This time around, I’ve got some brief reviews of the Hulk’s return in Avengers, the first issue of Dry County, the final issue of Judas and my first issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws in almost seven years.
Curse Words Holiday Special #1 (Image Comics)
by Charles Soule & Mike Norton
After the fun I had reading Hellboy: Krampusnacht, I thought I’d delve into another holiday-themed comic for amusement, and the Curse Words Holiday Special popped up on my radar. Now, while I haven’t read any issues from the regular series, I figured this would be an accessible gateway into the property. It turns out it was and it wasn’t. While the premise here is clear enough — a dark, fantasy future is ruled over by a powerful magical entity and his wizard minions — this one-shot doesn’t give one a sense of what the regular title is all about. As such, this comic is low on plot and therefore has to focus on the oddball, villainous characters that populate this psychedelic future. Soule succeeds in conveying the characters’ corrupt and twisted nature — which means there’s really no figure in this book for which the reader can cheer. Everyone is so… off-putting. It’s like the book is is a DayGlo, candy-coated convention of ugliness. Soule’s distortions of holiday traditions for this weird world are creative and colorful, but several of them are rather… well, gross. And that’s the point, I know; it just wasn’t my thing.
Batman #36 (DC Comics)
by Tom King, Clay Mann & Seth Mann
I remember when I was a kid buying World’s Finest #271, one of DC’s many oversized dollar titles, and that issue promised a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Superman/Batman team. It explored the history of the characters’ connection (and I believed it opened to my eyes to DC’s multiple-earths concepts, which I loved). That purchase was made 36 years ago, so it’s safe to say I’ve read a lot of Superman/Batman team-up stories. With this newly released story, Tom King may have delivered the best Superman/Batman story to date. The villain in this opening chapter of the “Superfriends” story arc is deliciously deep cut, but what makes this such a memorable and touching piece of pop culture is King’s focus on who Bruce and Clark are and they view one another. The pacing and scripting are meticulous. I love how every moment, every word parallels another. I can’t begin to express how happy this comic book made me. My awe at the writing gave way to a real warmth inside. Thanks, Mr. King, for snatching a relatively simple notion out of the ether — the heroes’ unspoken awe and respect for one another — and shaping a wonderfully grounded tale that still builds on the ongoing engagement story.
Bug! The Adventures of Forager #5 (DC Comics/Young Animal imprint)
by Michael Allred & Lee Allred/by James Harvey
The only truly disappointing thing about this comic was the blurb at the end of the main story indicating the next issue will be the final one. This issue of Bug!, like those before it, was another loving tribute to the work of the late Jack Kirby, this time examining an even weirder incarnation of OMAC and Brother Eye. The plot is rather difficult to discern, as has been the case throughout this case. The Allred brothers have been offering up a seemingly stream-of-consciousness approach to fringe super-hero storytelling, and that continues here with almost random story concepts. But they’re wild, campy and entertaining concepts. I particular enjoyed how the writers linked the Mother Box of the Fourth World characters to Brother Eye. Mike Allred’s linework is perfect for the bizarre Kirby concepts on display here, but it would be for nought if Laura Allred’s brilliant, primary color palette didn’t enhance that energy.
Batman: Lost #1 (DC Comics)
by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Joshua Williamson, Doug Mahnke, Yanick Paquette, Jorge Jimenez & Jaime Mendoza
Even if I had no interest in the Metal crossover event giving rise to this one-shot, I would have been drawn to it just based on the artistic talent contributing to the visuals for this comic. Doug Mahnke and Jamie Mendoza’s meticulous linework has the perfect kind of intensity to it, bringing an edge even to the seemingly wholesome vision of an elderly Bruce Wayne reading to his potential granddaughter. Jorge Jimenez’s exaggerated and stylized art has been a great deal of fun on Super Sons, so it was interesting to see it take on a harsher tone for this story. But the art I enjoyed the most in this book came from Yanick Paquette, who’s had a strong association with Batman during the Grant Morrison runs on various titles. Paquette’s take on the character never fails to put me in mind of the style of Kevin Nowlan. I also appreciated how he tweaked his style slightly to convey different time periods in which the Batman finds himself in this ever-flowing hellscape.
Avengers #673 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Mark Waid, Javier Pina & Paco Diaz
I lost touch with Waid’s Avengers some time ago, but given my interest in his Champions title, I signed back on for this crossover between the two team titles. I love Waid’s writing in general, but I’m just not connecting with this story. Part of the problem is that I’ve always loathed the High Evolutionary as a villain. I find him painfully uninteresting and don’t really get how he’s tapped genetics to transform himself essentially into a near-omnipotent being. I’ve never fully understood what motivates him. Furthermore, the way things stand here, it appears many Marvel heroes are well aware the big bad guy has been perched on Counter-Earth and have done nothing to ensure he doesn’t do exactly what he’s doing in this storyline. The real heart of this story, though, is the conflict between one member of the Avengers and one of the Champions: Vision and Viv. The father/daughter dynamic should be the grounded, relatable aspect of this plot, but it’s handled so… loudly, it just doesn’t seem to serve their story or characters right. Given that Viv was introduced in Tom King’s brilliant and quietly intense 12-issue Vision series not long ago, finally addressing the tension between the father and daughter in this bombastic crossover event seems as though it does a disservice to that foundation that gave rise to the relationship in the first place.
The Clone Conspiracy #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Dan Slott, Jim Cheung, Ron Frenz & John Dell
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the Amazing Spider-Man relaunch with Peter Parker as a global tycoon and philanthropist, so much so that I definitely feel I should have followed the Superior Spider-Man epic that preceded it. That being said, I’m quite surprised that Marvel has chosen to revisit the world of cloning (or whatever analogous scheme the Jackal is up to this time), given how the Spider-Clone saga of the 1990s continues to be mocked and viewed by many as a convoluted low point in the iconic hero’s long history. I’m also a little dismayed this wasn’t just published as the latest issue of Amazing instead of as a new first issue. This is a continuation of the storylines we’ve been following over the past year or so in that title, so a spinoff book seems like little more than a cash grab. That being said, I enjoyed this comic book for a number of reasons, not the least of which is how important Peter Parker’s status as an industrialist remains an important element in this new Jackal storyline. Slott wisely continues to build on the importance of Peter’s overdeveloped sense of responsibility for what happens to those around him.