BIRDS OF PREY
When Duane Swierczynski was announced as the new writer of Birds of Prey and the direction of the book in the re-launched New 52 line-up became clear, it was one of those “duh” moments for me, a creator-title-mission pairing that seemed so obvious and tailor-made. Two issues in, I think Swierczynski is not only fulfilling the lofty expectations I had for him on this series, but it’s a success story of DC’s attempt to infuse their line with more than just super hero material, as this is an espionage thriller infused with just the right dash of spandex and illustrated with nice detail by Jesus Saiz. The Black Canary seen here is one whose portrayal respects all the work done on the character by everybody from Mike Grell to Gail Simone, but also seems to have evolved to the next level as a capable leader possessed of the human compassion we expect but not consumed with proving herself. Swierczynski is doing a nice job revealing one member of the team an issue, giving them a nice bit of spotlight and allowing the cast to build organically; both the outgoing starling and dark Katana provide contrast to the grounded Canary and I look forward to seeing what Poison Ivy adds to the mix. Saiz does great work here as his women are beautiful in a way that’s natural rather than bombastic and he draws nice action. The driving mystery/conspiracy thus far is one that grabs me and I’m not entirely sure where it’s going—a good thing—but the dynamic between characters is what has really sold me, and I’ll eagerly follow that from arc to arc.
DC UNIVERSE PRESENTS
I recently got a collection of the original Deadman stories by Arnold Drake, Carmine Infantino and Neal Adams from Rickey and took a shine to them even more than I expected. I enjoyed the metaphysical exploration angle and of course the great art, but more than that, I could latch onto the character of Boston Brand as a rough and tumble imperfect guy different from most DC heroes struggling to find his place in the greater tapestry of the universe more so than really serving justice for the sake of or trying to avenge a wrong. The initial stories by Paul Jenkins and Bernard Chang in this title hearken back to that material and have Deadman challenging the “natural” order of things and searching for answers in a way that holds my attention. Jenkins does a nice job balancing Boston’s personal quest both to resolve his situation and at the same time challenge the inconsistencies he’s discovering while also presenting “cases” and examining a broader view of DC’s mystical landscape. There’s a nice mix of fun and gags as well as action and mystery, but I’m most enjoying the character work; I grew up with a wry Deadman who only showed up to guide other characters on journeys, but I really like this more desperate incarnation who doesn’t have all the answers and distrusts even the ones he’s got.
JOHN CARTER: A PRINCESS OF MARS
I have no familiarity with the John Carter mythology whatsoever, but this series has me wanting to dive into it, however it’s also a fun story on its own that I need no context to enjoy—what more could you ask for? As he showed on Thor: The Mighty Avenger and even with his Muppets work, Roger Langridge is great at taking fantastic elements as well as generally weird stuff and making them seem like the natural backdrop to a fun story rather than overwhelming set pieces that distract and detract from the narrative. Here we’ve got a human trapped on Mars, surrounded by crazy looking aliens, plunged into the middle of some sort of war, and smitten with an alien princess, but that’s all just window dressing for a hitting on primal themes like the stranger in a strange land, missing home, the inherent unfairness of class struggle, and of course the unlikely love story. Carter is a great everyman, at times charming and wry, but also way out of his depth, overwhelmed by the enormity of his situation, and prone to emotional overreaction that leads to those around him paying the price. Langridge takes care to introduce the world slowly, taking us on tour with Carter through a personal space that gradually expands from his room to the city to the battlefield to all of Mars. Though Dejah Thoris has really only just been introduced, again, Langridge plays her with the right amount of mystery, spirit and standoffishness that we can understand why Carter feels an instant attraction. Filipe Andrade’s art is so unique and suits this story perfectly as it’s bizarre enough to make things around Carter seem truly alien, but there’s an inherent beauty that shines through in everything from the characters to the buildings to even the monstrous creatures.
The idea of Peter Parker’s teenage bully/Spider-Man’s number one fan Flash Thompson, grown up to be a decorated military man who lost his legs, becoming a black ops government-sponsored incarnation of Venom is one of those ideas that sounds pretty awesome on paper as a high concept, but you wonder if it can sustain beyond the initial story; Rick Remender’s answer to any doubt on that score has been a resounding “heck yeah” that nearly a year in I both agree with and don’t see changing any time soon. Rick and his array of artists have delivered on the promise of Flash being a neat choice for a hero role as well as the slam dunk prospect of the Venom symbiote with military/secret agent applications, but more than that, they’ve created a series with tremendous heart and depth. Flash Thompson had come a long way from one-dimensional jock jerk way before Remender got his hands on him, but as Venom, he’s quickly becoming one of the most compelling protagonists at Marvel and in comics. Here’s a guy who has spent all his life wanting to be a hero, did everything by the book to get there, suffered tremendous loss and then when he was finally offered what he figured would be his big change, it came with the caveat that he’s not so much the champion on the front lines, but the monster necessary to do the dirty work (that he wanted to be called Spider-Man but had to take the name Venom instead because it strikes more fear and thus fits his mission better says it all). Here’s a guy who has struggled with addiction and now has been thrown into another form of it where “going sober” not only dashes his dreams, it hinders his ability to save lives; it’s a pretty intense inversion of the usual “addict story.” The issues of Venom tying into the Spider-Island event provide a perfect glimpse at how the book excels on multiple levels: tremendous all out action with Venom against Anti-Venom and The Queen, but at the same time a very human story of Flash Thompson racing to the bedside of his dying father and struggling to forgive a man who let him down so many times. This series is working on so many levels and exceeding expectations.
Sometimes lost amidst the shuffle of Schism and Regenesis and whatnot, Victor Gischler’s adjectiveless X-Men book is telling fun, action-packed stories with great guest stars, cool character pairings, and nice Easter eggs plucked from the vast scope of Marvel history. The most recent storyline that took the X-Men and Future Foundation into a lost world amidst the Bermuda Triangle to tangle with extra-dimensional invaders was a great example of what Gischler and this series do so well. First off, the story traded on old continuity with vintage X-Men supporting character Lee Forrester serving as the motivator to get jumpstart the action, and Gischler did a nice job cluing newcomers in that she was an old girlfriend of Cyclops and Magneto without making the point crucial to the plot, just a nice little side dynamic. Next, Gischler gives service to both the character dynamics you were waiting to see explored—Doom and Magneto feel each other out as “good guys”—as well as perhaps those you didn’t know you wanted to get a look at, but they’re worth one—I’m thinking of Emma Frost getting under the skin of perpetually polite Sue Richards with lines like “You’re lucky no women are interested in Reed.” Throw in a forgotten guest star like Skull the Slayer, include some requisite twists and questions of loyalty, build to some solid fights and then have Jorge Molina draw the heck out of it all. X-Men may not always be in the thick of things as far as the big continuity shake-ups, but I like that, and I enjoy the service it provides greatly.