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Picks of comic book week: Not even trickster gods can tolerate speed dating

Loki: Agent of Asgard #2

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The weekly treasure trove of the best comics from March 5th, 2014!

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Midtown Comics
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Midtown Comics

Book of the week: Loki: Agent of Asgard #2

It can be easy to be cynical with regards to Marvel Comics giving Thor's old nemesis Loki his own ongoing series during the height of his popularity in Marvel Studios' line of films. While Kieron Gillen wrote a younger version as his lead for years in two titles, he never was named in the actual title of either series ("Journey into Mystery" and "Young Avengers", respectively). Al Ewing (writer of "Mighty Avengers") and artist Lee Garbett, alongside colorist Nolan Woodard have gotten the chance to ride the Zeitgeist with a premise that mingles the notion of Loki as a handsome, even romantic lead in an adventure series which also throws in some mystical espionage acts. Much like other great new launches like "Black Widow" and "She-Hulk", this series wisely tells complete stories in every issue while having subplots roll over throughout the series, allowing every issue to be a satisfying chunk of story instead of merely a chapter in a trade collection.

The premise is simple enough; in order to wipe his slate of past crimes against Asgard clean, Loki is performing missions at the behest of the three biggest goddesses of his home realm, collectively called the "All-Mother". In the previous issue, he used trickery to purge Thor of an outside influence which was possessing him. This time, he's being tasked with tracking down the sister of his old comrade in arms, Amora the Enchantress. Her name is Lorelei and she was created by legendary "Thor" scribe Walter Simonson in 1984, and she hasn't been seen on panel in roughly thirteen years. It is revealed that she's been performing spectacular cons and robberies on Earth, and the "All-Mother" wants her back to face her own crimes. To this end Loki has to pursue her to the ends of the earth; from Paris, France to a speed-dating event in New York City. However, that speed-dating event brings with it an unexpected factor in Verity Willis, a new character who manages to fascinate even the "god of lies" himself.

Although this may not be a comic which reinvents the wheel, what it does offer it does with unmistakable style and flair. Ewing writes Loki as a ne'er-do-well who is easy to root for even when he lies or cheats to get what he wants, and when he proves he's on nobody's side but his own. His dialogue is fun and he manages to mix in comic book lore and mythology from the continuity mine while presenting them in enough modern day settings that this comic can't be confused for a dense "Dungeons & Dragons" campaign. The artwork by Garbett and Woodard is also crisp with smooth lines and lively colors, and a great design for a new female lead like Verity. On the whole, this series is both a lot of fun as well as easily accessible while playing well with characters and elements which date back decades. The debut of "Mighty Avengers" was mired for some fans by it's initial regular artist; "Loki" bares no such demerit and should be a must read for fans of Thor, capers, or entertaining Marvel comics in general.

Honorable mentions:

Archer & Armstrong #18: A new chapter of this series begins as it establishes the "Mission: Improbable" arc which will see Fred Van Lente's titular leads crossing over with another Valiant Entertainment series, "Bloodshot & the Hard C.O.R.P.S." for the next two months. Crossovers can often be annoying for the fan on a budget, but there are some positives to consider. "Bloodshot" is written by Christos Gage, another under appreciated writer from Marvel Comics who is well known for solid work. It also will only be until April, rather than for months and years on end such as from the "big two". In addition, the premise is astonishingly simple. In the previous arc, Archer took over control of what was left of the global secret society known as "the Sect" whose factions covertly run the world, as well as making up with his ally Armstrong. However, he's earned no end of enemies and this has led to Bloodshot and his cabal of government operatives/mercenaries being tasked with capturing Archer. No time is taken to explain who Bloodshot is beyond a mercenary with a cool design, which is fine as that's the role he plays to the hilt in this issue. Artist Pere Perez and longtime colorist David Baron are given ample opportunity to shine with an issue which pits Archer and Bloodshot in mortal combat for at least half of it. It's a comic book duplication of a "John Woo" action sequence, complete with the director's trademark doves as a sly homage. In the end this opening chapter may have just been a spectacle of battle, but it does this with such pizzazz that it hardly matters.

Quantum & Woody: Goat #0: Ever since the franchise's original creation in 1997, it has been known for not only being a quirky superhero buddy comedy, but also a comic which has an animal mascot. As the title suggests, it is the titular goat, who is in this incarnation actually has super-powers. Regular writer James Asmus and initial regular artist Tom Fowler unite with two colorists to bring readers a tale of the goat's past. As can be expected with this series, the focus is more on jokes than sense, as the goat apparently knew both Eric and Woody when they were kids and stumbled upon them while on a mad quest to mate with Dolly, the cloned sheep. It all ended with the goat being kidnapped by their future enemies and experimented upon many times. The issue ends on a bizarre note as the Goat may or may not contain the imprint of their deceased father's mind. Fowler seems to own this series in terms of artwork like no other who has worked on it so far, and as always the gags and one-liners are on par with some of the best sitcoms on TV. As always, this series is a barrel of laughs, for either man or livestock.

Avengers A.I. #10: One of Marvel Comics' more bizarre new launches continues on as Hank Pym, his robot Avengers, and some guest stars from "Uncanny Avengers" (Cap and Rogue) save the world from a threat from the virtual reality world for artificial intelligences, "the Diamond", which was causing carnage in the "real" world. Meanwhile, agent Chang and Jocasta continue their hunt for wayward life model decoys that plays into the hands of the series' main villain, Dimitrios. Sam Humphries and artist Andre Lima Araujo have a lot of fun having the Avengers battle a literal "spam app" in monstrous digital form, but as usual this series seems to not be the sum of its parts. There is a lot of imagination here, but things always seem a tad too hollow despite the cast being made up of robots. The fact that Dimitrios has little personality besides being the series villain, in an addition to a bland design (Iron Man in a sports jacket, literally) only adds to this sense of malaise. On the other hand, the art is often imaginative in terms of backgrounds and it does offer an eclectic cast for fans of more obscure characters.

Iron Man #22: The "Iron Metropolis" arc by Kieron Gillen and Joe Bennett comes to a close with a battle royal between the armored Stark brothers (Tony and Arno) and three malcontents who have gained access to three of the Mandarin's powerful alien rings. The tide turns when one of them, angry journalist Red Threat, turns on her allies once she realizes how insane they truly are in their zeal for vengeance. Unfortunately, both she and them wind up mauled not by Iron Man, but by the dark elf Malekith, who has decided to become the villain for the next story line. To be blunt, Gillen's run on this series has seen its peaks and valleys, from quirky ideas to an extended "retcon" of Tony Stark's past in space to this series, which was a decided rebound. The action spectacle was more routine than intended, but the promise of an unexpected conflict with one of Thor's enemies promises more interesting things in the future. The artwork by Bennett is especially brought to life by Scott Hanna's inks and Guru eFX's colors. While one would expect this book to sour higher given it's $3.99 cover price, it always has a knack of remaining just interesting enough to avoid abandoning.

New Warriors #2: Christ Yost continues his revival of this famous 90's teen superhero series while mixing in elements from across the entire scope of the Marvel Universe. His cast spans both the previous "New Warriors" volumes but also "Nova", "Scarlet Spider", and "Superior Spider-Man Team-Up" and features villains he introduced in "X-Men: Giant Size #1", circa 2011. New characters such as the Atlantian Faira Sar Namora/Watersnake and the Inhuman named Mark are quickly thrown into the mix in a plot which assembles them in a manner which is both fascinating and crude. A squad of hunters called the "Evolutionaries" are spanning the globe and seeking to kill anyone and anything which isn't a human being: distinctions such as mutants, Inhumans, clones, mutated super-humans or Atlantians don't matter one wit to their end game. Diving right into the action gives artist Marcus To and colorist David Curiel tremendous opportunity to shine, and this issue allows readers to meet some of the newer characters to slightly better degrees. One can't help but wonder if this is Yost's homage to the original "New Warriors" story, which saw a team of random teenage heroes assemble to fight Terrax. The difference is that was done back in 1990 in only one issue and then actual character development proceeded; this arc is going to be spread across at least three issues or more and the newer characters do not benefit from this "on the fly" style of growth. Yost appears most at home with Kaine and Aracely from "Scarlet Spider", and it is bemusing to see the formerly grim Penance now back to the perpetually bombastic Speedball, who exists to do nothing but tell jokes. Although this is hardly one of the best "All new Marvel NOW" launches this year, it's at the very least improving with every issue thus far.

She-Hulk #2: Speaking of new relaunches better than "New Warriors", this second issue of "Shulkie's" newest ongoing series by Charles Soule, Javier Pulido and colorist Munsta Vicente ran neck and neck against "Loki: Agent of Asgard" for "book of the week" for the longest time. In the end, the jade giantess lost due to a game of fate which the trickster god would have approved - a coin toss. Much as with the debut issue, the story focuses on a day in the life of the titular heroine as she tries to juggle her career as a lawyer as well as her calling as a super-hero all in one day. Trying to run her own practice proves to be daunting, especially she her last firm has blackballed her in the local community and her only employee is a creepy woman named Angie who may or may not have a magical pet monkey. A night spent drowning her sorrows alongside fellow heroine (and fellow former "Defenders" team member) Patsy Walker/Hellcat leads to an impromptu fight with yet another local branch of A.I.M. Soule has the voice of Jennifer Walters down pact, and Pulido's style has evolved into one which seems to combine the best visuals of Mike Allred or Marcos Martin into something wholly unique. She-Hulk's new costume isn't seen much but it seems to be a good update which seems inspired by the iconic designs of Jack Kirby on his various Eternals/New Gods material. Soule is wise to quickly establish a quirky supporting cast around Jennifer, knowing that no lead is any good without a strong cast around them. The finale offers a character from the "Fantastic Four" franchise who has been unwisely neglected despite his strong story material for so long - Kristoff Vernard, the heir of Dr. Doom. This series is off to a fantastic start, and requires very little prior knowledge of the character's dense history to appreciate.