Light week, this fifth Wednesday of the month, made even lighter by my shop somehow including only the Batman Annual but not the Animal Man one in my folder before selling out of both. I love them because they give a generous discount, but they've got to get more consistent or I'm switching back to the old place. Just another mostly empty threat made online. Anyway...
Batman Annual #1: It claims to be a part of "Night of the Owls", but for me, the only thing about this story that didn't work was it's unnecessary attempt to be connected to the crossover. That's a mild complaint, though, because mostly I like this even-crazier Mr. Freeze. He doesn't seem to veer too far from the classic interpretation, except that the unreasonableness of his obsession has been beefed up a little. And I'm almost always in favor of making an insane character even less stable. This annual is 100% an origin story for the New 52 version of Freeze, and it succeeds inasmuch as I look forward to the character's future exploits. The biggest strength of this first new Batman Annual, though, is Jason Fabok, colored by Peter Steigerwald. Everything has a sort of elevated realism, an inherent drama that fits Mr. Freeze's extreme personality. Particularly the Wayne-Fries scenes, where Bruce is a stark and impending black figure in the midst of Victor's spacious white lab. And of course the opening and closing pages of a young Victor and his mother, which were practically a complete short story all their own. A gorgeous one.
Monocyte #4: From the very beginning, Monocyte has been, as a title and a character, a sort of non-stop engine of forward momentum and insane imagery. The finale is no exception. Monocyte, aka Augustus, has been killing off all the major players one by one, and once his final target dies in this issue, he heads back to his master to sacrifice himself, as he was always meant to do. Now, to be honest, I don't recall exactly who the winged woman is or why she wants to save Monocyte, because it's been kind of a while since the last issue came out, but she manages to convince Grod, who up to now has seemed quite the villain, to lend a hand, and so the "hero" of the story is saved. I think. Truth is, this title is far more fun to just stare at than to read, and even though I always take my time with it, ultimately it is Menton3's mad, unsettling artwork that sticks long after the words and plot details have faded. This issue, there are also eight pages by Chris Newman, and even though at times they are a bit more confusing than Menton3's, they fit in nicely overall. Then we get a two-page spread from Ben Templesmith which depicts a scene of obscure, bloody chaos that I'm not even sure is part of the story, but I enjoyed nevertheless. I always enjoy the look and feel of Monocyte, which is singular and fully-realized and creepy but in a comforting way. But as I read through this issue, I found myself feeling glad it was ending. I've had my fill of these bleak, verbose characters and their blackened world. Not a bad ride, but a simple and, in the end, fairly repetitive one.
Rachel Rising #8: I think of Rachel Rising as always being quiet and eerie, but this issue was especially so. Usually, there's one or more major acts of violence involved, or at least some extreme, insane moment somehow connected to death. But in Rachel Rising #8, the only real violence lasts for one brief panel, and we never see its results. Other than that, the closest thing is a wordless, inscrutable scene of wolves being guided through eating a corpse by the silent woman who has been a powerful presence since the beginning. Rather than greatly up the ante here, Terry Moore more simply checks in with numerous members of his ever-growing cast, giving each one of them an individualized moment. From the first page with Dr. Siemen and his beloved dead woman to the last one with the terrified young girl. It may not be as drastic or intense as previous chapters, but it feels good to have this brief calm, to let things simmer rather than boil for a minute. Then, of course, central to all this is the ever-more-endearing relationship between Jet and Earl. Watching that blossom is my new favorite thing about this series, and watching it grow, in whatever direction it takes, is the thing I am most looking forward to. Because there's no telling exactly where anyone is headed in this story yet, but I already know it'll be bizarre and compelling, so I want to follow them there.
Ultimate Comics Ultimates #11: Penciled by four different artists and colored by two others, on top of being scripted by two different writers, Ultimates #11 is a little bit jumpy all around. The art more or less transitions naturally, with the biggest exception probably being Butch Guice's two pages. They're very good, but distinctly different in style than the others. Honestly, though, it's hard not to notice all the art changes, and they come in rapid succession, each one meaning a new location. The story is a tad uneven as well. It takes a long time for Stark and Thor to talk to the President, then we don't even see most of that conversation, and it's all set-up anyway for what we really want: Stark making his move against The City. Alas, that is not to come until (fingers crossed) next issue. Meanwhile, the rest of the Ultimates get their asses handed to them, which is an alright fight scene but not particualry great and, again, a lot of it happens off-camera, so what the reader gets is more of a highlights reel. Finally, there's a very weak ending, which I won't "spoil" here, but it's such an obvious reveal I'm not sure why they bothered saving it for the last page. This title seems to be sliding a bit as the creative team switches, so here's hoping they can get their footing and tell a stronger, surer story soon.
Wolverine and the X-Men #11: This series seems to be spinning its wheels a bit under the Avengers vs. X-Men banner. For the first two-thirds of the issue, we get an awful lot of fighting that doesn't conclude, is jarringly brief, and serves no narrative purpose. Except toward the very end when, once again, Hope goes all Phoenix on everybody, and Wolverine is forced to face the fact that he'll never be able to kill her. That, right there, is more or less the only actual bit of significant story or character development which takes place. It supposedly justifies Wolverine's behavior in Avengers vs. X-Men #4, but it does so kind of weakly and in an oversimplified way. The one thing Jason Aaron is doing in Wolverine and the X-Men during this event that I do really like is the Kid Gladiator stuff. He's been a fun part of the cast since the title started, and had all the best moments in this issue. Nick Bradshaw's art is a little bulky for my taste, especially when drawing Wolverine. His head looks like a big weird block. The same is true for Red Hulk in several panels, actually. Still, generally Bradshaw handles the fight scenes well, even if they are pointless space-fillers in a pointless, space-filler issue.