The best of the comic books which shipped January 23rd, 2013!
Book of the Week: Young Avengers #1
It certainly has been a long and strange trip for Marvel's "Young Avengers" franchise. Originally launched in spring 2005 by "Grey's Anatomy" writer Allen Heinberg and artist Jim Cheung as a twelve issue ongoing series, it sought to create the first major "teenage superhero team" franchise at the house of ideas since the demise of "New Warriors" which wasn't connected to the X-Men. After 2006, Heinberg chose to focus more on his day job and Marvel allowed the franchise to wane, lingering in annual mini-series (two of which co-starred "The Runaways") or random appearances elsewhere. It wasn't until 2010-2012 that Heinberg and Cheung would return to the characters in "Avengers: The Children's Crusade", a nine issue bi-monthly series which ran late even on that schedule. Ending last March, the series killed off two team members, cleaned the slate of Scarlet Witch and spent most of its character building effort on Wiccan/Billy Kaplan.
As 2013 gets underway, Marvel has finally handed the reigns to this franchise to proven franchise writer Kieron Gillen on a long term basis with a second ongoing series - something the company was unwilling to do for six years. It is an era where Christos Gage's "Avengers Academy" - a series which filled the gap left behind by "Young Avengers" with a team of new, young heroes - was canceled after roughly 40 issues and its characters promptly left to limbo or slaughterhouse series such as "Avengers Arena". For this task, Gillen essentially reunites his creative team from "Phonogram"; artists Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton, alongside colorist Matthew Wilson. As he explains in the last page, Gillen is seeking to re-create the series for a new year and with the cast being older and having a new perspective. He's also altered the cast a bit.
Returning team members are Kate Bishop/Hawkeye, Hulkling/Teddy Altman, and Wiccan/Billy Kaplan. Considering that she also co-stars in "Hawkeye" by Matt Fraction and David Aja which has won rave reviews, Kate is arguably the most popular and exposed of the cast right now. New cast additions are the younger Loki from Gillen's recently ended "Journey Into Mystery" run, Noh-Varr/Marvel Boy/Protector from recent Avengers comics, and Miss America Chavez from Joe Casey's "Vengeance" mini series. The entire cast appear in this issue, although they do not unite. Kate and Noh-Varr have hooked up in space and fight some spare Skrulls. Loki is mystically watching things from afar and trying to avoid being stomped by Chavez. Teddy and Billy are living together with the latter's parents, trying to sort out their stance as young heroes. To this end Billy seems to meddle with alternate reality affairs, which may bring about a very dangerous and unexpected outcome.
This is a debut issue which succeeds because of its flair more than the sum of its parts. It strings together a lot of great, exciting, and at times even heart rending scenes featuring three groups of characters which barely start to mingle by the end. There is no stern overreaching plot or premise beyond what the characters forge for themselves. However, the artwork is simply stunning and there is a youthful attitude to the work which makes the issue read better than it seems. While some of the emotional beats between Teddy and Billy are harrowing, there is an overtone upbeat tone to this work, much like many pop songs. Even the cover screams bright colors, which is a rarity these days.
While the void left by the end of Avengers Academy may be tough to fill, now is perhaps the ideal time for a great new "Young Avengers" series to emerge in its place. Having proven his chops on "Thor", "Uncanny X-Men", "AVX: Consequences", and "Journey Into Mystery", Gillen thus far has risen to that challenge and assembled his own capable team for such an undertaking. A second issue is a must buy, as it should be.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Secret History of the Foot Clan #1-2: Isn't that a title which is short and concise? Regardless, it appears as if the regular TMNT comic book series as written by Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz will take a break this month, and to fill this void IDW has provided yet another mini series. This is naturally in addition to the "TMNT: Micro-Series" which also runs alongside the regular series. In fairness to IDW, rarely are all of these series on sale at the same time, which is a blessing at $3.99 an issue. Regardless, as the cover suggests, this mini series sees Mateus Santolouco co-write and draw the untold origin of the Ninja Turtles' most dangerous enemies. Erik Burnham also co-writes the script, with Joao Vieira on colors. The series skillfully mingles the actions of the present and the past as the Turtles and their allies Casey and April seek out more knowledge about their enemies by attending lectures by a Dr. Miller, a scholar of feudal Japan. Unfortunately, the Shredder and Karai also learn of him and quickly kidnap him to utilize him to recover lost resources. The Turtles are thus forced to try to rescue him as the ugly history of the Foot's rise to power and ultimate corruption play out in flashback. Much like the core series, this story mingles Eastern mythological elements (a three tailed fox witch and reincarnation) with science fiction (the source of immortality being from Dimension X). The artwork is quite good with the writers capturing the voices of the characters from the ongoing series well. This may merely been an appetizer in between main courses, but it has been a satisfying appetizer.
Uncanny Avengers #3: Now running roughly a month behind schedule due practically entirely to the glacial pace with which artist John Cassaday draws, this premiere "Marvel NOW" launch continues with its first story arc, "The Red Shadow". Picking up from the last issue back in the end of November, the Red Skull (or at least yet another secret clone of him) has gained psychic powers via grave-robbing and is leading his band of genetic minions (the S-Men) into the streets of Manhattan to whip the masses into an anti-mutant killing frenzy. He has successfully captured and possessed Rogue and Scarlet Witch as his pawns, while the composite squad of Avengers (Capt. America and Thor) and X-Men (Havok and Wolverine) take to the streets to do what good they can. Writer Rick Remender delivers on a lot of scenes of action and harrowing horror, although the dozens of narration boxes may remind readers of how Chris Claremont used to write comic books. Is the overdose of exposition a sign of this arc being wrapped up sooner than once pitched due to Cassaday's schedule? If so, it is ironic since the last time Cassaday drew a monthly ongoing series which didn't encounter extreme delays was exactly on February 30th, year two thousand and never. Highlights include some of the battles and dialogue, and how deliciously evil Remender writes the Red Skull as being. Lowlights include Cap being able to shrug off mind control one page and succumb to it the next, and Havok's awkward costume design which attempts to overcompensate for being corny and thus becomes lame. Not as good as some of Remender's other works, but still entertaining.
Winter Soldier #14: While not the final issue of this series, this is the final issue of the series written by Ed Brubaker; in fact, it is his last issue of anything written for Marvel in the near future. With artwork by the ever reliable Butch Guice with Brian Thies on inks (and two colorists), this also wraps up "Black Widow Hunt", which has seen the heroine brainwashed by mad ex-Soviet super agent Leo Novokov and pitted against James "Bucky" Barnes and his allies. Barnes was even willing to once again become a brainwashed Soviet assassin himself to try to track down Natasha, which backfired. Now he finally comes into a showdown with Novokov, mostly because the story has to end somewhere. The showdown is climatic and entertaining, although it certainly comes at a heavy price - the forced end of his romance with Natasha. It does give the ending a bittersweet taste, and it caps off a long run on the character for Brubaker which began in "Captain America" and led to this new series. Barnes was obviously the character nearest to his heart, and thus this run ends on a better note than his eight year run on Cap did. It is easy to imagine many readers jumping off this book here, as matching Brubaker on the character he virtually re-created from scratch and made commercially viable will be no easy feat.
Read last week's reviews here!