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Picks of comic book week: A nun's son who dresses like a devil is tempting fate

Daredevil #6

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Book of the week: Daredevil #6

Alex Widen's comic book pull list for 7/23/14!-slide0
Previews World
How many rosaries is that?
Previews World

Line wide crossovers can be a much needed sales boost which recharges a comic at best, or an obligatory distraction at worst. The crossover of the hour is "Original Sin", where the hook is that mysterious new secrets (or acts of retroactive continuity) have been zapped into most of Marvel's heroes, giving their solo books an excuse for new wonky stuff to be added to the mythology. Fortunately, Mark Waid is a wise enough writer to use this opportunity for extra sales and a jolt in the plot from his editors to continue along with the themes he's presented in his series, rather than become distracted by it. Javier Rodriguez, who serves as the series' longtime colorist, takes over art duties for Chris Samnee once again, and is beautifully inked by Alvaro Lopez. This issue begins a new plot which mingles hidden secrets about Matt Murdock's past with yet another intelligently crafted superhuman mystery for Daredevil to unravel.

Quickly explaining away why Daredevil has appeared in a random Avengers group battle in Manhattan after moving to San Francisco with as much effort as such exposition was worth, Murdock has gained new "visions" of his long departed father, Jack Murdock, and his mother, Maggie-Grace. Having idealized his boxer father and used his murder by mobsters as the impetus to becoming a masked crime fighter, Murdock now learns that the reason why he father never explained why his wife left their family to become a nun seems brutal yet obvious - he was physically abusive towards her (at least once). Inspired to speak with "Sister Maggie" in regards to their family for the first time in years, Murdock instead finds her imprisoned and set to be whisked away to Wakanda for a simple act of morally righteous vandalism. It seems his mother has stumbled onto a military scheme Wakanda's military attaché N'banta and yet another corrupt U.S. general in Marvel America's armed forces for illegal weaponry. Unfortunately, foiling the scheme of villains who have covered their tracks, have capitalized on the public knowledge of Daredevil's identity and above all have diplomatic immunity is far harder than fighting ninjas or the Owl usually are.

The opening narration about how faulty memories can be provides good cover for the revelations that Waid's story is about to uncover about Jack Murdock. It actually has some basis in fact as a previous story saw Jack willing to hit a young Matt after he caught the boy fighting with local youths, even if Jack would apologize and regret it afterward. That was the sort of memory Matt himself would forget, especially after no end of traumas since as Daredevil. Yet Waid doesn't just make his revelation and go home, he uses it as the inspiration to flesh out Sister Maggie even more as well as find another unique way to have Daredevil play with continuity. Wakanda is a nation in turmoil without Black Panther running things, and a story like this seems like a natural consequence. Rodriguez's artwork is different from that of Samnee's, but is beautiful and detailed all on it's own and always fits the tone of the world that has been established for this book.

As always, "Daredevil" remains one of the best "big two" superhero comics on the monthly schedule. One can think of no better way to celebrate the long history of the character than by the production and editorial support of the best run the character has seen in a very, very long time.

Honorable mentions:

Batman Beyond Universe #12: The most ambitious story ever told in the anthology reprint of DC Comics' great digital comic centered around the "Beyond" universe of 2041 comes to an epic conclusion this week. As usual, the "Batman Beyond" segments are written by Kyle Higgins and drawn by Thony Silas, while the "Justice League Unlimited" are written by Christos Gage and drawn by Dexter Soy. However, this "Justice Lords Beyond" story unites both strips into one cohesive arc involving a war against corrupt versions of the well known heroes from a darker, alternate universe. Terry McGinnis is forced to unite with his gang banging counterpart as well as alternate versions of his usual allies - as well as a new Batsuit powered by synthetic Kryptonite - to try to take down the commander of the entire affair, the corrupt "Lord Superman". Meanwhile, the origins of the young Zod's lineage is revealed, as two versions of the Justice League continue to try to defeat each other in combat. In the end the corrupt heroes are beaten and Terry gets a last chance to see his father (or at least a version of him), and various subplots are set up for future stories for both strips. It was an all action issue this time around, but considering the road to get here, it was more than understandable. With DC Comics pulling the plug on some digital first series that don't sell enough print editions, the future of this anthology is unknown. It's previous incarnation, "Batman Beyond Unlimited", ended with issue eighteen. Regardless of how many issues are left, this remains one of the standout series in DC Comics' mess of a universe, and this arc has been among its' highlights.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #36: This technically came out last week, but for a second month in a row there was some issue with this column's shop and nabbing this installment on time. As writers Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz and Bobby Curnow continue to follow their cast of characters as they react to their return to a Foot-owned New York City. Beyond a minor detour where Casey Jones meets up with April O'Neil's parents (from Northampton) after a very rough night, this issue focuses on the fractured relationship between Splinter and his star pupil, Leonardo. At once two peas in a pod, their relationship has been strained (at best) by Leonardo's abduction and brainwashing by the Foot to become Shredder's second in command - which was all a ploy to test his true right hand, Karai. Leonardo may be free of Shredder's control in theory but in reality, his link to Splinter (or the rest of his family) has never been weaker. Entering this struggle is a revamped version of the Rat King, who is an immortal and supernatural being who was apparently the inspiration for the "Piped Piper of Hamelin" legend from the late 1200's. A rival of other ageless supernatural beings such as the Japanese Kitsune (who has aided the Shredder and the Foot since the feudal era), he organizes a series of hallucinations and riddles to test the mettle of two figures he sees as pawns in some broader game of world domination. The art this time around comes from many hands; current artist Mateus Santolouco is aided by Mark Torres and Cory Smith for four pages, with reliable colorist Ronda Pattison keeping it all consistent. This recreation of the Rat King is fascinating and bold, and a sign of how big the scope of the series will become as it enters its' fourth year in publication. As always, IDW's TMNT series continues to mingle the old and new in fascinating and entertaining ways for fans of all ages.

Saga #21: Series creators Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples continue along with their fourth arc of this already legendary Image Comics series, seeking to dismantle the family which took so much drama to create. Wisely, the creators are well aware that "happily ever after" is a myth and that life - whether in space or otherwise - continues to develop in unpredictable ways. To this end Alana's work for the costumed "Circuit" sees her becoming further embroiled in drug use and risky choices, while the pressures of raising Hazel mostly alone is getting Marko closer and closer into the arms of another lonely housewife. Meanwhile, the newborn son of Prince Robot IV (an enemy of the series' leads, at least due to the orders of an allied intergalactic federation) is in the clutches of an insane janitor (named Dengo) who is killing his way across the galaxy as Prince Robot IV is in need of a mental reboot to his senses. As always, the series never shies around violence, nudity, or mature language, but always in service to its' characters and narrative rather than as shock value means to an end. The dialogue is always well crafted with no end of quotable lines and philosophy even from the oddest characters, while the art by Staples remains some of the best in the industry. The best selling work of Vaughan's entire career is also quickly becoming one of the best sellers at Image Comics, and it is wonderful to see a truly great book sell at least close to what it deserves. Any week in which an issue of "Sage" debuts is a plus for the industry as a whole as to what the medium can accomplish.

Archer & Armstrong #22: Fred Van Lente, regular artist Pere Perez and longtime colorist David Baron continue on their "American Wasteland" arc, which finds the titular duo mixed up with a Hollywood cult, an ancient artifact and a unique twist on modern day figures of worship. The gods and prophets of the past have been replaced by the actors, theories, and performers of modern times, to the point that Elvis Presley and Lee Harvey Oswald have the same sway over masses of people as Zeus or Jesus Christ once had. At the center of it all is the ancient "Wheel of Aten", another dangerous object from eons past that Armstrong sees as too dangerous to remain - but which Archer sees as a truly "holy grail" which he can use to try to save the world. This leads to perhaps the longest fight ever between the two leads, and yet another moment of betrayal from another new immortal, Mary-Maria. As always, the art is crisp, the one-liners and banter are hilarious, and beneath it all is the same imagination for weaving modern myths which Van Lente displayed for years co-writing "Incredible Hercules". This all leads to what should be a satisfying conclusion before the duo's biggest challenge yet - a crossover with Valiant Entertainment's other dysfunctional duo, Quantum and Woody!

Amazing Spider-Man #4: After months of prelude segments and editorial promotions, the "Original Sin" crossover has arrived as well as solo writer Dan Slott's largest addition to the Spider-Man mythology to date. Not to be confused with "the Thousand" from "Spider-Man's Tangled Web", this co-creation alongside artist Humberto Ramos is Cindy Moon, a young woman who was bitten by the same "radioactive spider" moments after it had bitten Peter Parker as a teenager. She's since developed her own spider-powers, but has been hidden way by Spider-Man's old "frenemy" Ezekiel Sim until the moment he was zapped by Orb's "retcon beam" in the current crossover event. The timing is not lost on a writer with as long a memory as Slott; this month marks the tenth anniversary of Ezekiel's death under the pen of the writer who created him, J. Michael Straczynski (JMS). It seems the enigmatic master of mystical "spider-totems" had one last secret left which he took to the grave, which Spider-Man hastily seeks to rectify. Unfortunately, Cindy Moon - who has fashioned her own costume and identity as Silk - is powerful but inexperienced, and her release signals the return of another of Spidey's opponents left behind from the JMS era, Morlun. Considering that Morlun is the established villain of Slott's upcoming "Spider-event", called "Spider-Verse", one could call this a crossover prelude to another crossover. The absurdity of Marvel's editorial strategy speaks for itself.

New characters being inserted into superhero universes which stretch back over half a century, always have an uphill battle from both fans and editors. Often times the complete lack of faith in audience acceptance causes them to be "front loaded" with hastily attached retroactive continuity - for example, Carlie Cooper was naturally a previously unknown friend of the dead Gwen Stacy. Yet Silk seems to border on the realm of being a "Mary Sue" almost entirely. Her origins tie into the hero's directly, she's immediately a match for him in battle despite no experience, and for completely obligatory reasons, the hero falls in love with her instantly. While her Asian ethnicity helps Spider-Man's cast become more diverse, her costume design as Silk resembles some of the worst design cliches of "sexy lady ninja" from 1996 era Top Cow comics and causes her to border on stereotype. The poor fledgling heroine is making a broke-back pose in a costume which seems to look skimpier than her civilian attire did in less than ten pages of existence. Readers of "Avengers Academy", which was written by Slott's sporadic co-writer, Christos Gage, might also note how similar Silk's costume seems to be to Veil, a heroine from that cult team book. At best, Silk's introduction tries too hard to force its' importance onto the reader within too few pages, and the result borders on a backfire. Other subplots such as Black Cat's revenge scheme and Peter trying to salvage the company he inherited from Dr. Octopus' time within his body are present, but are easily overshadowed by Silk's bombastic appearance. Ramos' art has its' usual high energy and Edgar Delgado's colors pop, but this second attempt to give Spider-Man a sidekick after Alpha unfortunately wobbles with her first swing. Hopefully, Silk and Slott can recover their fumble in future issues and look to "Ms. Marvel" on pointers on how to seamlessly introduce a spunky new heroine into a cluttered universe.

Mighty Avengers #12: Al Ewing and "artist" Greg Land continue to capitalize on "Original Sin" to establish the existence of a team of "Mighty Avengers" in the 1970's that included Blade, an enemy of Dr. Strange, a shape shifting were-bear, a gun toting journalist and Luke Cage's dad (whose design Land obviously Photoshopped from, or was "inspired by", Morgan Freeman). The result is a chaotic mystical story which jumps from the past to the present to establish the Deathwalkers as dangerous enemies for the modern era Mighty Avengers to fight in what will likely be their final arc (unless sales see a bump). The story has flair and oddly fits in well with the genuine horror comics Marvel Comics were producing in the 1970's, which were full of camp and stereotypes. Despite this, spending two issues of a four dollar comic mostly in flashbacks may be a stretch for some readers' patience, and one hopes the climax can make that patience worthwhile.