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Picks of comic book week: One space monkey beats three ninja turtles

Hardly the most trippy thing Mike Allred has drawn.
Midtown Comics

Silver Surfer #3


Book of the week: Silver Surfer #3

Dan Slott's career as a writer has certainly risen to new heights over his past decade at Marvel Comics. Beginning as a quirky niche writer on content such as "GLA" and "She-Hulk", he is now a virtual A-lister who has helped steer the destiny of "Amazing Spider-Man" since 2008 and has been the lead writer of that franchise since fall 2010. He's written at least two issues of that series which sold over half a million copies each, and plans one Spider-Man related crossover every year. This elevated status and importance has at times seemed to stretch his talents thin enough that one can see some cracks in his narrative armor, and he has been apart of the franchise long enough that a vocal minority wants him to go (as any writer on any comic tends to get once they're running it past three or four years straight). Yet it is this new relaunch of what was once the star title in Marvel's "space comics" which seems to be bringing out the old school "quirk" of Dan Slott once more.

A major contributing factor could be the art by co-storyteller, Mike Allred (alongside colors by Laura Allred). Writers have geared stories towards their artists since the medium began, and the off the wall imagination of the Allreds likely inspire similar things within Slott. How else to explain a series which is part psychological comedy, part complicated space opera? This series took a break since the end of April, yet continues on as if it never left. The ever stoic Silver Surfer has been manipulated into a battle involving the Impericon (an "impossible" planet sized city) and its' leader Incredulous Zed over the fate of the manifestation of all of potential, the Never-Queen. Thrown into the mix is Dawn Greenwood, a random woman from a small town hotel who is now having the sort of space adventure that might give the Fantastic Four a fit.

There have been attempts to give a rigid space character a "funny sidekick" before, such as Pip the Troll during the "Infinity Watch" era and Cammi (to Drax) during the "Annihilation" era of space comics. Dawn evolves above both of them by being both down to earth yet energetically curious and courageous. She may have the fashion sense of "Little Dot" from the defunct Harvey Comics, but she's nothing like the sort of women the Surfer has usually been paired with. As one could expect, the Surfer faces down Zed while Dawn helps save her fellow prisoners and ultimately the universe, but it is the execution which saves this. Whether it is with trippy art or slapstick comedy or even an explanation of the "Power Cosmic" which knocks on the fourth wall, this conclusion of the opening arc is a delight from page to page. There are some jokes which push the envelope of disbelief too far for comfort (such as the Surfer channeling the "Three Stooges" during a battle), but such things prevent this series from becoming as stuffy or complicated as many "space comics" can be.

Space may be "hot" with the launch of a "Guardians of the Galaxy" film and the upcoming sequel to "Star Wars". Ever since the start of "Annihilation" in 2006, Marvel's line of space comics have all seemed to follow a similar tone and flow as first established by Keith Giffen, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. "Silver Surfer" exists in a space apart from that, and is delightfully proud of this fact. One will never see black leather or cybernetic armor in this series, but one will find some snappy dialogue, jaw dropping art and some imaginative comedy metaphors. Fans who may think they have Slott's number after so many years on Spider-Man should give "Silver Surfer" a whirl and see a dash of what made him a rising star to begin with, matched alongside some of the best art in the industry.

Honorable mentions:

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #34-35: Due to a random shipping glitch at the local comic shop this column relies upon, no issues of IDW's terrific TMNT relaunch were available since April. Happily, that means a double dose of the ongoing series this week, which allows one to truly appreciate the long and short term work being done on this series by its' creative team. Currently, that stands at writers Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz and Bobby Curnow alongside returning artist Mateus Santolouco and regular colorist Ronda Pattison, who continue on their stride of providing quality comics. As always, the true strength of this relaunch is the ability of Eastman and Waltz to pay homage to the history of the Turtles with new innovations which fit with the times. To this end, a 21st century take on the "Return to New York" story sees the Turtles, Splinter, and their allies Casey and April return to the city after a climatic battle against the Foot left them wounded (mentally and physically). They've split up and each issue seems to follow different chunks of the cast as they progress and react to events that unfold. All of this is flanked by top notch art by Santolouco, who is quickly filling the void left by initial artist Dan Duncan in making the series his own.

Casey Jones has just run into his father, the abusive and bulky Hun, who has offered to let him join his revitalized Purple Dragons gang, or be killed for opposing his bosses in the Foot. Meanwhile, April and Donatello seek out their eccentric scientist friend Harold for some hi-tech help, as Raph and Mikey keep an eye on their enemy's enemy, Old Hob. Casey's friend Angel (a woman of color and an immigrant from the 2003 era cartoon) winds up tagging along with April and Donatello, and meeting the IDW version of the robot turtle, "Metalhead". The results soon develop into a mixture of character focus and enough fast paced action to appease any ninja junkie. The biggest surprises include Angel developing into a revision of the original Mirage Studios vigilante, "Nobody" (circa "Tales of the TMNT #2", circa 1987) and a perennially simple monster like Slash being allowed to evolve beyond a one note act. The true sign of a quality series is when even the supporting characters within a story go through a progression of their arcs alongside the main cast (which gets deeper and deeper with every issue, including these two). Overall, IDW's TMNT continues to be a model example of how to remake an iconic franchise into a new, bold, and entertaining narrative for both old and new fans. Any who dismiss it as merely another nostalgia piece are seriously missing out on something grand.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time #1: This officially kicks off the extra TMNT mini series for the season in a colorful and fun filled manner. The title is exactly the same as a much beloved arcade game from 1991-1992 whose port to the Super Nintendo is still considered one of the best "beat 'em ups" games ever made. Even the biggest obstacle facing a series such as this - that it is spinning off from an annual which is running at least a month late - fades to nothing as IDW's editorial team playfully admits as much on the back cover and works with it. All that is known is that one minute the Turtles were training, and the next they've been zapped to the prehistoric era. Now they're running from dinosaurs and having fights with Utrom aliens, all while having to save Raph and his new pet. Paul Allor writes this lighthearted romp, although if one is honest, the real stars here are Ross Campbell and Bill Crabtree on art and colors (respectively). The Turtles look adorable as ever, and the artists take full advantage of the script to deliver on jungle battles, aliens, and no end of dinosaurs. The premise may be paper thin, but the ride is well worth it.

Daredevil #4: Mark Waid, Chris Samnee and colorist Javier Rodriguez wrap up their first arc in their new "season" of "the man without fear" which now features Matt Murdock and his supporting players Foggy Nelson and Kirsten McDuffie in San Francisco instead of Manhattan. This opening yarn pitted Daredevil against another blind vigilante with super powers - the Shroud - as well as the latest incarnation of his old nemesis, the Owl. The result is a fast paced conclusion which shows how far Daredevil has gone by using Shroud to show us where he's been. As always, Waid has the voice of his lead down pact while Samnee and Rodriguez go to town on the visuals, even if this issue has the unfortunate fate of being a "less great" issue of a perennially "very great" series. The metaphor with Shroud is quite blunt, and the Owl's latest empowering incident is a rush even by comic book standards. Regardless, the issue manages to make it all work with it's usual brilliant execution and mastery of comic book fundamentals. After relying on mostly villains from other rogues galleries for much of his run, one hopes to see more of Daredevil's sparring partners in the fear future.

Original Sin #4: Midway through, and this crossover event story still isn't terrible! Jason Aaron continues to write what has become a rare thing at Marvel Comics; a line wide crossover event which reads as a comprehensible narrative by itself. The murder of the Watcher is merely the tip of the iceberg as it turns out that the Winter Soldier may not be turning "heel", and that Nick Fury has scores more secrets for retroactive continuity to fill. The story stumbles with some of the details - such as Dr. Strange and Punisher believing that Wolverine and the Hulk committed a murder merely to offer an obligatory "heroic misunderstanding fight" - but on the whole manages to work as an engaging mystery. The script still has too many characters to avoid feeling cluttered, and the last page reveal only works if Aaron is willing to take a side detail from "Fear Itself" (a past event) seriously. The art by Mike Deodato and colorist Frank Martin does the job of providing a dark and edgy mood for the piece, even if that is undermined by scenes in strange dimensions or with freaks such as the Orb as major characters. Although nothing spectacular, Aaron is earning high marks for surpassing the very low bar set by previous event train-wrecks such as "Age of Ultron", "Fear Itself", and "Avengers vs. X-Men". Considering how obligatory such series seem, this is definitely a win.

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