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Picks of comic book week: Honey, we shrunk the superheroes

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She-Hulk #7

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Book of the week: She-Hulk #7

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The quality of the latest relaunch of an ongoing series for the Hulk's famous cousin has seen some ups and downs since its' debut last year. It may be easy to place the defining quality as whether or not Javier Pulido is providing the artwork, as the series really is his own in terms of a distinctive look. But to be honest, even writer Charles Soule seemed to stumble in the previous arc, which saw the series' biggest subplot fizzle out into nonsense. Fortunately, this week's latest issue reverses both trends. Pulido is back handling the art (with Muntsa Vicente on colors), and this time Soule gets back to the series' strength. This issue provides a simple yet quirky story with a likeable cast, an interesting "case" and brilliant art matched by bright colors. It is a shame that done in one stories tend to be less hip in today's market, as Soule seems to excel at them.

She-Hulk and her private investigator Patsy Walker (a.k.a. Hellcat) have been tasked with finding the missing business partner of one of Jen's friends at "Ideacave, Inc.", where she has her law firm. They're tasked with looking for a man who has invented a shrinking ray which is cheap enough to be mass produced. This means a team-up with Hank Pym (Marvel's resident shrinking hero) and a wild adventure in a backyard looking for a man who is now small enough to be a needle in a hay stack. Bright colors and seemingly mundane creatures help underscore the danger that Soule makes sure to address, which many previous stories along a similar vein ignore. When you're under an inch high, nearly anything can kill you even if you're a gamma powered lawyer. Cute birds become stealth airborne predators and controlling ants isn't something best done without experience. In addition, issues of trust between Jen and Patsy, two heroines with vastly different lives and power levels, comes into the fore.

On a week where plenty of comics shipped which had a lot of noise and fury, this issue rises about them with well executed simplicity. The conclusion of the adventure is never in doubt, but Soule and Pulido manage to tell their story with enough excitement and charm that it manages to entertain. The often manic Hellcat proves to be a great partner for the stoic (yet quickly angered) She-Hulk for almost any adventure, even one where alley cats may as well be Celestials. The series also helps carve out a Marvel Universe in which the endless super inventions of various people have affected the lives of everyday people and lead to many unique opportunities for stories (instead of pretending that decades of inventions by Pym or Mr. Fantastic had no effect, as some comics do). The fact that this series manages it at a price of under three dollars an issue is merely the green icing on the cake. Hopefully, the series will continue forward along this course and not dip back to producing more rushed fill in content.

A huge heap of honorable mentions:

Big Trouble in Little China #3: John Carpenter and Eric Powell continue along with the adventures of Jack Burton in the latest installment of a comic which is as close to a TV series based on the cult film as one will get. In order to save the life of Yang from one of Lo-Pan's previously unrevealed minions, Jack, Egg, and his pet demon "Pete" continue their journey into the temple of the seven faced widow. As usual, Jack relates another tale about one of his ex-wives (who all seem to either have supernatural powers or tie into such things) while he haplessly escapes conflicts with other demons and winds up swiping the MacGuffin outright. It is odd to see Yang reduced to a "dude in distress" considering how major a role he has in the original film, but one imagines that Powell and Carpenter are wisely playing to their audience who likely quote Jack Burton lines at parties. The art by Brian Churilla and colors by Michael Garland continues to match the tone of the film, which means making sure various monsters and demons look distinct while also not so scary as to upset the comedic tone. This series arrives at a time when "comedy comics" are no longer something the direct market tries to forget, even if that means it has to be on top of its' game to remain ahead.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time #2: Once again, an issue of this spare mini series to an annual which is currently running late arrives late at my particular comic shop. Thankfully, the premise is simple enough that lateness doesn't matter much. After an adventure with the time traveling Renet, the four Turtles are now bouncing around through time, having one adventure in a different era after the next. Each issue seems to spotlight a different creative team; this one sees Erik Burnham as the writer with Charles Paul Wilson III on art, and Jeremy Mohler on colors. This issue isn't as adorable as the previous one, but it likely has more meat under its' shell as the gang are zapped to Feudal Japan. This plays into IDW's new version of their origin as they not only bump into some samurai and the ancient Foot Clan, but the original reincarnations of Hamato Yoshi, themselves, and ultimately the Shredder. Mikey is curious, while Leonardo impulsively flirts with mangling the time stream for revenge. In the end, their time hopping jaunt may have inadvertently helped spark the ire of the younger Oroku Saki and help create them in the first place. This isn't as essential as some of the previous mini series so far, but is at least fun for a lark.

Invincible #113: Robert Kirkman and longtime regular artist Ryan Ottley continue their attempt to break down some of the few long term supporting characters left in the series to wring out the latest mega-epic storyline. To this end, Robot has gone mad and decided to take over the Earth for its' "betterment" much as he ruled the Flaxian dimension for centuries (of their time). His attempts to kill off every superhero on earth resulted in Mark's retreat and inducing labor for the severely injured Eve. The relationship between Mark and Eve has been put through the ringer like never before, and one hopes that Kirkman isn't smashing too many of his toys until he has nothing left. That said, bringing any series to almost 120 issues is a massive undertaking unto itself, and this arc is easily one of the best the series has seen within a year.

Black Widow #9/Punisher #9: To be blunt, solicitations from Marvel Comics billed these two issues as being a brief crossover story (or a two part story) due to the fact that Nathan Edmondson writes both series. In reality, this is no brief multi-part story such as, say, the "Omega Effect" story told within "Punisher", "Avenging Spider-Man" and "Daredevil" a year or two back; it is merely the same story told from two different perspectives. Thus, the official solicitations offered to fans and retailers (such as these two from Midtown Comics), border on the realm of being a "bait and switch" as getting both comics does not enhance the overall tale very much beyond some minor point of view details. It was lazy when Brian M. Bendis would use a similar trick to sell the same story in "Ultimate Spider-Man" two issues in a row in years past, and it is a shame that Edmondson does something similar - especially in comics which combined cost almost eight dollars. The shame of it is that as usual, the story itself is a simple espionage caper in which the execution is far meatier than the narrative. Black Widow is (once again) chasing leads to the faceless conspiracy which has plagued her entire series, dubbed "Chaos". The Punisher, meanwhile, has been captured by Crossbones and a squad of cheap mercenaries he's hired. Both meet in a vacant oil rig in the middle of the ocean which "Chaos" uses as a digital relay station. If this was some attempt at corporate synergy with Sony's recent "Marvel Anime" direct to video feature, "Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher", it is a poor one as it's nearly three months behind. Phil Noto does the art (as always) for "Black Widow" while Mitch Gerads is the artist for "The Punisher", and both do a great job. As always, Edmondson has the voices of his leads down, even if his theme of Natasha's morals becoming disturbingly grey had already been beaten into the ground in the previous eight issues without needing the personafication of anti-heroism himself to tell it to her face. The only way it could become more obvious from this point on would be if in a future issue Natasha faces Mephisto himself, who suggests she "tuck it back a little". The art is pretty, the story simple, but there's no need to go out of one's way to read both if one isn't already doing so.

Iron Fist: the Living Weapon #5: Kaare Andrews continues to write and draw this latest stab at an "Iron Fist" series, which both looks and reads like a 1980's era Frank Miller run that nobody intended. To this end, Brenda and the little girl from K'un L'un, Pei, continue to be on the run from Davos and his six armed minions. In K'un L'un, Danny Rand is being broken down and beaten to a pulp by his seemingly unstoppable enemy - which turns out to be the living "final exam" for all of the "Iron Fist" warriors which has now gone insane and destroyed the entire realm. Andrews shows remarkable attention to the character's origin, and Danny's narration reads like growling from "Sin City" mixed with Andrews' own justifications and explanations for his run. Seeing Danny's foundation and origin as a contradiction (and at best a cautionary tale about how limiting revenge is as a motive for one's life), this run likely seeks to break the hero down and remake him into his essence. That exercise may turn out to be more exciting than some of the story itself, which offers more bone crunching martial arts and little else, at least so far.

New Warriors #8: A story which is months late to at least take advantage of the past "Infinity" crossover and aftermath involving Inhumans seems to almost be a symbol of Chris Yost's plucky revamp of the longtime series having some great elements without seeming to gell into a solid whole. New Warriors old and new unite to free their new friend Haechi (and Sun-Girl) from being captured by some zealous new Inhumans who wish to kill off humans and only allows those "worthy" new Inhumans to live. The art by Marcus To is great, and as always Yost's genius seems to shine in the banter and one liners from his cast in mid-battle. The plot, however, seems to be trying so far to be far reaching and important that it is attaining the opposite effect. This series could benefit from simplier and more effective stories, as the characters are all finally assembled and interacting regularly.

Superior Spider-Man #32: Thought that the era of "superior" Spider-Man ended in April when Doctor Octopus finally relinquished control of Spider-Man's body back to Peter Parker so he could save everyone from the Green Goblin in a sloppy yet crudely entertaining spectacle back in April? Well, one has underestimated Marvel's zeal to hype up a future crossover story as well as sell an extra issue of anything, especially for five dollars. That crossover story is "Spider-Verse", which was teased within Marvel's free offering for "Free Comic Book Day" and involves every single alternate reality version of Spider-Man (even those that didn't exist before) teaming up to fight Morlun. Not only will this play out in "Amazing Spider-Man" with crossovers into other series, but it will spawn a real "Spider-Man Team-Up" series to follow. This issue starts that ball rolling as Christos Gage (working off Dan Slott's plot) teams up with artists Giuseppe Camuncoli and Adam Kubert to start the "edge of Spider-Verse" to set it all up. Via a time travel story involving "Spider-Man 2099" towards the end of the "superior" era, Spider-Ock found himself zapped into the year 2099 unexpectedly. As usual, his attempts to sort things out involved thefts, tearing into hapless people and talking like a Saturday morning cartoon villain from 1984 in order to build a time machine. Unfortunately, ever since "Age of Ultron", time is broken so all he does is wind up traveling to different parallel universes - in which every Spider-Man is being killed one by one. Blaming this on Peter Parker's weakness, Ock settles to unite the rest of reality's Spider-Men to combat the threat head on. Slott and Gage display an impressive knowledge of previous issues of "What If?" as well as other souces, both recent and ancient, in gathering (or killing off) alternate Spider-Men. These include "Spider-Man: India" from 2004, "What If: Spider-Man vs. Wolverine" from 2008, "Spider-Girl 2020" from Tom DeFalco's line of "Time's Arrow" novels from 1998, and even "Fantastic Five Spider-Man" from the very first issue of "What If?" from 1977. The art is great and the pace is very fast, even if keeping Morlun masked seems dubious since the free comic already confirmed him as the story's threat. One may be dismayed that it's taken the most evil version of Spider-Man to unite them across dimensions, but at least this one shot establishes the stakes properly.

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #14: Nick Spencer and Steve Leiber, alongside co-artist Rich Ellis and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg, continue along with this quirky series that seems to resist the cancellation axe. The crazy capers of Boomerang's hapless crew continue with an adventure which fleshes out Overdrive's origin as well as his brief fling with the new Beetle. Unfortunately for all of them, they may have pushed the Shocker too far. As always, the visual cues and non stop humor sell this series more than any plots do, and readers who have stuck with this series this long, including enduring two shamelss fill in issues, will find more of what they love here.

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