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 and Spencer discuss Loki: Agent of Asgard 7, New Avengers 25, Superior Foes of Spider-Man 16, Avengers World 14, Original Sin Annual 1, Batman Eternal 28, and Batman/Superman 15.
Drew: It’s no secret around here that I’m a sucker for some good postmodernism (what can I say? I like art about art), which means it should be no surprise that I’m enjoying the heck out of Loki’s latest adventure with a decidedly self-aware Victor Von Doom in Loki: Agent of Asgard 7. Writer Al Ewing has always imbued the series with some charming winks at the audience, but he takes it a step further here, as Loki begins the issue totally frozen in a time-cube — a seeming nod to would-be detractors of all of the recent changes the character has gone through. Of course, much of this issue is given over to rescuing Latveria from “World War Hate,” which gives Ewing some space to preach about how the solution to hate is understanding one another. Loki gets a little snark in, but that message is mostly delivered with a straight face, which robs the series of the sense of humor that usually makes it so fun. It was mostly a fun issue, but switched into a pervasive joylessness as the issue reached its conclusion.
Speaking of pervasive joylessness, New Avengers 25 continues to follow the Illuminati on the run, as they attempt to solve the incursion problem on the lam. The issue mostly catches us up to events we already saw (albeit from different perspectives) in New Avenegers 25 and Avengers 35, which doesn’t leave much for new developments, though writer Jonathan Hickman puts a bit more emphasis on the absence of Tony Stark. Ultimately, this issue was mostly just the Illuminati flexing their brains, which I could charitably call character development, or cynically dismiss as wheel-spinning, and frankly, I’m kind of on the fence. I don’t know Spencer, did this feel like a waste of an issue to you?
Spencer: Calling it a waste of an issue feels a tad harsh, as we did need to eventually see things from the new Illuminati’s perspective, and there are some new developments (such as the inclusion of Captain Britain and Pym, Hulk’s newest incarnation, and the breakdown of missing Illuminati), but at the same time, so much of this issue does feel like a retread of what came in those two issues you mentioned that “wheel-spinning” was the first thing that popped into my head after I finished reading it. There’s some interesting ideas here, but I think Hickman could have found more engaging, less repetitive ways to present them.
Meanwhile, The Superior Foes of Spider-Man 16 is the exact opposite of wheel-spinning; so much happens that I legitimately thought it was the final issue for a while (that actually comes next month, sadly). While the Sinister Six turning on each other and inciting a gang war over the head of Silvermane has always been the only realistic outcome for these schemers, the reveal that Boomerang’s entire plan has been cover for him to get his hands on the Chameleon’s formula so he can again play baseball is brilliant. This would be a storybook ending if Fred were a hero, or even if Superior Foes was the kind of book to sympathize with its villainous protagonists, but neither is true, and that’s why we’ve got one more issue to go. With the Punisher, Mach VII, Shocker, and even the other wronged members of the Six still loose things aren’t looking great for Fred, and I can’t wait to see how Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber wrap things up. In the meantime, as eventful as the issue is, Spencer and Lieber still don’t forget the essential humor at the core of Superior Foes:
Man, I’m gonna miss this book so much.
So, how many books on your pull this week can boast the line “Show me a giant Chinese man doing Kung-Fu on a dragon”? Only one, of course: Avengers World 14, which closes Nick Spencer’s opening story by having the Avengers successfully defeat all four global threats simultaneously. Some of the victories — especially Cannonball’s “I know you’re in there” speech to Smasher — feel too easy, but all of them were set-up in previous issues, so Spencer has every right to instead focus this finale on spectacle and fun. I certainly felt like I shared in the triumph of the Avengers and their allies when I finished the issue, and that makes it a success for me.
Drew: I think that sense of “shared triumph” is really what makes for a good superhero victory, anyway. I mean, when the solution involves your hero having lazer eyes or super-strength, it’s always going to feel kind of cheap, but the point isn’t the victory, but what it means to the characters. And that’s where the issue’s final reveal — that Maria Hill ran the A.I.M. mission just to get the Next Avengers out of her hair — kicks in. It’s such an absurd abuse of her power, but also hilarious, so I can’t really fault it.
Unfortunately, the Original Sin Annual doesn’t fare nearly as well in the “get us invested in the characters’ stakes” category. The cover promises “The Silent War of Woodrow McCord”, and if you’re confused about who that is, don’t worry — the issue is actually mostly about an even more obscure character named Stafford. The story ostensibly follows McCord’s slow transformation into a passionless killing machine, but it fails to get us invested in his desire to be anything else, so it doesn’t feel like much of a loss. Moreover, fans of Original Sin looking for an origin story for the whole “Man on the Wall” job are only going to be disappointed, as this issue simply shifts the mystery from McCord (who just sort of inherited the title) to Stafford, who is more mysterious than McCord ever was. Add that to an utterly generic loss-of-innocence story, and you have an issue that doesn’t quite justify its own existence.
I’ve only been checking in with Batman Eternal periodically, but issue 28 makes me want to sit down and catch up. Teasing Selina’s ascent to power back in Batman 28 could have robbed the telling of that story of some impact, but this issue explains some concrete emotional stakes, and manages some real surprises, as well. Actually, that also goes for the Jason/Babs sub-plot which maybe puts an end to their budding romance in a way that feels totally character-driven. I’m actually kind of torn about how to feel about it — it’s a nice little victory for Jason’s self-esteem, but it kind of leaves Babs out in the cold, right when she could use something positive in her life. What did you think of that scene, Spencer?
Spencer: If I look at that scene only through the lens of how it effects Jason and Barbara, then it actually leaves me a little cold, Drew; Jason comes across as kind of petty. That said, I do enjoy the scene as an exploration of Jason’s role in Gotham, of how his differing morality means that he’ll never quite be at home there and how Jason’s finally okay with that; in that sense, the scene is mad effective. The rest of the issue works even better, drawing real pathos from both Killer Croc and Catwoman and firmly establishing why and how Selina will rise to power. Even Jason Bard gets a few good moments; do we believe his apologies, or write them off as the rantings of a dying man? Is Bard just one of Hush’s pawns, or is there yet more going on with him? The Eternal Bullpen’s got my curiosity piqued.
Batman/Superman 15 wraps up Greg Pak’s most recent storyline, which found Batman and Superman stripped of their memories by Kaiyo the Chaosbringer. Batman’s been struggling to reconcile his duties with leading a normal life, but eventually willingly reclaims his memories in order to stop Clark, who has been going a bit mad without his morality to ground him. Both plots hit familiar beats, but Batman’s resonates more with me, and that’s almost solely because of Lois Lane’s involvement. Lois and this Batman have a surprising amount of chemistry, and Lois ably represents the kind of normal life Batman desires and makes the realization that it’s the kind of life the “real” Batman can never have all the more crushing. Catwoman’s a lot of fun as well, but her involvement in Superman’s plot doesn’t bring out any new complexities in Clark the way Lois does for Bruce, and that feels like a wasted opportunity. Overall it’s a fun but rather inessential story, which sums this title up well.