Nova 29: Abnett & Lanning always know how to keep this book fun and interesting, but they’ve outdone themselves here by digging up Monark Starstalker, an old Marvel cosmic character so obscure that not only had I never heard of him but he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry! (Apparently he was created by Howard Chaykin in a 1976 issue of Marvel Premiere.) To their credit, he’s immediately compelling.
Strange Tales 1 (of 3): This is one of those “indy creators do superheroes” anthologies, and as usual it’s a mixed bag. Paul Pope’s Lockjaw-centered “Inhumans” story is fun, but not as good as his recent “Adam Strange”. John Leavitt and Molly Crabapple’s Victorian “She-Hulk” story did nothing for me. There’s a short manga of Spider-Man and MJ living in a town of spiders, which makes MJ the interesting one, that’s cute if you like that sort of thing. Dash Shaw’s “Dr. Strange” story is a weak attempt at Ditko-style psychedelics with a dumb ending. James Kochalka’s multi-colored “Hulk” story is cute too, but I actually prefer the similar strips that Jeph Loeb’s daughter does in the back of the regular “Hulk” book. Johnny Ryan’s “Marvel’s Most Embarrassing Moments” was too juvenile for my taste (Example: “Prince Namor loses a bet and has to get breast implants.”), but I thought his “Punisher” version of “Scared Straight” was funny (“I came here to show you how to punish your son properly!” [shoots X-Box]). M. Kupperman’s two-page “Namor” story has a dumb punch line, but he apes the Golden Age art style perfectly. The main reason for this anthology to exist is Peter Bagge’s long awaited “Incorrigible Hulk”, which at one point was scheduled to be its own miniseries (or one-shot?) but then shelved. The first installment is in this issue, and so far I don’t get what all the fuss is about. Everyone loves to make fun of MODOK, so Nick Bertozzi supplies a story of his life and loves (!) from 1974-2003. The Perry Bible Fellowship has a couple of beautifully drawn single-page gag strips, and the book finishes up with a mildly amusing funny-animal Spider-Man story by James (no last name). Reading all of that back, I guess I don’t recommend this unless you’re a fan of one or more of the creators involved.
Fantastic Four 571: I agree with Shane that this is a hard book to get right and that the family dynamic is key. However, I also think that Reed is the hardest character to get right – most famously Tom DeFalco faked Reed’s death to get him out of the book during his run – and for that reason it doesn’t bother me that Jonathan Hickman has chosen to focus on Reed first. Given Reed’s roles in “Civil War” and “Secret Invasion” and the ideas set up in the McDuffie run, it’s entirely appropriate to bring that arc to some kind of conclusion, and Hickman is showing that he really gets that Reed is a passionate scientist, not an absent-minded professor. There are also four terrific pages in the Baxter Building kitchen, featuring among other things Franklin acting like an actual kid, that show me that he gets the rest of the family too and that he isn’t planning to ignore them. Lest we forget this is also an adventure strip, Dale Eaglesham creates some really beautiful set pieces of the various scientific marvels (no pun intended) that the alternate Reeds are capable of. Prediction (stop here if you don’t want spoilers): Reed’s offer to join the council is not sincere – he’s disturbed by what he’s seen them do to the alternate Dooms and he’s planning to bring them down from within.
Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men: Exodus: Matt Fraction’s plans for the X-Men mostly come to fruition here. The ways Cyclops is able to fight off Osborn’s Avengers are plausible – I especially like the price Emma has to pay – and I think the new status quo is interesting and exciting. Like the best Osborn stories of the past year, I especially like how creepily real-world familiar it is to watch him spin what’s arguably a defeat into a decisive PR victory.
Dark X-Men: The Confession: I’m kind of surprised Matt Fraction didn’t write this himself, given that it’s such a key part of his story, but I guess he had a lot going on this month. Crag Kyle and Chris Yost do a good job at showing us how all the secrets between Scott and Emma got laid bare, and how it affected their relationship. (This actually happened a while ago, but most of it had to be kept secret from the reader in order for the ending of “Utopia” to work.)
Dark Reign: The List – Avengers: Empowered by his “victory” over the X-Men in “Exodus”, Norman Osborn comes up with a list of other things to fix and as usual he kind of has a point. (“Why is the Hulk still running around destroying everything in sight.”) Arguably, this should be an issue of “New Avengers” since that team has the debate about whether to kill Osborn that has been building in that book for a while. Conveniently for Norman, one of the items on his list decides to deliver himself to Norman’s HQ and presumably we’ll see that play out in “New Avengers” when the current story arc is over. There’s possibly a crossover with “Marvels Project” going on here, as Bucky claims to have killed Hitler but as far as I remember it was actually the original Human Torch that did that. It seems like an odd thing to get wrong in a high profile book edited by Tom Breevort, so I’m guessing it’s a story Ed Brubaker is planning to tell in one of his books. (Could be in “Reborn” too, I suppose.)
Dark Reign: The List – X-Men: By Osborn’s own admission, this is the least justifiable item on his list – basically he just hates Namor and tries to get revenge by reanimating his dead alien monster wife (Namor’s, not Norman’s) and sending her out to kill every Atlantean it can find. (“Namor screwed me over! So now he gets a message…”) Of course it doesn’t work, and it doesn’t seem that Norman even expected it to work: he just did it to piss off Namor. It kind of backfires, in my opinion, driving the surviving Atlanteans to live with the X-Men in their new home (although it’s not clear if Norman knows that yet.) A good story by Matt Fraction backed up by the best Alan Davis art I’ve seen in a while.
Dark Reign: The List – Daredevil: Of the “List” specials so far, this one is the one that most should have been a regular issue as this is really Andy Diggle and Billy Tan’s debut issue of Daredevil featuring his initiation to his new status. (I’m being vague because I know some of you are waiting to read DD #500 in trade.) Although if it gets enough attention to keep the regular book’s sales from dropping it’ll be worth it. I’m not quite ready to say this is as good as Brubaker’s run yet, but it’s definitely in the same league and it’s a very good start.
Dark Reign: The Sinister Spider-Man 4 (of 4): Brian Reed and Chris Bachalo end the series on a good note, with a better balance of farce and seriousness. (The ersatz Dr. Manhattan seems to have been completely forgotten, thank goodness.) Not a critical “Dark Reign” chapter by any means, but overall this was a good series with terrific art.
Dark Reign: Young Avengers 4 (of 5): I admit to being a little bit confused at a couple of points in this issue – I hadn’t realized that one of the characters didn’t know he had a supervillain parent because that was exposed to the readers a couple of issues ago, for instance – but Paul Cornell’s still breaking new ground (“You’ve got a power that naturally inclines you towards becoming a villain. But, maybe even because of that, you’re the one that most wants to be a hero.”) and the arrival of one of the adult Avengers teams at the end promises a really great ending next issue.
Dark Reign: The Hood 5 (of 5): Brings us up to date just before the Sorcerer Supreme story in “New Avengers” with some very tragic and creepy events. I wish this series had come out completely before we knew what happens next in Bendis’ book, but overall I’d say when this trade comes out it’ll be worth having on the shelf next to the original Hood miniseries.