New Avengers gets my Anti-Moment of the Week. There was just so much wrong with that book, from art to price to story, that I'm tempted to rank it as the worst comic I've had the pleasure of reading in years. It just infuriated me on so many levels, especially the numerous cut and paste panels that pass for artwork.
As for a Book of the Week, I'm tempted to say Thunderbolts impressed me the most. Green Lantern was a close second, but Johns was showing signs of straying too far towards the very things many of us were concerned about with the introduction of so many new corps to the story. He still pulled off a great issue, but that little slip led me to give Thunderbolts the title this week.
Hit the jump for this week's reviews.
AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE #22
Written by Chris Gage
Art by Humberto Ramos
Gage is settling in quite well on his Avengers: The Initiative run and this marks two very solid issues in a row for the title. As I had been quite iffy about continuing with the title post-Secret Invasion, I'm pleased to see the turn around of late. Also, Ramos is a perfect fit for this title in the absence of Casselli, who's moved on to Secret Warriors.
Picking up where the Clor fight ended last month, we're treated to an excellent fight between the New Warriors and Clor that doesn't seem to undersell the power of the Thor clone/cyborg, but still manages to treat the New Warriors and remaining Iniative members as cdredible threats.
However, the fight didn't come without casualties either. Yet another MVP clone bites the dust here, leaving only one of the Scarlet Spiders alive. I actually liked the dynamic of the trio turned duo and this death only served to dilute their uniqueness when I believe the intended effect was to strengthen the character's appeal.
One thing I liked about this, though, was that Vance steps up and liberates the real body of the deceased MVP, who had been experimented and had his death covered up way back at the start of the series. It was nice to see that skeleton in the closet addressed and it'll be interesting to see where the Initiative goes from here.
Oh, and the whole Clor fight? It wrapped up rather uncermoniously when the good doctor, Baron von Blitzschlag, convinced him he was a real clone and Clor just flies off. I believe he was off to find the real Thor, so maybe we'll see him again in JMS's title.
Verdict - Check It. This title appears to be back on track, but still lacks a real purpose, especially with the destruction of most of Camp Hammond here and the fallout of Secret Invasion's Skrull infestation. Gage just needs to show me he has something long term planned for the title or a new direction of some kind and I'll be sold on sticking with this title for the long haul again.
GREEN LANTERN #38
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert
This issue was fast paced and packed full of stuff happening on every page, but flirts dangerously with crossing the line between a great continuation to the Sinestro Corps War and forcing me to make a corny Captain Planet joke about what happens in this issue.
Thankfully, I'm still quite pleased with everything that's happening in the book, but, at the same time, I'm having some serious reservations in regards to how ridiculous the addition of all these corps could end up being.
Picking up with last issue's Red Lantern-ization of Hal Jordan, we immediately jump into the thick of things as Hal's rage boils over with his desire to kill Sinestro. Of note, the Blue Lanterns point out that Hal's heart has literally stopped beating due to the red ring and that the red ring has "replaced it".
I enjoyed the inner dialogue of Hal as it showed his emotions are conflicted through both words and the blending of his text boxes' colours, going from green to red. This was further added to with ring status reports chiming in during the conflict from the different rings Hal was wearing.
Another interesting tidbit came from Atrocitus as he gloats over the Blue Lanterns. It seems the Blue Lanterns have no actual offensive abilities and we're told that hope only serves to bolster will, which means that without an active Green Lantern (Hal is consumed by the red ring at this point) present, the blue rings are essentially useless. Atrocitus even went so far as to point Saint Walker's ring hand at his own head, giving the Blue Lantern a free shot to kill him, to prove this fact to us.
Faced with this grim reality, Saint Walker took the only option available to him and quickly inducted Hal into the Blue Lanterns, sticking his own ring on Hal's finger. The blue ring referred to the red ring as an infestation and purged Hal's body of it and effectively reproduced his blood. The addition of the blue ring, after Hal regained his senses, caused the red ring to explode, injuring Atrocitus and many other Red Lanterns in the process and ended the conflict. The addition of the the blue ring left Hal with his costume blending into a mix between a Green and Blue Lantern.
Despite the amount of action taking place in the opening pages of this book, it felt like the majority of the book was dedicated to epilogues or, perhaps, prologues for upcoming storylines, the first of which being the reintroduction of Carol Ferris and Cowgirl, two characters that haven't been seen in over a year, I believe, unless you count Ferris' brief cameos in the Secret Origin origin story rehash.
Ferris is apparently love sick for Hal, despite not being in a relationship with him, and the Star Sapphires quickly inducted her into their ranks. I'm not sure if I like this development or not, as it feels like she just shoehorned in to have some drama and a name and face we recognize for the Star Sapphires. If she had been a part of the book for the past year or more, then, yes, I could see the addition of her to the story and relevance of her induction. But the way Johns brought her back in so quickly makes it feel more like she was simply thrown in the meat grinder for some added tension instead of any real story reasoning. I'm also concerned with why the Star Sapphires, a love based corps, doesn't include any males in their ranks. I know they never used them prior to this, but with the move to rings and more emotion based, it seems odd.
Continuing on (yes, the issue was packed with content), we're introduced to the Controllers again, who are now in the Vega system in search of the orange light, which gives us our first glimpes at the mysterious Agent Orange character, who's given the name Larfleeze. It seems the Guardians promised to leave the Vega system alone in order to ensure Larfleeze stays put. I'm assuming the Controllers will be the new Guardians for the Orange Lanterns.
We were also treated to Sinestro addressing his remaining corps members on Qward about the Mongul situation. Based on this two page spread, it looks like Sinestro isn't taking Mongul's attempts to take over the Sinestro Corps lightly and he's ordered them all to Daxam to confront him. However, Sinestro is going to check in on his family on Korugar, in response to Atrocitus' threats in the last couple issues, before meeting up with them. Based on this, the current GLC storyline looks like it's going to be trying its best to put the Battle for Mogo to shame.
Finally, we're treated to an Origin and Omens back up that continues to perpetuate the 'John Stewert is a sniper' fixation that Johns has when he should be playing up the architect role, not a minor backstory detail like sniping. Despite that, it seems this is set in the future as John is visibly upset and we're told he had a run in with an Orange Lantern. Based on that, I assume this is post-Agent Orange - maybe three or four issues in the future.
John is actually at the site of his greatest failure, Xanshi, or what's left it after John's inability to stop a yellow coloured bomb from destroying it. This is the same planet Fatality is from and the recent convert to the Star Sapphires is seen in the asteroid field through John's sniper rifle construct, prompting him to go check it out as the omen ends.
The final page reveals even more omens. One is of Sinestro and Hal teaming up against mysterious blacked out figures. Another features what looks like Katma Tui, John Stewert's deceased wife, looking a little worse for wear in John's arms. Yet another is of the Guardian's all pointing at three magic-based Green Lanterns, Alan Scott (who's GL in name only), Mordru and Torquemada, all of which are handcuffed before them. Is this hinting at magic being banned by the Guardians? Finally, we see Black Hand kneeling and on his hand, which is the first time I think we've seen one, is a Black Lantern ring.
Verdict - Must Read. I have some concerns, as they are, about the potential for this story to go off the tracks with the additions of more and more corps to the mix and the use of multiple rings by one person, but the sheer amount of good things that happened in this issue was more than enough to silence those concerns for the time being.
INCREDIBLE HERCULES #126
Written by Fred Van Lente & Greg Pak
Art by Rodney Buchemi
This issue was literally Hercules', or Heracles, as this flashback refers to him, origin story and it was decent, but not entirely noteworthy, if I do say so.
As it is, this mostly details a brief one or two page origin, where Hercules suckled at Hera's breast milk as an infant, giving him his strength and demi-god stature, while the rest of the book is a flashback of sorts showcasing how Hercules received his current "costume". It's all fairly straight forward and draws heavily on the Heracles stories most of us have heard before, so I won't go into too much detail. That's not to say the flashback was boring either. Just that I doubt it needed an entire issue to convey.
In fact, the only really noteworthy part of the origin is that Athena set up Hera to breast feed Hercules and that she also has her eye on Amadeus Cho. It seems Athena wanted Hercules to become the demi-god he is as she knew that he would inspire people to foresake their gods and bring about a new age of reason. Athena claims that should Hercules fall, Cho would be there to take his place. Based on everything Athena has been doing of late, I'm not sure what she's planning exactly, but I'm pretty sure she's not someone Herc and Cho should be trusting either.
There was also a back up story in this issue featuring Cho searching for his missing coyote pup, Kirby. It actually featured Cho seeking out Bruce Banner, who's hiding out in a desert near the tracking device planted on the real Kirby. It all felt really far fetched and out there and I'm not sure what the point of having Bruce Banner show up here was for, but, in the end, the coyote pup was found and we see that he's grown up and found himself a mate and Cho leaves Kirby to his new life. Nothing that really needed this many pages devoted to it.
Verdict - Check It. Both stories featured in this issue were rather ho-hum. I did enjoy the Hercules origin, but didn't really see the need for so many pages devoted to it either. All in all, an average issue that should be a decent jumping on point, especially with the two or three pages worth of recapping past events in the middle of the book.
JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #24
Written by Geoff Johns and Jerry Ordway
Art by Jerry Ordway
No, no, no! Why Johns? Why do you have to do this? Pink haired, sex crazed, Desaad possessed Mary Marvel worked within the confines of Morrison's insanity and the framework of Final Crisis. She should never, ever, appear anywhere else again. Especially drawn by Jerry Ordway. You didn't even try to explain why she was like that or why she used her magic word again other than a cheap one line, "the voices told me to", explanation.
In fact, this issue was bad on so many levels, even ignoring the Mary Marvel nonsense, and, to be honest, I'm not even sure I want to pick up the next issue now.
Let's take it from the top. The JSA are storming the Rock of Eternity with the depowered Billy Batson. There's no personality to anyone and little emotion or reason for the reader to invest themselves in their plight.
Upon arriving at the Rock, they simply yell for Black Adam to come speak with them. With Jerry Ordway's terrible art, he shows up looking like a cross between an elf and poorly down characiture of the more regal and snobbish Black Adam we've come to know. It's really quite ridiculous how bad he looks. The rest of the JSA don't far much better and most of the women suffer from a serious case of man face.
After Adam basically tells them all to leave before Isis comes, predictably, Isis shows up and grabs Billy. Instead of just killing him, she's decided to toss him into some mist-like magic soup thing which is never really explained.
Somewhere along the line we get a Black Adam origin story about how Theo Adam betrayed Billy's parents and became Black Adam. It's also shown how Billy became Captain Marvel when his father's spirit showed up to take him to the wizard, Shazam, at the Rock of Eternity.
Why does that matter? Well, before Isis can throw Billy into the magic mist, Jay Garrick zooms in and tosses Billy away from harm. This causes him to be absorbed by the mist and, by issue's end, he's seen talking to Billy's dad's spirit, who offers to take him to the Rock of Finality. No, I don't know what that is nor do I care.
Finally, after Billy was saved by Flash, he's magically in a cave passage with Stargirl and Mary Marvel shows up and, after Mary tosses Stargirl aside, tells Billy he'll be joining their family, which I believe means the Black Adam one. The only explanation for the shifting of the caves is that, well, it's magic and they don't have to explain it.
Verdict - Avoid It. Johns never really clicked on this volume of JSA and, sad as it is to say, I'm glad he's finally leaving. I only wish this final storyline could have come out better.
NEW AVENGERS #50
Written by Brian Bendis
Art by Various
Thanks for this issue Mr Bendis. You made my decision to drop this comic from my pull list all the more easy with this disaster of a comic.
Let's start with the price - $4.99 US for a 37 page comic. The regular sized issue for this book has been bumped up to $3.99 as of late, so this isn't too bad, I suppose. However, when you take into account the number of problems with this book's contents, paying that much for this issue starts to sting that much more.
What problems, you ask? Well, take a long look at that beautiful cover. Looks great, doesn't it? That fight doesn't happen in this issue. The two teams don't even meet like in other fake fight covers. The art doesn't even look half as good as that cover. While covers, of late, haven't exactly focused on being entirely accurate, they usually reflect something that happens in the issue. Add in the cliffhanger from last issue promising this fight and the hype and solicits hinting at said cover fight and the fact we paid extra money for this is just downright disgusting.
Speaking of the subpar artwork, Billy Tan, the main artist for this issue, turned in one of the laziest artistic efforts I have ever seen. Upon opening the book, we're greeted to three straight pages of cut and paste duplicate panels, none of which were used to show passage of time or for comedic effect. Each page consisted of nothing but talking heads and the same artwork smeared across three or four panels. The "technique" (I use quotations because it takes no skill to cut and paste artwork as bad as these images were) is repeated six or seven times by Tan and the final couple of pages consist of Clint Barton sitting on TV with the same panel repeated over and over with mountains of dialogue balloons and the occasional minor tweak to his expression.
I usually reserve my anger at artists for hacks like David Mack, Rob Liefeld or Greg Land, people that simply trace photos and pass it off as their own work or simply have no real skill, but the "effort" Tan displayed in this issue, combined with the $4.99 price tag and lackluster bait and switch story, has left me so genuinely pissed off over the purchase of a comic that the only other time I've felt this upset over purchasing a comic was when Marvel brought back Aunt May back during the Final Chapter storyline at the tailend of the Clone Saga era.
As for the actual content of this issue, Bendis opted to spend several pages cutting and pasting dialogue from Dark Avengers #1 and #2, word for word, which, in hindsight, is probably what inspired Tan to phone his own workload in. On top of that, we were treated with the whole non-Dark Avengers fight, which was replaced with the eight or ninth New Avengers vs The Hood's gang fight in the past year or two - real original and inspired stuff, this time featuring nice big splash pages with chaotic fight sequences where you don't really see any actual fighting or the consequences of any actions, just cut aways of random scenes, each penciled by random artists, and ends with yet another instance of the New Avengers running away, which is the same thing we got in every other NA vs Hood gang fight. Powerful stuff. Note the sarcasm.
Verdict - Avoid It. Never have I paid so much for so little nor have I seen someone take 37 pages and do nothing but give a few guest artists some splash pages to sell online, as there's no story here and nothing new or interesting happening.
Written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art by Andrea Di Vito
Worldmind continues to mass recruit for the Nova Corps, literally recruiting thousands of humans for the job of Nova Centurion. From the get go we're shown that this isn't all fun and games as the people abducted are never asked to join, simply taken. They are further pumped full of endorphins and indoctrinated into the corps without any hassles.
On one hand, I was hoping Worldmind's corruption would be downplayed to let us try and figure out who's lying, the Worldmind or Richard, and, on the other hand, I'm glad we've cleared it up so we can, hopefully, get Richard back in the chrome bucket helmet again.
Knowing right off the bat that it's actually Worldmind that's gone bad allows Abnett and Lanning to quickly catch Richard up to speed with the reader by having him head to Project Pegasus to get some tests done. They put him through the paces with numerous tests and conclude he has a clean bill of health, for the most part (more on that in a bit), and collectively decide to lure Richard's brother to Pegasus in order to put him in an isolation chamber, as they suspect the Worldmind is influencing the new recruits.
This, again, turns out to be true and Richard's brother quickly realizes he's been under the Worldmind's influence the entire time. However, Worldmind knows what Richard is up to and sends several centurions to put a stop to his meddling, going so far as to physically take control of those centurions, even speaking directly through them.
I'm still confused about the Worldmind's sudden turn and the whole Ego deal has me wondering if Ego is involved in his personality change or if he's just fed up with Richard's refusal to rebuild the corps.
However, the conclusion to this issue drops the bomb that one of the tests Richard took revealed that his body is actually breaking down without the Nova Force. It seems while his mind was safe from its effects, the stress of holding it caused his body to adapt to holding it and without it, he's now going to die within 48 hours. A tad over dramatic, but I like the idea behind it.
Verdict - Must Read. Another great showing from the book and it's quickly becoming like Captain America and Ultimate Spider-Man - a title that's so consistently good, I've begun taking it for granted.
Written by Andy Diggle
Art by Roberto De La Torre
Andy Diggle continues to do a great job with the new direction for the Thunderbolts title and if you dropped this title post-Ellis, I'd recomment grabbing these last two issues and giving it a whirl, I'm confident you'll still very much enjoy this comic.
I actually had to double check to make sure De La Torre was the artist on this issue or not. The art looks like his, but there was something really off about it that I couldn't put my finger on. I'm thinking they switched the colourist or inker, but I didn't bother to check. I just know that the art lacked the same darkness and polish that the previous issue had. It wasn't horrible, by any means, but something that caught my eye while reading this and felt like pointing out.
Despite a few minor hiccups, this issue actually played out pretty much exactly as anyone who read last month's issue would have expected. The fake Green Goblin, who's later revealed as Headsman, is obviously working for Norman and is used to help "persuade" the president to believe that Norman isn't the Green Goblin, past or present, and, combined with the hulking out Doc Samson (thanks to a gamma emitter put in place by Norman), convince the president to take his side against the obviously gamma rage induced Doc Samson.
While some have reservations about the differences between the Norman of the Ellis era and the current infallible Dark Reign version, the conclusion still flows together perfectly in the confines of this story and the framework of Dark Reign, which Diggle has no control over, and I found Norman's power plays here to be quite believable as far as comic book believability goes. Norman's insanity actually does boil over at times, such as his overzealousness to show off how much better HAMMER is than SHIELD to the new president and the impossible, "have this all sorted out within the hour", comment that even one of his subordinates questions the impossibility of doing.
After wrapping up the first black op mission of the Thunderbolts, Diggle finally gets around to introducing us to the entire crew, with the exceptoin of one character featured on last month's cover, who has yet to appear, to my knowledge. I liked how Paladin and Ant-Man got along so well, as both are assholes and it's a perfect fit. I'm also a fan of reusing the recently abandoned Cube prison complex as their new base of operations.
Finally, there's a cameo of Songbird in this issue, which should be a nice nod to fans of the character, myself included, that have missed her and thought she might be written out of the series. I'm unsure of her intentions, but I get the feeling she might end up forming her own team to combat or expose Norman and the Thunderbolts. There's no clear indication though, so for now I'm just glad she's still involved in the book in some capacity.
Verdict - Must Read. A perfect companion book to Dark Avengers and maintains the dark aspects of an all villain book that made the Ellis run so much fun to read. Looking forward to more of this.
Written by Chris Yost & Craig Kyle
Art by Clayton Crain
I was hoping a new story arc and the return of Clayton Crain would mark a renewed interest in X-Force. I still like the characters and concept, but the execution is starting to wear on me a little.
Where Yost and Kyle mixed their killings with a proper mix of character moments, which showed an obvious love for the characters, in New X-Men, the characters in X-Force seem less like people and more like vehicles for bloodshed and violence. When the characters stop being relatable, it's hard to retain a vested interest in what they do, regardless of what spectacle or shocking event you introduce every month.
So, as much as I enjoy both writers collaborations and love for certain characters, such as Domino and X-23, my future with this title doesn't look so good.
For example, this issue's main plot consists of show casing the Leper Queen and how Bastion is using her to pump random mutants full of the Legacy Virus and then unleashing them on Friends of Humanity rallies that he's set up. The Legacy Virus causes the mutant's powers to go haywire and, as is the case in this issue, kills a whole lot of humans. The comic actually begins and ends on two such massacres, which only serves to undermine the shock value of each.
With so little actual character moments in this book, I actually found the Leper Queen scenes, in which she laments the forced servitude and inability to break free of Bastion's control, to be the most compelling. She even wishes for death as she is forced to carry out her duties by Bastion's will. The fact that I care more about the Leper Queen than our heroes shows just how detached I've become to the mere tools of destruction Yost and Kyle have turned the X-Force team into.
While I'm sure that is the intended effect, as they are literally a team of killers now, there needs to be a middle ground for these issues. We don't see any remorse or guilt or even joy at their successes and failures. It's just a simple recurring string of, "Who do we kill next?", type reactions and the occasional comedy scene, such as X-23 cutting off Vanisher's ear in this issue, which is still quite a dark bit of humour.
Verdict - Check It. It's a well crafted book and I did enjoy the return of Crane's unique art style, but I think the entire concept of the book is just wearing thin on me. Add the upcoming crossover with the much maligned Cable and I'm thinking I may just drop the title at the end of this arc.