Another run down of the best comic books for this week, March 26th, 2014!
Book of the week: Silver Surfer #1
Another week has begun, which means another comic book franchise sees a relaunch as a part of the "All-New Marvel NOW!" editorial push for the year. Some of these are series which are merely starting over with a fresh "number one" issue which follows right after the previous issue in an obvious short-term cash grab, such as the new "Daredevil" and "Hulk" debuts. Others are reviving series which had been canceled for years, such as "New Warriors" or "She-Hulk". This week's "Silver Surfer" is more of the former, brought to readers by the A-list creative team of Dan Slott ("Amazing Spider-Man", "Superior Spider-Man"), and the dynamic artistic duo of Michael and Laura Allred ("FF", "X-Statix").
Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby during their historic run on "Fantastic Four" in 1966, the character has had a long history of not only being attached to that franchise, but branching off on his own. His first ongoing series began in the late 60's and lasted eighteen issues, which at the time was not considered a success. However, his second stab at an ongoing series in 1987 lasted a whopping eleven years and 146 issues, further cementing his iconic status in the Marvel Universe as a space faring former herald of Galactus trying to redeem himself to both the universe and his own eyes. The Surfer was so popular, FoxKids took a shot at giving him his own animated series in 1998. His third attempt at an ongoing series in 2003 lasted even less than his first, and that brings readers to today, when Slott and the Allreds give it their best try.
The Silver Surfer has hardly been the easiest character to write, and Marvel's own remade "space comics" of the last decade have largely moved around him. He's a character who is virtually unbeatable and indestructible via his "power cosmic", and so he can rarely be challenged physically. Yet he is also a character who works best within stories regarding self discovery and emotional pathos, or temptation. Both Slott and the Allreds are known not only for big ideas and bold imaginations, but also unique senses of humor to much of their work. They also have twigged that the character suffers for lack of any supporting cast, and thus "Silver Surfer #1" not only reintroduces readers to the titular space hero, but also to the female lead he'll share this series alongside who acts very much as a opposing point of view.
As always, the Surfer is exploring space and seems to assist yet another race of beings in his never ending attempt to make up for his sins as Galactus' herald. He is a figure who inspires both awe and fear to many in the cosmos despite his most noble efforts. He quickly meets a figure called "Incredulous Zed", a three eyed, two mouthed being who is in charge of "the Impericon", an "impossible palace" which caters to every commercial whim in space yet is also the target of attack. We are also introduced to Dawn, who runs a small but successful hotel in Anchor Bay, Boston alongside her father and globe-trotting twin sister, Eve. While Eve has a zeal to explore and adventure, Dawn is very much content to remain at Anchor Bay and the hotel for her entire life. Unfortunately, she finds herself zapped across space to be used as leverage against Surfer by Zed, and from there, their bizarre adventure has only begun.
Most of the appeal to this series will likely be Allreds' art, which is as glorious and imaginative as the concept suggests. The space sequences are full of bizarre beings and creative locations, while the Anchor Bay segments ground things in some sense of comparative reality. Despite that, Dawn does seem to enjoy the sorts of spotted dresses that Harvey Comics' "Little Dot" would have adored. Although there are secrets and a hint of danger to come, the book has the sort of quirky charm as many of Mike Allred's works have had. The result is a simple yet effective opening issue which creates a charming set up for one of Marvel's most well known characters and offers the promise of much more. It is about time Norrin Radd moved on from his lost love Shalla-Bal, and Dawn seems to be just the heroine for that role. Overall, one can chalk up another success for Marvel's latest franchise revamp.
Bloodhound: Crowbar Medicine #5: Dark Horse Comics' revival of a vastly entertaining and innovative franchise once published by DC Comics comes to the end of its' current run, with the sort of action packed and blood soaked climax that fans of the series have come to expect. Ex cop, ex-con and current semi-FBI consultant Travis "Clev" Clevenger has once again united with FBI agent Saffron Bell on another harrowing case involving rogue super-humans. Unfortunately, this has been his worst; the zeal of Dr. Bradly Morgenstern to apply powers to people he sees as "fit" has resulted such violent chaos that Clev has lost his young daughter to the carnage. Forced to team up with the mysterious masked man, Terminus, Clev and Bell locate Bradly at a dam and come face to face with not only his latest team of living weapons, but the man himself. In the end, Dr. Morgenstern learns the hard way that when the chips are down, Clev's greatest strength isn't his ability to profile targets, but the fact that he's a hulking mass of a man with no quit in him and a very high tolerance for pain. Dan Jolley, Leonard Kirk, Robin Riggs and Moose Baumann once again unite to script, pencil, ink, and color (respectively) to create a harrowing yet satisfying conclusion to this long overdue continuation of their "Bloodhound" series. One hopes that this isn't the end of a franchise which combines the best of "The X-Files" with "Heroes" as well as offers both characters and art as deep as this cast has been.
Indestructible Hulk #20: The cover teases, "is this the final issue?" The answer is no, as the series continues with a fresh "number one" issue and a shorter title (just "Hulk") next month. Mark Waid merely wraps up his current arc and sets up the status quo for the next to provide a reasonable justification for a fresh reboot. Despite trying his best to create a new supporting cast and premise for Bruce Banner and the Hulk, he has never quite hit the same creative groove as he has on "Daredevil". The fact that this series has struggled to retain any regular artist and has spent the past year in crossovers hasn't aided things, either. One of Banner's S.H.I.E.L.D. hired laboratory assistants has turned out to be a secret Inhuman as per the "Inhumanity" tagline, and has been promptly kidnapped by yet another evil cabal of rogue scientists that the Marvel Universe has so many of. The Hulk manages to save the day, although he loses his position within S.H.I.E.L.D. and finds himself shot in the final panels. Joe Bennett provides the art with Val Staples on colors and both Ruy Jose and Scott Hanna on inks, and it is perfectly serviceable for what amounts to a lot of smashing amid a lot of narration boxes. Waid has a good voice for both Banner and the Hulk, but all but the most rabid of fans may seek more for their four dollars an issue.
Superior Spider-Man #30: Dan Slott and sporadic co-writer Christos Gage establish the penultimate issue of the "superior" era, which brings Dr. Octopus' tenure as possessing the body of Spider-Man to an end. All this happens as the arrogant villain turned ego-maniacal anti-hero has utterly failed in his mission statement to be a "better" Spider-Man than his bitter arch nemesis. New York City is in flames due to the efforts of the Green Goblin, and what few people that Ock genuinely cares for are mere targets for his horde of "Goblin Army" minions (which include Menace and Phil Urich). Not even the efforts of Miguel O'Hara - the Spider-Man of the year 2099 - can turn the tide for him. He is forced to admit defeat just as the stubborn "soul" of Peter Parker finally reclaims his memories and eventually, his body for the final showdown. Giuseppe Camuncoli once again knocks the pencils out of the park with both robots, web-slingers, goblins and the Mindscape; Antonio Fabela's colors only enhance Camuncoli's already exceptional work. The previous issue's letter column saw the editor all but admit that this story was "embellished" or "enhanced" beyond its' original length, and with all due respect to the creative team involved, such a fact was obvious without such a statement. The angle of Dr. Octopus successfully mind-swapping with Spider-Man and making a mess of his life without hardly anyone of Peter's cast noticing such jaw dropping behavior in a universe with shape shifting aliens, mutants, robots, or clones is a fine angle for an arc or two, but not for over fifteen months. This issue offers the final rise of Marvel's ultimate hero and an overdue condemnation of the sort of "violent, emotionally cold and seemingly superior" tactics that Ock embraced for a very crowd pleasing moment. The only blemish is that it doesn't make sense if one remembers previous issues - reliving Dr. Octopus being zapped with Peter's memories from last year from his perspective wouldn't have had the full effect if Ock truly "deleted" those memories earlier in the year. However, this lapse in story logic is more acceptable than watching MJ, May Parker, and the Avengers fail to recognize a villain in their friend's clothing for so long. Fortunately, both Slott and Gage are attempting to make up for their muddled middle with a finale to their story line that so far is sticking its' landing with a lot of action, suspense, and key character moments. It all comes down to next month's ending blockbuster, but at the very least this series has reached its' prime at the right moment.
Uncanny Avengers #18: Daniel Acuna returns to regular art chores on this united X-Men and Avengers book by writer Rick Remender, and provides some of the best positive attributes to a run which has devolved into the sort of complicated and isolated nonsense that usually only is found at Fan Fiction.net. The gist is that the "Apocalypse Twins" successfully organized the destruction of Earth by the Celestials by manipulating Thor from across time and killed everyone, except for Earth's mutants who were beamed to an ark by Scarlet Witch (who is also dead). They have formed a "utopia" called Planet X in which they have all been brainwashed to forget all of their human sons, daughters, friends and family members and embrace their new status quo as better. However, this global brainwashing is apparently inefficient as Beast, Havok, and Wasp fight a plucky but doomed effort to blast a MacGuffin and begin a reset of the time line. Havok and Wasp are also married, have a human daughter, and have somehow hidden from an entire planet of psychics, super genius types, and other various sorts led by Magneto. If this sounds both insanely complicated and narrowly indulgent, that's only because it is. The issue isn't that this story fails to work as a story told by Marvel's premiere "Marvel NOW" title intended to unite two franchises and be a go-to for mainstream readers. It fails as a story which means anything to anyone besides what a particular writer wants to do with his favorite toys for a while before he puts them back, somewhat mangled and worn for their trouble. It intends to be deep and passionate, but instead it merely comes off as pretentious under its' own weight. Beyond some entertaining moments and some consistently beautiful artwork, "Uncanny Avengers" doesn't work now, and hasn't worked for quite some time. Whether it will work in the future is anyone's guess.