The Man of Steel and his new partner face off against a formidable new foe, the Uncanny Avengers do their best to pick up the pieces after their latest ordeal, and the first sane person ever to wield superhuman powers? Sounds like a brand new edition of the GeekNation Pull List! Check out this week’s comic book reviews below!
From DC: Superman #34 by Geoff Johns (Script) and John Romita, Jr. (Art)
The continuing adventures of Geoff Johns and John Romita, Jr.’s new tales for the Man of Steel continue to show that DC’s flagship character is further headed in the right direction. While the previous two issues of this run did a great deal in re-establishing the classic supporting cast of reporters at the Daily Planet, this third issue moves things along in a new direction by introducing a brand new antagonist — and one that looks appropriately detached and depraved for Superman’s strong connection to humanity, compassion, and justice. The new villain is right there on the cover: the “Machinist,” and in true Johns style, he’s the kind of villain that can leave you with a pit in your stomach because of just how bad he is, even after his first, and as yet only appearance.
Of course, the Machinist isn’t the only part of the story, as the new hero Ulysses is still very much an integral part of what has made the Johns/Romita Superman such a fun read thus far. As kind of an extradimensional doppelgänger of the Man of Steel, Johns has crafted quite a few parallels for the new hero in regards to his origin story, his apparent value system (except for one pretty big one, as you’ll see when reading), and his optimism. Ulysses is a character that allows us to see what it might be like for Superman himself to set foot on Krypton, and meet his own biological parents. While this isn’t exactly a unique trope for the character when considering his entire publication history, it does provide a bit of a fresh perspective on the New 52 incarnation of Superman, and has the advantage of highlighting what makes the Man of Steel an alien, as well as what makes him human, all in one single stroke. From a writing standpoint, and especially considering DC’s changing stances messages on which element of Superman’s character (human or alien) they’d like to emphasize over the past three years, it’s refreshing to see a story that can highlight both without betraying one or the other.
I have to admit, though: I still don’t completely trust Ulysses. Johns has done nothing but set him up as a relatively solid hero, and he may end up being just that. There’s something about him, though, that is keeping me cautious. Romita, Jr. is continuing to turn in the best work I’ve seen from him in years. My favorite modern John Romita, Jr. issue might be 2009’s Dark Reign: The List – Punisher, which saw the bloody death of Frank Castle at the hands of Wolverine’s son, Daken. Something about Romita’s work in this series thus far seems elevated, though, and while I understand he’s an acquired taste for many fans, I can’t help but really enjoy the work that I’m seeing. Overall, Superman continues to be a must-read book for DC with the new creative team at the helm, and here’s hoping that the trend in the GeekNation Pull List Pick of the Week will continue for a good, long while. 9/10
Honorable Mentions from DC This Week: Batman/Superman #13, Aquaman #34
From Marvel: Uncanny Avengers #23 by Rick Remender (Script) and Sanford Greene (Art)
When coming off of a big story, it can sometimes be difficult for an ongoing comic book series to find a good transition point between the roller coaster we just got off of, and the one we’re likely going to find ourselves on next. Uncanny Avengers continues to be one of Marvel’s absolute best titles, and that trend largely persists in the latest issue, but it is definitely quiet in comparison to the last few issues of the “Avenge the Earth” arc. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially considering the immense cast of characters and interplanetary stakes of the last story. It’s nice to have a bit of a breather, honestly.
This issue definitely serves as a transition to the next story, though, and in some respects feels like an interlude that could’ve been greater served by a bit more reflection on the story that just completed. While there is a bit of breathing room for the characters of Wasp and Havok, many of the other characters that played a big part in “Avenge the Earth” feel like they’re kind of passed over. That being said, Remender’s biggest strengths in his superhero writing has always revolved around emotional truth and resonance, and in regards to the pain and anguish that Havok and Wasp feel for their lost child, he definitely delivers.
Wider Marvel U fans will likely note that this issue is the first to take place after the nullification of the Super Soldier Serum in Steve Rogers’ body, making him show his true age. This, of course, is the precursor to the highly publicized replacement of Steve as Captain America by his close friend the Falcon, but the issue here makes no greater mention of the new status quo for Steve outside of showing us that he now looks like an old man. It might’ve been nice if Remender had spent a little bit of time in showing us how he and the team at large are making this adjustment, but Steve’s part in this issue is, sadly, pretty short. Sanford Greene’s artwork is perfectly competent from a layout perspective, but to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of how he renders the female characters in this issue. They’re a little too “buxom,” to the point that I found it actively distracting. In these cases, it becomes too difficult to try and relay to people the definite narrative substance that’s in this issue (and in Remender’s writing at large) when they see rather blatantly contrived male fantasy in the female characters blasted right on the page, and as a self-proclaimed”advocate” for the comic book medium, there’s little that can be more frustrating than that. Especially in 2014.
Overall, though, the writing and promise of this issue for the future by its final page definitely leaves a lot to look forward to. I may be biased, since my favorite Marvel villain is in the mix again, but the recommendation still stands: overall, Uncanny Avengers continues to be a solid book. 8/10
Preview images courtesy of Comic Book Resources.
Honorable Mentions from Marvel This Week: All-New Invaders #9, Cyclops #4
From Action Lab: The F1rst Hero #1 by Anthony Ruttgaizer (Script), Phillip Sevy, and Lee Moder (Art)
The premise of this week’s independent selection was, admittedly, pretty intriguing: in this world, the United States has an established history of what the story calls “extrahumans” going back to at least the 1980s, and it made such a splash that President Ronald Reagan had to address the nation about it. In a clever twist, the story details that attempted presidential assassin John Hinckley, Jr., who is a real figure that made an effort on the life of Reagan in 1981, was the first public, documented case of an extrahuman attack. As a political science kid, that’s an undoubtedly intriguing premise. Additionally intriguing to my sensibilities is the story’s explanation that in every documented case, extrahuman ability has gone hand-in-hand with mental instability. There is no such thing in this world as a “super hero.” They’ve all been people that have become afflicted with mental illness as a result of the massive changes to their bodies, and this story in this comic book tells us about that world’s first extrahuman hero.
As I got into the details of The F1rst Hero, though, what I had hoped was a nuanced and layered exploration of themes I generally find resonant ended up being kind of a mess, from a story perspective as well as an outlook on ideas. Part of the problem is the narrative’s frequent use of the word “insane” to describe the mental instability of the afflicted extrahumans, which I learned several years ago is a generally incorrect term to use in this instance. Yes, my favorite fictional character’s stories were some of the biggest overusers of that term, but the more modern Batman material has thankfully started to get away from that.
You see, the term “insane” is not one that you’ll find in any psychology text on the planet, at least not any modern one. The term “insane” is strictly a legal one, not medical in any way, shape, or form. The legal usage of the term “insanity” is informed by psychology and psychiatry, but you will not find someone that is “diagnosed” insane. So, when I see the continued usage of that word in the pages of The F1rst Hero, I roll my eyes, and this is an issue that uses it a lot. While I can generally appreciate the ideas of Ruttgaizer’s story, events also seem to move a little too fast, and there are more than a few blatant conveniences in the story. This is a classic case of a strong concept failing to be fully and competently exploited on the actual page, and while there’s definitely potential here, this first issue just doesn’t meet it. Some may even characterize the portrayal of enemy combatants in Afghanistan as Islamophobic, since they depicted enemies are little more than stereotypical representations of Islamic insurgents. There’s virtually no substance by the time the story moves overseas, especially when our hero finds himself captive for all of what coudn’t be more than three minutes.
Artwork was well laid out, and renderings were effective, but the story just couldn’t back up the visuals or the core concept. I may be persuaded to revisit a future issue, but the writing needs to be more informed, otherwise the undoubtedly strong concept will simply fade into obscurity. 5/10
Honorable Mentions from Independents This Week: Low #2, Outcast #3
That does it this week on the Pull List! Feel free to leave any comments or suggestions below, and we’ll see you in seven days for a brand new edition of comic book goodness!
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