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Has it really been a year since DC’s New 52 launched? This week (1 August 2012), Action Comics #12 and Green Arrow #12 turn 1 with mixed results, the fight continues in Avengers Vs. X-Men #9, and we look at no less than five series debuts in Marvel’s Deadpool Kills The Marvel Universe, First X-Men and Hawkeye and Image’s Harvest.
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Action Comics #12 [DC Comics, Grant Morrison (writer), Rags Morales, Cafu, Brad Walker (artists), Bits Rating: ★★]: Oh how the mighty have fallen this month. Grant Morrison’s usually strong take on the big league superheroes slips badly one year out. Although offering us glimpses of what a multiverse Superman might have looked like, this issue is primarily a big ol’ fight with a fairly uninteresting villain. It is typical of Morrison’s run to date, all about psychic entities from beyond and Earth-shattering consequences. None of them pay off in this mish-mash of panels and new information that pushes the book into the playground of the preposterous. Superman can learn medical surgery in five minutes and perform it with his thumbnail. He can read a flash drive without plugging it into a computer. He isn’t the only god here, with Batman arriving with a last minute deus ex machina that might restore the Clark Kent status quo faster than we think. All this does is negate the rare but genuine character moments, such as firemen complaining about having to clean everything up. Three artists on the issue actually works out OK, with the panels feeling consistent throughout. It is just a shame that this issue, nor the story arc it belongs to, can claim the same.
Avengers Vs. X-Men #9 [Marvel, (writers), (art) ★★★★] - This is more like it. It’s no secret that we’ve not been enjoying AvX at all, as t has simply felt like a precursor to another event. However, after several months of water-treading and in-fighting, we get the powerhouse issue we should have seen two months ago, one that balances character and smackdown action in a way we’ve been sorely missing. Spider-man is the focus of this issue, and what better example of “with great power comes great responsibility” than one of the ‘smaller’ Avengers standing up and taking his place. Through Peter Parker, we see just how bad things have gotten for the Avengers camp, but what is more intriguing is how things are unravelling for what is left of the Phoenix Five. This is the darkest chapter of the saga to date, and it is an epic issue that actually moves the story along at an amazing pace, something sadly lacking from the previous entries. Peter’s musings on what makes a hero to Hope, along with a much-needed dose of humour, means that this book isn’t taking itself quite as seriously as it has been for the last few months. Adam Kubert really steps up to the plate on the art too, matching the pace inch-for-inch and giving us some glorious splash pages this time around. It’s still not perfect, but another three of these and the event will end much better than it started!
Daredevil #16 [Marvel, Mark Waid (writer), Chris Samnee (artist), Bits Rating: ★★★★½]: We never have a bad word to say about this Eisner Award winning run on Daredevil, and the latest issue gives us no cause for concern. Last issue, Waid took away Daredevil’s senses temporarily, and here he lets somebody else – namely Hank Pym The Giant Man (aka Ant-Man) – literally get inside Matt Murdoch’s head, with Tony Stark and Dr. Strange also making cameos. The mostly personal journey manages to still pack in some decent action as well, but the net result is a better understanding of what makes both Pym and Murdoch tick. The personal and super drama finally take their toll on Matt’s relationship with Foggy, which comes to a head in the final pages of the book. This is simply compulsory reading. While it is bad news that Paolo Rivera is leaving the book as regular interior artist, and his work has literally changed the way Daredevil views the world, the equally amazing Chris Samnee is remaining, and his work on this issue means that this is a cause for joy. If Hawkeye hadn’t come out this week, with its similar focus on character in the big bad New York City, then this book would have been our Pick of the Week. Let’s call it a tie then, shall we.
Deadpool Kills The Marvel Universe #1 (of 4) [Marvel, Cullen Bunn (writer), Dalibor Talajić (artist), Bits Rating: ★★]: Oh hai! We’ve met before haven’t we? Almost forgotten, Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe was Garth Ennis’ take on the mass slaughter of our favourite Marvel heroes, but it was only when he returned to the character with Welcome Back Frank that it came to light again. The concept isn’t even new to Deadpool, with Evil Deadpool floating about for some time. This alternate universe imagining has some nice moments to be sure, and the opening pages are actually some of the most atmospherically paced panels we’ve seen for some time. Yet where Ennis played it (mostly) for laughs, Cullen Bunn plays this purely for menace, something that is solidified by Dalibor Talajic’s incredibly dark artwork. Deadpool’s multiple voiceovers sell his insanity, but rather than providing Frank Castle’s emotional reason for wiping out the Marvel Universe, something that led to a touching conclusion with Daredevil in that book, it merely provides fodder for fanservice and mass carnage. If this had a target audience, it is mid-1990s fan boys who yearn for a return to foil holographic covers. Let’s hope that Deadpool sees himself as part of the Marvel Universe and ends this quickly.
The First X-Men #1 [Marvel, Neal Adams and Christos Gage (writers), Neal Adams (art) ★★½] – Having run out of places to sandwich in Wolverine in the current continuity, this book takes us back to the heyday of Harlem, “many years ago”. Effectively retconning the history of the X-Men, this supposes that Logan drags Sabretooth along as he sets out to help young mutant kids get off the streets and into the warm and fuzzies. To this aim, he approaches a young Charles Xavier at Oxford, still denying his mutant abilities and on the cusp of marrying Moira (who is full of “Och, loves”). If you can put this continuity gaff aside for the moment, it is hard to reconcile this Logan with the wildman loner who was only tamed by the X-Men. As with this week’s Hawkeye (below), this is a case of comics imitating the films, with the retro style surely aimed at those who loved X-Men: First Class. Sadly, the great Neal Adams’ old-school style doesn’t gel with modern comics, with Wolverine looking blocky and awkward, a lumbering giant rather than a killing machine. The rest of the art is fairly inconsistent, visuals often garbled. The series nevertheless has promise if you can ignore half-a-century of continuity, which is occasionally a good idea when fresh stories are needed.
Green Arrow #12 [DC Comics, Ann Nocenti (writer), Harvey Tolibao (artist), Bits Rating: ★★½]: - One year on, and three writers later, Green Arrow remains without a distinctive voice of its own in the New 52. Here Nocenti gives us a graphic version of the Wikipedia entry to the People’s Republic of China, throwing in as many cliched cultural references as possible as a substitute for depth. It reads like a pale imitation of some of Gail Simone’s best work on pre-Flashpoint Birds of Prey, and it is becoming increasingly clear that DC are shaping Arrow to be more in line with whatever his television counterpart will be come October. This story has become quite ridiculous, with Oliver Queen stranded in China and relying on a series of increasingly outlandish gadgets (including a holographic arrow gun of some kind) with which to kick ass and take names. At many points, Nocenti resorts to explaining what we can already see on panel, making this a throwback to the Silver Age without the corresponding quality. Tolibao is the fourth artist on the series in the last 12 months, which is perhaps another reason why this title can’t find its way, and it simply doesn’t suit the character. The final page promises an origin story next from Judd Winick, before the “Chinese adventure continues” in #13. We know which one we are looking forward to.
Harvest #1 (of 5) [Image Comics, A.J. Lieberman (writer), Colin Lorimer (artist), Bits Rating: ★★★★]: Without a doubt, this year has belonged to Image Comics. From the debut of Fatale in January, Saga in March, Mind the Gap in May and last month’s Revival, they have consistently proven that they have what it takes to gather a roster of writers and artists who can instantly draw in audiences week after week. So too is the case with Harvest, which is undoubtedly the strongest debut in a week of strong debuts. Lieberman’s story time jumps in the best Christopher Nolan cinematic tradition, giving us a view of protagonist Doctor Dane as he seemingly reaches the end of his tether. Our “hero” is an alcoholic drug-addicted surgeon, whose vices lead him into a seedy black market. The story promises all manner of twists and turns, and we are spun about several times over in a first issue that wastes no time in plunging us into the deep end. Yet Lorimer’s art is the star here. Noir in its style and muted colours, he simply has a different way of looking at a scene to most artists, unafraid to take his “camera” to vantage points we don’t normally view in sequential art and tripping us out completely on whatever Dane is taking. The only disappointment is that there are only four more of these left in the coming months.
Hawkeye #1 [Marvel, Matt Fraction (writer), David Aja (artist), Bits Rating: ★★★★½ - PICK OF THE WEEK] – Superhero reboots/debuts aren’t that uncommon, but good ones are often few and far between. With a renewed fan-base, thanks to that little indie film The Avengers, Hawkeye gets his first solo series in a while. Just as Mark Waid crafted a version of Daredevil that is wholly familiar yet completely new and fresh, so too has Matt Fraction with the underused Hawkeye. Yet the strength here is that Fraction doesn’t concentrate on the Avenger but the man who has come up from the streets and has to work every day at being good. This was touched on recently in an issue of Avenging Spider-man, and with the exception of the first page and a half, this book is about Clint Barton in civvies doing his bit for the neighbourhood. Aja’s artwork is magnificent artwork is unquestionably perfect, suiting this gritty world of the New York streets. You can almost smell the same air Barton refers to on panel. Matt Hollingsworth’s subdued colour palette must also be commended for making this feel like a lived-in world. DC’s archer should take notes on this one.