The weekly reaping of comic book seeds for September 4th, 2013!
Book of the week: Superior Spider-Man #17
In what could easily be one of the most anticipated issues of the core Spider-Man comic book title, writer Dan Slott and returning artist Ryan Stegman (alongside Edgar Delgado's colors and Livesay's inks) craft the return of "Spider-Man 2099" to the pages of a mainstream comic book after many years. Created in 1992 by Peter David and Rick Leonardi, the character kicked off the "Marvel 2099" line of comics set in the far future where huge corporations ruled the planet and everyone from citizens to governments were their pawns; ultimately, life would imitate art. "Spider-Man 2099" lasted forty-six issues before the entire imprint was shuffled into retirement by 1998; an alternate version of the character appeared in "Exiles" some six years ago, but it was not the same. Having written the character for the video game "Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions", Slott was already familiar with him and has chosen now, at a time when the traditional Spider-Man has effectively been killed and replaced in spirit by Dr. Octopus, to bring him back to the present day.
The issue starts out in 2099, the era of Miguel O'Hara, and in fact the character appears in roughly half the issue. At the end of the 21st century, the corporate entity "Alchemax" rules New York, run by the corrupt Tyler Stone. O'Hara was empowered via Alchemax and has become his era's Spider-Man, even if he has inherited the poor luck with clothing that the Spidey of the "heroic age" had. When time distortions seem to be bringing dinosaurs and ancient airplanes in the center of town, O'Hara swings into action and suspects the corrupt corporation is once again playing god with reality. However, as a side effect of "Age of Ultron", they learn that the unraveling of time itself was caused in the past, and that O'Hara is fated to intervene. In the current era of 2013, "Otto Parker" is enjoying a softball game with his Horizon Labs co-workers in a rare appearance with his employer when he discovers how much he has missed back at the ranch. Tiberius Stone (painted as Tyler Stone's grandfather or other ancestor) continues to work to undermine his rivals from the Kingpin to Hobgoblin to now Horizon itself, arranging for Max Modell's arrest and the lab's corporate takeover by "Allan Chemical", owned by Peter's old flame Liz Allan (who is the mother of Harry Osborn's son, Norman "Normie" Osborn Jr.).
Stegman was the first artist that "Superior Spider-Man" had and continues as if he never left off, offering energetic pencils and a lot of pop to the action scenes. He has a terrific take on O'Hara's "day of the dead" costume, web cape and all, as well as all the far out future scenery of the 2099 pages. Slott capitalizes on the line wide theme of "time being broken" from their last crossover event while treating the 2099 era as more canonical than it seemed before by showcasing the potential rise of Alchemax. The issue provides readers a visit with supporting characters who haven't been seen in a while as well as a genuinely heroic Spider-Man, which have certainly been missed for months. In addition, the long festering subplot with the Green Goblin (or "Goblin King") and his Goblin society (which now includes Phil Urich and Menace) capitalizing on the latest crisis. The addition if Liz and Normie into the proceedings should hopefully progress this sluggish subplot further along, which further hikes the hype for this arc. Some recent "Superior Spider-Man" arcs have struggled because there wasn't enough nuance for the "darker" actions of Spidey-Ock; the story itself would prove him right, and too few characters would seem to react or make reactive actions to them. This time, what could have been a mundane team-up now has added energy due to this change in Peter's persona. While the conclusion could be the same as every other "superior" team up - in which said hero shrugs their shoulders at the blatant super-villain behavior and speech patterns that "superior" Spidey employs for editorial reasons, even if said hero has known Spidey since he was a teenager - the very possibility of this conclusion not being as fated as it usually is with present era heroes is enough to kick the anticipation for the next issue up many notches.
At best, "Superior Spider-Man" is a run which turns the "mind swap" plot on its head and takes things to conclusions which have been rare in mainstream superhero comics. To that end, this issue ramps up the excitement for what could have been a gimmick team-up, and succeeds in summarizing Spider-Man 2099 for new readers, but using time travel mechanics wisely and fluidly. As summer 2013 comes to a close, Slott, Stegman and company produce the best issue of the summer this week, and aim to continue as autumn arrives.
Invincible #105: Robert Kirkman and longtime artist Ryan Ottley continue to ease their longtime Image Comics superhero title into interesting waters as the dust settles from their latest shuffle of the status quo. Having skipped August, this is a quite issue which plays with said new status quo and ramifications to character events, which is often where this series is at its best. Mark and Eve are settling into the Grayson family home as their own family is expected to bud with their first child, as Nolan exiles former Viltrumite general Thragg (a.k.a. "Space Freddie Mercury") and Robot and Monster Girl try to repair their relationship after ruling a dimension for centuries. The issue ends with a subtle chat on the moon about parenthood between Mark and Nolan, and it's all great material. While some previous issues involving yet another over the top battle with Dinosaurus stumbled, it is issues like this which showcase the series at its prime. One hopes that Kirkman is wise enough to work with this set-up for a while instead of desperately seeking to switch it up too soon.
Quantum & Woody #3: Valiant Entertainment's reboot of their famous superhero buddy-comedy series continues to wade into action packed and hilarious waters. Written by James Asmus, drawn by Tom Fowler and colored by Jordie Bellaire, this issue sees the less-than-dynamic duo combat a clown themed nightmare monster, the twin heads of the evil corporation that killed their dad, and naturally, each other. The one-liners fly faster than bullets as behind the farce is a very refreshing take at a nontraditional family unit and the consequences of sibling rivalry and the death of a parent. Unfortunately, the adoptive brothers can't be kept apart for long without their lives being on the line, as a showdown with a cabal of horrific science villains is in store. Fowler proves he's a far greater artist than his work on "MAD magazine" implied as this series continues to produce thrills, chills, and above all, laughs.
Avengers A.I. #3: Sam Humphries and artist Andre Lima Araujo (with colorist Frank D'Armata) continue along with the adventures of Hank Pym and the robot Avengers. The Vision gets the focus for most of this issue as he enters a world in cyberspace where an entire world of artificial intelligences have gathered to grow and evolve alongside the sentient computer virus Dimitrios. While Pym wants to protect these new artificial beings, SHIELD wants to blast them in retaliation of Dimitrios' attacks across the country. In many ways this story covers similar themes as Matt Fraction's "Secret Avengers" last year, with robots and artificial intelligence being treated as new life which merits a response more nuanced, ideally, than "blow them up". Having robots take the place of a minority at least showcases that the mutants or Inhumans no longer have a monopoly on that within Marvel Comics. "Secret Avengers" ultimately went for the "blast them" response, and it will be curious to see if this series repeats that, or strives new ground.
Iron Man #15: It seems that Kieron Gillen's "Secret Origin of Tony Stark" seems to be stretching into a "Neverending Story" as affairs continue to develop between Stark and recorder 451. It has been revealed that 451 has been manipulating Tony's life since he was in the womb for the purpose of using him as the pilot for a massive "Godkiller" robot intended to fight the space gods of the universe. Unfortunately, Stark proves unable to pilot the giant mechanism, and has to stop 451 from using it from destroying the earth. Stark finally manages to outwit and outfight 451, although the threat of the "Godkiller" will march on. Carlo Pagulayan takes over for Greg Land on art with Scott Hanna's inks and Guru eFX, which is quite an improvement. This has been a bold story which capitalizes on Marvel's focus on space affairs, although it may soon be time to take a break from it.
Superior Foes of Spider-Man #3: Nick Spencer's spin-off to "Superior Spider-Man" continues to offer an eclectic and often highly amusing look at some of Spidey's lessor known villains as well as offer a terrific platform for Steve Lieber's art and Rachelle Rosenberg's colors. Fred Myers - a.k.a. Boomerang - is caught between a rock and a hard place as he's been placed on probation for his latest crime spree, and has former rival Mach IV as his probation officer while also having to perform a job for the Chameleon with his current crew. What ensues is one of the funniest Silvermane stories put to panel as well as a villains anonymous meeting and how loyalties among super villains shift like the wind. Myers is still the star of the series, but Spencer has found a good voice for him as the anti-Hawkeye; a working class villain without any power but a skill with an arm with a flair for purple. This series has quickly become a breakout hit, at least in terms of quality. One hopes it lasts at least as long as "Morbius the Living Vampire" has.
Venom #40: Officially a dead book walking after being announced as canceled in November, writer Cullen Bunn commits to wrapping up his plot lines with the start of his latest and final arc on the series. Jorge Coelho and colorist Lee Loughridge join with Bunn to begin the brief era of Flash Thompson/Agent Venom being forced to quickly adjust to his teenage neighbor and student Andi gaining a symbiote costume of her own and becoming the vengeance seeking Mania. While Thompson is eager to take things slow and process things, especially since he is once again being plagued with demonic nightmares, Mania is eager to kill local mobster Lord Ogre for sending an army of hit men after Venom, as one of them wound up murdering her father. Bunn began his run on Venom with dabbling with mystical elements, which were not his strong suit; such things had developed from the "Circle of Four" crossover from last year. While the series has moved on from such things, with a cancellation date in sight, it's a subplot which has to be sown up. Thus, Thompson is back to chatting with Hellstorm while Mania finds herself the target of Crossbones as a new squad of mercenaries. A run of over forty issues is nothing to be ashamed of, especially for a volume of "Venom", and this is certainly a run which is ending far stronger than it began.
Obligatory review - Infinity #2: The second crossover event of 2013 continues to chug along with over sized and mostly impregnable issue as written by Jonathan Hickman. The artist for this go around is Jerome Opena, best known for work on "Uncanny X-Force" and "Vengeance of the Moon Knight". Most of Marvel's crossover events consist of a core mini series, with tie-in issues within ongoing series as well as some spare splinter mini series as well; "Civil War" in 2006 demonstrated this tactic the best with a grand total of over sixty chapters. While "Infinity" is far smaller, it seems that Hickman intends for many of these tie-ins, such as his issues of "Avengers" and "New Avengers" being critical. Having not read those issues, this comic often borders on incomprehensible. The Avengers ally with the Shi'ar and S.W.O.R.D. to engage in battle with one of Thanos' proxy armies in space, and while they smash an armada, a planet succumbs to plague as a result. Back on Earth, some sections are suffering key losses and the Inhumans continue to incur the wrath of the mad Titan by refusing to bow to his will - and his quest for an Infinity gem. These details are buried in some terrific art but also under heaping tons of narration and dialogue exchanges lacking in any heart or characterization that they border on an illustrated instruction manual to a foreign built DVD player. Both "Age of Ultron" and "Avengers vs. X-Men" were misfires for various reasons, often sloppy character writing and dodgy plot details. "Infinity" is failing for the opposite reason; the plot is over thought to the point of fetish, while none of the cast of thousands are rising to the fore for more than a few pages.