Using pop culture media to try to raise awareness about serious afflictions is as old as pop culture itself. The challenge is to do so in a manner which is still informative and entertaining, without being preachy or boring. The creative team of this month's issue of "Daredevil" all rise to this challenge and exceed all expectations. They also earn an added bonus for accomplishing the feat of providing a great story for a cause which also is editorially mandated to participate in a crossover! It is fitting that such an issue would mark the last of longtime colorist Javier Rodriguez, who has also provided the art for both this issue and the last. With Alvaro Lopez on inks and the ever skilled writer Mark Waid on scripts, the result is another entertaining and deep issue of the "man without fear".
Thanks to having a minor cameo in "Original Sin", Matt Murdock gained a "vision" of his parents' home life that teased of a dark secret between his parents - boxer "Battlin'" Jack and Maggie. At first believing that his seemingly doting father was abusive, Matt sought out his mother for the first time on many years. Unfortunately, this meant stumbling into the nun's current entanglement with an illegal weapons manufacturing plant established by a corrupt U.S. general as well as a Wakandan diplomat, with all sorts of legal immunity. Left with no options when Maggie and her fellow arrested nuns are improperly extradited to the small African nation for trial, Daredevil is forced to make a wild gambit into the heart of one of the most technologically advanced places in the Marvel Universe. This means a parachute jump right into the hard of enhanced spear hunters as well as the current Black Panther, the far more ruthless sister of T'Challa, Shuri. Yet in the end, as always, it's Matt's wit and fearlessness which prevail over any super powers or martial arts contests.
Formerly a mecca, Wakanda has faced some tough times in several mini series over the past few years. They lost their previous Vibranium to Dr. Doom during "Doomwar" and T'Challa eventually left the nation he led for much of his life in disgrace after divorcing his wife, Storm. His sister Shuri has had to rule over a land which has seen unprecedented turmoil as a novice ruler. This has led to Shuri wading into increasingly corrupt waters to try to keep her nation stronger; this story paints her the closest as being a villain even if in the end she proves to be pragmatic. The real heart of the issue is discovering why Maggie truly abandoned both Matt and Jack and fled to the church after so many decades of questions and teases. Wisely, Waid chooses an answer which isn't as cliche as an abusive husband or as outlandish as aliens or super-villains. Like far too many people, Maggie was suffering from postpartum depression, anxiety, and even hallucinations after the birth of her son, and found her plight misdiagnoses and ignored by most around her due to ignorance. In a universe which is usually so full of outlandish plots involving lost or missing relatives, this revelation about Maggie seems both quaint and far more "realistic" than many other pretentious or grim comics out there.
Rodriguez may not be the same artist as the usual penciler Chris Samnee, but his lines and colors always remain stellar. From the cities of New York to the jungles of Africa, from costumed superheroes or anxious couples, it all looks brilliant without being too bogged in details. The three page fight and debate between Murdock and Shuri is an easy visual highlight in terms of pace. As always, Waid is a master at displaying the voice of his lead character as well as both biting and tender dialogue. In a medium in which nearly every hero seems to have father issues, it was sweet seeing Murdock having a moment with his estranged mom. Furthering that point, it is great to see a medium which doesn't always do right by women like comic books take some time out to bring attention to an affliction which can plague many of them. The letter page was full of facts about PPD, allowing the story to hit home the facts without being too preachy.
Mark Waid's run on "Daredevil" across this three year span has already won one deserved Eisner award win. With issues as strong as this, a repeat could be in the cards. Anything seems possible for what may be the best mainstream superhero comic Marvel produces.
Honorable mentions: comics good enough to be reviewed, but are not the "book of the week"
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Annual 2014: If it's summer, that must mean another near eight dollar annual of IDW's TMNT revamp which is mostly produced by their legendary co-creator, Kevin Eastman himself. The downside is that the annual is at least two months late; the upside is that due to its' time travel premise, such lateness almost helps things. Flanked by colorist Ronda Pattison and regular co-writer Tom Waltz, Eastman sets about recreating one of the many classic characters from the original Mirage Studios run of Ninja Turtles. The bubbly time traveling apprentice Renet, who first appeared in "TMNT #8", circa 1986 (in an issue which originally guest starred Dave Sim's "Cerebus"), is recreated here by Eastman as she once again confuses and perplexes the Turtles as she gets them into one jam after the next. To be honest, the only real change that Eastman's made to Renet (besides give her a boyfriend) is make her a blonde instead of a brunette. She is still working for a time traveling boss named Lord Simultaneous and she still has issues keeping the past, present, and future straight. As an added nod to the fans, her time scepter looks a lot like the one as seen in 1993's "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III". The plot involves Renet zapping the Turtles against their will to take part in a series of gladiatorial battles which the Dimensional Council runs for their own bemusement. They quickly ally with one of the warriors (Baltizar, a satire of many 80's film barbarians who seem to speak a mix of surfer and Shakespeare style lingo) and learn that the contests are mostly run by one member of the council in general. The rest is an excuse for one-liners and snappy one liners, all in Eastmane's trademark style. The cover price may be a bit much for some fans, but the end result is an extra long TMNT adventure guided and directed by one of the hands that made them.
The Delinquents #1: This is a team-up mini series over a year in the making between both of Valiant Entertainment's dysfunctional duos. That's right, Quantum and Woody (and their goat) are pitted against Archer and Armstrong for a prize valued like no other - a treasure of the traveling hobos! Written by James Asmus (the writer of "Quantum & Woody") from a plot by Fred Van Lente (the writer of "Archer & Armstrong") with art by Kano, this opening issue mostly sets up the plot as well as the tone of the series. To be blunt, it seems very obvious that the general story and MacGuffin was set up by Van Lente while the dialogue and many of the details were ironed out by Asmus, as the entire issue overflows with his timely comedic style and banter. As always, Asmus' satire bites deep into the current flesh of politics as Quantum and Woody find themselves hired for a very obvious parody of the Monsanto corporate farm (which splices genes for both plants and animals as freely as most people change socks) to go after a secret treasure that Armstrong has ties to due to his extremely long life. One can expect the usual routine of these sorts of affairs; the heroes will fight until it is time to unite against a real villain. Thankfully, since this series stars a set of chaotic and dysfunctional characters, a battle due to a misunderstanding isn't hardly as unbelievable as it is when most superheroes do it. The art by Kano is a delight, and one can expect better things of the next issues. As is, this initial one offers the usual dose of fast paced Asmus one-liners with a more cutting satire of the current status quo than many TV sitcoms manage.
Mighty Avengers #13: Every issue not "drawn" by Greg Land is suddenly a better one. With this series due for a relaunch and Greg Land busy on the next "Spider-Woman" title, reliable artist Salvador Larroca is tasked with handling art chores for this issue, which is colored by Matt Milla and as always, written by Al Ewing. After two issues dabbling in flashback, this one races to the present day as the current band of "Mighty Avengers" are pitted against an ancient sect of sorcerers called the "Deathwalkrs" who are planning a demonic sacrifice to attain godlike power, and have already captured Blade in pursuit of this goal. Ewing offers a wise flashback to Blade's days with MI-13 before offering the sort of full team slobberknocker that this series has seemed to do only sparingly. This sort of far out plot involving nameless villains and over the top magical ceremonies used to be part and parcel of old "Defenders" comics, but Ewing makes it work for his own quirky squad of superheroes. Larroca's art is a treat and the plot may be racing towards a hasty conclusion, but at least that guarantees a lot of entertaining action to come.
Ms. Marvel #7: Rookie super heroine Kamala Khan wraps up her first superhero team-up in exciting and hilarious fashion. Artist Jacob Wyatt has the uneasy task of filling in for Adrian Alphona, but once again he does a good job of matching the tone and feel of the universe within this series alongside regular colorist Ian Herring. G. Willow Wilson continues to draw aces when it comes to writing adventures starring one of the most popular new heroes in the Marvel Universe in years. It helps that her selection of collaborative artists never pose Kamala in demeaning or exaggerated poses; she's displayed as she is written, as a novice superhero who is there to fight evil and not preen for underage boys. She gets to fight a giant gator as well as survive robots and deathtraps alongside the soon-to-die (for now) Wolverine. Wilson skillfully uses Wolverine as an introduction to the wider Marvel Universe for both Kamala and the readers at once; such so that her confusion or dismay at some exposition is meant to reflect that of many newer readers who are reading this on ComiXology or other forms. Wolverine himself comes off as surprisingly friendly, although he's long been known for mentoring young heroines (Kitty Pryde, Jubilee, X-23) during a crisis. The only drawback of the issue is the establishment of Kamala needing a mentor does cause her to need Wolverine to land the telling blow in two of the climax's key battles, which does run the risk of her seeming like a sidekick in only the second story of her own series. Thankfully, the finale implies Kamala's subsequent role as an extension of "the Inhumans" franchise while also promising more autonomy for her. As always, a delightful and engaging read which proves that introducing brand new heroines of color at a major publisher can not only work, but be successful for all the right reasons.