Written by Brian Bendis
Art by Marko Djurdjevic
Where to begin with Dark Reign: The List - Avengers #1? I could be snarky and make fun of the ridiculously long title used, but there was just so much more wrong with the issue from a characterization standpoint that I'd just be wasting time on trivial matters going into something like that.
Let's start with the most obvious problem with the issue - when did a Skrull replace Clint Barton? What? There were no Skrulls in this issue? That's actually supposed to be Clint "I condemned my wife for letting the person that raped her die because heroes don't kill" Barton? The same person that took over the Thunderbolts and forced the Beetle to go to prison because he was the only person with a known murder on his record and made it a point that heroes don't kill and if they wanted to be respected and taken seriously, he had to turn himself into the authorities? The same, well, you get it by now I hope.
I can't take the premise of this issue or the characterization of Clint Barton seriously when he's written like a stark raving lunatic. Norman Osborn, for how eeeeeevil he's supposed to be, hasn't done anything overly evil since he took power. In just about every characterization I've seen, outside of the odd miscue, he actually thinks he's helping people in his own twisted way and, the sad thing is, he's right - he is helping and doing a pretty good job of it all. The only bad thing you could pin on him is the whole Masters of Evil going free stuff and it's more like they are under his thumb than actually some wide spread menace.
My point? Clint knows Osborn was a bad guy and wants to kill him for no other reason than he was a bad guy. He points out absurdities like how Spider-Man didn't murder him when he was 15 years old and in high school (protip - he did inadvertently kill the Green Goblin after Gwen died - it didn't stick. He also killed him again in Revelations after Ben Reilly died by throwing a bag full of pumpkin bombs into his chest and immolating him - it didn't stick.) and raised ridiculous questions like "would you kill Hitler if you could?".
Everyone in the room should be able to see that Ronin was unhinged and off his rocker and did something to stop him and/or turned him over to the police themselves if he was behaving like this and making the Punisher look sane. Hell, this is a guy that went off to kill the Scarlet Witch for killing him (he got better) and ended up having sex with her and not telling anyone where the most dangerous being on the planet was hiding out. He's not the poster boy for a hero under Bendis's pen in the first place and if he's going to bring him back to be some half cocked killer, they should just kill him off again.
Once Bendis establishes that Ronin is quite insane, he goes ahead and proves it by taking it one step further. Clint's masterplan to kill Osborn? Break into Avengers Tower guns blazing and keep shooting til he finds Osborn. Yes, you heard me right. His plan involves making a lot of noise and shooting stuff. In the process, Bendis makes Venom, Bullseye and Daken all look like chumps. Venom, I could see with the sneak attack sonics, but Bullseye gets shot up (yes, again) without connecting with a single hit and Daken is punked out like a wannabe Wolverine when he's been shown to be cold, calculating and equal to or better than his father in everyway.
In the end, the only really good thing in this issue was Norman Osborn and Moonstone. Bendis has been pretty solid with Osborn throughout Dark Reign and continued with it here. I'm not sure why he needs the SHIELD/Nick Fury-like forcefield as he's super strong, has an Iron Man-like armour and near-Wolverine-like regenerative abilities, but it made Hawkeye look dumber than he already was, so it works for me.
In the case of Moonstone, finally, finally (!), someone remembers she and Hawkeye dated and were an item in Thunderbolts. Moonstone has been a good character, but written like a total villain since Ellis took over Thunderbolts. I liked it, but kind of missed how she was a conflicted and more compelling character prior to her post-Ellis incarnation. Seeing their relationship acknowledged was the high point of the issue for me.
On the artwork side of things, Djurdjevic did a great job, everything looked nice, but it felt like something was missing. I can't put my finger on it. I get an almost Alex Ross-like vibe from it, like it's a bunch of static images that work better on their own than having an actual flow or dyanmic to it. It's hard to describe. Pretty, but lifeless at the same time. His Thor work looked much better to me and didn't have the same feeling, despite this work being cleaner and looking more polished.
Verdict - Avoid It. Unless you just want to see Hawkeye act completely out of character, rant and rave about killing people and go off half cocked to kill Osborn and get captured in the process, there's nothing worth seeing or reading here. Story feels forced to propel this List "event" forward.
INCREDIBLE HERCULES #134
Written by Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente
Art by Reilly Brown
Best issue of Hercules or best issue of Hercules ever? I'm not sure, but it's definitely a close one. For those out of the loop, Hercules has been tricked into stopping the 'evil' Dark Elf queen by Malekith the Accursed, who posed as Baldur the Brave telling Herc that Thor was banished and, as the Dark Elves have had interactions with Thor before, Malekith convinced Hercules to imitate Thor so that his trip would go smoother. Hilarity ensued.
This issue picks up shortly after arriving in the Dark Elf kingdom and damn near every page was probably a moment of the week for me as Hercules meets the beautiful Dark Elf queen, Alflyse, and proceeds to have reactions similar to the cover to the left here. She's beautiful and not as evil as Hercules was led to believe. Hercules completes some trials to prove his worth (and how awesome Herc really is, especially in the intelligence department!), ends up sleeping with and possibly marrying the queen, who then uses his identity as Thor and the knowledge he was banned from Asgard as a reason to invade and restore his honour.
However, that brief description leaves out a lot of what really makes this issue as good as it was, such as how Thor shows up at the end dressed in Hercules's clothes complaining of a draft from the skirt, the picture perfect expressions from Reilly Brown (so glad they finally got a stable artist to stay on for more than an arc at a time) and seemingly running joke of great sound effects like Clubbawak for a club wacking something. Hell, even the recap page at the start, something I almost always ignore, was hilarious as Hercules sums up what's going on by ridiculing Thor's costume.
Verdict - Must Read. Arguably the best book Marvel is publishing right now and this was easily one of the best issues in the series and a constant reminder why I love this book.
SECRET SIX #13
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood
Ragdoll takes some of Wonder Woman's costume and dresses up in it in this issue. Let me repeat. Ragdoll dresses up like Wonder Woman in this issue. If that isn't enough to make you buy this issue, I'm not sure what else I can tell you. Maybe that it featured character moments up the wazoo? Action? Betrayals? Great dialogue and art? Any of this cluing you in to how good this issue was? No? Well, I guess I'll have to go into some more details then.
The Secret Six have been hired by some slavers to police their new prison they are building that will house the unwanted criminals and degenerates of modern society. It's built on the backs of slaves. Half the team found this too repugnant for even their relatively low morale standards while the other half didn't give a damn as long as they got paid. Their team rules also state they take a job, they finish a job. So, when half the team goes off to free the prisoners and betray their clients, the other half decide they have to kill their former allies.
It's obviously never that simple with the Six and it leads to a great many morale quandries and character moments, such as dealing with Jeannette's and Scandal's pasts, some mysterious words from Grendel and Wonder Woman to Catman and the eventual release of Grendel.
Currently, the team is in shambles, but it looks like they will all fall on the same side by the end of this arc, which is quite possibly the strongest one to date from the various Secret Six miniseries and the current ongoing. My favourite part of the issue, and series, is that these are people first, villains second. They aren't just the mustachio twirling Saturday morning cartoon villains, either. They have their own codes and morale dilemmas. Some just don't care about anything (Deadshot). Others are clearly insane (Ragdoll). Others still are victims of their pasts (Jeannette & Scandal). The dynamic between them all makes it work and the dialogue and character work is easily the strongest part of the series and what makes a concept such as a team of villains work. These aren't nice people, but they are still people and that is what differentiates it from other villain books where it's simply the villains doing villain things or trying to be heroes.
Verdict - Must Read. If Hercules is the best book being put out by Marvel, Secret Six is easily the best coming from DC, if not on the market. The defining characteristic has to be that it is unlike any other book and offers something new and unique every month - something typically only found in indie or Vertigo titles.
Written by Andy Diggle
Art by Miguel Angel Sepulveda
I dropped this title during the Deadpool crossover as the tone and style of the book shifted completely and it did not read or feel like it fit the book and was merely a cheap money grab crossover. While I picked it up a few issues afterwards, primarily for the return of Songbird, I don't think I've actually reviewed any isues of it due to time constraints. That said, I have been enjoying the current storyline, but it's yet to really wow me or warrant it's continued spot on the pull list outside of my longtime love affair with the title since the Busiek days.
However, this issue doesn't change that current opinion of the title. I enjoy it on a fundamental level, but it's nothing mind blowing or what I'd consider a must read or even something near the top of a recommendation list. It's a solid read, but nothing to write home about either.
The are a few things keeping my interest in it, however, such as the return of Songbird, the upcoming Secret Warriors crossover and the promise of Techno, Mach V and other former Thunderbolts showing up soon. In that regard, Songbird has been handled well. She's competent and holds her own, never being a simple plot device for the other Thunderbolts to chase around. The Black Widow reveal was interesting, but hard to reconcile with other events in the Marvel Universe, like with her Iron Man and Captain America appearances, but I'm willing to overlook it.
As for the upcoming Secret Warriors crossover, it appears to be more of a guest appearance in each book that a full-on crossover like with Deadpool's book. As I'm reading both and each seems to be dove tailing into each other in such a way as to not feel forced, I'm nowhere near as disappointed as I am with when it crossed over with Deadpool.
The big cliffhanger in this issue also raises a few questions. It featured Norman Osborn revealing he was the one that imitated Fury and convinced Black Widow to infiltrate the Thunderbolts in order to lure out the real Nick Fury. This resulted in the capture of Fury and Osborn summarily executing him. My guess is that it's a Life Model Decoy and, based on the tagline at the end of this issue, that we'll see Fury's perspective of the events in the next Secret Warriors's issue.
Verdict - Check It. Solid issue, but does nothing to really distinguish itself from the pack. Current readers should enjoy it, but won't do anything to lure in new readers either.