The weekly haul of the best, or most notable, comic books for October 9th, 2013!
Book of the week: Fearless Defenders #10
This latest incarnation of a "Defenders" series has experienced an interesting run thus far. Launched in February only two months after a previous volume of "Defenders" written by hot writer Matt Fraction was canceled for low sales, it was merged with "The Fearless" mini series which bubbled forth after the "Fear Itself" event of 2012 to create what was Marvel's first all heroine team book, "Fearless Defenders". Written by Cullen Bunn ("Venom") with regular art by Will Sliney and colors by Veronica Gandini, it saw a modest debut of just under 54,000 copies sold before promptly dropping like a stone down the top 100 sales list. Despite selling worse than the previous "Defenders" volume since June, it was decided not to cancel it, but to increase the cover price by a dollar to maximize profits in the short term to keep the book in print longer. Despite the series being popular on various Internet circles like Tumblr and gaining a lot of negative press when it seemed as if Bunn had killed off a lesbian supporting character (who was resurrected in the next issue), that amount of attention has not translated into sales. The efforts of Marvel to throw this title more rope, perhaps to avoid negative press from female bloggers, have been commendable and allowed Bunn and Sliney time to craft a stronger book than its first arc implied.
At this stage in the game, Bunn has avoided strict arcs for more "done in one" stories which connect to an overall subplot - a more successful strategy. While the cover notes that this is part of the "Infinity" crossover event, in practice this is simply yet another random adventure with the new squad of lady Defenders against a threat of the month. A drastic difference is that Bunn and Sliney have chosen to devote the lion's share of the issue towards using the events of the latest issue of "Infinity" to introduce a new character into the fold. Readers are introduced to Ren Kimura, the product of upper class parents who have sought to control her life and hobbies with regimen and routine to mold her into something like them who in the end simply wants to dance. The latest crossover event has revealed that she's descended from the Inhumans and she's suddenly burst from a cocoon with strange new powers. She finds she's hardly alone as more people are becoming cocoons around Manhattan and are not only under attack by spare space thugs from Thanos' army, but are being kidnapped by this series' main antagonist Caroline Le Fay and a gang of female villains plucked from the Marvel Handbook. Characters such as spare Spider-Man villains Mindblast and Shriek put in their first appearance in over a decade. When Valkyrie, Misty Knight and the rest of the Defenders appear, which side will Ren choose?
On the whole, this is a very by-the-numbers superhero story which likely won't offer many surprises. There is a lot of action, some snappy dialogue and explosions offered throughout. Sliney's artwork has continued to evolve during his tenure on this book, and while he's limited his "T&A" poses somewhat, he still seems to struggle with facial expressions. As has become common, the listed team of Defenders on the first page don't actually all assemble in the story within (even if missing members are at least mentioned). Considering how many comic creators save their major creative juices for properties they own, it is to be commended that Bunn is willing and able to add new characters to the Marvel Universe in Annabelle Riggs and now Ren Kimura. While Ren's introduction many be similar to how many "new mutant" stories are done in X-Men comics, that is more a flaw of the general editorial push of the Inhumans franchise more than Bunn's story itself. In addition, Bunn's eagerness to pluck heroes and villains out of obscurity for his battle scenes always warms the cockles of a hardcore fan's heart.
"Fearless Defenders" may not be long for this world despite the extra rope it's been given, but for as long as it remains it continues to be an entertaining romp featuring ladies new, old, and everything in between.
Archer & Armstrong #14: Fred Van Lente kicks off a new arc in his far reaching and often hilarious series about two unlikely allies with Valiant Comics, which means a new artist has been added to the fold. Khari Evans joins the fold flanked by regular colorist Dave Baron and as usual, maintains the general feel of the series artistically while still offering something distinct and new. Frankly, the only thing which diminishes this issue is that it is clearly a set up issue to kick off the arc more than a story unto itself. This issue reveals the origin of "the Sect", the secret cabal which controls the planet who Archer and Armstrong have been involved with since the series began. Their origins reach back into ancient Egypt and have since split into twelve factions - three of which have been dismantled by our heroes' efforts. The remaining nine are about to go to war with each other not only due to Archer seeking out his origins, but due to manipulations from within. This issue offers a splash of action and some much needed exposition, but having split its duo for now, it has lost some of the humor which is usually apparent. Regardless, the "Sect Civil War" is off to a fascinating start.
Avengers A.I. #4: Between this and "Avengers Arena", these haven't been good times for "Runaways" characters. Hank Pym and his robot Avengers (Vision, Victor Mancha, a Doombot and the mysterious Alexis) have teamed with SHIELD's Monica Chang to take on rogue artificial intelligence Dimitrios and his new army of A.I.s. Vision has been manipulated into their online city "the diamond" while the heroes have assembled to destroy its physical server on an abandoned oil rig, which turns out to be a trap. Writer Sam Humphries and artist Andre Lima Araujo (and colorist Frank D'Armata) pen an interesting story placing robots and cyborgs into the role of ostracized "other" and the battles which this provokes. Dimitrios is a robotic terrorist seeking to destroy humanity to gain robot rights, while other characters seek other solutions. As a cyborg, Victor has lived in both worlds and seems to make the ultimate sacrifice to try to save his comrades here. Araujo's art continues to seem similar to Khoi Pham's although his line work is superior, often going to town on the action or the far out internet landscapes. On the downside, Alexis continues to be a walking deus ex machina whose origins remain vague. As part of the mass expansion of the "Avengers" line, this series is hanging in there better than "Fearless Defenders" is in terms of sales so far, even if it seems to remain a more run of the mill adventure series springing forth from some ideas presented from Rick Remender's run on "Secret Avengers".
Obligatory mention - Infinity #4: This may be the best issue of this crossover event series by writer Jonathan Hickman, even if that doesn't say much. As with most crossover event stories, it is more of an attempt to put forth an editorial agenda more than it is to be a story unto itself, and this issue proves no exception. Marvel Comics are seeking to give "the Inhumans" franchise another major push across their line, more than likely due to the fact that they are a franchise similar to that of the "X-Men" which hasn't been licensed out to a different film studio as the "X-Men" have been since the late 90's. To this end Black Bolt's destruction of the Inhuman city of Attilan to spite Thanos has released their empowering Terrigen mists across the world. These mists have suddenly attached to people descended from Inhumans around the world and increased their ranks. The blurring of the line between mutants and Inhumans is interesting, as the aftermath of 2005's "House of M" proved that Terrigen mists could effect mutants, albeit often fatally. It is stated that "Maximus the Mad" rigged something so these mists only go towards secret Inhuman offspring, and that's the best explanation one will get. Thanos' son "Thane" is introduced as a healer in a far off country whose heritage has now been thrust upon him; one wonders how many seconds it took to come up with that name for Thanos' son. One supposes "Hanos" was too easy. It would have been a surprise had Marvel's official Facebook game not ruined this plot detail weeks ago. Meanwhile, Captain America tricks one of their space aliens into a false surrender meeting just to see if Thor is capable of taking one of the powerful "Builders" down. The art by Jerome Opena and Dustin Weaver continues to excel, even if the story remains bland and uninspiring. Far better space sagas by Marvel Comics can be read at the graphic novel section of any bookstore; just look for "Annihilation" or "Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning" on the spine.