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Picks of comic book week: Saving the future by punching people out in the past

Spider-Man 2099 #3

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As the relaunched "Amazing Spider-Man" seems to be struggling with entering a "hit or miss" era where the desire to promote the next "hit character" or "hit crossover" may be overshadowing everything else, something surprising has taken place. In a very short period of time, a comic which serves as both a spin-off of the finale of "Superior Spider-Man" as well as a relaunch of a hit series from the 1990's may quickly be rising as the best Spider-Man comic on the monthly shelves. This comic is the all-new "Spider-Man 2099", which sees longtime series co-creator and writer Peter David returning to one of his greatest hits alongside artist Will Sliney, who is producing the best work of his career (alongside colorist Antonio Fabela). The result has been an engaging, entertaining, and even humorous adventure of a Spider-Man out of time, albeit at the opposite end of the spectrum.

The best comics of the first week of September, 2014!
Previews World
In the future, you don't need eye holes to see out of a mask!
Previews World

Miguel O'Hara, who hails from 85 years in the future, has become stuck in the past after an adventure with (and initially against) the "Superior" Spider-Man (Doc Ock in Spider-Man's body, a story so absurd it only lasted 33 issues). Naturally, his past is our present, and after helping battle against Norman Osborn/Green Goblin/Goblin King at the end of "Superior Spider-Man", Miguel finds himself in an era he barely knows with a mission to ensure that his future grandfather Tiberius "Ty" Stone lives and his new company "Alchemax" thrives to keep his timeline in order. The biggest hurdle isn't adjusting to the new time period, but aiding in the rise of a corporation Miguel knows will become monstrously corrupt as well as ultimately headed by his arch nemesis. In the previous issue, the current CEO of Alchemax, Liz Allen, discovered that Miguel was living under an alias and has manipulated him into towing the line. Although Liz seems to quite fancy Miguel romantically (or possibly lustfully), she also is hardly above steering him into helping her company rise to prominence without outright threatening him. This means a trip to the fictional nation of Trans-Sabal to help Ty oversee a deal to sell a horde of robot "Spider-Slayers" in a mega military business transaction. Things go horribly wrong as Miguel finds himself stuck in the middle of a war between a dictator, a desperate rebel force seeking to unseat him, and one of Spider-Man's oldest and craziest villains.

The fascinating thing about this issue, besides how timely it seems to be, is that it allows Peter David to play with elements he created during his long run on "Incredible Hulk" in 1992. Originally created as a very loose stand in for Iraq during the "Gulf War", Trans-Sabal is currently being led by Jalfaha Dahn, the cousin of the original tyrannical leader David made for the fictional Middle Eastern land back in "Incredible Hulk #390" who later rose to power in a follow up issue of "New Warriors" from that same year. Yet none of this continuity back story matters or clutters this very simple issue which places Miguel in a situation where there are no clear up heroes or villains as well as an obvious path to victory. This is a perfect example of how to utilize previous continuity in a manner which is progressive for longer term fans yet is uncomplicated for newer ones. As always, David's voice for Miguel is as fresh and amusing as ever, portraying him as being more cynical than the original Spider-Man yet not seeped in bitterness or brutality. The dialogue for all of the characters is quite cracking, and the artwork is downright gorgeous.

With all of the spin-offs and relaunches out there, especially priced at $3.99 an issue, it can be hard to sort out which is worth one's time and dollars and which are not. In three short issues, "Spider-Man 2099" has proven to be yet another dynamite spin-off from the editorial branch which also brought fans the more recent "Scarlet Spider" and "Venom" relaunches.

The rest of the week's comics are below. They're good enough to be a part of this column's pull list, but are not as good as the issue above.

Big Trouble in Little China #4: The comic book sequel to the cult film of the same name by writers Eric Powell and (director) John Carpenter continues to offer the sort of banter and mystical adventure that fans have come to expect. Artist Brian Churilla and colorist Michael Garland continue to depict the quest of Jack Burton, Egg Shen, and their pet demon "Pete" to save their friend Wang from threats of the supernatural. Although our heroes succeed in retrieving three mystical jars to the underworld for the sorcerer Qiang Wu in exchange for Wang's life, they also complete his plan to not only revive the three storms (three supernatural warriors), but the infamous Lo Pan himself! Highlights, as always, include the one-liners by Burton and the interplay between him and Egg, but the delightful artwork which perfectly matches the tone of an "action comedy". Plus, Wang's wife Miao Yin arguably gets more lines of dialogue in this one issue as she ever got in the actual film the comic is based on. Unfortunately, the series' greatest strength may also be it's greatest weakness. So far, Carpenter and Powell have taken great strides to recreate the energy of the original 80's film and play up the nostalgia for it, but have done little to do too much which is new or daring. Like most sequels, this arc is simply the first movie all over again - just bigger, louder, and with references to itself. In other words, fans who just want more of what the film was doing may be pleased, but don't be surprised if many jokes, lines, or exchanges are repeated and utilized simply because of audience expectation.

Original Sin #8: In which a story about superheroes chasing after a dead alien's severed eyeballs seems to serve as a metaphor to trends that are wrong in comic books. Jason Aaron and Mike Deodato complete their crossover mini series with a story with a lot of shooting, a lot of angst, quite a lot of gore and more eyeballs than you can, well, eyeball. This still is one of the best line wide crossover mini series stories in years, but that's only because it meets the low expectations of narrative structures that previous efforts like "Fear Itself" or "AVX" could not. The attempt to make a Z-list villain like the Orb into something both strange and important is commendable. However, at eight chapters this story is a bit long and seems to almost offer a laundry list of things that "event" comics offer. Dead characters? Check. Implausible revelations? Check. Gore? Plenty. A grim tone with dour seriousness despite featuring characters named "Ant-Man" or "Doctor Strange" having a fight with monsters on the moon? Buckets full. In the end this will stand as a story in which the Watcher was murdered and there was nary any involvement from his good friends Reed Richards or Adam Brashear, and the original Nick Fury ended his run with a mess. If only more effort and promotion was undertaken for comics that are good, not important.

Black Widow #10: After last month's needless "tie in" with the Punisher's latest failing relaunch, Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto make an upswing back towards the sorts of issues they usually produce on this run. Their greatest strength and weakness are producing simple stories which are more about style and tone than narrative complexity - the end result being twenty pages which have a voice and terrific art, but which read very quickly. Edmondson is a master at crafting stories which work as single chunks as well as longer arcs, even if by this stage in the run he seems to be relying on guest stars a bit too often for comfort. This issue switches between the past and present to show how a man Natasha helped escape Pakistan despite the efforts of Hawkeye has come back to haunt her by kidnapping her friend and lawyer, Isaiah. The heroine's grey tone and dark past make great fodder for stories, even though some of the themes seem to repeat a lot. Fortunately, Noto's artwork is enough to enhance any script, and this remains a solid run for those seeking a bigger look at the spy which has taken the cinematic world by storm.

Iron Fist the Living Weapon #6: Kaare Andrew' one man crusade to break down and rebuild Daniel Rand into a bigger scale character continues to almost be more fascinating than the story he is writing and drawing itself. In New York, Brenda continues to try to protect the young K'un L'un child Pei as she seeks to flee from the dangerous forces of Davos with an egg. It hatches this issue, and the baby dragon within being cute is about the only refuge from the usual procession of darkness, violence, far out dream sequences and dashes of lust which marked Frank Miller's prime. This is naturally the middle chapter of the overall arc, as Danny seems defeated but will begin his comeback and the rebuilding process to combat his seemingly unbeatable enemies. It remains to be seen why the concept of a "rich martial arts hero with mystical combat powers" seems to be so flawed that various creators keep trying to redefine it, but Andrews' attempt certainly seeks to mirror the flair of "gritty" comics like "Ronin" from the mid 1980's.

She-Hulk #8: Released a day after series writer Charles Soule signs an exclusive deal with Marvel Comics, he, regular artist Javier Pulido and colorist Muntsa Vicente continue to paint a wild and wonderful legal world of their title heroine. This includes strange legal cases that could only happen in the Marvel Universe as well as more oddball characters to meet. The recently aged Steve Rogers is being sued for a wrongful death from way back in 1940, before he ever was Captain America. Turning to his friend and former Avengers ally She-Hulk for representation, Jen is both determined to win a high profile case for her firm as well as pressured with letting her legendary friend down at his frailest moments. Ultimately, this leads to a meeting with one of the strangest lawyers in California (which is saying something) as well as a legal showdown with the man without fear himself, Matt Murdock. As always, the art is an imaginative treat and Soule's genuine expertise in legal matters adds legitimacy to a run which, on the whole, continues to be an engaging read.

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #15: The comic that just won't be cancelled continues with its' last arc, as Nick Spencer, Steve Leiber and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg seek to finish their long run about a squad of hapless and often treacherous super villains with a bang. The Shocker's big plans for revenge end about as well as everything else in his life, and Boomerang and the others seem to capitalize on his own scheme to unite the underworld around the severed (but still chatty) cybernetic head of Silvermane. Unfortunately, they still have a gang of angry rival villains out for their blood and each team member all but competes with who can sell out the other the fastest. The irony is that considering how often Marvel's heroes fight each other, the villains here almost come off as more self aware of how fickle alliances in their professions are. By now, however, some of the running jokes are not clicking and some sign of rush to a finish line is apparent. Regardless, this has been one of Marvel's most ambitious "caper comedy" comics in years.