David Lopez’s art, with his fascinating Frank Quitely-ish faces, keeps me coming back to this title. All-New X-Men also features Laura, as she revels in her duties as the new Wolverine, and they get in the way of her relationship with the Angel; when the two of them face the Blob, her over-confidence gets the best of her and things look bad — but, then, that’s the soap-opera nature of comics, and why we have to keep getting a new fix of them every few weeks. Brian Michael Bendis knows that quite well, of course, and his and Valerio Schiti’s Guardians of the Galaxy does an effective job of moving the characters around, wringing various changes out of them (Peter’s the King of Spartax! The Thing and Venom are on the team!) and, eventually, getting everyone back to their default settings and on the spaceship, ready for another adventure. That leaves Weirdworld, a relaunch without much purpose (was anyone actually crying out for a return of this Tolkien/Alice in Wonderland mashup?), but after three issues del Mundo’s Bill Sienkiewicz-like art, and Humphries’ everything-but-the-kitchen-sink plots (ghost robots, female watchers, old Crystar characters and flying-cat wizards, to name but a few) have made it surprisingly hard to resist.
Gotham Academy #15 — Writer: Brandon Fletcher; Pencils/Colors: Adam Archer; Inks: Sandra Hope (Additional art by Zac Gorman, Eduardo Medeiros and Rafael Albuquerque, and Mingjue Helen Chen
Batman and Robin Eternal #19 — Story: James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder; Script: Tim Seeley; Pencils: Paul Pelletier; Inks: Tony Kordos; Colors: Rain Beredo
Batman: Arkham Night #1 (of 1) — Writer: Tim Seeley; Pencils: Matthew Clark; Inks: Wade von Grawbadger; Colors: Rob Schwager
Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #3 (0f 6) — Writer: James Tynion IV; Art: Freddie E. Williams II; Colors: Jeremy Colwell
Seven Batman-related books in one week; DC can’t get a lot of traction with many of its characters, but it sure knows how to pump out books about the hot ones. Batman itself has been the franchise-maker, as Scott Snyder’s been on it from its new-52 beginning (regular artist Greg Capullo isn’t on board for this issue, but that’s because he’s gearing up for the extra-sized #50 next month), and in this issue he wrings a lot of pathos out of the new, normal Bruce Wayne’s willingness to sacrifice everything to save his city, with Alfred and Julie Madison getting a particularly poignant scene, and the stage being set for the blow-out finale in a couple of weeks. Gotham Academy is the opposite, not a huge crowd-pleasing hit but a quirky YA title with a confirmed cult following; this issue offers a number of indy-flavored guest creators, as a framing sequence allows the characters tell stories about a faculty party (written and illustrated by the Richard Sala-like Zac Gorman), a D&D fantasy (scripted by Eduardo Medeiros, with chameleon-like art, both cartoony and comic-book-realistic, by Rafael Albuquerque), and a short closer featuring Ham, the dog (by Mingjue Helen Chen); the mixture of styles and themes is a typical experiment by this book, which has never been afraid to take chances — and, just as typically, it pays off nicely. With Batman and Robin Eternal, I have to confess, I have no idea what’s going on — the disadvantage of a weekly comic, since if you miss one or two of the early issues it’s very easy to just give up. The three writers are pretty much the top three Bat-scribes right now, and Pelletier’s a decent down-the-middle superhero artist, but trying to parse Dick Grayson, Jason Todd and Tim Drake versus someone named “mother” who’s turning kids into adult-killing zombies… eh, whatever. Batman/Superman pivots away from the depowered-Clark and Gordon-Batman characters of its last few issues (since both of those stories look to be ending in a month or two in the characters’ own books anyway) and instead gives an old-fashioned World’s Finest teamup, with murder on the moon, Superman rescuing a Kryptonian trapped near the sun, and Batman vs. Lobo; it’s nice to see these more-familiar, and more-intimidating, versions of the heroes again. Batman: Arkham Knight is actually a Batgirl origin story, complete with a Harley Quinn origin too, set in the Arkham Knight universe; that’s a hard premise to screw up, and they don’t. Similarly, Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pretty much writes itself, as the Shredder and the Penguin team up (with Cobblepot replaced by a similarly iconic villain — no, not the Joker — near the end), and Batman and the Turtles enter the actual team-up phase of the plot after a couple of issues of setup. That leaves Batman ’66 Meets the Man From U.N.C.L.E., which is of mild nostalgic interest to people over sixty years old, but doesn’t present much of a reason for anyone younger to read it — except for Jeff Parker’s ability to ape the dialogue and style of the Batman TV show, and the chance to see Michael Allred’s covers.
Harley’s Little Black Book #2 — Writers: Amanda Connor and Jimmy Palmiotti; Art: John Timms and Mauricet; Colors: Hi-Fi
The Legend of Wonder Woman #2 (of 9) — Writer/Pencils: Renae de Liz; Inks/Colors: Ray Dillon
A few more DC books, all involving female heroes. Black Canary, after its big first-arc climax last issue, starts this issue with everyone worried about a vanished Dinah; it turns out she’s been kidnapped by some kind of martial-arts death cult (yes, we all hate when that happens…), and forced to fight in an arena. She ends up teaming up with a similarly-captured Vixen; the story’s OK, although the art’s a comedown from the experimental, energetic work of Annie Wu last time. Harley’s Little Black Book is a Harley/Green Lantern team-up (she ends up with red and black Lantern rings, which complement her own color scheme but, when combined on her finger, send her even more over-the-top than usual), and the regular HQ writing team of Connors and Palmiotti makes sure it’s as fun as the primary book, and fits into its continuity too. Legend of Wonder Woman is a nine-issue digital-first origin issue, with a teen Diana getting secret warrior training to combat a growing threat facing Paradise Island. It’s another comic aimed at the YA audience, and good for it; with the Amazon princess about to get a much higher profile, thanks to the Batman V Superman movie, it makes sense to have stories about her that can attract that group of potential fans.
Badger #1 — Writer: Mike Baron; Art: Jim Fern; Colors: Paul Mounts
Jonesy #1 (of 4) — Writer: Sam Humphries; Art: Caitlin Rose Boyle; Colors: Mickey Quinn
A trio of indy first issues — King’s Road is one of those my-parents-are-actually-royalty-from-a-magical-alternate-reality stories, with elements of Narnia, Tolkien and British myth mixed together; it’s a little too enamored about its derivative world-building, and the kids take forever to get up to speed on the concept (and its Big Bad is an evil queen named “Malicia,” which makes me think of Jessica Jones and how they all make fun of the name “Killgrave”), but it’s also got 48 pages of story for $3.99, and if you get past the bumpy spots there’s a decent story in there somewhere. Badger is the fifth or sixth revival of Mike Baron’s ’80s character, a vet with multiple-personality disorder and insane martial-arts skills; in this version, he was in the military for Iraq/Afghanistan instead of Vietnam. Older fans will find this very familiar ground, and on a slow boil: by the end of the issue, he’s just run into his future boss, Ham, a druid/weather wizard, and hasn’t even put on the costume yet. Baron’s an acquired taste (like Bill Willingham, he has an odd-but-interesting take on how the world works, and a keen eye for combat strategy), but grows on you if you let him, and new readers may find that they like this book if they give it a chance. Jonesy is about a high-school misfit, the girl who’s the narrator and title character, who’d have a Goth outlook except that she’s somehow developed the ability to make anyone fall in love with anyone else. That magical realism, the real-sounding dialogue and the cartoony modern-anime art manage to get this into Scott Pilgrim territory a couple of times — reason enough to keep reading it, and see if it develops any of that potential.
Tuki: Save the Humans #4 — Creator: Jeff Smith
Low #11 — Writer: Rick Remender; Art: Greg Tocchini; Colors: Dave McCaig
Injection #7 — Writer: Warren Ellis; Art: Declan Shalvey; Colors: Jordie Bellaire
All the other indy books — Jughead keeps benefiting from its clever Zdarsky script, as Jones sticks it to the Man, in the form of an authoritarian new principal who has mysterious, and ominous, plans for Riverdale High; Erica Henderson’s energetic and funny/dramatic art seals the deal. Tuki has been very slow in coming out, but it’s Jeff Smith, the creator of Bone and RASL, doing a dawn-of-man quest/adventure story; what’s not to like about that? Low goes in the opposite direction: it’s a far-future tale about a humanity that, with its sun slowly expanding and cooking the planet, has moved to the ocean depths to survive. Remender’s got a theme of stubborn hope in the face of despair, which requires that his heroine keep getting her head handed to her, but her persistence, the intricate relationships of the other characters, and, especially, the warm, inviting Tocchini art, make this worthwhile. Injection is Warren Ellis writing about a sentient AI program that mimics the effects of magic, and the group that, having let it loose in the world, is now trying to deal with it. The Shalvey art is always a plus; this issue is early in the book’s second arc, so nothing awe-inspiring happens, and Ellis doesn’t give him any big panels to work with — but there are the typical interesting people and solid character dynamics, and they’re enough (if you’re a new reader, starting with the first trade is probably better, though). Ellis is also writing Dynamite’s new James Bond book, and Britishers always seem to connect to 007 better; Ellis’s knowledge of tradecraft, and his and artist Masters’s ability to choreograph clear, fluid fight scenes, make this a fun read.