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Comics Haul 26/3/2014

Marvel’s insistence on not letting its line stagnate – or on conning folks like me into buying lots of #1s every week – dominates this week’s haul, although DC gets a one-shot in – and it’s one beside which all Marvel’s offerings for the week, even combined, pale!

New Avengers #16.NOW (Jonathan Hickman, Rags Morales, Frank Martin)
Despite my misgivings about Hickman as a comics writer, and my disappointment with his seemingly one-trick authorial nature, New Avengers actually managed to impress me. Whilst still engaging in Marvel’s frustrating habit of raising the stakes to ever-more-ridiculous levels, the execution of that is managed much better. Despite the secret-behind-the-scenes-manipulation, power-brokering that remains a frustrating trademark of all Hickman’s work, this is actually an readable and enjoyable comic, but not one I feel any need to follow further, given a lack of characterisation or any real effort at engaging the reader.

Uncanny Avengers #18.NOW (Rick Remender, Daniel Acuña)
Despite the #X.NOW comics being clearly intended to start new storylines as excellent jumping on points for new readers, this is worse than Iron Man #23.NOW for demanding knowledge from the reader; from the use of obscure characters, through its heavy dependence on prior storylines and events in the wider Marvel universe, via a reliance on pre-existing knowledge of the characterisation of the cast, this is a bad jumping on point. That’s not to mention the fact that the whole comic has a very House of M feel, working in an alternate universe, and so on; it’s a story we’ve basically read before, wherein Magneto runs the world (for reasons) which is mostly mutants (for reasons) and humans are a persecuted minority (because Magneto). This isn’t fresh, original, new; it’s a worse rerun of the old.

Captain America: Homecoming #1 (Fred van Lente, Tom Grummett, Cory Hamscher, Chris Sotomayor)
The influence of the Marvel filmverse on its comics has existed for a while now, and – especially in Secret Avengers – has been very visible; this, however, is the first time it has tied directly in to a simultaneously released film (Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Homecoming #1 were released on the same day in the UK). References to that universe pervade the comic, such as discussion of the Battle of New York from Avengers Assemble, and as a whole, the one-shot that the plot of the issue is seems a little thin, more designed as a promotion for the film and as a setting up of the friendship between Cap and Black Widow than anything really organic or even worth telling. Not, I would suggest, an endeavour worth your time or money.

All-New Ghost Rider #1 (Felipe Smith, Tradd Moore, Nelson Daniel, Val Staples)
Ghost Rider has, thanks largely to Nicholas Cage, become a familiar figure to even half-fans of comics. This isn’t the Ghost Rider you know, though, and it is, on the first page, before the comic proper even starts, very clear about that. This has more in common with Fast and Furious than it does with Ghost Rider, from carjacking and illegal racing to a criminal with something of a Robin Hood-style moral code. This isn’t helped by an angular art style that imitates anime while portraying a Latino character, or a first issue that sets up an origin story without the nuance, humanity, or beautiful engagement with the audience that (say) G. Willow Wilson’s Ms Marvel #1 had in spades. In trying to be fast, this forgot to bring the fury, leaving the reader basically just bored.

Iron Patriot #1 (Ales Kot, Garry Brown, Jim Charalampidis)
This is a weird mix of the film universe and that of the comics; Rhodes is Iron Patriot, but with neither the baggage attached to that name by Norman Osbourne’s use of it during Dark Reign nor the military, international implications of Iron Man 3. Instead Rhodes is applying a strange global-patriotism to his choice of deployments; rescues all over the world, humanitarian and military missions only inside the US (it’s interesting to note that it seems Rhodes feels military missions within the US are inherently more moral than military ventures outside their borders); he keeps switching, in his statement, between serving only the US and serving the whole world, a category error that is glaringly obvious to the non-American reader. Somehow, this leads to where the comic actually opens, before it jumps back to all this; a helpless Rhodes. The only real draw, for me, is Lila Rhodes, a brilliant, articulate black teen girl in an industry where there aren’t enough of those; if this comic focused on her I’d be really drawn in; as it is I’m largely going to get the next issue for her!

Silver Surfer #1 (Dan Slott, Michael Allred)
This seems to be a comic with a split personality. The Silver Surfer itself has a fantastic sense of humour and voice, a real sense of being a character driven by a haunted, dark past but not an actually dark character. The rest of the comic, however, doesn’t hang together. It combines elements of Cabin In The Woods-style ironic subversion, misogynistic fridging, and a whole lot of handwave-based storytelling in place of actually thinking of something coherent to say. The Surfer lends itself to universe-imperilling stories, but in this case, I just don’t really care about what’s going on, or – Surfer aside – about any of the characters; they’re dull, flat, poorly written. If it weren’t for that one saving grave, this would be utterly irredeemable.

Suicide Squad: Amanda Waller One-Shot (Jim Zub, Andre Coelho, Scott Hanna)
This is, by a not inconsiderable distance, the best of this week’s comic haul. Amanda Waller will be familiar to long-time readers of a number of DC titles, but especially Suicide Squad, as a formidable, intelligent, forceful and resourceful woman; blunt but not with a certain humanity and kindness to her. This comic is, to no small extent, about how she got there. The story of one mission, it focuses heavily on Waller’s personal drive and psychology, her humanity and her *understanding* of her own humanity; it all adds up to be an incredibly compelling and powerful character study whilst also being, in its own right, a superhero comic. It has elements of The Boys, without the urge to shock, and of the more guilt-ridden portrayals of Wolverine; Waller was already a true character, but this really builds on that in an incredible way. A deeply human, enjoyable comic; I commend it.

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