UPDATE - Added reviews for Amazing Spider-Man, Secret Six, Ghost Riders: Heavens on Fire, & Deadpool Team-Up.
UPDATED - New reviews start here.
Holy crap, did this ever go south fast. The first two parts of this story weren't especially great, but they did a decent job of reintroducing several aspects of the Clone Saga after Marvel's decade long ban of any and all mention of it outside of the Spider-Girl series, which still kept any mention of clones to a bare minimum for the most part. They even had an serviceable mystery plot that shed some light on Ben Reilly's and Kaine's past. The only down side, really, was the whole Raptor villain, but I was able to overlook him for the most part.
Jump back to this issue and it's just gone completely off the tracks. The big mystery fire that killed Raptor's family? As expected, it was due to Kaine's involvement in the past, but amounted to Ben Reilly throwing Kaine into a fire place, which happened to be off in some random room of the house for no apparent reason (anyone else keep a fireplace in the upstairs spare bedroom/storage/lab room and at a roaring pace when no one was in that room? No one? Just checking.). Absurdity of the location and Ben throwing Kaine into a lit fireplace aside, the rest of the mystery amounts to Ben confronting Raptor, punching him around a bit, Raptor begging Ben to spare his family and then Ben revealing that Raptor had already killed them while Ben was fighting Kaine. Yes, Raptor left the room after Kaine bust in to go slaughter his family and now blames Ben Reilly/Peter Parker for it.
But wait, it gets "better". Kaine, who has done everything in his life to help Peter Parker live the life he couldn't and hated Ben for being a better clone, is now working with Raptor in the present day because he believes the screw up doctor that hasn't done any science or lab work in years can help cure Kaine's clone degeneration. Kaine is a smart guy on a Peter Parker level. He should know Raptor is an idiot that injected himself with freaking dinosaur DNA and has no knowledge of cloning or the possible degeneration side effects, yet is only working for him so he can antagonize Peter and get his degeneration problem fixed.
On top of this, Kaine, who was willing to turn himself into the police so Peter would not reveal his identity during the Trial of Peter Parker (Kaine had framed Ben, but Peter was taking the fall for the same finger prints/looks) and changed his life to help Peter (even supposedly recovered Peter and MJ's baby, though that subplot was completely ignored with all things Clone Saga), yet here unmasks Spider-Man to that Z-list villain, Raptor, for shits and giggles.
Verdict - Avoid It. Just about everything about this conclusion was awful and I can't even put to words my disappointment with how this debacle turned out. They had a golden opportunity to reintroduce some of the better parts of the Clone Saga and turned into into a complete waste of paper. Even me, a Clone Saga fan, does not even want to see any more of this garbage if this is the best they can muster.
While there was no beer drinking contests with Thor and Wolverine, Hercules and Deadpool did end up going to Tijuana and got completely plastered whilst wearing ponchos and subreros and drinking tequilla with bloodshot eyes (Moment of the week? Definitely.), so I'll let the promised keg party that cover implied slide this time.
As for the rest of the content from this new Deadpool ongoing, all I can say is, combined with his work on Deadpool #900, Fred Van Lente should be writing a Deadpool book on a regular basis. He writes an acutally funny Deadpool and when Van Lente has him break the 4th wall, it's not just for a cheap gag, but actually flows with what is happening in the book. Too many times, writers seem to feel it's their job to make Deadpool break the 4th wall, but take no time to really think of a unique or funny way to do it. They just throw it in there at random and expect it to be funny for the simple fact that it breaks the 4th wall. Nice to see some actual thought go into its useage for a change.
On the plot side of things, Arcade and Nightmare team up to entrap Hercules and Deadpool. Arcade hates Deadpool because he's more popular than he is and is getting all the assassination contracts while Nightmare has issues with Herc. They lure both heroes to one of Arcade's Murderworlds, which is modified by Nightmare's powers, and that's the basis for the story. It works in so far as it brings Herc and Wade together, both of which play off each other surprisingly well.
Speaking of surprises, with Van Lente on writing chores, I was surprised to see Hercules acting more like older versions of the character. He wasn't speaking in Olde English or anything, but was, for lack of a better description, acting more like a Greek god than he does in his own book, which Van Lente co-writes. He was still Hercules, but his dialogue seemed off a bit. Nothing that overly distracted me from the story, but worth pointing out.
The only real disappointment I had with this issue was the art. Dalibor Talajic's art was average at best and I was honestly expecting something a little better from the first issue of a new series. It almost feels like they are literally cashing on Deadpool's surge in popularity and aren't even trying now, simply letting the book run on Deadpool's name alone. It had a rushed, Countdown-like feel to it. Backgrounds were, in most cases, non-existent or consisting of a solid colour background. The only good thing I can say is that I really enjoyed the facial expressions, such as Arcade's look when he sees Deadpool lobotomize himself.
Verdict - Buy It. An enjoyable, done-in-one tale that reminded me of the old Cable & Deadpool series (with Herc replacing Cable). I'm not sure if I'll stick with the ongoing, as Van Lente is only doing this first issue, but I'll be sure to check in on it from time to time whenever the story or creative team appeals to me.
+ Enjoyed the issue, but felt like we didn't really go anywhere in terms of plot (more on this in the negatives). Curious about these villains, whom I have no knowledge of, and regret not having read the rest of the series (again, more on this in the negatives) after seeing them here.
+ Roland Boschi is really impressing me on the art for this title. You won't see his name mentioned with the McNiven's or Quitely's, but it's still very solid work with great expressions, detailed backgrounds and it's a very dark and moody look that lends itself well to the demons and other craziness of this book.
+ The last page with Kowalski/Vengence. He really is my new favourite character. He's just so over the top insane with a mad on for the Ghost Riders. Looking forward to seeing him in action next month.
- Felt like a "middle chapter", which, at issue four, it technically is, but I'm referring more to the middle chapter syndrome of modern day decompressed storytelling to fit trades. This is compounded by the fact the two Ghost Riders do not even show up in this issue (Danny and Johnny are shown in a one panel cameo) as the story focuses on the side characters. The big bad, Zadkiel, still has yet to make an appearance or really show any kind of presence in the book aside from the various Ghost Rider villains that have been recruited.
- I had no idea who either of the villains were nor what their powers were and was given no clear indication of what kind of threat they pose. For instance, there's a crazy guy with a child's bubble gun. The bubbles were fired, there was some dynamic panelling showing shock on Jane Cutter's face, but then she just punched the guy in the face. He later uses some kind of mind control/penance stare on her and I still don't know what happened. Was it just a regular bubble gun? Didn't need a wikipedia entry, but some kind of indication of their power/threat level would have been nice, but this is also an 'end of run' event aimed more at longtime readers than people like me jumping on right at the end, so I can't complain too much.
Verdict - Check It. The negatives seem to overpower this quick shot review, but I did enjoy this issue. I just felt that not much happened to drive this "event" (more of an extension of the now-cancelled Ghost Rider series) forward and I was a bit confused over the villains and their powers. However, I imagine longtime Ghost Rider readers are loving it as I'm still quite impressed with what I see here.
John Ostrander and Jim Calafiore take over for Gail Simone and Nikola Scott for a few issues starting with this Deadshot centric story. Ostrander wrote some definitive Suicide Squad stories in the 80's and is particularly associated with Deadshot, having fleshed out the mercenary's character throughout his run. It is for this reason that a lot of people have been anticipating this issue.
With that said, how was Ostrander's return to the character he is most associated with? It was good, but felt like a one-shot/filler issue. There are vague references to previous Secret Six stories, but it didn't read like an issue of Secret Six and felt like something out of Paul Dini's Streets of Gotham. Again, this isn't a bad thing, per se, but this isn't the same style of book that made my top 10 list of 10 Comics You Should be Reading either.
The issue revolves around Deadshot meeting an old pastor from his time in prison and discussing new urges to kill that are gradually overtaking him. There has been no indication of this behaviour seeded by Simone and he still felt quite carefree throughout the last arc. It also was set up so as to stem out of the death of Batman and Deadshot's history with the character and guilt from the death of his brother. He's apparently projecting the fact that his brother and Batman, both good people, died while he, a bad person, gets to live. It's a very safe story and ties into Deadshot's background that worked as a simple done-in-one character piece about Deadshot.
Speaking of Dini's Streets of Gotham, the urges to kill that Deadshot are feeling were illustrated identical to Dini's interpretation of Zsasz's urges to kill from that book with the shots of living people talking followed up with the same scene filled with how Zsasz would kill them and the panel coloured with blood red and black. In this case, Deadshot sees everyone shot or himself shooting up the location and the same blood red colouring. If I had not seen it with Streets of Gotham already, I'd probably be impressed with it. With how comics work, I imagine this was mere coincidence as these are written and drawn months in advance and this is handled by a different editor as well. Still, lessened the impact of what more than likely would have been a strong and original narrative if it had come first.
Verdict - Check It. Ostrander tells a safe character driven story that fleshes out Deadshot's past for readers unfamiliar with it, but it also reads unlike what Secret Six fans are accustomed to and is more like a one-shot for Deadshot than a continuation of the series. After the bombshell conclusion to last issue, I was disappointed there was no follow up here, too. All in all, a good story, but not up to typical Secret Six standards either.