Book of the week: Daredevil #36
By this point in Mark Waid's three year run on "Daredevil", the standard of quality to his writing cannot be questioned and can all but be taken for granted. Also by this point in this era of "Daredevil" is that book has become a mainstream superhero series which often highlights some of the best artists in the business - with Chris Samnee being the third such artist to do so. This is a run which has won an Eisner award and has maintained modest but steady sales of 31,000 - 35,000 copies a month for virtually this entire run (or at least the past two years of it). In a direct market where terms like "diminished returns" and "standard attrition" are used in standard sales reports, having a steady and loyal steady is a rare and perilous thing in "big two" comics - especially for a B-list superhero a decade removed from a less than well received film. Regardless, Marvel Comics is in the midst of their latest editorial shuffle which means that they will risk altering the mojo with a fresh number one issue and a dollar hike in price starting next month. Thankfully, this creative team of Waid and Samnee are not going anywhere, but the risk of readers doing so due to the price hike is a very real gamble.
In narrative terms, Waid and Samnee have provided at least fair justification for this fresh renumbering for the next "season" with a story line which ultimately leads to a change in scenery. This issue sees the conclusion of not only the latest arc about yet another quirky legal battle for Matt Murdock, it's the end of the second longest running subplot the series' had - Daredevil's long term struggle to uproot the "Sons of the Serpent" society of bigots from positions within the legal system. Having been backed into a corner by the super villain cabal - defend the son of one of the group's leaders from being convicted of a crime he didn't commit, or lose his identity and thus his livelihood - Murdock ultimately chooses the one option he tends to. It is extremely hard to review this issue without some spoilers, but suffice it to say that the "genie" of Daredevil's alter ego which had been carefully put back into the bottle (somewhat) after the runs by Brian Bendis and Ed Brubaker years ago is now out in full force. Using a lot of guile and at least one friend in a high place, Daredevil ends up winning the battle but losing the war - at least on his own terms. Now forbidden from practicing law in New York, the stage is set for a "back to the future" trip across the country to his old stomping grounds of San Francisco, California. That was where Daredevil spent a great deal of time in the 1970's back when Black Widow shared his title with him as his partner, so it's a setting which has been decades removed from him.
What is there to say about the quality of the issue which hasn't been said or assumed by now? Samnee's artwork is an utter delight from cover to page, and across every panel. His artwork could tell the story almost as well without any dialogue at all. The cover itself offers many "Easter egg" style nods to previous writers and creators of "Daredevil" as well as acknowledging what "volume" of the series this has been. It is difficult to make a climactic battle between Daredevil and some random costumed minions look exciting, but Samnee pulls this off expertly. As for Waid's script, it succeeds mostly because he has the voice of the title hero down pact. Waid understands the wealth of history for this character and knows how to balance his seriousness with a mixture of a "devil may care" flare that embodies a man who brags about being "without fear". The "Sons of the Serpent" were often depicted as just yet another organization of super villains who dress funny in countless previous stories, but this arc has revised them into a truly far reaching and insidious force to be reckoned with. Not only does Murdock shine here, but Foggy and especially the plucky Kirsten McDuffie, who fills a void which has long been abandoned by Karen Page in the franchise.
Marvel Comics have turned a fresh "number one" issue into a mundane and predictable stunt to gain short term sales boosts in recent years. Considering that such stunts can backfire even on some top sellers, risking the careful alchemy of steady sales and critical buzz is a gamble which Marvel apparently feel this series can weather. Considering this creative team can seem to do no wrong on this franchise and have brought it to such heights of quality without resorting to "grim and gritty" depression, one hopes that fans new and old will give the next volume of "Daredevil" the same love the rest of the year.
Batman Beyond Universe #7: DC Comics' reprint anthology of their digital-first comics based in the future of 2041 continue to provide entertaining stories for fans of both the comics and the animated offerings produced by Bruce Timm. The main "Batman Beyond" strip continues its current story, "The Bat Men", involving the return of Man-Bat alongside with his own cartel of similarly mutated bat-people. This may be familiar ground to those who read the start of Grant Morrison's run on "Batman", but the tension of a hostage crisis as helps keep the pace quick despite a trip into exposition land. Terry McGinnis/Batman and old man Wayne have to team up for the first time in a while, and it's suddenly more fresh than it used to be. The art by Thony Silas is great while Kyle Higgins has really made this strip his own, capturing the voice of the animated series well. In the "JLU" second feature, the expanded team is still attempting to save the planet from the latest incarnation of Brainiac in "System Override" by Christos Gage and Iban Coello. While Gage has long proven his ability to juggle dozens of characters in series like "Avengers: The Initiative", this time he gets bogged down in some narration and things start out slower and more complicated than is preferred. There is a lot of action and Paradise Island becomes a key location, and there are some solid character moments within the din of battle. The overall plot is engaging, but Gage does risk clogging this with just a few characters too many. Regardless, this continues to be one of the best DC Comics' publications month in and month out.
Quantum & Woody #8: James Asmus and the latest artist Ming Doyle wrap up their hilarious arc which is a complete send-up of "Blackwater" style military contractors and ignorant militia groups in Valiant Entertainment's second best buddy team book. The titular duo are stuck between a rock and a war zone as they attempt to defend a militia enclave of ignorant and often racist gun-nuts from the even bigger gun-nuts who want to wipe them out for the promise of hefty federal contracts. As usual, things never turn out as planned and it turns out an email is mightier than any super power can be. By this stage this is very obviously a comedy, with the superhero trappings just being part of the premise to keep it apart from most other comedies as well as to up the scale into bizarre territory. There is a one-liner upon every panel and the laughs seem to never stop. Doyle's artwork may not be as geared to comedy as Tom Fowler's was, but she still gets across the particulars for what is needed (and her cover is exceptional). As always, this series is a hoot for readers who desire something a bit more risque than "Superior Foes of Spider-Man" tends to manage.
Iron Man Annual #1: To be blunt, this is an overpriced mess. Much like DC Comics, Marvel have also taken to having some "digital first" comics which eventually get reprinted as annuals or one-shots down the road. That alone would be fine if this annual didn't read like a random chapter in an unknown story with only a front page of text for some context. Regular "Iron Man" writer Kieron Gillen works with three artists (Alvaro Martinez, Agustin Padilla, and Marcos Marz) in three stories that take place between issues of the regular series. The first two deal with the aftermath of Iron Man thwarting some Soviet Union era knock-off villain's attempt to form a city on the moon. Iron Man is going mad due to some random moon material and needs his enemy's help to cure himself. Then, he and his brother Arno try to recruit help for the city of Troy that Tony is building in place of "Mandarin City". The last tale is the best, detailing how Pepper Potts met her new beau. The art is fine, but the tales within are disjointed and random, and priced at five dollars to boot. I almost skipped this, and I regret not doing so.
New Warriors #1: Has it been roughly five years since the previous volume? Then it must be time to keep that trademark fresh! An answer (sort of) to DC Comics' teen superhero books outside of "X-Men" or their related spin-offs, the "New Warriors" first appeared in "Thor #411" circa 1989 and then went on to headline their own ongoing series for six years and 75 issues from 1990-1996. Since then, Marvel have tried to revive the series either with appalling new costumes (1999-2000), as a reality TV series which had little to do with the original premise (2005-2006), or as a loosely related team of former X-Men led by the brother of the team's dead founder (2007-2009). Now, writer Chris Yost, fresh off the cancellation of "Scarlet Spider", has his stab at kick-starting this often neglected franchise for a new decade. To this end he is flanked by artist Marcus To and colorist David Curiel who provide an opening issue which is fast paced yet somehow not quite as exciting as it wants to be.
Much like the original "New Warriors" of old, this issue offers characters from a "just canceled" series (Kaine and Hummingbird), a "soon to be canceled" series (Sam Washington/Nova, if its' sales are any indicator), years of limbo away from any major series (Justice and Speedball) as well as brand new characters (Sun-Girl and Faira Sor Namora). All but one of the characters on the cover appear, but they're not a team yet. Only Justice and Speedball seem to be using the team name as they briefly fight some C-List Fantastic Four villains in a clever diversion. Kaine continues to try to avoid any involvement in being a costumed vigilante despite having an eager sidekick, but events keep dragging him back in. Sun-Girl is a new heroine adopting the mantle of one from the 1940's who Yost apparently created in "Superior Spider-Man Team-Up", while Nova gets in about three pages. The characters are technically introduced but neither they or their enemies will be very well known to all but the most adept of Marvel Comics readers. Even adept Marvel readers may have a hard time getting jazzed for the High Evolutionary, whose tenure in comics tends to be "a far out mad scientist, only nowhere near as scary as Mister Sinister". Overall, this issue is fun and has a lot of characters and ideas for well read Marvel Comics fans, yet it doesn't have any of the instant pop or buzz as other debuts such as "Black Widow". Will the fourth try be the charm for the "New Warriors"?