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Picks of comic book week: A chocolate shake with a pinch of danger

Cyclops #2

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Book of the week: Cyclops #2

"It's all in the reflexes!"
"It's all in the reflexes!"Midtown Comics
In space, no one can hear you angst.
In space, no one can hear you angst.Midtown Comics

Atop a heap of comics shipping this week which never quite seemed to pierce the veil between "good" and "great" is this second issue of the latest X-Men spin off series. Storytellers Greg Rucka and Russell Dauterman (alongside colorist Chris Sotomayor) are crafting a book which seems to perfectly capture the local flavor of Marvel movie trends - space operas and the X-Men. To this end we have the time traveling teenage version of Cyclops from the past teamed up with his just-resurrected father Corsair going on the first of what may be many adventures throughout the cosmos to make up for lost time and opportunity. Since the thick exposition was dumped onto the reader at the start of last issue, this one merely has to set forth with what is at heart a simple premise.

Taking advantage in the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity offered by both time travel and optional mortality, both Scott and Corsair are getting to know each other for the first time in their lives. Cyclops gets a much needed break from the grim and dour world of the X-Men and is being introduced to universes of cultures and opportunities as he tours space with his dad. Corsair is making up for lost time, even if he does keep some secrets close to his chest. Chief among them is an addiction to a mysterious substance, which leads both Summers to the planet Yrzt and a meeting with one of Corsair's many cosmic acquaintances, Baroque, as well as his young daughter, Vess. Things go well until both are accosted by a band of mercenaries seeking the hefty bounty on the infamous space pirate, where the young Cyclops takes the first of what will be many stands.

As with most space adventure serials, Rucka's script gives his artist Dauterman a lot of chances to shine with far out locales as well as new races of aliens. Both are wisely expanding upon Marvel's idea of space by mingling in familiar species alongside new ones. And contrasting this nicely is Cyclops himself, who looks quite out of place in a button down collared shirt, slacks, and one of his dad's swords (which he can barely use). Those who may not have had much time for Corsair in previous comics (as the angle of one of the X-Men's parents being a sash wearing space pirate is a bit ridiculous even in the realm of the X-Men) will find him a mix of secrets and sass here, perhaps inspired by the infamous Han Solo of another franchise. Considering that "pirate" offers a more nefarious tone and the regime which Corsair had rebelled against has long since changed, the story runs with him as an intergalactic rogue of questionable morals who may always have to answer for past sins. His resurrection is still unexplained, but his new found addiction may be a part of it. Cyclops, meanwhile, is going through a typical "rite of passage" arc, which is being executed well.

In truth, this is not a series which remakes the wheel or may be of the same level of quality as Rucka's other works such as "Lazarus" or "GCPD". However, it works for much the same reason why Ed Brubaker's "Captain America" or even the current volume of "Black Widow" work; near flawless execution. It's premise may be simple and it's plots straight forward (beyond the time travel gimmick), but at heart is a story about a lost kid and his dad reuniting and having adventures together. Despite Corsair's secrets and shady past, it also offers a tone which is optimistic or even at times fun, which for any comic even loosely related to the X-Men is about as rare as a blizzard in July. Beneath a complicated exterior is a very satisfying yet simple read, and fans of both Cyclops and entertaining space romps should find a lot to like here.

Honorable mentions: A healthy heap of them!

Big Trouble in Little China #1: Comics based on well known film licenses are still a thing, only these days their quality has gotten steadily better than in decades past. Entering this era is a comic book spin off of one of the most memorable "cult films" of the mid 1980's brought to fans by original director John Carpenter as well as longtime "Goon" creator Eric Powell. Art and colors are provided by Brian Churilla and Michael Garland (respectively), and people who've long wanted a sequel to the 1986 flick would do well to check this out. The first page literally picks up right before the end credits of the original film, and runs wild. Naturally, this means the ever quotable Jack Burton and his truck ("the Pork Chop Express") run afoul of one of the defeated Lo Pan's demons before winding up back in Little China (San Francisco) for more supernatural antics. Wang's wedding to his long suffering fiance is interrupted by vengeance seeking minions of Lo Pan, including an apprentice wizard. Naturally this means only one thing - Jack Burton running his gums more than his brains or his fists! The artwork is quite good at capturing the look of the characters without delving too far into stiff "photo realism". If there is any flaw, it is that Burton himself comes off as more of a routine than a character, although some might argue the same of the film version. This incarnation naturally lacks the performance of Kurt Russell, even if one can easily hear his voice when reading the lines. Some bits are repeated or paid homage to as the plot involves the sort of ridiculous supernatural trucking challenges that Marvel Comics used to publish in "U.S. One" in the 1980's. Still, anyone picking this up is more interested in some old fashioned nostalgia and a fun ride over high art, and this debut issue offers that in spades. Add one more to the list of "comedy comics" which struggle to share the shelf with dozens of self important Batman and X-Men comics. One need only take their pick of one of the whopping thirteen variant covers BOOM! Studios saw as a good investment.

Quantum & Woody #11: A new arc means a new artist, as long time series scribe James Asmus teams up with Wilfredo Torres and Erica Henderson for another chapter in the saga of the most dysfunctional duo in superhero comics. Having revealed the existence of the secret (and evil) cabal known as Edison's Radical Acquisitions (ERA) to the police department to escape a jam that he mostly caused, Woody has put his brother Eric as well as the rest of their bizarre family into the cross hairs once more. This time, the evil scientists have a new boss and a new end game - capture, instead of kill. The artwork is lovely, and the colors by Jordie Bellaire and David Baron are a perfect match, and as always Asmus' script offers biting comedy. The biggest demerit is that this feels like more of a schtick than a plot, as is often the challenge to raunchy comedies. The most notable element of character development involves Woody and the clone Sixty-Nine coming to terms with their lack of a relationship. As always, this works due to Asmus' sense of comedic timing with his eclectic cast and bizarre universe, as well as the skills of yet another top notch artist. The one caveat is that without a faster moving plot, some of the routine can become predictable, even if it always scores laughs.

Black Widow #7: Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto's run on Marvel's top spy continues to excel in terms of mood and execution more so than dense plotting. As such, every issue is solid and enjoyable, even if they can become a blur to the memory. The theme of the issue is how Natasha's changing state effects the men around her, both in her past and present. Having been unable to fool the "lie detecting senses" of her former boyfriend Daredevil before, now the "man without fear" finds himself unable to tell if she is lying when one of her usual violent jobs goes wrong in his new turf of San Francisco. Meanwhile, Natasha's faithful lawyer/assistant Isaiah gets some fleshing out as we learn that he's got a worried sister and a past involving the mafia. Despite the top notch art and pacing, one can't help but be familiar with Edmondson's themes with Natasha by now. Virtually every story seems to make it a point about how the Black Widow is morally ambiguous, seeks a penance she will never attain, and also not nearly as prepared as she likes to believe. While this always makes for an entertaining (if not brisk) twenty page tale every month, it does come close to feeling too episodic for fans who crave a more story focused series. Seven issues in, a tale which could be summed up as, "Natasha does a mission, it goes wrong, she compensates and remains coldly aloof" simply is too predictable to go unnoticed. Although Wolverine has seemed to wrest seven hundred issues out of a few character reactions, one does hope this series picks a more unique direction soon.

Iron Fist: the Living Weapon #3: Kaare Andrews continues to write and draw this latest foray into the mystical martial arts world of Daniel Rand. It draws inspiration from the classic 1970's origin much as the run by Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction did, only it seems to miss the mark of quality in comparison. Rand's latest saga involves an armada of cybernetic zombie ninja (seriously) laying waste to both his penthouse and the realm of K'un L'un, all led by his nemesis Steel-Serpent. The tone is set as being bleak and brutal, and Andrews seems particularly inspired by the angle that every Iron Fist became so by literally choosing violence over immortality - a choice Rand now makes twice. Meanwhile, Daniel's lover of the hour Brenda tries to save the life of a messenger child from K'un L'un with more pluck than skill. The art is over the top and the emotions to the piece are raw, although the plot revolves around a predictable route of "martial arts vengeance". An appearance by John Amon is appreciated (even if it flies in the face of Fraction's "Defenders" run), and one wonders how long K'un L'un will remain destroyed. At heart, another title running more on execution than substance which fails to meet that same standard of quality as similar titles "Cyclops" and "Black Widow".

Loki: Agent of Asgard #5: Al Ewing and artist Lee Garbett (alongside colorist Nolan Woodard) construct yet another mythological caper in what may be one of Marvel's newest "sleeper hits". Seeking to capitalize on the popularity of the film version of Loki, Ewing has begun a series which seems to be slowly and steadily eking out it's way into becoming a general audiences version of DC Comics' "Hellblazer". Despite having the physique of a god as well as powerful weapons and magic, Loki succeeds more by planning, tricks, and alliances of convenience more than energy blasts. Having been tasked to perform missions for the triple "all mother" of Asgard, Loki has become distrustful of their end game and stages a break out of their most secure dungeon. To this end he recruits allies (and enemies) from previous issues: Thor, Lorelei, and his current romantic interest, Verity. In the end, Loki proves able to outsmart, trick, and lie his way past every obstacle except one - himself. While Marvel Comics have struggled for years to establish Loki as either a ne'er do well of the present or the obviously evil menace of his past, but Ewing comes the closest to making that editorial meandering work in his favor. With top notch art and a biting sense of both humor and style, the only obstacle Loki may be at the mercy of is an increasingly fickle direct market.

New Warriors #5: It is never a good sign when a mainstream superhero comic book has to blatantly rip off an online meme just to shoehorn in a stock supporting character. To this end, Chris Yost continues on another relaunch of Marvel's teenage super team comic from the 90's alongside fill in artist Nick Roche (who is giving Marcus To a well earned break). Having defeated the villains last issue, the motley alliance of random heroes are trying to figure out how to go forward. They have possession of Mount Wundagore and are within short distance of Transia, and know of foreboding things to come. In the short term, the team are split up between one squad that fights robots and the two surviving "New Men", and another which have a sit down at a Transian diner. Roche's art fits the tone well as Yost has fun embellishing his cast more as well as having them interact outside of battle. On the downside, creating a character who is quite literally "Grumpy Cat in a robe" is about as pandering as skateboarders were in the 90's. This remains a series which has a lot of action, some crisp dialogue and even some clever plotting, but there seems to be a spark missing compared to more contemporary team superhero series.

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #12: This "Superior Spider-Man" spin off is officially a dead comic walking, having already been canceled months ago. Technically this is the first issue since April, although considering the last two issues consisted of shameless fill-in material, this is really the first new chapter of the series' canon since March. Since Norm Spencer and Steve Leiber (alongside colorist Rachelle Rosenberg) have constructed a comedy series with a surprisingly complicated plot, a gap of nearly three months does this dwindling series no favors. The gist is after betraying his team, Fred Myers/Boomerang has found himself manipulated and outfoxed by the Chameleon, only to become strong enough allies with the Owl to convince his squad to trust him one more time. As always, this leads to hilarious disaster for everyone, as well as panels and panels of biting humor. It helps if one doesn't take the depictions of the villains within too seriously, as this has quickly become "Nextwave for superheroes" and doesn't share continuity with "Daredevil" too well. A subplot involving the talking head of Silvermane trying to goad the Shocker into loftier goals is interesting, but as always this series offers laughs first and plot second. One can only hope the incoming finale can make up for months of delay.

Original Sin #3: Jason Aaron, Mike Deodato, and colorist Frank Martin continue to craft an annual crossover event which is both bizarre and cluttered, but at the very least neither boring or terrible. This issue features an extended interview with Aaron's favorite villain, the oddball Orb, who has suddenly been boosted to the big time via a cosmic plot involving some refugees from Grant Morrison's "Marvel Boy" series from fourteen years prior. If Brian Bendis can take Brian K. Vaughn's small time Hood villain and make him a megalomaniac who gathers Infinity Gems on the moon, then Aaron is more than free to turn a freak with an eyeball for a head into the next big thing. Yet it seems that not even Orb is entirely responsible for the death of the Watcher, as well as murders of cosmic beings across both space and magical dimensions. The last pages offer more of the obligatory bloody death sequences and "good guys gone bad" that seem to be typical of crossover events. Since these events involve the morally ambiguous and often brainwashed Winter Soldier, Aaron almost makes this sort of predictable bloodshed work. The first act has panels which clearly are meant to set up tie-in issues and characters such as Punisher and Moon Knight appear more randomly assembled than ever. However, considering the bar for annual crossover event stories actually being stories which aren't horrible or boring unto themselves has fallen lower than absolute zero, this can be forgiven in exchange for an event like this which actually attains a strange mediocrity. In the end, event series are judged by their finales and whether they create more than they destroy, and "Original Sin" at least offers a rare note of optimism to the normally bleak routine.