Picks of the Week

This week has been full of top quality comics! Sadly though I only have time to highlight a few of them. The pervading feeling this week has been on of things coming to and end. Marvel is dominating this area as all their writers finish their lengthy runs on key titles before the big reshuffle that is Marvel NOW! DC on the other hand as certain aspects of that happening with the impending departure of Grant Morrison but because of the current setup at DC there is a sense of new beginnings too as new story arcs and a few writer/artist movements kick off in the wake of #0 Month.

So despite saying last week that I would be covering less in future there is so much to talk about it would be criminal to skip over it. So advance notice, this is a long post!

WARNING though, there will be SPOILERS!

DC Comics

DC was not as strong as Marvel’s line up for this week but it did contain a couple of doozies (more on these in a bit!). Things continued to build in Justice League Dark as the Books of Magic story starts to come to a head, The Flash also kicked off a Gorilla Invasion that looks like it will be fun reading and Batman: The Dark Knight continues to be a mixture of confused but interesting ideas.

The first of my top picks is Superman #13 which kickstarts Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort’s run on the book proper. The key to enjoying this book is that it is trying to take an old school approach in a very modern way and for me it works brilliantly. Lobdell manages to humanise Clark while still keeping Superman’s raw power on show. The book opens with the first of what looks like will be many displays of Superman’s strength,

In an attempt to push himself to his upper limits we see Superman bench pressing the weight of the planet. This is a big deal because so far in the New 52 Superman’s power levels have not really been defined. Morrison’s Action Comics focuses on a younger and less powerful Supes while in Superman we have seen that even Superman is not to sure of what he can do. So having him do this gives us two things, 1) Knowledge that this Superman is still learning, and 2) He is still ridiculously powerful despite his inexperience which is a good thing. Mainly because it means Superman is allowed to make mistakes and he is given the freedom to be less of a perfect character.

Another aspect of the book I really like is the thought bubbles! I goddamn love thought bubbles and miss their regular presence in comics. The modern thing to do is have the narration be first person and be an equivalent to thought bubbles at the same time. To see both personal thought bubbles (we are only treated to Superman’s thoughts and no one else’s) and third person narration in the latter half of the book is very refreshing. The third person narration suddenly appears and move of it is introduced as we get towards the end of the issue. It is done to get us accustomed to the idea of third person narration again and to get us familiar with an older style of storytelling once again. Clark’s thoughts tend to focus on him processing ideas and information or just simply commenting on what’s happening. The result is a Superman that is easier to connect with and understand. The exterior shows his power and strength to the world. That classic Man of Steel image the comics have relied on for so long. Then at the same time we are given an understanding of Superman’s internal worries and thought process that help him deal with the extraordinary situations he faces.

This is something that many people will not be comfortable with. There is a pervading thought, especially online, that Superman should be presented as a near perfect figure. Always right, always in control, always the epitome of what humanity has to offer. The problem with this presentation is that it is, to me, is not true to the core of the character. For me Superman should be constantly trying to be what everyone expects him to be rather than a perfect example of humanity and kindness. Everyone sees him as perfect but he is not, but because he is a good guy he works towards meeting that perceived view of himself. He is an inherently good person but at the same time he should be allowed to make mistakes and have his own thoughts on things. He’s not a Jesus or prophet type figure he’s Superman, there is a big difference. I much prefer an fallible Superman because it makes him infinitely more interesting. He has his own very strong moral compass which he follows to help him make the right or wrong decisions. Which leads us to the next big thing that happens in this issue.

Did you hear that Superman quit the Daily Planet? Are you sure? Nothing? You have not seen the reams of half-arsed and poorly researched news articles about it that show the writers of them have little love or care as to the current status quo of the character and are only reporting on it because it is a topical piece? It is not just something common to wider media reporting on the subject even established comics sites seem to purposely  misunderstand the why for all this. Sometimes it feels like I am the only one who remembers that not everybody has read every single issue of Superman and that storylines such as Clark Kent quitting the Daily Planet have happend before but are still fairly rare and are worth exploring. The reasons behind it this time are two fold, it reflects a lot of people’s thoughts on the current state of journalism and it has strong links to the current state of flux comic books find themselves in as the move to digital happens. The arrogance of the long time reader seems to be clouding people to this being a new thing for this version of Superman and (I’m sorry to shock you here) any new readers (yes NEW readers) that have started reading the comic in the past year. This is a new timeline were Clark Kent has been working for the Daily Planet for 5-6 years not for the decades that previous versions of the character worked for the paper. Anyway mini rants about reboot denial aside this is actually an interesting development that has been building since the New 52 launched.

For the past year in both Action Comics and Superman we have seen a Clark Kent who is a self styled reporter of the people. Doing what he can to uncover corruption and help the citizens of Metropolis. Over the year we have seen his growing frustrations with working under the boot of Galaxy Broadcasting. Seen that he is the only one that is fighting against the corporate news mentality that has worn away at his colleagues. Both Perry White and Lois Lane are shown to be compromising their ideals to keep the Planet going and keep their jobs. Clark however because of his moral core actively rebels against this status quo. Everyone turning around and pretending not to listen, apart from Cat Grant, after Clark’s speech is very telling about the current state of the fictional paper. In this instance Clark quitting makes sense and fits with the current interpretation of the character. It will be interesting to see where he goes next.

Finally we have Superman fighting and destroying, as revealed by Supergirl at the end of the issue, a giant prehistoric animal from Krypton. As the cousins bicker a mysterious figure looms over them setting up the H’el on Earth storyline. Oooooo! Very interesting!

The coming to an end part of DC’s offering this week is the continuation of Batman Incorporated as things step into high gear. The theme of this issue is escalation as the battle lines are drawn on both sides.

Basically Talia has completely lost it and is initiating her end game to take down Batman and his growing Batman Inc. army. Chris Burnham’s art is at its best in this issue. The stakes are incredibly high and Burnham’s style has this brilliant cinematic quality that makes the action seem even more exciting. Storywise things move along quickly as Batman’s frontline operatives assault the building were Bats is being held captive and Robin I mean Redbird defies orders once again to come to the aid of his dad. Once Batman is freed he initiates Phase 2 which basically means all active Batman Inc members go into all out war with Leviathan’s forces. Ninjas are getting their asses handed to them left right and centre. Then Talia’s Were-Bats get taken down with what can only be describes as a sonic bazooka,

It is all very exciting and I flew through the issue which is an odd experience for a Grant Morrison comic. His writing has a tendency to get heavy (or trippy and just plan weird!) and I had forgotten that he is a master of writing action when the mood strikes him. Morrison’s other writing trick is to make things confusing or to hide key details in the background of his stories then towards the end of the arc he will reveal all and you will be amazed by his forethought and insane genius. In this issue we get hints of the reveal starting to come about. From next issue onwards everything will start being explained and we will all be enlightened by it. But first Morrison gives us a nice one-two punch of twists to keep us hooked and ready for the next issue.

First the reveal that Wingman is in fact Jason Todd in disguise! This is a really big deal for a number of reasons. Jason has long since been an enemy of Batman and his family and squarely planted as the blacksheep of the Bat-Family. So seeing him being brought back into the fold especially if you know of his murderous past is very interesting. It also shows how dire the situation is for Batman if he is having to turn to Jason for help. The past year has also shown that Jason Todd can actually be a reasonably complex character rather than just the Robin that went bad and it will be interesting to see how different he is to the last time Grant Morrison used him in the pre-New 52 Batman and Robin.

Then we come to the last page and in particular the last panel that references Batman #666 which was a pre-New 52 issue that gave us a glimpse at a very dark future for Gotham where (or is it when?) Damian is Batman and the city is a million times worse than it is now. The implications are great, it could mean Gotham is well and truly doomed or that #666 is but one possible outcome. Morrison has pulled the old alternate future switcheroo in the past in his New X-Men run for Marvel (which is well worth checking out by the way as it covers a lot of similar themes to Morrison’s Batman run).

Is the #666 future the one Batman saw at the end of The Return of Bruce Wayne? Is this the end result of the war between Batman Incorporated and Leviathan? Is Batman really giving Damian back to Talia? We will find out next time, same Bat-time same Bat-comic!

Marvel

As I have mentioned in other posts there is a sense of things coming to a close over at Marvel as certain creators end their lengthy runs on books that have come to define their careers and the characters featured in these books. Captain America saw Ed Brubaker say an emotional goodbye to the character that means so much to him. It is a very weird read as it is clear Brubaker is talking to himself in the issue and has Cap telling him that his time is done and that it is time for a much needed rest. At the same time the issue ties up a lot of lingering loose threads and summarises a lot of the themes and key events of Brubaker’s time on the book. Amazing Spider-Man also continues to head towards the soon to be classic #700 as the two Hobgoblins chase down Peter and Max.  It is Dan Slott at his best as the twists and turns come thick and fast. Both books are well worth checking out.

Avengers #32 get the spot as my first pick for Marvel for this week for a variety of reasons. It continues the idea of it being a kind of Bendis greatest hit story to close off his time playing around with the Avengers along with New Avengers. In this issue we also got confirmation that the Wasp has not actually been dead since Secret Invasion but actually stuck in a micro-verse.

This moment of her quickly blinking down to small size and then reappearing inside the enemy ship was all the confirmation I needed. I was just happy that I knew she was back and I would have been okay with her revealing herself in the next issue. Thankfully Bendis decided to make it clear and un-mask Janet once the micro-verse team of Cap, Iron Man, Thor and Hank Pym find her in a moment that says a lot about the loveable nature of the Wasp as a character, to me anyway.

It is clear rather than leaving things on a heavy note as part of a big event style story Bendis has decided to bow out on a good vibe. This is a big and stupid classic Avengers style adventure. Shrinking down into a micro-verse to save a trapped ally is quite out there by today’s standards and is a fun way to close out Bendis’ run. It also gives hints at the tonality change across Marvel as a whole with the coming of Marvel NOW! There is a sense that the doors have been blown off and everyone can have a bit of fun again. Avengers Vs X-Men while having some dark stuff happening in it, like the death of Xavier and the more questionable actions of both sides of the conflict, was still a book about superheroes fighting each other. It setup the Marvel NOW! status quo that sees big, fun and crazy ideas being at the forefront. So ending on a fun story that brings back a beloved character is so much better than say Disassembling the Avengers and ushering in an era of big heavy stories, ideological warshidden invasionsreigns of darkness and the destruction of mystical kingdoms. It also means that the more off beat moments do not stick out as much.

The book also introduces a new villain in the form of Lord Gouzar who has an interesting design. Part centaur, part Iron Man villain. He will probably be a one note baddie who will only appear in this story and then be put into the archives of one-off Avengers enemies. Still he’s a robot-centaur-person-thing embrace the stupidity of it!

So yeah, Bendis’ final Avengers story equals lots of fun!

We then come to my final pick which is the end of Matt Fraction’s time on Iron Man and the Epilogue to his The Future storyline. Invincible Iron Man has consistently been one of my favourite books for the past few years as Fraction has crafted a brilliant and gripping tale that has had me looking forward to each new issue with anticipation. The Future has been the culmination of Fraction’s run and was one of those we must break down Iron Man so Tony can rebuild it and himself to become a better hero stories. With this issue serving to tie up all the lingering plot threads, leave a couple of threads open for Kieron Gillen to pick up and then the setup for Tony joining the Guardians of the Galaxy.

So we get Tony Stark running around in older versions of his armour because he no longer has the ability to control his fancy pants armour. Throughout the issue we see him setting stuff up to take care of things for him while he is off planet galavanting around in space. You have the revelation that all Stark Tech is self aware to the point where it will know it is being used for bad then contact Tony or the appropriate authorities when stuff is about to go down.

We then have sequences like Tony’s S.H.I.E.L.D debriefing which makes us potentially question if he is now a sleeper agent for the Mandarin and/or the Chinese. We also get a little flashback to when he was initially compromised during the Dark Reign storyline that saw Tony basically restore his brain from a backup and forget about his brief but passionate relationship with Maria Hill in the process. Poor Maria Hill she just cannot catch a break!

We then get Tony Stark doing some very classic Tony Stark style things.

Building secret armour and tinkering with technology while completely ignoring friends and loved ones.

Dealing with personal issues and potential paths to relapsing.

Hiding sexy times with attractive women from Pepper Potts.

Saying goodbye to his friends and colleagues, leaving his company in their hands and proactively chasing tomorrow once again by re-embracing his futurist ideals. Travelling into the black of space to explore an uncharted frontier try to find himself and the solutions that will guide humanity into the future in the process.

OH WAIT! That last one has not happened before!

Tony Stark going into space is one of those things that makes you wonder why the hell it has not been done before. It ties brilliantly into what Fraction has been trying to do with Iron Man the past few years and gives us one of those big, fun and stupid ideas that I keep saying are at the core of Marvel NOW! I’m excited to see where he will end up and while many see this as a cynical attempt to get more people into the cosmic side of Marvel Comics ahead of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, I personally think this is an idea that has a lot of potential. So what if it serves as a gateway to the cosmic side of things? More people reading more comics is surely a good thing, right?

Fraction’s Iron Man is going to take a lot to be beaten, the baton has been passed to Bendis and Kieron Gillen so hopefully they will be able to come up with something juicy!

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