This week I’m officially announcing my reinstatement as a True Believer. DC has forsaken its fanbase so that they can gain sales and write to new readers—something admirable in essence, but also something disappointing to longtime readers. The further into their new 52, the worse I see their super hero comics getting. With the exception of Green Lantern (which has been slow going, but finally returned to form), and the Batman books, only the horror books like Animal Man have really struck a strong chord of quality writing and illustration. The others are seemingly struggling between exposition-heavy character reintroductions or action-heavy beat-em-ups that give little to no character development.
With that said, Marvel has outdone themselves lately. The quality of storytelling and illustration coming from their Architects has truly grown their line in a way that I would not have thought possible just 5 years ago. I’m reading Spider-Man again and loving it. One More Day? I don’t think so. X-Men books? You betcha! And even the freakin’ Avengers have my nod. To that I give you my top five picks of this week and why I think they deserve to be noticed amongst all the other dribble out there.
The Amazing Spider-Man # 684
Dan Slott gets it. I’ve been saying that a lot lately. Single-handedly he has been undoing and fixing the issues that really destroyed Peter Parker for me as a longtime fan. In this third chapter we get not only more great characterization from Peter’s labmates at Horizon labs, but also more on the fact that Peter Parker is a scientific genius to be reckoned with. Yeah, he and the Avengers got their asses handed to them by the Sinister Six, but he gets away and he gets the last laugh as Sandman becomes the first of Doc Ock’s pawns to go down. This issue is everything you want—Spidey doing his science thing, hot ladies holding their own, giant evil plots, action-packed fun, and all the great Spidey one-liners you know you love, but hate to admit. Toss in some high energy pencils by veteran and hyperstylized artist Humberto Ramos and you’ve got yourself a blockbuster event with your friendly neighborhood buddy leading the way. Slott gets it. And if you ever in your life ever loved Spider-Man for any amount of time, then I promise you that now is your time. This is YOUR Spider-Man. And the best part is that in every book he appears in, all the writers are onboard with the same approach to the character. This Spidey is here to stay and so am I.
Peter David has earned the title of the most reliable writer in the history of comic books for this book alone. I have yet to pick up this book and be disappointed. He can trade out artists and do crazy story arcs on werewolves or space aliens or just plain old street thugs and every issue is solid gold. Let’s do a headcount of the misfists: The joking Strong Guy; the angry and sexy M; Gay couple Rictor and his warrior boyfriend Shatterstar; cocky ladies’ man, Longshot; Sultry and emotionally unstable Siren; religiously tormented Wolfsbane; and the oddest couple of Layla Miller who knows stuff and the ever flawed Multiple Man, Jamie Madrox. Madrox comes back from reality hopping while M tries to kill Layla for possibly bringing him back to life at the cost of his own soul. There are hints dropped about an abysmal future while in the background a demon and a new villain have teamed up with murder on their minds. This book reads like all your favorite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. Quippy dialogue and great jokes coupled with really emotional character struggles bring this book to the forefront of my reading list. It’s strong and adventurous in all the ways that I often wish modern comics would at least attempt. I find myself actually caring about these characters like their my own friends and as unhealthy as that sounds—it’s actually a really solid plus in David’s corner as a great writer. Keep it up, but seriously don’t kill off my friends.
New Mutants #41
I go back and forth with this issue in my comics, but I find that I’m drawn to team books with large casts rather than single character books. The only problem with that notion is that team books are hard to write well and it gets harder to juggle multiple characters. New Mutants on the other hand has proven to me that every now and then a good team book comes out swinging and never goes down. This book has yet to disappoint me and I find that, like X-Factor, I really dig these characters as individuals and as members of a larger team. This issue focuses on a one-and-done recovery after a near death experience with the evil Animator that killed Doug Ramsey once before. Conqering their foe and making it back home has left the team weary, but the party hungry free-spirit that is Blink won’t have it. It’s time to party! The only action is a bar fight between a drunken Sunspot as he attempts to learn the “language of love” from Doug’s power of understanding all language. The rest is humorous partying and really nice snipets of our team members as they show their true colors when they are not on the battlefield or being hated as mutants every day of their lives. And that’s what makes this book so loveable! We have our back and forth romances and our crazy moments filled with action and horror, but the core of this book is the fact that each of these characters could have stories written about them for hundreds of years while their best features really seem to glow in a team setting. Even better is the absurdities that the team faces; be it a monstrous living parasite that has taken over an entire island or just the team’s paranoia as their teammate Magma goes on a date with the devil himself. The real heart of this book is the individual search for self in all of the cast members. The sense of individuality and self worth constantly weighs on their shoulders at varying degrees in such a way that in all their humorous endeavors and violent battles there is always something deeper that lets the reader feel exactly as they are. All of their quirky powers and traits blend so well together that I can’t stop smiling with each turn of the page—eager to see what happens next. That’s how it’s done. The combo of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning with artist David Lopez has brought me many great issues and I know that I’ll keep this one on my list as long as they keep delivering the goods. Oh and they brought fan favorite Blink back. ‘Nuff said!
I’m saying this a lot lately—Scott Snyder is the new Geoff Johns. His mega story arc, Night of the Owls, is the proof as he has now rallied all the Batman writers to his cause and created one of the most horrifying and exciting stories for the Dark Knight in all of the character’s history. This issue begins the fray right at home as the Court of Owls attacks Bruce and Alfred at home in a swarming frenzy while a defenseless Alfred must put out the call to all of the Bat family. Like a brilliant kung-fu flick, Bruce takes on members of the Court one by one and all at once—touting to his fans just how badass the Batman really is. What’s more interesting is that the incredible script writing is almost overshadowed by stellar performances by artists Greg Capullo and, one of my favorites, Raphael Albuquerque. These two masters of darkness and shadows really create the ambiance that is necessary to make this epic feel visceral and scary in all the right ways. It plays like a movie and the whole time you’re on the edge of your seat. This book sells itself. I can’t tell you enough how good this series is and if you miss it then you really are missing out on a piece of history. What these creators are doing with Batman will be talked about for decades to come. Don’t miss out and when you do get to it, make sure you read it a few times—Snyder is a clever one and likes to hide things right under your nose. Go get ‘em, detective…
Wolverine and the X-Men #9
I have been waiting on this book for a long time. The X-Men are back to their heart and really hitting all the right notes in this amazingly well-written and astoundingly well drawn series by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo. This book is stylish, edgy, funny, epic, scary, heartfelt, smart, and downright fun on every level. From the get-go, this book has won me over with the establishment of the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning. We’ve already been attacked by the new Hellfire Club run by the devilish child, Kade Killgore. The island the school rests on is alive. Sabretooth tried to kill Beast and failed. Did I mention that Angel thinks he’s a real angel, the reincarnated Apocalypse is attending the school as a student, a brood child is attending as well with an I.Q. higher than pretty much everyone else, Shadowcat got filled with Broodlings that made her think she was pregnant, and Quentin Quire—probably the most powerful telepath on the planet—is a complete and utter authority-hating tool bent on destroying both the school and building a reputation for himself as the greatest person ever. This book is perfect and this particular issue captures the real threat of the Phoenix force on its way to Earth to take the teenage body of Hope Summers—the supposed mutant messiah. Where the other X-books feel like a war story ready to culminate with harsh realities and violence, this book shows a genuine return to what made the X-Men so appealing in the 90’s. There’s a particular scene after Captain America has confirmed with Beast over the Phoenix’s trajectory toward Earth where Shadowcat levels with Wolverine by asking him to tell her the truth. The look on her face and the dialogue of “O My God. It IS the Phoenix, isn’t it?” really sold the horror of the situation to me in a way that hasn’t really been captured in the other Avengers/X-Men books. For those of us who remember the many times the Phoenix has entered the X-books, we know the destruction and death it brings—and so do the core members of the X-Men who were there each time. Even Wolverine and Beast have a moment of last minute joking in order to avoid the possibility of sorrow concerning their very likely demise. This book is impressive on all fronts and never ceases to amaze me on every level. If you were ever a fan of X-Men and really wanted to get back to the fun and crazy times where the X-Men could have fun and still kick ass, then this is your book.