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Picks of comic book week: Not even Greg Land can kill a book this swell

Mighty Avengers #9

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The weekly heap of the best comic books for April 9th, 2014!

Best comics for 4/9/14-slide0
Midtown Comics
Shame this was spoiled before last Halloween.
Midtown Comics

Book of the week: Mighty Avengers #9

When the original run of "Mighty Avengers" was written by Brian M. Bendis and Dan Slott from 2007-2010, it was one of only three core "Avengers" titles that Marvel was publishing. By the time Al Ewing would relaunch this series in August 2013, it was one of up to eight "Avengers" titles either in print or due to be coming out soon. To say that the amount of Avengers titles Marvel is publishing is reaching the absurdly exploitative numbers of X-Men titles published in the 1990 is an understatement. It becomes even more ironic when one realizes that Marvel is still publishing at least at least six X-Men related comic book series. The dilemma of this is that not all of these series can thrive, especially when some of these titles are written by "hot" writers like Jonathan Hickman, regardless of quality. Throw in the initial (and returning) regular artist being Greg "Photoshop" Land as the best known part of the creative team, and it is no wonder that sales for this series have fallen at least 64% within five months. Regardless, Ewing is crafting a terrifically entertaining series featuring a lot of B and C-List characters, including giving much needed panel time to many newer characters.

With the departure of the "superior" Spider-Man as well as the crossover that kicked this series off, this roster of Avengers have settled themselves as being "heroes of the people" who deal with threats in New York City as opposed to the other Avengers teams which tend to deal with international and intergalactic events. One member, the mysteriously masked Ronin, is engaging in some quest to protect a magical MacGuffin from a cabal of supernatural beings at the behest of one of Dr. Strange's old rivals, Kaluu. Having stumbled into the "Mighty Avengers" team and manipulated them to his ends, Ronin winds up fighting some "Ninja Were-Snakes" alone and getting unmasked. The revelation would have had more effect had it not been leaked online back in October. The rest of the issue continues from where the previous one left off with Black Marvel leading the squad against the European evil scientist Dr. Positron - who turns out to be his estranged son, Max Brashear. Ewing does a great job in filling in the back story of the character which was left open from his original creator, Kevin Grevioux, back in 2008. To this end we get the antics of "Doc Brashear" as a pulp-like adventuring super-scientist fighting weird threats around the world with his first son, Kevin, from 1972-1999. Additional highlights include Monica Rambeau and She-Hulk combining their powers in a vibrant way.

The return of Greg Land to the art chores is the only demerit to this issue, as is common of any issue of anything he "draws" lately. He reuses the same faces and poses in his work endlessly, and that's without claims of him "tracing" from photographs and magazine images. In fairness, his work here isn't as blatantly cribbed as some of his "Iron Man" work, and Jay Leisten does some great work inking his "pencils". The positive is always Al Ewing's writing, which simultaneously finds the right voices for his cast while gleefully embracing both official continuity and the far out potential of the Marvel Universe. Nothing that is done here contradicts Grevioux's work in "Adam: Legend of the Blue Marvel" or his subsequent anthology stories; if anything, it adds to the history of a character whose premise implies a lot of depth. The conflict between Adam and Max plays up to some expected tropes, yet it works with the bizarre back story the issue gives them. Although She-Hulk, Monica, and Blade (yes, he was Ronin) don't have much to do in this issue, everything they do is eye catching and entertaining.

"Mighty Avengers" is getting lost in the shuffle in terms of sales, but in terms of quality may be one of the best of the "Avengers" series. Considering it may struggle to survive past a fifteenth or sixteenth issue, it is a run which is to be appreciated while it lasts. Ewing is a master at juggling a large cast and each issue seems to leave the reader wanting more, which is precisely as it should be.

Honorable mentions:

Invincible #110: Robert Kirkman and longtime artist Ryan Ottley (alongside Cliff Rathburn's inks and John Rauch's colors) essentially detail what may be the worst day in their lead hero's life, which is a feat considering he's been involved in several brutal planet destroying space battles. Having returned from an other dimensional adventure spawned purely by his own obsessions, he finds that he's not only been betrayed by his ally Robot, but six months have passed and Atom Eve is dumping him while remaining in his house. To top it off, the Viltrumite warrior Anyssa shows up out of nowhere and literally rapes Invincible on panel. That isn't to make a crude joke like many immature cads do during video game microphone rants; Mark Grayson is actually sexually assaulted by a more powerful woman as the climax to this issue. Considering how long this series has been running and how previous arcs seemed to emerge from a desire to "do what hadn't been done before", one wonders if some of the events seen here weren't divined from the same inkling. Although sexual assault or the threat of it is fairly common against nearly any female heroine one can mention, it is extremely rare for it to occur with a male hero, not to mention a lead. The real issue will be how well it works and is handled as a story line unto itself besides a shock value moment in a series which has had a laundry list of such moments over its' long run. Previous years saw Eve have an abortion for little reason other than to discuss a major character having one, and one hopes this one will be handled in a superior manner.

Bloodshot and the H.A.R.D. Corps #21: Picking up from both the previous issue as well as the last "Archer & Armstrong" issue, the "Mission Improbable" crossover comes to a finale that is both full of action and convenience. The titular Bloodshot and Armstrong both fight and unite for a cause which liberates Archer and some kids that Bloodshot wishes to protect, while serving the goals of both groups. The end of hostilities in exchange for dialogue, deals, and compromises may seem a bit bland, but it is at least more sane than how the "big two" tend to end crossovers (i.e. the side that hits hardest wins). The issue is very much produced by a committee with Christos Gage and Joshua Dysart on the script with four artists and two colorists bringing it to life. As a "Archer & Armstrong" reader, this crossover does a good job of not confusing anyone with continuity although it doesn't provide much incentive to try out the new title once the crossover is over. The briefness of it (four issues across two months) also benefits the story, as it isn't quite the grandest thing in the universe. Now that this crossover is over before it wore out its' welcome, the next arc of "Archer & Armstrong" will seem like a breath of fresh air. One hopes that the union of "Archer & Armstrong" and "Quantum & Woody" come August will be more successful due to a similarity of tone. This crossover was entertaining, but had the sort of clash in premises as if Marvel's "Incredible Hercules" had crossed over with "X-Force".

Daredevil #1.50: Considering this month marks the 50th anniversary of the creation of the franchise (by Stan Lee and Bill Everett), Marvel Comics wasted no time with their standard anthology anniversary issue for an inflated price. Fortunately, the cast of creators involved represents some of the greatest in the industry, and the title character isn't thrust into an attention grabbing stunt as a part of the celebration. After all, the "Fantastic Four" celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2011 by seeing Human Torch killed off. The lead story is a "very special look into the future" by regular writer Mark Waid and regular colorist/artist Javier Rodriguez, which envisions a middle aged Matt Murdock still living in San Francisco with a son, a public identity and ties to politics. It offers an imaginative even if mostly futile story which pays homage to some of the work of former "Daredevil" writer Frank Miller in which an "old hero" takes on a kinky female enemy. Although the story "teases" some developments for the character for the regular series, any "future" set story in an ongoing universe becomes moot once the writers/editors of a series change, or the whim of the corporate overlord changes. The second strip is by the former creative team of Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev which is a prose story which literally introduces a "Mary Sue" character for an out of continuity tale. The last story entertains as a humorous homage to the bizarre 1970's era when Matt Murdock attempted to conceal his double life by pretending to be his own twin brother, Mike, by Karl & Kurt Kesel and inked by the legendary Tom Palmer. There is also a two-page preview of the latest relaunch of the "Elektra" spin off. Overall, this is a beautiful if not a bit weird anniversary issue, but one which also doesn't offend anyone either and merely embraces the legacy of this terrific character and looks ahead instead of backward. Those wishing to save five dollars, however, may not lose much by skipping it.

Iron Fist: the Living Weapon #1: Kaare K. Andrews is best known for drawing more covers across the Marvel Universe than interior work, but has come out of hiding to write and draw the first Iron Fist ongoing series since "Immortal Iron Fist" ended in 2009. Much like that series, Andrews seems to have been inspired more by the character's origin in the 1970's than virtually anything which has come since, even if it contradicts none of it. This opening issue seeks to introduce readers to Daniel Rand and his mindset before kicking off another adventure involving hordes of ninjas and the realm of K'un L'un. The theme is that despite all of his heroic exploits, Rand is a man who was given incredible power and skill in an otherworldly realm and chose to focus them for violence and revenge, at least initially. Now that his vengeance has long been sated and many of his friends have settled down, Rand finds himself living an empty life of elitism, kung-fu and nameless sexual conquests (he literally cannot remember the name of his "woman of the night"). Andrews' art is as kinetic and vibrant as can be expected, and he seems to be at home with the character in motion against hordes of enemies. As a story, it is essentially the first ten minutes of a TV pilot which may lead to better things in subsequent installments, but as a tale unto itself it is a bit simplistic. It doesn't reinvent the wheel and offers what one would expect of a typical Iron Fist story, but does what it does well enough.

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #11: Rumors have circulated that this low selling but much beloved series may be canceled as of it's fifteenth issue; this issue sees a hike in the cover price of a dollar to mitigate sales losses for the corporate bottom line. Such a detail might be more acceptable if this wasn't the second fill-in issue in a row. It merely uses a side detail of a previous detail (Boomerang attending a "Villains Anonymous" meeting) as justification for an anthology issue featuring different creators telling stories of various D and F-list Spider-Man villains. Tom Peyer and Carmen Carnero tell a story about Grizzly while Elliott Kalan and Nuno Plati embellish the rough life and times of the Looter. The stories unto themselves aren't bad but they're nothing of the level that Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber can attain. It frankly smacks of the editors wanting to shove in some spare stories about spare characters with some talent they wish to "audition" just before the end of "Superior Spider-Man" robbed this series of some of its' motivation. The few longtime readers of this series may be put off and drop the series entirely rather than stick it out, which could be counter productive. Overall, this isn't bad, but quite underwhelming.