Look, 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, Drew, Patrick and Spencer are discussing Uncanny X-Men 24, Cyclops 3, Guardians of the Galaxy 17, Secret Avengers 6, New Avengers 21, Avengers 33, Avengers World 10, Original Sin: Hulk vs. Iron Man 3, Detective Comics Annual 3, Batman Eternal 17, Justice League 32, and C.O.W.L. 3.
Drew: In case it needs to be said: superhero comics allow for some bizarre situations. Usually, this pertains to the likes of clones and brain-swaps, but Uncanny X-Men 24 actually finds it’s most unusual feature in the fact that Charles Xavier’s murderer has never stood trial. Normally, being set to inherit a massive Westchester estate might be seen as motive in a criminal case, but Scott Summers seems to have found a newfound mutant ability of never being tried for his crime in spite of all of his friends believing his guilt AND knowing where he’s hiding from them. That’s the weird world Brian Michael Bendis has to navigate in order to set up the Original Sin premise that is “The Last Will and Testament of Charles Xavier.” We still haven’t seen an actual reading of the will, but it seems certain we’ll get it in issue 25 (did I mention that this issue was written by Bendis?).
By contrast, Cyclops 3 moves things along much quicker, bringing several points of conflict to a head: Scott has confronts his father about his apparent drug use, Chris explains that it’s actually medicine, and that he only has enough to last him a month. Oh, and now they’re both stranded on a seemingly uninhabited alien planet. Its a solid issue, but sets up an even more exciting premise: what would you do if you only had one month left with your father? I hope for Scott’s sake that his answer includes “camping,” as it looks like it’s going to be a lot of that, either way. That should sound like a narrow set of limitations, but Greg Rucka and Russell Dauterman once again show just how adept they are with nailing the emotional beats here. Moreover, they’re able to paint that emotion to every corner of the issue. I’m straight up having a hard time picking my favorite emotional moment, so I’m just going to go with the prettiest.
Oh boy, speaking of alien skies, all eyes are on Guardians of the Galaxy this week as a new issue hit stands right around the time of it’s insane opening weekend, an opportunity that issue 17 only kind of capitalizes on. The Guardians are re-assembling, which gives writer Brian Michael Bendis an opportunity to reintroduce all of the major players, but without any motive other than making sure everyone is okay, this issue comes off as a bit shallow, especially in contrast to the surprising emotional depth of the movie. Patrick, do you think it’s a worthy endeavor to compare this issue to the movie? Will other folks be? Should this issue have any obligation towards ingratiating itself to Marvel’s movie audience? I realize I didn’t ask you any questions about the actual issue, but like I said, there wasn’t all that much to it.
Patrick: There may not have been that much to it, but it does hit a lot of beats that do feel informed by the flick — a destroyed Groot, a near suffocation in space, Knowhere. But oddly, the issue does come right out and remind us about the relationship between Quill and J’son of Spartax, which the movie is way cagey about. For my money, the most appealing part of this issue is the fist-fight between Gladiator and Drax; it’s a sequence that should appeal to fans of the film and anyone that’s curious how good action can look on the static page. Still, seems like a missed opportunity to make a cleaner break from the first 16 issues.
For as much as I love Ales Kot’s commitment to depth, I’m starting to feel a little bit narratively outpaced by Secret Avengers. A few months ago, Drew noted that his series Zero (which is excellent, by the way) was dense in a way that made it less approachable that he would have hoped, and I’m starting to pick up on a little bit of that in this series — it’s just masked by the who-gives-a-shit tone. I don’t mean to decry the tone, I like it quite a bit, but when I’m going to the editorial notes alternately for information and jokes, it’s easy to get disoriented. The whole business with Hawkeye chasing Coulson’s trail to a Shaman, and then eventually to Deadpool and A.I.M. working together in Buenos Aires had my head spinning. That stuff’s even more confusing because it feel like it’s miles away from Spider-Woman and Black Widow are up to (which, in turn, feels like it’s miles away from what M.O.D.O.K. and Maria are up to). But I have faith that Kot will tie it all together in the end. Plus, until that time, we’ve got Michael Walsh’s impecably staged fight sequences and at least one Street Fighter reference, so who am I to complain?
As a strict point of contrast, New Avengers 21 focuses in on one specific moment with so much intensity that the result is a stomach-churning 20 pages. Hickman has been testing the Illuminati’s morality in mostly hypothetical ways for over a year, but today’s the day they have to actually push down on the plunger and end another world. As I was reading, I actually started to verbalize my panic as the team members one-by-one admitted that they weren’t actually capable of wiping out the Great Society’s world (though, Doctor Strange’s excuse is that he’s tired… legit). Again, the burden of being the asshole falls to Namor. Man, I loved seeing him toss his trident into Rider’s chest a few issues back, and it was invigorating to see him pick up the trigger in the final pages here. He is a hero in a much more abstract sense of the world, the only one willing to do what it takes in order to assure survival. Those are the qualities of a king that T’Challa’s ancestors expect him to exhibit. So, what do we make of that? Are the Ancestral Wakandans going suddenly start singing the praises of Namor?
Spencer: I doubt it, if only because I don’t think they could ever praise anyone who isn’t Wakandan.
I really am absolutely fascinated by the perspective Hickman brings to this issue. It’s easy to apply black-and-white logic to superhero books — I tried to explain the plot of New Avengers to a friend recently and he concluded that it was “ruining the characters” — but things are never that easy in this title. Most of the Illuminati are kings first and heroes second, and thus they have a duty to serve others before serving themselves, but it’s not a duty they can easily swallow when it comes at the cost of their own morality.
And then Namor tears their logic to shreds. Why should their morality, their conscience, be worth more than the lives of an entire universe? It’s an argument that can easily apply to almost any hero — Batman claims that he can’t kill the Joker because it’s a slippery slope, because it would make him just as bad as the Joker, but can he really justify worrying so much about his own morality as Joker continues to slaughter a thousand innocents a second? — and I’m eager to see if Hickman continues to support this idea, or at least to see how the rest of the Illuminati will continue to live with their actions hanging over their heads.
Avengers 33 finds Hickman’s other team of crusaders — or in this case, just Captain America — still stranded in time. There’s an interesting time-travel story hidden in this issue, a tale of a dystopian government that creates time-travel and of their resistance using their own creation to take them down, but it feels irrelevant to the Avengers title, especially since Captain America veers wildly between being an onlooker and being a pawn, having little interest and no agency in the tale he’s caught up in. Hickman plays a long game, but I still struggle to understand what the point of this journey through time has been. Fortunately, penciller Leinil Francis Yu at least make it interesting to look at, creating an unique aesthetic for the future.
Look at the sparse, massive scale Yu gives it here. It’s brilliant shorthand to demonstrate how impersonal the future has become and how insignificant and out-of-place Cap must feel there; I think I understand Steve better on these pages than I have at any other point in this storyline.
Nick Spencer and Marco Checchetto’s Avengers World 10 takes the opposite approach, bringing together every plotline and every Avenger the title has seeded since its inception. So far this title has focused on telling a personal story in each issue, but this one widens its scope to advance the plot and reposition the characters; fortunately, Spencer does so without losing his deft hand for characterization and dialogue. It’s always a treat to read Spencer’s take on Bruce Banner, Sunspot and Cannonball, or Iron Man, no matter what they’re doing.
Banner and Stark bond over grand tech announcements in Avengers World, but Original Sin: Hulk vs. Iron Man 3 finds them at each others’ throats over Tony’s new-found role in Hulk’s origin. This issue finally gets to the fight, and it’s glorious; Tony gets to show off some truly impressive tech, but it’s Hulk — or, technically, Banner — who steals the show. Although the title may be Hulk vs. Iron Man, it’s Banner who actually has an axe to grind, and with Banner in charge of Hulk’s phenomenal strength he makes a force to be reckoned with, combining brains and brawn to create cunning strategies. Even if Banner’s in control of the Hulk, though, he’s still not in control of his anger, as evidenced by how Banner specifically wants to kill Tony and how little he cares about hurting the civilians in Troy. Arno claims that the Extremis is affecting Bruce’s brain, but is it really that simple, or is Banner perhaps just looking for a chance to lash out against someone who hurt him?
Patrick: Oooh, I hadn’t considered that maybe Banner is putting his intelligence in danger by doping with Extremis. I think the real issue that even plain ol’ non-Hulk Banner has a hard time controlling his anger. That might explain part of why he’s willing to go on a big green rampage to get revenge on his friend for making a mistake 20 years ago. Also, I swear, whenever Mark Waid is writing this thing, the focus hangs a lot closer to Tony and when Kieron Gillen writes it, the focus hangs around Bruce. It’s like the two writers are more interested in voicing the characters they don’t control right now. I find that I prefer Waid’s Iron Man to Gillen’s (which doesn’t surprise me), but I believe I also prefer Gillen’s Hulk to Waid (which does). My own frenetic tastes notwithstanding, Mark Bagley unites the whole thing in a pretty compelling action extravaganza. If I had to guess who’s side Bagley is on, I’d say he wants Tony to win this one. I mean, just look how much of a dick Hulk looks in this thing.
The conceit of “new drug in the city” is so base, it doesn’t necessitate a lot of mythologizing. It’s a drug: people want it, it hurts them, the police wanna stop the spread. Bingo-bango. The legend of Icarus, though, is starting to grow more specific as Brian Buccelatto takes us back for a cursory view of of his on-going saga in Detective Comics Annual 3. I’ll admit to being a little impatient with this one when it started — the art duties are divided up between Wither Dell’edera, Jorge Fornes and the great Scott Hepburn. Did I tip my hand a little there? I love Hepburn’s work, and his scruffy take on the Dark Knight is a perfectly playful compliment to Manapul’s sterner drawings in the main series. Hepburn draws everything from Batman’s perspective, and what should be the darkest part of the issue ends up being the lightest and most heartfelt. Seriously – try to resist his charms.
Dell’Edera and Fornes both also wield such unique styles, but I just wasn’t as immediately taken by their work. Also, it doesn’t help that they cover the same set of characters, but don’t quite seem to agree on the facial features of these people – most of which are new as-of-this-issue. I just had a hard time tracking who was who between their scenes, is all. But then again, we get to see Bruce — in his Matches Malone get-up — beating up a dude for missing his son’s birthday. What’s there to complain about?
Spencer, last time we talked about Batman Eternal (let me check my calendar – it was last week), you mentioned that you didn’t feel quite that much of shock from the reveal of Deacon Blackfire because, well, you didn’t know who that was. It looks like this issue is out to rememdy just that, via the first prolonged flashback in the series. He’s painted as this sort of glory-hound preacher, which is just different enough from the evil-diluted preacher archetype to stay interesting. I also like just being dropped in on the time he had Batman chained up in his basement – doesn’t matter how he did it: point is he did it.
Spencer: Yeah, I admit I’m eating a little crow on this one, Patrick; I’m actually pretty invested in Deacon Blackfire and his plot now, if only because I can finally see how it relates to the grander scheme of Batman Eternal. Falcone had a vision for Gotham and so does Blackfire, and this seems to indicate to me that the backbone of this series is the idealogical war over what kind of city Gotham will become. Falcone and Blackfire have both accused Batman of warping the city into his own image even as they attempt to do just that themselves; personally, methinks Gotham will be exactly the kind of city it wants to be, nothing more or nothing less.
Over in Justice League 32 we actually see very little of the League itself (outside of a fun Cyborg/Shazam scene; that pairing is finally helping to breathe some life into Victor Stone) as we instead focus on Power Ring and the Doom Patrol, with a brief pit-stop on Lex Luthor and Captain Cold. Johns shows off his knack for world-building as he tweaks, reintroduces, and moves around concepts within the DC Universe. There’s definitely something enjoyable about seeing the world of the League grow and expand, but after their abscence in Forever Evil, I’m a little miffed to see so little of the League itself. Moreover, the Doom Patrol — specifically Niles Caulder — is testing my patience.
Johns is far from the first writer to portray Caulder as corrupt or manipulative or downright evil; the problem is that Caulder’s manipulations in this issue are largely him passive-aggressively yelling at his team. Where’s the subletly? The fact that the Doom Patrol follows him so blindly makes them look weak-willed and stupid; maybe that’s what we’re supposed to think of them, but that doesn’t make reading those scenes any easier.
At times C.O.W.L. 3 can be hard to read as well; not because it’s poorly written, mind you, but because it hits on uncomfortable truths that are just as prevalent today as they were in the 60s (in this sense, C.O.W.L. lives up to it’s “Mad Men with superheroes” premise). Despite her great power, nobody takes Radia seriously because she’s a woman — her boyfriend tries to dictate her every move, interviewers refuse to ask her any questions that aren’t about her hair or clothes, and even villains patronize her. That’s why it’s so cathartic when Eclipse approaches her and asks for help; Radia thinks he just wants to take advantage of her, but Karl realizes just how powerful she truly is and that seems to be just what Radia needs at the time. It’s hard not to cheer when she cuts loose on Camden, taking control for the first time in the entire issue.
The rest of the book mostly revolves around contract negotiations between C.O.W.L. and the city — don’t let that description fool you, though, as this plot is almost just as interesting as the Radia stuff. Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel make the negotiations easy to understand and keep them driven by juicy personal motivations, but the real star here is artist Rod Reis, who bathes the entire scene in black and white, adding an essential air of gravitas to what could have otherwise been a dull, dull scene. Honestly, I cannot emphasize enough how vital Reis’ work is to the success of this title.