X-Men: Grand Design, a cool, addictive surprise, comes from Marvel’s hiring Ed Piskor, creator of the Hip Hop Family Tree comic, to tackle an even more tangled history: The X-Men. The result is six forty-page issues, using aged paper and lurid colors to present a mashup of 1940s science-fiction-comic style and underground art (he’s worked with Harvey Pekar and Jay Lynch), to remix and retell the group’s history, using as source material the first 300 issues of Uncanny X-Men. Mind you, it’s not as simple as starting with the story in X-Men #1; no, it’s meant to assemble all the bits and pieces and retcons and clues about the characters’ histories from all 300 of those comics into a coherent, chronologically-told story — in fact, by the time this week’s debut has started with the early-’40s Human Torch/Sub-Mariner fight that kicks off a worldwide fear of mutants, covered Xavier and Magneto’s early years (including scenes like Charles’ first encounter with the Shadow King and a young Storm), and chronicled the original teen members getting recruited, one by one, it’s only just made it up to that iconic 1963 first issue. Piskor is both hugely talented and a deep-seated fanboy; he knows this stuff deeply enough to be able to craft a narrative out of all those jigsaw-puzzle pieces, and he’s got the energetic, offbeat style to remind us what it was like to encounter all those garishly-costumed, weird characters when we were kids. Buy this comic — there’s nothing else out there like it.
Tales of Suspense #100 — Writer: Matthew Rosenberg; Art: Travel Foreman; Colors: Rachelle Rosenberg
Marvel Two in One stars the Thing and the Human Torch. While it’s a logical title (the original MTIO was a ’70s/’80s Thing team-up series), don’t let it fool you: this is a Fantastic Four comic. Ben and Johnny think Reed, Sue and the kids are dead (Ben vaguely remembers their ship breaking up in Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Wars #1, but apparently nothing after that), and are trying to cope separately but realize they have to do it together; Spider-Man and the kinda-sorta-reformed Doctor Doom play major roles. Zdarsky, whose light-hearted run over on Spectacular Spider-Man has the humor dial turned up to 8, brings it down to maybe a 5 here, and the story’s stronger for it; he’s got a good handle on the characters’ voices, too. Betcha within a year or two this becomes the vehicle for bringing everyone back and restarting Marvel’s original franchise again. Tales of Suspense #100 revives that anthology title for a Hawkeye/Winter Soldier mini-series; someone’s killing all of Natasha Romanov’s old enemies, and Clint and Bucky are each investigating whether the Black Widow might still be alive; eventually, they combine forces. Foreman’s style works well for the super-spy/noir action required, and Rosenberg, like Zdarsky, is good at getting everyone to act in character and sound like they should; this is a briskly-told, readable tale.
The Mighty Thor #702 — Writer: Jason Aaron; Art: Russell Dauterman; Colors: Matthew Wilson
Incredible Hulk #711 — Writer: Greg Pak; Pencils: Greg Land; Inks: Jay Leisten; Colors: Frank D’Armata
Doctor Strange continues its Loki-as-Sorcerer-Supreme arc; the last two issues were told from the God of Mischief’s pov, making him sympathetic to readers, but this one turns back to the title character, with Stephen recruiting the Sentry as part of a plan to power-up enough to get his old job back. Hot new writer Donny Cates, with a newcomer’s imaginative ideas and clever plotting, is the biggest attraction here. Jason Aaron’s writing on The Mighty Thor is an attraction, too, but so is Russell Dauterman’s art; they’ve been together long enough so that scenes like a mortal Jane Foster/Odin faceoff, or the appearance of the Mangog, crackle and sing. Incredible Hulk is riffing on the “Planet Hulk” tale that was the inspiration for this summer’s Thor: Ragnarok movie (right down to a “friend from work” line), with that barbaric world and its constant battles making Amadeus’s increasingly-dark passenger ever-stronger; the Pak/Land creative team is pretty strong itself. Old Man Logan has Mike Deodato drawing Logan in Tokyo, with samurai, ninja and busy urban architecture; that’s reason enough to buy it, but Brisson also scatters plenty of familiar faces among the subplots and fight scenes, grounding all that action in a web of continuity and giving the story enough weight to keep up with the cool visuals.
Defenders #8 — Writer: Brian Michael Bendis; Art: David Marquez and Michael Avon Oeming; Colors: Justin Ponsor
The Champions #15 — Writer: Mark Waid; Pencils: Humberto Ramos; Inks: Victor Olazaba; Colors: Edgar Delgado
X-Men: Gold has been using its “Legacy” tag to concentrate on the core ’70s/’80s team, mostly, with Nightcrawler, Kitty, Colossus, Storm and Wolverine (well, “a” Wolverine) battling against tyrants in the Negative Zone; it’s fast-paced and fun, with familiar character interactions that should be catnip for the same X-fans who ought to be buying X-Men: Grand Design. Defenders has the TV group up against NYC gangsters, with Diamondback, the Black Cat, the Kingpin and the Hood all part of the mix — as is Deadpool, and Bendis is actually better at his inner dialogue than I might have expected. Get it because this arc will be the end of that creator’s work on these characters, and it’ll be interesting to see where he leaves them. Champions ends the Avengers/Champs crossover with unexpected results for Viv Vision (doubly so, as it happens, and if you thought she was dead after last issue… well, you haven’t read many comics, have you?); the Waid/Ramos team has been able to handle over a dozen characters, and a literally world-shattering plot, with careful story construction and precise, cartoony skill. Venom continues its Venom, Inc. crossover with Amazing Spider-Man, with Flash Thompson now Anti-Venom and symbiotes (and their hosts) all over the place; if you’re a fan of all the iterations of that popular good/bad guy/alien, then you should like it a lot.
Batman #37 — Writer: Tom King; Art: Clay Mann; Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II #2 (of 6) — Writer: James Tynion IV; Art: Freddie Williams II; Colors: Jeremy Colwell
Bat-stuff continues to drive the DC comics engine, with their best two titles of the week firmly in the Dark Knight’s neighborhood. Dark Nights: Metal confirms that Scott Snyder is just as good at fan-friendly big events as Geoff Johns, and is at that rounding-the-turn midpoint in the narrative where the good guys, captured and seemingly finished, start to turn things around; lots of subplots and quests intercut, Dream of the Endless explains the DC myth of creation and the World Forge, and then, since there are still two issues to go, everything goes to hell, culminating in the appearance of a character we’ve all been expecting ever since the series’ main plot device was revealed to be “nth metal.” Buy it because, as a fan, you’re a sucker for a well-done universe-spanning superhero brawl. Batman #37 is exactly the opposite: small-scale and quiet; Bruce, Clark, Lois and Selena go out for an evening, to the Gotham County fair, but the twist is that it’s “Superhero Night,” so to get in they all have to be wearing a costume. I’ll leave the clever resolution to this problem, and all the great little character bits, to you to discover; I’ve always loved change-of-pace slice-of-life superhero stories, and Tom King is great at them, while Clay Mann’s art keeps pace and delivers on every nuance and twist, and, coming as it does at the end of December, this just might be the best DC comic of a year with a lot of them. Batman/TMNT II doesn’t reach those heights, but it’s surprisingly well-made, especially for a book that could have just been a cynical cash grab, with James Tynion IV nailing the voices of each of the Turtle- and Bat-cast members, along with their bad guys and assorted hangers-on, with Freddie Williams II’s art a shiny, effective combination of the realistic and the animated worlds. Harley Quinn offers the end of the long Palmiotti/Connor run on that ever-more-popular bad/good/bad girl, as it mourns a death but then manages to clean house and leave everyone in a good place for the next team; pay your respects to the best writing on the hard-to-handle-well Harley since Paul Dini’s original Batman Adventures take, and admire Connors’s cute, picture-perfect farewell cover.
Super Sons #11 — Writers: Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason; Pencils: Ryan Benjamin; Inks: Richard Friend; Colors: Gabe Eltaeb
The Wild Storm #10 (of 25) — Writer: Warren Ellis; Art: Jon Davis-Hunt; Colors: Steve Buccellato
Superman and Super Sons are the first two parts of “Super Sons of Tomorrow,” a four-part crossover that continues next week in Teen Titans and then concludes in Superman #38; after a tragedy in the future, the grown-up Tim Drake (now Batman) comes back to prevent it, and his plan involves, first, disabling “our” Batman and Superman, and then trying to kill Jon “Superboy” Kent. OK, and the Damien/Jon interaction is always fun, although (as the story itself acknowledges) Drake just pulled this same basic plot over in Detective a month or two ago; there’s also a last-page reveal at the end of Super Sons that will make longtime readers of the Geoff Johns Titans run happy. Meanwhile, Warren Ellis is almost halfway through his two-year run on The Wild Storm, which is reconstructing the WildC.A.T.S./Stormwatch/Authority universe; if you want fast-moving high-tech shadow organizations doing horrible things to one another, with ultra-competent, smart protagonists and equally-vivid antagonists, Ellis is your guy, and he continues to display those talents to good effect here.
Betty and Veronica: Vixens #2 — Writer: Jamie Lee Rotante; Art: Eva Cabrera; Colors: Elaina Unger
Empowered: High School Hell #1 (of 6) — Writer: Adam Warren; Art: Carla Speed McNeil
Hellboy: Krampusnacht #1 (of 1) — Writer: Mike Mignola; Art: Adam Hughes
Assassinistas is about three women who used to be, yes, professional assassins, but that was long ago; now, one has a college-age kid, and another is pregnant and has a toddler who’s just been kidnapped — apparently by the third member of their former group. The selling point here is that this is being published from IDW’s Black Crown imprint, run by former Vertigo editor Shelly Bond, who knows pretty much every top artist in the world, and she’s gotten Gilbert Hernandez to draw it. Hernandez is on the short list of Best Living Comics Artists, and everything he does is worth a look; that’s even more true for a book featuring kick-ass women with guns and swords (it’s like watching him draw Kill Bill, but with more kids). “Kick-ass women” is the theme of Betty and Veronica: Vixens, too, which sees Riverdale being terrorized by motorcycle hoods from across town, and the title characters getting together an all-girl biker gang of their own, bolstered by some familiar faces (Midge, Ethyl) and some new ones. Rotante’s script somehow makes the shaky high-concept hook work, alternating between flashbacks of the girls learning the ropes and present-day scenes of them doing the actual bike-riding and fighting; Eva Cabrera has a sleek, modern American/manga cartoon style that makes the principles look good while still being recognizable. I didn’t think this would be very interesting, but after two issues I’m hooked — try it and you might be, too. Empowered, Adam Warren’s long-running story about a woman superhero and her growth from perennial victim to competent, take-charge adult, is usually available digitally and in trades, but once a year or so he produces a floppy version with a guest artist; this month, it’s the beginning of a six-issue mini-series drawn by the wonderful Carla Speed McNeil, which sees Emp and her frenemy Sistah Spooky, a magic-wielder, trapped in Hell — a high school populated by mean girls, demons and occult traps. Warren’s good at catching new readers up with the characters and their pasts, so if you’ve never sampled his (or McNeil’s) work, try this out — especially if you liked Assassinistas or B&V: Vixens. Hellboy‘s not female, but he’s pretty much the definition of “kick-ass,” since his solution to most monster/occult problems is to keep punching them until they break or go away; this Christmas tale of Krampus (who, for little kids, is the stick to Santa Claus’s carrot, kidnapping and eating naughty children instead of just leaving them lumps of coal) is written by Mike Mignola and drawn by Adam Hughes, which is all you need to know to look for it and get it. That leaves Head Lopper, concluding its latest arc with, yes, at least two major heads lopped; if you’ve ever wondered how Conan would look if he was older, extremely broad-shouldered, had a white Santa beard and was drawn by a classic European artist like Moebius… well, Andrew Maclean’s got you covered, and the 38-page all-out battle scene against a massive opponent here won’t disappoint.