Last Month’s Comics: DC Reboots and ‘Spider-Island’ Breaks Out

Welcome to Last Month’s Comics, in which I will discuss, uh, last month’s comics. The past couple episodes, we’ve pimped Direct Comic Book Service, which I’ve recently started using as a way to return to regular comics reading. The only downside is that I only get bi-weekly shipments (the weekly option is there, it’s just more expensive), so I won’t wind up reading all of my comics from one month until the beginning or the middle of the next. So I figured it’d be nice to sum up my thoughts, frustrations, and surprises about each month’s comics in a single column. It should be noted that, of course, I’m only reading comics that strike my fancy, there are some books I won’t get started on until a couple months from now, and that I also skipped out on all of DC’s books this month…with one exception.

Let’s get started with August 2011…

BEST #1
Angel & Faith #1
Writer: Christos Gage
Art: Rebekah Isaacs (pencils/inks), Dan Jackson (colors)
Executive Producer: Joss Whedon
Publisher: Dark Horse

Last year, Gobbledygeek called Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight the Worst Comic Book of 2010. It was more a symbolic award than anything: there were worse comics, but none that were more disappointing. Season Eight had a very strong first two-thirds, but in the last third, things went awry more than they went a-right (please forgive me). It all culminated in the bizarre, confusing, contrived “Twilight’s Last Gleaming” arc. However, the final issue was a stellar return to form, and Joss Whedon has promised that Season Nine will be smaller, more character-driven, less prone to jump-the-shark-ness. Judging from Angel & Faith #1, the first piece of Season Nine, I’d say he’s kept that promise. Though I still don’t fully understand what Angel was up to last season–“Your whole Twilight phase makes about as much sense as a David Lynch movie,” so says Faith–watching him again struggling with remorse over his actions and back in help-the-helpless mode is refreshing. Where once Angel was Faith’s mentor, the roles have reversed. Faith is now there to help Angel deal with his grief, though based on the last-page shocker, she’s got a lot of work to do. Christos Gage has all of the characters’ voices down pat, and Rebekah Isaacs’ art might be the best to ever grace any Whedon comic. Can she draw Buffy too?

(Paul and I reviewed Angel & Faith #1 in “Talking Turkey.”)

FUNNIEST COMIC

The Mighty Thor #5
Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Olivier Coipel and Khoi Pham (pencils), Mark Morales and Dexter Vines (inks), Laura Martin (colors)
Publisher: Marvel

I adored Matt Fraction’s Casanova back when it started, but unfortunately, I stopped reading comics before he started making the rounds at Marvel. I’ve since read some of his Invincible Iron Man, which is very impressive, but I was not prepared for just how fucking hilarious his Thor would be. This year’s Thor movie milked some humor out of its hero’s god-out-of-water antics, but there’s just something inherently silly about gods and mystical realms that Fraction taps into without forsaking the dignity of the character or his world. A giant-sized Odin battles Galactus while the fate of Asgard hangs in the balance, and it’s all suitably epic, but I keep returning to the bits that made me laugh out loud. The book opens with a great moment, as Thor and the Silver Surfer duke it out. Mjolnir smashes into the Silver Surfer’s gut, and as the Surfer gets back on his feet, he says, “Feel this, you pompous overblown ass– Board.” “Oh dammi–” and then the Surfer’s board smacks into Thor. But there are a lot of great throwaway lines, like Loki’s “I hate the mad desert women” or Volstagg’s “Don’t stop stabbing until you can see the whites of their teeth.” Warring gods, huge battle scenes, and the best laughs you’ll have all month…what more could you ask for from a superhero comic?

BEST X-BOOK

Uncanny X-Men #542
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Greg Land (pencils), Jay Leisten (inks), Justin Ponsor (colors)
Publisher: Marvel

The last time I hit up the comics shop with any regularity–five or six years ago–the only X-Men book worth reading was Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men. Thus, I didn’t have any great expectations for the current crop of X-books. For the most part, my low expectations were met: Astonishing and Wolverine are decent, while Wolverine: The Best There Is is sleazy fun and X-Men Legacy just isn’t much good. There’s also the simply titled X-Men, the two issues of which I read provoked wildly different reactions, and Uncanny X-Force, which I am already kicking myself for not picking up. There might also be an X-Factor book out there somewhere. Then there’s Uncanny X-Men, the group’s flagship title, set to be renumbered shortly. Not having read the previous issues of Kieron Gillen’s run, I have no idea if #542 is a fluke, but it is, in a word, awesome. Now, I don’t know much about Marvel’s whole “Fear Itself” event, but even I know that Juggernaut being powered by the Hammer of the Asgardian Serpent is a bad, bad thing. Thus the tension is high as the X-Men continually try and fail to stop Juggernaut, there’s an assassination attempt on Cyclops, and Mayor Sadie Sinclair contemplates betraying the mutants to prevent the destruction of San Francisco. (Would the loss be that great?) Also, Danger from Whedon’s run is apparently now an X-Man and there’s some great Peter/Kitty drama. Good times are had by all.

WORST REBOOT

Justice League #1
Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Jim Lee (pencils), Scott Williams (inks), Alex Sinclair (colors)
Publisher: DC

Even if you don’t read comics, you’ve heard by now that DC Comics is relaunching their entire fictional universe with 52 new #1’s. Hell, we devoted a whole show to it. Here, at long last, is the opening salvo in DC’s war on your childhood, and it lands not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with a “meh.” As we’ve said on the show, it’s very odd that in an attempt to get new readers, DC is hearkening back to early 90’s Image. I know that Jim Lee, one of the key Image guys, is DC’s co-publisher, but still. Who thought this was a good idea? I don’t need my superheroes to go to the lows and extremes that the Image books did back in the day. I don’t need Lee to give them all weird turtlenecks and terrible-looking costumes. What we have here is a book that feels like a big Hollywood blockbuster: all flash, no substance. We’ve got a Batman who gives away his secrets. We’ve got a Green Lantern who’s a douchebag (okay, no change there). We’ve got a football scene with a massive flag in the background. We’ve got a bunch of fights and explosions that mean next to nothing. If I was a new reader, if I had never read a single DC comic before this, I wouldn’t exactly be adding it to my pull list. I would be shrugging my shoulders and moving on. But as it is, I’m a nerd, so I’ll be here, exploring this ill-advised new DCU. For now.

(Like Angel & Faith, Paul and I reviewed Justice League #1 in “Talking Turkey.”)

MOST SURPRISINGLY ENJOYABLE COMIC

Disney/Pixar Presents #4
Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Marcio Takara (pencils/inks), Andrew Dalhouse (colors)
Publisher: Disney Comics (Marvel imprint)

The only reason I bought this is because it’s a big, oversized 96-page comic book about the Incredibles. Who doesn’t love Pixar’s slightly dysfunctional superfamily? The Incredibles is a property well-suited to the comics page, but all the same, I read it last out of all the comics I bought last month. Which is a shame, because it’s a whole lot of fun. The plot is at times a little obvious, and Mr. Incredible keeping a major secret from his family smacks of repetition, but with a few tweaks, this would be a damn good outline for a big-screen Incredibles sequel. Most tie-in comics struggle to duplicate what you loved about the original property, but thanks to veteran comics writer Mark Waid, this has the same wit, cleverness, and character that the movie did. I have a few quibbles with Marcio Takara’s art, but for the most part, it’s suitably cartoony. As I’ve been writing this, I’ve discovered that this is just a reprint of the first Incredibles mini-series Waid did when the property was back at BOOM! Studios, but of course now that Disney owns Marvel, they want all their characters under the Marvel banner. In any case, if you’re a fan, check it out. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

MOST FRUSTRATING BARRIER TO READING THE DAMN COMIC BOOK

The Ultimates #1
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art:  Esad Ribic (pencils/inks), Dean White (colors)
Publisher: Marvel

“What the hell are you on about, AJ?” you find yourself asking. “The only barrier to your reading a comic book is your inability to read, seeing as you have the mental capacity of a four-year-old.” Ouch, reader. Ouch. But no, seriously. With most comic books, all you have to do is open to the first page, maybe slip it out of a bag-and-board. Every once in a while, though, the publisher, to commemorate a Monumental Event(TM), will place the comic inside of a little collectible wrapper, as Marvel has done with The Ultimates #1. The Ultimates‘ is pretty nifty, too: a white wrapper sporting only Captain America’s shield. Cool, right? Yeah, until you wanna read the damn thing. Suddenly, you find your urge to read the book warring with your desire not to destroy the cute wittle baggie. They are, in other words, trying to get you to buy two copies. But once I made peace with the fact that I had to tear this bitch open, I still wanted to do it in a way that wouldn’t totally annihilate it. And damn if it wasn’t one of the most annoying, pathetic moments of my day. I wish I had filmed it. My reward, though? A very good re-introduction to Marvel’s Ultimate Universe which doesn’t let up from the first panel. The world totally goes to hell in some 20-odd pages. Read it. (Also, I could have used scissors.)

WORST COMIC
Spider-Island: Deadly Foes
Writers: Dan Slott and Christos Gage; Fred Van Lente
Art: Giuseppe Camuncoli (pencils), Klaus Janson (inks), Frank D’Armata (colors); Minck Oosterveer (pencils/inks), David Curiel (colors)
Publisher: Marvel

As I’ve said about sixty other times in this article, I haven’t read a whole bunch of comics in recent years. Still, I’ve tried to remain in the loop, and I’m getting sick of all the big company-wide events. It’s nice to have the feeling of one, cohesive universe, but when you have to buy a few dozen books just to follow one story, it’s getting out of hand. And this is something DC and Marvel do every year. The idea of an event only for the Spider-Man books, though, sounded promising. Spider-Man always has been and always will be my favorite superhero, and my awesome local library stocks a lot of the recent Spidey trades, so I know that Dan Slott has done a lot of good things for the title, plus a few great ones. So far, though, the “Spider-Island” event has been severely underwhelming. The premise is ridiculous: some way, somehow, just about everyone in Manhattan has been granted spider-powers. Chaos ensues. The issues of The Amazing Spider-Man and Venom that have dealt with the outbreak have been frenzied and rushed, while the peripheral mini-series (Cloak & DaggerDeadly Hands of Kung FuSpider-Girl) have all been just good enough that I wished I was reading about those characters in different settings. There have also been the one-shots Infested, which was surprisingly readable; and Deadly Foes, which was the worst comic book I read all month. It sets up the new Hobgoblin’s involvement in, and the clone-happy Jackal’s initiation of, the outbreak. And when I say Hobgoblin’s “involvement,” I mean his being a conniving cockwad to hook up with Daily Bugle reporter Norah Winters. And when I mention the Jackal, don’t you just cringe? The last time he was involved in a major event, it was the godforsaken “Clone Saga.” Deadly Foes is thoroughly pointless, and while Giuseppe Camuncoli’s art in the Hobgoblin story is passable, there’s no excusing the terribleness that Minck Oosterveer wreaks on the Jackal story. It’s worse than giving a bunch of random New Yorkers spider-powers.

BEST COMIC

The Walking Dead #88
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Art: Charlie Adlard (pencils/inks), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones)
Publisher: Image

This is going to be the penultimate category of each month’s installment, but just FYI, it might be awarded to The Walking Dead a lot. Not only do I think it’s one of the best titles out right now, I think it’s one of the best titles of all time. Robert Kirkman’s vision is bleak and uncompromising, Charlie Adlard’s artwork suitably grim and realistic. Anything and everything can and does happen to all of your favorite characters; no one is safe. On the rare occasions that something good does happen, it is but a brief respite from overwhelming despair. After getting shot in the head, Carl wakes up, only with selective memory; he doesn’t remember that his mother is dead or that he even had a little sister. Meanwhile, Rick and some of the Community head out for supplies as certain others begin to question Rick’s leadership. I don’t know if I’ll have a lot to say about each issue of The Walking Dead: I love just about every issue, but it’s the kind of series that takes its time and where the significance of each arc doesn’t become readily apparent until it’s collected in trade paperback form. But it’s great, depressing stuff, and as I’ve said elsewhere, I wish the TV show would take a few more cues from its direction.

OTHER COMICS YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT

Captain America & Bucky #621
Writers: Ed Brubaker and Marc Andreyko
Art: Chris Samnee (pencils/inks), Bettie Breitweiser (colors)
Publisher: Marvel

Cap ‘n Bucky in World War II doing cool, violent espionage stuff.

FF #8
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Steve Epting (pencils/inks), Paul Mounts (colors)
Publisher: Marvel

Not having read any Fantastic Four books in many a moon, I was surprised at how intense this was. Also, I like their post-Johnny Storm costumes, Spider-Man’s membership, and wait a sec, Dr. Doom’s a good guy now?

Invincible Iron Man #507
Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Salvador Larroca (pencils/inks), Frank D’Armata (colors)
Publisher: Marvel

Again, I don’t know much about “Fear Itself,” so I may have missed some plot subtleties, but a comic this compelling and well-written doesn’t need much explanation. And can I say how much I love that Pepper has a suit?

Mystic #1
Writer: G. Willow Wilson
Art: David López (pencils), Álvaro López (inks), Nathan Fairbairn (colors)
Publisher: Crossgen (Marvel imprint)

The best reboot I didn’t even know was a reboot! This is a new version of an old Crossgen comic, and it’s delightful in just about every way. The artwork, especially Nathan Fairbarn’s colors, is delectable.

Secret Avengers #16
Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Jamie McKelvie (pencils/inks), Matthew Wilson (colors)
Publisher: Marvel

“Run the mission. Don’t get seen. Save the world.” So says John Cassaday’s terrific sideways cover, and Warren Ellis’ black ops Avengers team is riveting. Captain America is stoic, Moon Knight is insane, Black Widow is badass, and Beast is a huge nerd.

Severed #1
Writers: Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft
Art: Attila Futaki
Publisher: Image

Scott Snyder, writer of the great American Vampire, which I fully intend on catching up with, brings us the new series Severed. The first issue is mysterious, creepy, and gorgeously illustrated by Attila Futaki. Very promising.

Join me next month to talk about this month’s comics!

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