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Superhero comics worth your time today

Sean T. Collins

I haven’t done a quick-hits look at the week’s front-of-Previews-type comics in literally years now. Here’s a look at some books that came out today that I enjoyed. Perhaps you will too. See you after the jump…

DARK REIGN: THE LIST—X-MEN While Alan Davis isn’t my cup of tea, I fully support comics in which the Green Goblin unleashes a bioengineered sea monster as a doomsday weapon against the people of Atlantis to get back at Namor (who used to be married to the sea monster), and then Namor and the X-Men beat the sea monster (who used to be married to Namor) to death and toss its giant decapitated head through the Green Goblin’s window. I hope the Green Goblin unleashes more monsters as the Dark Reign storyline draws to a close. If President Obama made Charles Manson the head of the CIA and he used his new security clearance to gain access to a bunch of monsters, you know he’d unleash the living shit out of those things.

DETECTIVE COMICS #857 I think this is the first time I’ve really been able to sit back and enjoy an issue of the Rucka/Williams run, because the “a plane takes off filled with chemical weapons and Batwoman has to stop it” structure is immediate and easy to understand and thereby overwhelms my reticence regarding Rucka’s long-running Religion of Crime mega-plot, which to me needlessly complicates “rich woman dresses up like a bat and fights crime.” That premise actually gets more complicated by the end of the issue, now that I think of it, but it’s an excitingly paced chase/fight scene up until that point, very much in tune with the Morrison & Quitely Batman & Robin material, to the point where you feel like the characters in either could look up for a second and see the others running past them before getting back to business. Batwoman’s K.O. of Alice’s bodyguard was memorably colored by the incomparable Dave Stewart–so is the whole thing, really, especially Alice and Batwoman; pretty in pale!

IMMORTAL WEAPONS #3 This miniseries, or whatever you’d call it, has been very good so far; fans of the Frubaker run who jumped ship with the last Fraction/Aja issue, you might even see it as “a return to form” (although I’ve enjoyed Swierczynski’s run just fine). This issue features a very strong, emotionally bracing origin story for Dog Brother #1, with vivid, wiry, convincing art from Timothy Green. The Iron Fist back-up can’t help but feel a little short and slight in comparison, but I love how new artist Hatuey Diaz draws Danny Rand’s mask a little too big for his head. Humanizing details like that seem to me to be what makes the Iron Fist different from your usual serious-business martial-arts hero–the other Immortal Weapons, for instance. I hope this franchise continues.

INCREDIBLE HERCULES #135 I really wonder how this decision to make Incredible Herc more or less biweekly as the story switches back and forth between Hercules and Amadeus Cho is affecting sales. I wonder, but I don’t care—I like it! As for this Amadeus-centric issue in particular, it’s not very often that you get lengthy sequences depicted through a role-playing game framework, and man is this book in love with ideas, whether Amadeus’s Morrisonian pseudoscience or Hercules’s modernized mythology riffs. I’m rooting for this series, too. (And I have a kick-ass idea for a storyline, something that almost NEVER happens with me, so I’m hoping it sticks around until the current crew gets sick of it and hands it to me.)

INVINCIBLE #66 I always love the big “secret Viltrumite history” issues of Invincible. Kirkman smartly injected what could be a tedious regularly-scheduled infodump with welcome humor by presenting each new revelation as a twist off of the set-up and imagery of the previous one, resulting in an “Ohhhh, so THAT’S what really happened! Ha, clever!” feeling each time. Original artist Cory Walker returns here, his art a little softer around the edges, a little warmer in the eyes. It works well, particularly as colorist Dave McCaig’s pastels mesh seamlessly with the unique, pivotally important palette established across Bill Crabtree and FCO Plascensia’s runs. Invincible can always be counted upon to serve up a holy-crap moment each issue–here it’s enough dead Viltrumites floating in orbit around their homeworld to make up a Saturn-style ring. Still the most unpredictable superhero comic on the stands.

SUPERGIRL #45 The common complaint against the Superman line right now, or at least the common observation about its sales, is that it was an obvious mistake to remove Superman from the Superman books. But there’s a very similar situation going on across town: Neither Hulk nor Incredible Hulk/Incredible Hercules nor Son of Hulk have been about the actual Hulk in a couple years, either, and they too are telling intertwining stories illuminating one corner of their universe (though not as tightly intertwining, I suppose), and you don’t really hear that complaint much over there. You shouldn’t hear it here either, because, and I share this opinion with virtually everyone I know who’s actually reading the Superman line, it’s really entertaining right now. Robinson, Rucka, and Gates are quite ably manning the fort in Johns’s absence, creating a compelling little 52-style soap-actioner about a bunch of Superman-style heroes (Superman himself up on New Krypton, Supergirl, Mon-El, Nightwing, Flamebird, Steel, the Guardian) and the evil militaristic assholes who are out to get them all (Zod and his thugs, Metallo, Reactron, General Lane, Codename Assassin, Atlas, a pair of Kryptonian serial killers, cameo appearances from Lex Luthor and Brainiac). It’s rewarding serialized superhero storytelling that’s carving out reasons for the previously schizophrenically written Supergirl or the ultimate second banana Mon-El for doing what they do. The art ranges from spectacular (Renato Guedes) to perfectly fine (most everyone else), the intrigue is actually intriguing, and I really want to find out what the heck is going to happen here. I know this is more of a review of the whole shebang than of this issue, but that’s sort of the point, isn’t it?

SUPERMAN: SECRET ORIGIN #1 I know that a lot of people have a problem with Gary Frank’s Christopher Reeve-model Superman, particularly now that he’s de-aging him when drawing young Clark Kent. But that last part is the key! This isn’t just the usual “hey I took a picture of a celebrity and drew it/photoshopped into my superhero comic, haha, look, it’s Edward James Olmos as MODOK!” Frank’s Reeve-Superman doesn’t look lightboxed, it looks cartooned–particularly since the guy already draws the most personality-filled, and often funniest, facial expressions and poses in superhero comics this side of Frank Quitely. I could look at his stuff all day.

Interesting, and smart, decision on Geoff Johns’s part to take some of the earliest material from Superman’s backstory—scenes on Krypton, Ma and Pa Kent discovering the ship, li’l Clark first accidentally manifesting his powers—as read, or at the very least just showing them in passing in flashbacks. Instead of wasting time putting his stamp on stuff we’ve seen a million times he cuts forward a bit, to Clark in his early teens as his parents reveal his origin to him. (The “secret” was kept from him! Hey, that’s clever.)

He also meets Lex Luthor for the first time here, Lex being a slightly older teen resident of Smallville with a full head of red hair. God how I hope they bring back the idea that Lex dedicated himself to Superman’s destruction because he blames the Man of Steel for his hair loss. There has never ever ever been a better villain origin story than that, and moreover, it actually works better now that we’ve had years and years of “Lex believes Superman holds humanity back, not to mention obscures his own superhuman genius.” Now, beneath his big philosophical justification, beneath even his pissing-contest aspect, there’d be this glowing nugget of sheer stupid pettiness. Fingers crossed!

I suppose there’s still something of a redundancy issue given how many times this story has been told, but we’ve never been told it by Johns and Frank, both of whom I like a lot, and so of course I want to read their take on Superman’s origin, particularly because other than the four-panel thing in All Star Superman #1 I’m not sure I ever sat and read one of those origin stories. Cute business with the heat vision, too. This is very good, and like all of Johns’s Superman stuff back to Up, Up and Away! with Busiek, I look forward to having it as a part of a big series of trades I can hand to my comics-interested friends and say “Here you go–Superman 101.”


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