Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 6/8/13

It’s a week of fresh starts in comic book land, some good, and some bad. First up is a new #1 issue for Astro City, the brilliant and hugely creative superhero series from writer Kurt Busiek. If you’re not familiar with Astro City, I’ll explain more about it in the actual review, and I consider it one of the crowning achievements of superhero storytelling in the past decade. Astro City isn’t based on any of the well-known heroes like Superman or Spider-Man, instead creating a superhero world all its own, but then taking it to the next level. I’m very excited to see what Busiek does with this new volume, and I might just have to go back and reread the original series.

The other fresh start is the first issue of Green Lantern in the post-Geoff Johns world. The entire Green Lantern franchise has been given new creative teams, and I do not envy these guys. Geoff Johns’ run was legendary, and now they’ve got to somehow keep everyone’s interest in Green Lantern and come up with new and exciting stories. Unfortunately, they’re not off to a great start so far. Astro City easily beats Green Lantern for Comic Book of the Week.

And American Chibi might be the new character find of 2013!

Comic Reviews: Age of Ultron #9, All-New X-Men #12, Astro City #1, Detective Comics #21, Green Lantern #21, Superior Spider-Man #11.

Age of Ultron #9

Age of Ultron #9
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Brandon Peterson and Carlos Pacheco

We’re one issue away from the end and, surprisingly, Age of Ultron ticks up a notch on the enjoyment scale. But that’s not saying much. Age of Ultron has been a complete dud, as far as I’m concerned. Now it’s no wonder why Marvel did so little to promote this event. It’s just been a mess of silly ideas, wasted characters and pointless moments that serve no real overall purpose. It doesn’t work as a Wolverine story, it doesn’t do anything to increase Hank Pym’s status and it’s a terrible Ultron story – he was much better as the villain in Annihilation: Conquest. And it fails as Brian Michael Bendis’ swan song to the Avengers too.

The dark alternate future has gone completely belly up after the attack by Morgana le Fey, but our Wolverine survives and decides to go back to the moment when he killed Hank Pym in order to stop himself from killing Hank Pym. Time travel is fun like that. So Wolverine goes back and he has a chat with the earlier version of himself, the earlier version of Sue Storm and the surviving Hank Pym about what exactly they can do to prevent the Age of Ultron from happening. They decide that Pym has to create Ultron so that everything else can play out like it’s supposed to, but build some kind of fail safe so that Ultron never takes over the world. Sounds simple enough. So Pym builds Ultron while Wolverine and Sue prepare to head back to their own time, but first the earlier version of Wolverine has to kill the older Wolverine so that there aren’t two of them running around.

Comic Rating: 3.5/5 – Pretty Good.

I actually kind of liked this issue. As much as I’ve disliked Age of Ultron as a whole, this individual issue was good, or at least it was good enough. Gone are the pointless alternate realities and the unnecessary action sequences. It’s just two Wolverines debating the merits of time travel murder, while Hank Pym sits by trying to figure out what the hell is going on. The conversation is lively, and it’s just a neat discussion for superheroes to have. This is a comic where the characters actually stand around and talk about the merits of this weird, sci-fi trope. And I’m cool with that. The rest of the issue continues to be terrible though. It’s clear that the trip to the alternate reality meant nothing. The team that Fury took into the future was pointless. And the use of Wolverine and Sue Storm means absolutely squat, Sue especially. It might as well have been Speedball and Moondragon on the trip through time. Age of Ultron has been Bendis’ most pointless Big Event comic, and I can’t imagine the last issue is going to change anything. How the hell Marvel is supposed to get Angela out of this is beyond me.

All-New X-Men #12

All-New X-Men #12
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Stuart Immonen

Is it just me, or has the shipping schedule slowed down for All-New X-Men? It feels like it’s been forever since we saw the last issue. But maybe the one-issue-per-week thing was just to get us in the door, and now we’re stuck having to wait a full month for the next chapter of Bendis’ excellent X-Men series. That’s too bad. The (only) problem with this book has been pacing. The story is moving at a glacial pace, and that was fine when the issues came out so quickly, but now everything might start dragging. I sure hope not, and at least Bendis’ dialogue remains solid – though this issue spends a little too much time worrying about the past.

The Uncanny Avengers confront Wolverine and his Young X-Men, with varying results. Havok and Young Cyclops hit it off the way only brothers can, while Jean reads the mind of the Scarlet Witch and learns all about the ‘No More Mutants’ thing. Jean freaks the hell out and causes a huge scene that takes up most of the issue. Meanwhile, Mystique, Sabertooth and Lady Mastermind continue their crime spree, and Lady M is a little suspicious of Mystique’s overall motives. Their use of the Young X-Men illusions as cover has Captain America concerned, which is why he went to confront the X-Men in the first place. He tells them to be good and stay at their school, but Wolverine decides to take the Young X-Men to confront Mystique – because I guess he’s cool with bringing untrained teenagers to fight Sabertooth. Were no other X-Men available?

Comic Rating: 3.5/5 – Pretty Good.

Let me just say that I am totally over M-Day. It’s not a big deal to me anymore, and I don’t hold it against Scarlet Witch as a character. But man oh man, Brian Michael Bendis clearly loves twisting the screw the he created. Jean really loses her mind in grief over M-Day, and it practically reduces Scarlet Witch to tears. I liked that all of Wanda’s friends came to her defense, but that doesn’t make up for the annoyance of seeing the Young X-Men beside themselves over a matter that was settled years ago. Scarlet Witch is not a character in this series, so dragging her through the mud over M-Day yet again serves no purpose, at least not yet. Maybe it’s another lesson the Young X-Men need to learn about this complicated world. Perhaps in a roundabout way it strengthens Cyclops’ position in their eyes, and I’m always in favor of that. But it reduced the first meeting between the Uncanny Avengers and the All-New X-Men into an argument about something that not only occurred 10 years ago, but every other character and the reader have all gotten over it. This argument was an unwelcome bump in the road on the way to confronting the new Brotherhood.

Astro City #1

Astro City #1
Writer Kurt Busiek
Artist: Brent Eric Anderson

So, Astro City, what is it? Kurt Busiek’s genius is that he created a whole new superhero universe entirely from scratch, and he did it by embracing all of the cliches and common tropes in superhero comics so that the reader would have an easy time understanding. Astro City is full of things like super teams, sidekicks, villain lairs, henchmen, and other awesome things you would find in a superhero comic. Instead of relying on well-known heroes like Superman or Batman, Busiek created own cast of characters, most of which are heavily influenced by the popular, mainstream heroes. Astro City is its own world, and Busiek created for it a rich history of superheroics.

But then for the actual comics, Busiek rarely focused on the heroes, instead telling stories between the cracks. Like the newspaper reporter who gets whisked away on an intergalactic adventure with one of the super teams, but then can’t write the story because the heroes can’t be reached for comment and there were no other independent witnesses. Or the defense attorney who has to incorporate things like time travel, shapeshifters and mind control into his murder trial. Or the sidekick who has to take over when his mentor is killed. Or the average single dad who can only stand by and watch as the superheroes take to the sky to battle a giant, cosmic space god intent on destroying the Earth.

If you’re looking for a comic that isn’t steeped in continuity and really celebrates the awesomeness of superheroes, I highly recommend the original Astro City. This new series isn’t a reboot, as Busiek explains in a letter to the readers, but instead is simply a continuation of the earlier work after he took some time off for medical reasons. Let’s get right to it then, shall we?

The story is narrated by an odd, purple-skinned guy called the Broken Man, who tells us about a giant, glowing, golden door that has appeared over Astro City. He also introduces us to American Chibi, a new superhero with the body and mind of a young anime character. American Chibi is brash, loud and giggly, and when she flies up to the door, she decides to try and smash her way through, much to the chagrin of the government officials who are trying to investigate the door like responsible adults. American Chibi fails, and she’s soon joined by the Samaritan, the ‘Superman’ character in Astro City. Samaritan and American Chibi gather together a bunch of their super friends so that everyone can try to smash through the door, but to no avail.

Meanwhile, the Broken Man also reintroduces us to Bill Pullam, an average single dad who appeared once before in one of the earlier issues of Astro City. Bill greets his two daughters at a cafe for a little catching up, then the three of them join with the rest of the gawkers and onlookers who have started gathering underneath the giant golden door. No sooner does Bill arrive on the scene than the giant door opens, and out steps Telseth, a giant, god-like figure who explains that he is an intergalactic ambassador from another planet. He has come to Earth in peace in order to open a dialogue between the two planets. He requests a guide to Earth, but doesn’t want a superhero or a military official. Bill readily raises his hand and volunteers, since he’s unmarried and his daughters are both grown with their own lives. Telseth accepts and he takes Bill back with him through the door to begin their work.

Comic Rating: 4/5 – Good.

This was a fun and fascinating comic, rich in that classic Astro City spirit. Here is this insanely huge idea – of a giant space god stepping through a cosmic door and offering universal peace, then an ordinary, normal person simply raising his hand and volunteering to help – and Busiek writes it in such a way that it seems perfectly normal. That is the magic of Astro City. He takes all of these superhero and sci-fi tropes and makes them seem like part of a normal, ordinary world. The fact that there are all sorts of colorful and inventive superheroes flying around is just icing on the cake. Busiek did a great job introducing us to characters like Bill Pullam and American Chibi, and I can’t wait to see what new and exciting corners of Astro City he wants to explore next.

If I had one complaint, it’s the Broken Man narrator. He’s this weird guy who breaks the Fourth Wall and talks directly to the reader. He gets the narration across, but the Broken Man also goes on and on about some larger conspiracy that just doesn’t make sense yet and doesn’t really gel at all with the story being told. I realize Busiek is building to something bigger with him, but for this issue, it was just distracting.

Detective Comics #21

Detective Comics #21
Writer: John Layman
Artist: Scot Eaton

I have not read a single issue of Detective Comics in the New 52, likewise I haven’t touched Batman: Dark Knight. I just don’t have any reason to read them. I’m sure they’re solid comics with good writers and artists, but I’m not such a huge Batman fan that I need to read every single Batman comic being produced. I like Batman by Scott Snyder because that seems to be the main title, and I like his handle on the character. I read Batman and Robin because I like Robin. And I read Batman Incorporated because, once upon a time, it was amazing. But I don’t think any character needs half a dozen different comics telling essentially the same story. But this issue of Detective Comics is special because it guest stars Harper Row, the young lady who I think is going to become the next Robin, so I am very interested in her story. This is also the first time Harper has shown up in a comic other than Snyder’s Batman, so I didn’t want to miss it.

What did I think of Detective Comics?  Let’s just say I won’t be picking up any other issues.

An old love interest from Bruce Wayne’s younger training days has come to Gotham as a shadow-wielding assassin in order to kill the prime minister of Bhutan, who is attending a gala at Wayne Tower. Batman is momentarily distracted, so young Harper Row takes it upon herself to track the assassin, Mio, around the tower. Harper is discovered, but Batman comes to her rescue and finds out – with Harper’s help – that the assassin is his lost love (he thought she was dead). The assassin falls out the window, but her body mysteriously disappears before she hits the ground. In the end, Batman advises Harper to stay out of trouble, but he gives her back her confiscated crime-fighting gear just in case trouble finds her anyway.

Comic Rating: 3/5 – Alright.

This issue read like a very generic, very plain Batman story. Writer John Layman was alright, but his Batman just didn’t feel like Batman to me. It was like a weak attempt to impersonate Batman. The story was pretty standard stuff, not the least bit exciting or engaging. But it was solid Batman superheroics, so I guess there’s that. The villain was a little too complicated for my tastes, as you can see on the cover. She could apparently control shadows – which Batman refers to as some kind of ancient Eastern shadow technique, as if it needed an awkwardly specific origin – and she used it to grow extra shadow arms and shadow weapons, which were colored purple, for some reason. And considering she was one of Bruce Wayne’s former loves, she could stand to be a little simpler in design. The only real saving grace of the issue was Harper Row, but even she was written as plain as possible. I enjoyed seeing her appear in a comic other than Scott Snyder’s Batman, but this was about as standard a story as one might expect. Harper gets involved, gets in over her head, still manages to help Batman, and he gives her a few words of encouragement in the end. Ho hum.

At least I can confirm that I’m not missing anything by ignoring Detective Comics.

Green Lantern #21

Green Lantern #21
Writer: Robert Venditti
Artist: Billy Tan

I do not envy Robert Venditti. Heck, I don’t even know who he is. But DC is entrusting him to lead the new direction of the Green Lantern franchise in the wake of Geoff Johns’ departure. For the past nearly 10 years, Johns was in charge, and he raised GL to such popularity that they made a movie about the character. Johns turned Green Lantern from one hero into a whole franchise. But Johns has stepped down, and Venditti is taking over. So what big ideas does Venditti have? How is he going to shake up the series? Is he going to shake up the series? Based on this first issue, it doesn’t look like it. Seems Venditti is going to try to pick up where Johns left off and make the most of it. I wasn’t overly impressed with his first issue, but it’s a solid start, I suppose.

The clean up from the First Lantern has begun, with a lot of changes to the Green Lantern status quo. The old Guardians are dead, and the new Guardians aren’t ready to take over, so Hal Jordan is put in charge of the Green Lantern Corps. He’s joined by Kilowog, who is taking over for the resigning Salaak (aww), and together they set to work figuring out what needs to get repaired – only for Hal to make an impromptu command decision to send out big swarm of rings to pick up some new recruits. Then all of a sudden, Larfleeze attacks, and the Green Lantern Corps rise to meet him in battle. Back up arrives in the form of several new recruits, but they don’t want to be GLs, they just want to go home.

Comic Rating: 3.5/5 – Pretty Good.

I’ve never been a fan of Billy Tan’s art, so right off the bat, I just don’t like the look of this new direction. Tan’s art is close to what I like, but there’s just this sense that he doesn’t complete his pencil drawings, that the linework just isn’t solid enough. I don’t know how better to explain it, but Tan is just not a style I like. As for the story, it’s a fine follow up to what Johns left, for the most part. I like some of the ideas in place, like Hal Jordan becoming leader of the Corps, and he and Kilowog trying to put Oa back together. I love the GLC as an organization, so I love to see the procedural stuff. Unfortunately, that’s interrupted by a random attack from Larfleeze, which just feels forced. Larfleeze is getting his own series, and much like a cameo from Kyle Raynor this issue, it just feels like DC forced Venditti to throw in pseudo-advertisements for Larfleeze and New Guardians. I think a much stronger story exists about Hal Jordan struggling with the responsibility of leading the Corps, reorganizing the Lanterns and dealing with new recruits who are scared to death of becoming GLs. That has potential. Random action scenes against Larfleeze do not, in my opinion.

Spider-Man #11

Superior Spider-Man #11
Writers: Dan Slott and Christos Gage
Artist: Giuseppe Camuncoli

We are living in a Doctor Octopus world. Slott slowly continues the transition from Peter Parker to Otto Octavius in this issue, and I feel fine. He plants a few seeds hinting towards an upcoming status quo change, one I think is desperately needed for the series to really take off. I am ready to full embrace Otto’s Superior Spider-Man, and much like Otto expresses in this very issue, he may be rid of Ghost Peter, but he’s still restrained by trying to live Peter Parker’s life. Mary Jane, Aunt May, Horizon Labs, classic villains, all of them stand in the way of Otto truly realizing his new lease on life. Get rid of them, I say!

Smythe the Spider Slayer is going to be executed on the Raft, and Mayor Jameson calls Spider-Man to ask him to help make sure it goes off without a hitch, since they both know Smythe will try to escape. Otto sets to work putting preparations in place, while simultaneously blowing off his professor and his boss at Horizon Labs in the process (though at least Anna still likes him). When the time of execution arrives, Smythe does indeed try to escape, but Otto has already thought several moves ahead and has safeguards in place to block every single one of Smythe’s escape routes – except one. Smythe uses an army of mini-slayers to empower Boomerang, Scorpion and Vulture into new, badass versions of themselves.

Comic Rating: 4/5 – Good.

I am of two minds on this issue. On the one hand, it’s a typical, almost standard Spider-Man story under Slott. Spider Slayer is the villain, he causes trouble, and Spidey is there to engage in the usual fisticuffs. That several members of Spidey’s supporting cast are on hand is just how this works. That story was pretty ho-hum, even the ending and the sight of a juiced-up Boomerang. The real meat of this issue is Otto’s realization that his attempts to stick to Peter Parker’s life are holding him back. Otto Octavius has no reason to keep up appearances with MJ, Aunt May or Horizon Labs. They all fully believe he’s Peter Parker, and it wouldn’t necessarily break his cover if ‘Peter’ moved on and started doing new, more ambitious things with his life. I want to see that kind of change. I want to see Doc Ock break out of this Peter Prison and fully embrace a new life – as long as he takes Anna with him. Those two are adorable!

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!

About Sean Ian Mills

Hello, this is Sean, the Henchman-4-Hire! By day I am a mild-mannered newspaper reporter in Central New York, and by the rest of the day I'm a pretty big geek when it comes to video games, comic books, movies, cartoons and more.

Posted on June 8, 2013, in Batman, Reviews, Spider-Man, X-Men and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I actually liked that they were shown M-day, I think it could have been done better but now the next time they confront the Uncanny Avengers (and there will be a next time) and Wanda pulls the “I wasn’t myself” card they’ll say that the same could be said for Scott and the phoenix force, which is the one thing that annoyed me with this issue, for all that stuff that Cyclops without a doubt killed Xavier how come no one (specially young Cyclops, who was shown pissed when he discovered that they kept the whole phoenix thing secret from him) compared it to The Scarlet Witch? The only difference is that Cyclops going insane was the Avengers fault.

    I have to admit that I’m not familiar with the Astro City universe but for all the praise you’ve given it I’ll try this new series and if I like it I’ll try to look for the old one.

    • I suppose it’s good that the Young X-Men learned about M-Day, but I just wish they wouldn’t have been so apocalyptic about it. Jean kept going on that Wanda killed mutants, but that’s not what happened. Instead the issue was spent trying to get the Young X-Men to chill out instead of any real meaningful character interaction.

      And Astro City is worth checking out. It’s just a fun series, and a true ode to superhero comics.

  2. AU, for all that it was just talking heads, had some interesting stuff going on. Some big ideas being raised, and interesting dilemmas. I thought it was pretty OK, though not great.

    ANXM was great. Oh man, I loved Wanda being called out on “No More Mutants.” I loved that people were actually pointing out how insane it is that she gets to be an Avenger after all she did. Thank you, Bendis, for having someone say it, since Remender apparently doesn’t have the guts to have anyone actually criticize Wanda. You may be over M-Day, but the fact still stands that the woman who drove the mutant race closer to extinction than anyone else ever has is on the Avengers team bridging the gap between humans and mutants. That is insane, and it needs to be said how insane it is. Someone needed to point it out. And at the same time, Bendis here did more to show how terrible Wanda feels about what happened than Remender ever has, or is ever likely to do, given just how middling a writer Remender is. This issue makes it clearer than UA ever has that Wanda feels genuinely guilty, and that it’s the driving force behind what she’s doing now. Bendis, in one cameo, has done more to address Wanda’s presence on UA than Remender has in his entire run so far, or is likely to do in the rest of his run. I really, really appreciate that Bendis did it.

    Superior Spider-Man was pretty cool. I especially loved the scene in the prison where he was talking about how murderers don’t just change, and realized he could’ve been talking about himself.

    • I don’t know, I’m just ready to put 10-year-old stories behind me and move on. Wanda has much more to offer the world of comics than being a punching bag. I don’t mind Remender ignoring it because I’m far more interested in the stories he has yet to tell than what happened back in the day.

      • I don’t want Wanda as a punching bag. I like Wanda. But what she did can’t just be swept under the rug, ignored as if it never happened. She NEEDS to feel guilty. She NEEDS to experience the hostility of the people her actions hurt. She NEEDS to make atoning for the pain she caused her primary purpose for a long time. To ignore all that does a disservice to the character. She deserves that journey, and it bugs me that Remender’s apparently decided not to bother with it. It would be like Bendis randomly having Cyclops go back to the X-Men, and becoming their leader again, without anyone having any problems with him.

        Wanda’s character development needs to be based on M-Day. Putting her back where she was before Decimation, without showing the journey of how she got there, is bad writing. That’s what Remender’s doing. And it’s bad writing, from an overrated writer.

      • That’s a very good point. Perhaps I’m just wishing they’d done that closer to M-Day, but Wanda was off the table for so long.

  3. The thing about Remender is that he doesn’t write FOR the characters, he writes WITH the characters, when asked in an interview about the bad reaction Punisher fans had with “Frankencastle” his answer was “They have some problems with the story but my fans loved it”, essentially saying that he doesn’t try to write for the people that buy the book but for the people that like his writing, sometimes his style mixes well with the characters, but sometimes it doesn’t and he doesn’t try to make it mix, he has this story in his head and he is going to put it on the comic not caring if it makes sense with the characters or not, I really like some of his books but at the same time I understand that there are characters they shouldn’t let him touch.
    I can’t talk about his Uncanny Avengers because I haven’t read it, I’ve heard both good and bad stuff about it, but only judging by the roster I’ll say that it has both kinds of characters in there, some that suit his style and others that don’t, so we’ll have to wait to see if he can make it work.

    • That’s a well-thought-out assessment. And now that I think back on some of Remender’s stuff, like Uncanny X-Force, you might definitely be on to something there. I’ll have to keep a closer eye on Uncanny Avengers now.

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