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Picks of comic book week: Trapped between a snake pit and a slithery place

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Daredevil #35

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As always, the weekly serving of the best comics offered for January 15th, 2014!

Book of the week: Daredevil #35

After inciting near panic across critical circles online with the solicitation of February's issue of "Daredevil" as the "final" one, Marvel Comics has wisely decided to continue allowing writer Mark Waid to continue his Eisner award winning, steady sales earning run on "the man without fear" continue. However, the series will be relaunched in March not only as a naked attempt to boost sales for one or two months, but to welcome a new artist/'co-storyteller". Thus, this is the penultimate issue of Chris Samnee's tenure as regular artist on this series, a role he's owned throughout 2013, as well as setting up the finale which will give the series a narrative reason for a revamp.

Matt Murdock has currently become embroiled in yet another deeply entrenched conspiracy in his exploits as a lawyer by day, vigilante by night and neurotic all around. This time it's the racist group the "Sons of the Serpent" whose roots may be supernatural but who have taken high positions of power within various judicial and law enforcement institutions (in addition to having leagues of costume clad extremist minions). Having failed to incite a riot in Manhattan and defeat Daredevil through a pawn (his old foe, the Jester), the cabal have instead threatened him directly - via exposing his barely secret identity to the bar association as well as the life of Foggy Nelson, who is struggling to survive cancer. Murdock quickly is forced into defending the son of a head honcho of the group who is being set up for a murder he didn't commit (despite still being a bigoted crook in practice) or allowing the creep to be sent to jail and losing what is left of the life Murdock's tried desperately to create after his breakdown in "Shadowland". Left with no options, Daredevil turns to his dangerous ex, Elektra, as he faces up against some hired mercenaries at the scene of the crime as well as his most dangerous foe of all - the trial itself.

It is easy to take the artwork for this series for granted, but with Samnee's penciled pages being numbered, now is the time to further appreciate his harmony with colorist Javier Rodriguez. From the full page splash at the start of the issue to the quiet courtroom panels at the end, and all the exciting battles in between, it all flows with style, splash, and substance in strong line work skillfully mingled with attention to detail. It is the best of a more illustrative style that many comic book artists have avoided as they shift towards "photo realism" which is becoming more of a lost art than it should be. It is also easy to take Waid's voice for the title character for granted, but as always he has a lock on him. Some minor villains (such as Constrictor) get some unique redesigns, and Samnee's take on Elektra is terrific. The final pages offer an immediately justification for the relaunch in terms of the narrative by - spoiler - calling the "Sons"' bluff and revealing his identity in open court.

The exposure of Daredevil's identity was a key component of the Brian Bendis run on the book towards the middle of the decade past, and the ramifications from it continued during Ed Brubaker's run shortly thereafter. The gist was that while the vigilante's identity had been known to the Kingpin and other criminals for a long time, a new mafia bigwig leaked it to the authorities and it then hit the media. Murdock faced both assassination attempts and prison time due to this, and eventually managed to forge a status quo similar to that of the Kingpin himself - having an alter ego which much of the public knew but nobody could technically prove in court. Now, it seems as if Murdock is attempting to avoid being the pawn of the wicked by destroying what he's sought to recreate, but on his own terms. It will remain to be seen whether this is genuine or another clever ruse, but it will be interesting to see an era of Daredevil similar to that which Iron Man has faced for years.

As always, this is one of the best superhero books Marvel Comics publishes - some could call it the best for the price tag. The relaunch will bring with it a hike in that price but hopefully not any loss of quality. It seems as if the next issue can't arrive soon enough, which is exactly how it should be for serialized fiction.

Honorable mentions:

Archer & Armstrong #17: Fred Van Lente wraps up yet another arc of his often hilarious, occasionally poignant and always imaginative relaunch of this longtime Valiant Entertainment franchise. A sudden crossover with "Bloodshot and the H.A.R.D. Corps" is due by sprint and the rush to wrap this issue up meant that the art credits for this issue have expanded - Khari Evans and ChrisCross on pencils and David Baron with Allen Passalaqua on colors. It all leads to a showdown between the two titular leads as well as all of the factions of the worldwide cabal "the Sect" as Archer sought to reorganize the cabal behind himself, gain a MacGuffin and avenge himself on Armstrong for sleeping with the woman he loved. However, when confronting Mary-Maria and her own group herself, Archer is forced to rethink his current vendetta with fresh eyes. To this end Van Lente has used this crazy and action packed adventure to tell a story about two friends forgiving each other for past sins once it is shown their their friendship is more powerful than anger over a slight. Despite the added figures to the art, it all looks terrific and is up to the usual standard for the series. The upcoming crossover is an obligation which is not exactly welcomed, but will hopefully provide another opportunity for the usual standard of action packed fun that Fred Van Lente is known for in this series.

Superior Spider-Man #25: As the world now knows, the "superior" era of Spider-Man is officially coming to an end the month before Sony's "Amazing Spider-Man 2" hits theaters by sheer corporate synergy (or coincidence). This is expected news as this long form story arc by Dan Slott (and sporadically co-written by Christos Gage, who tunes in for this issue) has run a bit long in the tooth considering it relies on a more than one plot hole and convenient mishandling of some supporting characters. The extra surprise is this is an "extra sized" issue, with thirty pages of art by Humberto Ramos, inker Victor Olazaba and three colorists as the new "Superior Venom" goes to war with both crime and the Avengers. Naturally, there is a lot of action and perhaps two to three issues of development from the series' usual pace which happen within this extra priced tome. If the story could move this fast, why was there a seeming stall during the summer stories? Regardless, the fate of Carlie Cooper is revealed, the Green Goblin's goblin squad escalates their war with both the new web-slinger and Roderick Kingsley (the original Hobgoblin), the symbiote continues to boost the power and insanity of Doc Ock, and "Peter the Friendly Ghost" makes his triumphant return since a tease from issue nineteen. The art which has a lot of action and monstrous (or mechanical) figures plays to Ramos' strengths for such designs, even if it can seem obligatory. All in all, this is an issue where the pros tend to outweigh the cons for those eager to see a return of the original web-slinger as well as a conclusion to this era. There are still some convenient character moments - such as the end of MJ's suspicions for a previously stated but still flimsy reason - but the opposition of both the Avengers and the goblins mark the collapse of Dr. Octopus' house of cards. After an exciting start and a bit of a middling middle, the finale of this era will make or break this run in the career of Dan Slott as well as the franchise as a whole. At the very least, the third act of this fifteen month stretch is heating up when it should.

All-New Marvel NOW! Point One #1: The annual six dollar sampler of the latest batch of new series launches with the title that just rolls off the tongue - for a frog. As always, the ten page prologue tales for new series are framed together by another prologue - in this case, a quest by the newly adult Loki to gather together six keys to unlock yet another ancient weapon Odin hid somewhere. These segments are by Al Ewing ("Mighty Avengers") and Lee Garbett, and capture the voice, humor, and motives of the character perfectly. The first story is a peak at the next stab at "Silver Surfer" by Dan Slott and iconic artists Michael & Laura Allred, which offers an eclectic take on the often stoic cosmic figure. Apparently the Surfer has formed a friendship with a random woman named Dawn Greenwood and they've gone off to explore the universe, and encounter wacky space oddities in the process. It is about time Norrin moved past Shalla Bal and while this is apparently a set up for bizarre artwork, that works when the artists are the incredible Allreds. Next up was a look at "All-New Invaders" by DC Comics refugee James Robinson with art by Steve Pugh, which unfortunately is mired by ten pages of boring exposition about yet another Kree warrior instead of showing readers how Robinson plans to handle Marvel's classic "golden age" team. Faring better is a simple Black Widow story by Nathan Edmondson and artist Phil Noto, who deliver a beautiful yarn in merely a few pages; their series officially began last week and is just as good as this preview suggested. After that is a look at one of Marvel's most progressive choices in the new "Ms. Marvel" by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona ("Runaways") which sufficiently introduces their new Muslim-American teenage heroine from New Jersey in spectacular fashion. The last peak is a look at the relaunched "Avengers" series by Nick Spencer and Rags Morales which focuses on ex-New Mutants Sunspot and Cannonball having a mission on A.I.M. Such samplers have been standard for at least the past three years and while always a mixed bag, this bag seemed less mixed than others. So far, 2014's offerings are looking quite bright.

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