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This week (7 March 2013), the Age of Ultron #1 (Marvel) begins with a bang, not to mention a foil cover. Jeff Lemire’s Green Arrow #18 (DC Comics) continues, while Brian Michael Bendis continues to tease Guardians of the Galaxy: Infinite Comics (Marvel) in a new digital-only comic. Then for Joe Casey it’s all about Sex (Image Comics), Jim McCann takes us to Last Vegas (Image Comics) and the all-star team of Andy Diggle and Jock deliver another issue of Snapshot (Image Comics).
Age of Ultron #1 – Marvel, Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Bryan Hitch (artist)
Don’t let the 1990s foil cover throw you: this is exactly how an event should kick off . While Marvel has out rebooted the reboot kings at DC with their flailing Newish 52 with Marvel NOW! over the last few months, their big events of the last few years (Spider Island, Fear Itself, AvX) have left a lot to be desire. Yet by dispensing with the standard meandering prologue and throwing us straight into the dystopian Age of Ultron, Brian “the busiest man in comics” Bendis cracks out one of the hookiest openings to a major crossover in years. All the setup we need is on the title page: “Hank Pym of the Avengers created the artificial intelligence known as Ultron. It hates humanity…and it has returned…”. With that, we are taken to a futuristic looking structure hovering above the ruins of New York. Bendis tells us this is set “today”, but is it an alternate universe or a shocking turn of events? Familiar heroes and villains scramble to rescue one another in the wreckage, but nobody seems to exactly trust each other when Ultron can apparently implant tech inside human bodies. This leads to some fantastic scenes of former allies turning on one another. We aren’t given much more explanation in a first issue that is largely world-building, and Bendis effortlessly draws us in before pulling the rug out from under us. Bryan Hitch’s art is dark and gritty, reminiscent of his work on The Ultimates. His final page on this issue might just be the most heartbreaking of the series, but this is only getting started. Climb on board with this series, as we have the feeling that this is not only going to be one of the bigger events of the year, but one of the best written as well.
Rating: ★★★★½ – PICK OF THE WEEK (tie)
Green Arrow #18 – DC Comics, Jeff Lemire (writer), Andrea Sorrentino (artist)
Jeff Lemire took Green Arrow from being one of the titles we would have put forward for the chopping block to genuine must-read blockbuster last month. This second issue with the character continues in much the same fashion, which is to say spectacularly. Stripped of his fortune, Lemire’s Ollie is slowly getting closer to the “old school” version, but with enough new to fit into DC’s 18-month-Old 52. The tightly paced script, while undoubtedly written months before the TV series Arrow went to air, is beginning to find some commonalities with the show’s narrative. A slick corporate type is working against Green Arrow as the black-hooded villain Komodo, while the mysterious Magus is aiding the green-clad hero. There’s even the familiar flashbacks to the island, as Ollie’s origins and his current life begin to draw together. As good as Lemire’s writing is, Sorrentino’s art is the real star here. Using the same technique of sparsely colouring the panels, and using unique variations on the palette when he does, the net effect is an immediacy rarely seen in mainstream comics. This is what should have been the reboot back in 2011, and is indicative of what the Newish 52 was capable of. It is a shame that readers may not have made it this far after several false starts. Let’s hope DC have finally got their heads on straight as use this title as a template for the other flagging titles, rather than simply cancelling the same misfires over and over again. For now, enjoy a layered action/drama from the best in the business.
Guardians of the Galaxy – Infinite Comics #1: Drax – Marvel, Brian Michel Bendis (writer), Michael Avon Oeming (artist)
After giving us some backstory for Peter Quill last month in Guardians of the Galaxy #0.1, Brian Michael Bendis has released another piece of the puzzle linking Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s run to his. Indeed, this is part of a series of digital-only vignettes that aim to reveal some of the mystery surrounding each of the principle players in the Cosmic Universe. Recalling the Jim Starlin/Keith Giffen series Thanos (2003) in tone, this prologue takes place in a bar, where Drax the Destroyer is having some trouble fitting in with the locals. Plagued by his reputation as a killer, Drax searches for meaning in a post-Guardians world. When Peter Quill arrives with an offer to help save the Earth, Drax’s response is simple: “Give me something worthwhile to do, Quill. Just promise me it will be worthwhile”. If this is indicative of the character-based approach that Bendis’s Guardians of the Galaxy series will take, then sign us up immediately. Oeming’s art is complimentary, the kind of style that perfectly suits the eccentricities of Marvel’s Cosmic. Plus, it’s completely free from the Marvel/Comixology app, or by following this link.
Lost Vegas #1 – Image Comics, Jim McCann (writer), Janet Lee (artist)
Somewhere in the future, a down-on-his-luck gambler has become a prisoner aboard the space-bound casino Lost Vegas, working to pay off a debt that will never be achieved. Now he is planning escape, but even that is a bit of a gamble. In 2011, the Jim McCann and Janet Lee won an Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album for the surrealist Return of the Dapper Men, and they reunite for this (so far) more simplistic adventure. This first issue is all about building the world that our gambler inhabits, but to McCann’s credit we are thrown into the titular ship fairly rapidly. The story becomes quite familiar at this point, and until the final page, looks like a basic escape story. While not having the instant hook of the Image’s sci-fi stablemate Saga, there is nevertheless some intrigue here. Lee’s artwork is undoubtedly unique, but feels somewhat inconsistent in these pages, perhaps not as in tune with such a straight story. That’s not to say Lee’s work isn’t often breathtaking, such as the splash page that introduces the gambling floor. It is just occasionally inconsistent, which is just as true for the narrative as well. Definitely worth seeing where this is going, but by no means an essential read just yet.
Sex #1 – Image Comics, Joe Casey (wrtier), Piotr Kowalski (artist)
There has been a lot of talk around this title, and its lack of digital availability (due to Apple’s policy on sexual content) will ensure this flies off comic book shelves. Sex sells, after all, but there is a lot more to Joe Casey’s first issue of this new ongoing than mere titillation. Piotr Kowalski’s art immediately sets the scene, a gritty mixture of closeness and crime, not a million miles away from the colour schemes of Sean Phillips on Ed Brubaker’s work. Casey takes the sexuality that superhero comics have always toyed with, from bondage ropes to latex outfits, and makes it more overt. Yet at the same time, this is not what readers might expect from the explicit title. Granted, it contains graphic depictions of peep-show lesbian encounters, but Casey has already firmly established his world by then. Former costumed crime-fighter Sam Cooke returns to a city he has watched fall into decay, and with the Old Man ready to take over control of the town again, Cooke finds it impossible to connect to a life out of costume. Cooke’s despair is a tangible entity, and while half of the readers may pick this up for some beautifully rendered skin, the rest of us will stay for Casey’s world-building.
Rating: ★★★★½ – PICK OF THE WEEK (tie)
Snapshot #2 – Image Comics, Andy Diggle (writer), Jock (artist)
The Green Arrow: Year One team of Andy Diggle and Jock reunited last month for another limited series, although this one is definitely more in the vein of Diggle’s Rat Catcher than his superhero fare. With the “wrong man” plot firmly in place, this second issue finds a decent balance between action and exposition as a new player enters the fray. There is a lot going on in this book, with lengthy explanations as to how this murder plot came to be and how the phone ended up in Jake’s possession. Yet Diggle never lets us feel as though we have slowed down to have something explained to us, with a decent helping of chasing sequences present in this second issue. Indeed, artist Jock gets to cut loose in his unique style, with pages of thrilling bike chases and rooftop pursuits laid out for him. Even in the simple act of sitting in a coffee shop and having two characters explain plot to each other, Jock’s stark black and white images manage to find interesting angles and perspectives on these low-key happenings, itching to bust loose on the action that immediately follows. While this will undoubtedly make a ripper of a “thriller movie” when it is presented in a complete trade format, these single issues were made for the kinds of cliffhangers that Diggle excels at. As we impatiently wait for the continuation of this tight saga, we can thank heavens that this month has proven to be a golden age for creator-owned content.