Whew — fifteen Secret Wars tie-ins from Marvel this week, plus eight third issues from DC’s recent new books, plus the usual other cool stuff. Let’s see:
Secret Wars: Armor Wars #4 (of 5) — Writer: James Robinson; Art: Marcio Takara; Colors: Esther Sanz
Secret Wars: Captain Britain and the Mighty Defenders #2 (of 2) — Writer: Al Ewing; Pencils: Alan Davis; Inks: Mark Farmer; Colors: Wil Quintana
Secret Wars: Guardians of Knowhere #3 (of 4) — Writer: Brian Michael Bendis; Art: Mike Deodato; Colors: Frank Martin
Secret Wars: House of M #1 (of 3) — Writer: Dennis Hopeless; Art: Marco Failla; Colors: Matt Wilson
Secret Wars: Howard the Human #1 (of 1) — Writer: Skottie Young; Art: Jim Mahfood; Colors: Justin Stewart
As usual, let’s break the tie-ins into halves. First, Age of Ultron vs. Marvel Zombies continues to not live up to its title, since at this point the two bad-guy groups have teamed up, and are threatening the sanctuary where the heroes are hiding; we mostly get character/backgrounds of many of the principle actors, especially the 1872 western version of Hank Pym, complete with a dancehall girl/gunfighter incarnation of Janet Van Dyne, and different timeline variations of Simon Williams, the Vision and the Golden Age Human Torch — all of which have historical connections to Ultron, and will presumably figure prominently in Pym saving the day in the big fight next issue. Pugh does a reasonable job drawing the dozens of characters involved, and Robinson’s always-smooth style makes this a quick and entertaining read, especially if you get all the little continuity references. He’s also the writer on Armor Wars, about a city where all the inhabitants have to wear Iron Man-like armor to deal with some sort of weird debilitating virus; rivals Tony and Arno Stark rule the city, and there’s a murder mystery involving Peter Parker, with everything in this issue gearing up for an inevitable giant robot-type fight in the climax next month. I’m still not sure that Takara’s art style is a good match for all the tech, but he does manage a nice-looking last-page splash with those giant robots, so I’m interested to see how he’ll handle all the action next time. Captain Britain has a number of advantages over some of the other Secret Wars books — for one, it knows the power of brevity, being only two issues long; it’s also got very good-looking art (in the Neal Adams realistic school) from the longstanding pencil/inking team of Davis and Farmer, and a Brit-centric story by Ewing that focuses on the Faiza Hussain version of Captain Britain, and manages a fun Judge Dredd parody. 1872 has a similarly short arc — it’s only three issues — and so this second one involves the town marshall — Steve Rogers, of course — going up against town ruler Wilson Fisk’s hired sharpshooter, Bullseye, with predictably tragic results; it ends with Tony Stark hammering something in a workshop; I think we all know where that’s heading…. Virella does a smooth, detailed and accurate-looking job on the western setting, enough that I’d like to see him on a Jonah Hex book some time. Meanwhile, Guardians of Knowhere has the Guardians facing off against Yotat, the wanna-be badguy who keeps getting beat, and then coming back; they’re joined in an uneasy alliance with a Nova Corps (consisting of Venom, Warlock, Captain Marvel, Iron Man and an actual Nova), plus an Angela Thor who has a theological discussion (with punching) with Gamora: so, pretty much all of Marvel’s cosmic characters all mashed up together, courtesy of Bendis and Mike Deodato, whose excellent art should make fans of all of those heroes happy. House of M is the debut of another short (three issue) series focusing on that timeline, with a Magnus who’s bored at being a ruler with no challenges, and dreams of becoming a warrior again; as with a lot of these books, your enjoyment will probably depend on how much you liked the original tale. So too for Inferno (also scripted by House of M’s Dennis Hopeless), which has a demonic Illyana, a Goblin Queen Madelyne Pryor and a Mr. Sinister all running around fighting the X-Men and each other; if you recall that period of the X-titles fondly, then you’ll probably like this too. That leaves the unlikely star of the week: Howard the Human, a one-shot Howard the Duck mirror image about a private detective named Howard trapped in a world of anthropomorphic animals; with a script by Skottie Young and the quirky, undergroundish art of former Phoenix resident Jim Mahfood (who’s been getting around a lot lately, with last week’s Tank Girl and his Miami Vice mini-series earlier this year), it’s a funny, cool-looking, hard-boiled romp.
Secret Wars Journal #4 (of 5) — (First Story): Writer: Mike Benson; Art: Laura Braga; Colors: Wil Quintana; (Second Story): Writer: Sina Grace; Art: Ken Lashley; Colors: Rachelle Rosenberg
Secret Wars: Secret Love #1 (of 1) — Creators: Various
Secret Wars: Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #4 (of 5) — Writer: Dan Slott; Art: Adam Kubert and Scott Hanna; Colors: Justin Ponsor
Secret Wars: X-Tinction Agenda #3 (of 4) — Writer: Marc Guggenheim; Art: Carmine Di Giandomenico; Colors: Nolan Woodard
The rest of the Secret Wars offerings: Runaways‘s penultimate issue sees the title kid crew — Cloak and Dagger, Molly from Power Pack, Amadeus Cho, Delphyne, Jubilee and one or two others — on the run from Dr. Doom’s school for superpowered children, having discovered some of its dark secrets; the script by Lumberjanes‘s Stevenson and the mangaish art by Greene continue to be its selling points. Journal, the anthology title, has two stories; the first has the Punisher and Iron Fist battling Ultrons at the Shield Wall, while the second takes place in an X-Men Years of Future Past timeline, with resistance fighter Kyle Jinadu recruiting Psylocke to help rescue his lover, Northstar, from the Sentinel concentration camps. Secret Love, another one-shot and another anthology book, features four short romance tales: a Daredevil/Typhoid Mary/Karen Page one by Michel Fiffe; a Ms. Marvel/Ghost Rider pairing by Felipe Smith (with a refreshingly unexpected ending); an Iron Fist/Misty Knight team-up by Jeremy Whitley and Gurihiru; a Squirrel Girl/Thor date by Marguerite Bennett and Kris Anka (the best of the lot, and essential for Squirrel Girl fans), and one about a insect Ant-Man (he’d be an Ant-ant, I guess…?) by the always-charming Katie Cook. There are also a pair of Spider-books: Spider-Verse is lighter in tone (by virtue of one of its heroes being the talking pig Peter Porker), although it’s got six versions of Spider-Man up against a seemingly-benevolent Norman Osborn (but we know how that always works out…), while Renew Your Vows has a Parker married to Mary Jane and with a preteen daughter; they’ve been hiding out for years after the super-villain Regent defeated all the X-Men and Avengers, but inevitably get drawn out and forced to fight him; with the Slott/Kubert team, it’s the closest to a regular Spidey story we’re likely to get this month. That leaves Weirdworld, which features Jason Aaron playing with a number of obscure ’70s/’80s books, as the barbarian Arkon teams up with characters from Crystar, the Crystal Warrior and Skull the Slayer, and has del Mundo’s brightly-colored painted art to recommend it, and X-Tinction Agenda, a very ’90s-looking book (I assume deliberately — look at that cover…), involving Genosha, Cameron Hodge and other X-characters from that era; like Inferno and House of M, the more affectionately you recall the original comics, the better you’re likely to enjoy this one. Finally, Loki isn’t technically a tie-in, but the final issue of his regular book, as he and companion Verity Willis aren’t on Battleworld but still have to deal with the end of the universe, in an affecting story by Ewing that ties up all the loose ends and leaves the Asgardian trickster god (now the God of Stories, which Ewing has cleverly argued is much the same thing) in a good spot for the next creators to take up his tale.
Black Canary #3 — Writer: Brenden Fletcher; Art: Annie Wu; Colors: Lee Loughridge
Doctor Fate #3 — Writer: Paul Levitz; Art: Sonny Liew; Colors: Lee Loughridge
Doomed #3 — Writer: Scott Lobdell; Art: Javier Fernandez; Colors: Ulises Arreola
Harley Quinn and Power Girl #3 (of 6) — Writers: Amanda Connor, Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray; Stephane Roux, Moritat and Eliot Fernandez; Colors: Paul Mounts
Robin: Son of Batman #3 — Writer/Pencils: Patrick Gleason; Inks: Mick Gray; Colors: John Kalisz
DC launched a number of new books two months ago, and this week eight of them have reached their third issue. How are they doing? Bizarro gets by on its appealing bigfoot art style and Corson’s scripts, which bring in just enough of the regular DC universe to make the story count (this issue sees the title clone and Jimmy Olson in a western ghost town, and encountering the spirit of Jonah Hex, plus his more-solid bounty-hunting descendent, Chastity); if you can get past the annoying Bizarro speech patterns and Mort Weisinger inappropriate-first-person-pronoun babytalk (plus the tendency to have a new guest star each issue, a pattern it shares with the similar Bat-Mite), it’s an enjoyable fifteen-minute read (special bonus: a page by the Brazilian-brother art team of Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba). Black Canary is denser, both in reading time and in intent, with its mysterious alien child (and monsters after her), Dinah’s globe-trotting government-op ex-husband, and various rock-band rivalries, but it’s got a fast-moving story (courtesy of a lot of panels per page) and appealing characters going for it. Doctor Fate has old pro Levitz to guide its story, with a reluctant rookie hero fighting ancient Egyptian chaos deities intent on destroying the world (no pressure…), plus the art of Sonny Liew, another artist with a cartoony style who’s good at melding it with the suspenseful, occult goings-on. Doomed, meanwhile, seems more sure of its footing after a slow couple of initial issues, with its Hulk-like teen facing off against a pint-size bounty hunter and learning a little more about his transformations. Green Lantern: Lost Army benefits from being a known quantity: if you liked the previous Green Lantern Corps book, this is pretty much the same, with John Stewart, Guy Gardner and a number of other familiar faces. The same’s true of Harley Quinn and Power Girl: it’s just an extended story of the regular book, with Harley in space and Kara added, so all the fans of the usual title (and there are a lot of them) should go for this just as much. Martian Manhunter, on the other hand, is aiming for something more than business as usual, with the outline of its arc only visible with this third issue: with Martians invading the earth, threatening to overwhelm him and use him as a weapon, the Manhunter “dies,” by scattering his consciousness around the globe in a way that’s both true to earlier stories and sets up a new ongoing battle and quest. It’s clever, and the story and art are at a high level, close to the classic ’90s version by John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake that’s set the standard for Manhunter stories ever since. That leaves Robin, with Damian on a quest of his own, and writer/artist Gleason seems to be relaxing into the book now, with both more humor and more drama in the story, and art that’s getting more confident and polished with each issue; this one’s a good place to check in and see how far he’s come.
Secret Six #5 — Writer: Gail Simone; Art: Dale Eaglesham and Tom Derenick; Colors: Jason Wright
Superman/Wonder Woman #20 — Writer: Peter Tomasi; Pencils: Doug Mahnke; Inks: Jaime Mendoza and Sean Parsons; Colors: Wil Quintana
A few other DC books: Justice League is in the middle of one of those Geoff Johns widescreen epics with lots of moving parts — Darkseid both attacking and being attacked; Superman and Lex Luthor trapped on Apokolips; Batman in the Moebius chair — and so is hard to pass up (although someone needs to explain to its writers and editors the difference between “strait” and “straight”), while Secret Six, in the penultimate installment of its debut story, explains and reveals a number of plot elements, reintroduces some old friends in surprising ways, and gears up for a big fight, all with the trademark Simone combination of humor, horror and psychopathic psychology. Superman/Wonder Woman is this week’s installment of the new normal for Clark Kent, and is mostly a conversation between him and the President; having him de-powered and pursued by the government continues to energize the franchise, and shake it out of its normal routines — something more old-time standards could use right now.
Island #2 — Creators: Various
Astro City #26 — Writer: Kurt Busiek; Art: Brent Anderson; Colors: Alex Sinclair
Groo: Friends and Foes #8 (of 12) — Story/Art: Sergio Aragones; Words: Mark Evanier
Trees #12 — Writer: Warren Ellis; Art/Colors: Jason Howard
Everybody else: Archie, with this second issue of its relaunch, gets in some good traditional slapstick comedy despite its new look, with Waid and Staples bringing the Riverdale redhead into the 21st century with skill and grace. Island is a wonder: a bigger-than-normal anthology in both size and page count (over 112 pages and an 11 x 7 form that’s just enough larger than a regular comic to give the art room to breathe) that’s a cross between Heavy Metal and Dark Horse Presents, put together by the indy dream team of Brandon Graham and Emma Rios. Contributors get all the space they need for their two and three-part tales; Ludrow’s “Dagger Proof Mummy” conclusion clocks in at almost forty pages, for example, as does Rios’s “I.D.,” with twenty pages from Simon Roy and smaller contributions from Will Kirkby, Miguel Alberte Woodward and Robin Bougie. These are immersive stories, full little comics worlds, and while everyone’s style is different they share an obsessive quality and vision; at $7.99 this is twice the cost of a normal comic, for four times the content, and is by far the best bargain of the week. Astro City, meanwhile, celebrates its 20th anniversary with a stand-alone story by the regular team of Busiek and Anderson that hearkens back to its very first issue; Groo continues its series of stories showcasing the disaster-prone barbarian’s many supporting characters, with this issue involving Weaver and Scribe, Sergio Aragones’s thinly-disguised avatars of the book’s writer and penciller, Mark Evanier and Stan Sakai; Stray Bullets offers a dreamlike interlude from its looks-like-it’s-about-to-be-very-bloody main story, with elementary-school versions of its main characters and a couple of Amy Racecar appearances; Trees, at a dozen issues, shows no signs of slowing down, with its NYC and archeological-dig settings getting the spotlight this issue, and its eerie sf elements fading into the background in favor of very-human interactions. All four of these books are well-regarded, established franchises by top-tier creators, and well worth investigating if you want to broaden your comics horizons beyond the standard superhero fare.