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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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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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Daredevil #1.5 – Review

By: Too many to list—check out the review.

The Story: Daredevil narrowly avoids having a mid-life crisis.

The Review: It’s good thing to be fifty years old and still popular enough for people to notice. If you can get an actual commemorative issue out of it, even better! There may have been other peaks for Daredevil in earlier years, but right now he’s in one of that rare, enviable position of being both critically acclaimed and commercially successful. There’s greater joy to celebrating his longevity at a time when it looks like his greatest years are still to come.

That feeling of confidence is in no small part due to Mark Waid’s fabulous work with Daredevil for the last few years, which is why it’s so fitting that he kick off this showcase issue with “The King in Red,” a look at the life of Matt Murdock literally at age fifty. These future glimpses are tricky things because you’re projecting how certain beloved characters will end up, which is always a volatile thing to do—anyone seen the series finale of How I Met Your Mother lately?* Fortunately, with comics, readers know better than to take these future stories as anything more than potential.
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Captain Marvel #2 – Review

By: Kelly Sue DeConnick (Writer), David Lopez (Artist/Cover Artist), Lee Loughridge (Color Artist), VC’s Joe Caramagna (Letterer)

The Story: The Guardians of the Galaxy have a talking tree and a raccoon with guns on their team; Captain Marvel has an alien refugee and a cat with attitude, until she doesn’t.

The Review: Like many of the all-new Marvel NOW! books, Captain Marvel had to spend a very clunky first issue to reinvent its new status quo, in order that this issue can have focus and develop more freely.  That said, it’s a little disappointing that all the supporting cast from the last series/first issue have been summarily dropped here. There’s not even a few panels for subplot or a balloon or two of reflection. The “Previously” page? One sentence: “Captain Marvel became an Avenger in space.”

The story demands a bit more set-up then we’ve been given, however, especially when the opening caption in the first panel tells us this is taking place ” two weeks ago.” I suppose we can assume that Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel has been flying through space for two weeks straight, until coming up against some alien mercenaries.

The Haffensye are designed well enough, but aren’t necessarily memorable. Same with their spaceships, which unfortunately makes the dogfight in space more complicated to read than should be necessary. More differentiation in design/style, color, and choreography would be helpful to really make this sequence effective. For example, page three features Carol in reds and browns, and the aliens in blues in greens. Carol’s directions face forward and to the right; the aliens face backward and to the left. Once the ships start flying, however, things become a muddled mess of sameness.

What follows is a straightforward space battle, until Carol is not-exactly saved by the Guardians of the Galaxy. The Guardians remain to give some helpful exposition and (we assume) some repairs, as well as a genuinely funny interchange centered around Rocket Raccoon and Carol’s cat named, appropriately enough, Chewie. That exchange “sparks” a clever sequence of panels that results in the awakening of Carol’s cargo, a refugee she’s returning to her home in space, which has its own set of complications and results in the alien stealing Carol’s ship (and cat.)
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Avengers Undercover #2 – Review

by: Dennis Hopeless (Writer), Kev Walker (Artist), Jean-Francois Beaulieu (Color Artist), Francesco Mattina (Cover Artist)

The Story: They did indeed find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy, then decided to stay.

The Review: While the first issue of this series contained some necessary but tedious plot-grinding, this issue benefits from having all that out of the way and just letting the characters bounce off each other and those they encounter. The final scene and splash page lives up to the series’ name– these characters have finally set themselves up to be “undercover” in a sense, in order to put themselves in a position for a major showdown. I’m sure the next issue will complicate matters a bit, but that anticipation makes it an effective cliffhanger.

In the meantime, the setting, an “underground super villain mega city,” allows for some interesting moments. The characters aren’t really a team, aren’t really confident heroes in their own right, and in most cases, aren’t really fully trained in what they (or their erstwhile teammates) can do. Their vulnerability in this setting allows for great characterization, and balanced panel time is given to all. I bet you didn’t know that Hazmat could do a Stanky Legg, did you? Thankfully, Cammi and Nico remain the more level-headed to keep the rest (and the plot) on track.

Show-off time! I love that Hopeless doesn’t broadcast every cameo, allowing for the fun to track down the names of all the costumed villains in Bagalia– the Young Masters (Excavator, Coat of Arms, Egghead, Melter, Executioner, Black Knight, and Mako, now re-headed), Mudbug, Morg from the terrible Infinity Hunt miniseries, Snot, Constrictor, Madame Masque, Porcupine, Eel, Titania, Letha, Trapster, the Wrecking Crew, Hellstorm, Satannish (for some reason), and the Tinkerer (in a really neat design). How’s my Geek Cred? Curiously, despite the set up and his presence last issue, Baron Zemo is not present.
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Superior Foes of Spider-Man #11 – Review

By: Elliott Kalan & Tom Peyer (writers); Steve Lieber, Carmen Carnero, Terry Pallot, & Nuno Plati (artists); Chris Sotomayor & John Rauch (colors)

The Story: The first step is acknowledging that you have a problem…and that the problem is not Spiderman…

The Review: The Superior Foes of Spider-Man has carved out a fun little niche for itself, examining the hopes and aspirations of a very different class of supervillain, those just looking for the next big score or an ounce of respect. It’s a fascinating corner of the superhero genre that few books have really examined.

While Boomerang has served as our focal point, last issue gave us a look at the other four members of the Sinister Six. Now, with our roster ‘exhausted’, we turn to an even lower tier of crook, the recovering villains that Mach VII introduced Boomerang to way back when. The issue is split into two stories, the first about the Grizzly and the second about the Looter.
The Grizzly story is a pretty funny tale. The former wrestler is down on his luck, reduced to luring drunks into ambushes, but rather than simply mug them he takes just what he needs and splits a pizza with them. It’s a cute concept and one that brings a couple of resonant moments to the issue.

The strongest element of “A Grizzly Situation” is the way that all the parts work together. There are a couple distinct ideas at play in Grizzly’s character but, in the end, it all comes back to nostalgia and self-loathing. It makes sense why Maxwell ended up in a twelve step program.
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Iron Fist #1 – Review

By: Kaare Kyle Andrews (story & art)

The Story: Nothing like a ninja attack to ruin a perfectly good one night stand.

The Review: Iron Fist is another one of those characters, like Ghost Rider, that I don’t really know, except by playing him on Marvel vs. Capcom 3. But I am all about diversifying my comic book input, and Iron Fist fits the bill, being both a Marvel character* and a non-traditional superhero, seemingly. I’m not ready to wade into the morass of the Avengers, X-Men, and Spider-Man franchises, but a solo, B-class character seems much easier to handle.

It helps that Andrews finds a tagline for our hero and sticks with it throughout the issue: “When offered life[,] he chose death.” Provocative, if nothing else, and a clever way to make Iron Fist stand out in a crowded universe. The details are even more intriguing, because more than simply rejecting life, Danny Rand “traded away the fruit of immortality for vengeance.” Clearly, there’s a lot of myth and tragedy wrapped up in his origins, but here, Andrews gives us only a taste—a potent one.
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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S01E17 – Review

By: Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen (story)

The Story: The team discovers who has a Hand in the destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The Review: At the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, with S.H.I.E.LD. in ruins, I wondered what this would mean for Coulson and Co. My theory was since Hydra hadn’t been eradicated along with S.H.I.E.L.D—”Cut off one head,” and all that—Coulson’s team would be left to clean up the mess the Avenger left behind. They’ve done it before, but there’s much more glory to their janitorial role this time around. The show’s needed a big, overarching threat, and Hydra goes right up that alley.

For that matter, the fallout of Winter Soldier addresses a lot of what the show’s needed, most crucially in enlivening several of the core characters. Never will you complain about May being relentlessly cold again, as she emotionally lets herself go to an almost alarming degree, allowing Ming Na to marshal all those acting chops she usually has to keep under wraps within May’s frosty exterior. But this level of passion is necessary to keep her from looking totally callous once the extent of her deception comes to light. Winter Soldier showed firsthand the destructive nature of secrets, or “compartmentalization,” even when the purpose is good, and May suffers that lesson quite bitterly.
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Nightcrawler #1 – Review

By: Chris Claremont (writer), Todd Nauck (artist), Rachelle Rosenberg (color artist)

The Story: The original BAMF returns.

The Review: If the name Chris Claremont doesn’t set off bells in your head one way or the other, you probably aren’t familiar with comics history. While he’s not as well known as Stan Lee, Claremont effectively created the X-Men as we know them today. He wasn’t the first to write Jean Grey, Storm, or Wolverine, but to many his is the last word on these characters. I mean the man wrote Uncanny X-Men for sixteen years, while expanding their world into two acclaimed Marvel Graphic Novels and a pair of long-running spinoffs!

Late last year it became apparent that Claremont was still under an exclusive contract with Marvel, making his absence from their line a very strange omission. Regardless, after many months of waiting, fans can walk into their comic shop today and pick up an in-continuity X-Men title from Chris Claremont once again. But with all the legendary hype, how does this one stack up?

A large portion of this issue feels like Claremont getting his feet in a new world. Especially for a writer famous for working within his own universe, Claremont does an admirable job of plunging into the current status quo. Apparently if he can’t write the whole of X-Men anymore, he’s going to be sure that he makes it his own in this little corner. It’s a somewhat effective pairing of writer and story as Nightcrawler continues to adjust to the rather drastic changes that have occurred in his absence. You can just feel Claremont latching onto ideas that he wants to play with, like Wolverine’s new vulnerabilities.
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She-Hulk #3 – Review

By: Charles Soule (story), Javier Pulido (art), Muntsa Vicente (colors)

The Story: A rich client is a good thing—usually.

The Review: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said in a review that I didn’t care what was going on in a story because I didn’t care about the characters involved. I’m quite sure I’ve said this even when it’s the first issue that the characters ever appeared in. Some might say it’s a little unreasonable to expect instant charm from every character, and they’d be right. But it’s hard not to set the bar that high when writers like Soule make it look so easy.

From the first line he utters in this issue,* Kristoff Vernard, adopted son of Dr. Doom, passes the first test of being interesting, if not exactly likable: “Urgh. I am not accustomed to making a request more than once.” And soon enough, he passes the likability test as well, once he explains, in eloquent though lofty terms, why he needs to leave Latveria for America: “Here…in this strange country, I can be anything. I must take the risk. I would take any risk for freedom.” For Americans, the patriotic appeal is almost irresistible. Kristoff’s pursuit of freedom will do it for everyone else.
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Loki: Agent of Asgard #3 – Review

By: Al Ewing (story), Lee Garbett (art), Nolan Woodard (colors)

The Story: What if the Norse gods had the power of automatic weapons fire?

The Review: Anytime you have a story that features a villain, former or otherwise, you’ll notice a lot of time is spent exploring his villainy, certainly more time than a hero’s story is spent exploring his heroism. You don’t need a reason to admire someone who does good, but evil requires more justification for your interest, I think. Hence the endless slew of childhood traumas that plague nearly all of our Big Two supervillains. Loki may be unique in that the only reason for his evil is he’s written that way.

Loki’s mission to do good in exchange for having his past infamy wiped from humanity’s collective consciousness is merely the starting point of Agent of Asgard‘s metafiction. Elwing takes it a lot further in this issue by making Loki’s inner conflict manifest, creating a relatively unique situation in which Loki is his own antagonist—and the greatest. If there’s one clear difference between the new, hipster-ish Loki and the original, goblin-esque Loki, it’s that Old Loki* sees much more of the big picture than his younger counterpart.
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Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Movie Review

The moment they thawed out Captain America and he ran out into the streets of New York, only to see a new world around him, you knew there had to be major repercussions in store for the man out of time. Unfortunately, the timing of things was such that Steve’s reintegration into society had to be put on hold for several years, through alien attacks and gene-engineered soldiers and the powers of darkness, until he got a movie to call his own again.

Winter Soldier rapidly makes up for lost time, addressing Steve’s adjustments to the present time on every level. Much to its credit, the film treats jokes about the obvious pop culture gaps briefly, reducing them to an actual written list of items Steve’s instructed to look into, including I Love Lucy, Steve Jobs, and Marvin Gaye’s Troubled Man album. Instead, the film focuses on aspects of modern life that challenge Steve on a more personal level, pushing him to find his place in a world that respects his legacy, yet seems to have moved on from him.

Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely make a particularly ballsy move by having Steve visit his old flame, Peggy Carter, in a nursing home. It would’ve been very easy to have written the movie so that Peggy had died by the time Steve returned, but it also would’ve been trite, encouraging him to live in the past by holding onto her memory. With her still alive, but convalescent and in the throes of dementia, Steve has to look straight at the tragic but unpleasant fact that he can’t go back to the way things were. The dance he promised her will never happen.
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Magneto #2 – Review

By: Cullen Bunn (writer), Gabriel Hernandez Walta (artist), Jordie Bellaire (color artist)

The Story: To fight monsters we create monsters.

The Review: In Magneto #2, Cullen Bunn and Gabriel Hernandez Walta continue their unique look at Marvel’s most fascinating villain. So far, Magneto is really not a superhero comic. Costumes are rarities, invoked for psychological effect, and powers are weaker than motives. It’s more of a detective tale than anything else, with Erik’s forceful interrogations, antagonism with the authorities, and strong inner monologue almost recalling a hero in the mold of Sam Spade. But building that tone takes time.

It’s hard to deny that this series is moving at an extremely leisurely pace. Each issue seems to take us a single step further into the mystery. It’s an effective pattern but many comics would contain a couple of Magneto endings. Still, when the narration is this entrancing and the art this beautiful, it’s not hard to overlook the pace.

Indeed, there’s plenty of reason to take time this month, as Magneto thinks back to a moment from his childhood as a resident of the Warsaw Ghetto. The balance between retreading old ground and respecting the historical importance of Magneto’s origin is a difficult one but, thankfully, Bunn seems to have a good grasp on his subject matter. Survival is a victory and loyalty is different from how we see it today. The issue also grasps the almost cartoonish cruelty that the Nazis frequently dipped into and avoids exaggerating their evil. It’s the right choice, especially when the truth is enough.
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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S01E16 – Review

By: Paul Zbyszewski (story)

The Story: It’s not easy sneaking up on a Clairvoyant.

The Review: I don’t know that I’ve ever been interested in the Clairvoyant’s true identity so much because I really care who he is, but rather because I want confirmation as to whether psychic or precognitive powers really don’t exist in this world. As you can see in this episode, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents seem rather reluctant to believe they do, which seems rather small-minded for people who have encountered gods, pyro-kinetics, and ghosts.

By the time I watched this episode, I was mostly signed onto the theory that the Clairvoyant is someone inside S.H.I.E.L.D. I then lost all hope that a telepath would be revealed at the end of the search when Coulson convinced his superiors to start searching for telepaths. It’s a mystery rule of thumb: the first leads rarely pan out. In real life, going down a list and tracking the most logical suspects is the way to go, but in fiction, it’s never that straightforward.
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Hawkeye #18 – Review

By: Matt Fraction (story), Annie Wu (art), Matt Hollingsworth (colors)

The Story: Kate ruins her newfound sense of stability by adopting a cat.

The Review: With us heading into a year and a half’s worth of issues, and still no end in sight for what can loosely be called Hawkeye‘s first “arc,” I’d prefer Fraction focus on events with Clint and save the Kate stuff for later. Anyway, Kate’s adventures as a public detective in L.A. have been rather hit-or-miss in terms of quality. If anything, there’s an even bigger lack of direction on her side of this series as Clint’s.

That all changes substantially as this issue marks the return of Madame Masque, who sends two graphic reminders to Kate that her grudge isn’t over. One of those reminders involves Kate’s mysterious trenchcoated mentor, a.k.a. “Cat Food Man,” a.k.a. Harold H. Harold (“[W]hat does the ‘H’ stand for…?”—”Harold“). Even though it’s sort of ridiculous that Fraction waited until the last minute to give the guy a name and backstory, only to—spoiler alert—kill him off pages later, at least Harold unloads a real, overarching mission for Kate.

As with his previous appearances, Harold does most of the heavy lifting in the investigation department, saving Kate from embarrassing herself with further fruitless web searches. It’s his past as both a journalist on the “weird murder beat” and a Hollywood writer that uncovers connections between a Dorian Gray sort of deal from his publisher (“Impossibly young, impossibly firm and toned and beautiful forever[.]“) and Count Luchino Neff, “short for Nefaria,” and his daughter Gia, a.k.a. Madame Masque. As I understand it, Masque has a bit of history in the making of bio-duplicates and gene-manipulation; this is apparently the secret Harold finds in her home: “like they were trying to make copies.”
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Silver Surfer #1 – Review

By: Dan Slott (story), Michael Allred (art), Laura Allred (colors)

The Story: When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true—sort of.

The Review: Would you know it, this is my third Marvel #1 issue this week! That’s definitely something of a record for me, a self-professed DC man. Then again, I’ve never borne any antipathy towards Marvel, and I’ve always been interested in exploring more of that universe. If nothing else, reviewing so many #1s all at once makes for an interesting study in how different writers handle debut issues.

Of his peers, Slott strikes the best balance among all the essential parts of a strong first issue. Felipe Smith focused almost entirely on thrill rides on All-New Ghost Rider, while Ales Kot got so caught up in character development that he didn’t start working on Iron Patriot‘s plot until nearly the last minute. Slott manages to cover all these areas and do quite a bit of world-building besides, resulting in an issue really worth following.

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All-New Ghost Rider #1 – Review

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

The Story: A drag race brings Robbie down in hellish flames.

The Review: I felt rather daring picking up this title, considering how I know nothing about Ghost Rider—quite literally nothing. Beyond seeing his image in various places, I don’t even have a passing familiarity with him. I’ve never read any of his comics, never seen him guested in anyone else’s, never saw the movie, never even looked him up on Wikipedia. Fortunately, the “All-New” part of the title absolves me from any of that, letting me take the series on its own merit.

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Iron Patriot #1 – Review

By: Ales Kot (story), Garry Brown (art), Jim Charalampidis (colors)

The Story: Homeland security just got the ultimate bodyguard.

The Review: I never know how to feel about minority superheroes who are basically derivatives of better known (white) icons. It’s great to see the field grow more diverse, no matter how it happens, I suppose. On the other hand, it also suggests a lack of confidence or imagination—hard to say which is worse—in creating minority characters who are completely original. The eponymous star of this book has failed that test twice.

Or maybe thrice, depending on how you look at things. As the former War Machine, James Rhodes was basically Iron Man with a different paint job and bigger guns. As Iron Patriot, he’s a clear amalgam of both Iron Man and Captain America, an attempt to channel Tony Stark’s technology with Steve Rogers’ rousing nationalism. James’ choice of guise instantly doubles the pressure for him to sell the man underneath. Without Tony’s genius or Steve’s might, what is James without the armor?
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Amazing X-Men #5 – Review

By: Jason Aaron (writer), Ed McGuinness (penciler), Dexter Vines (inker), Marte Gracia (colors)

The Story: Freely they stood who stood, and fell who fell. – John Milton, Paradise Lost Book III

The Review: This issue gets off to something of a rushed start. Jason Aaron wastes no time getting to the final battle with Azazel’s forces. And while it’s clear that he has more important things to deal with than Beast fighting nameless demons, things are a little bit of a blur until Papa Wagner shows up, himself.

Credit where it’s due, Aaron does a fine job of making Azazel into an enjoyable villain. Every here and there it’s nice to have a believably evil adversary for our heroes, one who doesn’t have to trade in shades of grey. Without that necessity, Azazel can just focus on being charmingly slimy. It’s also a great choice to focus on his disregard, perhaps contempt, for his children.

Indeed, part of what makes this story work is the way that Aaron doesn’t insist upon Azazel, letting him be more of a symbolic obstacle for Kurt than a character in his own right. That may sound dismissive, but, as I said, there’s enough charm to the devilish pirate to keep him interesting.
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Daredevil #1 – Review

By: Mark Waid (story), Chris Samnee (art), Javier Rodriguez (colors)

The Story: A tale of two cities and their superhero.

The Review: I won’t say that the last volume of Daredevil really needed a relaunch, but I always felt it, like many critical darlings, deserved far more attention than it got.  In such a case, I can approve of a new #1, even if it’s not strictly necessary.  For good or ill, nothing brings in readers like that big, shiny digit on a cover.  It’s true; I had to go to a completely different store to get this issue because my usual comic book shop had sold out.

Annoying, but encouraging, because I can’t imagine a more deserving series or issue for a sell-out.  An opening is essentially a balancing act between a story’s immediate and long-term needs.  You got to have an immediately arresting plot that also models what the story will look like long-term.  You also need to introduce your audience to your characters without making it feel like a series of introductions.  And somehow, you have to make it all flow together as if this is your fiftieth issue instead of your first.  Writing an opening is an art, and Waid proves that he’s mastered it.
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Uncanny X-Men #19 – Review

By:  Brian Michael Bendis (writer); Chris Bachalo (pencils); Tim Townsend, Al Vey, Jaime Mendoza, Mark Irwin, and Victor Olozaba (inks); Chris Bachalo and Jose Villarrubia (colors)

The Story: We heard you like Sentinels so we put Sentinels in your Sentinels…

The Review: Back in August Uncanny X-Men received a slight boost when it featured a story about Cyclops facing off against a new breed of Sentinel. In the seven months that have passed, Uncanny has been growing and changing, largely for the better. Now that it’s time to pick up that thread, will it have the same oomph that it once did?

The answer is an ever charming sort-of. Bendis makes no attempt to hide that the past half a year of stories were a distraction. While the events of issue seventeen are mentioned, it’s clear that this series has been off track since the last Sentinel arc. The problem is that, for the most part, the filler was far better than anything that preceded it. So while it is intriguing to return to the mystery Sentinels again, there’s a sense of a backslide that I can’t deny is worrisome. It’s also strange since the event that took us off track, “Battle of the Atom”, ended with a dramatic reveal that S.H.I.E.L.D. has Sentinels, and different Sentinels at that.

Regardless, we’re diving back into Bendis’ main story. Summoned by a surge of mutant activity, the New Xavier X-Men find themselves lured into a trap. Bendis knows his collaborators and the creative team deliver a slick futuristic take on the X-Men. These aren’t the simple androids of the Mark I, and panels like a swarm of alien-looking mutant hunters spawning from the maw of a gigantic Sentinel are powerful and eerie. Likewise, a scene inside Cerebro is the stuff of science fiction, the kind that convinced us to buy sunglasses in middle school.

These new model Sentinels present a solid challenge for the team and Bendis’ answer serves to resolve the problem while significantly deepening the mysteries surrounding it. It’s a situation that is all the more fascinating for the removal of Hijack from the team, but the answer is pretty simple. Indeed, much of the issue seems designed to highlight Chris Bachalo’s contributions.
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Ms. Marvel #2 – Review

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

The Story: With great power come awful wedgies…

The Review: Kamala Khan burst into the Marvel Universe in a big way last month, but it’s hard to deny that her debut issue didn’t function as a complete origin story. At the end of issue two it’s not certain that we’re there, but if not we’re getting closer.

Just as last issue gave us a shockingly complete look at Kamala’s ‘normal’, this one is focused on our young hero’s reaction the dose of abnormality that’s just been administered to her life. G. Willow Wilson spends a lot of time dealing with Kamala’s new powers, how they operate and what Kamala knows about them. It’s not gonna scratch the same itch that Avengers did, but it’s remarkably fun learning the ins and outs of being an Inhuman with her.

Kamala is very much in the Peter Parker tradition and this issue features her very own “Go, web!” moment. As silly as it sounds to say about a story that features a teenage girl shapeshifting into a buxom superheroine, Ms. Marvel #2 takes a decidedly realistic view of superpowers. Alongside the standard joy of having power, Kamala experiences the frustration of not knowing how to use it and the terror of not understanding it.

Though the script touches on it, Adrian Alphona brings a sense of the real horror that suddenly gaining shapeshifting abilities would entail. It’s not overt, more there for those willing to see it, but, at least for me, it’s impossible not to consider the disturbing parallels of someone waking up in a city after the detonation of a “bomb” nauseous, disoriented, and with their arm in a position it shouldn’t be in. I’m not pretending that this is a dark book, it’s the farthest thing from it, but Wilson and Alphona are clearly willing to draw upon the power of such cultural fears.
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