Thursday, July 1, 2010

New Comics - Week of June 30, 2010

By Paul Steven Brown

Cultural Wormhole takes a look at some of the comics that hit the stands this past Wednesday. Today we check in on Action Comics #890,  Flash #3, Invincible Iron Man Annual #1, and Secret Avengers #2.

Action Comics #890

Writer: Paul Cornell
Art: Pete Woods
Published by DC Comics

I loved Paul Cornell's work on Captain Britain & MI13. It was one of Marvel Comics' best, yet unsung series a few years ago. Cornell had an unconventional cast of superheroes that fought all types of mystical villains. He did the incredible; he made characters like Captain Britain, Pete Wisdom, Blade, and even Dracula really cool. I even enjoyed his five issue Dark X-Men mini-series.

When I heard that Cornell was taking over Action Comics as writer, I was immediately curious. When I heard that the book would be starring Lex Luthor instead of Superman, I got excited. The man made the lord of vampires a really awesome supervillain, so I couldn't wait to see what would happen when he got his hands on Clark Kent's arch-rival.

I was not disappointed. Cornell writes a great Luthor and the identity of his confidant is a great source of humor. This part allows Lex to monologue at someone else in the room and not to open air. Also, Cornell gives Luthor a mission that promises to be a fun ride in the coming months. The ever capable Pete Woods is providing the visuals. His storytelling and expressive characters only enhance an already great book.

Flash #3

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Francis Manapul
Published by DC Comics

Seriously, why are you not reading this book? Go out and find the first three issues of latest Flash series now. Not familiar with the Flash or Barry Allen? Me either, but this book has been extremely new reader friendly. Doesn't book spin out of the whole Blackest Night/Brightest Day stuff? Yes, but for the most part this feels like a standalone tale. The Captain Boomerang material is tied to BN/BD, but all you really need to know is that he died and now he's back for some unknown reason. Oh, and he's a very bad man. What? You don't like superhero comics? At least check out the fantastic art.

Francis Manapul is unbelievable. His style blends the techniques of a comic book artist and that of a storybook illustrator. It's a crazy mix of Hank Ketcham (Dennis the Menace) and H.A. Rey (Curious George) but with a superhero twist. Gorgeous, gorgeous stuff.

Invincible Iron Man Annual #1

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Carmine Di Giandomenico
Published by Marvel Comics

Normally I would lavish praise upon this series, but I found this annual under par when compared to the usual fare from Matt Fraction and his work on Invincible Iron Man. What's important is that this story re-introduces Tony Stark's arch-nemesis, the Mandarin, at least within the context of Fraction's run on the series. While his take on the longstanding villain portrays him as cruel and manipulative, it also recreates him as self-deluded and obsessed with his public persona.

The last appearance of the Mandarin that I can remember was in the proceeding series Iron Man: Director or SHIELD during the excellent "Haunted" arc by Daniel and Charlie Knauf (plus amazing art by Roberto de la Torre). In that story, the Mandarin was a calculating manipulator of his pawns who only moved out of the shadows to confront Iron Man during the climax. He was sinister, intelligent, and fierce in battle. Nothing like the cruel buffoon that is portrayed in this annual.

Aside from of the reworking of the Mandarin and his origin, the story that runs through this entire over-sized issue is really repetitive. It feels like a series of morbid gags in which the Mandarin recites a piece of his personal history to the director, we see how it really happened, the director argues some point, the Mandarin threatens him or his girlfriend, the director gives in while still planning to tell the real story some how. Wash, rinse, repeat. Fraction's dialogue is still solid, but my engagement lessened with each new turn of the same scenario.

It's all really predictable, too. I found myself asking, "Now, when is the Mandarin going to decide to direct a scene himself?" Boom. It happens. I asked the same thing about the Mandarin taking over as the lead actor of his own biopic. Boom, again. Normally I would say that a double-sized story that runs the entire annual and is written by the regular series author would be worth the price tag, but this one got boring and predictable very fast. Pretty disappointing for a what is usually an amazing title.

Secret Avengers #2

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Mike Deodato w/ Will Conrad
Published by Marvel Comics

The New Avengers relaunch has been reliably good (at least the first issue, anyway), the Avengers has been disappointing, but Secret Avengers has been a pleasant surprise. Ed Brubaker captivated me with his first fifty issues on Captain America over the past four or so years. He's ported over Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter from that book, so they provide a firm bedrock for the writer to build on top of. The rest of the cast is a strange, but welcome mix of former Avengers and fresh faces to the team.
More than Avengers or New Avengers, Secret Avengers feels more like the type of "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" book that I grew up with in the late '80s. The team make-up is a mix of veterans, reservists, and rookies. It's full of spies, vigilantes, mutants, mythic warriors, and space cadets. Each has a distinct personality and role on the team. Also, Mike Deodato's art feels like a call back to the classic days of John Buscema, Paul Ryan, and Steve Epting under the thick inks of Tom Palmer. This is the book for the old school Avengers fan.

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