Avengers: The Initiative #1 — Writer: Dan Slott; Artist: Stefano Caselli
So, in the Marvel Universe United States now, if you’re a kid, say, and caught using powers, they throw you into a boot camp training deal, with other “recruits” of all ages and power levels, and there’s a stereotypical drill sergeant, except that he’s got this huge metal weapon-thing attached to his right arm that looks really, really stupid, and then Yellowjacket and War Machine and Peter Gyrich “test” your powers, and when something goes wrong and another kid’s brains get blown all over you, well, that’s too bad, but you can’t tell anyone, because, you know, it would look bad and hurt the country’s morale, so just suck it up and keep training.
This is, morally, a repulsive comic, starting with the title (it’s not about the Avengers at all, and they appear in maybe a panel or two total), to the cover (which pictures a vast lineup of characters, many that a reader might actually want to see, but none of them actually appear anywhere in the book), to the whole patriots-follow-orders-and-don’t-question-authority tone. Now, maybe they’re going somewhere with this; maybe Slott, who’s not a bad writer, isn’t just following orders himself to make a buck, and will eventually take this very depressing, very dark first issue and turn it around into a heroic statement. Right now, though? I’d like to be optimistic about it, but I’m not sure Marvel even knows what “heroism” or “heroic ideals” are anymore. I say it’s facism, and I say the hell with it.
Supergirl #16 — Story: Joe Kelly; Plot: Marc Sable; Pencils: Ale Garza’ Inks: Marlo Alquiza
Speaking of depressing…Kelly, after an initial few issues that were intriguing and kind of fun, has just been torturing this character for months now, and here we get an explanation that transplants a bunch of unnecessary Krypton continuity onto Superman’s origin, muddying it up completely. We’re left with either (a) yet another idea about the Phantom Zone, involving its original inhabitants and the concept that they’ve been corrupting and possessing Earthlings ever since Superman’s arrival as a baby, (or, come to think of it, with Kara’s arrival), or (b) the alternative, that Kara’s father was insane, and responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocents. Either way, we now have a character who’s been subjected to intensive physical and psychological abuse since she was a little girl. Great. Yes, the eventual resolution will probably involve her fighting through all of this, and ending up in a lighter place, but after long months of individual issues that have been almost pornographic in their violence and dark tone, has it been worth it? How many readers have abandoned this book by now? How many kids have picked it up expecting, you know, Supergirl, and will never read it again? If ever there was an argument for editors who knew what they were doing, who had a firm grasp on their company’s characters and what made them work for readers, this book is it.
Incredible Hulk #106 — Writer: Greg Pak; Penciler: Carlo Pagulayan; Inker: Jeffrey Huet
Last issue, the Hulk’s planet blowed up real good, and this issue… it blows up real good again, and keeps blowing up real good, and then the Hulk decides to take his alien buddies and go back to Earth and kick all the puny humans’ asses, especially the asses of the Puny Illumanati. That’s it. It’s like they ended up with an extra month before they wanted to start their big Hulk Comes Back story, so they needed to tread water for an episode. If you like Pagulayan’s art, there’s a lot of splash pages here, but plotwise there’s nothing that couldn’t have been covered in two panels of last month’s comic.
The Irredeemable Ant-Man #7 — Writer: Robert Kirkman; Art: Cory Walker
You sort of have to admire a character who wants nothing more than to hitch a ride home in Ms. Marvel’s purse, find some cash to steal and then hang out spying on her as she takes a shower. However, a certain sleazeball charm is about all that this book has going for it, and considering that it’s now selling under 17,000 copies per issue, it probably doesn’t matter anymore anyway.
Spider-Man Family #2 — Writer: Sean McKeever; Artists: Kano with David LaFuente (First Story); Writer: Paul Benjamin; Artist: Vasilis Lolos (Second Story)
Another book from Marvel that makes a shameless lie on its cover — this has nothing to do with “Back in Black,” since the lead story is years out of continuity (Eddie Brock is still Venom), and Spidey’s wearing the blue-and-red costume anyway. It’s OK, although it reads like a fill-in, and it features Peter Parker needing an hour to figure out how to use the Daily Bugle’s computer archives (don’t Marvel and DC have editors any more? Are they all, like, trained chimps or something?) The second story barely has Spider-Man at all; it’s 10 pages of Lolos doing his Paul Popeish interpretation of the Lizard, which is fun, but only 10 pages. The rest of the book is a ’70s reprint with the Green Goblin, a ’90s reprint with Venom, and an issue of that Spider-Man manga comic Marvel tried to sell to Japanese readers a few years back. If all of that seems worth $5 to you, knock yourselves out.
Warren Ellis Wolfskin #3 — Writer: Warren Ellis(duh…); Artwork: Juan Jose Ryp
The end of this mini-series, and pretty much one long spasm of violence, as the main character just kills everybody. The end. Ryp’s obsessively-detailed panels of over-the-top blood and gore are reminiscent of Geoff Darrow’s work in Hard-Boiled, so that’s something, and there are a few good character beats (the Wolfskin’s god; the reaction of one of the main antagonists right after getting his entrails ripped out), but it’s minor-key Ellis, worth the 10 minutes it takes to read it but not any more than that.
Superman/Batman #33 — Writer: Mark Verheiden; Penciller: Joe Benitez; Inker: Victor Llamas
This had an interesting concept — what if all the alien characters on DC’s Earth started doubting why they’re helping all the ungrateful, xenophobic Terrans — but it just took forever to tell the story, and even this concluding issue’s last-panel shot of the Super-Bat buddies shaking hands doesn’t justify the bloated, boring issues that we all had to slog through to get to it. A powerful argument against decompressed storytelling, since it might have worked as say, an annual, or two issues, but was just tedious when blown up to four or five episodes.
The All-New Atom #10 — Writer: Gail Simone; Penciller: Eddy Barrows; Inker: Trevor Scott
The middle issue, apparently, of a three-part story, so it’s confusing anyway, with murky art and a zombie boyfriend and his pals, and it just doesn’t seem that interesting, frankly. Shouldn’t the Atom be colorful and fast-paced and fun? This isn’t any of that, which is too bad, because it’s not like it’s badly written; it all just seems like the wrong kind of story to be telling for this character. Who’d want to read it? Fewer than 20,000 people, according to the latest sales charts, so it’s doubtful this title’s going to survive much longer.