Mockingbird #1 — Writer: Chelsea Cain; Art: Kate Niemozyle; Colors: Rachelle Rosenberg
The Haunted Mansion #1 (of 5) — Writer: Joshua Williamson; Art: Jorge Coelho; Colors: Jean-Francois Beaulieu
This week’s Marvel debuts — Infinity Entity #1 continues Jim Starlin’s decades-long (as in, since the ’70s) chronicling of the adventures of Adam Warlock, Thanos, and Marvel’s cosmic characters; he’s been doing this lately in original graphic novels, so it’s nice to see this installment as a good-‘ol floppy comic. Davis and Farmer are a solid, veteran team (together with Starlin, the creative crew here represents over 100 years of comics experience), and watching them briskly and smoothly introduce the characters and situations, create the universe (starting at the Big Bang), make a quick stop at the origin of the Avengers, connect everything up to the last installment and then end on a confrontation/cliffhanger, is a pleasure. Mockingbird takes the opposite tactic of Infinity Entity: instead of presenting a galaxy-spanning adventure, it focuses just on its agent-of-S.H.I.E.L.D. title character, following her through a month’s worth of weekly appointments at a S.H.I.E.L.D. medical clinic, where she’s being tested for possible new powers. There’s a lot to like here — a great main cover by Joelle Jones; clear, good-looking, finely-detailed interior art and coloring; and a a clever story with a number of sight gags (especially in the clinic’s waiting room) and an intricate mystery (as they explain in the editorial material at the end, this is setting up a five-issue introductory arc whose next three issues will backtrack, show some of Bobbi’s missions, and fill in the blanks) — a successful first issue, made all the more interesting because it’s the rare mainstream comic about a female character whose writer, artists, colorist and editors are all women too. The Haunted Mansion mini-series, a product of Marvel/Disney synergy based on the amusement-park attraction, is considerably better than it might have been, thanks to writer Joshua Williamson’s experience with horror/supernatural books (he’s written Image titles like Ghosted, Nailbiter and Birthright), and the way artist Coelho gives the more-cartoony mansion set-pieces a gloss of spooky reality (his ability to draw grounded-looking people and still have them interact with fantasy elements reminds me a little of Sean Murphy); to its benefit, this goes more for adventure and suspense than humor or animation-style goofiness.
Doctor Strange #6 — Writer: Jason Aaron; Pencils: Chris Bachalo; Colors: Chris Bachalo with Java Tartaglia; Inks: seven different guys
Ms. Marvel #5 — Writer: G. Willow Wilson; Art: Nico Leon; Colors: Ian Herring
The Vision #5 — Writer: Tom King; Art: Gabriel Hernandez-Walta; Colors: Jordie Bellaire
These are the standouts of Marvel’s regular books for the week — Jason Aaron continues to be one of the company’s best go-to writers, as both Thor and Doctor Strange are engrossing, high-adventure stories with deep plots, vivid characters and inspiring themes. Of the two, Thor is a bit stronger in the story, because it’s got more complex characters: its protagonist, a courageous, noble 90-pound woman with cancer who’s also a totally kick-ass god; Odin, with his vast powers and even vaster cluelessness (although, as he shows this issue, there’s at least a little more to him than that); Loki, who walks the tightrope between good and evil so skillfully that no one, not even the readers, knows exactly whose side he’s on; and all the other Asgardians, powerful and immortal but also profoundly and irritatingly human, as gods are wont to be. Doctor Strange gets the edge on the art: Dauterman in Thor delivers everything he’s supposed to, and does a wonderful job, but Chris Bachalo penciling demons, strange dimensions and everyday people caught up in magical chaos is just perfection (even if Marvel always seems to assign a mob of inkers to his work); the story here, about a dimension-spanning cult whose purpose is to wipe out magic — and what happens when they do just that on Earth — is just getting started, and already looks to be one of the best involving the good doctor in a long time. Ms. Marvel is in the middle of a three-part story showcasing its comedy chops, as Kamala has used a couple of leftovers from an encounter with Loki to create clones (well, golems) of herself… but things quickly multiply, and suddenly there’s an army of her; all of this links up with her brother’s engagement party, and her regular school day, and hijinx ensue. Wilson, who’s won a bucketload of awards for this series, is very confident in her characterization and plotting right now, and Leon has an effective ability to draw both sly comedy and more-dramatic moments without sacrificing everyone’s basic realism; if you’ve been holding off trying this book, this issue is a good sampler of its many charms. The Vision isn’t so much charming as engagingly creepy, like a Coen brothers movie (Blood Simple, I think, as everyone misinterprets everyone else’s motives and actions to disastrous effect), but with the lead character’s suburban-dwelling synthezoid family in the starring roles; it shows off its noir influences this issue, as the normally-heroic title character crosses an ethical line to protect his family, and ends up on a slippery slope that will presumably lead to even-more-horrific events later (King’s already foreshadowed some of that, very effectively, and he pulls off another good bit here involving a long list of characters and events in The Vision’s interior monologue that seems random… until it doesn’t). This has been such a surprisingly-good series that King’s been tapped as the new Batman writer by DC — giving us all at least one thing to look forward to in that company’s coming “Rebirth.”
Spider-Man/Deadpool #3 — Writer: Joe Kelly; Pencils: Ed McGuinness; Inks: Mark Morales; Colors: Jason Keith
Two Spider-books: Amazing Spider-Man starts a new arc that focuses on the supervillain cabal The Zodiac (who’ve been lurking in the book’s background for awhile) and, as the cover suggests, offers a lot of James Bond super-spy international-intrigue stuff that’s fun and action-filled. Spider-Man/Deadpool has Kelly and McGuinness continuing to remind us why they were so good on Wade’s original series back in the ’90s, as the two main characters continue to bicker, quip and tentatively bond (through, in this episode, a Bolivian encounter with old Spidey villains Styx and Stone), although when Spider-Man finds out Wade’s taken on a contract to kill Peter Parker, the relationship’s gonna go downhill….
The Uncanny Avengers #7 — Writer: Gerry Duggan; Pencils: Ryan Stegman; Inks: Mark Morales and Guillermo Ortego; Colors: Richard Isanove with Matt Yackey
The last of the Marvels — both of these books are chapters in the Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill crossover, with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. the earliest chapter, as Coulson and his crew find out what Maria Hill’s been doing with her cosmic-cube-fueled super-villain rehab project, and end up having to track down a fugitive Rick Jones; meanwhile, in the next chapter in Uncanny Avengers, that team heads to the Connecticut town at the center of all the action, runs into The Wrecker, and ends up on almost everyone’s bad side. Saying any more isn’t necessary, since everyone reading this has either already decided to follow the story — because it’s crossing over into all the Avengers/S.H.I.E.L.D. books — or opted to sit it out (if you opt out, though, be aware that, after this is over in April, it’s leading directly into the summer Civil War II event, which is going to be even harder to resist…).
Action Comics #50 — Writer/Story: Greg Pak; Layouts/Story: Aaron Kuder; Pencils: Aaron Kuder, David Messina, Javi Fernandez, Bruno Redondo and Vicente Cifuentes; Inks: five different guys; Colors: Tomeu Morey, Arif Prianto and Wil Quintana
Catwoman #50 — Writer: Frank Tieri; Pencils: Inaki Miranda; Inks: Gerardo Borges; Colors: Eva de la Cruz and Blond
Detective Comics #50 — Writer: Peter Tomasi; Pencils: Fernando Pasarin and Scot Eaton; Inks: Matt Ryan and Wayne Faucher; Colors: Chris Sotomayor
As we mentioned last week, DC’s rolling out double-size 50th issues of all of their original New-52 books (at least, the ones still around) this month. Action is suitably epic, as Clark, his normal powers long gone and the new ones he’s gained by bathing in Kryptonite killing him, battles a powered-up Vandal Savage who’s captured the Justice League, pulled the comet that originally gave him his powers toward Earth, gathered allies in his far-flung descendants, and generally been a pain. While the overall story doesn’t conclude, there’s a huge resolution to the last year’s worth of Superman books, so you won’t want to miss it; it’s suitably big-screen and cathartic, although the full-page reveal of the rejuvenated Man of Steel is spoiled a little because he’s drawn kind of goofy-looking (and, with all of the artists listed for this issue, it’s hard to tell who to blame). Catwoman does end its recent ongoing story, starting with Selina in prison; Tieri and Miranda supply some typical woman-behind-bars stuff, then bring in two familiar guest-stars to resolve it, after which the identity of the mysterious bad guy who’s been out-maneuvering The Penguin is revealed, a seeming loss turns into a win, and the story concludes, as all good Catwoman stories do, with drinks with umbrellas on them, on a tropical beach. Predictable but OK, let’s call it. Detective also resolves its most recent ongoing story, with some deductive work and a lot of action from the still-cowled James Gordon, as he battles Gotham’s newest crazy person/serial killer; there’s also a 12-page backup story with an interesting premise: Batman’s 11 most curious cases, each told through a full-page splash of a current artist or team imitating the original, ranging from the Golden Age up into the ’80s (they use another two pages to explain all the credits, both original and modern, but I’ll leave it to the reader to discover those instead of trying to reproduce them all here).
Batman/Superman #30 — Writer: Tom Taylor; Pencils: Robson Rocha; Inks: Jay Leisten; Colors: Blond
Two other Batman books — Batman/TMNT continues to be a surprise hit (well, I was surprised…), as it wrings some obvious variations out of the crossover (Batman gets talked into eating pizza! Shredder teams up with Ra’s Al Ghul!), but does it so seamlessly, and with such obvious, energetic fun, that readers can’t help but get carried along for the ride. Batman/Superman #30 concludes a three-part story using the “classic” versions of the two characters (a Batman who’s Bruce Wayne, and a Superman with his regular powers) who’ve teamed up for an outer-space adventure involving a big green giant dictator and Lobo; Taylor turns in a very good script with some great moments, an obvious-only-in-retrospect plot twist, and an affecting resolution, while Rocha’s art handles a whole bunch of characters with skill, detail and some nicely-balanced composition; I had no expectations from this creative team, and they’ve turned in one of the best World’s Finest stories of the last decade here.
The Baker Street Peculiars #1 (of 4) — Writer: Roger Langridge; Art: Andy Hirsch; Colors: Fred Stresing
Two indy debuts this week — if you can call Disney “indy,” although this new strip collection is published by Joe Books Ltd., a Canadian company, and not by Disney subsidiary Marvel. We get daily newspaper-style cartoons, sometimes in one big panel and sometimes divided into as many as four, with a rotating cast involving Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, the Little Mermaid, Belle, Jasmin, Tiana, Merida, Rapunzel and a couple of others too; sometimes there’s a five or six-day continuity, and sometimes it’s just a one-shot. If that’s not enough to buy this for the child on your gift list (or your own inner princess), it’s also a flip book, with a nine-page preview of the Zootopia “cinestory comic” (which means they pretty much use the cels and story from the movie). Mebberson uses a shortened, semi-chibi style to make all the characters younger (although still recognizable and just slightly off-model), I’m guessing to avoid any sexualization of them, and she shows a love of classic Disney animation style in the Snow White sequences, particularly with the Seven Dwarves; her art, plus the chance to see the Zootopia stuff without braving the hordes of preschoolers in the actual theaters, makes this a good buy. The Baker Street Peculiars is a very British Sherlock Holmes pastiche, with a few twists; it’s written by the great Roger Langridge, who’s scripted (and, often, drawn) a number of the Muppets comics, as well as his own Snarked, and a great run of Popeye a couple of years ago. Langridge knows his classic kids’ writers, his Carrolls and Barries and Traverses and Loftings, and he gets a little of the flavor of a Jack Kirby kids’ gang in there, too; Hirsch’s art is good, although it veers between sort-of cartoony and really cartoony too much, but this is a comic you could give to anyone of any age and not be embarrassed about it (and be pretty sure they’d like it).
Harrow County #10 — Writer: Cullen Bunn; Art: Tyler Crook
Head Lopper #3 (of 4) — Writer/Art: Andrew Maclean; Colors: Mike Spicer
The other indy books I liked: Kennel Block Blues is a prisoners-on-Death-Row movie set in a dog pound (well, a kennel, since there are other species there too) where at any moment any of the anthropomorphic prisoners might be summoned to the gas chamber; it reaches its midpoint here with a Grant Morrisonesque twist (a kind of yogi ex machina), and is well worth reading. Harrow County has reached a respectable ten issues, and offers rural deep-South horror, with h’ants and water moccasins and witch’s cabins deep in the woods, and Tyler Crook art that’s gorgeously-colored, clear, precise and appealingly spooky as hell. Head Lopper is Heavy Metalish sword-and-sorcery, brightly-colored and violent and often funny and surreal, with some Moebius and some Lewis Trondheim and a little Brandon Graham all mixed in, and reading it will make you happy. War Stories is in the middle issue of one of its regular trilogies, this one about British gunboats patrolling the Channel and playing cat-and-mouse with German submarines during World War II, and it’s just as Frontline Combat-worthy as all of Ennis’s other battle tales: a rock-solid book with which to end this list.