Reviews for the week of March 6th, 2013!
Book of the Week: Superior Spider-Man #5
The relaunch of Spider-Man's core title by longtime steward Dan Slott enters its third month and seems to skirt controversy just as easily as it did in its first. As the cover shows, once again the "new" Spider-Man - Dr. Octopus within Spidey's body - takes on a drastic action which the traditional Peter Parker would never do. Giuseppe Camuncoli continues to handle the pencils as well as aiding John Dell on inks, with two colorists in tow. As has tended to be the theme of this series, this "superior" Spider-Man is placed in a situation which the traditional web-slinger has been in many times but responds in his own way. Having discarded a lot of the "heart" for the cold efficiency of a mad scientist, Spidey-Ock has improved his gear as well as is utilizing "spider-bots" to scan the city, and is doing a better job of gaining the trust of the police. As usual, the phantom of the genuine Peter Parker is still there, but only able to influence his "body" in rare intervals.
Picking up from the previous issue, the emotionless serial killer Massacre has escaped Ravencroft Asylum and randomly iced one of Spidey's spare supporting cast members for the sake of infamy in the Marvel Handbook. He was the villain who tested Spider-Man's then new vow of "no one dying" when he was on duty. Thus, the old morality dilemma of "leaving a killer alive to kill again" arises much as it usually did whenever Carnage popped up. As Massacre makes a vicious deal with a fast food tycoon for some cash, Spidey-Ock meets up with a member of his doctorate class in ESU for a quick dinner before getting to business. That character is Anna Maria Marconi, a diminutive tutor, the first original character created for "Superior Spider-Man" and probably the first "little" character in the franchise since the original Fusion twins. The real meat of the issue comes when Massacre lives up to his trademark and goes on another shooting rampage with hostages in a remote location. As the cover suggests, Spidey-Ock seemingly plays judge and jury here. The finale of the issue actually leaves Massacre's fate a bit ambiguous as it focuses on the disturbing level of surveillance that this new Spider-Man has achieved.
The artwork is up to its usual high standards. It is naturally the narrative here which steals the show. Without the random obligatory character death in the previous issue, this one is much stronger. It introduces a new character as well as offers quite a riveting sequence. It does parallel many similar "to kill or not kill" sequences for superheroes, including a demand from a bystander. The bottom line is this certainly a storyline which will risks becoming tedious and obligatory if it stretches too long. That length hasn't been reached yet, so for the moment it remains to be seen how far this Spider-Man will go and how much of his life Peter will have to ultimately reclaim. It still is a gimmick story, but at least it is a well told and riveting one.
Iron Man #7: Writer Kieron Gillen and "artist" Greg Land (alongside Jay Leisten's inks and Guru eFx's colors) continue to embark on a story which serves as aftermath to last year's "Avengers vs. X-Men" event. The gist is that during that event, Iron Man invented an armor and a gadget which literally split the Phoenix force into pieces and thus created the "Phoenix Five", who were all ultimately defeated. Having just wrapped up an affair to recover the Extremis techno-organic virus from corrupt parties, Tony Stark decided on a whim to venture into space. He has since taken up with the Voldi, who are aliens who (via retcon) influenced other races such as the Shi'ar and the Kree. Unfortunately, they held the Phoenix as their god and have now arrested Tony for the crime of destroying it. In this issue, Tony forms an alliance with a rogue Recorder robot who arranges for him to reclaim his armor as well as for a trial by combat - which works well for the well honed Stark since the Voldi haven't physically fought in centuries. Things go awry in the finale when it seems the Voldi "justicar" has employed a ringer to fight him - the intergalactic and cross-dimensional mercenary, Death's Head. It has been a while since Death's Head served a major role in a Marvel series, and even that era was mostly limited to their "Marvel U.K." imprint of the 1990's. Gillen has a fondness for the character, having utilized him in his short lived series "S.W.O.R.D.", and thus dusts him off here. The "art" by Greg Land - an artist accused of "tracing" via Photoshop from pictures or other art from magazines - is often distracting due to some quirks, but with fewer grinning women in this issue, things aren't so bad. As in previous issues, the core draw is Gillen's unique spin on Iron Man, which continues to overcome the flaws in Land's style. This is a simple but enjoyable issue.
Venom #32: Officially kicking off the "Flash Thompson in Philadelphia" era in the previous issue, writer Cullen Bunn continues on his rebound arc from his initial acts on this title. Declan Shalvey is aboard for the art with colors by Lee Loughridge, and things are working far better here than on Bunn's initial arcs following the conclusion of Rick Remender's run. Thompson is settling into the new city as both a high school assistant coach as well as a new vigilante as Venom (or other identities he invents to maintain a low profile). In the previous arc he and his girlfriend Valkyrie thwarted the U-Foes and their long term experimentation of the local populace of alien technology. In this issue Venom tracks down one of the menaces created by such experimentation as well as tries to get a handle on his new routine job. Little does he know he is also being stalked by Eddie Brock, the original Venom, who is now host to the Toxin symbiote. Previous arcs by Bunn delved too much into magic, while this one is more of Venom's forte and thus is far more fitting. It is also great to see Declan rebound after being shifted away from Thunderbolts. While Bunn still isn't as strong on this series as Remender was, the year is starting on an upswing for this title.
Obligatory review: Age of Ultron #1
Under six months after "Avengers vs. X-Men" ended, Marvel Comics is once again pushing their latest crossover event series to kick off the spring. The caveat is this is a story which has been promoted for well over a year and thus has been sliding down the pipe slowly. Part of this is due to the artist for most of the series being Bryan Hitch, whose "photo-realistic" pencils apparently take more time to produce than a child in a womb. The writer for the series is Brian M. Bendis, who has written or co-written most of Marvel's "events" since 2005. For this task Marvel have produced their first "chrome cover" since the end of the 90's, which is rarely a good omen. The gist of the series is that it takes place after Ultron has already conquered the world with our heroes and villains living in the shattered scraps of cities that are left. The ever tenacious Hawkeye rescues Spider-Man from the Owl and Hammerhead, slaughtering a lot of thugs along the way, before having a troubled reunion with the remaining Avengers underground.
Despite Hitch's much vaulted and detailed art, many of his characters' faces can look the same. Often times an overly detailed superhero costume can defeat the purpose and make it look more absurd than a "spray painted nude body" as he once dismissed most superhero art as seeming to resemble. There are a few uses of traditional and double splash panels, although the crux of the issue is on Bendis' writing. As usual for the much maligned "event" writer, he is better at premises than he is at characters. The Spider-Man he writes here certainly the regular Peter Parker who he continues to write as a useless man-child, at best a sidekick to the Avengers. Some would argue Hawkeye's quickness to murder civilians is hypocritical since he once literally left his wife over such things. The most galling aspect is the sight of Captain America sitting defeated in a corner and allowing his team and the world to rot. It matches a bit in Matt Fraction's "Fear Itself" where the seemingly unshakable Captain all but surrenders because the villain of the year has broken his shield. It is hard to remember that this was a character who once defied demigods like Thanos and Korvac without hesitation when seeing panels like that. In the end, the chrome cover seems to spell it out in one word - overrated.