Wednesday, 7 November 2012

COMIX ZONE: 7/11/12

Another release day, another really small selection of week-old comics reviews. In terms of my regulars it was a slow week so I picked up a pair of new titles to check out, but all four of this week's issues occupy a weird limbo zone of comics publication - three are Annuals and another is what's known round these here parts as a Point One, essentially books off to the side of any ongoing storylines (or separate from them altogether) to flesh out supporting cast, tell done-in-one tales or showcase new creative teams. This is right up my street and turned out to be one of the most enjoyable hauls I've had in a while. I miss the days of a full story per month in comics and while I'm all for the bigger modern arcs (excepting maybe DC's current "Rotworld" run which has basically been playing out across two books for over a year now) it's nice to have the relative 'day off' just to see characters you love doing something that in the grand boo-bah publishing scheme of things doesn't matter. I'll see you after the jump, friendo:

Avenging Spider-Man Annual #1

Context me: Avenging Spider-Man was launched last year as a second monthly Spider-Man book to run alongside the biweekly Amazing Spider-Man, itself in publication since 1963. This is not a new thing, though, and at the peak of Marvel's gluttony they were publishing a title a week with a fifth quarterly series and countless miniseries and whatnot. To be honest, despite that apparent cynicism, I pine for those days. Even at an inconsistent rate of quality, I'd welcome weekly Spidey right now, so I finally took the plunge and jumped onboard Avenging on account of its excellent fourth-wall-breaking cover (harkens back to the John Byrne She-Hulk days, dontcha think? Well, if you don't know what that means, then, yeah, I guess you dontch...). For the most part, Avenging is the modern equivalent of Marvel Team-Up, a series which debuted in the 1970s and in nearly every ish paired Spidey up with another character to face some threat or another and sat comfortably outside the confines of heavy continuity. The book was designed for consequence-light fun and some of my favourite issues ever are part of the original series' late-70s run.

Any good? In a nutshell, it's very greatsome and then lots more. I'd never heard of writer Rob Williams before and have since apologised to him on Twitter for this horrific oversight. He writes Spidey just the way I want, with a solid grasp of how he speaks and how he acts. The story concerns a pair of yo's snooping around the sites of big superhero smackdowns looking for leftover artifacts to sell (a really neat concept, no?) and coming across a device that makes everyone within a certain radius overly hostile, not least Fantastic Four's The Thing who begins hounding Spidey across the city in a minor spell of misunderstanding that recalls the early 60s and put a huge smile on my face. There are several laugh out loud moments, particularly when the device's function is reversed to the point of affection replacing anger and our heroic pair are locked in a clinch I'm unlikely to forget any time soon, and the art from Brad Walker, John Livesay and Chris Sotomayor is fluid and defined throughout. There's even a little note from Williams at the back detailing his love of the character which is a nice touch. I've heard good things about his current stint on 2000 AD, which I'm worried I'll end up looking for before too long.

Should I buy it? I say thee yay.

Batgirl Annual #1

Context me: Another new series for me. Again, I've heard good things about the series and had a serious lack of decent female characters in the week's pull (or so I thought, at least), so it seemed worth picking up to see at least what Gail Simone's writing was like and how Batgirl and Catwoman figured in the New 52. As with the Avenging Spider-Man annual, Batgirl's sits a little outside of current continuity so I didn't feel like I was dropped smack in the middle of something I couldn't follow.

Any good? Certainly it's good, yes, it's well crafted on both fronts, but probably not enough to make a regular reader of me. Barbara Gordon, this series' and in general the most recognizable Batgirl, has a welcome distaste for violence as a tool in crimefighting and isn't just a spunky female version of Bruce Wayne or even Robin, so that's a plus, but there's a couple of factors in the issue that didn't sit well with me (like Simone's troubling attitude towards the definition of crime under coercion and the rote, generalised characterisation of ex-Owl and 'troubled person' Mary) and the art, which picks up with a change of penciller a little later in the issue, feels like the sort of illustration that wouldn't have been out of place in a children's novel about 20 years ago. If this is to act as the comics equivalent of a backdoor pilot (a male Owl, from this summer's Night Of The Owls crossover, has recently appeared in his own series), I'm not sure it was worth the effort.

Should I buy it? Nuh-uh.

Swamp Thing Annual #1

Context me: DC actually released a few annuals last week (yeah, I forgot to mention this earlier) and have just come off the back of Zero Month, during which each of the surviving New 52 titles were given an #0 to tell stories that, like these annuals generally do, can comfortably do their thang without worrying about making a major impact on the main series. The annuals, while appreciated, can't help but feel like delays so soon after Zero Month did the same thing. Still, it's just a matter of scheduling and hasn't actually delayed anything (Swamp Thing #14 was released today, in fact, and is on its way to me right now), that's just how my brain processed them.

Any good? Confusingly, it appears to be set either after or during the subsequent issue (#14, mentioned above) so for reasons yet unknown Swamp Thing is massive and is told of, like, a past life he lived, or something like that? To be honest, Snyder's Swamp Thing has been a little hard to follow at times and I keep confusing bits of it with Alan Moore's run from the 1980s from which it takes a few cues. It paints a cute picture of a love that could have been between the series' two main characters and throws in a weak metaphor for the triumph of life over death but mostly it's unnecessary and quite distracting. It really doesn't help that the current story, Rotworld, seems to be set a year in the future where a few characters have bit the dust and will inevitably have to be reversed by the end of its run to fit into the current line-wide scheme of things at DC yet they're telling stories within those stories about things that may or may not have happened to people who may or may not have died. What? Exactly.

Should I buy it? I appear to have convinced myself that I shouldn't have bought it...

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #16.1

Context me: OK, so around about 2000 or so Marvel launched their Ultimate universe so they could sell their comics to new audiences from a new starting point for those worried about getting lost in nearly forty years' worth of continuity. Surprisingly, the line was extremely good (that was not meant to happen) and for about seven or eight years Ultimate Spider-Man was actually better than it's main-series counterpart. After 150 issues, its version of Peter Parker was retired and soon after the series was renumbered and relaunched to great critical acclaim with 13-year old black kid Miles Morales as its titular webswinger (though he didn't actually swing from a web for ages and ages and...oh, look, I went all King Nerd...) It's been nothing but awesome since then, even if Brian Bendis' writing means that more often that not the issues are over in a flash, but that's enough of an excuse for me to re-read the series again in trades now that I'm picking up the single issues. The Point One issue wraps up this week's look at distraction issues, and seems to serve as a jumping on point for new readers. It features a minor reference to the Ultimate line's Divided We Fall, United We Stand crossover which is still ongoing (and I have no understanding of due to my staunch refusal to pick up the other Ultimate books which offer chapters of it) but is otherwise new-reader friendly.

Any good? I cannot get enough. This issue is excellent comics. Like I said, Point One issues seem like another of these detours like all the annuals and zero issues but this one's the best of the week (and UCSM hasn't been the best in its week in a while, though that's the multiple-series crossover's fault and not really mine). Still, great ish, and with great art and a killer you-must-see-what-happens-next conclusion, it's that rare thing - a must -have sideline comic and the best issue in months. It features Betty Brant (with this series you're always resisting the urge to put the word Ultimate in front of every character's name) and her temporary obsession with figuring out who Spider-Man is, and plays out differently than you'd expect both because of the inbuilt differences from the main Marvel timeline and because, well, go on, predict that ending. Get. Oops, too early.

Should I buy it? Yes. Go all the way back to the start of the Parker issues and read the whole thing, it doesn't get that much better than this series and it's currently as hot as it's ever been. That's right: Hot. Like a DJ would say.

Be here next week (or possibly as soon as this weekend) for a look at the new Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Avenging Spider-Man and Daredevil: End Of Days and a special mystery comic! A MYSTERY. I can't even wait to get it.

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