Continuing my look at some comics that have hit the stands lately that I think are worth talking about…
Avengers Academy #1: Marvel relaunched their Avengers franchise with a new first issue… heh, just kidding. That’s FOUR new first issues. Actually, six if you want to include miniseries. But I digress. I decided to sample each of the new ongoings to see which, if any, I would want to continue reading. Not surprisingly, the one I enjoyed the most was the one written by my favorite writer in the group: Avengers Academy by Christos Gage. With the Initiative camp shut down, a group of Avengers is given the job of training superpowered teens that were recruited under Norman Osborne’s regime. In the first issue we’re introduced to our core group of six young would-be heroes and the team of Avengers responsible for their training. There’s a lot to like about this issue — the inclusion of Speedball among the trainers not the least of those things. I absolutely despised it when he became “Penance” after Civil War, and bringing him back into the fold this way is keeping true to who the character really is without just ignoring that part of his continuity. The six new characters are well-shaped, well-developed, and each with their own distinct personality. Gage also finishes off the book with a pretty stunning revelation about our young cast. It’s a nice surprise, one that reminds me of the classic reveal at the end of Thunderbolts #1. (It’s not the same reveal, that wasn’t a spoiler, it just gave me the same sort of jolt.) This title has a wealth of potential, and I can’t wait to see what Gage does with it.
Batman Beyond #1: Ever since the Batman Beyond TV show went off the air, fans of the character have been waiting to see him get some love in the DC Universe. A couple of years ago, we did get a glimpse of one of DC’s 52 Earths where he seemed to exist. Finally, after a tease in Superman/Batman Annual #4, Terry McGinnis is back in his own miniseries. If you didn’t watch the show back in the day, the premise is simple. We’re in the Gotham City of the future, a “Neo-Gotham,” where Bruce Wayne has gotten too old to continue the fight as Batman. Terry is the heir to the throne, a young man Bruce is training as he once trained his Robins, only this young man has taken on the mantle of the bat. In this first issue, someone has murdered one of Bruce’s old enemies, and as Terry races to save another, it turns out the perpetrator may be someone no one would ever have suspected. The last-page cliffhanger here is fantastic. Adam Beechen has plucked Batman’s most potentially dangerous adversary (even more than the Joker) and put him front and center here. It’s also nice to see a nod to the TV show, with Micron of the new Justice League again trying to get Terry to join up. I hope to see more of those characters as the series continues. Ryan Benjamin‘s style is interesting. It’s not a dark, gritty sci-fi comic, but it doesn’t have the animated feel that the original series did either. It exists somewhere in an in-between place that helps to ease the story into the DC Universe. Great first issue. I can’t wait for the rest of this arc.
Fantastic Four #580: Also part of Marvel’s Heroic Age soft reboot, Jonathan Hickman‘s Fantastic Four has become probably their best ongoing title again (as it should be). Reed Richards has assembled a group of child geniuses to be his new apprentices, a group that includes his daughter Valeria, but doesn’t include his son Franklin. (Frank is potentially the most powerful mutant in existence, but doesn’t share Dad’s genius. Johnny Storm instead takes Franklin and his pal Leech to a toy store, where they encounter a pair of old adversaries — the mischievous Impossible Man and the murderous Arcade. Franklin and Johnny’s story makes up most of this issue, and it’s a good one, but what really knocks this issue out of the park is the conclusion, where Reed’s young geniuses decide on a class project, something they can do to help the world. What they decide on is something totally unexpected, something that can actually have a permanent effect on one of the members on the team. There’s something wonderful and brilliant about it. This has always been the book that housed my favorite Marvel characters. I’m really glad that, with Hickman writing it, it’s also a book that finally lives up to the name “The World’s Greatest Comics Magazine.”
Sea Bear and Grizzly Shark #1: Sometimes it’s worth it to just do something silly. Artists Ryan Ottley and Jason Howard, best known for their collaborations with writer Robert Kirkman on Invincible and The Astounding Wolf-Man (respectively), were at a convention last year, throwing around some crazy ideas. One of those ideas, the idea of a bear and a shark getting “mixed up,” somehow stuck and turned into this one-shot. In Howard’s Sea Bear story, we watch as a young man undergoes terrible personal sacrifice to destroy the ferocious sea beast that killed his family. Grizzly Shark, on the other hand, follow a group of hunters that delve deep into the forest to try to hunt down the ferocious killer. Both stories are bizarre, crazy, and bloody as hell. They’re also a lot of fun. The stories themselves are somewhat ridiculous, and the one-page origin tale written by Kirkman to explain just how “they got mixed up” is even sillier. But it’s an awful lot of fun. The giant-sized book gives you two complete, full-length comic book stories for your money, and you’d be hard-pressed to find two crazier, more enjoyable stories on the shelves of recent comic books.
Wall-E #7: This issue wraps up the “Out There” story arc, in which an astronaut named Andy (a nice little nod to Toy Story, I imagine) has returned to Earth to find it empty of human life, including his wife and children. With Wall-E’s help, Andy has been trying to repair his spacecraft, and he just may be on the verge of doing it. This was kind of a low-key ending to this arc… kind of quiet, even a little anticlimactic, but it actually sort of fits in with Wall-E and the desolate world he inhabited before the events of the movie. It’s a bittersweet story, and a highly appropriate one for this title. Bryce Carlson and Morgan Luthi have done a good job with this arc. Carlson’s story is sad, but hopeful, while Luthi’s artwork is a little grimy and dirty, which is absolutely perfect for a story set on the BNL-ruined world that we met in the motion picture. Whether or not the next arc (or any future arcs) will be set after the movie, I don’t know, but I hope they get to that part of the timeline sooner or later. I think there’s a lot of potential there for different kinds of stories than we’ve gotten in this comic so far.
Wonder Woman #600: The 600th issue of Wonder Woman’s title (if you add up the three volumes) arrives with a bang. Outgoing writer Gail Simone and legendary Wonder Woman artist George Perez start off with a tale about an invasion force that only has the power to control men. Diana’s solution? Round up a team of DC’s greatest female fighters to take them out. This story really does the job of showing the position that Diana holds in the DC Universe — who she is and what she means to the other female heroes. There’s also a much more personal half to the story, where we catch up on a forgotten member of Wonder Woman’s supporting cast, someone who first showed up in George Perez’s legendary run on the title. In the second story, Amanda Conner writes and draws a team-up between Diana and Power Girl (with a little Batgirl thrown in). It’s a nice “girl’s night” story that’s very cute, but actually seems to fit in more as a chapter of the Power Girl title Conner recently left than a Wonder Woman story. Louise Simonson and Eduardo Pansica give us a Wonder Woman/Superman team-up, which isn’t bad, but is fairly generic.
The last two parts of the issue get more into the real meat. Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins (doing some work that’s very different than his usual style, but in a good way) provide a story that delves a bit into who Wonder Woman is and how people don’t realize her importance. This serves as a sort of prologue to the last part of the story, the beginning of writer J. Michael Straczynski and artist Don Kramer‘s Odyssey storyline, in which Wonder Woman finds herself in an alternate reality where Paradise Island is in ruins and she never became the warrior we know her to be. This is also the story that introduces Wonder Woman’s much-publicized new Costume. I actually rather like the new look (although, like many others have said, I don’t care for the leather jacket), but I also recognize that it’s most likely a temporary change. Even if it doesn’t go back when Wonder Woman inevitably succeeds in restoring the original timeline, she’ll go back to the classic costume sooner or later. It’s an interesting starting point for a story, and I sincerely hope it does the job it promises to do — show people why Wonder Woman is so important, not just to the DC Universe, but to the culture of comic books in general. She’s been severely undervalued as a character for years. I don’t know if Straczynski is the man to change that, but I’m willing to give him a chance.
In addition to the stories, the book has an introduction by TV’s Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter, a cover by Perez, and an avalanche of pin-up pages by the likes of Adam Hughes, Nicola Scott, Ivan Reis, Greg Horn, Francis Manpul and many more. Some of these are just okay, but many of them are great. It’s a solid issue, and a fitting anniversary for comics’ first female.