Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 11/29/14

Happy Turkey Week, Comic Book fans! Did everybody have a good Thanksgiving? And for those of you who don’t celebrate, did you have a good Thursday? I had a blast. I always get together with my family, and they’re a good group of people. I made banana bread, because it’s nice to contribute something, especially if it’s my favorite dish. I’m a grown up now, I should contribute.

Speaking of contributing, how about adding some more comic book reviews to the Internet? I know I can’t get enough! We’ve got new issues of Aquaman, Arkham Manor, Superior Iron Man and more, but the real standout this week is the (regrettably) final issue of Superior Foes of Spider-Man! Why couldn’t this series have done better or lasted longer? It was so much fun!

Shocker Rulz!

But all good things must come to an end. Or maybe it’s that we can’t have nice things? Surely one of the two.

Comic Reviews: Aquaman #36, Arkham Manor #2, Batman Eternal #34, Scarlet Spiders #1, Superior Foes of Spider-Man #17 and Superior Iron Man #2.

Aquaman #36

Aquaman #36
Writer: Jeff Parker
Artist: Paul Pelletier

Honestly, I don’t think I really care about Aquaman’s mother. Has she ever been important? It’s not like she’s Batman’s mother, now she’s a big deal. But Aquaman’s mom? I dunno…Still, I suppose kudos are in order for Parker for trying something new and different. If he wants to bring her back from the dead (or say that she never died in the first place), that’s his call.

To discover what really happened when his mother was killed, Aquaman releases his old adviser, Vulko, from prison, because Vulko was there the night Queen Alanna was killed. Vulko says that the Queen was going to flee to the surface world, and he helped arrange for her to disappear during a big theater celebration – but something went wrong, and an incendiary prop ended up killing her instead. Aquaman also invites Martian Manhunter down to Atlantis to use his telepathy to ‘read’ the living mind of Atlantis, and J’onn learns that the incendiary prop was all part of Alanna’s double secret plan. She staged her death and disappeared into a secret catacomb. But when Aquaman tries to explore that catacomb, Manhunter becomes possessed by the spirits of long dead Atlantis. He goes wild and everybody has to work together to put him down.

Once he’s recovered, J’onn is able to tell Aquaman about a portal that he glimpsed in the spirits’ mind.

Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.

This was another solid issue of Aquaman with a rather neat, albeit slightly confusing, guest appearance.  Aquaman remains a pretty solid book overall. I like that Parker has a real good grasp of his character and the world he inhabits, and I definitely like that Parker is focused on Atlantis and its politics. That’s a unique and potentially fascinating avenue to explore as far as superhero comics are concerned. So perhaps, in that way, the return of the old Queen might make for an interesting story, but I don’t really care to know anything about Aquaman’s mom. But again, that’s just me personally.

The Martian Manhunter cameo was cool, even if it turned most of the issue into an unnecessary fight scene. On some level, Aquaman vs. a crazed Manhunter was be cool, but I wanted to know more about the mysteries being uncovered. Also, I don’t think Martian Manhunter has a solid grounding in the DC Universe these days. First he was a member of Stormwatch, then he was a failed Justice League member, then he was on the Justice League of America for awhile…it’s a little confusing. So his guest appearance just doesn’t have the impact it might otherwise if I actually knew and understood the Manhunter’s place in the DCU these days.

Arkham Manor #2

Arkham Manor #2
Writer: Gerry Duggan
Artist: Shawn Crystal

So I decided to give Arkham Manor another shot, despite being mostly ambivalent about the first issue. This second issue doesn’t win me over anymore than the first, but I can at least say that Duggan and his art team are good at what they do. I don’t really believe this could support an ongoing, but more power to them, I suppose.

Batman is still undercover in Arkham Manor as inmate ‘Jack Shaw’, trying to figure out who killed two people. He suffers through a boring group therapy session, has a run-in with a mystery inmate he recognizes (but doesn’t share with the reader), and even bumps into Eric Border, who we now know is secretly the Joker. Then when night falls, Batman witnesses a mysterious someone kill another inmate in a nearby cell. So he breaks out of his own cell and goes to fight the bad guy, only for security to show up and botch his attempts to stop the killer.

Comic Rating: 4/10 – Pretty Bad.

For what it is, this is a fine comic. If this were a storyline in, say, Detective Comics, it would be perfectly fine. Duggan really gets into Batman’s head and he puts Batman in a truly unique situation. That is a story that deserves to be told. But I don’t know why this is an ongoing series. Two issues in and none of the characters beyond Batman leave any sort of impression. Is this going to be a series about the people at Arkham Manor or is it going to be just another Batman comic? What happens when Batman leaves? And why bother setting this in Wayne Manor if you’re not going to make it a big deal? This could still just be Arkham Asylum and the story wouldn’t be any differnet. Or if this is going to be a comic about the inmates, none of them stand out. And the only Arkham employee who seems to matter is Eric Bolder, but we already know he’s the Joker in disguise, so that can’t last.

Not to mention the fact that the storytelling is all over the place. We’re introduced to a new inmate in this issue who could serve as a focal point, but I think he’s the murder victim in the end. That was both unclear and a waste of a potentially interesting character. A big deal is made about Zsasz going missing, and Batman thinks Zsasz is the killer, but the man he fights at the end of the issue clearly isn’t Zsasz. And that mystery inmate that Batman recognized is never explained. He just shows up, Batman gets worried about him, and then he goes away without ever revealing to the audience who he was or why he mattered.

I don’t know if it’s a problem with the storytelling or unclear art, but this issue really jumps around to a lot of different, unfinished ideas, leaving me more than a little confused as to what actually happened or why any of it was important.

Oh, also, check out this surprise cameo:

Silverlock? So you’re telling me that’s Olive Silverlock’s mom from Gotham Academy? Look, I get that Arkham Manor and Gotham Academy were released around the same time, but you can’t drop a huge Gotham Academy bombshell like that into a random issue of Arkham Manor! The mystery of Olive’s mother was actually kind of a cool mystery! But now, apparently, we’re just going to be smacked over the face with the haphazard spoiler that she’s just some zany Arkham inmate who goes by ‘Calamity’. That was kind of disappointing.

It’s like DC is spoiling their own comics in other comics!

Batman #34

Batman Eternal #34
Writers: Kyle Higgins, James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder
Artist: Alvaro Martinez

I think I finally realize the idea being Batman Eternal. It’s far, far too late, and far, far to convoluted to work as an evil plan, but I can appreciate what they were going for. Personally, I don’t think any of it actually flows together or makes sense, and there’s no way any further Big Reveals are going to iron everything out, but I get it.

Julia fights Hush inside one of Batman’s caches, and he gets the upperhand by shooting her in the side. Hush leaves her to die when he sets the cache to explode, but Julia uses some acid to eat through the floor and escape before the whole thing blows sky high. Batman arrives after the explosion and finds Julia, then takes her back to the Batcave for medical help. Then as he searches for Hush, the villain sets off the alarm at the cache under the Martha Wayne Foundation Hospital. Batman arrives and battles Hush, kicking the villain’s butt, even though Hush was trying to lay a trap. But when Batman wins, Alfred patches him into the TV news: because of the explosion at a Wayne Enterprise-funded Batman cache, the federal government has seized the company and put it out of business. Wayne Enterprises is no more.

Oh, also, Batman finds a clue that points to Hush not being the overall big bad after all. Just like Carmine Falcone, Hush was given an invitation to show up in Gotham to see it brought to its knees.

Comic Rating: 5/10 – Alright.

So what is Batman Eternal trying to do? I think the basic idea is to rob Batman of all of his comforts. This issue takes away Wayne Enterprises and, theoretically, all of his money. He’s lost Wayne Manor due to that Arkham Manor stuff. And all of his weapons caches around the city have been compromised and destroyed. This is a fairly cool idea. What would Bruce Wayne do if he lost all of his friends, allies, weapons, secret bases, vehicles, money and whatever else? Batman has always been defined by the stuff he has from being rich. What would happen to the character if you took all of that away?

The problem is, Batman Eternal has no real desire to explore this idea. This ‘Hush bombs the caches and blames Wayne Enterprises’ thing has only been around for an issue or two, so clearly this wasn’t his plan or anyone’s plan from the start. Also, that’s all it takes for Batman to lose Wayne Enterprises? Seems kind of phony. Batman Eternal has been too busy and has been spinning to many plates in the air for a change like this to have any real impact. This should have been a bigger, line-wide event. Bring all the Bat-books together and really delve in deep as to what life would be like for Bruce Wayne if he really lost his entire support structure. Instead, this issue just kind of flails into the altered status quo and hopes for the best.

We’ve spent so little time with Batman in this series that nothing in this issue lands with any kind of emotional impact. Not him losing his company, not his boring fight with Hush. This is all just ‘Paint By Numbers Batman’, and it’s just so boring.

Scarlet Spiders #1

Scarlet Spiders #1
Writer: Mike Costa
Artist: Paco Diaz

I am a Scarlet Spider fanatic. Long time readers might remember that my brother and I first got into Spider-Man comics in the mid-90s at the height of the Clone Saga, so we both pretty much love that whole scene. That makes this Spider-Verse spin-off a must buy for a guy like me! I only wish it was more than just a generally dull tie-in.

Kaine, Ultimate Spider-Woman and Ben Reilly break off from the rest of the Spider-Verse in order to destroy the Inheritor’s clone factory. They teleport to the Inheritor’s homeworld and discover a big, idyllic city ruled over by a madman named Jennix. The trio sneak through the city and find a big clone factory filled with mindless clone zombies. Before they can investigate further, they’re confronted by the evil Iron Man of this world, but they manage to take him out and interrogate him to learn that Jennix lives at the Baxter Building.

The trio steal Stark’s armor to Star Wars their way into the Baxter Building, with Ben Reilly in the armor and Kaine and Spider-Woman as his Chewbacca prisoners. But no sooner are they through the front door than this world’s evil Johnny Storm show up and recognizes Kaine’s face as that of Peter Parker.

Comic Rating: 6/10 – Pretty Good.

This issue, and this whole mini-series tie-in, are probably going to be pretty superfluous. While I’m loving Dan Slott’s Spider-Verse so far, these tie-ins don’t seem like they’ll be a big deal. But like I said, I love the characters, so I’m definitely on board! The problem is that, by removing these characters from their natural habitats, they cease being those characters. Ultimate Spider-Woman is an amazing character in the Ultimate Universe. She’s cool, she’s smart, she’s well-trained and she’s got a fascinating history. But in this Scarlet Spiders mini-series, she’s just another random spider character.

One with very over-wrought narration too. This book was filled with some pretty heavy-handed prose.

She’s a leaf in the wind…

What I’m saying is that she just doesn’t feel like Ultimate Spider-Woman, and that’s a shame.

The art is great, though. It’s very stylish, very clean and detailed; I definitely like the art. But like I said, there’s not much to recommend about this tie-in. Ben Reilly is kind of bland, Kaine is pushed into the background, and Ultimate Spider-Woman is pulled out of her comfort zone. The world they visit is kind of dull, and I’m not sure how it’s tied into the Inheritors. Not to mention the very fact that the Inheritors having clone bodies feels like a new wrinkle that was added just to get this mini-series.

But hey, I will always buy a comic book titled ‘Scarlet Spiders’. That’s just who I am as a person.

Superior Foes #17

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #17
Writer: Nick Spencer
Artist: Steve Lieber

It’s a real shame to see this series go. From issue #1, it has been funny, twisted, gorgeous and just an all-around great read. I’ve always loved these street-level super-villain crooks, and seeing them get their fair due has been a real blast. I’m glad Marvel let Spencer and Lieber end the book on their own terms instead of just cutting them off.

Odd, though, that this really has been a giant 17-issue story!

At the end of all things, Boomerang finally explains what everything was about and gives epilogues for the various characters. For him, his plan was to steal the Doctor Doom painting and use Chameleon’s shape-shifting chemicals to steal the identity of the star pitcher of the New York Mets, who was on the verge of breaking Boomerang’s strikeout record. With the pitcher’s face, Boomerang enters the game and breaks his own record, though Owl tries to get him to throw the game. Boomerang also phones up his girlfriend to convince her to run away with him using the profits of the Doctor Doom painting – she agrees, but after she hangs up the phone, it’s revealed that she’s the Black Cat in disguise, and she steals the painting for herself.

As for the rest of them: Mach VII is about to get a beating due to Boomerang, but he’s rescued at the last minute by Iron Man, getting the team-up he’d always wanted. Speed Demon sued Iron Fist for breaking his leg and won. Shocker comes back for revenge and wallops the Punisher right in the middle of a gang war, so all the gangsters bow down to Shocker as their new don. Beetle and Overdrive try to escape with the Doom painting (though they don’t know they have a fake), but they get stopped by Doctor Doom himself! And Mirage gets shoved off a building. Such is Mirage.

Also, it’s revealed that Boomerang has been telling this story to a man in a bar this whole time. That man’s name? Peter. What does Peter do with this story? We don’t know, because Spencer pulls a Sopranoes ‘cut to black’ ending.

Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great.

I definitely think this was a fine finale for Superior Foes! It’s all mostly epilogue, and Spencer/Boomerang leave a few dangling bits, but I loved how everything was wrapped up and each character got their due. Spencer even mixed it up a little bit, giving Shocker the great moment to shine instead of ragging on him all the time. I liked that Spencer just went for broke with some of these scenes. Boomerang’s treatment of Mirage was so random and so awesome.

Poor Mirage, he gets no respect

This was a solid, fantastic finale to this great series. All the cards are on the table, all of the twists and turns are made clearer, and everybody gets an ending. In true supervillain fashion, Boomerang hasn’t learned a single thing, and he can go right back to being the regular old Boomerang wherever he shows up next. He’s been a fun protagonist so far, and I’m going to miss the ‘voice’ Spencer gave him. Every time Boomerang reappears from now on, he’s going to have that voice. (Though hopefully Spencer’s cowardly Shocker doesn’t stick around).

There’s not much more I can say about this series and this finale beyond total praise. It was routinely funny, had some great, character-based storytelling, and really fleshed out an often overlooked corner of the Marvel Universe. The art by Lieber was always top notch and expressive, taking the style laid out by David Aja in Hawkeye and making it his own. This series had everything going for it, but sometimes good comics just don’t stick around. At least we can all say we were there and we read it, and sometimes that has to be enough.

Superior Iron Man #2

Superior Iron Man #2
Writer: tom Taylor
Artist: Yildiray Cinar

As one of my astute readers pointed out previously, the Tony Stark in Superior Iron Man is unsympathetic, which is a big departure from Superior Spider-Man. I definitely have to agree with that statement, and I also agree that it kind of drags the whole series down. There’s just something kind of boring and generic about this comic so far, something that just doesn’t reach the heights of what ‘evil Tony Stark’ should be.

I just don’t think Superior Iron Man has anything interesting to say.

So Tony Stark is evil now and he’s built a big home/office on top of Alcatraz Island. Daredevil, who has decided to shut Stark down, just shows up in the middle of a big party and easily gets trounced by Iron Man, who just tosses Daredevil into the ocean. The next day, Stark hosts a live event in the middle of San Francisco, where everybody who shows up and stands near him can get free access to his Extremis app. Now that he’s charging $99 per day for the app, the city is in an uproar, and hundreds show up for the free sample. One man who shows up pulls out a gun and tries to shoot Tony Stark in the face, but, of course, he’s armored.

Stark then grabs the man and threatens that if he doesn’t play along, then Tony will ruin his son.

Later that night, Daredevil tries again to get Stark, by sneaking into his home and kidnapping him for an interrogation. But Tony is able to call his new symbiotic armor to him and once again defeats Daredevil. But this time, Stark uses Extremis to restore Daredevil’s sight.

Comic Rating: 5/10 – Alright.

Is anybody else bothered by the choice of Daredevil as the antagonist of this series? It just feels like an odd choice. Daredevil and Iron Man exist in very different circles in the Marvel Universe, and while they’re both in San Francisco these days, I just don’t see them as an interesting match up. It feels too gimmicky. Taylor could have chosen any superhero to fill Daredevil’s role. There’s no emotional connection or history between the characters, and it brings the whole story down.

I think I’d kind of prefer to just focus on what Tony is doing to and with the people of San Francisco. Maybe get into Tony’s head the same way we got into Otto Octavius’ head, figure out and understand what Tony is up to and why. Instead, we’re following Daredevil as he messes with Tony, and it’s just not very interesting. Seriously, this comic is all about Daredevil’s inner narratoin, not Iron Man’s. Daredevil has his own comic! Even that ending falls flat, because who cares about Daredevil getting back his sight in the pages of Superior Iron Man? That’s clearly not any sort of permanent or impactful change.

The sexual tension is palpable

Also, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I don’t think Cinar’s art works for this series. There’s just something very simple about his work. It looks fine, it’s very detailed and fulfilling, but it just feels about as generic as the story. There’s no real style behind it, no artistic hook to make it standout. It’s fine comic book art, everybody looks fine. But a comic about Iron Man in this day and age needs to be something special.

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 November 29, 2014, in Batman, Comics, DC, Marvel, Punisher, Reviews, Spider-Man and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Scarlet Spiders was pretty OK. Ultimate Jessica was pretty awesome.

    Superior Foes was as goofy and absurd and hilarious as it always was.

    Superior Iron Man was OK. But it kinda highlights the problem with the concept of the series: Tony Stark is the antagonist here. This is a Daredevil comic – for a good few pages, I actually forgot that it’s NOT a Daredevil comic. And the fact is, the Daredevil stuff was a lot more enjoyable than the Stark stuff, which doesn’t bode well for once Daredevil stops being a focus for this series. Unless Daredevil actually will stay as the book’s hero.

  2. On Superior Iron Man, it’s hard for me tell if the problem with the art is Cinar or the colorist. I remember coloring being a massive problem for me during Gillen’s run, and I feel the book could use a new colorist.

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