The weekly serving of the best (or most notable) comics for September, 18th, 2013!
Book of the week: Daredevil #31
Every week in which the Eisner winning creative team of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee publish another issue of "Daredevil" seems to be a better week. Each tale is always carefully crafted, plotted, and expertly drawn and seems to push the limits of what a mainstream superhero book at Marvel Comics can do. Having recently sewn up a long term subplot, Waid has sought to work in a new one which provides ore for shorter arcs while expanding as a larger whole. To this end, Waid and Samnee have taken a page from "Law & Order" (a franchise with more spin offs than the Avengers) in terms of "ripping a story from the headlines" where any similarities between real life events or people are mere "coincidence" which is totally intentional. To this end, the trial of George Zimmerman for the death of teenager Trayvon Martin which captivated the nation for weeks is adapted loosely for Daredevil's latest adventure.
Despite having defeated Bullseye and his own long range attempts to destroy Daredevil, the life of Matt Murdock hasn't gotten much easier. His best friend Foggy Nelson is battling cancer while he's attempting to juggle a bustling law practice alongside a new temp - his ex, former D.A. Kirsten McDuffie. The masked "man without fear" has recently stumbled onto the entrenched plot of the "Sons of the Serpent", a racist organization Daredevil originally encountered in some random "Defenders" comics during the end of the Silver Age who have become deeply entrenched in society - including the justice system. When a rich and connected member of New York "high society" seems to be acquitted of the murder of a teenage ethnic minority after a sensational trial, the prosecutor seems to out the names of the jury on TV, inciting mad riots across the city. Hopelessly trying to quell the chaos, Daredevil senses the manipulation of one of his old enemies, Jonathan Powers, a.k.a. the Jester.
Created by Stan Lee and the late Gene Colan in "Daredevil #42" in 1968, when handled poorly he is a poor man's version of the Joker who seems to appear sporadically every two to five years. His last appearance was during the Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev run in 2005, which literally involved a bizarre demonic possession. As a hero who has often struggled to avoid relying on the same two or three villains endlessly, Mark Waid has sought to avoid this by involving a lot of villains or evil organizations from other franchises - such as the Spot, Mole Man, HYDRA, and even aliens - or newer villains like Coyote and Bruiser. Across over thirty issues, very few actual Daredevil villains have appeared, and it has often seemed like a missed opportunity. Fortunately, Waid seems to be working his magic on the Jester, twigging onto his angle of media manipulation to offer up a new incarnation of the villain who isn't a second rate Joker or random super-criminal, but as someone unique to battle a man who is a lawyer by day and vigilante by night.
As always, the artwork by Samnee and colorist Javier Rodriguez is sensational, capturing the chaos of massive riots as well as quiet scenes with cancer patients or watching a court drama unfold on TV to even wonky science fiction antics with Ant-Man. While the similarities to the very real and recent outcry over a legal proceeding might seem in poor taste or at least convenient, "Daredevil" puts a fresh spin on it while using it to revive and hopefully rework a long time but often maligned villain. Weeks with "Daredevil" on the shelves often offer little in the way of competition when it comes to quality, at least from the "big two". This week proves no exception.
Batman Beyond Universe #2: Considering many of DC Comics' latest woes in terms of fleeing creators and public relations nightmares, a cover in which Superman of all characters is screaming "STAY AWAY!" at the top of his lungs could not be more ironic if it tried. The shame of it is that as a reprinting of one of DC's digital first comics, "Batman Beyond" has often been a anthology series best known for quality storytelling and a better mixture of tones. New creative team changes prompted a reboot of this anthology, and this time it is the "JLU" comic by Christos Gage and Iban Coello leads the way. A plot by a mysterious figure has interfered with Superman's powers, causing him to have to shut them down for the safety of everyone around him. Despite this, he continues to be involved with the Justice League of the future as a consultant and Kryptonian expert, even while attempting to focus on his civilian life as a firefighter. Not only is Kal having to adjust to being powerless and taking a back seat to his younger comrades, but in trying to spark a relationship with fellow firefighter Rita after years of being a widower (having outlived Lois Lane and most of his Metropolis cast). Gage has a ball with showing Kal get all sorts of ridiculous dating advice from his peers before getting to the point linking the plot to enemies in the Phantom Zone.
The secondary strip is the regular "Batman Beyond" strip by Kyle Higgins and Thony Silas, continuing the adventures of the newer, younger Batman Terry McGinnis as a college freshman being mentored by the middle aged Dick Grayson instead of the octogenarian Bruce Wayne (who is scaling back due to failing health). When yet another threat to Gotham City has seemed to assassinate the new mayor and shut down the power in Arkham Asylum, Terry has to put aside everything to make sure the crazies don't escape. Unfortunately, Grayson sees that Terry has perhaps emulated Wayne too well, becoming obsessive with making sure the villains are put away, even when it risks exhaustion or his social life. It ends with quite a shocking battle across Bat-people of different eras, which is awaiting some jaw dropping explanation. As always, one of the rare holdouts of quality for mainstream DC Comics.
Morbius the Living Vampire #9: Morbius may be alive, but this series isn't, as low sales and a meandering storyline has sunk this latest "Amazing Spider-Man" spin off in less than ten months. Joe Keatinge, Richard Elson and colorist Antonio Fabela wrap everything up in a truncated brawl between Morbius and the Rose, who turns out to literally be a masked nobody. Morbius inspires Brownsville, Brooklyn by faking his death and Becky Barnes gets a new life as an artist in the big city. Highlights include some great art and solid action. Low lights include the characters themselves lamenting about how aimless this entire exercise is and some gaps of logic (such as Morbius seeking to fake his death while appearing outside an art show which had media attention). At best this series radiated a lot of lost potential, but its quick death isn't surprising.
Superior Spider-Man #18: The duel between "superior" Spider-Man (Dr. Octopus possessing Spidey's body) and Miguel O'Hara/Spider-Man 2099 continues in a time spanning tale which features terrific artwork by Ryan Stegman, inker Livesay, and colorist Edgar Delgado. Writer Dan Slott has woven a solid cross time tale utilizing some "future" junk from the 90's, even if his "superior" Spider-Man continues to be as simple and crude as ever. As things seem to be falling down around the life of Spidey-Ock, any notion of "responsibility" he may have learned from the hero whose soul he slew has gone out the window as he seeks to settle scores just like any villain would. To that end Spidey-Ock seeks to save Horizon Labs from a corporate takeover by Ty Stone by assassinating him in daylight and seeks to tear his future counterpart to ribbons almost on sight. Miguel had met Peter Parker once and had only been in this era for five minutes, yet he's caught onto something that not even Mary Jane has noticed. "Peter" gets fired from Horizon Labs for yanking his research from their labs illegally as Miguel only has sixteen minutes to prevent a disaster which destroys the future and the Goblin subplot inches along with no end in sight. While some of the details of Miguel's life may be lost on casual readers, Slott has his voice down as a hero who may not be as smart as the original but whose heart is in the right place. As things seem to fall apart for "superior" Spider-Man, it does lend credence to the idea that Peter's return is inevitable no matter how much the writers and editors bleat to the contrary, and 2014 will likely be occupied with him trying to reassemble the mess Ock made of his life. Ock's devolution of Spider-Man from a dark hero to a super villain who only does good for his own ego has been swift and blunt; while it has been a shame that most of Peter's cast and fellow heroes are too stupid to notice their friend has been acting like a 1950's super villain for months, this arc at least gives Ock a worthy opposing force as well as offers an alternative to his arrogant blather.
Venom #41: Double shipping this month, this is the penultimate issue of one of the most successful "Amazing Spider-Man" spin offs in years. A run of over forty issues with merely two writers across that span is a solid run especially for a franchise which was left for dead at the end of the 90's. Cullen Bunn is working quickly to wrap up his lingering plot threads, and unfortunately this means dipping back into the demonic elements which mired the start of his run which he now has to dip back into. Flash Thompson/agent Venom has learned that his teenage sidekick, Andi/Mania has inherited the demonic "brand" which he carried for months, which has attracted no end of criminals and other evilness to her. Her vengeance against crime boss Lord Ogre causes her to get in over her head and the pair wind up contemplating a deal with a devil. The artwork by Jorge Coelho is solid, often seeming inspired by classic TMNT artist Jim Lawson, with colors by Lee Loughridge. Mania is a fun addition to Thompson's cast and it is shame that the angle of Venom having a sidekick won't be played with for long, but it is probably best to end the book sooner if sales are fading. References to previous Venom series are made ("She-Venom") and many baddies are torn to bits. The series finale sounds like it will involve demons and Crossbones, which sounds thrilling enough for me.
Obligatory review - Infinity #3: Or, as written by Jonathan Hickman seems to write it, "Super Heroic Intergalactic Space Training Simulator Manual". Drawn by Jerome Opena and Dustin Weaver with colors by Justin Ponsor, this story continues to be weighed down by being too connected to essential side comics and bogged down with more characters than in "Lord of the Rings" and more narration than seven Chris Claremont scripts. This chapter at the least offers more action than previous ones and focuses a bit on Black Bolt confronting Thanos, although his big tactic (his sonic scream) is not only absurdly predictable, it is still stretched out longer than it should be. Massive space battles happen and things explode, but it lacks any of the heart or humor of the "space events" written by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and/or Keith Giffen from 2006-2010 which have provided much ore to Marvel Studios. The artwork is pretty and this chapter is more exciting than some previous ones, but it still suffers from being too cold, too lifeless, too cluttered and too overwrought. The irony is the characters within it at least act as they should, it is just a shame this story offers so few of them. At best this is a rehash of "War of Kings", only twice as long and half as fun.
Another good read: Numbercrunchers #3 from Titan Comics, set to be reviewed soon!