Avengers: The Initiative 27: Two great stories from Christos Gage this month, both related to the attempt to take back the Negative Zone prison from Blastaar and his forces. First, he digs up an actual (I checked) pair of third-rate villains from an old issue of Dazzler and through them shows the “working class” point of view of the members of Norman Osborn’s new Initiative. This is the kind of thing this book does best, and it’s a gem of a story that made me want to find their original Dazzler appearance. (But then I laid down for a minute and the feeling passed.) The second story features the regular cast and shows the actual assault.
Ms. Marvel 44: This book is also on the twice-a-month plan through October. I’m not sure why there’s such a rush to finish this storyline, but I really liked the interaction between Osborn and his Ms. Marvel (Norman: “Not the time, Karla!” Karla: “You’ve been wrong every other time I’ve been right today. Do you really want to go for another?”) and the hints about the relationship between the separate Ms. Marvel and Carol Danvers reinforce my theory that it stems from Brian Reed’s early issues. (This series is really a remarkable run for a new writer, if you think about it.)
Dark Avengers 8: It’s great to see all the pieces of Cyclops’ plan come together (“We reject Norman Osborn’s pogroms agains mutants.”), along with the first major split in Osborn’s Cabal. (The Hood in “New Avengers” didn’t quit on purpose.) I also have to give it to Matt Fraction for basically lying in every interview he’s done about the “Utopia” story to preserve the surprise. I look forward to the ending in the “Exodus” special, and also to having Bendis back on this book next issue. (I think the Annual might be first, though.)
Batman: The Widening Gyre 1: I didn’t like Kevin Smith’s last Batman miniseries, but he’s got a good track record so I decided to give this one a try anyway. I like it a lot better than the last one, but I have mixed feelings about it. There’s a lot of borderline inappropriate stuff in it -- Robin cracking jokes while Baron Blitzkrieg attacks a synagogue (“Today, I am a man!”), Joker and Poison Ivy making some fairly overt sexual comments, the surprise villain eating a human leg, etc. -- but it is funny and entertaining, and Smith does a good job with the Batman/Robin (in flashbacks) and Batman/Nightwing relationships.
The Red Circle: The Shield 1: I liked this almost as much as The Web, and much better than the other two books. JMS does a nice twist on the Captain America paradigm by making The Shield a soldier in the Pentagon’s chain of command as opposed to the independent embodiment of a dream. The dialogue is crisp, and Scott McDaniel is the perfect artist for this but he’s not doing the regular series. True to its name, the series also comes around full circle to the other characters at the end. Overall, a successful experiment and hopefully both ongoing series will be as good.
Detective 856: Best issue yet of DC’s best series. ‘Nuff said. (If I may steal a phrase before the happiest place on Earth owns it.)
Teen Titans 74: Hey, it’s another death! In big letters on the cover! Kidding aside, I at least liked that it led to a recommitment of the team and a little bit of optimism instead of a lot of moping around. Dwayne McDuffie speaks highly of next issue’s new permanent (one can only hope) writer, so I’m looking forward to that.
New Mutants 4: I think this first storyline was an issue too long, but it ended well. I liked all the Sam/Dani struggles, and the last page scene between Sam and Cyclops was priceless. There’s a big change in Dani’s status in “Utopia”, so it’ll be interesting to see how that affects this book moving forward.
Wolverine First Class 18: I don’t usually pay that much attention to Marvel’s “All Ages” line, but I’ve been meaning to check this out lately because Peter David has started writing it. Having Madrox on the cover caught my eye, and it turns out that this is sort of a prequel to what David’s done with the character in the “Madrox” mini-series and “X-Factor”, while still being light and fun. Worth checking out, especially for “X-Factor” readers.
Superman 691: The pieces of General Lane’s master plan all click into place this issue, sidelining most of our heroes one way or another. Mon-El is physically out of commission, leading to him not being available in…
Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen Special 2: Get this even if you’re reading New Krypton in trades, because by the time it comes out that way you probably will have heard about the ending already and you really should get the full impact of the surprise. Art-wise there are some really beautiful fire and rain sequences that Bernard Chang deserves credit for, but also I think the colorist probably helped a lot. (Edited to add: Let me make it more clear -- this is the shock ending of the summer, if not the year.)
Runaways 13: Apparently, this book is in serious trouble, which is a shame because the current creative team has barely had time to get started and any sales problems are certainly not their fault. Still, let’s support great work while we can – maybe good trade sales (or Disney) of this arc will rescue the book. Meanwhile Kathryn Immonen and Sara Pichelli have an X-Men miniseries coming out at the end of the year, so at least they’ll land on their feet.
Guardians of the Galaxy 17: Star-Lord’s warning from the future (and last issue) arrives, and the Guardians and the Inhumans have to work together to stop the rift from the end of “War of Kings” from engulfing the whole universe. The scenes between Groot and Maximus are worth the price of admission. If you’re a Warlock fan and you’re not reading this book already, you might want to check out this issue for a major development regarding him (no pun intended). (Because he was originally called “Him” and, oh never mind.)
Fantastic Four 570: Jonathan Hickman and Dale Eaglesham take over, and it’s as good as I expected. The story does follow immediately from Hickman’s “Dark Reign: FF” mini, but they tell you enough on the recap page if you haven’t read it. (Though I recommend that you do.) Hickman writes Reed very well, which based on the past is really hard to do. Eaglesham’s art, reproduced directly from his pencils, has a Kirby-esque feel without feeling dated, and the last page is both thrilling and scary. The only things I don’t like about this are the short-sleeve FF uniforms.
New Avengers 56: Aside from some terrific fight scenes, there’s some really interesting political (for lack of a better word) going on here as Jonas Harrow’s invention threatens to change the balance of power. Also, I think Loki’s plans for the Cabal are starting to take shape. It doesn’t explicitly say so, but I get the feeling the next phase of “Dark Reign” is starting here so if for some reason you’ve been off this book it’s probably time to come back if you’re interested in that story.
Incredible Hercules 133: This half of the month we get the first part of Amadeus Cho’s solo story, taking him back to the town of his origin from the second Amazing Fantasy #15 (don’t ask.) It’s good, and there’s a pretty good recap of the series to date if you’re looking for a jumping on point.
Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter 3: Having now read the Phonogram trade that Shane lent me, which we’ll speak about another time, I can see why Marvel hired Kieron Gillen to write mythological books like this and Thor and Ares. This issue has some of the best Galactus scenes in years, and I liked the ending a lot. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of Bill from this team.