Today is American Independence Day, commonly referred to as July 4th, as it takes place on the 4th of July, hence the name, and that’s why the song is called Alice’s Restaurant… To all the faithful Spoilerites of the United States, Happy 4th of July. For those of you who are from elsewhere, sorry about all the hegemony and stuff. Either way, it’s time for another bout of our Rapid Fire Reviews, bite-sized chunks of comics that I either couldn’t write three paragraphs about, or ran out of time to cover. Give us your tired, your poorly drawn, your huddled masses of comics, yearning to be bagged in mylar…
Agents of Atlas #7: Cousin love! It’s driving me mad! It’s making me crazy! So, did anybody else ask how the Atlantean royal family managed to get the exact same pink-skinned, wing-ankled, electricity-channeling mutation in two different branches of their family tree? Yeah, you’re not alone… This issue has Namor and the Agents encountering a strange underwater menace, only to find that they’ve been set up by Tulem, one of Namor’s advisors. With a little telepathic bait and switch from the Uranian, his duplicity stands revealed, and he is discovered to be a part of an Atlantean Eugenics program who created both Namor and Namora. Moreover, they have been trying to make Namor and Namora bond and spawn, the better to make little Sub-Mariners and Sub-Marionettes. Naturally, this leaves the royal couple freaked right the heck out, and unable to stay together. Meanwhile, Derek Khanata gets a new job with Atlas, Jimmy Woo realizes that there are bigger fish to fry than Norman Osborn, and the mysterious Mr. Lao dreams of times (and Khans past) and the issue ends with the dragon Mr. Lao beginning to explain why Atlas is now a global concern. Excellent work as always, with plot twists that no one could have predicted. 4 stars.
The Last Days of Animal Man #2 (of 6): When is a Green Lantern not a Green Lantern? When it’s a Blue Whale! Buddy Baker’s power problem is temporarily assisted by the new GL of the Earth sector, a whale with a ring, and the daughter of the Mirror Master makes her villainous debut. Animal Man recounts his origin (which may or may not involved yellow aliens from the planet Omicron XII) dodges his wife, and explains why he lives in San Diego. Hint: what’s full of animals and sounds like “foo?” The defeat of ‘Prismatik’ leads to the interaction of the League of Titans, consisting of Starfire, Nightwing, Red Tornado, Power Girl, a Superman and a Flash, all of whom think A-Man has popped his cork. Great art, not a bad story, but paralyzed by a feeling of inessentiality. 2.5 stars.
Avengers – The Initiative #25: Humberto Ramos does some moody art that evoke sRiley Rossmo’s work on Proof in this issue, as we are shown the location of Penance after the Thunderbolts revamp, a New Warriors reunion, and the Taskmaster’s rise to power. This issue also features a hard decision for Tigra: stay and terminate her pregnancy (skrullkittehbabies, anyone?) or exit due to the presence of the Hood, who recently shot her and tortured her mother. Gauntlet likewise gets shafted, as does Gravity, while Prodigy is put in a position of leadership that he absolutely doesn’t deserve. Tigra and Gauntlet get chased down by Hood’s goons, only to hook up with the former New Warriors as an underground Avengers Resistance. Weird art and a by-the-numbers story combine to make this issue very disjointed and ultimately pretty forgettable. Hope still remains for the future, though. 2.5 stars.
Dark Avengers #6: Atlantean terrorists in the streets lead to a confrontation between Namor and Osborn that exposes some serious cracks in the foundations of the Illumi-Naughty. The Sub-Mariner is scary as heck, as is the Sentry, while Noh-Varr (the Dark Avengers’ erstwhile Captain Marvel) pulls a No Call/No Show. Norman manipulates Bob Reynolds into a vulgar display of raw power, Venom gets a snack, and Norman has a Willem Dafoe breakdown in the former hall of Iron Men (now each sporting a star on the chest, for some reason.) This entire enterprise is hanging by a thread (but, let’s be honest, so was Iron Man’s tenure with SHIELD) and that thread is slowly unraveling every issue. Who wants to bet that Sentry and Noh-Varr are the keys to Norman’s defeat? Well-drawn by Mike Deodato, even if the story seems a bit padded. 3 stars.
Destroyer #3 (of 5): Robert Kirkmanworks his ‘Brit’ magic in the mainstream Marvel Universe, teaming up with his old kid sidekick (and new son-in-law) to track down the villain who kidnapped his daughter. Cory Walker’s art gives a very primitive, vaguely Golden-Age feel to the proceedings, and literal buckets of blood are spilled as the villainous Scar puts the final touches on his evil plan. He miscalculates, though, and ends up with the villain beating his head into a fine red mist, and the sight of an elderly man who looks a bit like Mickey Rooney doused in blood and brain matter is more than a little bit jarring. Destroyer ends the issue in pain, but still alive, and seemingly unaware of the monster that he has become. A strong but inconsistent work, I’m interested in seeing how this one ends. 3.5 stars.
Detective Comics #854: The Batwoman story we’ve been waiting for since 52 kicks off with a bang, and man does it rock! Moody, textural art and a wonderful color palette lend the story a surreal touch, while Kathy Kane’s life (and her tattoos) are finally brought to light, including her terrible relationships with women and her tumultuous interactions with her father, now acting as her eyes and ears on crime. There’s even a reference to her niece Bette, the original Bat-Girl, while the villain of the piece is revealed as a crazy painted doll of a woman called Alice, and Batwoman pulls a gun. Bruce would not approve. In the second story, The Question returns to action, with a website address that people can use to contact her for help, and the return of Professor Aristotle “Tot” Rodor. Overall, it’s a nicely done story, with visuals that are sharp and fun, even if they’re nowhere near the match of the stylized take of the first story. A great relaunch that I hope maintains it’s intensity… 4.5 stars.
DNAgents #2: So, I mostly know Evanier from his work on Blackhawk, and this Meugniot person’s name sounds like something I know I’ve read in cartoon credits, but I’m not sure what to make of this series. Five characters, each genetically created and modified, each with their own powers and personality quirks, working together to help people in some vague way. Rainbow is the breakout star here, but Amber is a doll, Tank is intriguing, and Surge is wonderful in his seeming misapprehension that he’s an action film star or something. A little bit of cheesecake and some old-school comic subplots are on display, while a spoiled rich girl learns a bit about the value of life. Round out the issue with a giant transforming robot (something that might make a good movie someday, presuming it had a plot and didn’t engage in pointless stereotyping to replace character) and you’ve got an exciting way to spend your buck-seventy five. I have to say I’m slowly falling in love with this book, and I suspect that 20 years from reading it, I’ll still feel the same way. 3.5 stars.
Green Lantern #42: Hal Jordan’s dismemberment last issue turns out to be a creation of the ring of hope to protect him from Agent Orange, giving Hal (you should excuse the expression) the upper hand in the battle with Larfleeze. John Stewart has a first-hand brush with the power of love (it is a curious thing, making one man weep, yet causing another man cause for song) as Fatality tries to convert him. Hal continues his interaction with all the rings as he serves as a conduit for the orange flame (bringing his Joe Bob Rainbow totals up to 5 colors of ring for those keeping score) and he finally harnesses the power of hope to defeat Agent Orange, while the Guardians pull a dirty move, sending the bearer of the orange light in search of the Blue Lanterns and Ganthet (a very shrewd move.) Meanwhile, on detached duty, two Lanterns find the corpse of the Anti-Monitor and somehow unleash a strange power, a power that seems to be emblemized by a Lantern of pure black. This seems to be going somewhere, but it’s a bit pedestrian in the getting there, evil Guardian manipulation notwithstanding. 3 stars.
Guardians of the Galaxy #15: Psychic Russian dog. Talking raccoon with a gun. What more do you need in a comic book? How about not one, but TWO starfaring armies, an effective Legion of Superheroes riff, Warlock again channeling the power of The Magus, and all the Guardians finally coming together as an effective battle unit for the first time? We end everything with the Guardians headquarters (created out of the head of a seemingly dead alien Celestial) coming back to life and screaming for Adam Warlock, claiming that only he can save the world. Marvel has a tendency to create these agglomerate super-teams, seemingly to keep multiple trademarks up-to-date at the same time, but when it works (as it does here) the results can be spectacular. 3.5 stars.
Immortal Iron Fist #27: Danny Rand’s long road through K’un Lun to the Eighth City and back ends in a big cliche, as his corporate interests are destroyed (just like Oliver Queen’s were, as well as Tony Stark’s, Bruce Wayne’s, and nearly every other comic book rich guy’s at one time or another) and we finally see the full story of how Wendell Rand went from being Orson Randall’s sidekick to a corporate overlord to a seeker into the mysteries of the lost city. Iron Fist and his lady Misty Knight get in a fistfight with Hydra, during which he senses her holding back, only to discover that Misty is pregnant, and that he, like his old partner Luke, is going to be a father. Cage gives him some sage advice, and Danny Rand ends this volume of his book with the realization that he will not fail his child the way Wendell seemed to fail him. We’re also treated to an interesting preview of next month’s Fat Cobra-centric launch to the Immortal Weapons miniseries, a story that threatens to be better than it’s parent title. The last issue (for now) of this title mostly makes me remember how the title used to be more awesome, even as this issue doesn’t do too badly for itself. 3 stars.
Incredible Hercules #130: A father stands trial, with his brother as judge and his son as counsel in this atypical issue, as Pluto forces Hercules into a corner. Amadeus Cho and Aegis set out to find Cho’s deceased family (at the command of Hercules, making me wonder what IS behind their relationship) and meet an old man named Ben Parker, who points them in the right direction, only to have Amadeus unsure if he wants to see them, since he’s to blame for their deaths. Zeus pulls a Jack Nicholson in during his trial, leaving Hercules boxed in, but the Scion of Olympus turns the tables and almost wins the case. Zeus shoots his case in the foot a second time, leaving Herc in a rough position: facing his own shade (the portion of him that died years ago, under Pluto’s command) as the hordes of Hades bear down upon him. It’s a fascinating combination of mythology, courtroom drama and soap opera, and it feels entirely fresh and original. As always, great work from Pak and Van Lente. 4 stars.
Justice League of America #34: This is a title which has felt like it’s on auto-pilot for some time, but JLA continues coalescing into an entirely new beast here. Vixen, Zatanna, Icon, John Stewart, Firestorm and Hardware combine their forces against the power of Starbreaker (who is less a living star than he is a walking buzzkill) while Doctor Light and Paladin (an alternate universe version of Bruce Wayne) have serious badass moments of their own. When the villain goes down, Superman and Icon go to visit Dharma of the Shadow Cabinet, who reveals that it is HE who has merged the DC and Dakota universes into one and his power that holds them together through the world-altering power of Rift. It’s a relatively cool concept, though one that seems to have an escape loophole in case the Milestone/DC deal changes in the future. This issue would have carried more weight if DC hadn’t fired the writer off the book, putting the kibosh on whatever he had planned going forward. Overall, it’s another kind-of-interesting but hardly essential comic, and I hope that James Robinson keeps some of the interesting characters on board when he takes over… 2.5 stars.
Justice Society of America #28: JSA Flashback Theatre continues, as Jerry Ordway ties up plotlines from the All-Star Squadron, the earlier volume of JSA, Power of Shazam, and 52 all at once. The team gets stuck in time and space, fights an army of ghosts, Stargirl gets possessed, the Spectre gets medieval, and the JSA founders again get involved in the love life of Stargirl without considering what she wants or what’s really going on. The issue features heavy-duty magic and time travel, either of which could easily leave a reader flummoxed, but the two together makes the issue a double-dose of deux ex machina at the end. Nothing really wrong with it, but as with previous Ordway issues, it doesn’t feel in any way current or related to the continuity as it stands right now. 2 stars.
Marvel Zombies 4 #3 (of 4): Jack Russell (the Werewolf By Night, not the terrier) narrates this issue, as the Hood and the Legion of Night are forced to work together to keep an airborne strain of the Marvel Zombie virus from infecting everyone and everything. Jennifer Kale shows her resourcefulness by pulling the Man-Thing out of her pocket (getcher minds out of the gutter) while Simon Garth and Deadpool find that they’re immune to the chocolate zombie rain (they don’t move their mouths from the mic, because they don’t breathe.) A squad of super-soldiers bite the big one, the Man-Thing is melted, and Werewolf By Night succumbs to his innoculation and zoms out, causing Jennifer Kale to call on Dormammu and get possessed herself. This story started out with such potential, but as we go on, it slowly disappears up it’s own @$$. Worst of all is the knowledge that this plague took over the entire world in less than three days in it’s native reality, leading us to the conclusion that either it’s much weaker, or the heroes of that world were flat-out dumb. This issue goes to the well one time too many, I think. 1.5 stars.
Nova #26: With Richard Rider once again the Nova Prime, he tries to gather his troops and bring the Nova Corps together again after the wiping of the Worldmind. The weaknesses of Worldmind’s plan are shown in grave detail with a grave detail, as the Novas find a charnel house heaped with the helmets of now-dead Nova Centurions who fell on the wrong side of the Shi’ar Armada. We meet Gladiator’s cousin (a female version of his race with all the same powers, said to be his cousin. That sounds familiar…) who tries to take down Ravenous, an old associate of Nova and Star-Lord’s, only to find this girl-who-is-super taken down by Nova Centurion Robbie Rider. Nova’s title has long been a sleeper full of great moments, and this issue is no exception, fleshing out the battles seen in War of Kings with a human perspective on the cost of war, all of which does nothing to undermine a ripping adventure story or two. Well-done, indeed. 3.5 stars.
Secret Six #11: This book opens with a serious badass moment, as an unmasked Deadshot and friends face down an army with rifles over the dispensation of the body of a girl executed last issue. The Six make their point, though, and their new employer acquiesces to Deadshot’s wish to dispose of the girl’s body himself. The team is taken to see the project they’ve been hired to protect, a massive prison designed to hold ALL the world’s criminals in one place, created (as were all the great wonders of the world, reminds their mysterious employer) entirely by slave labor. The presence of former Wonder Woman Artemis complicates things even more, as does Jeannette’s seeming betrayal of the team to free her. The battle lines get drawn, with each team member following his or her heart, which leads to Scandal being stabbed, Deadshot kneecapping his own girlfriend, Catman revealing old grudges and facing off with Bane, and utter chaos the likes of which could only be stopped by the arrival of an enraged Wonder Woman. “Which one of you MISERABLE SWINE killed my SISTER?” Whuh-oh. A good issue, filled with skewed moralities and twisted personalities, that miraculously even makes me like Artemis a little. 4.5 stars.
Teen Titans #72: When there’s trouble you know who to call… Somebody else. The Titans seem to be having funerals every half hour these days, and the issue joins the parade by opening with a coffin and a eulogy. We’re given a glimpse of the new team trying to bond and interact, as well as Aquagirl overtly hitting on Blue Beetle, while Wonder Girl sets off to Alcatraz to check on the prisoners. Her teammates set off to a carnival, while Wonder Girl is forced to face the Fearsome Five (not to be confused with the Fatal Five) during a jailbreak, later revealed to be engineered by the Calculator. Ravager continues her solo story as well, hallucinating and making bad decisions until she collapses in seizures, seemingly overcome by her use of epinephrine to trigger her precognitive powers. No word yet on who’s in the pine box during the flash-forwards, and I had the strangest moment during rereading this issue, when I realized that I had forgotten every single thing that happened during it… That’s exactly the endorsement of this book you expect it would be. 2.5 stars.
Thunderbolts #133: So, where oh where has the Songbird been? This issue has the answers, as well as treachery by The Ghost, the revelation that Black Widow II isn’t what she seems to be (since she was blown into little bitsy pieces a while ago in New Avengers Annual #1, I should hope not) and the forces of HAMMER open fire on civilians. Luckily, Songbird has been right there, and ready to crack the skulls of tyranny with great vengeance and furious anger, Norman Osborn recruits a new Scourge to his Black Ops team, Ant-Man and Paladin have a talk about the state of the world (“When push comes to shove, O’Grady,” says Paladin,”it’s every man for himself.”) and we find out who the Widow is working for, if not who she really is. Two words, rhymes with “Rick Surrey.” Kind of… Everybody is ready to backstab everybody here, and that makes for some fun interactions and nicely tense moments. It’s a fun, if somewhat dark read, and, best of all, it doesn’t require that you read all the Dark Reign tie-ins to work. 3.5 stars.
Wonder Woman #33: More blood and guts, more sturm and drang, more Martin and Lewis… No, wait, forget that last one. The Amazons are stunned to find a bleeding and battered Princess Diana on their shores, followed by a horde of mysterious sea monsters somehow created or triggered by the defeat of Genocide last time. Hippolyta and her followers take up arms against the beasties, and Diana leads the charge with her lasso bound to one hand and a battleaxe bound to the other. Ares shows his face and gets his head caved in, while Zeus arrives and shows off his new creation, The Olympian. The realization that Zeus killed her Hawaiian patron god to power his new creation causes her to take up arms against the All-father himself, horrifying her mother and her people as she forsakes Zeus and her Amazon heritage in the name of decency. Hippolyta cannot believe her daughter’s blasphemy, and Diana flies away, while one of Hippolyta’s guards reveals that Genocide is not dead, but has been reverted to magical clay that she possesses, while she searches for the creature’s lost soul. It’s a confusing issue in a series of confusing issues, and the parallel arcs of Genocide and the Olympians still seem awkwardly welded together. 2.5 stars.