The latest grab bag of the best comic books from October 23rd, 2013!
Book of the Week: Daredevil #32
With Halloween (or "Hallowe'en") just over a week away, many comic books seek to capitalize on the holiday by adding some spooky elements to their stories, or releasing a themed special issue or two. It is therefore little surprise that for October's issue of the critically acclaimed current run of "Daredevil", we find the man without fear standing alongside some of Marvel's most notable monster characters from their horror line up of the 1970's. These characters, from Marvel versions of public domain characters like the Mummy or Frankenstein's monster, to original creations such as Satana or Simon Garth (the Zombie), have appeared from time to time over the years hanging out with Morbius or the Punisher (long story) as the "legion of monsters". Considering the fact that he literally dresses like a devil, it's actually surprising that Daredevil himself has had few encounters with some of these characters, despite many previous stories from previous decades involving demons - even the recent "Shadowland". Fortunately, story masters Mark Waid and Chris Samnee (alongside colorist Javier Rodriguez) do more than make this issue a timely holiday gimmick story.
There is a lot happening within the series right now, as well told single issues (or two or three issue arcs) branch along into a progressive long term narrative. Despite undoing a conspiracy against him organized by Bullseye, Matt Murdock's life remains hectic. His best friend (and law partner) Foggy Nelson is battling cancer while a deeply entrenched organization of racists - the "Sons of the Serpent" - seek to drive New York City into a race riot via manipulating the legal system and the media. To this end they've hired one of Daredevil's enemies, the Jester, to sow the chaos with his usual parlor tricks and schemes. However, the Jester can't resist a chance to try to kill off his arch nemesis, which has now led to Murdock learning more about their scheme. After escaping a trap and not falling for last issue's cliffhanger (which included a fake body of his best friend which the blind Murdock literally could not see), Murdock and Foggy seek to trace the evil cabal to its roots and seek to uproot it from NYC. Unfortunately for Daredevil, this means a trip to Stone Hills, Kentucky, where he has to deal with ignorant redneck hunters and a group of monsters as he searches for a lead with Jack Russell - who is himself a monster, the "Werewolf-By-Night".
As always with this series, the strength of the series is more in its execution than its plotting. While the plots are often strong and have twists and wacky turns, it's often the way in which Waid and his collaborating artists for this run - most recently, Samnee - tell the tale itself. The first few pages have the Jester lay out his motivation which works for his theater motif as well as seems to be Waid's continued effort to rehabilitate the villain and get him to escape the shadow of being an imitation of more well known DC villains like the Joker or Riddler. The history of the "Sons of the Serpent" are embellished as Waid sees them beyond snake themed wackos in silly costumes but as a chance to take them to a logical conclusion as the Marvel Universe's version of the Klu Klux Klan. Admittedly, the revelation about mystical origins comes as a left turn, and Dr. Strange could have saved Matt a lot of trouble by simply admitting that Russell is a werewolf. It is understandable that Strange saw it as a "condition" which is up to Russell to reveal, but it is a lot like sending someone to meet with Bruce Banner without any warning that he turns into a green behemoth with the slightest stress. And while Waid has often relied on team-up stories for this run, he usually manages to focus on characters Daredevil has rarely met up with, such as Hulk or Silver Surfer or this collection of horror figures.
The artwork is always up to Samnee and Rodriguez's usual snuff. Jack Russell's werewolf form is one of those designs which Marvel editors allow to vary wildly depending on the artist's tastes. Some make him look like the Wolf-Man of the Universal film series while others make him look far more canine, even going as far as having a snout and long ears, or a literal wolf's head. One could argue that certain characters should stick to a steady design, but if Marvel hasn't been willing to strictly enforce that with the far more well known Beast for almost a decade, than Russell has no chance. The same goes for most of the horror characters, especially Satana and the Frankenstein Monster. Samnee sticks with their classic late Silver Age designs for the most recognition and it suits his style perfectly. Even Jester, who can look ridiculous or generic under the wrong pencils, pops out of his panels here and looks more distinct than he has in ages despite a complicated garb.
As always, "Daredevil" is a great comic at a great price, living up to its Eisner prize and offering twenty thrilling, exciting, thought provoking and/or beautifully drawn pages every month. No major crossovers, no gimmicks, just the most solid superhero run at Marvel Comics right now.
Indestructible Hulk #14: The second dose of Mark Waid this week from Marvel as the Hulk continues his “agent of T.I.M.E.” story spinning right out of the events of “Age of Ultron”, which has already been forgotten around the rest of Marvel lately. This series often serves as Waid’s “other” series with Marvel compared to “Daredevil”, and this issue seems to keep that reputation intact as the story, while fascinating, is an action packed mess. Banner and the Hulk have been split via one of SHIELD’s machines and been sent into the time-stream to prevent it from collapsing. To this end they’ve battled the Chronarchists, a squad of time-terrorists seeking to exploit the collapsing time stream for their own benefit. Two out of three have been dispatched, but the third appears to be the most successful as he’s been tampering with the Hulk’s own time period, right down to his origin. The twist that Zarrko – Thor’s old nemesis who is a prisoner of SHIELD and laid out the scheme to begin with – is in fact in league with the Chronarchists is not much of a surprise. The time gimmick allows for different versions of the Hulk to appear and for him to continue to blip across different time zones, but it is a gimmick which is growing tiresome. Art is split by Mahmud Asrar, Kim Jacinto with colors by Val Staples which all plays to the action and far out locations. It’s a decent enough romp, but Jeff Parker’s “Thunderbolts” run ran a similar premise into the ground for over a year, and Waid can’t seem to wrest much else from it.
Iron Man #17: After a long and winding path, “The Secret Origin of Tony Stark” concludes not a moment too soon as Kieron Gillen wraps up his first year (and change) on the core Iron Man title. After a lot of space flights and alien robots, it all boils down to something simple – Tony was actually adopted, and he’s got a long lost brother hidden away from the world who he can now meet for the first time. It is quite a retcon, but less of one than the long winding story had led readers to believe – that Tony was so brilliant due to genetic tampering by an alien robot. This final development is interesting and bares a timely reference to “Iron Man 2020”, circa 1984; it is a shame that the story drug out as long as it did. The art is split between Carlo Pagulayan and Scott Hanna, with Guru eFX on colors, and it is far more vibrant than anything Greg “Photoshop” Land produced. The best comic book stories tend to serve as a dramatic metaphor for something many experience in life, and revelations about one’s parentage and/or siblings are things many people deal with. This finale will be controversial for some fans, but at least this arc ends stronger than it began.
Uncanny Avengers #13: After a month off, artist Daniel Acuna returns to magnificently handle the task of depicting Rick Remender’s latest issue starring the “unity” team of X-Men and Avengers in brilliant detail. Unfortunately, Remender’s story is less reliable but on the whole this is a “hit” issue as things begin to come together. The new Apocalypse Twins have divided the team with their new Four Horsemen and set about a plan to manipulate Scarlet Witch and Wonder Man into transporting all mutants to another planet to prevent their genocide from yet another dark future which must be prevented – a plot point from the X-Men franchise which was old even twenty years ago. As Thor seeks to regroup and save another planet, the rest of the team seeks to dismantle the twin’s plans from two different, and uncoordinated fronts. Remender wrangles some comedy out of Cap losing hearing after a sonic blast from Banshee last issue, while he also lays a lot of Wolverine’s sins bare. Much like his end run on “Secret Avengers”, he has succeeded in crafting a plot where the villains’ ambitions aren’t entirely wrong or evil, and the chore of undoing it may not be the best thing to do, even if the villains are employing some disturbing means to their plot. A lot of the wacky space details of previous issues sometimes clouded this angle, but they’re absent here and the issue is stronger for it. The line between Remender writing the characters or his own meta-commentary can blur, but overall this is a solid issue which raises the stakes for the finale.
Venom #42: After roughly three years and over forty issues of material, Cullen Bunn and artist Jorge Coelho (with colorist Lee Loughridge) bring it all to an action packed close. Low sales ultimately made this finale inevitable, and it hardly wraps up every loose end available. However, considering Venom’s heyday as a franchise arguably ended in 1998, the fact that this series has lasted as long as it has while remaining as great as it has all with a new man beyond the symbiote – Flash Thompson – is a feat unto itself. In this issue, Agent Venom and his new teenage partner/student Mania organize a fateful meeting with Mephisto before having a final showdown with Crossbones, Master Pandemonium and an army of mercenaries. This does mean delving into the “Monsters of Evil” stuff from Bunn’s first and often unsuccessful arcs of this run, but this is needed to bring things full circle. On the whole this is a satisfying enough final issue, and through the 28 issues in which Bunn wrote or co-wrote this series, he’s steered it to a shore which the launch writer Rick Remender should be proud of. This has been a very enjoyable book, although ending things on this positive note was likely for the best.
Young Avengers #11: Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s terminally hip take on teenage Marvel heroes reaches the penultimate issue of its second arc, which ties into its first arc fairly fluidly. It seems most issues in this series focus on either Loki, Wiccan, and/or Hulkling with rare glimpses at anyone else in the cast, and this issue serves as little exception. It sets up a final battle between the heroes and the inter-dimension parasite “Mother”, who captured Hulkling last month and is staging a final showdown with both them and their planet. The cast are being forced with literally fighting their exes or parents from both this reality and other realities. Loki gets a new adult body just in time for “Thor 2” in two weeks as the final die is cast. As always with this series, the flair and style of it seems to matter far more than the plot, which is often a mess of metaphors and technobabble. McKelvie’s art (with three inkers and colorist Matthew Wilson in tow) all but steals the stage from Gillen’s script as it often does, providing issues which look like no other on the stands. The finale ups the danger scale to eleven and it is commendable how this series seeks to treat Marvel’s young adult superheroes as more of a fluid community than previous comics have. It will all come down to the next issue, and this one sets that up nicely.