The weekly dose of the best, or most notable, comic books from February 26th, 2014!
Book of the week: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #31
By this stage in the game, it should seem obvious by now. Another issue of IDW's excellent relaunch and recreation of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" as written by Tom Waltz, original franchise co-creator Kevin Eastman and editor Bobby Curnow proves itself to again be exceptional. Another issue is skillfully drawn by a hot artist who one can easily imagine should be more well known than they are (in this case, Ross Campbell) which is delightfully enhanced by regular colorist Ronda Pattison's efforts. And as usual, another script and overall adventure which mingles paying homage to the franchise's past while creating new situations, characters, and events. Read my reviews long enough and it can seem as if some of the same comics get praised over and over. The explanation is as simple as it is delightful; the series has simply been that good, and too often under appreciated in other critical circles.
Picking up on the "Northampton" arc (which is itself based off of the "escape from NYC" arc from the original 1980's Mirage Studios comics), the cast's life and times away from a city controlled by the Foot Clan comes to an abrupt and violent halt. Fortunately, the story allows for contrast by having the first issue focus on the more quiet time the cast has had in the country while still mulling over their various conflicts and paths to proceed from. In another homage from 1987's "True Stories", Casey Jones and Donatello bond over some vehicular repairs (this time a motorcycle rather than a truck/van in the original). Raphael has started to slowly trust his former enemy Alopex, and they start to playfully spar. Splinter tries to regain his shattered relationship with his traumatized and brainwashed pupil, Leonardo. April even cuts her hair and has her own tough decision to make when she finds a small vial of ooze. Unfortunately, the Shredder's apparently replaced Alopex within his organization quickly, and a new mutant hawk flanked by some "Foot Assassins" shatter the piece that the mutants had at the farm.
This series has seen a new artist roughly every arc since Dan Duncan left as of the thirteenth issue, and it may be astute to assume that Ross Campbell may be gone once this arc runs its course. That would be a shame as I consider him one of the strongest artists the series' had. His figures, whether human or mutant can look adorable one moment and vicious the next, and the design of his new hawk-ninja mutant is exceptional. He has a flair for both quiet dialogue scenes as well as kinetic action sequences which have all the consistent flow of the best manga artists. Alopex in particular shines under his pencils, and a scene between Casey and April works even better due to Campbell's attention to detail. The "Foot Assassins" may seem redundant (as ninjas typically worked in espionage and/or assassination missions in general) but they are a new take on the old "Foot Elite" ninja of the original Mirage series (and 2003 era cartoon). In terms of the script, while this issue's turn of events was clearly foreshadowed last month and is hardly unexpected, it succeeds due to the creators having a solid grasp of the voices of their cast. The union of old and new talent in terms of the script has produced a series with an increasingly increasing cast, yet they all interact well with each other and react in genuine ways to each other and their surroundings. From Donnie's grudging acceptance to the philosophy of "fate" to Raphael's trust being difficult to gain (and easy to lose), to even Alopex's conflicted emotions, all play out as they should to entertaining effect.
When quality within a series becomes predictable almost to the point of routine, it is a definite win for readers, even if it can make a review column easier to guess.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Utrom Empire #2: The TMNT have to be selling well for IDW for even Krang to get his own mini series - albeit one he shares with Baxtor Stockman and Fugitoid. Much like the previous issue in this mini-series, writer Paul Allor, artist Andy Kuhn, and colorist Bill Crabtree tell a story about the life and times of General Krang from across the past and present. The Neutrino scientist Dr. Honeycutt, trapped within the robot body of Fugitoid, quickly finds himself strapped between a madman sandwich as he seeks to undo Krang's terrible plans for the earth, yet finds Baxtor's own plot to kill off all of Krang's species to be equally monstrous, forcing an unlikely alliance. Amid all this, Krang relives his own rise to power on the Utrom home world, in which he proves to be more pragmatic and ruthless in tactics than his father, who was arguably more of a warlord. Kuhn's artwork was once seen in the primary TMNT series, and he gets a lot to play with all the robots, aliens, and strange locations. Allor does a good job making this feel like an extra piece of the core series which is just as vital, rather than an extra thing to buy. As usual, IDW does a good job of knowing how to give their TMNT readers more to get each month without robbing them blind or cheating them out of importance.
Super-Dinosaur #22: Robert Kirkman and Jason Howard are back to a monthly schedule after a four month gap between issues ended 2013, at least for now. The result continues to be the best cartoon series which isn't actually a cartoon series (yet) as it combines things that "all ages" audiences tend to like: dinosaurs, robots, armor, over-the-top villains and kids having adventures. As a franchise it's nowhere near Greg Weisman's "Gargoyles" but it certainly is better than "Ben 10" in many respects. At any rate, Derek and Super-Dinosaur's exploits to snatch a MacGuffin from their villains to revive Derek's long comatose mother results in the baddies coming right for their headquarters, which results in an massive brawl. Virtually everyone in the cast gets a chance to suit up and blast some villains, even if keeping the names of many of the villains straight can be a chore (and you have to swallow names like "Mega-Raptor" or "Tyrannosaurus X"). The series offers some expected brawls and snappy one-liners, even if it plays best for the young or the young at heart. The final pages revealing the ruthlessness of Derek's mom end things on one of the best cliffhangers in a while. Hopefully this series, which is probably the poorest selling of Kirkman's "Skybound" Image imprint series, can maintain a schedule better from now on.
Indestructible Hulk #19: It is telling when the Internet treated the "cancellation" and then immediate relaunch announcement of Mark Waid's "Daredevil" with both shock and relief, while word of the similar end and rebirth of his Hulk run has been met with a collective shrug. The inability for this run to be able to hold onto any regular artist beyond a few issues is one factor; another may be how the series has seemed to be playing in the ashes of crossovers more than its' own originality for what seems like a year (first "Age of Ultron" and now "Infinity"). A whopping six artists are credited with interior pages, with Val Staples doing his best to color what can easily be seen as a comic by committee. One of Dr. Banner's team of quirky staff scientists winds up transformed into a monstrous Inhuman form who literally feeds on anger, thus making him the Hulk's polar opposite. While Hulk and Banner seem to sort the immediate crisis out, they can't prevent the chap from being captured by another cabal of evil scientists. The artwork is surprisingly consistent, and Waid is wise to resort to creating a new supporting cast around Banner after Jeph Loeb foolishly transformed his previous cast into "Hulks" years ago. Yet this remains a run which seems to work better as a premise or an excuse for some imaginative ideas or fight sequences than anything as cohesive, whole, or iconic as his "Daredevil" run has become.
Mighty Avengers #7: The second issue of this great new Avengers series to ship this month written by Al Ewing and new regular artist Valerio Schiti (with Frank D'Armata on color duties) continues to dazzle with a story chapter that kicks things into high gear. Much like writers such as Christos Gage and Dan Slott, Ewing is quickly proving himself not only adept with writing a team full of lesser known characters, but on using past continuity for ore for bold and exciting new stories. In this case, he takes a Z-list villain in Gideon Mace and has recreated him into a figure which plays to the underlying themes of diversity which this series has but doesn't usually get too preachy about. A former enemy of Luke Cage, he later became a zealous anti-super hero zealot in early 1980's Spider-Man comics, with his most infamous act being the slaughter of the family of Hector Ayala, the original White Tiger. His kid sister Ava is the latest White Tiger, and the revelation that Mace has involved himself back onto the shadier side of New York has caused her to submit to dark powers for revenge. This forces the team to try to both protect the unsympathetic Mace (who has since formed a group which seeks to persecute super-humans of all stripes) as well as stop Ava without hurting her. Schiti is put through the paces after a quiet previous issue with a lot of action sequences here, which lead to a more insidious mystery which is a bit more complicated than punching caped super-villains or aliens from previous issues. Sales have slipped to a troubling level for this series in January, which is a shame. Ewing has been writing a great little series since the start, and with a terrific artist like Schiti on board the series is really hitting a stride. She-Hulk proves to be a worthy successor to the roster spot vacated by "superior" Spider-Man, and Iron Fist gets more to do in this guest appearance than his last. Telling a suspense story which works as a thinly veiled metaphor for race relations in Marvel's first superhero series starring mostly heroes of color without becoming a "very special episode" is a tough tightrope to walk, but Ewing is knocking it out of the park so far. Fans seeking an Avengers book that doesn't have a cast of thousands or seem to deal almost exclusively with outer space threats should be in for a treat here.
Superior Spider-Man #28: "Goblin War", which will apparently be the swan song for the "superior" era of Spider-Man, is accelerating at a rapid and exciting pace at the hands of Dan Slott and artist Giuseppe Camuncoli (with John Dell on inks and Antonio Fabela on colors). Upon looking back, the opening months of "Superior Spider-Man and these closing ones have been the strongest of its' 28 issue and soon to be fifteen month run; perhaps among the story's chief flaws was that it was simply stretched to a length which couldn't be maintained without some "convenient" writing. At any rate, this has become a war between both of Spider-Man's deadliest enemies; Dr. Octopus (who has possessed Spidey's body to become a megalomaniac vigilante to suit his own ego and perception of responsibility) and Green Goblin, who virtually wrote the book on how to torment and challenge a web-slinger. As the cover suggests, this is a game of chess, and thus far the "Goblin King" has been a step ahead of Spider-Otto at every turn. The highlight of this issue, besides Camuncoli's glorious artwork, is Mary Jane rising to the fore for one of her best scenes in at least a year, if not longer. No longer waiting in a fire to be saved (despite all previous appearances to the contrary), here MJ is slinging webs, saving her loved ones and playing things smart. The low light is Peter Parker's spirit spiraling down Dr. Octopus' memory hole and toying with pooching a satisfying ending (even if it could just be to build drama for it). This issue has tons of action and a very fast paced suspense to its' antics, with the duel of Spider-villains making for some fascinating theater.
Uncanny Avengers #17: What was once the biggest and most important book of "Marvel NOW" has instead descended into what is essentially an exercise in harsh alternate reality story tropes by Rick Remender. Slaughter of iconic characters because it will be undone? Check. Apocalypse achieved? Check. A tone that suggests this is something new and different yet is exactly every single "dark alternate time line" story ever done in every piece of fiction to do it? Double check. Steve McNiven is great on artwork and Odin and Thor share a great scene at the end of the issue, but overall this has become the sort of isolated self indulgent sod that Chris Claremont used to be tasked with writing for the last few years of his career. Were this series truly alone in the Marvel Universe then it would work, but by this stage Marvel have promoted this to being a flagship book and since abandoned it now that it has become more insular and strange. This would be forgivable if it had something to say beyond being yet another horrible alternate timeline where all the heroes die or are proven wrong, but it isn't. The X-Men especially have been so laden with such stories that it has reached the point of parody. It may read better as a collected trade unto itself, but it does not debut in such a vacuum, and the notion of this being some timeless classic is a bit presumptive. At best, an imaginative misfire which continues to unfold one issue at a time. Is any end in sight? Can it come soon enough?