So, still no Astonishing X-Men #48 at my store. I'll probably just have to pick it up somewhere else, but won't bother reviewing it at this point. However, I did get my other missing comic from last week...
Ultimate Comics Ultimates #8: For the first time since the Ultimate line hit restart several months ago, Ultimates was actually kind of dull. Last issue, we were promised both Hulk smashing and Zorn revenging, but neither paid off this week. After a few pages, Reed handily calmed and won over Banner, and Zorn was in transit the entire time. While both of these things made for stunning visuals from Esad Ribic---particularly the Hulk-Reed scenes which I hope we get a few more of before this storyline concludes---neither were especially interesting plot beats. The stuff with the President is certainly in keeping with the spirit of the title so far, by which I mean it's high-power and batshit insane, but it only inches forward this issue. A decision made early on is only officially announced on the final page, and there's not quite a satisfying portion of meat in between.
Even the scene where the announcement is finally made loses weight because of the ridiculous facial expressions. In fact, my one quibble with Ribic's art in general is that his surprised faces are all laughable. Stark, Hulk, Congress...it's the same look every time and it is not flattering. Otherwise a beautiful if low calorie read.
Animal Man #8: In terms of actual story progression, not a lot happens, but several significant character turns take place that I enjoyed. Buddy finally whole-heartedly leaps into the fray. Maxine discovers some impressive if frightening new powers, and then promises to put an end to that sort of behavior while her father is away. And Ellen and her mother each reach their respective breaking points in the face of all the horror they've seen. A new chapter begins here, even more so than in this arc's official first chapter, for nearly every member of the Baker family (Cliff no so much) and it keeps me excited to see where they all end up.
On the art side of things, while Travel Foreman does a fine enough job with his portion, Steve Pugh really has all the best moments, including his first two pages (6 and 7) and his final one. As much as Foreman was one of the best parts of this series at the beginning, Pugh is a very welcome addition (and no stranger to the character). Plus I'm excited to see Foreman on Birds of Prey.
I do have one burning question, though, and it applies to Swamp Thing #8, below, as well: If the Rot has become such a worldwide problem, and the military are showing up en masse and everything, then where the hell are all the other superheroes? I mean...I'm glad the Justice League isn't showing up awkwardly in these titles, but if I am supposed to believe they exist in this world, why would I believe they choose to sit this one out? Did I miss an explanation at some point as to why they wouldn't try to take on The Rot themselves? Just something that popped into my brain while reading this week.
But other than that long, disconnected question, a solid issue throughout.
Avengers vs. X-Men #1: The page with the line ups of both teams really makes things look bleak for the X-Men, huh? I'm just talking numbers (even though, of course, there are TONS of Utopians not mentioned...but why?) And I also thought that, basically, this issue was exactly what everyone expected it to be in the most disappointing ways possible. A long, long set up that leads to the first blow in the fight we've been told for months is coming. Pretty boring stuff, really. Bendis does a good job with his dialogue and Romita, Jr. is serviceable if not impressive on pencils. Really nice colors by Laura Martin, but otherwise nothing to write home about. This whole Marvel-wide fight basically starts because Cyclops and Captain America decide to be dicks to each other immediately. Especially Scott, who seems like he walks into that conversation looking to pick exactly the fight he picks. Namor says that things are already ramped up, and he's 100% on the nose with that call, but why things get so ramped to quickly is sort of unclear and sort of dumb.
Other dumb thing: the Marvel AR tags all over the place. Like roaches in a TV set.
And we hear a lot of talk about fans choosing sides in this fight, but I'll tell ya...so far, the fight seems to be about whether protective custody or mutant boot camp is the best way to handle the Phoenix Force, and I just simply do not care or even see why those two sides are necessarily at odds with one another. Fairly weak sauce beginning to the year's blockbuster event.
Casanova: Avaritia #3: Matt Fraction can catch you up on the story so far and confuse the shit out of you in the same panel. It's really an amazing style and voice he brings to every chapter of Casanova, and this one is no different. While the primary Casanova-Xeno-Sasa threesome/escape plan was totally interesting and bananas, the best parts of this issue focussed on other characters. Suki Boutique gets a nice bit of spotlight, Seychelle re-dons the creepy villain cap quite naturally, and Kaito just generally kicks ass. I have missed the shit out of him, and his return to the title this week is more awesome and terrifying than I could have imagined. And of course, Gabriel Bá and Cris Peter go to town every page, Peter more noticeably than Bá this time, keeping the red foundation of "Avaritia" but also generous and intelligent with greens and using the blues of "Gula" for Kaito's split-second flashbacks. Entertaining, fast-paced, high-concept comicbookery for all (as long as you don't mind sex and violence and swearing and whatnot.)
Daredevil #10.1: The last six pages are pretty good, but everything before that is sort of a dud. A no-stakes flashback fight and a recapping Daredevil's long-term and short-term history, since this is meant to be an issue where new readers might jump on. Murdock goes to see a potential client who was put in prison by Daredevil after trying to assassinate Murdock. Not a bad idea, not even a BAD story, but most definitely not that interesting in execution. And Koi Pham's is quite underwhelming. Again, in the final scene where Daredevil and the megacrime stooges have their little scuffle, things really come to life, but in the Murdock scenes Pham's faces often lack detail or shape, and sometimes his bodies as well. He puts very little detail into anything, and it gives a real sense of the art being rushed or maybe just sloppily finished. Check out the part where fat Daredevil takes on two even fatter bank robbers. Weird stuff.
Art that felt rushed, a story that felt stretched. Meh.
Fairest #2: If I thought some of the other titles this week were boring, Fairest #2 gives a whole new meaning to the word. To be fair, if you ignored all the words, Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, and Andrew Dalhouse offer a really soothing and stunning visual trip. The Ice Queen and all of her minions look gorgeous and foreboding at once, and in the Sleepy Beauty backstory sequence, we get a great splash page of the fairy godmothers, followed by an even greater and more detailed double spread of an incredible royal hall.
That sequence, though, as far as story? Really, really lame. And why doesn't Sleeping Beauty know about it? Yeah she was young, but she's grown now. She's lived in our world. Wouldn't she have heard some version of this story? But none of that is the real problem, the real problem is that all three of the heroes (Ali Baba, Sleeping Beauty, and Panghammer) are obnoxious as hell and won't shut up. Am I rooting for them? Hell no! The Ice Queen looks the coolest, acts the coolest, and has friends who know how to keep their mouths shut. THAT is who I root for, every time.
Green Arrow #8: Uh...what? Seriously...???
Swamp Thing #8: Scott Snyder does an interesting thing in this issue, filling it to the brim with combat and filth, letting Yanick Paquette and Marco Rudy pretty much run things (despite an abundance of captions for some pages). It all feels very deliberate. The art highlights the violence, the violence highlights the art, and plot more or less stands aside to let that take place. We get a big development for Abby at the end, but not an unexpected one, and beyond that little really happens. It's almost like an alternative first issue for all the naysayers who were upset at the amount of Holland and lack of Swamp Thing this series had in the previous seven installments. So now it's all Swamp Thing all the time, at least for one month, and even if it's perhaps overly simple in its narrative, you could study the panels of Swamp Thing vs. The Rot for hours without boredom. Plus this new design for Swamp Thing is balling.
Thunderbolts #172: I have no strong feelings about this issue either way. The Thunderbolts vs. Thunderbolts concept is a perfect ending to both the time travel story that has been running through the title for a while now, and for Thunderbolts as a title at all, since once this arc wraps it will become Dark Avengers. As cool as the idea is, though, this opening chapter is less than thrilling. All of Jeff Parker's usual humor is there (especially with Boomerang, who is always my favorite part of the book) and the fight that makes up the last half of the issue is fun and in a cool setting and generally well-drawn by Declan Shalvey, but it's all a little straightforward for my taste. I'm very excited to see if Fixer's foreshadowing pans out (or, I should say, HOW it pans out), and the cliffhanger ending definitely makes me excited for whatever comes next with Moonstone, but nothing exceptional in-and-of itself here.
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #9: Three extremely well-done scenes. Admittedly, my experience with the Ultimate line before its recent reboot is extremely limited, so I do not know if Captain Frank Quaid is a new or returning character, but it hardly matters because Brian Michael Bendis so succinctly introduces him here. I really hope he's going to be a recurring character now, because Miles could use somebody like that in his corner, and also because I just like the guy.
The main event of the issue is Prowler vs. Scorpion. Both characters slowly reveal to each other, and therefore to the reader, the scope of their abilities. Prowler expects to disarm and surprise Scorpion with his new toys, but Scorpion clearly has some older, scarier, innate abilities that make him one hell of a foe. It's a fun escalation to watch, and it's also satisfying to see Uncle Aaron gradually go from arrogant to terrified. He's a pretty despicable dude (seeing as he blackmails his nephew into helping him deal with a supervillain), which makes the panels where all he can do is panic and run are some of the best in the issue, with David Marquez evoking Aaron's stunned horror perfectly.
Marquez continues to be an excellent substitute for Sara Pichelli all around, brining all the attention to detail and character and expression she always did. And all of this seems to be tumbling toward a Spidey-Scorpion meeting, which I can't wait to see.
Wolverine & the X-Men #8: Beast fighting Sabretooth in space is a great goddamn idea that misses the mark here. I mostly blame Chris Bachalo, who's art is unclear everywhere, but particularly during the climatic final moments of that fight. I'm sure Bachalo's style is appreciated by many, but I have always found it a little too bizarre and inconsistent to really enjoy. And he gives his characters such animal-like faces. I know Beast and Sabretooth are meant to resemble cats, but why Angel and Kilgore, and why only sometimes?
Jason Aaron's script has its highs and lows. Again, conceptually, Beast vs. Sabretooth on S.W.O.R.D. HQ is sweet, but it feels sort of cramped in the same space of the other story. The same is true of that story, wherein the students go back to Planet Sin to get a cure for Wolverine. Even though the exchange between Angel and Genesis is a highlight of not just this issue but the series to date, the rest of that mission goes by in such a blur its hard to get invested in it before they're already returning home. Between that frantic pace and Bachalo's sloppy pencils, Wolverine & the X-Men #8 just fell short for me this time.