Secret Wars: Civil War #2 (of 4) — Writer: Charles Soule; Pencils: Leinil Francis Yu; Inks: Gerry Alanguilan; Colors: Sunny Gho
Secret Wars: Future Imperfect #4 (of ) — Writer: Peter David; Pencils: Greg Land; Inks: Jay Leisten; Colors: Nolan Woodard
Secret Wars: Giant-Size Little Marvel #3 (of 4) — Writer/Artist: Skottie Young; Colors: Jean-Francois Bealieu
Eleven Secret Wars tie-ins this week, so let’s take them half at a time. Age of Apocalypse continues to be fun, at least if you were a fan of the original series (otherwise, it’s just another confusing Elseworlds-type story). Sandoval’s art has an, I assume, deliberate ’90s feel to it, with big heads, scratchy lines, busily-acessorized costumes and exaggerated weaponry (if it weren’t so enthusiastic, it would look like he’s doing a Rob Leifeld parody); if that’s not enough, how can you resist a comic whose cover makes Colossus look like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle? Civil War imagines a world where the heroes fighting over the Superhero Registration Act never reconciled, and split the country into a Tony Stark side on the east and a Captain America side on the west; I like the Yu art (and it harkens back to the original book’s era, now ten years ago, nicely), and Soule’s always a dependable writer, but I’m afraid it’s going to take all four of its issues to get to an obvious plot point — the heroes are all getting played by the Skrulls — that Stark only barely starts to figure out this issue. Future Imperfect continues to be a typical Peter David Hulk story (which is a compliment; the man wrote the character for over a decade, and it was never dull or predictable), with the Maestro trying to overthrow Doom by getting his mottled green hands on the Asgardian god-killing Destroyer armor; the one problem here is that, if Doom’s as omnipotent as other Battleworld stories have established, then he’ll just show up at the end and wave his hands and Game Over. We’ll just have to trust that David’s too canny to resort to that kind of Doom ex machina ending. No particular worries about plot with Giant-Size Little Marvel: it’s got one, involving elementary-school-aged versions of the Avengers and X-Men fighting over two new kids and whose clubhouse they’ll join, but it’s only a framework upon which to hang a number of funny routines and parodies, all courtesy of the amazing Skottie Young; his lighthearted humor and easy-to-like bigfoot cartooning style are a welcome antidote to the grim goings-on of most of the other Secret Wars titles. Guardians of Knowhere is an exception, with its Bendis/Deodato combination managing a good blend of grim and funny: it’s a Guardians of the Galaxy story involving a low-level loser bad guy who, over the course of a year, keeps getting beat up, but coming back stronger each time, and eventually becomes a real menace, and it’s worth reading because the creative team weaves such a smooth Star Wars space-opera-type tale, and offers the most appealingly-drawn and acting Rocket Raccoon ever.
Secret Wars: Red Skull #2 (of 3) — Writer: Joshua Williamson; Art: Luca Pizzari; Colors: Rainier Beredo
Secret Wars: Siege #2 (of 3) — Writer: Kieron Gillen; Art: Felipe Andrade; Colors: Rachelle Rosenberg
Secret Wars: Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #3 (of 5) — Writer: Dan Slott; Pencils: Adam Kubert; Inks: John Dell, Andrew Hennessey and Mark Morales; Colors: Justin Ponsor
Secret Wars: Ultimate End #4 (of 5) — Writer: Brian Michael Bendis; Pencils: Mark Bagley; Inks: Scott Hanna; Colors: Justin Ponsor
The second half of the Secret Wars books: Infinity Gauntlet is Thanos scheming, as always, to get the Gauntlet and all its accompanying gems, and the art and story are fine, but the huge powers involved always present a story problem, especially on Battleworld: Is this “the” Thanos, the one from the previous universe? If he has a time gem, why not go back to before the universes ended? How can a city this ruined be on Battleworld, and how can there be a Nova Corps when no one remembers outer space? Once the purple guy gets all the gems, presumably he’ll be a major factor in the main Secret Wars series, but, boy, does thinking about this book make my head hurt. Red Skull is much simpler: Magneto and the title villain teaming up beyond the Shield Wall, in zombieland, plotting to take down Doom and run things themselves; it’s fairly generic, although OK if you have a fondness for super-villain team-ups; its biggest potential problem is it’s yet another plot where Doom just has to snap his omnipotent fingers at the end and win (although, admittedly, that might make a cool Secret Wars final issue: page after page of all these guys showing up, and Doom casually blowing them all away…). Siege has Abigail Brand manning the Shield Wall and dealing with a prophecy from a time-displaced Kang the Conqueror that it will fall in three weeks, courtesy of that pesky Thanos; it has the advantage of a Kieron Gillen script, and he brings in some of his former characters like Leah (from Journey into Mystery) and Miss America Chavez (from Young Avengers); the Andrade art has a shadowy, painterly quality that pays off well in a couple of showy splash pages (including a double-page panorama of a massive attack on the Shield wall, and a last-page reveal of a combined character that’s clever enough to bring readers back for the next issue). Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows is another Elseworlds tale, an exploration of what would have happened if Peter Parker had stayed married to Mary Jane, had a child and decided that his family responsibilities trumped his superhero ones; it has the advantage of being written by longtime Spider-writer Dan Slott and being drawn by Adam Kubert, so it’s one of the better-looking books of the batch. Spider Island is by another veteran Spider scribe, Christos Gage, and looks at a scenerio where the fairly-recent plot involving everyone in Manhattan getting spider-powers — but then slowly mutating into giant, mind-controlled spider-mutates — hadn’t resolved successfully. It’s good enough, but has the added bonus of a continuing backup story about May Parker, done by the longtime Spider-Girl team of Tom Defalco and Ron Frenz; the many fans of that long-running but under-the-radar title should find that reason enough to buy it. Finally, there’s Ultimate End, where the original Ultimate Spider-Man team of Bendis and Bagley are crafting a finale to the last vestiges of the Ultimate Universe — and setting Miles Morales up to be a regular character in the “real” Marvel books after all this Secret Wars dust finally settles and everything relaunches in another month or two; that alone would make it one of the more important-to-continuity books of the week, even if the creative team weren’t such professional, entertaining storytellers.
Groot #3 — Writer: Jeff Loveness; Art: Brian Kesinger; Colors: Vero Gandini
A couple of non-tie-in Marvel books, for those sick of the not-so”secret”-wars — although Ms. Marvel has the “Last Days” banner, and has Kamala teaming up with her idol, Captain Marvel, as the earth faces destruction. There are some very nice character bits, as Carol tries to be a mentor even though the world’s ending, and Kamala is adorably geeked-out by her, but also suitably heroic, as they wrap up loose ends and bond. Great story and art, as always, for one of the best and most-talked-about new launches of last year. Groot, set in outer space, has no Secret Wars connection at all, which is a relief — but it does have the Big Guy teaming up with the Silver Surfer and his companion, Dawn Greenwood, and the just-cartoony-enough art and character-rich script do a good job of duplicating the Surfer’s own title’s brand of cosmic adventure and humor; fans of that book will want to read this one, too
Bat-Mite #3 — Writer: Dan Jurgens; Art: Corin Howell; Colors: Mike Atiyeh
Justice League: Gods and Monsters: Wonder Woman #1 — Writers: J. M. DeMatteis and Bruce Timm; Pencils: Rick Leonardi; Inks: Dan Green; Colors: Allen Passalaqua
A couple of DCs — Batman Beyond continues its switch in lead characters, with the time-displaced Tim Drake from Futures End taking over the cowl from the now-dead Terry McGinnis, and battling Brother Eye and his/its monstrous metallic minions; so far, it’s fast-moving and interesting enough, although I wonder if fans of the former series (or the cartoon) are irritated by its massive departure from the status quo. Bat-Mite continues to be moderately funny, and it’s wise to have its Bugs Bunny-like lead character teaming up with professionally-serious people like the Damian Wayne Robin. Having a magical protagonist means there’s little suspense, but the funny parts are OK — although the new-hero-team-up every issue may get old soon (next issue: Booster Gold…). Finally, Justice League: Gods and Monsters continues its series of one-shot origins by giving us a Wonder Woman who’s apparently a New God (she has a Mother Box), who gets stranded on Earth in the early 1960s, and ends up fighting a Doctor Psycho who’s a chemist experimenting with psychedelic drugs and founding a hippie cult. It’s fine, especially if you’ve seen (or are planning to buy) the DVD cartoon it’s based on, and don’t mind yet another reimagining of the iconic Amazon.
This Damned Band #1 — Writer: Paul Cornell; Art: Tony Parker; Colors: Lovern Kindzierski
A duo of indy first issues. Dark Corridor‘s Tommaso has been around about twenty years, and is probably best known for Clover Honey and The Horror Of Collier County; he’s got a clear-but-surreal style that reminds me a little of Gary Panter, especially in some of the toothy faces, and a precise sense of design (check out the cover), and both serve his crime/noir story well here. That Damned Band, set in the mid-’70s, imagines a pyrotechnic, Black Sabbath-like rock group that claims to be satanic, but really are just normal guys — until they take some weird mushrooms when playing at Budokan, and end up encountering an actual demon; this first issue is efficient at introducing its characters and setup, using some decent art effects, and ending on a cliffhanger that should keep most readers around for the next installment.
Airboy #3 — Writer: James Robinson; Art/Colors: Greg Hinkle
Deadly Class #15 — Writer: Rick Remender; Art: Wes Craig; Colors: Jordan Boyd
Minimum Wage #4 (of 6) — Writer/Artist: Bob Fingerman
Outcast #11 — Writer: Robert Kirkman; Art: Paul Azeceta; Colors: Elizabeth Breitweiser
The Spirit #2 — Writer: Matt Wagner; Art: Dan Schkade; Colors: Brennan Wagner
The Wicked and the Divine #13 — Writer: Kieron Gillen; Art/Colors: Tula Lotay
All nine of these books are worth reading, for various reasons. We Stand on Guard, by the author of Saga and Y, the Last Man, has a 22nd-century US invading Canada, who knows why, and is told from the point of view of the Canadian resistance; Vaughan’s got a clever, unspoken bit going where the troops use standard military procedures, the way they would against suspected hostiles in Iraq or Afghanistan, but seeing them used against (presumably) innocent middle-class white Canadians makes us root for the resistance. Well-drawn, with good character work and kind-of cartoony tech by longtime professional Skroce. Airboy is an adults-only meta-tale about its aging, addled Hunter S. Thompsonesque artist and writer trying to create an Airboy comic, and somehow pulling the character from his fictional timeline to their own; each side is first puzzled, then horrified, by the other. There’s some meta in Deadly Class, too — it’s your life in high school: translated to an academy for young assassins, involving murderous monks, berserk hillbillies and lethal infighting, but otherwise surprisingly the same. Remender has an essay in the back where he talks about working at a comic and pulp-and-paperback book store in north-central Phoenix in the early ’80s, run by the late Blake Shira, and that would be worth the $3.50 by itself to Valley readers, let alone the way Craig’s art keeps getting better, more and more stylized, with solid, expressive figures set against broad splashes of color and impressionistic backgrounds. The Fox has Haspiel combining superhero styles: the lithe, Ditkoesque hero and his family face blocky, Kirbyish villains, while the main bad guy armors-up like a ’90s Image character; it’s the conclusion of a five-part story whose idyosynchratic visuals and slightly-off-kilter philosophizing make it worth tracking down. Minimum Wage is a good introduction to Bob Fingerman’s New York-centric world, with its romantically-put-upon 20-something hipster cartoonist dreaming about his girlfriend problems; the dream landscape is a lot more fluid and richly-colored than the grid-layouted, monochromatic main story. Outcast continues to be Kirkman and Azeceta’s quietly-creepy exorcism book, with this issue flashing back to what happened the night the hero was estranged from his wife and daughter, and ending precisely on a first-act cliffhanger. The Spirit, two issues in, has only shown the title character in flashbacks; he’s missing, and his two sidekicks wander the city encountering old foes and friends, trying to find him. This looks set to go on for a while; fortunately, Wagner knows how to set up a long-term plot, and has a lot of experience with pulp characters. Schade does OK with the thankless task of following Will Eisner, although if there’s another arc after this one I vote for Michael T. Gilbert. War Stories is in the middle of a late-WW2 tale about a British unit against Nazis, with two of the Irish soldiers having a possibly-deadly connection; it’s automatically worth reading because it’s a Garth Ennis war comic. Finally, The Wicked and the Divine, Kieron Gillen’s story of pop-star gods who illustrate Neil Young’s “better to burn out than to rust” principle with deadly literal-mindedness, is offering guest artists in its current arc, and this issue features Tula Lotay, whose Supreme: The Blue Rose established her as a confident, striking creator, and one of the year’s best newcomers ; she makes an already-essential comic even better.