The weekly tithe of reviews for the best comic books from September 25th, 2013!
Book of the week: Saga #14
After a break of some three months, this phenomenally written, draw, and selling creator owned series published by Image Comics continues to expand upon its third major arc as if it never left. This time around, writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples are spicing things up by linking this arc to the cliffhanger of issue twelve and then playing with the order in which scenes are being told for extra effect. Issue twelve left things off with Prince Robot IV having successfully played up one of his strange hunches to track down the cross world family that it seems the entire galaxy seems to want to find - Alana, Marko, and their daughter Hazel (alongside Marko's recently widowed mother and their ghostly babysitter, Izabel). The last issue took a step back to begin to build towards leading up to that cliffhanger, and this issue continues along that flashback bridge.
Intergalactic tabloid reporters Upshar and Doff track down Alana's amazingly young step-mother for leads on her whereabouts as well as a scoop on the story of the star crossed hybrid couple which has two empires at war over them. Meanwhile, the rest of the combined family of "Saga" continue on their quest on planet Quietus to take sanctuary with the author whose book inspired the unlikely love between Alana and Marko, the cyclops like Mr. Heist. While "Granny" is initially displeased with the author who her son and daughter-in-law fawn over, the two find themselves bonding over memories of lost loves. Meanwhile, mercenary "the Will" is content to settle on a backwater planet and retire from the dangerous life after losing his own lover, the Stalk, despite the protesting of Marko's spurned ex Gwendolyn and a rescued slave girl named Sophie (and his trust "Lying Cat"). It's kept delightfully ambiguous whether the Stalk is haunting Will or if he just has a screw loose over the trauma of losing her.
At this stage in the story, it appears as if "Saga" is setting up two different families who are opposed to each other, but who each may have a common enemy in Prince Robot IV. Gwen, "the Will", Sophie and their cat are already forming an unlikely collective in a similar way as Alana and Marko quickly found their own traveling party expand. They're both in opposition with each other yet we can see where all of them are coming from and to that end all come off as sympathetic. Even Prince Robot IV is being blackmailed by his superiors into being their enemy, as the overall message is that endless wars by major empires usually destroy everyone involved in or beneath them. Staples' artwork is like no other in comics and perfectly mingles the familiar with the fantastic into a visually stunning whole. Vaughan's dialogue and layered characterization is at the peak of his career and his decision to put off most other work to focus on this seems to be paying off in spades.
There is a temptation to be hesitant about books which "everyone" seems to love which become critical darlings due to the fear that they won't live up to the hype or are being overrated. "Saga" isn't one of those books; it really is this good, in much the same way Vaughan's other series from WildStorm or Vertigo were that good. With Image Comics' wise trade collection schedule, it's never too late to catch up with the series which is taking everyone who reads it on a wonderful journey.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #26: "City Fall" continues onward with another fascinating chapter which lays groundwork embellishing the characters involved in a new status quo - both heroes and villains. As this series progresses it seems it begins to become a thing produced by more of a committee; Bobby Curnow has joined co-writers Tom Waltz and Kevin Eastman, and current artist Mateus Santolouco has been getting some help on art with other artists pitching in for dream sequences - this time it's Charles Paul Wilson III handling a two page sequence. This tactic was commonly done during the bulk of the "Captain America" run by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting (which came to rely heavily on flashbacks), which is perfectly clever and effective. Ronda Pattison's colors keep it all uniform as the script skillfully mixes character reaction and progression with a ton of action. The titular Turtles try to recover from the Foot's major moves in NYC against them and their rivals, but that has been quite a struggle. While Casey continues to recover in the hospital and April and Don unite with another egghead for new technology, Raph and Angel are picking up the pieces of a broke Purple Dragon gang and Splinter continues to make unholy deals with his nemesis, Old Hob. Meanwhile, the Shredder leads his new second-in-command (the brainwashed Leonardo) against the Savate gang of French based martial arts mobsters, taking their leader Victor prisoner. Lost on the ancient sexist warlord is that his actions have offended both Karai and Alopex, which is due to cost him at some critical juncture. The battle between the Foot and the Savate (and especially Leo versus Victor) is easily an action highlight of the issue, while the voices of all of the involved characters aren't lost and the complexities aren't glossed over. It is becoming increasingly clear that the side "micro-series" has become absolutely critical to this core series' enjoyment, which could be a stress on some fans not expecting to spend eight bucks a month on TMNT fare. Regardless, this remains a key lesson by IDW Comics to others on how to relaunch an old franchise and stay true to its roots while having the stones to come up with new ideas and dynamics between the cast.
Scarlet Spider #22: Officially a "dead book walking" following the announcement of its cancellation with issue twenty-five, this series seems to be shifting into a tome handled by a large squad of creators. Chris Yost is joined by Erik Burnham on the script while there are three pencilers, two inkers, and two colorists in tow. There is often some cause for concern when the creative team for a book numbers more than the starting line up of a basketball team. In addition, this seems to be yet another "Amazing Spider-Man" spin off in recent memory to see an arc revolving around Kraven the Hunter and/or his extended family (his daughter Ana in particular). He/they showed up in "Venom" and "Spider-Girl" and if "Morbius the Living Vampire" had lasted another few issues he/they may have shown up there, too. If one accepts the retroactive continuity that Chameleon is related to Kraven, then you even have a Kravenoff in "Superior Foes of Spider-Man" right now. The biggest dilemma about this is Kraven and his family tend to be very one trick ponies and even a well executed arc with them will repeat many familiar themes. To this end, Kaine battles for his life against wild animals and Ana in an attempt to save his entire supporting cast, who have been kidnapped to force a final battle with Kraven - who both wants his usual worthy challenge as well as a final death. The various artists give the story more of an awkward shift in pencils, but overall it is a perfectly exciting action issue which sets up the climax well, albeit bluntly.
Uncanny Avengers #12: Rick Remender continues to weave his far reaching cross-time story about the destruction of the "unity" team of X-Men and Avengers, only this time with fill in art by Salvador Larroca and colorist Frank Martin. The story by now is very complicated but the gist is that the latest twin heirs to Apocalypse, Uriel and Eimin, have been manipulated and trained by the old Avengers enemy Kang for a mysterious purpose. To this end they've formed their own team of Horsemen and divided the "unity team". However, they ultimately play to betray even Kang, leading a future version of Kang, Immortus, into uniting with the heroes. Most of the team are down and out, but Cap, Havok, and Wasp are still in the fight and attempting to breach the villains' fortress. Meanwhile, the twins seek to convince Scarlet Witch and Wonder Man into enabling them to take all of the mutants to another planet to spare them yet another doomed future. To a degree this issue could be dismissed as filler, although the character dynamics within it are very interesting. Remender manages to wrangle some drama out of Wanda and Simon once more, while we see Janet and Havok - two characters perennially attached to insane lovers since the Silver Age - see something in each other. Perhaps spending more time "shipping" than crafting a cohesive narrative is a flaw, but for this issue Remender at least satisfies.
Young Avengers #10: Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton's terminally hip take on youngster superheroes continues in an issue which continues the trends of bizarre imaginary things as metaphors for the trials and tribulations of being young. The cross dimensional parasite "Mother" reveals the young Loki's eternal duplicity, as Leah tries to manipulate Teddy/Hulkling against Wiccan and the team. To a degree this covers some territory already handled in previous issues, but the visual flair of this issue is more than enough to warrant a rerun. Regardless of how weird or aimless it can seem as a whole, every issue in itself is fun to read and is a remarkable vision in terms of art - which is more than many comics with a more stable agenda can claim for three dollars.