Welcome back to the GeekNation Pull List! This week, Villains Month continues to roll on at DC with some looks at some of their heroes’ most timeless adversaries! Read on to see why Superman’s arch nemesis made the cut this week. Plus, the God of Thunder starts off a new story arc featuring the same villain that he’ll be squaring off against this November in Thor: The Dark World: Malekith the Accursed! And on the indy side of things, a brand new series from Image kicks off an interesting series that turns up the pressure against a seasoned spy and assassin. Give this week’s reviews a read below!
From DC: Action Comics #23.3: Lex Luthor by Charles Soule (Script) and Raymund Bermudez (Pencils)
To me, one of the single most endlessly fascinating characters in comics has always been Lex Luthor. Most people don’t really share the same opinion, largely because the only exposure they’ve had to Superman’s greatest foe has been personified by Gene Hackman or Kevin Spacey: an eccentric robber-baron, of sorts, that always seeks to find the best deal around when shopping for “land, land, land.” While Michael Rosenbaum’s portrayal on “Smallville” and Clancy Brown’s baritone on the DC Animated Universe are a great deal closer to the greatness of the character, even those performances don’t quite reach the scale, and indeed the fright, that the Luthor of the source material manages to.
There, Luthor built a fortune out of murdering his own father as a young man, and used the following insurance payout as capital combined with his apparent brilliance to create a vast corporate empire in the city of Metropolis. Through sweeping infrastructure and job creation to help fund his more nefarious behaviors, Luthor is seen by the public as a saint that helped build Metropolis. When Luthor looks at Superman, he feels many things: jealousy at no longer being the city’s hero, fear at the god in the red cape who could destroy us all with a glance, hatred at the alien trash who doesn’t even have to try to look ripped or to be powerful, and all-consuming obsession. Not to mention the fact that Luthor, in a weird way, is a symbol of the triumph of human ingenuity: out of all of the powerful creatures and fierce villains Superman has faced, his arch nemesis is a self-made human.
At the beginning of this issue, Lex Luthor is having a good day. He’s been released from prison and has taken control of his corporate empire back, but he’s put off because of one conspicuous absence at his exit from prison: Superman’s. The issue delves with greater detail into “a day in the life,” where he goes about destroying family-owned businesses, and even murdering his own employees in an elaborate effort to both draw the Man of Steel out of apparent hiding, and to make him look bad. The end of the issue definitely leaves you with a rotten taste in your mouth, because you really do get the sense, all at once, of how cruel, sadistic, brilliant, and above all, dangerous Luthor really is. Superman’s absence is all the more distressing, because when Luthor runs unchecked, everybody loses. The issue cleverly manages to weave into the beginning of the Forever Evil series, and gives a good perspective on what led Luthor to his position in that issue.
Raymund Bermudez’s art is new to me, but I’m largely satisfied with his work here. In the opening page he makes subtle reference to one of the best single Superman issues of the year in Action Comics #19, and although some of the faces are a little too amorphous in places for my taste, the action is clear to follow and Charles Soule’s script is a great done-in-one featuring one of comics’ absolute best characters. A very solid issue for a very solid character. 9/10
Honorable Mentions at DC This Week: Detective Comics #23.3: Scarecrow, Batman and Robin #23.3: Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Assassins
From Marvel: Thor: God of Thunder #13 by Jason Aaron (Script) and Ron Garney (Art)
You can always rely on Marvel to tie their ongoing comics into their newest films at any opportunity they get. In some cases, this backfires tremendously, with the interruption in the regular flow of a series feeling completely flummoxed by the chance to get a relevant graphic novel on the shelves by the film’s opening date. Other times, though, it can actually be rather serendipitous: when you combine a great creative team with the kinds of stories the movie characters can deliver, sometimes it doesn’t interrupt anything. Instead, it can be rather special.
Thankfully, the latest issue of Thor: God of Thunder feels far more special than it does interruptive. Since it’s beginning last year, this has been one of the best series launched under the Marvel NOW! initiative, with writer Jason Aaron (Scalped, PunisherMAX) giving the adventures of Thor a playful, yet grand scale on which to thrive. This issue brings back Malekith the Accursed, the adversary that Thor faces off against in his new film coming in November, and Aaron heightens the tension in the story by easily illustrating that everyone is on alert. From the moment Malekith emerges from his prison that he was left in so many years ago, to the moment his and Thor’s eyes meet for the first time in a long while, God of Thunder #13 feels like it’s setting up to tell a good, old-fashioned heavy-hitting hero vs. very evil villain story. While Malekith’s use could’ve been simple and lazy, evoking too much of his first appearances during the legendary Walt Simonson run on The Mighty Thor, Aaron characterizes him almost as a wild animal. He’s been out of touch with his people and the world for a very long time, and his ruthlessness and partial insanity help to make that very clear. How, exactly, do you engage a wild, flailing beast?
Ron Garney, a regular collaborator of Aaron’s, provides the art in this issue and does a great job of it. While he’s somewhat stylized, Garney excels at both the orchestration of big action pieces as well as clearly characterizing prevalent emotion. If a scene calls for you to feel shocked by Malekith’s savagery, then Garney will render that almost perfectly. He lets you see just enough to get the point, but a great deal of Malekith’s horror comes from what you don’t see explicitly. Because of that, he’s a great choice to tell this story and helps to make this issue a great read. 8/10
Honorable Mentions at Marvel This Week: Superior Spider-Man #18, Uncanny X-Men #12
From Image: Zero #1 by Ales Kot (Script) and Michael Walsh (Pencils)
While there are way too many good independent comics out there to quantify, I always get a little excited when I see that a new #1 is coming from a brand new series that has no established names in the comic industry. While the creators of this series have done work in the medium in the past, their names don’t exactly carry the same weight as a Gail Simone or a Brian Bendis. At least, not yet. When a series like this arrives from Image in particular, it’s a safe bet that the story presented will at least be interesting.
In the case of Zero #1, the story is very interesting.
The first thing that should be said about this issue is how much of a bargain it is. At a $2.99 cover price, there are a whopping 30 full story pages. The industry standard today for a cover price at that level is 20 story pages, with the other 10 being reserved for ads. In Zero #1, there are absolutely no ads, and the story content (meaning finished pages) takes up both the inside front and back covers. Pretty cool.
The issue itself starts in the year 2038, with our narrator tied to a chair and a child holding a gun to the back of his head. Our narrator doesn’t beg for his life, he just wants to tell a story before the kid decides to do what he’s going to do. It’s then that we start to learn part of the story of Edward Zero, a spy and assassin that is an absolute professional at espionage. While on a mission at the Gaza Strip, he’s almost found out by a high-ranking military officer, and does a halfway decent job in BS-ing his way to possible safety before he has no choice but to shoot him in the head and save his uniform for a later escape. The story revolves around Zero attempting to harvest bio-enhancing technology from an Israeli soldier, and he has to trail a ruthless, gory, and brutal fight between his subject and a Palestinian. Largely, this issue attempts to set up the weight of Zero’s job. While in many panels he comes off as a necessarily detached killer, there are a few surprisingly poignant moments where he takes time to survey the consequences of his line of work. While unsettling, it also feels rewarding in a way, since rich characterization is not lost on Mr. Kot.
Penciller Michael Walsh and colorist Jordie Bellaire create artwork that is extremely clean, yet surprisingly brutal. It reminded me in no small way of David Aja’s work on the current Hawkeye series, except far darker subject matter will obviously lead to some more decidedly graphic and intense imagery. The effort of the art team and the ambitiousness of the story really won me over, and I’ll be interested to see where the life of Edward Zero goes next. 8/10
Honorable Mentions from Independents This Week: The X-Files Season 10 #4, BPRD: Hell On Earth #111
That does it this week on the GeekNation Pull List! Planning on picking any of these issues up? Have you already, perhaps? Is there a particular series you want reviewed next time an issue hits the racks? Hate my face? Leave a comment below, and we’ll see you next week with a fresh batch of weekly picks!
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