Amazing Spider-Man #797 — Writer: Dan Slott; Pencils: Stuart Immonen; Inks: Wade von Grawbadger; Colors: Marte Gracia
Avengers #683 — Writers: Jim Zub, Mark Waid and Al Ewing; Pencils: Paco Medina; Inks: Juan Vlasco; Colors: Jesus Aburtov
Captain America #699 — Writer: Mark Waid; Art: Chris Samnee; Colors: matthew Wilson
Marvel’s got a lot of their heavy hitters up to bat this week. Infinity Countdown could have been a mess — a cash grab off the looming Avengers movie, with too many moving parts — but in this debut issue it wisely focuses just on one story: the Guardians of the Galaxy (and the Nova Corps) against the Gardener, one of the Elders of the Universe. It ends with a surprising transformation of one of the Guardians (“He restored his factory settings,” as another character explains it), and… well, if you’re a Guardians fan, and miss their own comic, you’ll really want to read this. For others, it’s still the beginning of a multiverse-spanning cosmic crossover, with a handy cheat sheet on how the Infinity Stones work, and who’s got each one right now, and looks like it might actually justify its position as most-anticipated book of the week. Close behind is Amazing Spider-Man #797, the first chapter of “Go Down Swinging,” as Norman Osborn has merged with the Carnage symbiote to become… nobody yet, except in one silhouetted, murderous panel, but Marvel’s released the covers to issues #798 and 799, and they tell the tale (if you haven’t seen them, I won’t spoil it). This installment has Osborn addressing a just-kidnapped captive whose identity is a mystery until the last panel, in between cuts to various subplots (like Peter Parker and Mary Jane together), and ends with an inadvertent revelation that looks to make things even harder for Spidey in the lead-up to issue #800 : all bad for him, but good for readers. Avengers #683 is 9/16 of the way through its own crossover epic — except that it’s all in the main Avengers title, and coming out weekly; this episode focuses mostly on the Beast and the Wasp, as they fight to save Jarvis’s life, and has some revelations about the new/old/retconned Avenger, Voyager: solidly plotted (as it should be, with those three writers) and fast-paced. Captain America #699 is, as you’d expect, the penultimate issue of a big anniversary-issue arc that sees Cap having been frozen in ice again and waking up in 2025, to an America where a radical group has used the pretext of a nuclear disaster to take over the country. If you don’t like the current administration, you’ll appreciate a number of jabs at its philosophies (and its figurehead), but they’re subtle enough not to impede the story — and, since it’s by the Mark Waid/Chris Samnee team, it’s a very well-crafted prequel to that big 700th issue in a couple of weeks.
Rise of the Black Panther #3 (of 6) — Writer: Evan Narcisse; Consultant: Ta-Nehisis Coates; Art: Paul Renaud; Colors: Stephane Paitreau
Hawkeye #16 (of 16) — Writer: Kelly Thompson; Art: Leonardo Romero; Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Black Bolt is ending with issue #12, and that’s too bad — as the 11th issue, out this week, plainly shows; Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward have been doing the near-impossible task of making an Inhumans book required reading for the last year, with carefully-constructed plotting (a number of threads from earlier issues come together in this one) an impressive villain, and glowing, dreamlike art. If you haven’t been reading it, go get the first trade volume, and the last five individual issues, and catch the hell up — it was in the running for one of the best books of the year in 2017, and looks like it’ll be in contention in 2018, too. Rise of the Black Panther has been a canny origin issue, looking at T’Challa’s early years as ruler of Wakanda; this episode picks up right around the end of the movie (thus, “canny…”), with the African nation revealed to the world, and sees the Panther dealing with the inevitable blowback, as adversaries circle — including a last-page-reveal one that should bring everyone back next month, too. Hawkeye, like Black Bolt, is ending: another cause for sadness, since writer Kelly Thompson has teamed with Leonard Romero and colorist Jordie Bellaire to make this a sun-drenched California P.I. adventure with a spunky-smart heroine, an imposing villain and a solid cast; tune in to this farewell issue to see what you should have been reading all along. At least Thompson’s still working: she’s the scribe on Rogue and Gambit, and her obvious affection for and knowledge about that star-crossed couple marks her as a true fan; her ease in recapping their history while getting them back together in this issue should make other old-time fans happy too.
Batman: White Knight #6 (of 8) — Writer/Artist: Sean Murphy; Colors: Matt Hollingsworth
Harley and Ivy Meet Betty and Veronica #6 (of 6) — Writers: Marc Andreyko and Paul Dini; Art: Laura Braga; Colors: Arif Prianto
Shade, the Changing Woman #1 — Writer: Cecil Castellucci; Art: Marley Zarcone; Colors: Kelly Fitzpatrick
Batman‘s early into an arc where Poison Ivy has somehow possessed everyone on the planet — except for Bruce and Selina, who are immune and leading a very Truman Show-like existence. You’d think this would lead to action, and it does, briefly and shockingly, but with King the best bits seem to be in the breaks between the blows: the friendly/threatening, casual/steely conversation between Selina and “Pam,” or the why-didn’t-I-see-that-coming last page; 42 issues in, and King’s kept it the best-selling, and maybe the best, comic on the stands while writing 40 pages of it a month for the last two years. Let’s appreciate him while we can. Batman: White Knight’s reformed-Joker/double-Harley Quinn Elseworlds tale has gotten a lot of deserved attention, but you’re not going to get issue six of an eight-issue series as a starter, right? Hey, it’s still tempting: Murphy’s art, especially on established characters like this, has an attractive, loose energy, and his plotting matches it; two issues before the end this has a scene everybody knew was coming — but with a twist. Think of it as a sampler issue, and then start saving up for the trade. Yet another bat-related comic, Harley and Ivy Meet Betty and Veronica, comes to a decent conclusion (any Harley and Ivy story by Paul Dini, even as co-writer, is automatically worth our time), with the respective Gotham and Riverdale factions all sorted back out (the only Riverdalian who turns out to have any sense, other than the two in the title, turns out to be, of course, Jughead) and artist Laura Braga managing a credible, attractive blend of the two worlds. Black Lightning, and his creator Tony Isabella, continue their unexpected, and well-deserved, second acts, with the penultimate issue of the suddenly-hot superhero’s mini-series return offering the same kind of gritty, street-smart inspiration and flash as the CW TV series; it deserves enough sales to get a second season, too. Shade, the Changing Woman #1 starts its own second season: anyone convinced by that just-concluded Young Animals/Justice Leagues team-up to sample its trippy, twentysomething-existential, very-’90s-Vertigo style will be happy they did.
Oblivion Song #1 — Writer: Robert Kirkman; Art: Lorenzo de Felici
Prism Stalker #1 — Creator: Sloane Leong
Gideon Falls #1 — Writer: Jeff Lemire; Art: Andrea Sorrentino; Colors: Dave Stewart
The Highest House #1 — Writer: Mike Carey; Art: Peter Gross; Colors: Fabien Alquier
Rick and Morty Presents: The Vindicators is the first in a series of one-shots involving characters from that very rich cartoon universe; it’s also pretty much a regular R&M story, with regular artist CJ Cannon, and 30 pages long, so think of it as an annual. If you’re an R&M fan, it needs no further sales job; if not, it’s a good introduction to their twisted, dark and frequently very funny world. Oblivion Song is a new ongoing series from Robert Kirkman. “Oblivion” is another dimension that had an incursion into ours a couple of years ago (think The Mist), drawing thousands of people into it and killing/trapping them there; the main character of this new series is part of a team that’s been going into that dimension to look for survivors and bring them out — including his now-long-lost brother. Kirkman says in the editorial material that they’ve already got 12 issues finished, so it’s a big world, and of course he’s always been good at plot twists and swerves (Invincible‘s first-arc-ending one was worthy of M. Night Shyamalan), so this has a lot of potential. Kirkman also praises artist Lorenzo de Felici, and it’s easy to see why — he’s got a solid animation-style foundation that makes his work look like a much-darker, sketchier Jeff Smith, and it makes both the people and the various monsters a lot of fun to watch; if you’re looking for a new series to jump on, you could do a lot worse. Prism Stalker has potential, too; creator Sloane Leong seems to be a big Brandon Graham fan, especially of Prophet; the opening here has a lot of that book’s casual, matter-of-fact presentation of psychedelic, very alien beings and customs, and its solid, extensive sf world-building, and then transitions into a more linear story with a stubborn, attractive young heroine who has to deal with that world. Like Oblivion Song, it does its job of making the reader want to come back and find out more about its universe. So too for Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s new series Gideon Falls. That team has produced successful runs on Green Arrow and Old Man Logan, and here they offer a Stephen King-like tale about obsession and hidden occult horror; it’s another comic with a full, intriguing world packed into its first issue, and with the potential to be a hit. Finally, there’s The Highest House, by yet another long-standing team, Mike Carey and Peter Gross (very long-standing; their first work together was in Vertigo’s Books of Magic, over 20 years ago, and their sometimes-collaboration on Lucifer helped make that book a cult classic). It’s a high-fantasy tale about a child taken by a powerful magister to live in the elite castle/town of the title, and that plot — the young, naive apprentice with mysterious potential exploring the power center of its world and hits inhabitants — should pay off nicely; even better, IDW’s issuing it as a magazine-size comic, with a size and printing standard that shows off Gross’s art wonderfully.
I Hate Fairyland #17 — Writer/Artist: Skottie Young; Colors: Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Koshchei the Deathless #3 (of 6) — Writer: Mike Mignola; Art: Ben Stenbeck; Colors: Dave Stewart
The Wicked and the Divine #34 — Writer: Kieron Gillen; Art: Jamie McKelvie; Colors: Matthew Wilson
Assassinistas is Gilbert Hernandez drawing kick-ass women assassins with swords and guns, which is really all you need to know; Tini Howard’s script is smart at playing to his strengths (like Jack Kirby, Beto is sometimes better when he’s not full-on writing; he tends to drift off into weird psychosexual territory unless he sticks to his Palomar characters), and between this and Kid Lobotomy, Shelly Bond’s Black Crown imprint at IDW is off to a good start. I Hate Fairyland offers a change-of-pace issue, darker than usual and with no Gert; instead, we see the origin of a new adversary — or, maybe, an ally, since he (it?) hates the title place too — which should help spice things up as they return to normal next issue. Koshchei the Deathless continues with Mike Mignola doing full solo scripts, and Ben Stenbeck offering very Mignola-esque art, with the shadowy folk-tale monsters and demons and other creatures of the night rendered just right: plus, it’s all framed as a story told to Hellboy, so we get to see him — as written by his creator — too. Strangers in Paradise, Terry Moore’s justly-famous first series, is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a ten-issue story that see Katchoo pulled out of her blissful retirement to keep a former Parker girl from exposing her, and others, to arrest and prison; her quest takes her from sunny Hawaii to snowy Massachusetts, where she encounters characters from Moore’s last series, Rachel Rising (and, with a reference to events from another series, Echo, there’s a whole Moore-verse operating…) and ends up in a literal cliffhanger ending. Great stuff by a master storyteller, and since Moore has Katchoo narrating and supplying backstory as she goes, you don’t need to have read any of the over 100 (!) issues of the original series to appreciate this new tale. The Wicked and the Divine is on its 34th issue, and just starting its last year or so of the series; there’ve already been revelations and reversals, and there are sure to be more, and the very smooth Gillen/McKelvie team knows exactly how to play them for maximum effect. This is another series where you don’t want to jump in at the end, though — and don’t have to; there are six trade volumes available, and a whole world to get lost in, before you make it to this week’s installment.