Book of the week: She-Hulk #4
At one time the most successful heroine with her own ongoing title at Marvel Comics since 1980 (at least before "Spider-Girl" and "Ms. Marvel/Captain Marvel" saw noteworthy runs), it can be easy to perhaps miss this latest incarnation of the "jade giantess'" solo series. Her last volume saw the efforts of Dan Slott earning a name for himself for nearly three years before legendary scribe Peter David wrapped things up. For this relaunch, former volume artist Javier Pulido (whose style seems heavily inspired by that of Mike Allred, for whom he filled in for in "FF") returns to flank new writer (and former lawyer) Charles Soule with Muntsa Vicente on colors to usher in a new era for Hulk's famous cousin. With the kick off of "Original Sin" this week as well as no end of other comics hitting shelves this week, it can be easy for this series to become lost in the shuffle. Such a fate would be a mistake, as the finale to the run's first multi-part arc can attest.
The previous issue shipped not long after April Fool's Day, and it seemed that She-Hulk herself was the fool. Having taken on the adopted son of Dr. Doom, Kristoff Vernard, as the first client for her fledgling law firm, and successfully won him political asylum in the U.S. despite no end of robot attacks, the mad monarch simply whisked his son away in open court. Much as with the first issue, this is a situation that puts She-Hulk out of her comfort zone a bit; having to choose between allowing herself to be limited by the legal system or to take "unfair" advantage of being a super hero to get around it. After a quick chat with her peer Matt Murdock in San Fran, Jennifer accepts her unique advantages to stage a one-woman invasion of Latveria to do what she feels is right. It all culminates in a climax which involves giant robots, rocket powered mopeds and a heart to heart chat.
Soule has the voice of Jennifer Walters down to a science, which is crucial for the lead of any comic book (or any story, period). He also has built a small but effective supporting cast around her with Patsy Walker (Hellcat) and her oddball secretary Angie (who may or may not have a magical pet monkey). Above all, Soule takes advantage of the premise of being a superhero lawyer in the Marvel Universe without shifting as dark as "Daredevil" or as light as some of the previous She-Hulk stories. In addition, the art by Pulido and Vicente matches the tone perfectly with bright and imaginative poses, conversations, and action scenes. She-Hulk can be a challenge as a visual as many a mediocre artist simply draws her as a slightly more muscular super-model with wild hair and leaves it to the colorist to handle details. Pulido, however, trumps them by having She-Hulk's muscles inflate to cause her to become bulkier when she's in the heat of combat; an easy visual cue from more mundane scenes where she's in court or chatting with Daredevil.
Offering fun, action packed superhero legal stories with some shamelessly bright colors, "She-Hulk" has quickly become one of Marvel's best series. For those seeking an alternative take on "superhero law" than "Daredevil" or even "Powers", this run is for you.
Archer & Armstrong #20: Now that the obligatory crossover with the fading "Bloodshot & the H.A.R.D. Corps" is over, Fred Van Lente, regular artist Pere Perez and colorist David Baron are free to continue their run featuring their dysfunctional duo unmolested. One boon from it is that in dealing with yet another corrupt secret cabal, Archer has found the first real lead as to the location of his birth parents. This takes the two to Hollywood, where they quickly run afoul of Elvis impersonators and the headquarters of the church of "Retrology" - which is a hilarious send up of Scientology. The chance to save Archer's birth mother quickly turns into a tripped out nightmare of soul searching, odd smilie face machines and a living maze. As always, Fred Van Lente is a master of mingling comedy with action, as well as satire with straight forward adventure if not occasional bits or horror, or heart. Naturally, the gist is whether a search for the past is worth so much trouble in the present, and the backdrop of Hollywood seems to fit the demeanor of Armstrong very well. While the crossover wasn't as bad as many larger ones for the "big two", it is greatly appreciated to have an official arc of "Archer & Armstrong" begin again with the same zany tone and sense of smart satire as always.
Black Widow #6: Behind a very nice cover is another riveting issue by Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto which tells another tale with exceptional style and execution, even if the story behind it may seem a bit simple. Having been drawn into the "web" of a conspiracy last month, Natasha manages to escape from the clutches of Damon Dran, one of her few reoccurring enemies throughout her tenure as a Marvel Comics figure. Unfortunately, he is swiftly sacrificed at the end to usher in more dread about the long term arc, and Natasha is back to square one. At this stage in the run, one can almost take for granted the fact that Edmondson captures the efficient voice of Natasha excellently, and he's perfectly in sync with Noto's art, which is unlike most at Marvel. It is worth appreciating the fact that a simple story executed brilliantly is worth more than an innovative story executed poorly, and the mastery of this may remind some of the early years of Ed Brubaker's run on "Captain America". However, at four issues a pop some readers may demand a little bit more substance despite the amazing style that every page offers.
Iron Fist: the Living Weapon #2: Much like many comics both written and drawn by creators best known for their art, this latest incarnation of Iron Fist's series offers a lot of flair and brilliant visuals with a considerably simple plot. It also may say something about the health of the license that this is the second volume of Iron Fist (after "Immortal Iron Fist") which seems more inspired by Daniel Rand's origin for inspiration than anything which has come since. Yet another random hook up with a woman Daniel cannot even remember the name of is interrupted by a fight with what appear to be zombie cyborg ninjas (seriously). This leads to yet another trek back to the realm of K'un L'un to thwart yet another scheme by Steel-Serpent (who is Rand's sole enemy at this point) to conquer the realm, as well as yet another extended flashback to his origin for those who couldn't get enough of such things during the Ed Brubaker/Matt Fraction run of "Immortal". Regardless, the artwork by Kaare Andrews is in top form, capturing the beauty and horror of the action. In terms of the story, Andrews has laid in the angle of Rand's never ending cycle of violence being rooted to choosing revenge as a primary motivator with a mix of simplicity and bluntness. Those expecting to get another round of Iron Fist's usual themes will be satisfied; those expecting a little bit more may have to wait longer.
Loki: Agent of Asgard #4: After last month's summary of the life and times of Marvel Universe's Sigurd (who writer Al Ewing has made very usable for a "Marvel Cinematic Universe" appearance), this issue gets back in the swing of things with both he and Loki attempting to one-up each other as well as the other "prince of lies", Mephisto himself. Artist Lee Garbett and colorist Nolan Woodard get many moments to shine with this latest Ewing script, from demonic deals to magic sword duels in New York City to the ever comical depictions of the "all mother" chatting with Loki. Verity Willis continues to prove herself a capable heroine to match wits with the anti-heroic Loki, who fills his role as dashing ne'er do well a lot better lately than even Gambit tends to.
New Warriors #4: Chris Yost and artist Marcus To, alongside colorist David Curiel, bring their first arc of this entertaining and well as disjointed relaunch of one of Marvel's best known teenage superhero teams to a close, with things seeming still as awkward as they were before. There continue to be bits and pieces of a great story here, with a lot of fun character moments between the eclectic cast of characters Yost wrote or co-created as well as hold overs from previous New Warriors outings. The oddly complicated scheme by the High Evolutionary and the blandly named Evolutionary to kill all non-human super beings to appease the Celestials seems to believe itself smarter than it is; in the end it all comes down to blasting a bomb. The assembled cast do have a lot of amusing interactions, especially between the old guard (Speedball and Justice), the rookie heroes (Hummingbird, Sun Girl, and Haechi) and the angry warriors (Water Snake and the always hilarious Kaine/Scarlet Spider). The art gives this finale a lot of bombastic action, and the overall tone of the work is far more positive than most teenage X-Men operas. One hopes that the second arc can find its' footing better than the first, much like "Fearless Defenders" did.
Amazing Spider-Man #1.1: The "Point One Initiative" rears its' decimal points again to sell a series that in prior years Marvel would have simply sold as a side mini and been done with. Fresh off of reuniting the spirit of Peter Parker to his body and prepping for a major addition to his origin later this summer, writer Dan Slott is keeping the "retroactive continuity" flowing with this series looking at life between "Amazing Fantasy #15" and "Amazing Spider-Man #1" from the 1960's. In this incarnation, Peter Parker keeps his show biz career swinging a bit longer than in the older canon, with some shout outs to figures who will become his arch enemies later (such as Chameleon and Mysterio). Amid Peter Parker's attempts to juggle mourning for Ben, high school studies and TV appearances all at once, his exploits have inspired another brainy outcast, Clayton Cole, to become a masked marvel of his own. A major highlight is the art by Ramon Perez and colors by Ian Herring, which have morphed into a style which feels right at home dabbling with an era originally ruled by Steve Ditko. Beyond the hassle of watching Slott pick and choose which bits of continuity to embellish and which to ignore or contradict, this initial installment still offers a good time for those who are eager for a simpler era of Spider-Man.
Original Sin #1: What's this!? An opening chapter to an eight part crossover event which doesn't feel "obligatory"!? Perhaps the fact that it isn't written/co-written by Brian M. Bendis factors into this result. Fresh off a very good prelude issue, Jason Aaron ("Thor", "Wolverine & the X-Men", "Ghost Rider"), artist Mike Deodato, and colorist Frank Martin by no means craft an opening issue which is flawless or even excellent, but is still in the realm of "pretty good" so far. As the cover and premise suggest, Uatu the Watcher (a longtime cosmic mainstay, circa 1963's "Fantastic Four #13") finds himself ambushed and murderd by a mysterious figure, and an eclectic cast of superheroes both famous and currently popular have to assemble to solve it. To degree, an event involving a murder sparking out revealing "secrets" about superheroes may remind some of DC Comics' "Identity Crisis" from a decade ago. Deodato ("Secret Avengers", "New Avengers") is an interesting choice for a work which combines images of a daylight brawl between the Thing, Spider-Man and a monster as well as a space worthy flying car amid more than one panels of modest gore. The original Nick Fury assembles a team to uncover this mystery, and the biggest flaw is that it includes figures such as the Punisher and Wolverine, as well as the timely appearance of Gamora, yet omits Mr. Fantastic - the Marvel hero who likely had the most contact with Uatu in life. The final page alludes to a cloaked villain, who may or may not be the Orb - a newer version of a little known "Ghost Rider" villain who Aaron appears to be very fond of. Using a D-Lister like the Orb as a major cog in a crossover event may seem a bit random, but one could also argue that Marvel is wise to try to elevate some little known villains into super star status rather than forever rely on the same bunch. The bar for Marvel crossover series having any weight as actual stories is very low, and this opening chapter at least manages to exceed that...for now.