Avengers vs. X-Men #4: Somehow, even though so little happened, I ended up liking this issue slightly more than the previous three. Partly it was John Romita, Jr. who, despite some noticeable mistakes (the guy cannot get a handle on Colussus' helmet, huh?) generally delivered stronger work than before. The Polar Bear was nice looking, and Romita seems to have finally pinned down Hope. Mostly, though, I just enjoyed the Hope-Logan interactions as written by Jonathan Hickman. To my knowledge, he's fairly new to these characters, but I warmed to them. For a while, anyway. In the end it all got ruined because Wolverine decided that being a dick on the Moon is somehow different/better than just doing it on Earth, and then there was some dumb yelling, and then we were done. The middle was also weak, showing us tiny and often poorly-drawn glimpses of fights taking place in other titles. Still unimpressive overall, but just the tiniest bit less so than the earlier issues.
Birds of Prey #9: I understand that, ostensibly, Birds of Prey lives within the bat-family of titles. And it takes place in Gotham, too, so I see the argument for including it in the "Night of the Owls" crossover. However, so much about this issue felt forced: their reasons for joining the fight, the solution they reach to kill the Talon, and especially the incredibly rushed ending. Travel Foreman is a welcome addition, and draws the hell out of the Talon, so if upcoming villains can similarly fit his style I think he's going to elevate the series overall. He did make Starling a bit more scantily-clad than necessary when seen through the Talon's twisted perspective, but he killed it with Katana and Canary both, so I think I can let that slide. But all Foreman got to draw here was one long, drawn out fight, and no matter how good that looks it gets boring. Hopefully once Duane Swierczynski doesn't have to shoehorn a crossover story in, he can return to the excellent superhero action-thriller he's been writing all along.
Daredevil #13: I just don't think Khoi Pham is right for this title. He did an OK job with Daredevil himself, but his Foggy Nelson and Matt Murdock are both failures. And the panel where we see things as they look through Daredevil's pink sonar-vision things was a mess. Come to think of it, the New Avengers didn't look too great, either. Though not quite as bad as his first time on the title, Pham still feels like a poor fit here. Unfortunately, the story doesn't do all that much to help. I'm not a big fan of trick endings, but more than that, the whole thing felt more complicated than necessary, particularly when Daredevil ended up giving the drive to someone who asked for it ages ago. I know DD wanted to give Megacrime a new target, but I just wasn't thrilled with the solution Mark Waid cooked up. Still, Waid has earned a lot of credit with this title so far, and now that the Omega Drive stuff is winding down I'm anxious to see what's next. Plus, you know, DD in Latveria intrigues me...
Hardcore #1: A fairly standard first issue: introduce the high concept, the good guy, the bad guy, and the hook. I guess it's not totally obvious yet if Drake or Markus will be the ultimate hero of this tale, or if either of them even will be, but for the time being the roles seem set. The basic premise is a pretty cool bit of spy sci-fi, and Robert Kirkman introduces it clearly, but the exposition is largely delivered through kind of lame dialogue. While overall the character voices are strong, in those moments where they are explaining the concepts or their own actions they sound unnatural. Brian Stelfreeze handles the action scenes and the sci-fi elements all very well, and brings a nice energy to the overall feel of the book. His characters have some generic details, like facial shapes and glasses and such, but we know who's who and there's a lot of fun, entertaining stuff. I'm definitely curious to follow the title from here.
Hellblazer #291: I see why this is officially the epilogue to "Another Season in Hell" but truthfully it's more of a standalone story. A really good one. Constantine assembles a simple enough plan to take down his evil twin, puts it into action, and succeeds. Sometimes it's nice to just watch the hero win. Sometimes it's what they and the reader need. And it always feels good to have a major plot thread like this finally reach its resolution. Gemma is seemingly shuffled off the board for the time being, after being an integral part of the cast for a long stretch, and it feels not just right but good to see her go. First, of course, we get to see her torture the shit out of her own personal demon, and that feels just as good as her departure. Gael Bertrand really knocks out the artwork during Gemma's attack, and actually did a pretty fantastic job all over. At first his style was a bit jarring, but once I settled in it felt totally fitting. In a story about luring out a demon, Bertrand makes everyone looks a bit demonic, which sets a nice mood. Peter Milligan continues to tell wonderful tales of dark magic and violence and the Constantine clan, offering up a done-in-one story that still has major significance for the larger series.
Saga #3: Yes, this series is Brian K. Vaughan's idea, but make no mistake, Fiona Staples is the reason it is so excellent. Vaughan kicks ass in his own right. He keeps us plugged in to all the previous characters and advances their stories while still primarily using the issue to introduce Izabel, the ghost girl with no legs from the cover. And Izabel is a lot of fun. She's perhaps a bit of an archetypal chatty teen, but her history is interesting and I appreciate her go-getter attitude. I also continue to love The Will, and adding a bit of bitter romance to his character through The Stalk was a brilliant development. However, as I said, Fiona Staples' art is the reason to be reading this book. I finally realized it when I got to the page of The Will eating cereal with his cat. It so perfectly set the mood of the character for the conversation that followed. But really everything Staples draws, right down to her awesome colors, is breathtaking. Even the violent bits soothe the eyes. Vaughan and Staples are carefully constructing a universe together, and so far it looks and feels amazing.
Scalped #58: Very much a middle chapter, Scalped #58 is great, but the actual events of the issue didn't wow me. Important and heavy stuff happened, yes, but really Jason Aaron just turned the temperature up a little bit on all the chaos, bringing things that much closer to truly bubbling over. The cast seems to be getting set up for a final confrontation of some kind where everyone is trying to kill everyone else, but in this issue all we get are a few small moves in that direction. Important moves, yes, but small ones, like Dash learning about his child or Dino proposing an attack on Red Crow. Still, with only two issues left, Aaron and artist R.M. Guera both clearly know what they're doing from here on out. Guera brings his typical A game, which I mention as a courtesy since it's basically a given that any issue of Scalped which he draws will look phenomenal. Guess what? This one does, too. As big a void as it's going to leave, I'm more excited to read the conclusion to Scalped than anything else currently coming down the pipeline.
The Shadow #2: Garth Ennis' take on The Shadow is superb. Lamont Cranston is a no-nonsense, no-mercy kind of hero, who feels a genuine hate toward his foes. He acknowledges a certain darkness within himself, and embraces it, gladly giving up his own soul to fight the good fight. He's also a total badass, able to handle himself in a fight on an airplane where he is outnumbered and outgunned. And the details of his powers that we discover this issue make him all the more terrifying and fascinating. Ennis also writes a fully-realized and highly-likable Margo Lane. She's strong and capable but ultimately kind, an ideal counterbalance for Cranston whose just strong and hard from head to toe. They're a fun couple, and as we learn about them they also learn about each other. Aaron Campbell has a few rough moments on art, but mostly triumphs. The champagne glass in the eye is a great image, as are the fire extinguisher going off and The Shadow's initial entrance. Campbell is a talented noir artist, which is, of course, exactly what this story calls for. The Shadow is very quickly climbing up the list of my current favorite titles
Thunderbolts #174: A very Thunderbolts kind of ending, to be sure. Fixer being at the heart of the story helped with that, as did Jeff Parker's skillful use of his entire enormous cast. Parker and artist Declan Shalvey both have clearly hit a real groove with this series, and I am relieved the name change doesn't mean a change in creative team or, necessarily, cast. There will be additions, but based on this issue pretty much all the old-timers are sticking around, somewhen or another. That's definitely good news, but I appreciate that the end of the title Thunderbolts included the end of one its founding character's stories. An intelligent and satisfying way to make the transition.
Uncanny X-Men #12: So, why is Cyclops comfortable with ALL OF THE OTHER CHILDREN being in Avengers custody, but not Hope? I get that he wants the Phoenix to get to her and is afraid the Avengers will prevent that or whatever, but it still felt like it undermined his position somewhat the way he so forcefully brushed that topic aside. That's just one small gripe, and truth be told I have many. This title seems to really suffer from being forced into a crossover, because so far all that its tie-ins have offered is a bunch of fighting with no victors and no point. Visually, Greg land continues to underwhelm, particularly with Hepzibah and Namor. Their faces kept bothering me, as did their less-than-witty flirting from Kieron Gillen. The saving grace of this issue was the Tabula Rasa guy (whose name escapes me or maybe doesn't exist). He had some really fun bits all throughout, and his final assumption that all this fighting would lead to mating was awesome. A perfect little fuck you to the whole event. Even if that's not the intention, that's how I choose to read it.
Wonder Woman #9: So, so frustrating. I know Brian Azzarello likes wordplay, but Strife's stupid little turns of phrase alone made me want to pull my hair out. As if that wasn't enough, Tony Atkins doesn't make her look nearly as cool or powerful as when Cliff Chiang is drawing. And she's on practically as many pages as the title character. Speaking of, Diana was especially passive here. I'm starting to find this take on the character less of a stoic badass and more of an impossible-to-read, weird sort of blank slate. Her conversation with Persephone was as dull as it was uncomfortable. Ditto her chat with Hades at the end. Meanwhile, we meet not only Persephone but Aphrodite, Hades' father, and those weird dog-women maidens, too. I assume they have names from classic mythology, but I don't know 'em. The point is, Azzarello is piling on new characters, racing through his mission of building a complex world for the gods of Wonder Woman, and sacrificing storytelling along the way. This series impressed me so much when it started that I have tried to stick with it in these recent, rocky months, but this was a definite low point.