Book Of The Week – DAREDEVIL #4
This is not a glitch; the previous issue did ship last week. However, the benefit of having two regular artists who rotate is that when Marvel decides to “double shift” with a book for a particular month – something they’ve done a lot of this year and will likely do more of the next – things can be published fast. Thus, we have the first issue of this series officially drawn by former AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and DR. STRANGE: OATH artist Marcos Martin, and the result is as gorgeous as one would expect. He drew the origin page and back-up strip of the first issue, but those are not the same as a full on issue. For some, an issue by Martin alone would make it to the top of their reading list for a week, strictly for his artwork. However, what puts this book over the top is Mark Waid’s steady hand at the helm of this franchise. He’s naturally an old hand at Marvel, with long and lengthy runs on FANTASTIC FOUR and CAPTAIN AMERICA in the recent past, yet his DAREDEVIL has become a triumph unlike those other ones. Unlike those other franchises, the franchise had been stuck in a ruck of perpetual misery since the 1980’s and it desperately needed those barnacles to be brushed off, without the clumsiness of a retcon or “continuity by omission” (which is often code for “bad writing”). Within four issues in three months, Waid has turned the world of Matt Murdock 160 degrees from where it was at the start of the year, on the heels of SHADOWLAND. Without denying the past, Waid has created a book more inviting for new readers yet refreshing for the old – at least those who aren’t masochists. There will probably be those who dislike it; the same ones who hate seeing Batman do anything but brood on a rooftop in the rain (you know who you are). For everyone else, this relaunch is a breath of a fresh air for what had been a somewhat predictable B-List franchise.
This is the start of a new arc, while still continuing along with subplots and themes from previous issues. Not only is the idea of a three issue arc suddenly refreshing, but long-term themes and subplots are also the building blocks to great runs. The mafia family introduced for an opening act action sequence returns for half of this issue, which pits the Man Without Fear against a Man-Eating Lion. Due to the events of the last several years of stories, Matt Murdock now finds himself in a similar situation as his nemesis Wilson Fisk – the general populace knows about his “not quite legal” actions, but nobody can legally prove it. This complicates his career as a lawyer because every other attorney puts Daredevil on trial to sway a jury or convince a judge to order a mistrial – and his longtime legal partner and pal Foggy Nelson isn’t pleased by that, either. However, after surviving his last spectacular battle against Klaw (http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-for-9-14-11-everyone-has-spider-powers-but-me-review), Murdock has decided to instead focus on coaching clients on how to represent themselves in court, and triumph – albeit with a little “research” which Daredevil sometimes digs up on his nightly crusades. The latest legal case drops into Murdock and Nelson’s lap, which inevitably leads to more trouble for Daredevil. Mixing in legal drama with masked vigilante action is so simple a premise, it’s amazing FOX hasn’t tried to make this into a TV series on prime time – yet Waid works well with it in a monthly serial comic. Above all, the voice and tone of the series is different. Murdock isn’t a constant drum-beat of bleakness anymore, but acts like a man living every day as if it were his last. There’s also quirky details such as how Murdock deals with fresh sets of clothes, and his recent obsession with Foggy living a healthier lifestyle. Is it just nagging, or is he genuinely afraid of his only surviving supporting cast member dying? Touching, yet also amusing. There is a lot of texture to this book without evening broaching the artwork. Said artwork, by Martin with colors by Munsta Vicente, is phenominal. A page can have nine panels on it yet feel fluid and full of motion, and Martian never wastes a splash page like many other artists. Between artist and writer, every issue of DAREDEVIL feels like twice the content without extra pages or price.
In a world with Marvel and DC trying to play the “can you top this” game of publishing, and with many comics not worth investing in the cover price, readers sometimes have to be “fans without fear” to even risk jumping aboard new series or relaunches these days. Fans who have made the leap onto DAREDEVIL, however, have nothing to fear but the end of the issue and the wait for the next. Four issues in, and this run already seems Eisner worthy. If one hasn’t given it a try, don’t wait for the trades – if any recent relaunch were worth a blind leap of faith, it’s this one.
And with that, the end of any more Daredevil themed puns.
TMNT #2 – This is the second issue of IDW’s relaunch of the former MIRAGE STUDIOS series which features co-creator Kevin Eastman involved in his first Turtle material since BODYCOUNT for Image Comics in the late 90’s. Eastman co-writes with Tom Waltz, and does the art layouts for artist Dan Duncan, with Ronda Pattison on colors. After the other co-creator and former owner of TMNT, Peter Laird, has been the distinctive voice of the Turtles in every medium (including comics) for the past decade, it has been interesting seeing what a relaunch of their franchise with Eastman involved looks like. There are fewer variant covers for this issue than the last, but IDW still obviously loves that gimmick, since there’s still five variant covers for this one. The series is still in the “set-up” mode, although it wisely splices between events set in the present with flashbacks to the past, so we don’t have six issues before turtles and rat meet mutagen and get into a brawl. While the last issue had Splinter and three of the Turtles in action against a street gang run by “Old Hob” (a mutant alley cat), this issue mostly focuses on Rapheal. In a twist, Rapheal has been separated from the “family” for a long time (since he was mutated, essentially) and lives alone on the streets, not knowing about his brothers or even his name. He’s stumbled upon Casey Jones, who in this relaunch is a teenager whose dad is a violent drunk, and gets into a fight with Jones Sr. In the 1980’s, Casey Jones became a hockey masked vigilante who assaulted crooks with sports equipment because he was egged on by TV and crime around him – here, it seems to be because he was beaten by his old man. We also get a flashback to fifteen months ago at Baxtor Stockman’s lab, where the Turtles and Splinter were created under this relaunch, in which April the lab intern becomes assaulted by some Foot Ninja, who are conducting what appears to be a theft of the research there. In the last issue (http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-for-9-14-11-everyone-has-spider-powers-but-me-review), we learned that “General Krang” in a banana republic was funding Baxtor Stockman to perform a lot of unethical genetics experiments on mutagen, rats, and turtles – who April has bonded to as pets. Are the Foot working for Krang as a means of getting around paying for more research, or a competitor? At any rate, this issue shows that iconic scene with mutagen and critters, and notes how Old Hob came in. The artwork by Duncan and Eastman is quite good; perhaps not as iconic as the original art by Eastman and Laird, but still solid. IDW has chosen to do an “ULTIMATE” version of TMNT, and to a degree it feels as if certain sequences and details that were known in the classic origin were jettisoned for the purpose of being different – and the result can feel disorienting for some. What isn’t yet clear is where Splinter and the Turtles even learned martial arts without Homato Yoshi at all, but that may be material for issue three. On the positive, the angle of Rapheal and Casey being one “family unit” and Splinter and the others being another who have to all unite at the end of the arc is a solid idea. It appears as if the exposure to the mutagen causes animals to “grow” to human-level age within a short period of time, as Eastman and Waltz seem to believe it’s unlikely that such mutants could be unnoticed in NYC for 15 years. In fairness, that is closer to how the mutagen worked in the original cartoon than the comics or films. The biggest dilemma is whether long term, old school fans will be thrilled with the changes to familiar material. After all, when Brian Bendis and Mark Bagley redid Spider-Man’s origin 11 years ago in ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN for seven issues, while there were many changes, many core details and sequences remained the same: the lab presentation, the spider-bite, the wrestling, the burglar shooting Uncle Ben, etc. That kept it familiar enough for old schoolers while appealed to new fans; TMNT playing looser with such things may not work the same. The first issue’s debut in terms of sales was far better than anything MIRAGE got in years and better than most other IDW launches – 38,803 copies sold and a Top 50 selling debut; the next best IDW book sold less than half that. In comparison, MIRAGE’s TALES OF THE TMNT used to struggle to sell in the Top 300 for years. The question will be if the fans stick around, or if retailers simply fell for the variant covers. Viacom, which owns the Turtles now, may be keeping an eye on this as plans for a film continue. Overall, while the drastic changes to the origin and mythology of the Ninja Turtles takes some getting used to, nobody could accuse Eastman and Waltz with “coasting” on this; they’re running with the “re-invention” angle in stride. Fans who still have some love for the heroes in a half shell and want to own more than old Mirage reprints should give this a chance. The only hurdle is the $3.99 price tag, but it’s probably more reasonable for IDW or other “third party” sellers who make up 3-5% of the industry to do so than Marvel or DC, who collectively own at least 70% of the industry. The characters are all still familiar – it’s a boon that Michelangelo is fun and optimistic without being a moron – which makes navigating the new lore easier. Hopefully the entire origin is revealed by issue five or six and things can move up and on from there.
BLUE BEETLE #1 – Another week, another slew of DC’s New 52 hit the comic book shelves. While many of them are relaunches of series that had been running for as long as 70 years, or franchises that had been dead a while, BLUE BEETLE is a relaunch of a title that is only about four years old, and was only canceled in Feb. 2009. While the name of Blue Beetle belonged to two different superheroes across the DC Universe (or Charleton Comics before them), it was the third incarnation of Jaime Reyes who has taken the world by storm. His first series, launched on the heels of INFINITE CRISIS, ran three years (and picked up as a back-up strip in BOOSTER GOLD for another half year or so) and resulted in him being adapted in TV shows such as “SMALLVILLE” and “BATMAN: BRAVE AND THE BOLD”. His entire adventures in the DC Universe, besides a stint on TEEN TITANS and GENERATION LOST, were collected in 6 trade paperbacks. Thus, the third Blue Beetle is now the one everyone knows. However, despite only having about three years of backstory and a modest legacy behind him, DC decided that this character, too, needed a fresh origin and a clean slate. Thus, we have writer Tony Bedard (best known for runs on CROSSGEN books and Marvel’s EXILES), artist Ig Guara (not “iguana”), inker Ruy Jose and colorist Pete Pantazis re-writing the character from scratch. The key foundation remains – the setting of El Paso, Texas, and Jaime Reyes’ extended family as well as pals Paco and Brenda. The fact that Brenda’s aunt is also the local mafia boss “La Dama” is also maintained, as is the origin of the beetle “scarab” being a part of an alien war-engine that transforms locals into warriors for the Reach. There is even involvement by a Green Lantern (although instead of it being Guy Gardener, it’s Green Lantern #67A or some such). As Jaime and Paco plan to attend a party hosted by Brenda’s aunt, said aunt is pitting her costumed thugs against a rival crew of metahumans, who appear to be new versions of old Brotherhood of Evil characters from TEEN TITANS (such as Plasmus and Warp, who mention working for “The Brain” and “Mallah”). Jaime ends up nabbing the alien scarab by accident and his fate is revealed. The artwork by Guara, Jose, and Pantazis is terrific, even if one could call it “DC House Style” in that there’re no risks taken. Bedard’s script is acceptable, but a major flaw is his dialogue. The previous volume started out with Keith Giffen and John Rogers for the first ten issues, with Rogers taking over until the 25th. Their flair for dialogue was a lot stronger, and didn’t rely on characters like Paco devolving into stereotype. Here, Paco is a street tough Latin-American gang member who almost looks like he walked out of an episode of “CSI: MIAMI”; while still funny, he comes off as more typical of Latino characters than he used to be. Jaime and Brenda are still essentially the same, with a romantic subplot quickly and bluntly introduced. The last BLUE BEETLE #1 had some glare from a crossover event, but it also seemed to have more flair and history to it. Jaime was his own hero with his own powers, while also connecting to a larger universe with one of the best, and funniest, supporting casts at the time. In comparison, the script for this debut seems less original and more mundane; not bad, but not terribly memorable. Given that this version is also drastically different from the “BRAVE AND THE BOLD” cartoon version that has been seen by millions, was doing this wise on DC’s part? They have certain New 52 series, such as GREEN LANTERN’s corner or most of the core BATMAN books – continuing onward as if no continuity changed. Some critics of the last BLUE BEETLE series from 2006-2009 claimed the character could have worked under any title and tacking on the “Blue Beetle” legacy was needless; to a degree, this relaunch disproves that as said legacy added extra context and history. Without it, it’s another “young man finds a thingie and becomes a superhero” which was old when King Arthur did it back in the Dark Ages. While this is still a perfectly fine first issue – that a fan who never heard of Blue Beetle before would be thrilled with – it is difficult for older fans of the last volume to avoid feeling as if something had been lost in the translation.
HEROES FOR HIRE #12 – This is the official last issue of this title, yet unofficially it isn’t. For those confused, this is one of those cases in which Marvel gave some creators a good shot at a C-List franchise for an ongoing series, it tanked in a few months, and Marvel are canning the ongoing title due to sales woes. However, it will be relaunched with a new title and a fresh #1 in two months time, with a one-shot to fill in the gap between the end of the old series and the start of the new. Both SPIDER-GIRL and VENGEANCE OF THE MOON KNIGHT got canceled, only for a mini series to arise to basically allow the writer extra issues to tie up loose ends; AGENTS OF ATLAS and INCREDIBLE HERCULES also had similar runs. Thus, this is technically the last issue of HEROES FOR HIRE written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (the duo behind NOVA and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY). Next month, a SPIDER-ISLAND themed one shot will be released, and it will be relaunched as VILLAINS FOR HIRE around November. In fairness, Abnett and Lanning have stated in interviews that this shift will also come for story reasons, which fits the theme of their run. This “finale” sees Misty Knight wrap up the loose ends left behind on the crime scene since she re-organized Heroes For Hire in that she can hire “mercenaries” who take fees as well as proper heroes who are willing to work for a favor or information, or for charity. To this end, she is seeking to end the sale and distribution of “hook”, a drug from Atlantis which is especially profitable and lethal for drug dealers on land. While Paladin is the only “regular” hero for hire, this issue sees re-appearances from Silver Sable and Moon Knight, alongside a very quirky appearance by Stingray. For the record, Moon Knight is the hero who has shown up the most besides Misty and Paladin (4 issues out of 12). Regular artist Brad Walker returns for the last issue, with Jay David Ramos and Andrew Hennessy on colors and inks, respectively. As such, the issue looks terrific. Abnett and Lanning took a “bold” move with this series, and by “bold” one means “risky”. There was no stable team here; merely Misty Knight and Paladin teaming up with a rotating cast of guest heroes. To a degree this is similar to various MARVEL TEAM-UP material, although most of Marvel’s “team-up” comics usually still starred a big name character such as Spider-Man or Deadpool. A team-up comic is sellable if you star a character people want to pay to read alongside a more obscure guest every month (assuming said star isn’t also in five other books); it may not be sellable if the stars are themselves B and C list characters. However, fans of such characters should be pleased, as both Misty and Paladin have gotten more panel time here than either have had in years. It mostly revolves around Misty trying to recover from her failed pregnancy by Iron Fist and their latest break-up, while Paladin, who has a rep as a greedy lady-killer, seems to genuinely be falling for her. The subplot was obvious enough for the entire series, but Sable makes sure to make it blunt and obvious with a few lines of dialogue at the end – which works since the last major series Paladin was fleshed out in was Sable’s old ongoing in the 90’s. It may have been an error for the debut issue to promise a team book which had Punisher, Ghost Rider, and Iron Fist in it when all of them came and went. At any rate, VILLAINS FOR HIRE is coming up after a detail into SPIDER-ISLAND, and quite frankly, this has proven to be more entertaining than Abnett and Lanning’s space comics post-THANOS IMPERATIVE. They have a flair for embellishing obscure Marvel history and coming up with quirky ideas with them. They’re the definition of cult writers, and this series was part of that resume.
OBLIGATORY REVIEW – AVENGERS: THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE #7
The previous issue of this bi-monthly, and behind schedule, nine issue mini series was the gem of the series thus far and actually wasn’t obligatory at all (http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-for-6-29-11-that-s-anti-venom-not-anti-pasto-review). That streak ended with one, which is often how most winning streaks by the NEW YORK METS end. Much like with many Marvel “events”, it is the writing that is holding this back; the artwork by Jim Cheung and two inkers (and colorist Justin Ponsor) is gorgeous and practically worth a look by itself. The flaw is the writing by Allen “GREY’S ANATOMY” Heinberg. He wrote the first twelve issues (and the annual) for YOUNG AVENGERS which took the world by storm 5-6 years ago, mostly because expectations were so low, and many other Marvel comics around them were grim or poorly written. Marvel put this franchise, which was once capable of selling over 50,000 copies an issue, on ice for years waiting for Heinberg to return to write another “season” of issues. They also kept the subplot revolving around Scarlet Witch – and through her, the entire mutant race and the X-Men – in limbo in that wait. Now that CHILDREN’S CRUSADE has mostly been told, however, that patience seems unwarranted. For a hailed writer who a company thought was worth putting several franchises on spin cycle to wait for, Heinberg has produced a tale that is sloppy and below average in many points. There are no end of writers who could have produced a series this “good” with an editorial checklist under contract from Marvel, and a great deal of them would have done a better job. The biggest flaw of this story is Heinberg makes the standard cheat of writing some characters as uncharacteristically hostile and unreasonable in order to make his “chosen” characters seem wiser and saner in comparison.
Thus, the X-Men and the Avengers all converge upon the headquarters of X-Factor, where the Young Avengers, Magneto, a time-flung Scott Lang, and Magneto, have returned with Scarlet Witch. She’s given Rictor his powers back, and now the X-Men and Avengers literally get into a massive brawl trying to figure out who gets to kill her, or arrest her, or decide whether to kill or arrest her. Cyclops is written like such a storm-trooper that Magneto looks compassionate by example. Wonder Man, who once was a big deal in earlier issues, gets two lines of dialogue. Wanda and the kids beam back to Latveria into the arms of Dr. Doom, who seems to be the only person who cares for Wanda. They set out to perform a magical rite to undo “M-Day” and grant mutants worldwide their powers back. Eli Bradly/Patriot has been the party pooper of the series, endlessly warning about trusting villains like Doom or Magneto, even when heroes have been written to be far more hostile. He ends up interfering with the rite, and the ending reveals that either Doom capitalized in his own best interests, or was manipulating Wanda from the start. The latter would actually be in character, but since Heinberg has been interested in his fan-fiction romance between Wanda and Doom, I imagine it will be the former. The sheer volume of character results in an action filled mess, and when most of those characters are written poorly, it isn’t a good comic – especially for $3.99.
There are boons besides the artwork. Heinberg comes up with quite a bit of a retcon to explain the drastic shift in Scarlet Witch’s powers and personality that occurred in DISASSEMBLED back in 2004. Given that the actual reason for that shift was “poor writing”, the retcon mostly works effectively to redeem Wanda a bit. The reunion between Wanda and Quicksilver is brief but memorable. There are quite a few witty lines. And as obligatory as this, it isn’t nearly as bad as FEAR ITSELF. It’s gold compared to that. Sadly, this series still has two issues across four months to be over, and it has virtually worn out it’s welcome.
Also Good Reads: Captain America #3, Fear Itself: The Home Front #6, Fear Itself: Youth In Revolt #5 & Thunderbolts #163.1 (Marvel Comics)