Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 3/16/13
This was not a good week for friend-of-the-blog Jason Aaron. I’ve been a huge fan of his Thor: God of Thunder series, and have enjoyed his Wolverine and the X-Men comic, but both of them take horrifying nose dives in quality this week. I was shocked at just how bad those comics were. Maybe it’s because they both take a break from the normal storytelling to focus an issue on the villain. Is Aaron just bad at villains? I couldn’t say, but both comics were very disappointing.
On the better side of things, we have a few Batman titles tackling the fallout of Damian’s death, and we have hot and cold Brian Michael Bendis. The second issue of his Age of Ultron is a dud, but the new issue of Uncanny X-Men is everything I want from this comic. It’s on fire, and easily wins Comic Book of the Week. This is the best Cyclops has been since Joss Whedon was writing, and honestly, this is the best any superhero has been in years!
Comics Reviewed: Age of Ultron #2, Batman #18, Batman and Robin #18, Fearless Defenders #2, Thor: God of Thunder #6, Uncanny X-Men #3, and Wolverine and the X-Men #26.
Age of Ultron #2
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Bryan Hitch
This is not looking good. Two issues into Age of Ultron and I can already see Bendis’ typical weaknesses for these Big Event comics. The man does a great job with dialogue and the individual characters, but when it comes to a story like this, he spends way too much time dwelling on the setting. Bendis loves to just stew in whatever world he’s created, with little actually happening. He’s also got his favorite characters and loves to use them prominently – though I probably shouldn’t blame him for that. When I write for Marvel Comics, I’m going to turn the Mimic into a star. Still, this second issue was a disappointing continuation of the first.
We open the issue with a look at San Francisco, which is also a demolished cityscape where ordinary citizens are living in Mad Max-esque squalor. In this city, we find Black Widow and Moon Knight, who have banded together to basically scrape by while hiding out in one of Nick Fury’s old bunkers. They don’t know if anyone else is alive, but they want to kill Ultron for what he’s done. Back in New York City, Spider-Man (who still sounds and acts like Peter Parker) tells the Avengers the story of how he woke up from a nap to find that Ultron’s invasion had begun. He got knocked out quickly and woke up with Hammerhead and Owl, who were arguing about wanting to sell Spider-Man to Ultron. The Avengers try to figure out what that means and why Ultron would buy superheroes. Then on the last page, Captain America finally stands up and tells them that he has a plan.
Comic Book Rating: 3/5: Alright.
Nothing happens in this issue. The plot doesn’t progress and the characters don’t do anything besides standing around and talking to one another. Even the big cliffhanger of the last issue, that Captain America has lost hope, is simply undone when Captain America suddenly comes up with a plan. Good for him. There might be some mystery in why Ultron would be ‘buying’ heroes from the villains, but that’s not nearly enough to drive this series. Not only that, but Ultron has yet to actually appear. We basically just have to accept that he’s taken over and destroyed most of the world, and a few handful of Bendis’ favorite superheroes are banding together to do…nothing yet. Spider-Man’s story isn’t very interesting, and just seems like an opportunity for Hitch to draw some scenes of an undamaged New York. And as much as I love Hitch’s art, he’s always drawn a terrible Spider-Man in costume. So unless you’re a huge Moon Knight fan and like seeing him as a badass, there’s not a whole lot to get excited about in this issue or this series as a whole so far.
Writers: Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV
Artists: Andy Kubert and Alex Maleev
If you want proof that Harper Row is being set up as the new Robin, look no further than Batman #18. They don’t come out and say it, they don’t make it obvious, but if you read my article during Robin Week about how the best Robins are the ones who pick Batman, you can see all of the pieces falling into place. And I couldn’t be happier. I would love for Harper Row to become the next Robin. She’s perfect. The next Robin has to be a success, she has to be someone who can last and grow as a character for several years. And based on this issue, Snyder is setting up Harper to be just that, and I definitely look forward to watching her progression.
In the wake of Robin’s death, Batman has gone off the deep end. He’s pushing himself too hard and too far in his war on crime, and the young Harper Row has noticed. Since Batman told her to stop interfering several issues ago, Harper reveals that she has instead only upped her game. She’s been working out, training to fight and even has a few gadgets to help her in tracking Batman. She joins him in a fight to try and convince Batman that he needs to calm down and take a break, because she recognizes someone dealing with grief. She lost her mom some time ago. Batman doesn’t want Harper’s help and once again tells her to stop what she’s doing. He even goes so far as to break her nose!
But Harper doesn’t give up. Instead, she reaches out to Bruce Wayne, who funds Batman Incorporated. Bruce is still in morning, but he’s a lot calmer when faced with Harper this time. She’s designed a ‘pick me ups message for Batman, and she wants Bruce to portray it from the lights of Wayne Tower. He readily agrees after reading it, and of course knows what’s coming as Batman. He visits Harper in costume later on a rooftop and apologizes for breaking her nose. They have a nice chat, and she leaves him to read her message, which is a word her mother used to tell her: Resolve.
Comic Rating: 4/5: Good.
As much as I liked this issue, it wasn’t very emotionally fulfilling. It kind of just checked off the right story beats to start Harper’s journey to becoming Robin. And while I fully support the idea and enjoyed this issue, it still felt a little clinical. There were a few strong scenes, especially the meeting between Harper and Bruce Wayne, so there was a lot to like in this issue. And Snyder did a great job with Harper as a character. The meeting between Harper, her brother and their imprisoned father was tough to read, if only because the dad is such a scumbag. But the companionship between Harper and her brother Cullen is a treat. If she does become Robin, I’m excited to see what will become of Cullen. Harper herself is a very cool character. She’s all tough and spunky, and very likable so far. She also has a nice rapport with Batman. And that ending was nice and touching. So while the issue had some good scenes, moments and characters, on a whole it felt a little too perfunctory.
Batman and Robin #18
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Patrick Gleason
I’m not opposed to silent issues. They can be a unique take on comic books as a medium, and in a moment like this, they’re pretty appropriate. So I fully support comic book creators when they want to try something experimental like this. But on a personal level, I’ve never been big on comic book art. It’s just me. I’m terrible at critiquing the art and probably can’t fully appreciate everything an artist can accomplish. It’s like the old saying: I don’t know comic book art, but I know what I like. So I probably wasn’t as touched by this issue as other people might be.
In this all-silent issue, Bruce Wayne and Alfred deal with the grief of Damian’s death. They sit wordlessly in the dark. Alfred mourns a family portrait that will now never be finished. And Titus the dog eagerly awaits a master that will never come home. When Bruce can’t take it anymore, he goes out as Batman, unleashing a harsh vengeance on the city’s criminals and leaving a whole pile of them for the police. As he works, he keeps having glimpses of Robin sitting next to him or fighting alongside him, but it’s just the grief. Back at home, Bruce finds a note that Damian left for him down in the Batcave, where his son writes that he hopes Bruce isn’t mad that Damian disobeyed orders to join the fight with Leviathan. Damian’s touching words set off Bruce’s anger, and he smashes the workstation where Damian stored his Robin costume and equipment. Batman just keeps punching…until he’s kneeling on the ground hugging Damian’s costume.
Comic Rating: 4/5: Good.
It’s a solid issue. The art is up to Gleason’s usual standards, and Tomasi and Gleason come up with a nice little silent story to show off Batman’s grief. Calling back to the family portrait was a nice touch, and the scene on the GCPD rooftop where Batman drops off a whole pile of criminals was fun. The rest is the emotional stuff that’s expected, like Batman grieving over Damian’s Robin costume. So it’s a good comic, has some nice art and a few entertaining scenes. I wasn’t blown away, but perhaps other people will appreciate the issue more than me.
Fearless Defenders #2
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Will Sliney
I’m still willing to give this comic a chance, but I don’t know how long my interest is going to last. Fearless Defenders is a solid comic. But it’s nothing special. There’s no hook to get me to keep reading. The plot and characters are all generic. They are well-written and the art is great, but everything else is so utterly mediocre. I am strongly in favor of an all-female team of superheroes. It’s a great idea and I want to see that kind of diversity. But Bunn isn’t doing anything interesting with the idea. I think this comic is really only going to appeal to fans of Valkyrie, Misty Knight and Dani Moonstar.
The three heroines head to Asgardia to consult the All-Mother about the Doom Maidens. No effort is made to explain Asgardia, the All-Mother or what’s happened to Odin. I was able to keep up, but I would have preferred a little explanation. The All-Mother (which is actually 3 female Asgardians) explain that the Doom Maidens were the early precursors to the Valkyrie, but they went mad and were defeated by Odin. They also point out that Valkyrie was supposed to be putting together a new host of Valkyrie to replace the ones that died (I think). But Valkyrie explains that she couldn’t find any women worthy enough in the superhero ranks. So she’s still the last one. Then Hel shows up for some reason and the Defenders attack her with little provocation. They don’t do very well, but on the last page, Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, arrives in Asgardia with her own chosen warriors to become the new Valkyrie.
Comic Rating: 3/5: Alright.
First off, why the hell is Marvel bringing back their own version of Hippolyta? I realize that she’s a mythological figure and not protected by copyright, but everybody in the world of comics knows her as Wonder Woman’s mother. She’s a very well established character in Wonder Woman comics. So why even bother creating their own version of her? It’s only going to lead to annoying confusion. And it’s just further proof that Bunn is scraping the bottle of the barrel to find female cast members. The choice of Hippolyta just further enforces the very mediocrity of Fearless Defenders. It’s a bunch of C and D-list characters chasing after a plot that has nothing important or interesting to say. Everyone is solidly written, and I’m sure fans of these characters would be happy, but I can’t imagine those fans are nearly enough to drive sales. I firmly believe that any character can be fun to read if handled properly – just look at Gail Simone’s Secret Six – but Bunn has got nothing interesting to say about this team.
Thor: God of Thunder #6
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Butch Guice
What the hell happened to Thor: God of Thunder!? What a disappointing issue. I can scarcely believe it. This series has been one of the best of Marvel NOW!, but suddenly we’ve got a crappy issue on our hands. The problem is that Aaron takes a break to tell us the origin of his villain, Gorr the God Butcher, and it’s just a really stupid origin! Not only that, but the art is terrible. The regular painted style of Esad Ribic has been replaced by the rushed, sloppy pencils of Butch Guice. Gorr has never looked more ridiculous and silly, and he was already suffering in the looks department.
So far in Thor: God of Thunder, Gorr has been built up as this vicious, immortal, malevolent, cosmic being who delights in torturing and slaughtering gods. He’s supremely powerful, can best Thor in a fight, and has dark powers. So who is Gorr? Well, it turns out that Gorr is just an atheist who had the misfortune of being born on a planet of religious fanatics a few thousand years ago. That’s pretty much it. Gorr isn’t anybody special, nor are his powers or his convictions. He was just some schlubby alien loser who lived on a barren desert planet, and who just happened to have a very religious mother and a very religious wife. When both of them died in tragic ways, the skeptical Gorr decided that the gods were not real and that their religion was bogus. When he spoke out in his grief, he was stoned and exiled for his blasphemy.
But when, while wandering the desert and wishing to die, a few aliens crashland nearby. Gorr believes them to be the gods of his people, who never answered his family’s prayers, and he gets royally pissed. He steals one of their weapons and beats them to death, then somehow the mysterious black weapon grants him powers, and he begins his crusade across the cosmos to kill all gods. That’s it.
In the future, after Gorr has taken over the universe, he’s seen torturing Volstagg, who rightfully points out that Gorr has now turned himself into a loose definition of a god. Gorr crucifies Volstagg for such a suggestion.
Comic Rating: 2/5: Bad!
I was very, very disappointed with this issue and with the origin of Gorr in general. There are hints that something more will be explained, like the true nature of that mysterious black weapon he picked up, but those hints are not enough to justify any of Gorr’s character. Somehow his centuries-spanning hatred of all gods stems from just a general skepticism with his people’s religion. His entire motivation can be summed up with ‘how can the gods let bad things happen to good people?’ But even then, that calls into question a problem with this entire series: just what is a ‘god’? What separates a god from just a superior alien race? Based on Aaron’s stories, every single planet in the entire universe is supposed to have its own gods. Thor got royally pissed at that one alien for saying he didn’t have gods. But whenever we meet these gods, they just seem like other aliens. What makes them gods? For that matter, what makes Asgardians so special out of all the different gods?
Would not an ant view human beings as gods, and then wouldn’t that make humans into gods as well?
Whose to stay those gods that crash landed near a dying Gorr really were his people’s gods? Maybe they were just some aliens who happened to crash on his planet, and he completely mistook them for his gods. And based on what we’ve seen of these various gods, none of them seem to have any divine power. Thor doesn’t control the animals or quakes of planet Earth, so who’s to say that Gorr’s people’s gods would have been able to save his mother and wife?
Worship is supposed to be about faith and belief, not about actual beings who’ll come down and have a beer with you or stop that truck from hitting you.
The very definition of ‘gods’ is hard to pin down in Aaron’s Thor: God of Thunder, so even though it’s an exceptional comic, its premise is shaky. It gets even worse when he wraps his lead villain around that notion with a very weak, unfulfilling origin. How does Gorr’s general atheism lead to him becoming a universe-spanning serial killer? How does that one little weapon he picked up give him such incredible power and immortality to boot? And the encounter with Volstagg was equally disappointing. The Asgardian was defiant to the end, almost giddily poking holes in Gorr’s very existence as a villain. Though all of this should be no surprise. Gorr has always worked best when he was draped in shadow and mystery, and never quite worked when he actually showed his face. Now that Aaron points a big, bright spotlight on the villain, we shouldn’t be surprised that he comes up very lacking.
Uncanny X-Men #3
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Chris Bachalo
Finally, Bendis has written an issue of Uncanny X-Men that’s as good as Kieron Gillen’s AvX: Consequences! I loved Gillen’s Avengers vs. X-Men epilogue series for the dramatic and badass ways it evolved Cyclops’ character and presented both him and his allies as new versions of themselves. It took classic characters and made them feel exciting again, and did so in the context of the stories at hand. Well in this issue of Uncanny X-Men, Bendis does the exact same thing, forcing Cyclops and his people to confront what happened in Avengers vs. X-Men and explain their new position. It’s very awesome. This is the kind of excitement I love in my comics, and exactly what I was looking forward to when I heard that Bendis was taking over the X-Men.
It’s the Avengers vs. the Uncanny X-Men! Following last issue’s cliffhanger, Cyclops faces down Captain America and his team, all of whom are ready to take him into custody for the murder of Charles Xavier. But Cyclops and Emma Frost do not back down, instead turning the tables on the Avengers and pointing out how they are as much to blame for everything that went wrong with the Phoenix. The tension builds until Cap tells Cyclops he’s under arrest, and Cyclops tells Cap to go to Hell. But before anyone can attack, Eva uses her powers to freeze the Avengers in time, allowing the X-Men to teleport back home. Once there, they figure out that someone had to have set them up, and Magneto proudly declares it was him – but he reveals it’s all a triple cross. He’s letting SHIELD think he’s on their side, and used this confrontation in Australia to prove his worth to them, but now he’ll pump them for information.
This gives Cyclops the confidence to head to the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning to do a little recruiting.
Comic Rating: 5/5: Great!
There is no more dynamic character in the X-Men these days than Cyclops. Whereas once upon a time he was the stoic, steadfast leader, he has instead become a true revolutionary. And the best part is that the change feels completely natural! Cyclops has been put through the wringer, as this issue points out, and he’s had to adjust his opinions and tactics in order to deal with what life has thrown at him. He still wants to help and lead his people, as he’s always done, but that mess with the Phoenix really screwed him over. Cyclops never wanted to be possessed by the Phoenix, that was the Avengers’ fault. He used the power to help other people, but the Phoenix expectantly grew out of his control and drove him over the edge. He didn’t want to kill Professor X, it was the Phoenix Madness that caused him to do it. But the Avengers don’t care. They won, they get to be the heroes, and they want to paint Cyclops as a super-villain because they want to see the world in black and white.
But Cyclops doesn’t get that luxury. He hasn’t gone insane. He isn’t evil all of a sudden. He’s the same Cyclops he’s always been, but now the entire world has turned against him. So he can either bend over and and let the Avengers have their way with him and his reputation, or he can stand up for himself and be the best hero he can even in such dire circumstances. I am so very excited to read the latter.
Wolverine and the X-Men #26
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Ramon Perez
Say what you will about the series Origin a few years ago, but I enjoyed it. It was a controversial mini-series that, at long last, revealed the origins of Wolverine. I think it kind of petered out in the end, but those first few chapters were great! And the reveal that Wolverine was really the sickly James Howlett instead of the obvious Dog Logan was one of the best bait and switches I have ever read in comics. I was completely blown away when I hit that twist! That it’s taken this long for Marvel to get around to having that mini-series actually impact Wolverine is surprising…and ultimately disappointing. While I have enjoyed Wolverine and the X-Men by Jason Aaron, this is absolutely not the place for the fateful confrontation between Wolverine and his half-brother Dog. Their fight is abysmal and lacks all of the emotional impact or excitement I expected.
This issue is split into two parts. One is a series of beautiful, painted flashbacks to Dog’s life growing up with an abusive father, and how his only friend in the world was a young Wolverine. When he grows up, Dog’s life isn’t as great as he expected it to be, and he’s driven by a desire to hunt down Wolverine. These flashbacks end when Dog finds something called ‘time diamonds’ that allow him to travel through time. He used them to travel into the future to learn about the adult Wolverine, then travels even further into the future to grab up a bunch of futuristic weapons to help him kill his half-brother. Dog then returns to the present day and the other half of the story is a fight between him and Wolverine in the Savage Land. But it is a piss-poor fight. Wolverine is barely fazed that his half-brother is suddenly here in the Savage Land, and spends most of the time trying to convince Dog to stop fighting him. Dog, meanwhile, spends the entire fight just monologuing about all the cool weapons he found and how each one is specifically designed to kill Wolverine.
This is one of Jason Aaron’s trademarks, and I absolutely hate it. He used it in Schism and uses it a lot with the Hellfire Kids. He creates these stupid weapons where the sole purpose is to defeat this specific superhero, then comes up with some insane origin to justify why they exist. Oh hey, you’re fighting Wolverine? Well heck, Dog went into the future and found a poison in a corner store that’s derived from a such-and-such worm on planet such-and-such that specifically negates healing factors. Or he bought a club made out of Adamantium, because in the future, Adamantium grows on trees, or some such nonsense. And ta-da, Wolverine is defeated by the Dues Ex Machina weaponry! That’s not creative, that’s just lazy.
Comic Rating: 2/5: Bad.
I’ve ranted a lot in this review so far, and it still stands. Wolverine’s first real confrontation with his brother should have been epic. Dog is the only living member of Wolverine’s real and actual family. This should be a big deal! Instead, all we get is Wolverine saying, “Dog? What are you doing here?” That’s pretty much it in terms of emotional impact on Wolverine that his long-lost half-brother suddenly appears in the modern day 100 years since they last saw one another. And Dog is just terrible. He’s nothing but an obnoxious blowhard who spends the issue monologuing, most of it bragging about all the weapons he picked up in the future. There’s no emotional impact on either of them that this is their actual and true brother. Wolverine and the X-Men, with its primarily comedic tone, was not the place for this confrontation.
And I realize there would have to be time travel somehow involved in getting Dog to face off against Wolverine in the present, but just creating a hereto unheard of macguffin like ‘time diamonds’ is just stupid and lazy. I guess I just feel a lot more could and should have been done with this encounter. I was a fan of Origin, and I’ve been very eager to see Wolverine face off against Dog. But this was a huge disappointment. Dog is a generic villain. Wolverine doesn’t care. And the whole fight is just an excuse for Aaron to pluck random anti-Wolverine weapons out of his ass. Very disappointing.
The comics I review in my Hench-Sized reviews are just the usual comics I pick up from my local shop any given week, along with a few impulse buys I might try on a whim. So if there are any comics or series you’d like me to review each week, let me know in the comments!
Posted on March 16, 2013, in Batman, Comics, DC, Marvel, Reviews, Robin, X-Men and tagged Age of Ultron, Batman and Robin, Fearless Defenders, Thor, Thor: God of Thunder, Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine and the X-Men. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.