This week: Reviews of Dark Reign: Hawkeye #5, Fall of the Hulks: Red Hulk #1, New Avengers #61 and Superman: Secret Origin #4! Read the rest of this entry »
A few months ago, Adam Kubert drew half an issue of Wolverine in which the titular character teamed up with Spider-Man. At the time, even as I was raving about how great it was to see Kubert drawing Wolvey again, I couldn’t help but notice that he did a brilliant Spider-Man as well. “If anyone at Marvel has any sense,” I said, “They’ll get Kubert to draw a Spider-Man issue as soon as possible.”
Well, evidently they do have sense. Here, Kubert teams up with Dan Slott, the man who was born to write Spider-Man, and the results are nothing short of fantastically entertaining. The thing that pleases me most is that for the first time since the Avengers “List” special, the plot actually deals, directly, with the Dark Reign meta-arc rather than the ongoing plot of the star’s book. We know Osborn can’t stay where he is forever – and this issue actually sows a fairly convincing seed towards his downfall.
Better yet, editorial seem to have remembered that despite the suit Osborn is wearing, he’s not actually Iron Man’s arch-enemy- he’s Spider-Man’s. Here, the two square off physically and mentally, offering the most satisfying Spider-Man/Osborn meeting in months after the overwrought, Bond-villain theatrics of American Son. As ever, Slott’s dialogue is immediately at home with Spider-Man’s wisecracks, but the rest of the issue is cleverly constructed too, from the brilliantly executed twist as to who actually scores the point against Osborn at the end, to the perfectly constructed plot mechanics, all of which prove that just because a comic is about superheroes, it doesn’t have to be dumb as well.
To round the issue out, there’s a reprint The Pulse #5, where comic where Osborn was finally outed as the Green Goblin and arrested. With Bendis writing and Bagley pencilling, it’s a fun issue in its own right, though its presentation here undoubtedly suffers from being part 5 of a multi-part arc without the previous 4 issues included. Yet another annoying side-effect of trade-focussed decompression. Even so, it’s nigh-impossible not to enjoy a Bendis & Bagley comic, and the Osborn-focussed story makes an enjoyable companion piece to the lead tale. It’s just a pity that I come away from it thinking not about how good that issue was, but about how much potential was wasted when The Pulse got canned 14 issues in, before the concepts had truly taken root. Still – its inclusion makes this a remarkably high-quality comic that’s astonishing value for the cover price – and it’s increasingly rare you can say that about a comic these days.
It’s rare the ending of a comic can surprise you like this. I think it’s been long enough that I can reveal the shocker that concludes this one: Castle takes on Daken, one-on-one, and… loses. Pretty badly. By which I mean, he gets sliced up into little bits.
I’ve been known to complain about the artifice of mortality that characters have in their own book before, so seeingthat subverted in such a blatant way is the very definition of refreshing for jaded, cynical bastards like me. Especially in the case of The Punisher, whose fights against superheroes often seem to involve a lot of contrivances anyway, given that he’s just a fairly old guy with a lot of guns.
Admittedly, when the next Punisher arc is called “Frankencastle” (presumably, he is rebuilt and re-animated by Dr. Frankencastle) it’s easy to see how they’re going to reverse the events of this issue, but that doesn’t change the fact that when you’re reading a Marvel comic, you don’t expect the heroic lead to die at the end of it. I know it’s grisly to admit, but there was a certain satisfaction in seeing the Punisher’s fight against superhumans way out of his league finally taken to the logical extreme.
There’s far more to the issue, of course – not least John Romita’s art. Romita himself spends so much time drawing Spider-Man that it’s easy to forget just how fantastic his work is, and the gritty, urban setting of the Punisher highlights completely different parts of his work, recalling the rooftop battles of his work on Man Without Fear (Klaus Janson’s inks no doubt helping that feeling along.)
There’s certainly an intesity to the way Remender writes the Punisher – events in the character’s solo title have no doubt added to the desperation he’s displaying in this story. Remender’s fights are always well-choreographed, and with Romita helping him along, the issue becomes one of the better “List” one-shots.
Of all the Dark Reign – The List specials I’ve bought in the name of providing a service to our readers, this one ranks around the middle. Well, towards the top really, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a Simpsons reference. By now, you don’t need me to tell you that this has almost nothing to do with Dark Reign. Contrary to the title, it also doesn’t really feature Wolverine all that much. In fact, as near as I can tell the whole thing turns out to be a prelude to the forthcoming Deathlok series, of all things.
So with that in mind, why am I so upbeat about it? The answer is simple: it’s hilarious.
The issue’s cast consists of Wolverine, Fantomex and Marvel Boy, who infiltrate the Weapon Plus development facility, The World, and Norman Osborn, who spends his time shouting at a wall of monitors. Wolverine himself is sidelined at a fairly early point, leaving Fantomex, in full snooty Frenchman mode, and Marvel Boy to have a fight with the sentient brain that controls The World while at the same time protecting it from Osborn’s agents.
Aaron has won me over to his version of Wolverine before, but with this issue, he also convinces me that he does a very passable version of Fantomex. Indeed, with Marvel Boy in the cast, the whole thing comes across somewhere between a Grant Morrison homage and a Grant Morrison parody, but it’s easy to see that Aaron is doing that deliberately (Marvel Boy being forced to kiss the giant, amoeba-esque organism housing The World’s brain sticks out as an example of that.)
Esad Ribic provides the artwork, and although I’m not a specific fan, I can’t deny that it works rather well. Ribic has the ability to put the fantastic elements alongside the more realistic ones and have them appear as if they can credibly exist within the same universe. Colourist Matthew Wilson brings particular flair to the pages too, however, and his contribution should not be ignored.
The book is rounded out with a rather less impressive bonus strip, some guidebook pages and some pencil/ink comparisons, all of which make the price tag a little more bearable. It’s fair to say this isn’t an essential purchase for anyone following Dark Reign or Wolverine, which makes it more than a little misleading, but as a comic, there’s plenty to enjoy, and for all the whining about how “The List” has been a real disappointment in terms of continuity, it’d be much easier to accept the situation if the comics were all this good.
Okay, this time I’m not going to complain that this The List book is actually nothing to do with the Dark Reign meta-arc and instead focus on it for what it is: a one-shot that has a lasting impact on the parent title’s continuity, presumably as a marketing device to draw people into the series’ ongoing plot threads. In that sense, it’s still a bit of a failure.
This issue, Osborn gets to “Neutralising Bruce Banner” on his list of things to do. The Hulk, of course, is already neutralised, so Osborn goes to great lengths to explain why Banner needs to be taken out of the equation too. Apparently, it’s because he’s the fourth smartest person on the planet, though why that’s a good enough reason to go after Banner and not, for example, Reed Richards, isn’t particularly clear.
The plot has the unlikely pairing of Moonstone and Victoria Hand going after Skaar and Banner. Moonstone makes sense, because she’s an old Hulk villain, but much like Osborn, Ms. Hand is so over-exposed, one wonders how she’s got the time for field operations. Still, it leads to some enjoyable battles-of-wits between her and Banner, while Moonstone deals with Skaar. Pak has always understood the need for a psychological dimension to the Hulk, so it’s good to see that continue here, as the fights are resolved not by punching, but by smarts.
The payoff to the issue – Banner being partially re-irradiated – is either a major part of the ongoing arc of Incredible Hulk, or a ridiculously weak cop-out, depending on how it’s followed up. The idea is that being irradiated by Osborn’s plan has will mean that Banner becomes the Hulk much sooner than he would’ve. Of course, since we had no time frame on that anyway, it’s hard to see how this’ll have any consequences. I’m giving Pak the benefit of the doubt, but I’d be lying if I said I was wholly convinced.
Whether this one-shot becomes anything more than a throwaway piece of continuity will ultimately rely on Pak himself. As a story itself, it’s fairly enjoyable, but not enough to make it worth buying if you’re not already reading Incredible Hulk – and for a one-shot that’s supposed to appeal to people who aren’t, that’s not a good thing.
Sigh. When Marvel announced The List, the impression was given that this would be a major part of the Dark Reign meta-arc. Indeed, the Avengers book suggests that it might even be so, ending as it did with the capture of Hawkeye – a major development. Unfortunately, subsequent issues – X-Men, Daredevil, and now Secret Warriors – have all concentrated on moving forward the story of the titles in question rather than Dark Reign at all. Worst of all, Norman Osborn isn’t the one dealing with the entries on his “list”, they’re coming to him and winning. This is exactly the inverse of what the premise of the books was supposed to be!
So, if you’re looking for big Dark Reign moments that start the story down its path to completion – don’t look here. If you’re following Secret Warriors, the story might be much more important, though personally, as someone who hasn’t kept up with the series. I had trouble following this one shot – particularly the final “reveal” which felt a bit too much like Hickman playing up his own indie sensibilities as the story culminates in a multi-page spread of diagrams, with the reader left to decipher to determine the importance of the information within.
Although Nick Fury makes for an engaging lead character – and for the record, the other Secret Warriors don’t even show up – the characterisation of Osborn is far less convincing. In order to make Fury convincingly pull one over on the man who took his old job, Hickman has to dumb him down and remove the threatening uncertainty from Osborn’s character. It’s difficult to enjoy because of that. Where the book does succeed is in the espionage-based action sequences. It’s just a pity that Ed McGuinness, a man recently shown wowing audiences on Hulk with his complete lack of subtlety, should be put on such a title. Frankly, it’s a poor fit.
And so, ultimately, what we’re left with is another instalment in Marvel’s increasing body of comics that misrepresent themselves. This is not as important a story as we’re supposed to believe, and if the trend continues, it won’t be long before tie-ins and cross-promotion becomes completely meaningless. I suspect more than a few people will regret buying this one – not because it’s bad, but because it’s not remotely what it claims to be.