God Bless America!

Right Hulk?

Uh. . .

Happy Independence Day everybody. From Jonathan Hickman's Ultimate Comics Ultimates.

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China Trip Pt 1: Flying and the Great Wall

Last month, I took a Spring Break trip with my family to China. It was my first time there, and I spent a week while everyone else took 3-4 weeks. It was my first international, overseas trip, so I wanted to take thorough documentation via pictures. We went to Beijing, the country's capital and then Taishan, my parent's hometown. Everyone else went on to places like Hong Kong.

Did you know that international flights have tablets on the chair backs? It was a 13-hour long flight, so we had amenities like a care package of socks, toothbrush, eye mask.

It was a unique flight for me. My fiancee and I sat in a row of three, with one unoccupied -- meaning we enjoyed the privilege of 1.5 seats! We watched Charlize Theron's Atomic Blonde, a movie I've had on my list for a while. The plane air system creates a lot of ambient noise that made it difficult to hear. I had earphones, but it must have been a better experience for my fiancee, who had a bulky pair of Beats.

I was thinking it was a modern spy thriller story, but I was completely wrong -- it's a spy thriller told in the era of Cold War Berlin, coated in a thick layer of contemporary German techno/pop music. Would have been nice to know beforehand, previews.

The meals are very fancy, though I was dismayed by the amount of packaging and tray usage on the flight.

Did you know? In 2016, airlines produced 5.2 million tons of waste. Reading that article, all of the packaging makes sense, but I still think they could use less trays. We flew Hainan Airlines, which was a good experience, as far as 13-hour flights go.

I also watched the animated movie Batman and Harley Quinn on the flight, and have some words on it. It's in the style of Batman: The Animated Series and retains the voice of B:TAS icon Kevin Conroy, but it's much more racy than the original children's cartoon. There's a steamy scene between Harley and Nightwing, when Harley (gasp!) strips down in front of Nightwing, tied to a bed (gasp!). Your children's Batman, this is not. There are also fart jokes. If anything, this is a cartoon comedy that happens to involve Batman. The Batman show this ain't.

I also caught all four Island Guardians in my Pokemon Sun game! Outside of my productive flight with video games, movies, and power naps, eventually we landed in Beijing Capital International Airport.

The Airport is optimistically a half hour away from the heart of Beijing, but getting out is a little different. The plane taxis you to the ground, but from there you need to take a shuttle bus to the airport proper. It's your job to know which shuttle to take (there are people with signs), so you can take your correct transfer/exit/baggage claim. Not a user-friendly experience, but survivable.

Our tour guide was outside the gate waiting for us, and from there we checked in to our hotel at the evening. The next day, we had breakfast like you wouldn't believe.

Fried noodles? Check.
Kimbop? Don't mind if I do.
Long johns? Yes please. The breakfast had everything we needed and more. Not pictured: bacon, congee, soup noodles, more long johns.

Our first day was a visit to a Jade gallery and then the Great Wall of China. There are some tours that are pushy and try to force you to buy something. In the past, my mom has spoken of the tour waiting hours for you to buy something, like some kind of high-noon showdown!

Thankfully that was not the case for us. Our tour guide snuck us in with someone giving a tour of the gallery, and jumped off when they started pushing products on us. I took it as a chance to walk around and take some sweet pictures of jewel art.

Jade is a special mineral in China and one of the country's biggest imports. Different emperors/empresses in history have valued it, and our tour guide told us of one who was given a Jade mouth in her grave!

Like many other things in China, Jade is subject to counterfeiting: here are a couple tips to help you not get bamboozled: hold the jade up to a light and it should be translucent, and, when you knock it on a hard surface, it ought to make a pleasant knocking sound. Jadeite is second to Diamond in hardness (6.5 and 10, respectively), and it's said that if you nourish your Jade for 3 years, it will nourish you for life.

Next up was the Great Wall of China. Some parts of the Wall are closed off for reconstruction, and it took us quite a while to get up to the right spot: a little village called Mutianyu. We went through the mountains and passed numerous villages, some that had even built an economy as resorts for Great Wall hiking. It was an enjoyable hike, not longer than 2 hours perhaps, and the top was a rewarding view. My poor mom got tired halfway, and sat down in the cabin area while the rest of us got to the top of our particular section of the Wall.

The Great Wall is also known as China's largest cemeteries -- peasants and prisoners were conscripted to work on the wall, and when they died of exhaustion (which was often), their bodies were buried with their work. Yikes.

The rest area was a halfway point that also included a toboggan area. Fiancee and I took the toboggan, while everyone else walked the rest of the way down. Billed as "the Michelle Obama experience" (there are photos!) by our tour guide, it was a hoot. It moved quickly and while the line was long, we were consistently moving along. My one complaint was the slow people in front of me. You need to use the control stick on your toboggan: push it forward to go forward, pull it back to brake, and there was more than one person who didn't get it. Heck, the man in front of me was using his hands to push himself along the rail -- idiot!

We met up at the bottom, washed our hands and left. An interesting note about sanitation: things are generally more dirty on our trip than in the states. It may be partially due to the mugginess, but I never felt quite as clean as I do normally. The water isn't potable, and so if you want clean drinking water you need to boil your own water or purchase bottled water. Most toilets are squat toilets, although our hotel had sit-down toilets. Squat-ies aren't too bad. After an emergency at the Temple of Heaven, I got accustomed to them, and if you ask me, they seem more maintainable than sit-down toilets.

That'll do it for this post. Next time: the Forbidden City and Peking Duck! Have you been to Beijing before? Used a squat toilet before? Leave your comments below, and I'll reply!

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Spectacular Spider-Man Vols 4 and 5: Disassembled and Sins Remembered

Volume 4: Disassembled
by Paul Jenkins, Michael Ryan, Humberto Ramos and more
collects Spectacular Spider-Man #15-20

Issues 15-16 tell the two-part story "Royal Flush," featuring Captain America foe Ana Soria, AKA "Spider Queen," a woman who's able to control folks with the "insect gene," which Spider-Man apparently has. It's an extremely straightforward story, one that could be told in the (kid-friendly and now defunct) "Marvel Adventures" imprint of Marvel.

Well, it would be extremely straightforward, if not for the fall-out from Peter's forced kiss with the Spider Queen, leading to some tension between him and MJ for the next arc, and a terrible, horrible, no-good very-bad transformation for Peter.

That first kiss was all part of Ana Soria's plan to reshape Manhattan into a world of insect drones. Predictably, it doesn't work out, and I can't help but feel this was only a re-hash of another "Peter almost undergoes infidelity" story, similar to 2003's "Peter kissed the bug lady Shathra" in J. Michael Straczynski and John Romita Jr's Amazing Spider-Man. But worse, and, combined with Stan Lee's "Peter almost becomes a Spider" story from Amazing.

Somewhat redeeming is the process of Peter's transformation. Superhero action almost becomes superhero horro, as you see the little details from Peter transform, and how the world around him reacts. The dog across the street, who never liked him to begin with, now barks at him even more than usual. A smart detail to convey Peter's transformation, almost like Jeff Goldblum's transformation in The Fly (1986), one of my favorite sci-fi movies. I will never forget the scene where his fingernails fall off. Yeesh.

All in all, a re-hash of earlier, better stories.

Volume 5: Sins Remembered
by Barnes and Eaton
collects issues 23-26

So, back in 2004, the Spider-teams revealed that Gwen Stacy had an affair with . . . her murderer, Norman Osborn, and bore two children out of it, Gabriel and Sarah.

The less said about it, the better. But they had to wring four issues out of the fallout, where Peter visits Sarah in her home, Paris, after she's taken to the hospital for a potential suicide/overdose. You know, the girl who's rapidly aged to her twenty-somethings (it's kind of like progeria?) and looks just like Gwen Stacy, the love of his life. In, you know, the city of love, Paris, away from his wife in Manhattan.

What could go wrong?

The story once again deals with infidelity, and is kind of a crime/mystery/family drama. It's just unfortunate they had this material to deal with, an ugly retcon of a dearly-loved character's history. There's no denying that Sarah's a bombshell like her mother, but it's way too weird knowing that we're expected to expect this amorous tension between Peter Parker and Sarah. God no.

Paul Jenkins isn't a bad writer, and I don't think Sara Barnes is either, but these were way off the mark. A forgettable volume 4 followed up by a wish-you-could-forget volume 5. I'm willing to believe in Spider-Men that can shoot webs out of their hands. But not a guy who will go to Paris and go on dates with the girl young enough to be his daughter, but just so happens to look like his dearly-departed high school sweetheart. Yeesh.

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I'm Feeling a Little Hungry Today. . .

Thanks Hobby! And Happy Pi Day! Courtesy Hobgoblin, and Amazing Spider-Man #651.

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Thor Vols 1 and 2: The Goddess of Thunder and Who Holds the Hammer?

Volume 1: The Goddess of Thunder collects Issues 1-5 by Aaron, Dauterman, Molina, Wilson
Volume 2: Who Holds the Hammer? collects Issues 6-8, Annual #1, What If? #10 by Aaron, Dauterman, Stevenson, CM Punk, Guillory, Sauvage, and Truman

Jason Aaron continues his run on Thor with the new, adjectiveless 2014 series, "Thor." As a result of the "Original Sin" crossover event, the male Thor (he-Thor?) had secrets whispered to him by Nick Fury, making him unworthy of the magical hammer Mjolnir. What follows is the aftermath, of a woman picking up Mjolnir on the moon and becoming, Thor, the goddess of thunder.

The series of events spans wide, from the inter-realm invasion of the Frost Giants into a Roxxon Headquarters on Earth, to the bar conversations between Thor Odinson and his friends. Jason Aaron knows how to set up a story, how to tell a story, and by Odin's beard, it's good. The first volume uses the Frost Giants story to usher in the new Thor. Literally, Odinson and Thor get into a fight, and when Odinson sees the way she wields Mjolnir, he cedes to it, and gives her his namesake. Just look at this superb use of sound effects:
Dauterman's pencils have a rough, indy feel with them especially on the fantastic creatures, but the clean lines in his characters manage to maintain this dignity of a God. Who else is going to draw all those ice barnacles on the Frost Giants of Jotunheim! It's a hell of a read.

Jason Aaron is telling so many stories at once here: The rise of Roxxon Industries, Odin's return to the throne of Asgardia (formerly Asgard) and the politics that it entails, Odinson's (and everyone else's) quest to discover the identity of Thor, Malekith's political machinations, and most of all Thor's new role as the Goddess of Thunder and the protector of Midgard. And it's all done in 5 issues, and it sets up the next volume. Aaron is just on a whole other level when it comes to comic book storytelling. This is the kind of comic that's so good, it makes me feel bad for missing it in singles.

Volume 2 collects the final arc of the series, issues 6 through 8, as well as the annual and a "What If?" story from the 70s', what if Jane Foster found the hammer. In the main story, Odin the All-Father unleashes the Destroyer Armor to bring Thor back and reveal her identity, but she isn't going to comply with that, leading to the first fight between the (all-old) Destroyer and the (All-New) Thor! Along the way, we check in with S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Roz Solomon and Midgard Ambassador Jane Foster.

Along the way, Odinson finally completes his list of potential Thors, and accuses the identity of the new Thor! Except he's wrong, and only we get to see who she really is on the final page. . . This story's got it all: family drama, political intrigue, superhero action, buttressed by the energetic art from Russ Dauterman. I love the way he incorporates sound into the page:

The Annual collects three stories, of the current Thor the Avenger, King Thor, and young Thor, all of them a fun, thoughtful take on the character, and the final story is a "What If?" from the 70's, asking what would happen if Jane found the hammer instead of Donald Blake, in the original Journey into Mystery. It's a far more complete story than I expected, going over that initial day, and then going through the 150 issues that Thor incurred since, but with Jane as Thordis instead.

The Amazing Spider-Man: Learning to Crawl

by Dan Slott and Ramon Perez

"Learning to Crawl" was released in those weird Marvel-numbered "1.X" issues, which made it a really easy reason to simply overlook and to continue picking up the "main" series, Amazing Spider-Man. It really seems like a variation on an old concept: folding the satellite Spider-titles into the main title, now published weekly, if your wallet can handle that kind of thing. But now it's, "hey look, it's the main title with these different numbers. So now you can buy more main Spidey, and give us more money!" What an idea.

Anyways, as for the story itself: I really, really liked it. It's billed as "the chapter you never knew about the story you know by heart," expanding on the first 60 days of Peter Parker's life with his alter-ego, Spider-Man. Dan "the Man" Slott shows off his Spider-knowledge here, perfectly conveying the teenager that Peter was in Amazing Fantasy, in a modern way in 2014. The secret he feels he has to keep from his Aunt May, the need he feels to honor his Uncle Ben, the responsibility he has to protect his classmates, makes so much sense like you always knew it was there, but just discovered.
Peter has just "landed" in his room in the Spider-Man costume, and tells his Aunt "Don't come in!" when...

When you're a teenager, you feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, and it's a struggle that we get to see through Peter, and reflected to the foil here, "Clayton Cole." Clayton is a teen genius (teenius?) just like Peter, but never learned the responsibility that Peter did. When he's one of the first to see Spider-Man in the wrestling ring (in a nod to modern sensibilities, Clayton is the one who "made Spidey viral," by posting his footage on the web!), he's determined to put on a mask and make a name for himself as well, as the sound-based costumed character, "Clash."

SPOILER ALERT: it doesn't go so well, and causes Peter to question ever putting the mask on. There's a touching, hilarious moment with Aunt May at the end that serves as a "retcon" for why Spider-Man jokes all the time. Believable if you want, and if you don't, well, no big deal.

There's no doubt about it: Dan Slott just gets Peter Parker. He gets what makes him tick, and this is the perfect showcase for it. Back then, when Slott was a "breaking" author, he penned a four-issue miniseries about Spider-Man and the Human Torch, highlighting four different times in their relationship together. It was a story that was half-nostalgia/tribute, and half-just damn good storytelling about these characters we've grown to love. Learning to Crawl is no different.


Ramon Perez does a wonderful job of re-creating the world of 1960s' Peter Parker, in a modern manner. He "riffs" off of Steve Ditko's 9-grid pages in the early issues of Amazing, blowing them up for action scenes or slicing them apart for longer scenes. I really love his layouts, and below is an example two pages.
Peter goes to school counseling for his recent school behavior, and learns to "code switch," so to speak
Having a sound-based costumed character in a soundless medium format means you can do some fun stuff with conveying that sense. Clash's gadgets allow him to take sound from the environment and amplify them as a weapon, and here's what it looks like:
Clash and Spider-Man brawl in the Daily Bugle office

Couldn't help myself -- here's one more layout from issue 1.1:
Peter performs for the world -- not because he wants to, but because he has to.

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Daredevil: Back in Black Volumes 4 and 5: Identity and Supreme

Back in Black Volume 4: Identity
collects issues 15-20
by Soule, Sudzuka, Panosian, and Garney

"Identity" contains two three-issue storyarcs: "The Seventh Day," and "Purple," both very pensive and introspective stories for Matt. As he struggles with the fallout of previous issue, he weighs the "worth" of Daredevil against the pain he inflicts on others. It's all framed as a conversation with a Catholic priest, and the flashbacks and forths between that and Matt's brushes with death leading to a fight with Bullseye, but there isn't very much consequence to it. We don't get to hear how Bullseye came back (From Waid/Samnee's storyarc in DD #25), and Matt easily takes care of Bullseye.

The next storyarc is about Matt's encounter with the Purple Children, and how he got his secret identity back. Color me impressed at this retcon: since the story is from Matt's point of view, he makes for an unreliable narrator, when he recounts to the priest that the details are fuzzy to him. Whether he actually visited ex-lover Kirsten while under the influence of Kilgrave, or whether he dreamed it, for example. It's such a sly, comic book-y way to explain the restoration of Matt's secret identity while being able to leave some details ambiguous.

Sudzuka pencils the first half while Garney pencils/inks the second. I've praised his drawings of Daredevil before, and they're just as good here -- but there are instances where the pencilling is rough and unpolished, but they decided to go with it anyways. Not what I'd expect in a finished Marvel comic book.

I think there was a lot of overwriting to compensate for the flashbacks, which makes this collection weaker. There's a lot of telling rather than showing, and when there are attempts at honoring the transition that Matt's life went through, it's over broad strokes of explanation that do the job, without much of a story. When Matt tells Kirsten that he has to leave, his planet needs him, there's a page spent on Kirsten's reaction. But was it enough?

What I had to do to really come to grips with that resolution, was understand that these stories weren't meant to give us a previous writer's Matt Murdock. If you wanted those, just go and reread those. These comics are meant to give us Soule's Matt Murdock, a man who loves being Daredevil despite the guilt he feels over how it affects the people he loves. A man who swears he has a way to end crime in New York, using his guile with the rules of law. That's the Matt we're going to see, and that's as "true" a Matt Murdock as Mark Waid's Matt Murdock.

Back in Black Volume 5: Supreme
by Soule, Sudzuka, Morgan, Garney, and Milla
collects issues 21-28

Just how frequently is DD being published? There are three (three!) pencillers on the series, and it's been that way ever since Volume 2. It does awful things to the collection, but you wouldn't think it looking at this one. Issues 21-25 tell the story of "Supreme," and are penciled exclusively by Alec Morgan. Think courtroom encounters of the superheroic kind -- Matt's got a plan to get rid of crime in New York, and he uses his position at the A.D.A to do it, court by court, word by word. Each issue is a meticulous step towards the Supreme Court, with superhero action in between. With Soule's law expertise, it really reads like a courtroom drama that happens to have Daredevil, and Alec Morgan's subdued lines let you breathe the story in through the words. Great pairing for this storyarc, with huge implications for the legal world of the Marvel Universe. You can tell Soule put his best work into this one.

Issues 26-28 comprise "Land of the Blind," a three-part action thriller against "The Beast," a mystical creature that gives the ninja clan, the Hand, its power, as well as Tenfingers, from the very first storyarc of Soule's "Chinatown." Blindspot's loyalties are put to the test and, ultimately, he chooses the right thing. It's typical superhero fare, with one wrinkle: Sam Chung (Blindspot) gets on his soapbox for a while to figure the math on the number of geniuses and brilliant people that the American immigration system neglects, illegal or otherwise, explaining the title: "Land of the free? Land of the BLIND," he says. Soule is showing his hand here, wearing his beliefs on his sleeve about immigration. Which I don't mind, Marvel has always had room in their comics regarding social justice topics, so while slightly jarring, it is OK in my book.

BONUS PANEL: Daredevil versus the Hand, in a cool splash-ish-page of dodging ninja stars:

After "Supreme," they folded Daredevil back to its original numbering, and I started collecting the series in single issues. Check it out!

Daredevil #595, "Mayor Fisk" Pt One, Pt Two, Pt Three

Trades: Coming to America, Insane in the Brain

New Super-Man Volume 2: Coming to America
by Yang, Tan, Bogdanovic et al.
Collects issues 7-12

This volume collects three 2-issue stories, "Training Day," "Coming to America," and "The Zero Ultimatum." Each issues packs in so many ideas and jump seamlessly from one to the other, that you'd only see they were separate stories if you looked for the titles on the credits splash pages.

"Training Day" zooms in on Chinese New Year, with Kenan (New Super-Man)'s frustration that he lost his father in the previous volume, and with Baixi (Bat-Man) visiting the Bat-academy that trained him to be Batman.

Because China has superhero schools, duh. The Joker of China makes her debut here, kind of, in the form of Bat-Man's sister, as "the Alpaca"! There's an interesting distinction here: where the Joker represents anarchy and chaos in America, the Alpaca represents a different shift from China's authoritarian government, but in a similar direction: "Don't tell me you're one of those pro-democracy WACKJOBS!" Baixi says, and his sister replies, "What-?! What's democracy got to do with anything?! I want FREEDOM!" We've been trained by comics to think of it as "good guys" and "bad guys," but here there is some moral ambiguity, which is a refreshing way to think of the Justice League (of China).

The sheer number of ideas keeps the momentum going. There's the White China Triad, a group of mercenaries hired to acquire the Door Rings of "Diyu," the hell of China, along with the Chinese legend of the White Snake . There's a certain amount of magical realism to allow for the world of superheroes that any comic book reader is familiar with, along with the fantasy world of Chinese legends. Unlike the traditional Superman's pseudo-science-fiction origin, the New Super-Man's powers come from his Qi, his life force, and he finds a tutor, the blind Master I Ching to help him understand the eight trigrams of his powers (for example, the trigram of the thigh, which grants him the power of x-ray vision). There are these moments of world-building paired with these small moments of humor, making for a reading experience unlike any other at DC.

Wolverine: Weapon X Volume 2: Insane in the Brain
by Jason Aaron, Yanick Paquette and

Kind of like "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest," but with God Brain Machines and Chainsaw-hands-man. Logan wakes up to find that he's in an insane asylum, the Dunwich Sanatorium, run by the enigmatic Dr. Rotwell. What follows is a horror mystery that results in yet more psychic trauma for poor man Logan.

"Insane in the Brain" takes issues 6-9, and there's a one-shot in issue 10, titled "Love and the Wolverine." There's a clever time-lapse in issue 8 (9?) between Logan in the asylum, and out of it, but it's somewhat of a letdown that the arc doesn't completely "resolve," with Dr. Rotwell living on to torture Wolverine with a secret phrase that makes him murder randomly.

I struggled with the substance of this trade. Wolvie's inner monologue about the confusion in the asylum doesn't allow for much character development, and the 10th issue about his relationship SF reporter seemed too quick. But that's the lives of superheroes I guess.

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Serials: Punisher, Spider-Man, Captain America

Amazing Spider-Man # 795
"Threat Level: Red, pt 2" by Slott, Gage, Hawthorne, Pallot, and Gracia

This issue is as much a done-in-one as it is a teaser for the "Red Goblin," the name for Norman Osborn's merger with the Carnage symbiote.

For all the Marvel Universe change-ups that characters go through -- Peter is moving into an apartment now that he's a failed CEO, while Loki Laufeyson is the new Sorcerer Supreme -- this issue still manages to feel like a traditional Marvel team-up book. Peter goes into work as the Daily Bugle's science editor, only to be summoned by Loki to repay a favor for him: to return to Peter his wealth. I read this issue and had a fuzzy memory of this, wondering, "Could it be...?" and found it on CBR to confirm: this is referring all the way back to Straczynski and Romita Jr's run in issues 503/504, when Peter helped Loki save his daughter (one of many) from an evil enchantress. This is the strength of Marvel Legacy: that there are no hard reboots, and that every story exists. It tickled that comic book reader bone inside me to see that.

Spider-Man doesn't take the offer too well, frustrated at his situation and how his previous deals with magic have resulted, and ends up breaking a magical containment cask for the Fire-Wasps of the Faltine. It leads to a very standard team-up between the two of them, where a Fire-Wasp murders an innocent man, so Peter uses his one favor to turn back time, to before he broke the cask.

On the face of it, it's a very typical Marvel team-up, but you'll learn a little bit more about the character of Loki, Sorcerer Supreme. This is great for me: through the lens of Peter Parker I've already experienced a bunch of the Marvel Universe: Mockingbird, Silver Sable, and now Loki, Sorcerer Supreme. A competent done-in-one that handles one of the greatest strengths of a shared Marvel Universe.

Captain America # 698
"Out of Time, pt 1" by Waid, Samnee, and Wilson

Last issue, Captain America was frozen (again) by a terrorist organization, and in this issue he thaws (again) to a drastic new future he never saw coming! The same terrorist organization, Rampart, unleashed a bomb that triggered deformities in some people, and killed most of the Marvel Universe's heroes. Business owners began charging exorbitant amounts of money for clean air, water, and other basic goods, creating a social dichotomy: wealthy elites who lived in clean areas and wore branded "A"'s on their forehead to denote their status, while mutants who had no choice but to live in dumpsters wear "Y"'s and "Z"'s.

It's a chilling future, and I didn't think Waid/Samnee had a dystopia in them! For all the things that have changed -- there's an bipedal talking dog mutant, drone shooters named "rapidtroops," a guy disfigured like the Toxic Avenger of the 1980s, and worst of all, Captain America doesn't even have his "America" anymore, a term bastardized by the elites who value it with a fetish -- Steve Rogers is still the man that stands up for the little people. After the traditional stories that started their run, I'm excited to continue this sci-fi underdog story from Waid/Samnee.

The Punisher #221
"Punisher: War Machine Pt 4" by Rosenberg, Vilanova, and Lowridge

It's amazing how much Rosenberg condenses into the first half of this issue. Last time, we saw Frank fly down into the ocean in the middle of combat with S.H.I.E.L.D. soldiers in War Machine armor. The first half is a comeback story of how he repaired his armor, and then, the second half is what he did after he got it fixed. Spoiler alert: he kills a lot of people in both halves!

It's all a ploy to get the despot General Petrov out of hiding, which he does -- by threatening a nuclear bomb! Cue next issue! Great serial storytelling from all three of my comics this week.

My favorite kill of the issue: Frank does his best "Jaws" impression on one of General Petrov's goonies, while ice-fishing:
Is "No! Go away!" just the perfect thing to say when you're about to get murdered by an soaking robot-man from the ice that you were fishing?? It's the same kind of ludicrous, over-the-top murder that you'd expect from Garth Ennis's run, played with just as straight a face. It's both charming and extremely disturbing, a tone that the team has managed spot-on for this run.

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Injustice: Gods Among Us Years Two through Five

by Tom Taylor, Brian Buccellato, Bruno Redondo, Mike Miller, and more

In Year One, Superman murdered the Joker! This is what happened next. Years Two through Five explain Superman's transition from murderer to dictator, in an extremely decompressed manner. Around Year Four Brian Buccellato took over the scripts, from the original creator Tom Taylor.

Year Two: The Guardians of Oa try to intervene in Superman's plan for world peace, and Hal Jordan becomes a Yellow Lantern, permanently.
Year Three: John Constantine tries to stop Superman setting off a war of magic
Year Four: The Gods of Olympus intervene
Year Five: Plastic Man breaks Superman's supervillain prison, while Superman takes the next steps to quelling Batman's resistance.

For me, this was a binge-read over the course of a few weeks during the winter holidays. I find that ironic, since the whole Injustice series was originally made as a weekly digital-first title, to be digested week-by-week. The constant cliffhangers made for a just-as-excellent binge-read. So instead of a write-up proper, here's some selected moments from the series.
Lex wows the Justice League by revealing their "secret" identities. Elseworlds are refreshing, because in the normal DCU, you wouldn't be able to see situations like this!

Bizarro Superman makes his debut in Year Four, a test-tube creation from Lex Luthor. When Emperor Superman questions Lex about his involvement, there's this nice usage of Lex's heartbeat that clues us in to the situation. Only in comics could you do something like this, a very cool way to convey the information.

 The art was varied across the whole five years, but for the most part remained consistent with DC's "house style." Bruno Redondo probably held a good amount of issues. Here is just a nice action panel of punching.

A cool way that explains why Bizarro Superman has the reverse-S logo on his chest.

Year Five: Eel O'Brian adds a touch of humor to the dour life of Emperor Superman.

Crazily enough, the story doesn't even end on Year Five. Instead, it leads to a different universe with a focus on Harley Quinn, in the Injustice: Ground Zero miniseries. Who knows when I'll be able to get to that...?

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Daredevil: Back in Black Volume 3: Dark Art

by Soule, Garney, and Milla

Dark Art collects five issues, 10-14 of the 2015 series. It's a storyarc focused on a supervillain called "Muse," an artist that makes obscene artwork out of his victims. Here's his "bibliography," of sorts:
  1. An abstract mural composed of the blood of over 120 people
  2. A full-studio floor tableau of several Inhumans, murdered doing ordinary things like sitting on the couch and the toilet.
  3. The murder of Tenfingers, from Back in Black Volume 1: Chinatown
Obviously Matt isn't too excited about this, and his A.D.A. life intertwines with his night life, as he's responsible for serving the man whose studio was broken into for exhibit 1. Turns out, the owner is charging admission to see the awful piece of art, so Matt gets to close the studio for public indecency.

Muse seems to have superpowers, able to murder slews of regular people and super-powered Inhumans. To him, he gets to carve immortal lives out of his victims and turn them from people of insignificance to lasting art. It's otherwise a straightforward Marvel superhero story, except Ron Garny and Matt Milla just crush it on the visuals. In atypical fashion, they collaborate for the full five issues, not needing a fill-in artist. This splash page of Muse in the sewers is one of my favorite, for the perspective, the colors, and the linework. It's crazy that each brick is drawn on there.

The stark use of color reminds me of Frank Miller's Sin City, an appropriate tone to set for this darker Daredevil. I love looking at Garney & Milla's Daredevil, a presence of shadows and red boxing gloves/boots. Take a look at this two-page fight between Daredevil & Karnak. Karnak is an Inhuman Lieutenant who has the uncanny ability to "find the weakness in any person or thing," and over the course of this fight the two are trying to figure each other with great narration by Matt. Here is the scene for your pleasure.

In this age of digital comics, it's extremely easy to whip up a cover collage, so I've done that very thing for Dark Art. Together they tell an extremely abbreviated story of Daredevil's struggle with Muse.

Unfortunately, Muse is another member to be added to the revolving door of supervillainy, so you can cross that off your bingo sheet. Another trope to mark off is that someone close to the hero endures a trauma or death, and, in this one, it's Blindspot (Sam Chung, first introduced in Vol. 1: Chinatown) who gets his eyes gouged by the murderer.

Standard superhero fare elevated by the superb art team of Garney & Milla.

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Serials: Daredevil #598, Amazing Spider-Man Annual #41, Spider-Man/Deadpool #27

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #42
by Slott, Smith, Pallot, and Weber
"Bury the Ledes," back-up story "Spider-Sense & Sensibility," and gag page "The Many Costumes of Spider-Man"

It's a throwback to classic Spider-Man as we see Fancy Dan and the Enforcers! They're part of a larger story involving Daily Bugle reporter Betty Brant, her deceased husband Ned Leeds, and an underground mob plot about the (falsified) Battle of "Blood Creek."

Spider-Man plays more of a side character her, where Betty takes the main stage. "Blood Creek" was her husband's story, before he passed away, and so events happen to spur Betty on to finish his life's work. The whole thing comes off as a traditional, play-it-safe, Spider-Man crime story. No character development here, but it's not needed. Slott would be great as an animated series writer for this reason. He's very good at weaving plots together and teasing storylines early. The characters don't need to develop so much as their situations change.

Following is a shorter story about Peter's birthday, and his spider-sense. It has a very charming way to convey spider-sense that makes it worth the read alone.

Capping off the annual is a page of Spider-Man's costumes -- a fun way to look back at years of Spider-Man, and Dan Slott's 10 years there!

Daredevil #598
by Soule, Garney, Milla
"Mayor Fisk"

Man, talk about decompressed! Everybody walks around New York City and contemplates Muse's new art (remember him?) on city buildings, until he makes one of the Punisher.

Cue next issue, except, well, now you have to wait a month. It helps that Ron Garney is back on, but there's a disturbing amount of pages where there's a massive panel of nothing. . . did I really need a half-page of the back of Wilson Fisk's head? Could you have picked a better angle to

At least when Bendis decompressed his stories, he had oodles of dialogue to focus your eyes on. Here it's just tracts of unused space.

Spider-Man/Deadpool #27
by Thompson, Bachalo, and Hepburn
"Area 14" part 1

Reading this issue along with Daredevil just shows me how they're worlds apart. Thompson hands in a creative script that challenges the reader to take multiple reads to "get" it, utilizing both artists to jump back and forth between two different scenes that build on each other, technically and emotionally.

Those last few pages make Deadpool a sympathetic character in a way I've never seen before. Both Bachalo and Hepburn are perfectly suited for this style of storytelling, injecting their visual humor into each page, despite having utterly unique styles. They really squeeze the story out of each page, and this would make a great jumping on point for anyone. (So would last issue!)

This is the best comic book I read this week, if not the best comic book I pick up monthly.

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