True Believers: Fantastic Four: Puppet Master #1 (of 1) — Writer: Stan Lee; Pencils: Jack Kirby
True Believers: Fantastic Four: Mad Thinker #1 (of 1) — Writer: Stan Lee; Pencils: Jack Kirby; Inks: Dan Ayers
This week’s best bargains, as they often are, are the Marvel “True Believers” $1 reprint books — for $3, you can get copies of Fantastic Four #2, 8 and 15, all by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, from back when the FF was Marvel’s flagship comic, and Spider-Man and the Avengers didn’t even exist yet. FF #2 is the first appearance of the Skrulls; you can still see Lee and Kirby working out the FF’s dynamics (they don’t even have costumes yet, and the Skrulls are echoes of all those pre-superhero monster stories the duo had been producing), but the inventiveness and dynamism are already there; in #8’s Puppet Master intro, there are costumes, a Fantasticar, and a Thing who’s begun to mutate to his current rock-covered version; there’s also the debut of the Puppet Master’s daughter, Alicia, and the start of her love interest with the Thing that’s culminating in next week’s FF wedding. By #15’s Mad Thinker tale, the group, and the title, are well on their way, with their relationships established, an easy flow to the dialogue and plot, and a patented Lee/Kirby twist ending/lesson. In less than two years, this book would start the greatest sustained run of any Marvel title ever — from issues #35-53, a stretch that saw the introduction of, among others, the Frightful Four, the Inhumans, the Silver Surfer, Galactus and the Black Panther — and, for less than the price of a current comic, you can see how it all started.
Immortal Hulk: The Best Defense #1 (of 1) — Writer: Al Ewing; Art: Simone di Meo; Colors: Dona Sanchez-Almara
Immortal Hulk #10 (Legacy #727) — Writer: Al Ewing; Pencils: Joe Bennett; Inks: Ruy Jose, Le Beau Underwood and Rafael Fonteriz; Colors: Paul Mounts
Marvel’s renewing yet another of its group franchises, the Defenders, and going back to the original Dr. Strange/Hulk/Silver Surfer/Namor quartet; to help launch it, they’re doing a series of connected one-shots of each character, under the “Best Defense” heading, and the Namor and Hulk ones appear this week. Namor continues the newly-pissed-off Sub-Mariner from the last few Avengers issues, as he looks for underwater allies to combat the surface world and its unheeding attempts to poison the oceans. Immortal Hulk is by Al Ewing, who’s made the Green Goliath’s newly-adjectived relaunch a smart, chilling horror comic; you can see for yourself, since a new issue of the regular title’s out this week too, one that gives Joe Bennet plenty of twisted, creepy imagery to pencil, and by the end ups the stakes for both Banner’s alter ego and the world considerably.
Uncanny X-Men #4 (Legacy #623) — Writers: Matthew Rosenberg, Kelly Thompson and Ed Brisson; Art: Pere Perez; Colors: Rachelle Rosenberg
Winter Soldier #1 — Writer: Kyle Higgins; Art/Colors: Rod Reis
Spider-Geddon Handbook #1(of 1) — Creators: Various
Merry X-Men Holiday Special (Ooohh… there’s a title that will make all those “War on Christmas” people unhappy…) uses an advent-calendar format, where each day of December has a one-page story spotlighting one member of the sprawling mutant cast; this gives a number of creators — including Chris Claremont, paired with Terry and Rachel Dodson — a chance to participate, and culminates with a six-page Arcade story by Chris Sims, Chad Bowers and Marco Failla. Uncanny X-Men continues its ten-issue weekly relaunch of that seminal mutant title, with Omega-level mutant/shaman/alternate-timeline-X-Man Nate Gray as the current Big Bad, and a number of the younger characters, like Glob, Anole and Armor, rebelling against the grown-ups and pairing up with another Omega-level former menace, Legion, to help set things right. Winter Soldier starts a new ongoing book featuring Bucky Barnes, looking for redemption by helping folks who are stuck in dangerous mob- or Hydra-related jams to leave and start a new life; that’s a set-up tailor-made for, say, a TV series, and could work well in comics format too. Spider-Geddon Handbook is an Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe-style writeup on all those dozens of alternate-universe Spider-characters, with the usual background, statistics and power charts; if you know any newer readers who’ll be geeking out on the Enter the Spider-Verse movie, this might make a great Christmas present for them
Venom #9 (Legacy #174) — Writer: Donny Cates; Pencils: Ryan Stegman; Inks: JP Mayer; Colors: Frank Martin
Doctor Strange #9 (Legacy #399) — Writer: Mark Waid; Art/Colors: Jesus Saiz
West Coast Avengers is one of those after-the-first-arc breathers where everyone tries to deal with now being a team, here, they end up at a deserted amusement park and get separated into pairs, and gradually picked off as we watch them interact some more; the relationship-building is the point, and Thompson and di Nicuolo handle it well. Venom sees Eddie and his not-quite-sentient-any-more symbiote visiting his father, which goes about as well as you might expect; Ryan Stegman’s shadowy art makes it Marvel’s second-best-looking horror book after Immortal Hulk. Doctor Strange is a cute one-shot breather before next month’s 400th anniversary, involving a real-estate company’s increasingly-supernatural attempts to get Doc to sell his Greenwich-Village estate over the years; after seeing some of the jerkier bits of his personality over the last few issues, it’s nice to see the more-neighborly side here, too.
Doomsday Clock #8 (of 12) — Writer: Goeff Johns; Art: Gary Frank; Colors: Brad Anderson
Martian Manhunter #1 (of 12) — Writer: Steve Orlando; Art: Riley Rossmo; Colors: Ivan Plascencia
Shazam! continues the Geoff Johns Fawcett-character reboot from a couple of years ago; there’s a “Lightning League” of five kids beside Billy Batson who can access the thunder and transform, a looming supernatural quest, a cliffhanger new-character revival, and a manga-y Mary Marvel eight-pager that also brings back the old-school Marvel Family’s most-obscure hero, written by Johns and with art by Mayo “Sen” Naito. Doomsday Clock sees Johns paired with a very Dave Gibbons-y Gary Franks, as the focus is on the regular DC heroes, especially Superman and Firestorm, as they’re manipulated into noble acts that have unexpected and reputation-shattering consequences; the last third of this 12-part story looks like it may actually be the fast-paced cosmic gamechanger it’s been advertised as from the beginning. Martian Manhunter sees that character in his human-cop guise, mixed with flashbacks to his Martian history; the stylish Riley Rossmo art, with its psychedelically-colored Martian-past scenes, and the deep-dive Steve Orlando plotting make it a good pickup for readers missing the now-completed Mister Miracle (it’s even got a pull quote from Tom King on the front cover). Green Lantern really pushes the Hal Jordan-as-space-cop meme, and lets Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp go all-out in using dozens of DC’s alien races and civilizations to keep the background buzzing. The cliffhanger ending’s going to seem familiar to anyone reading Brian Bendis’s first Superman arc — although Morrison and Bendis are such different writers that the similarity’s only on the surface; readers should expect equally-fascinating stories from each variation of the theme.
Batman #60 — Writer: Tom King; Art: Mikel Janin and Jorge Fornes; Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Batman/The Maxx: Arkham Dreams #3 (of 5) — Writer/Artist: Sam Kieth; Colors: Ronda Pattison
Justice League offers one of its every-few-issues tales from the Legion of Doom’s perspective, as Luthor and the Joker play a cat-and-even-more-homicidal-cat game that culminates in the Clown Prince of Crime’s combined antipathy and respect for the Batman Who Laughs; if you’re a fan of the DC-universe bad guys, you should get this. Speaking of the bad guys, they’re in the ascendency over in Batman, which sees an increasingly violent and frustrated Bruce battering Gotham criminals in his pursuit of Bane, and ends with the smashing of a Gotham landmark and the appearance of a new/old adversary. Over in Batman/Maxx: Arkham Dreams, the attraction is watching Sam Kieth’s impressionistic, unshaven, weirdly-elongated version of the Bat. United States Vs. Murder, Inc. has no super-heroes; it’s an alternate-history noirfest where the Mafia got control of parts of the US (like the Eastern seaboard and Las Vegas) in the ’60s, and is now in a public-relations standoff against the President of the United States that turns very violent; the fun here is marveling at Brian Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming’s finely-crafted caricatures of made guys, gangsters, hitwomen and R-rated assassinations.
The Wicked and the Divine #40 — Writer: Kieron Gillen; Art: Jamie McKelvie; Colors: Matthew Wilson
Laguardia #1 (of 4) — Writer: Nnedi Okorafor; Art: Tana Ford; Colors: James Devlin
The Freeze #1 — Writer: Dan Wickline; Art/Colors: Phillip Sevy
Prodigy #1 — Writer: Mark Millar; Art: Rafael Albuquerque; Colors: Marcelo Maiolo
The Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion #3 (of 6) — Writer: Gerard Way; Art: Gabriel Ba; Colors: Nick Filardi
Die is the new Kieron Gillen : that’s “die” as in the singular of “dice,” because this is a Jumanji-like story about a group of gamers who disappeared into a fantasy roleplaying dimension for two years, 25 years ago, and now need to go back; that’s a framework for Gillen’s usual precise character work, smartly-rendered relationships and thoughtful themes, and Stephanie Hans’s lush drawings combine with Matthew Wilson’s carefully-matching color palette to make it look darkly wonderful. For Gillen fans, this will be a tolerable substitute for The Wicked and the Divine, beginning its concluding six-issue arc this week; it kicks off with an attempted mass murder. Look how colorist Wilson changes his range to match Jamie McKelvie’s bright, sharp figurework; there’s a reason he’s one of the most-requested colorists in the field. Laguardia is an sf comic by Nnedi Okorafor, who’s got a fistful of Hugo and Nebula awards and nominations; it imagines a near-future Earth where aliens, many of them plant-like, immigrate through Nigeria (who, as a model of diversity, lets them all in, and functions as an Ellis Island for the world) to a planet that doesn’t always welcome them; the main character’s a US woman born of Nigerian parents who brings one of the visitors through customs into the NYC area, and any resemblance between the hostility she meets there and the current political climate is, of course, intentional. It’s heartfelt and smart, with a worldview that’s nowhere close to objective, but has an ingratiating, hard-won passion. The Freeze is about a world where all the people but, apparently, one guy suddenly freeze in place. Time doesn’t stop — the now-unpiloted planes fall from the sky, and cars run off the road — but the people are unknowing and unmoving. Why this is happening, and what happens next, are the big questions; this first issue does its job of setting them up, and the next few will determine whether this has a a shot. So too for Self/Made: it starts out as a barbarian-world revenge quest, and then morphs into something more original and more modern, with a conclusion that reveals the premise, justifies the title, and should convince all of us to come back next issue to see what happens next. Prodigy is the newest from Mark Millar, and connected to his recent Netflix development signing; it takes us through the early years of a super-smart kid/inventor, demonstrates his near-invincible prowess, and then pits him against an incursion from a parallel Earth (two to one that next issue we find out the incursion is coming from that parallel Earth’s version of him…); it’s pretty much what we always get from Millar, with his usual crowd-pleasing strengths and weaknesses, so if you’ve liked previous efforts you should like this one too. Umbrella Academy doesn’t play to its readers the way Millar does; it figures if you haven’t read previous adventures of these people, and don’t know who they are and what they’ve done, then to hell with you. If you have read the others, though, you’ll find this another chapter in a rich backstory, and even if not there’s the gorgeous Gabriel Ba art to justify your $3.99.
Lodger #2 — Writers: David and Maria Lapham; Art: David Lapham
Rick and Morty: Dungeons and Dragons #3 (of 4) — Writers: Patrick Rothfuss and Jim Zub; Art: Troy Little; Colors: Leonardo Ito
B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know #11 — Story: Mike Mignola and Scott Allie; Art: Christopher Mitten and Laurence Campbell; Colors: Dave Stewart
Cinema Purgarorio #16 — Creators: Various
Unnatural gets by on its art, too — Mirka Andolfo’s skillful, casual anthropomorphic cheesecake, in service to a plot with elements of The Handmaid’s Tale, heroes’ journeys and supernatural romance all bubbling merrily away. Lodger is David Lapham’s new noir, about a protean serial killer who insinuates himself into peoples’ lives, picks at the weak spots in their relationships, and leaves disaster and death in his wake; there’s a girl, a survivor of one of those families, close on his trail. This issue’s episodic plot, mixed with the pursuer’s ongoing cat-and-mouse games with the killer, show that it ought to be able to sustain its premise entertainingly for quite a while (it could easily be a weekly TV series, a sort of inside-out Fugitive), especially considering how it plays to Lapham’s strengths at caricature and local color. Rick and Morty: Dungeons and Dragons has the gang adventuring in a D&D world where Rick is, for a change, mostly powerless and Jerry’s heroic… although that results in pretty much the outcome you’d expect. Hillbilly is Eric Powell’s backwoods, blind axe-wielder against hill-country alien possession; if you like Powell’s stuff you’ll be glad to see that he’s doing the art in this issue, too. B.P.R.D. has Hellboy and the surviving cast in a post-post-apocalyptic Earth, trying to hold everything together while the looming threat of the demon-possessed Varvara grows ever closer; the first few pages are an origin of sorts for that character, as this decades-long interconnected supernatural serial reaches its endgame. Cinema Purgatorio is one of the few anthologies left in comics, and one of the quirkiest, with its black-and-white, sharply-produced art and its all-star lineup, led by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s movie-theater-in-hell film histories (this one about the Superman-playing career and suspicious suicide of George Reeves); there’s also, among others, Garth Ennis and Raulo Caceres and their occult-encountering EMT, Code Pru, and Kieron Gillen and Nahuel Lopez’s Modded, a demonic-Pokemon comedy/drama. Finally, Crowded is about a near-future where, if you get enough people pissed off at you, they can crowd-source your assassination; it’s a buddy comedy/action thriller about a girl with that dilemma and the private detective/fixer she contracts to help her survive, with cute art from Ro Stein and editorial material from writer Sebela about meeting with Rebel Wilson, who’s already optioned it for a movie: all reasons to check it out, and with five episodes of six now available you can read a big chunk of the twisty-clever story all at once.