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This week (29 August 2012), the Newish 52 rounds out its first year with the controversial ending to Justice League #12, plus a bunch of annuals. Spider-man also continues to celebrate his 50th birthday in Avenging Spider-man #11, while DC also looks deep into its past with a modern twist on National Comics: Looker #1 and with a new debut for Phantom Lady and Doll Man #1. Meanwhile, Image gives us a continuation of the epic Image mini-series with Debris #2. Finally, is X-Treme X-Men #2 X-Treme enough, or should it be X-iled?
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Avenging Spider-man #11 [Marvel, Zeb Wells (writer), Steve Dillon (pencils), Bits Rating: ★★★] – It’s the 50th anniversary of Spider-man, don’t you know? As such, it’s all about the nostalgia this month, and Peter and it’s back to Uncle Ben’s grave for some reflection time. Zeb Wells has a very straightforward story about moving on, which is ironic given that this issue is wholly rooted in Spider-man (and Peter Parker’s) past. The very personal story is one worth exploring, but Wells adds little to what we already know and nor does he bring anything other than a picture-postcard version of emotion to this snapshot of memory. The few attempts at humour are inconsistent, and with the exception of an all too apt opening gag about Spider-man going through the motions, these moments doing gel with the rest of the sombre tale. The implication that May might know more about Peter’s nightlife is not only unnecessary, but wholly familiar as well. Dillon’s art is inconsistent to say the least, not really suiting this style of Spidey story. May actually looks quite masculine at times, only shades away from Dillon’s Ma Gnucci from his Punisher run with Garth Ennis. Chris Samnee did the wonderful cover art for this issue, and he or someone like him would have been perfect to bring a softer edge to this one-shot issue.
Debris #2 (of 4) [Image Comics, Kurtis J. Weibe (writer), Riley Rossmo (artist), Bits Rating: ★★★★] – The first issue of this limited series was our pick of the week last month, and this issue literally picks up where the last one left off. If the first issue wore its influences on its sleeve, this second issue adheres even more closely to the classic “Hero’s Journey” monomyth identified by Joseph Campbell. After handily dispatching some trash-born nasties, Maya encounters her older mentor figure who shows her the path to her destiny. With his introduction, Weibe also manages to slip some more detail about this textured world into the dialogue, giving us an indication that the Council have long had a vested interest in keeping a certain status quo in place and in exiling (directly or indirectly) their outliers. Rossmo’s art continues to be strong, bringing the industrial wasteland to life with an organic and symbiotic relationship between humans, landscape and the other beasties that inhabit it. Debris is a high-concept adventure story done right, and has the potential to be a massive crossover hit for Image, who really can’t be faulted this year at all.
Green Lantern Annual #1 [DC Comics, Geoff Johns (writer), Ethan Van Sciver, Pete Woods (artists), Bits Rating: ★★★★½ – PICK OF THE WEEK]: It’s the “Rise of the Third Army” this month as Geoff Johns continues to demonstrate how to do an event within the DCU, New 52 or any other U for that matter. Essential reading for readers of any Lantern book, this issue will have ramifications across the entire Lantern line, and perhaps even the second year of the Newish 52. Picking up directly from the cliffhanger events of Green Lantern #12, the rise of Black Hand continues, but it doesn’t go exactly where we thought it would. Instead, the Guardians finally plunge off the deep end and get sick of the Lanterns, taking actions that not only reveal a whole lot of bearded men, but unleash a power that even the combined might of the rainbow spectrum of rings may not be able to handle. What this also does is now make Green Lantern #0, in which a new character will be introduced, highly anticipated reading, a mean feat within the context of a cynical marketing exercise. Ethan Van Sciver’s art is gorgeous, perfectly suiting this action epic from its grungy graveyard fights through to intergalactic shenanigans. Like a film, this one even comes with a post-credits sequence that teases the next major arc. Justice League (also written by Johns and reviewed below), might have come up with its own controversy this month, but Green Lantern is exactly where the DCU should be at right now.
Justice League #12 [DC Comics, Geoff Johns (writer), Jim Lee, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and David Finch (pencils), Bits Rating: ★★★½] – The last few months, or the last half year if we’re honest, Johns and the crew have been struggling to find the right hook for this flagship title. The big event for this issue is right there on the cover, and has been highly publicised across the web. Of course, there are 21 other pages to fill, and Johns does a better job of filling them this month that he has for the last few. Rather than trying to fill an epic space saga or the expected superhero smack-down (as The Avengers proved, all superheroes fight when they meet), this one quickly polishes off the flat spooks and spectres arc, and moves onto some character moments. The bigger question of whether the world needs a Justice League is one that will form the next arc, and it looks much more promising than this second storyline. This all leads nicely into the teaser images Ivan Reis and David Finch provide in the final pages for the second year of Justice League under the Newish 52. The new line-up may give some cause for excitement, but all of the hoopla in the final 5 pages really just masks a second renumbering next month in the space of a year.
National Comics: Looker #1 [DC Comics, Ian Edginton (writer), Mike S. Miller (pencils), Bits Rating: ★★★½] – Before DC Comics became known my its current name, it was National Comics and this month DC launches four new titles that are, for the moment, one-shots. On first glance, this could be seen as yet another vampire book, joining the already crowded market that includes I, Vampire and American Vampire, not to mention the slew of DC/Vertigo titles that deal with the supernatural. So there is absolutely no reason that this book, dealing with a former model turned vampire, should work. Which is why it is delightful that it does. Emily Briggs is accidentally turned into a vampire, and is forced to retire from modelling, instead running a model agency called Looker. When one of her girls goes missing, she’s on the hunt for her and encounters more than she bargained for. In its current format, Looker reads like a TV pilot of a Angel-style investigative mystery series. Coupled with a beautiful Guillem March cover, and equally lush Mike S. Miller interiors, this is one we hope gets picked up for series.
Phantom Lady and Doll Man #1 (of 4) [DC Comics, Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti (writers), Cat Staggs (pencils), Bits Rating: ★★★½ ]: While not exactly household names, Phantom Lady and Doll Man trace their origins back to the Golden Age of Quality Comics, and have been trotted out by DC every now and then for nostalgic value. Gray and Palmiotti are unlikely candidates to revive these characters, but they do so with great respect and more importantly, a healthy dose of fun. Recasting the ‘Phantom Lady’ as Jennifer, who lost her family to crime when she was six, the book continues with a dazzling takedown of some crooks in an alleyway. However, things slow down somewhat as the book flashes back to a time before she became Phantom Lady, and is attempting to destroy a crime boss through investigative journalism. It’s an odd shift for a first issue of a mini-series, but it effectively repositions the book as a Doll Man origin story. While this mini-series isn’t an ongoing in the New 52, it could quite easily fit into there without any effort, and pacing issues aside, it is a hell of a lot of fun. Artwork from Cat Staggs, who is best known for her work with the Star Wars/Lucasfilm family, is spot-on for the tone of the tale, bringing life and allure to Phantom Lady without it being just another plastic pin-up. Indeed, it’s a strong issue for female artists, with Amanda Conner behind the eye-catching front cover as well. One to keep an eye on.
X-Treme X-Men #2 [Marvel, Greg Pak and Stephen Segovia (writers and art), Bits Rating: ★★½ ] – There’s an incredible amount of fun to be had in a book that pulls a group of mismatched mutants out of their own world and into the multiverse, even if it has all been done before in DC’s Countdown (2007) series, or more directly Marvel’s own Exiles (2001). Here the group of travellers – including the rock stylings of Dazzler, Captain Howlett (or Alt.Wolverine), Kid Nightcrawler, and Emmeline Frost and the floating head of Professor X – are in a land where many familiar faces from Sabretooth to Storm run the Bronze Age planet like gods. The initial promise is lost as caution, and characterisation, is thrown to the wind. Dazzler acts like a bit of a dick for most of this issue, and rather than getting to know this new world, a bunch of ‘stuff’ happens until a convenient plot changer turns up to whisk part of the group off to somewhere or other. Do we care? We should, but for two months in a row, Greg Pak has failed to engage us with what should be a no-brainer of a title. Next month, we should teleport to a world where this title focuses on story.