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Ms. Marvel #3 – Review

By: G. Willow Wilson (writer), Adrian Alphona (art), Ian Herring (color art)

The Story: “Strange things are afoot at the Circle Q.”

The Review: If there was any doubt that Ms. Marvel would feature a decompressed origin arc, in the vein of the original Ultimate Spider-Man, consider it put to rest. Three issues in it is abundantly clear that G. Willow Wilson is using each issue to build the complete Ms. Marvel, the complete Kamala Khan. The first issue dealt with Kamala’s normal, the second with her powers, and this month we get to learn about how Kamala, as distinct from Ms. Marvel, deals with hardship and uncertainty.

The puberty metaphors are out in force as Kamala tries to make sense of what’s happening to her. It’s hardly original – as a wise man once said, “Spider-Man is just the story of some kid who wakes up one morning with hair in new places and starts shooting white stick goo all over the city” – but, as ever, the series is defined by the sheer honesty it brings to the table. Scenes like her desperately combing the internet hit home for those of us who know, or even know someone who knows, the sensation of feeling isolated or unable to talk to friends and family.

Likewise, while his role has been somewhat ambiguous so far, one of the strongest moments for me comes near the end, when Kamala realizes that Bruno is the one person she has who could be there for her in such bizarre circumstances, if only they were on speaking terms. Indeed, Bruno is really one of the stars of this issue. While it could be a feint, Wilson is hinting strongly that Bruno will be part of Kamala’s support team, bringing a scientific knowledge and confidence to a heroine who specializes in power and knowing right from wrong. Even more so, the introduction of his highly dubious brother, Vick, provides a great deal of momentum for the story and only increases Bruno’s personal stake in things. I sincerely hope that Wilson will resist the urge to pair Kamala and Bruno up, because their friendship, with all its weird ups and downs, has a real and tactile power to it that’s very different from anything else on the stands right now.
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Hulk #1 – Review

By: Mark Waid (Writer), Mark Bagley (Pencils), Andrew Hennessy (Inks), Jason Keith (Colors), VC’s Cory Petit (Letters), Jerome Opena w/ Dean White (Cover Artists)

The Story: Banner hurt. Shadowy People in Shadows make Doctor Guy poke Banner’s brain. Hulk smash! Now Banner dumb. Dumb Banner.

The Review: It’s always interesting when a Hulk-story doesn’t necessarily feature the Hulk (and/or Bruce Banner, if we need to differentiate.) The story instead must rely on its supporting cast, its antagonists, or other elements of its world-building. And really, when that happens it makes these kinds of Hulk-stories essentially monster-stories– in any given monster-story, the monster itself does not have to be the protagonist; only its implicit presence and horror need be felt to impact the characters, plot, tone, etc.

Mark Waid gives us this kind of monster-type story, with Banner/the Hulk essentially in the background for the majority of the issue. In the beginning, the narration boxes even suggest some things about “story” in the abstract, while setting up a surgeon who is only tangentially related to Banner’s past but is now caught up in the existential horror having the Hulk’s life in his hands. The boxes shift very dramatically to remind us that “this isn’t his story,” at which point the comic brings the Hulk more actively into the story. Even still, Banner/the Hulk is merely the object of the story, not its subject– as it’s Agents Hill and Coulson who arrive to track Banner down for the last-page cliffhanger. However, perhaps this page suggests that we will return very specifically to Banner-driven drama in subsequent issues. It’s equally likely that he will remain a kind of background character, and that would create a unique tone, actually, and would make me intrigued to continue reading the series if it does.
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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S01E18 – Review

Story By: Brent Fletcher

The Story: They may not be able to track superpowers anymore, but they can still watch YouTube.

The Review: Now that the old S.H.I.E.L.D. paradigm is in shambles, we have a few episodes before us in which Coulson and his team struggle to adjust. Finding new purpose is easy: destroy Hydra, or get in their way as much as possible. Figuring out the logistics of doing so is going to be a lot harder. Without continued resources from S.H.I.E.L.D., taking down a global cult—that’s what Hydra basically is, right?—is going to be a rough task. After Coulson runs into breakdowns and defects in every corner of the Bus, he comes to Skye pleading for good news.

“We have internet.”

“Yay!” he says, with some genuine enthusiasm. “And boy, have I lowered my expectations.”
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Uncanny X-Men #20 – Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer); Chris Bachalo (pencils & colors); Tim Townsend, Wayne Faucher, Jon Holdredge, Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba, & Al Vey (inks)

The Story: Cyclops has declared war on S.H.I.E.L.D. and his opening gambit is a ballsy one indeed.

The Review: There are two ways to look at the war between the New Xavier School and S.H.I.E.L.D. On one hand the book has been building to this moment for twenty issues, on the other it took twenty issues to get here and we still have no assurance that things will be resolved any time soon. Both are valid and illustrate one of the key issues that Bendis has on this series, balancing the future and the present.

Many of this issue’s moments don’t make sense in themselves requiring further developments or the clarity of hindsight. Mystique’s continued plotting, for instance, can intrigue but really offers very little to a reader. This same pattern plays out again and again, whether in Hijack’s home or at the New Xavier School. At the same time, however, much of Bendis’ best writing doesn’t expand the scope of the story, but deepen it. Even in the same scene I just mentioned we find biting dialogue, like when Sabertooth asks how much longer Mystique will continue impersonating Dazzler and she responds, “Until Scott Summers is a party joke and S.H.I.E.L.D. is sold for parts. So I’m thinking until next Friday.”

Even if it doesn’t rank among his best, Bendis’ dialogue lives up to his lofty reputation. When it comes to engaging a reader in the moment, this issue really is quite spectacular. Brief scenes like Scott’s confrontation with an old teammate can feel very substantial. Admittedly that example is rather text-heavy but, while there is a bit of harried visual storytelling, there’s such tension in the dialogue that you might not be able to help getting sucked in. That’s a quality that Bendis has been shooting for for a long while, but it’s very much present in this final scene and the central confrontation of the issue.

It’s clear that Bendis saw Scott’s appearance on the helicarrier as the core of this chapter. Unfortunately a side effect is that most of the rest of the issue is a bit dull, but you can’t deny the power of this sequence. There’s perhaps a little too much time spend on Director Hill’s romantic preferences, but rarely has Scott’s cult of personality been clearer or Bendis’ grasp of his characters’ psychology more apparent.
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The Superior Spider-Man #31 – Review

By: Dan Slott & Christos Gage (Writers), Giuseppe Camuncoli & Will Silney (Pencilers), Antonio Fabela & Edgar Delgado (Colours)

The Story: The end of an era as a hero is reborn, things change for the supporting cast and the Parker luck remains a true constant.

The Review: Dan Slott really knows how to tell a Spider-man story. The conclusion to Goblin Nation and Superior Spider-man as a whole contains a lot imagery that is evocative of classic Spider-man tales, from the opening scene of the Green Goblin holding Anna Marconi out over a great height a la Gwen Stacy to the final panel of Spider-man realizing that he was unable to uphold his vow that ‘no one dies’, this issue really does feel like an archetypical Spider-man story.

Part of the reason for this is because the supporting characters all get a moment to shine in this oversized issue, Spider-man is always at its best when we get to witness the continued evolution of the book’s cast and in this issue almost every character who has had a sizeable presence in Superior Spider-man thus far receives a moment in the sun that illuminates their character, from Phil Urich’s enduring cowardice to Tiberous Stone’s treachery or Ollie’s snarky comments regarding M.J’s ex.

Where the book’s plot shines is in the sleight of hand element of the Green Goblin’s plan, while he’s been building his Goblin Nation throughout the run of the book deft readers will also have observed the rise of another empire in the form of Alchemax. It is a credit to Slott’s plotting that many readers (myself included) didn’t put the pieces together until this final issue.
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WCBR’s Top Picks

Best from the past week: Manifest Destiny #6 – This issue capped off the first story cycle of Manifest Destiny in fine fashion.  The action was snappy, the art is wonderful and the ideas are pretty cool.  If you’re remotely interested in the idea of Lewis and Clark exploring an odd version of the Louisiana Purchase complete with minotaurs and alien plant zombies, this is well worth checking out.

Most anticipated this week: A LOT of quality at the top of the list

1. American Vampire: Second Cycle #2 – The first issue back for this series did a LOT of work.  It effectively recapped the series to date as well as laid out this compelling mystery of Who is the Gray Trader?  I’m intensely curious to know more about this Gray Trader.  Who is he?  Why does he prey on vampires?  Will it continue to fit into Scott Snyder’s use of AV as an allegory for the maturation of the United States?  You won’t find a comic with smoother writing and better art.

2. Batman #30 – The Zero Year story is getting very close to its finale.  It hiccuped a little bit at the beginning, but has since become a powerhouse.  Imagine that: A Scott Snyder written Batman being a powerhouse.  It only happens every time he begins a new Batman story.  Greg Capullo’s art isn’t too shabby either.

3. The Unwritten: Apocalypse #4 – It’s amazing that this 12-issue “finale series” is already on issue #4.  Last issue introduced Pullman, who was really the last relevant character from the first Unwritten series.  Now I hope that we can plunge headlong into the resolution of this outstanding story.  If you haven’t been reading along, this would be a poor place to jump in, but I can’t recommend the series highly enough.

4. Amazing X-Men #6 – Yay!  The fuzzy elf is BACK!  And not that silly Age of Apocalypse travesty either.  Jason Aaron seems more interested in the 80′s X-Men dynamic between Wolverine and Nightcrawler and that suits me fine.

5. Uncanny X-Men #20 – Because this has been a strong series.  I really enjoy most of what Bendis does with his X-books.

-Dean Stell

All-New Ghost Rider #2 – Review

By: Felipe Smith (story), Tradd Moore (art), Val Staples (colors)

The Story: Potential side-effects include: dizziness, shortness of breath, destruction of all you hold dear.

The Review: This just confirms how little I know about Ghost Rider, but it didn’t occur to me until just now that radical as the changes Smith made to the character’s age, race, and background are, equally as radical is the change to his ride. Giving Robbie Reyes a car instead of a cycle flies into the face of decades of continuity, which is comic book speak for tradition, so why do it? If nothing else, a car seems like it’d slow a person down and impede his movement—more so than a cycle, anyway.

At the same time, the bigger size and heft of a car makes it more of a threat by itself, which is not such a bad trade-off for the loss in speed and agility. Johnny Blaze or Danny Ketch barreling towards you on their cycles might not seem so threatening at first if you happen to be in a bigger vehicle, but even soldiers in armed cars have reason to fear the sight of a sleek, black racer heading straight their way. And the way Robbie maneuvers his around, flipping, jumping, rocketing in impossible directions at crazy angles, you certainly don’t notice any loss in speed and agility.
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