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Picks of comic book week: Danger takes all the fun out of a suicide mission

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Quantum & Woody #6

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The usual batch of the best comic books for comic book week, December 4th, 2013!

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Book of the week: Quantum & Woody #6

James Asmus furthers along on his second arc featuring the two most dysfunctional superhero brothers in mainstream American comics taking part in hilarious adventures forged in the fires of biting satire. Joining Asmus for this arc is noteworthy artist Ming Doyle ("Mara") with regular colorist Jordie Bellaire keeping the tome consistent between two distinct artists' styles. As with reviewing many works of comedy and farce, a good chunk of it relies on ones tolerance for mocking things which can be very politically charged and polarizing, especially as Asmus is willing to utilize the role of devil's advocate to eke in another good joke.

This issue picks up where the last left off for this very unique "family" unit, which includes a teenage clone and a powerful goat. In the previous arc, Woody was the one who was often complicating the missions Quantum engaged in and often risked his very life. Asmus thankfully turns things on their head for this second adventure, where it is Quantum who is waltzing into a trap and only Woody's often haphazard efforts may wind up saving him. Having been discovered as a costumed superhuman by the private security force he worked under (Magnum Security, a stand in of "Blackwater"), Quantum gleefully agrees to a "suicide mission" for a bump in pay from his boss. Mr. Magnum. Tagging along due to the small fact that long term separation is fatal, Woody quickly discovers that this one-man mission against a militia enclave in Montana is a front to justify larger military intervention after the set-upon death of Quantum. As usual, Woody vastly overestimates his own skills while things never seem to go as well as the overly trained Quantum thinks they will.

The villains in this series are often stereotypes, and this one is no exception. The militia grunts live up to most cliches of ill informed and gunned up hillbillies while Mr. Magnum himself may be the mirror image of hypocritical war-hawk conservative contractors. Considering this series is just as much comedy as action (if not more so), such extremes in villains are more acceptable than if this story wasn't intended for laughs. Doyle's art is a bit more stiff with physical comedy than Tom Fowler's was, but it still is vibrant nonetheless. It is truly Asmus' script which makes this series what it is, with a flair for one liners, dark comedy, and taboo shattering quips which frankly put many sitcom writers to shame. One can easily see this series as "the Married...With Children of superheroes" in a way not even "The Tick" was. And while no other Valiant Entertainment books need be read to enjoy this one, some notable references to the villains in another great buddy comic, "Archer & Armstrong", may be appreciated by some readers. As always, this series always provides a great time for four dollars, and remains one of the best books on the shelves any given month.

Honorable mentions:

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Micro-Series: Villains #8: Another piece of IDW Comics' brilliant reboot of the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" comic book franchise hits the shelves this week, and this issue of the series' secondary title has a special bonus to it. Besides the image of the franchise's most well known villain on the cover, the issue was drawn and co-written by Dan Duncan, who was the first regular artist the core "TMNT" series saw for its first year. Paul Allor co-writes the script and Ian Herring handles the colors for what turns out to be an existential journey for the Shredder himself. Coming off his recent victory in organized crime from the last arc, the resurrected feudal warrior reveals what happened to his soul during the centuries he slept until his revival. Trapped in the realm of the dead, he chose to spend his time in limbo doing what he usually does - exploit an army to attain more power for himself. The experience turned out to unnerve him as it may prove that despite all of his skill and tenacity, Saki is his own worst enemy. The artwork here is crisp and memorable while the story does more to flesh out a villain best known as a comedic cartoon in the late 80's who now has once again risen to his true potential.

Fearless Defenders #12: Tumblr just lost another one of its gems as this ongoing series calls it a run after a year's worth of issues (and a spare crossover one-shot). With its demise is the second attempt Marvel Comics has made to resurrect the "Defenders" franchise in some form within two years, and one wonders if the company will be as tenacious with it as they've proven with "Moon Knight". Cullen Bunn, Will Sliney and colorist Veronica Gandini make an attempt to offer a satisfying conclusion with one final team-up against series villain Caroline LeFey. The result is another quirky cameo by a oft discarded heroine (Frankie Ray, the "other" Nova) and another massive brawl against a squad of notable, obscure, and even new heroines versus lady villains of similar distinctions. Bunn displays his vast knowledge of the Marvel Handbook here, but if anything this issue serves as bookend for the book's flaws. The first six issues seemed to take forever to establish themselves, with the final six seeming to switch to a more manic mode of guest appearances and brawls. In the end Valkyrie's shared existence with Dr. Annabelle Riggs continues, Bunn takes a few moments to congratulate himself and Caroline's infamous mother is resurrected for other writers to use. In the end, this series finishes stronger than it began, and one hopes many of the great characters within don't become strangers to the Marvel Universe now that it is over.

Indestructible Hulk Annual #1: Once the bane of existence of Paul Jemas back when he was a bigwig at Marvel at the start of the 21st century, they have once again become in style for Marvel's publishing scheme; which usually consists of "publish as much as possible, and more of it". At best annuals can be seen as bonus issues to the extent that they should have literally been that; at worst they can be overpriced filler. This one winds up somewhere in the middle as writer Jeff Parker ("Thunderbolts", "Agents of ATLAS") teams up with artist Mahmud Asrar ("Dynamo 5", "Supergirl") and colorist Nelson Daniel for what is an enjoyable team-up between the Hulk and Iron Man, as the cover promises. Having both attended a seminar for child prodigies hosted by Dr. Derenik Zadian as youths, Bruce Banner and Tony Stark go back to the future as a SHIELD investigation of sunken ships leads them to the doctor's lost island of marvels. It quickly proves to be a test of wits, intellect, and power as even the Hulk finds himself weakened by Dr. Zadian's "living" island. The art is terrific and the banter between Stark, Banner, and the Hulk is enjoyable and fast paced. The near five dollar price tag for thirty pages is a bit obscene, but those who took the plunge will at least have a serviceable romp for their money.

Iron Man #19: A vast improvement over the previous issue, Kieron Gillen and Jeff Bennet continue on with their "Iron Metropolis" arc as Tony and his new-found brother Arno seek to create their own city of the future in reality instead of in theory. To this end they seek to recreate the former stronghold of Iron Man's arch nemesis, the Mandarin, into an urban utopia. Naturally, this means Iron Man finally getting around to introducing Pepper Potts to his new A.I. modeled after her as well as his brother, and rooting out the organized crime figures who took over ruling Mandarin City. It turns out the Mandarin's famous rings have a life of their own and are not about to let the super Stark brothers have their way with the land just yet. The art by Bennet, inker Scott Hanna and colorist Guru eFX has a lot of pop even if some of the facial expressions sometimes need work. After a space arc which lasted far too long, this current yarn looks to take things back to a more grounded level while playing with Iron Man's new status quo.

Superior Spider-Man #23: The second issue of this series within a fortnight, Dan Slott and Christos Gage continue to tag-team script duties in a story which brings in the star of canceled spin-off series "Venom" for another adventure of "Dr. Spider-Octopus: Jackass Superhero". The tentacled Sinister Six founder is still in possession of Spidey's form and still seeks to solve virtually every problem he encounters by trying to kill it; he keeps this up he may wind up running the "Jean Grey School for Gifted Youngsters". Despite the fact that Flash Thompson, a.k.a. "Agent Venom" professes to be a friend and ally, Ock seeks merely to terminate the alien symbiote once and for all, and makes a mess of things. Events become more interesting when Thompson stops by "Peter's" address to hide out, and adds spice to a dinner between May, J.J.J. Sr. and his main squeeze, the diminutive Anna-Maria. While it would seem that Ock succeeded in finally using his enemy's body to attain something he never had before - sex with a woman - the added wrinkle is he genuinely cares for Anna-Maria even while lying and manipulating her. Unlike previous arcs, the subplot with the Goblin war and the investigation of "superior" Spider-Man seem to be moving at a reasonable pace, and despite his arrogance, not all of the "superior" Spider-Man's problems are being eliminated through ruthlessness - in fact many are backfiring. Could it be that "summer 2014" is now closer than it was before and this narrative is finally nearing a natural conclusion? The speedy art by Humberto Ramos (with Victor Olazaba's inks and Edgar Delgado's colors) is up to the usual standards; impressive for combat with strange creatures but sometimes hit or miss with more human figures. The inclusion of more heroic figures like Thompson and even another cameo by Miguel O'Hara help balance out the lead's general maliciousness, even if some lines do seem ham handed. Overall, 2013 has seen this series have some ups and downs but it seems to be leading somewhere quite fascinating as it goes along.

Young Avengers #13: This issue sees the climax of the main story line of the entire series as well as cameos by approximately 49 other teenage Marvel superheroes in another well drawn and fun, but often befuddling installment by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Mike Norton and Stephen Thompson. The inter-dimensional parasite "Mother" winds up destroyed by the power of love, an otherwise standard solution except for this series' wholehearted embracing of the relationship between Wiccan and Hulkling being far more timely. In the end, this issue and series is very much like going to a rave or a club; there are many beautiful sights and colors and one vividly experiences fun and joy, but five minutes later one will be damned if they can make details flow into a cohesive narrative beyond individual moments. Loki is packed off to star in his own series as the assembled creators have two more issues to bid this run farewell. Some say this is the future of comics; while some may prefer things like "plot" or "substance" (a summary of "we needed a dozen issues to kill a metaphor for adolescence" is not a plot), one cannot ignore the sheer flash and emotion behind this run.

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