Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 2/19/14

round upLook, there are a lot of comics out there. Too many. We can never hope to have in-depth conversations about all of them. But, we sure can round up some of the more noteworthy titles we didn’t get around to from the week. Today, Spencer, Patrick, and Drew discuss New Warriors 1, Avengers World 3, A+X 17, Amazing X-Men 4, Batwoman 28, Batman and Two-Face 28, and Justice League 28. 

slim-banner4Spencer: Due to my fondness for young superheroes, a rapidly growing appreciation for Nova, and a long-standing love of Marcus To’s art, I decided to check out this week’s New Warriors 1 by Christopher Yost and Marcus To. The issue introduces us to all but one of the members portrayed on the cover — Nova, Speedball, Justice, Scarlet Spider, Hummingbird, Sun Girl, and Faira Sar Namora — as each group faces down the forces of the High Evolutionary. While it didn’t necessarily blow me away, this is still a solid issue.

Besides To’s art, which is as detailed and charming as ever, the book’s greatest strength is its characters. Although we only get a few pages with each, every character displays a distinct personality with lots of room for varied and interesting interaction between the members; the characters’ powersets are just as distinct, which should hopefully lead to some creative battles and combinations, like the one used by Scarlet Spider and Hummingbird in this issue.

The downside to the issue is that, as a reader with no prior experience with New Warriors, I have no idea why the team is important. What makes the New Warriors worth reassembling (especially with the name still tarnished by their unfortunate role in the Civil War)? What makes these kids worthy of being New Warriors? Besides blind luck, why are these kids the ones tasked with the responsibility of fighting the Evolutionary? There’s still time for future issues to answer these questions, but I feel like what this first issue lacked was some sort of statement of purpose that would really set it apart other books on the stand; as it is, this issue is pleasant and fun, but very standard.

Jonathan Hickman and Nick Spencer’s Avengers World 3 continues with the precedent set by issue two, focusing its attention on a single Avenger, this time Shang-Chi, as he takes on the Gorgon, who has freed the Dragon resting beneath the city of Madripoor. Shang-Chi knows it is a fight he cannot win, but fights on anyway, using brilliant strategy to avoid Gorgon’s petrifying stare and drawing upon the strength of his ancestors to find the power and endurance to land blow after blow, each magnificently illustrated by Stefano Caselli, who lets you feel every ounce of power behind Shang’s strikes. Ultimately, though — just like his ancestors — Shang-Chi inevitably falls, and Gorgon throws him off the island.

Shang-Chi is quite possibly my favorite of Hickman’s Avengers, so getting to spend an entire issue with him is an absolute joy. I’m most interested by the similarities between this issue and the last, though. Both this issue and issue two — which focused on Smasher — end with its protagonist having met defeat. Shang-Chi’s defeat mirrored the defeat of the warriors of the past whose power he drew from; Smasher, meanwhile, met defeat when she foolishly trusted the A.I.M. agent, which she did because of advice given to her by her grandfather in flashback scenes. I wonder if these similarities are intentional; are Hickman and Spencer trying to say something about situations repeating themselves, or even about dangers of having too much dependency on or reverence for the past? I guess we’ll have to wait until issue 4 to see for sure.

Over in A+X 17, Jeff Loveness and Paco Diaz’s first story teams up Iron Man and Broo, and it’s one of the best stories I’ve read in this book in months. Beast drops Broo on Tony to “job shadow” him — possibly only to spite Stark — and at first Tony is both annoyed and intimidated by the enthuastic and prodigiously intelligent youngster, but after they fight together and Broo proves his worth, the two bond and Tony mentors Broo the only way he knows how:

I'm starting a petition for a Broo ongoing now

It’s both hilarious and absolutely heartwarming — everything I want from A+X. Patrick, did this story work for you? How did you feel about the continuation of Gerry Duggan’s Captain America and Cyclops story?

Patrick: As the Cap ‘n’ Clops saga marches onward, I’m amazed at how each entry continues to feel like an issue of A+X. Duggan could have easily taken a sixty page story (or even three twenty-page stories) and transposed that narrative over this format. But each issue has it’s own themes, its own ideas of micro-cohesion. I love that this issue opens with Doom on a damn rampage, seemingly murdering Hulk, Iron Man and Wolverine, only to reveal that it’s a psychic trick being played by one of the Cadre K guys. Between that almost effortless defeat of Doom and Cyclops’ walk-in-the-park raid of Doom’s lab, the reader is effectively stocked with expectations to be subverted. Which is of course what happens as Doom — doing what doom does best — weasels his way out, activates a bomb and releases his Mutant Skrull Prototype. Fortunes reverse so quickly, and I can’t wait to see this all resolved (once and for all) next month.

I’ll admit to feeling like Jason Aaron was piling on with Amazing X-Men – there’s only so much room in my heart for more X-Men, especially when I’m not exactly hurting for opportunities to read about Beast and Wolverine. But issue 4 finds a renewed focus on an active Nightcrawler as he BAMFs his way around Heaven and Hell to rescue his friends. I was pretty down on the last issue — so much of that scene where Storm is being beaten up by pirates was way too rape-y for my tastes — so I was happy to see some straight-up blockbuster action-adventure. Even the quick flashback panels feel cinematic in their efficiency at providing emotional context for the various reunions with Kurt. Aaron also finds room for half an origin story for the Bamfs, and that’s where Ed McGuinness’ trademark blending of cute and tough finds a natural home.

Drew: Hey, speaking of cute things: Batwoman 28 features Maggie’s adorable daughter. Oh, and speaking of awkwardly protracted transitions, this series continues to struggle reconciling with its past. I was actually quite pleased with the future Mark Andreyko plots out in this issue, but with so much of the action here rooted in relationships that haven’t been fully explained since Andreyko took over, it’s hard to appreciate it on its own terms. Like, this issue opens with Maggie dealing with her daughter’s freak-out upon seeing Kate beaten and bloody in the bathroom, but Maggie and Kate don’t talk about it until Kate shows up at the police department the next day. Do they still live together, or what? Wouldn’t Kate have been under explicit instructions not to be in the Bat costume even if they didn’t live together? Doesn’t not having done that give lie to her claim that she’s an expert at maintaining her personal and vigilante lives?

That wealth of questions finds an interesting counterpart in the wealth of answers in Batman and Two-Face 28, which finds Bruce wrapping up his dalliance with Harvey (potentially forever). Two-Face has long been my favorite Batman villain, and I respect the changes writer Peter Tomasi has made to his origins — namely, that Harvey is also motivated by grief (and vengeance). It strengthens the parallels with Bruce, but comes at the cost of any hope of salvation — this Harvey Dent simply cannot return to life as it once was. It’s a unique take, one that I’m still of two minds (HA) about, so I’m curious to hear what you thought, Spencer. Does Two-Face work for you as a grief-stricken monster, or did this interpretation turn too dark, even for a Batman comic?

Spencer: While sacrificing Gilda to fuel Harvey’s grief still makes me rather uncomfortable, at least it wraps up the thread of Harvey’s true love that Long Halloween or Two-Face’s origin episode of Batman: The Animated Series left dangling, which always bugged me. I actually don’t mind this grief-wracked Harvey, as Two-Face has never been a character with any legitimate chance of redemption anyway; time and time again he’s been reformed, redeemed, resculpted, and every single time something changes him into Two-Face again. I actually found the end of this issue to be more hopeful than most Two-Face stories; Harvey seems at peace, and while there’s still an element of chance involved in Harvey’s decision,  what matters is that he makes it before his coin has a chance to choose for him — that’s unprecedented!

Police lights as metaphor 101

It’s also a stark contrast from the duality that fuels Two-Face, and specifically from the indecision that plagues him throughout this issue, as beautifully portrayed by Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray and John Kalisz on the page above. Later in the issue McKillen tells a story about the two forces fighting inside of all of us, one symbolizing light, and the other darkness. McKillen explicitly chooses darkness and Batman light, but the tragedy of Harvey Dent has always been that he’s been torn between the two, too much a monster to ever be redeemed but still too human to ever actually enjoy his life. As self-destructive as his actions may be, at least Harvey’s embracing a decision for the first time since his accident, and that might just be the only possible happy ending for Two-Face.

The most pleasant surprise in my pile of comics this week was easily Justice League 28Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis use the issue to reintroduce the Metal Men into the New 52, reimagining their creator, Will Magnus, as a disaffected young genius who thinks that mankind is a problem, and robots the solution; so of course, his creations, the Metal Men, spring to life with fully formed personalities and more humanity than Magnus can possibly handle. The parent/child bond that grows between Magnus and his Metal Men forms the heart of the issue; the Metal Mens’ desire to be loved and appreciated by their creator is heartbreaking, but in the end, it’s Magnus who grows the most, becoming distraught over the heroic sacrifice of the Metal Men, actively hiding their survival in an attempt to never experience that pain again, and, ultimately, realizing that it isn’t what his heroic creations would want. Honestly, Patrick, I know you have some problems with this one, but the emotional payoff more than sold the issue for me.

Patrick: I did have some problems with the Metal Men, you’re right. While they all came out with distinct personalities, I’m not sure any of them really jived with Magnus’ assertion that “they wanted to hand out and watch television and find love.” Like, the first action they propose is a robot revolution for crying out loud! It’s a shame, because I really do like the bones of the story, and I applaud Johns for exercising his first rate ability to tell snappy origin stories in the context of a larger event, but I just wanted a little more consistency with these six characters. We should also point out that Reis only provided the layouts for the issue, and Joe Prado and Scott Hanna are doing their best Ivan Reis impressions with the actual penciling. The team’s work is remarkably cohesive, and except for the odd slightly-cartoony face, looks amazingly like Reis did the whole thing.

slim-banner4The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?

7 comments on “Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 2/19/14

  1. This was another light week for me as far as new comics went. Looking at my list, Most of what I read, you guys wrote about during the week. Only thing of note on here was New Warriors – I really like what I’ve read by Chris Yost and I really liked his take on Scarlet Spider; The problem was I wasn’t interested at all in the other characters. I felt I enjoyed SS the best because of his difficulties in choosing to be a hero and do the right thing mixed with his history of evil (for lack of a better word) yet being surrounded by an interesting cast that supported and loved him in spite of his flaws. It doesn’t sound like New Warriors will give me that so I’m still undecided.

    I picked up a couple trades I’m interested in; Zero (issues 1-5) and The Federal Bureau of Physics (issues 1-7). Read 1-3 of Zero and 1 of FBP. Both look outstanding.

    Went to a comic show and picked up a ton of old Amazing Spider-Mans. A couple pre-100 for about $5 a piece and a small run in the 500s for a buck a piece. My girlfriend also bought me a spidey graphic novel “The Original Clone Saga” which had Gwen Stacy’s clone and the Jackal’s efforts against Spider-Man. It’s got about 20 issues in there and has been a GREAT read (including an issue where Mysterio tricked Spider-Man into driving the Spider-Mobile into the Hudson). Fun stuff.

    But no current opinions.

    • I bought the first arc of FBP due to high praise from my LCS Owner (he practically shoved the book into my hand), but it didn’t do a lot for me. I love the concept but the book felt too grim to really take advantage of it, and I just couldn’t get invested in the story or characters. I hope you enjoy it though!

      Scarlet Spider was definitely one of the more interesting members of New Warriors, but I was pretty fond of everybody in the cast. Like I said, I think there’s a good mix of personality that should make for a fun dynamic; Hummingbird and Sun Girl’s personalities seemed a little too similar, but they might just because of the shortened screen time everybody got in the issue, and their backgrounds are different enough that they shouldn’t be clones.

      Like I said, my only real issue with the book was just, well, why New Warriors? It feels like there’s no real reason–in universe or in real life–for the team to reunite other than Marvel just wanting to put a New Warriors book on the shelf. The thing is, I’ve done this little dance before. This issue reminded me of several Teen Titans #1’s I’ve read in the past, issues that I enjoyed immensely due to my love for the team, but issues that also took a lot of criticism from people asking why we needed a new Titans book or claiming that the book was only put together for nostalgia sake and had nothing new to say about the characters. Well, now I’m on the other side of the fence, and as a newbie to the world of the New Warriors, I can better understand the criticisms people lopped on those Titans books.

      I enjoyed the issue, I don’t think it’s bad, but it doesn’t stand out either. If you placed New Warriors 1 in my hands four years ago I probably would have been enthralled, but there’s just so many outstanding, high-concept high-quality books on the shelf right now that the more run-of-the-mill, standard superhero books are starting to lose their luster in comparison. (I know, first world problems, right? What a time to be alive!)

      I think the book definitely has potential though, and will probably stick around for the first arc.

  2. So this seems like the place to post this: a friend of mine on Tumblr asked me to recommend her some Flash comics, and in all my excessive enthusiasm, I pretty much wrote her up a Flash manifesto:

    http://pivitor.tumblr.com/post/77430349166/the-flash-comic-recommendations

    If any of you are looking for some pre-New 52 Flash comics to read or just interested in the history of the character (and the stories that made me love him in all his identities), you should take a look!

    • Holy shit, this is a rigorous guide to the Flash. When I was first getting into the character, I found myself wishing that there was a resource like this. I had found plenty of lists of “must reads” for Batman, but nothing quite like this for the Flash. Great work!

      • Oh man, I can’t imagine writing a guide like this for Batman. Writing about the Flash is easier than it appears because, no matter who is wearing the mantle at the time, he always has just one book, and it’s usually worth reading, but Batman’s never had less than two ongoings (and often has four running at a time), has a longer history, and despite all his classic stories, also has many more low-points than Flash (as is only natural when you’re got four monthlies), not to mention many more supporting cast members and retcons and reboots to explain.

        It took me weeks to write this Flash thing, I think writing one up for Batman would take me a lifetime. Kudos to whoever are putting those things online.

        • Oh, those lists didn’t aim for the same thoroughness as this one — actually, they were probably shorter, in spite of all the extra material they were purpotedly covering. They usually boiled town to the most famous trade collections: Year One, The Long Halloween, A Death in the Family and so on. We’d actually considered doing some kind of character guides at some point, though I’m not sure we could put enough together to not just have a redirect to wikipedia be more helpful.

    • It warms the cockles of me heart to see JSA presented at nearly the top of the list. Oh Jay, how I miss your silly hat (and no, his silly new helmet doesn’t count). Seriously though, great job on this list!

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