The weekly pile of the best comic books for September 11th, 2013! And as always, remember the real heroes of NYC on such a date - our police, firefighters, paramedics, and those who simply show compassion to others.
Book of the week: Mighty Avengers #1
Although Marvel Comics has been heavily promoting and expanding upon their "Avengers" franchise since 2004-2005, such efforts naturally went into overdrive after last summer when Marvel Studios' "The Avengers" grossed over a billion dollars worldwide. The company has also never let a crossover event go to waste in regards to launching (or relaunching) new ongoing series into the marketplace. At one point, "Mighty Avengers" ran from 2007-2010 on the heels of "Civil War" and featured stories by Brian M. Bendis and Dan Slott; at the time it was the second core Avengers title. Its return this fall will officially mark it as the seventh Marvel comic with the word "Avengers" in its title. Al Ewing is a writer best known for stints on "Judge Dredd" and other regular features for the iconic British anthology series "2000 AD", although he's seen limited work from Dynamite Comics in the states. This relaunch of "Mighty Avengers" marks his first major gig with a U.S. comic book publisher, mired only by the inclusion of "artist" Greg Land, for whom Photoshop is mightier than his pencils. Thankfully, colors by Frank D'Armata seem to work better for his "art" than those of Guru eFX from "Iron Man", so at least so far his work is more tolerable.
The general gist of this series is covering a team of superheroes who haven't gone into space with the other six dozen Avengers during this "Infinity" crossover event and are left to protect NYC from regular crime by standard super-villains as well as an inevitable attack from one of Thanos' alien generals. Former Avengers leader Luke Cage has reorganized his old "heroes for hire" gig alongside younger heroes White Tiger (Ava Ayala) and the Victor Alvarez, who is using Cage's old mantle of Power Man. They quickly run afoul of the "superior" Spider-Man, who is still Dr. Octopus possessing the body of the hero with whom he mind-swapped with and then essentially murdered last year. Meanwhile, another former Avengers leader in Monica Rambeau is trying out a new costume as well as a new code name in "Spectrum"; by this stage she's had as many superhero names as Hank Pym, yet never is mocked for it. She meets with her costume designer as well as a mysterious man from her past, who soon earns the ire of "Spidey-Ock" by donning a bootleg "Spider-Hero" costume and teaming up for a big alien battle in Time's Square.
Considering there are six other Avengers titles right now, it is good for them to have a central identity. Hickman's two "Avengers" books are space books, "Avengers Arena" is a death match book, "Young Avengers" are about the younger heroes, "Secret Avengers" about a stealth ops squad and so on. This book seeks to offer a street level team focusing on protecting NYC featuring a cast which includes two former leaders of the team and a mostly minority cast of well written and established characters. Ewing quickly establishes a tone which is lighter hearted and more fun than many other Avengers books out there right now, hardly afraid of using and embracing cheesy villains like the Plunderer and Blue Streak. In a letter at the back of the book Ewing claims that Luke Cage and Monica Rambeau are his favorite Avengers characters, and it shows as they are almost the stars of the issue, claiming the lion's share of the panels. The issue offers no less than three fight scenes as well as introduces all of the characters on the cover and unites them against a threat - a feat which not even recent team books like "Fearless Defenders" usually pull off in a first issue. The dynamic between Cage and Victor is especially entertaining, which showcases how much Cage has grown over the years and how much more growing Victor has to make. As for "Spidey-Ock", he is likely there for sales and Ewing embraces the editorial memo that "superior" Spider-Man talks like a stock mad scientist from a 1950's B-movie yet none of the heroes around him notice it beyond his "banter" being off.
The major downside of the issue is Land's "artwork", which as has been chronicled across the Internet mostly relies on cribbing from various magazines and associated press photos from film, wrestling, and pornography. As mentioned earlier, the coloring this time is an improvement and beyond for a lazy "snap" panel, Land's work is more acceptable than usual; albeit his art on "Iron Man" often merely showcased how many film images he was pasting. Land still struggles, at best, to depict unique female figures, as Monica seems to gain yet another hairstyle. The villain in Proxima is a stock alien conqueror with minions wearing a Jack Kirby inspired space costume, seeming to exist merely to be opposed with little persona beyond that.
Overall, this new launch overcomes its shortcomings and embraces its characters as well as the expectations of the genre with a whole heart. It has been a while since Luke Cage was a regular in an ongoing series and Ewing has captured his voice extremely well; his work with Monica also helps keep her edge without making her a running joke as she often was in "Nextwave". The mystery of "Spider-Hero" should continue, with solicitations suggesting that he will soon become the third figure to don the mask of Ronin (after Echo and Clint Barton). Future issues promise another neglected character, Blue Marvel, and will build off this surprisingly fun and engaging debut issue. Ewing looks to have a ball on this book with a squad of heroes he's passionate about, and one hopes the buzz from the crossover will allow him enough of a wide berth to do so.
Archer & Armstrong #13: Fred Van Lente and artist Pere Perez (alongside colorist David Baron) conclude the latest arc revolving around the artificial land of "Faraway" that has existed across time as well as apart from time for eons. The titular duo are tested like they've never been before not only due to the flying saucer army of the cold war era General Redacted, but due to the impulsive Armstrong shacking up with the women Archer loves. The heroes team up with Armstrong's other brother Ivar as well as Amelia Earheart for a spectacular aerial fight to the finish as well as a story which exaggerates real life "mysteries" such as the Bermuda triangle for its own unique fantasy narrative. Perez's artwork is as lively and action packed as ever, coming the comedy as well as the drama and the explosive sequences well. It is sad to see the titular team break up, although it naturally won't last long and adds more drama to a series which is able to flawlessly mingle that with slapstick comedy and jaw dropping action.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Micro-Series: Villains #6: Although this issue takes place after the last micro-series issue, for all intents and purposes this is one of those mini series issues which essentially acts as an extra issue from the end of an issue from the core Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. IDW Comics' terrific relaunch of the TMNT franchise has succeeded in part because it has been able to draw from the wealth of material from the previous quarter century plus of TMNT comics, films, and cartoon series for ore and inspiration, as well as characters. This issue introduces the villain Hun, leader of the Purple Dragons gang, who is a major immigrant from the 2003 era "TMNT" cartoon which used to air on 4Kids TV. It is impossible to discuss the issue without noting the twist from the TV version, so it's best to lay it bare. In the cartoon series, Hun was the man who was implied to have killed Casey Jones' father; in this comic incarnation, he literally is Casey Jones' father. Arnold Casey Jones Sr. throughout the core series has been little more than a drunken, abusive widower father, only here we learn that in his prime he was known as Hun, gang boss and all around tough hombre. Distraught over the near death of his son, Arnold is manipulated by the Shredder (the man who almost killed Casey) into bulking up and retaking his old position once more. Mike Costa and Ben Epstein write the story alongside arts by Mike Henderson with colors by Ian Herring and do a solid job of making Hun a somewhat sympathetic character for an issue. It sets up a tremendous conflict for Casey in future issues as well as adds another great villain to the rich tapestry of the series.
Fearless Defenders #9: A hike in the cover price by a dollar has caused this team comic by Cullen Bunn and artist Will Sliney (and colorist Veronica Gandini) has allowed this female friendly relaunch to outlast "Morbius the Living Vampire" and see the solicitation of a twelfth issue, although sales have continued to skid so it cannot be much longer for this world. Fortunately, Bunn's on an upswing from the opening arc as the team has expanded from last issue and he continues along the simple theme of action packed stories with a lot of snappy banter. The gist of this issue is turning certain gender expectations on their head. Flash Thompson/Agent Venom has become worried for his sometime girlfriend Valkyrie since she joined this team (and became merged with Annabelle Riggs), and gathered many of the male heroes who have been involved in the lives of the ladies lately. Bunn has fun with having worried and emotionally conflicted male heroes bickering on the sidelines while the ladies are having a brawl with some villains in the core plot. Bunn manages to dig up some obscure figures from the Marvel Handbook this time - the classic Defenders villains the Headmen alongside some newer characters like the new Enchantress. Sliney's art has improved although he sometimes has some issues with facial expressions; on the whole he is a hit with the action. A bonus comes from Bunn's dusting off of minor heroine Shamrock from 1982's "Marvel Super Hero Conquest of Champions" and offering her a new career in retirement (even if a cliched one). While this is hardly the best Marvel comic series to dwindle in sales lately, it's a perfectly enjoyable team book which has improved over time and capitalized on its obscure cast.
Indestructible Hulk #13: Mark Waid's "Agent of T.I.M.E." story continues to unfold, and at this juncture it reads like a superior version of the dimension hopping story Jeff Parker was writing for his last year and change on "Thunderbolts". To a degree the flaw of the series is its simplicity; the Hulk and Banner (who are separated in spirit via technology) are hopping from one time period to the next stopping one Chronoarchist after the next from exploiting the crumbling time stream to make themselves gods. This time, Hulk and Banner are in 6th century England having a run in with Merlin, Black Knight and the remaining knights of the round table who have lost Camelot to the time tyrant. Matteo Scalera and Kim Jacinto handle art chores with colorist Val Staples, and they have a ball with the romp of warriors from across time against a rampaging Hulk. In matching the strengths of the franchise, Waid has adopted a more blunt style than his superior "Daredevil", yet he's maintained enough wit and imagination that things never get dull or stuck in a rut regardless.