Now it may seem as if the streak ended, and technically it did, but I only bought one comic the week before this last one, and considering the entire gimmick of this review column is the ragged segue from one issue to another, you can’t exactly have a segue when there’s only one thing to talk about. So I saved last week’s issue for this week.
So we’ll start with last week’s lone issue, The Batman Who Laughs #3, the mini-series spin-off from Dark Knights: Metal. I have two things I really like about this series and one thing I don’t.
Good thing 1: This series is essentially Batman vs. Batman, and even though there have been a number of iterations of that over the years, I don’t really get tired of them—provided the premise is around the challenge of catching up with someone who is always one (or more) steps ahead, simply by virtue of being the same guy with all the same strengths and usually freed from some of the constraints that our Bruce imposes upon himself.
Good thing 2: Scott Snyder’s skills with setting the horror mood are perfectly suited to a story like this. Nice Batman can’t keep up, can’t keep from falling further behind, and now can’t stop himself from slipping further into the Joker’s seemingly inescapable trap. That’s bad! Scott Snyder is made for that stuff.
But the thing I don’t care for is how Snyder has turned the Joker into this weird invincible metahuman. Yeah Joker has a mysterious origin and his skin is dyed white but his superpowers have always been so compelling precisely because he represents the damage a real person can do when completely uninhibited. Yeah, in some ways his unkillability is scarier, but it just changes the character in a way that feels counterproductive.
Speaking of unkillable villains with horror undertones, that leads me to Avengers #15, where the battle against the vampires continues.
The bad vampires have succeeded in corrupting Ghost Rider to join their ranks, enabling their escape. Meanwhile, Tony Stark has snuck off to Russia to interrogate Dracula, who turned himself in to the Winter Guard. Dracula taunts Tony, but ultimately appears to just want to die in peace. The Winter Guard wants no part of whatever Tony is up to. The bad vampires continue on their quest to wipe out the weak vampires, killing a clan in Madripoor and attempting to use the now-doubly-possessed Ghost Rider to exterminate some vampire kids. But his will is too strong! Enter the Avengers, who have tracked the bad vampires, presumably for a final showdown next issue!
This all continues to be ridiculous but I find myself really getting a kick out of it. The tone is just perfect—as goofy as it gets, the degree of “taking itself seriously” climbs right along with it. And I continue to be surprised that it’s Jason Aaron who has the restraint to pull it off.
Speaking of pulling things off, that leads me to Guardians of the Galaxy #2, where the mystery of “Who took Thanos’ head?” continues.
This series started off strong and so far it’s keeping up the good work. Thanos died back in the Infinity Wars event, but last issue taught us that his head is missing and that he also had some failsafe where—upon the event of his death—his consciousness would be implanted in the body of another, meaning Thanos secretly still lives. Last issue, the Black Watch crashed the cosmic meeting that was convened to discuss this issue, stealing the body and creating some kind of black hole that appears to have wiped out most of the attendees. The survivors find themselves united with Star Lord, Groot (who now talks more) and Rocket Racoon, and they have become the new Guardians of the Galaxy.
But not so fast! This episode we also discover that some of the survivors (such as Thanos’ brother, Starfox—who is now scarred and very upset), sympathizers like Nebula and Gladiator, and the defecting Ghost Rider from Space have gathered together to kill Gamora, who they consider the obvious contender to be Thanos Junior. And they are heavily implying that they call themselves the Guardians of the Galaxy too!
The essence of the Guardians of the Galaxy is a pervasive feeling of “What have we gotten ourselves into?” but the Bendis area was way too impressed with its own cleverness, and this new series is so far striking the right notes in terms of their constructive haplessness while making the humor feel organic and not contrived.
Speaking of accurate recreations of past glories, that leads me to Batman #65, where I’m going to try copying and pasting exactly what I wrote for Batman #64 and see if it still applies here.
We begin the issue with Batman about to start dissecting Wally West, one of the casualties of Heroes in Crisis. We catch a few glimpses of how Batman’s dealing with the stress of being unable to solve the mystery. We see flashbacks to Robin and Wally playing together as kid sidekicks. And tragically, we also learn that this crossover is tied to Gotham and Gotham Girl, the really lame super-powered heroes of the first Tom King Batman art that led me (admittedly erroneously!) to think that Tom King was a bad writer of comics. And while I admit that was a harsh and premature judgment, that doesn’t make me retroactively think that Gotham and Gotham Girl were interesting characters. Who knows, maybe it’s their calligraphy logos?
But I get to the end of the issue and I find out that if I want to find out what happens next, I have to buy an issue of The Flash? The good news is, if I don’t care about what happens next, I don’t have to buy an issue of the Flash!
Guillem March had an interesting performance here as artist. At his peaks, his art has the loose expressiveness of a Sean Murphy; unfortunately—but fittingly—in his valleys, he has all the distortions and stray lines of Andy Kubert at his worst, much like Gotham and Gotham Girl’s original renderer, David Finch.
I’m probably going to sit out Batman #65, unless the thing is in my blasted pull file! (author’s note: turns out it was in my pull file)
Speaking of books I intended to stop reading but didn’t, that leads me to The Return of Wolverine #5. I had decided to drop this series—I thought issue #4 was terrible! But I have this thing about not wanting to challenge things that were in my pull file (I’ll spare you the details this time) and for some reason, even though I haven’t even enjoyed this series, I apparently added it to my pull file.
I’m glad I did! I liked this conclusion. And as I read it and thought about it, I suspect that is entirely due to the art. Steve McNiven has evolved into a full-on Barry Windsor Smith impersonator (which could potentially just be something he’s put on for the sake of this particular series) but the craft is so much more refined than last issue’s mess that it adds enough gravity to the writing to make it all work for me.
This issue wraps up what had been happening to Wolverine throughout the miniseries, explaining how he returned from the dead and why. Importantly, it just felt like an authentic Wolverine story. His voice in the conversation with Persephone, where he learns what has happened to him, is so authentic. The pitch-perfect shrug response, with all its dry unflappability, felt like it could’ve been out of some Chris Claremont or Larry Hanna story from 20 years ago. Logan is at his best when his nonchalance is paired with an awareness of the sadness of the situation. It’s what has made his character so well-defined and so starkly different from the easy-to-write lethally flippant characters like Deadpool and X-Force.
At the end of it all, he gets his memories restored, he takes down the bad guys, and he ends up back on earth and ready to rejoin his friends.
Speaking of complicated ways of rewriting past events, that leads me to Wolverine: Infinity Watch #1, which literally segues right out of Death of Wolverine #5. That issue ends with Wolverine showing up at the X-Mansion, knocking the door to be let in. This issue starts with that same scene, only SURPRISE the X-Mansion is destroyed (I would say “see the first 10 issues of the new Uncanny X-Men” except those issues were terrible, so instead I will say “trust me, that happened as a result of the first 10 issues of the new Uncanny X-Men but I don’t think you should read them”) and it was Loki just messing with Wolverine!
This issue felt like I had to pay Marvel $3.99 for them to clean up their mistakes. A year or so ago, or maybe even longer—I can’t remember—Wolverine showed up in some random issue with an Infinity Gem. That was the first time we had seen him in years, since he died! What is Wolverine doing back alive, and with an Infinity Gem, no less?
The first sign that Marvel changed their mind on how Wolverine came back to life and why he had an Infinity Gem is that they quickly and unceremoniously had him just give the thing away to Black Widow.
The second sign that Marvel changed their mind on how Wolverine came back to life and why he had an Infinity Gem is this issue, where we find out that the Wolverine Phoenix from the Future had the stone, and he came back in time, changing his appearance to look like Modern Day Wolverine. Then when disguised as Modern Day Wolverine, Wolverine Phoenix from the Future—who is practically omnipotent, mind you—decided he needed to lay low and hide the gem in a bathroom in Madripoor for Black Widow to find. Also he decided to do this coincidentally as Marvel decided the Modern Day Wolverine was returning.
I get that people change their minds, especially creative people. But this was super weak, and Wolverine Phoenix from the Future is played as a comedy character. Plan your stories better, Marvel.
Speaking of planning things better, that leads me to Uncanny X-Men #12, where Wolverine and Cyclops managed to get themselves resurrected just in time to not save the X-Men from (apparently) dying, and now they’re all alone! Or are they?
I like this new arc as much as I disliked the previous one! Recent recipients of resurrections Wolverine and Cyclops are teaming up to find and help mutants following the apparent demise of the X-Men (trust me, that happened in Uncanny X-Men #1-10, but don’t worry about looking that up). I mentioned last issue that this new arc appeared to be taking a much darker and horror-themed tone, and this absolutely continued that.
Wolverine and Cyclops crash an ONE site and rescue a bunch of at-least B-list, if not A-list mutants like Wolfsbane, Magik, Mirage and Havok who were held captive there. ONE had been experimenting on mutants, exo-suits and technorganic viruses to turn these former X-Men into mutant-powered Sentinels. It was disturbing and it was sad. One of my favorite characters died! Also, this totally made me want to go back and read X-Men books from the past few years to figure out when we last saw all of these folks.
I know it’s commonly derided, but my favorite period of Uncanny X-Men is the Australia era, when the X-Men were just beaten ragged, consumed with despair and essentially just waiting to be picked off by things much larger than them and outside of their control. So far, this new arc has the same feel, and I’m loving it.
See you next week!