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.
I’ve never been a particularly big fan of the Sub-Mariner, and even less so in his capacity as a mutant, so imagine my joy when I found out that the X-Men instalment of “The List” was going to be about Namor coming to terms with his place as an X-Man. It’s fair to say that I was not particularly keen.
Perhaps it was those low expectations that made me find this comic more engaging than I thought. It certainly helps that it’s drawn by Alan Davis, who reminds us just how definitive an X-Men artist he is whenever he puts pen to paper, but it’s Fraction’s presence that helps keep the story grounded enough in continuity to work.He knows what he’s doing with the characters, so when Psylocke shows up with her new powers, or Emma and Namor’s relationship is tense, it builds perfectly on earlier groundwork.
The issue sees Namor accepting his role as both leader of the Atlanteans and a member of the X-Men, and dredges up an old piece of continuity to make a point – which it does very well. If anything prevents the story from being particularly interesting, it’s that the focus is heavily on Namor, and at this point in time, it feels too early to base an X-Men special around a character who only just joined the team and, more importantly, doesn’t really fit into the mutant-verse remit. There’s nothing of traditional X-Men themes in this story, and very little in the way of traditional X-Men characters. As a fan of specifically the X-Men, I feel a little like I’ve been cheated out of a story. Had it been called “Dark Reign – The List: Sub-Mariner” I’d be much more forgiving.
So, while this works as a Sub-Mariner story, I’m still left uncertain that it fills an important role in the Dark Reign arc. The Avengers issue contained a major Avengers development, the Daredevil issue, although less important, did at least showcase the new direction for the character – this just feels like another X-Men issue with the focus on a transitional period for Namor, but without any major turning point revealed. And particularly when placed alongside the recent X-Men specials, Exodus & The Confession, it feels decidedly unimportant in the grand scheme.
So, we’re left with the most damning of faint praise: I didn’t hate it. Unfortunately, since this was supposed to be a special, it’s hard not to argue that its failed in its mandate. A backup strip of Fraction’s earliest Marvel work is welcome, especially since I hadn’t read it before, but it doesn’t change the fact that this supposedly important comic involved little more than Osborn fighting a few X-Men, ending in a draw – and we only just read that crossover.
Given Daredevil’s heavily self-contained nature over the last ten-plus years, it’s strange to see Marvel effectively put the first issue of the new direction in a one-shot. Then again, given that the time is about right to move the character away from the Bendis/Brubaker version, perhaps it’s not so strange at all. Daredevil’s new position as Leader of the Hand is, in part, related to the events of Secret Invasion and Dark Reign, so it seems to make sense to expose the status quo to new readers in the series-of-one-shots, The List.
Joining the new series writer Andy Diggle on his first Daredevil story is Billy Tan, also doing his first Daredevil. After years of gritty, sketchy, urban depictions of Daredevil and his cast, it’s strange to see such an obviously superhero-influenced artist take the character on again, but not entirely unwelcome. Tan has always done his best work during action scenes, and Diggle gives him plenty to work with here. Unfortunately, the book opens on a conversational boardroom scene, where all of Tan’s weaknesses bleed through, so the initial impression isn’t particularly good.
Although the story ramifications aren’t quite as event-level as Hawkeye’s fate over in this issue’s “Avengers” counterpart, there is at least one major curveball thrown, giving Daredevil his very own Stamford-style disaster that will hopeuflly come into play further down the line. If Diggle’s intent is merely to illustrate how “the game has changed” then it could be a bit crass – but the lack of any direct Daredevil/Bullseye confrontation in this issue gives me good reason to expect that there’s a good, old-fashioned Daredevil beat-down coming Bullseye’s way eventually – which is as it should be.
As a lead-in to Daredevil’s new direction, this issue works, showing enough about Daredevil’s role leading the Hand to get the story going, while still leaving enough questions for casual readers to want to come and find the answers. As a believable tick off Osborn’s “list”, however, it’s a lot less convincing – Osborn doesn’t seem to have strengthened his own position by sending Bullseye after Daredevil, and indeed, it’s not clear how he expected to either. If it was actually as simple as “kill Daredevil”, Bullseye would have done so long ago, and his failure to do so only emphasises the pointlessness of this edict. It’s a good story, but I can’t shake the feeling that it would have made more sense as an issue of Daredevil rather than a Dark Reign special.
Before we get into this review, let me issue a public service announcement. This Avengers one-shot appears to blow a fairly major plot point of not only the Avengers arc, but it could also spoil the end of the current X-Men/Dark Avengers crossover if you don’t read Uncanny X-Men/Dark Avengers: Exodus first.
However, as far as criticisms go, that’s virtually all you can level against it. Everything else about this issue is pure gold.
Written by regular New Avengers writer Brian Bendis and featuring a rare appearance on pencils by Marko Djurdjevic, this is the kind of comic that reminds you why you loved New Avengers in the first place. The action is sharp, the dialogue is witty, and the art is outstanding. And best of all, The Hood doesn’t get even the slightest look in. The story sees Osborn coming up with a “list” of his primary concerns, and setting out to deal with them – at the same time Hawkeye decides to make good on his recent decision to sort out Osborn directly. It’s a major chapter in not only the whole “Dark Reign” not-an-event event, but in New Avengers continuity as well. I won’t spoil why, but it’s a must-read for New Avengers fans.
Although this is a forward-looking story with a definite impact on New Avengers continuity, the nods to the past are subtle and expertly done. Clint’s appeal to Mockingbird makes all the more sense when you know that she once killed a man herself. Elsewhere, his exchange with Moonstone, while brief, should warm the heart of Thunderbolts fans everywhere. It could come across as pure fan-service, but it’s done so well that readers unfamiliar with the references might not even realise they’ve missed one.
When the debate about $3.99 comics arose, Bendis specifically said that he’d do his best to make sure every issue of New Avengers felt like an “event” comic. Comics like this make you believe he might actually be capable of it. The bar for the whole “list” series of one-shots has been set rather high by this opening chapter, but although I was initially unsure of whether I was interested in reading them all, I can’t help but feel myself getting drawn in by the promise of the concept. If all the stories are this entertaining and important, I definitely want to experience them first hand.
This week, we’ve got capsule reviews of Dark Reign: Hawkeye #4, New Avengers #55 and Ultimatum Spider-Man Requiem #2 (punctuate that title however you prefer) – and a quick reminder to pick up the a copy of Phonogram Vs. The Fans, if you want to see what we contributed to it!