Reviews of the best comics from May 29th, 2013!
Book of the week: Venom #35
Cullen Bunn has officially moved beyond his first year as solo writer of “Venom”, one of the most successful spin-off’s to “Amazing Spider-Man” launched in 2011 and written/co-written for twenty two issues by Rick Remender. After an opening arc which dabbled too much into misplaced mystical nonsense, Bunn has settled down and focused more on mingling urban crime stories with bizarre sci-fi elements. Declan Shalvey (of “Thunderbolts” fame) has become the newest regular artist, with Lee Loughridge on color art. Bunn has changed the scenery for “agent Venom”, a.k.a. Flash Thompson – having him move to Philadelphia and become a gym teacher in a local high school in between occasional vigilante outings as Venom. An earlier arc saw Venom (and his on-and-off girlfriend Valkyrie) break up a scheme by the U-Foes that unleashed some strange alien technology onto the streets. Going even further back, the deranged Eddie Brock – the original Venom – was bonded to the alien symbiote Toxin against his will and now is Thompson’s sworn enemy.
What makes this issue work is often what commonly makes good comics work; the execution rather than the actual ideas. In essence, this is a story in which two enemies are forced to team up to fight a mutual enemy in a school and save some kids. In practice, we see a confrontation between two very different characters play out to each of their strengths and weaknesses. Brock returns to his old confrontational tactics as well as his own twisted sense of morality, while Thompson struggles to do what he never could – maintain control of his life and powers. They are forced to work together to finally put an end to a horde of techno-organic space monsters who take human hosts and then prey on others. The two come to a “ceasefire” which puts a cap on the last few issues of stories.
Shalvey’s artwork is at its best here, matched well by the colors. The scenes with the high school as well as with Venom and Toxin fighting monsters all flow together well. Perhaps even stronger are the tense scenes between Thompson and Brock in the halls of the school. The action is as quick and brutal as one would come to expect with this title.
Bunn started out co-writing this series alongside Remender last year, being eased into his role taking the series over. His first arcs showed signs of jitters and misfires, but after a year he has settled into the book as well as its characters, working along the same narrative paths Remender started as well as paving his own. Sales on this series are slowly dwindling, but it should survive to a 40th issue if not beyond, which is a far longer run than anyone could have imagined a “Venom” comic could have had back when it was teased in 2010. The fact that it has been consistently good if not great for that time is a larger, and more pleasant, surprise.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #22: After a one-shot last month to bridge the gap between the space faring “Krang War” and this arc, writers Tom Waltz and co-creator Kevin Eastman kick off their new arc, “City Fall”. It is based on a story from the original Mirage Studios comics, called “City at War” which closed off the original volume of the series from 1992-1993. The gist is that the Foot Clan are seeking to take firmer control of the underworld, since they’re dissatisfied with competing against a French mafia gang as well as a gang run by the mutant cat “Old Hob”. While the Shredder’s grand daughter Karai has resurrected him from the feudal era and acts as his second-in-command, the founder of the Foot is just as sexist as he is violent and feels a male heir is more suitable. To this end he has chosen Leonardo, and nothing will stand in his way – a lesson that Casey Jones and Raphael learn the hard and violent way. This arc sees an additional co-writer in Chris Burnow and art by Mateus Santolouco, whose work was last seen in the “Secret History of the Foot Clan” mini series from earlier this year. The colors by veteran colorist Rhonda Pattison keeps the shifting art tones consistent. The action moves very fast here and ends on quite a cliffhanger, which is precisely the way to kick off a new arc of gritty ninja action.
Dark Avengers #190: As the cover says, this is the “final issue” of the book which was formerly known as “Thunderbolts”. It is in effect the end of the run which writer Jeff Parker began in late 2009, just before the “Siege” event. Parker’s run has spanned almost four years, 52 issues, two title changes, and more roster shifts than many care to remember. Sales on Parker’s “Thunderbolts” were dwindling to the point that the title to a former Avengers title from 2009 was attached to it as a last attempt to keep it afloat, which it did for another year. Neil Edwards is the last regular artist for this story, appropriately named “Final Hour”. While Jeff Parker has had strong runs on Marvel comics such as “Agents of Atlas”, what has marred this issue was a cast which changed far too often in addition to premises which tended to outshine them. For this finale, the cast of the day successfully survive the latest alternate time stream they stumbled upon and get to go home. The characters who have arguably grown the most over this run include John Walker/U.S. Agent, Moonstone, and the Ghost. There is a lot of sound and fury with parallel versions of characters, but it comes off as very distracting. In the end, this series ends as it has been for some time. It isn’t a bad comic, but it’s so cluttered and packed to the gills that it becomes an unmemorable one. Still, a run this long deserved to be saluted.
Indestructible Hulk #8: Often known as the “other” Marvel title that writer Mark Waid handles (as the second banana to his “Daredevil” run), this issue marks the end of his latest short arc featuring a time spanning trek into Asgard and artwork by legendary artist Walter Simonson (alongside Bob Wiacek’s inks and Jim Charalapidis’ colors). A SHIELD sponsored experiment on the mystical “uru” metal (which Thor’s hammer is made of) has led Bruce Banner and his team of scientists into Asgard’s past, where they meet a younger Thor and battle a band of Frost Giants. In between some smashing moments, Banner determines that a member of his team is terminally ill, and is only along for the ride hoping for a swifter death during a “Hulk incident”. The story offers a bit of by-the-numbers action, although Simonson’s artwork is certainly a highlight which brings it above the grade. The subsequent issue looks to offer stronger fare with an appearance from Daredevil, in what is happily not considered a “crossover”.
Morbius the Living Vampire #5: While “Venom” saw healthy and steady sales success after spinning off from “Amazing Spider-Man” in 2011, this latest spin-off from the title at the start of this year is fading fast in terms of sales and will likely stagger to a tenth or twelfth issue. Writer Joe Keatinge has woven a yard which straddles the line between greatness and failure, which is a middle ground of mediocrity which is hard to capture imaginations with. The artwork is by Richard Elson and Carlos Rodriguez, with Antonio Fabela on colors, and it is among the highlights of the issue. For the past four issues, Morbius the accidental “science vampire” has stumbled upon an oppressive street gang in Brownsville, Brooklyn after escaping from the Raft prison and seeking a low profile. After three issues of kid gloves, Morbius finally does what he should have done from the start – realize it is okay to act like a violent vampire around vicious gun toting criminals. Thus, he tears into a meeting between what is left of the street gang and some mobsters from New Jersey while the rest of the community make a ham fisted attempt to save lives afterward to issue in peace with the thugs. The entire affair has been manipulated by a new masked Rose, who foolishly tells Morbius his plans outright. And Morbius, who is considered an escaped convict, now has a painting of himself on the side of a building. The idea of Morbius as a tragic monster and unwilling vigilante is sound, although it is probably being done better in “Venom” or “Scarlet Spider”.