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Picks of comic book week: Super powers can't cure sibling rivalry

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Quantum and Woody #9

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Another weekly dose of the best comics from April 2nd, 2014!

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Book of the week: Quantum And Woody #9

If it feels like a while since the previous story line featuring the madcap adventures of this dysfunctional duo, that's only because it has been. Issue eight shipped in the middle of February, and March's zero issue was a one-shot filler issue chronicling the origin of the series' well known pet mascot. At long last, Valiant Comics' reboot of one of their most well known franchises kicks off its' third arc just shy of April's Fool Day, an unintended irony. Regular writer James Asmus is paired with the series' third artist, the bluntly named Kano, towards yet another arc which mixes the best of sitcom comedy with a satire of "superhero" comic books.

Having survived getting super powers, avenging their murdered father and escaping from a war zone, Eric and Woody Henderson have reunited to form one of comic book's most bizarre family units. Not only do the brothers have to "klang" their wrist bracelets to prevent being destroyed by their energy powers, they are also living with the teenage clone of one of their worst enemies and a super-powered goat. While Woody is enjoying the perks of romancing a pretty clone girl as well as of being a superhero, he remains just as selfish and irresponsible as ever. After an attempt to thwart some armored bank-robbers leads to even more carnage, Eric sets out to force his brother into acting responsibly for at least a day via hanging their father's inheritance over Woody's head. Meanwhile, Woody's ex "friend with benefits" Jacklean reenters his life just as Eric lands a new security gig protecting the Smithsonian Museum; which the duo suddenly plan to rob.

Although any reaction to fictional media is subjective, comedy can often be the most subjective of all, a whim to the taste of the particular audience. For me, James Asmus seems able to channel the sort of comic wit that the producers of "Married with Children" were able to harness, only have applied it to a superhero comic book. Virtually anything and everything is up for mockery, and a finger is avidly kept on the pulse of pop culture. At the same time, the foundation of the series is telling the story about two brothers (by adoption) who deep down do love each other, even if it's in the seemingly insane manner that most siblings/family members love each other. This naturally means having an artist who seems able to excel at both over-the-top superhero action as well as visual gags. Tom Fowler, a former artist for "MAD Magazine", was an effortless master at this. Ming Doyle, while a perfectly good artist, was perhaps not catering to her strength with such an assignment. Kano, whose past works involve "Action Comics", "Immortal Iron Fist", and "H-E-R-O", appears to be a harmonious fit with Asmus' zany script full of one-liners and visual gags.

Every panel of every page seems to be trying to get a laugh from the reader, which is only a problem when it fails. Fortunately, this issue nails it almost every time with some of the best laughs to be had in a comic in a good long while. It is also one of the best issues of this series in months. Fans who feel that far too many comic books featuring far too many costumed characters have been far too serious for far too long need to give this series a read. At least so long as one doesn't drink any liquid while doing so, lest the laughs spray all about.

Honorable mentions:

Archer & Armstrong #19: This is the penultimate chapter of "Mission Improbable", a four issue crossover this series is doing with the soon-to-be-canceled "Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps" during the spring. Although having to buy an extra title to follow this one is a pain, at the very least it appears to only be for two months. After gaining control of the worldwide cabal, "the Sect", Archer has been kidnapped by the psychic warriors and mercenaries of "Project Rising Spirit", whose origins tie into his own. Unfortunately, his skills as a warrior allow him to kick butt even while he's asleep, which buys time for Armstrong to find his way towards the Rising Spirit base. The duo find a surprising ally in Bloodshot himself, who seems to relate to Archer as a person "made" to be a weapon himself. While this crossover hasn't exactly made sure to completely flesh out the cast of the second title, Fred Van Lente manages to portray just enough that one never feels lost. One only needs to see these characters as part of yet another mysterious and dangerous cabal that the duo have to deal with, which fits in well with the premise of "Archer & Armstrong". Pere Perez continues to deliver strong pencil work, which is only augmented by longtime colorist David Baron; both are able to make both slapstick comedy and kinetic fight sequences all but sing on the page. Throughout his career, Van Lente has displayed an often overlooked ability to fluctuate between laugh-out-loud comedy and straightforward drama or action in his narratives; an ability which becomes harder to notice when done well but obvious as polka dots when done poorly. "Archer & Armstrong" continues to be a perfect franchise for displaying this talent in all it's glory, and not even a crossover has slowed him down. Mainstream comic books could use more crossovers like this, and less like "Fear Itself" or "Forever Evil".

Black Widow #5: Nathan Edmondson and master artist Phil Noto continue on their high octane run of special ops stories featuring Marvel Comics' iconic spy, the Natasha Romanova. Splitting her time between being a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and performing freelance spy gigs to fund charities, Natasha has found herself neck deep into a global conspiracy which has been circling her since the series began. Having finally defeated the "mad monk" Molot Boga, she finds herself trusting her information more than her instincts, and it finally catches up to her as she finds herself at the mercy of one of her deadliest, and rarest, enemies. Edmondson displays a much appreciated sense of history by dusting off Damon Dran, who hasn't appeared in a comic book since 1994 and is one of Black Widow's few "arch enemies". For the record, Dran was first created in 1972 during the run of "Daredevil" by Gerry Conway and Gene Colan in which Black Widow was the vigilante's partner who co-headlined the book with him. As always, the art is perfectly atmospheric, even if it does look rushed in places. So far, this has been another "hit" for Marvel Comics' "all-new Marvel NOW!" campaign. Perhaps if they had an ad for it during "Captain America: the Winter Soldier" or that little TV show on ABC about S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, it'd sell better.

Loki: Agent of Asgard #3: Al Ewing and Lee Garbett decide to take a break from their usual stories about a new and younger version of Loki trying to redeem himself to focus on the time traveling exploits of "old Loki" who can somehow still exist alongside him and has been scheming towards his own betterment for eons. To this end, "old Loki" has gone back to the days of his father Odin's youth and not only manipulated him into crafting a special sword, but has manipulated Asgard's first champion Sigurd into losing it as well. The duo manage to tell a mythical tale as well as Walter Simonson used to on "Thor", even if for the moment this can seem like merely a stop-gap issue towards bigger and better things to come. It is hard to find much fault with a yarn told and drawn as well as this, even if it seems to represent a larger problem that Marvel seem to have with this character at an editorial level. There seems to be a desire to capitalize on the younger, more dynamic and charismatic (especially to women) version of Loki as adapted by their "Marvel Studios" films. At the same time, there seems to be this reluctance to let go of the older, more classic Loki who was essentially a being who seemed convinced that "mischief" was the same as "evil". Kieron Gillen seemed to struggle with this during his long run with the character in "Journey into Mystery" and "Young Avengers", and now Ewing seems unable to decide and instead continues the insistence of two Loki's running about. This is the same editorial mixture of desperate commercialism and ham-handed effort that convinced an editorial board that Spider-Man getting a divorce was hopelessly out of character and a poor option, but selling the existence of his marriage to the devil himself (or his proxy) was more in keeping with his "every man" appeal. Overall, a solid issue, even if under the surface one wishes that Marvel would either poop or get off the pot on what version of Loki they want to tell stories about.

New Warriors #3: Chris Yost and Marcus To (alongside colorist David Curiel) continue along on their relaunch of one of Marvel's few teenage superhero series that isn't related to the X-Men. Although "Avengers Academy" and "Young Avengers" have handled such things to a better degree than "New Warriors" has this century, a long run during the 90's cements it as part of the wide Marvel lexicon. To this end, Yost has taken characters well known with the franchise as well as some newer characters and thrown them into a high stakes conflict against the High Evolutionary, and his squad of robotic beings that want to kill off anyone who isn't strictly "human". Every issue is always full of well drawn action, and this one is perhaps the best of the lot as the cast is split into two groups and get to interact with each other. Justice, Speedball, and Sun-Girl all disagree on how to treat new Inhuman Mark, who is clearly in over his head despite having a plot convenient super power. Meanwhile, Scarlet Spider, Hummingbird, and Faira have barely met, but they find themselves captives of the Evolutionary alongside Sam Washington, the new Nova. The interactions between these four are among the highlight of the issue. Unfortunately, this continues to be a series which isn't quite the sum of its' parts and assumes a lot of investment from its' readers in characters they may barely know. In addition, the decision to have the corporate logo of "Under Armour" appear every time Mark's sweat jacket is seen (completely with a "registered" trademark alongside) is the sort of in-story advertisement that Marvel Comics hasn't done since allowing characters from old "Hostess Twinkie" ads to become part of canon (i.e. Icemaster). Perhaps this "New Warriors" may have a lot of the mechanics of a superhero team comic displayed efficiently, it rarely seems to have a soul or purpose of its' own.

She-Hulk #3: Charles Soule, Javier Pulido and colorist Muntsa Vicente continue on their take on the quirky and adventurous caseload of Jennifer Walters. Tasked with trying to get Dr. Doom's adopted son, Kristoff Vernard, political asylum, Jen dives head first into a day of killer robots and limo rides all for a promise of a huge payday for her firm at the end. Although this issue is heavy on exposition, Pulido's artwork continues to dazzle as Soule does his best to play with both Jennifer's new client and supporting cast (Hellcat and the strange Angie). Although She-Hulk manages to win the day in court, she soon learns that Dr. Doom is not one to be told what he can't have. Kristoff Vernard is a character from 1990's era "Fantastic Four" comics who was quite fascinating, but often neglected. Soule has a good angle for him here, and puts him and Jennifer to good use. Alongside "Black Widow" and "Ms. Marvel", 2014 has quickly become a banner year for quality super heroine comics at the "house of ideas".

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