Review: New Comics – Sunday April 7, 2013

Age of Ultron #4 – The pace picks up a little this issue, as the separate groups of surviving superheroes manage to escape America and head to the Savage Land. Given how little has actually happened by this point, the decision to gloss over their presumably dangerous journeys from various points of the US to Antarctica with an “eight days later” caption seems baffling to me, especially after the previous three issues were almost entirely given over to building the tone of the story at the expense of tangible developments.

At least Bryan Hitch has a little more to do this time out. After three issues where he was mainly depicting rubble and destruction, there’s a bit more variety to the locales he’s asked to draw, and his version of the Savage Land feels suitably exotic, even if we only get a glimpse of it.

Almost in spite of myself, I remain interested in seeing where the story is going now that the first act is over and the plot seems ready to kick into gear. Still, it’s difficult to shake the sense that this is a non-essential event story which, at 10 issues, has been artificially stretched beyond its natural life.

Indestructible Hulk #6 – Bruce Banner’s continued efforts to put his scientific knowledge to positive use prompt an exploratory trip to Jotunheim, realm of the Frost Giants, where he believes he’ll find a metal that could help eliminate Earth’s dependency on fossil fuels. Unfortunately, the inhabitants aren’t too happy about his appearance. Thor (albeit not the present day version) turns up to offer an assist, but he’s soon dispatched so the issue can end with Hulk lifting Thor’s enchanted hammer, Mjolnir.

Mark Waid is clearly having fun with this title, which seems uninterested in any bigger picture. The previous two issues were an excuse for Hulk to fight villains underwater, whilst this arc does basically the same thing but in a mythical setting. The traditional setup of Hulk books – Bruce Banner on the run from the authorities, with Hulk an unwanted presence who threatens to break out at the least opportune moments – never allowed much room for levity, but by turning that on its head and making him an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Waid is free to explore the character of Banner from a different angle (as a genius scientist who would’ve surpassed everyone in the Marvel Universe but for his anger issues) whilst setting Hulk loose in situations where he can genuinely do some good, leaving the reader to sit back and enjoy the destruction.

Walt Simonson turns up on art, which given his history with Thor is a nice touch. There’s a definite retro slant to his work without it feeling dated, and most importantly it is full of the energy needed to propel this kind of story. Another good issue.

Superior Spider-man #7 – When first announced, the ‘Doctor Octopus has taken over Peter Parker’s body’ development didn’t really interest me, despite my faith in Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos as creators. But the positive buzz surrounding the relaunch started to win me round. I managed to pick up #6 by mistake, after it found its way into my standing order stack without me noticing, but I was planning to hop on board with this issue anyway.

The plot revolves around the vigilante Cardiac, whose criminal activities belie his positive agenda – he steals Kirbytech so that he can provide innovative medical treatment to people the hospitals can’t or won’t treat. However, whilst Peter Parker knows this and sympathises, Otto Octavious sees things more black and white, and has no qualms about taking him down – with lethal force if necessary. Meanwhile, Parker’s mind is still buried deep within his body, but starts to break through just a little in this outing. The issue ends with a confrontation with the Avengers, who are concerned about their teammate’s recent behaviour, and want to medically assess him to make sure he is who he says he is – which of course is the last thing Octavious wants to happen.

The issue is a nice subversion of the typical ‘hero learns that the criminal vigilante actually has a selfless purpose’ plot. Slott’s approach to Spider-man has always been traditional, combining a humorous slant, plentiful inner monologues, and subplots bubbling away in the background, but when done well that really is the best thing for the character. Meanwhile,┬áRamos has toned down his tendency toward distortion a little since his X-Men days, and the results are wonderful – his artwork is still exaggerated, but the cartoony look perfectly suits the title. I’m officially on board.

Thanos Rising #1 – The problem with writing a miniseries based on a supervillain is simple: how do you make the reader care about a character whose stock and trade is evil? Jason Aaron treads familiar ground by starting with Thanos’ birth and moving him through to adolescence, showing how the actions of other people helped push him down a bad path. His mother rejects him at birth due to his strange appearance, believing him to be evil, and his father is too preoccupied with his own work to pay his son any attention. In a neat twist, his classmates embrace his differences, but the manipulations of a mystery character mean Thanos’ innocent, trusting nature ends up having tragic consequences.

Aaron’s strength here is in crafting a nature vs. nurture story featuring a number of well-trodden archetypes and somehow making it feel fresh. He doesn’t overplay the more inherently melodramatic scenes, and tweaks the formula just enough that the end result is satisfying without being derivative. Simone Bianchi’s art is strong, selling the Eternals as alien beings that followed a similar evolutionary path to humans, and┬áSimone Peruzzi’s muted colours help ground the story as more of a coming of age tale than fantasy. Unfortunately, the most important page of the entire issue falls a little flat; depicting the moment that helped change Thanos’ outlook toward life, it doesn’t quite capture the horror of the incident. Whilst that’s likely because of the “teens and up” rating rather than any failing on the creators’ part, it’s still a little disappointing. Nevertheless, this is a very solid opening issue that does a good job creating empathy for a character we know grows up to be a bad guy.