Amazing X-Men #3 — Aaron/McGuinness — March ’14/Marvel Comics

Amazing3With things dreadfully serious in existing X-books such as Uncanny X-Men, All-New X-Men, and even Uncanny Avengers — which, with the Apocalypse Twins making things no fun for anyone is more of an X-book than not right now — the field was ripe for a rip-snorting, swashbuckling adventure through, well, anywhere. The realms of the afterlife? Sure, why not?

Enter Marvel’s latest X-offering, borrowing its title from one of the alternate Age of Apocalypse books (after all, it’s not like Spider-Man is using the adjective right now). From the beginning, Amazing X-Men teased the return of everyone’s favorite two-toed teleporting mutant, and with this issue, we get it, in spades.

With the latest issue, writer Jason Aaron and penciler Ed McGuinness have offered up the single-most crazy fun comic I have read since the last issue of Bad Dog. In short, Nightcrawer’s dad, the red devil Azazel, has a pirate ship and is plundering both heaven and hell for … who cares? Pirates. With cannon and swords. In Hell. If that doesn’t sound like the best idea for a comic book, I’ll eat my tricorne hat.

Especially refreshing is Aaron’s treatment of Dr. Hank McCoy, the Beast. For a character who has spent the past year moping his way through All-New, dreadfully sorry that he displaced the Original Five in time, it’s great to see him swinging from the ropes, talking shit, doing math, and kicking ass.

I’ll admit I was originally on the fence, but after this issue, I’m headed down to Blue Moon and adding Amazing X-Men to my pull list.

Villains for Hire #3 — Abnett/Lanning/ Arlem — April ’12/DC Comics

After last month’s shocking ending when Misty Knight seemed to prove her villainous cred by taking down her ex-partner in Heroes for Hire while in the crosshairs of a rifle scope, Abnett & Lanning turn up the juice with the Purple Man’s rival crew closing in on her Control HQ.

Deftly manipulating a team of villains with questionable loyalties, Knight defends her base while losing her team one by one to rumors that she is actually a “white hat” and the appeal of better money on the other side. When the odds finally run out, Knight drops her big reveal, which calls back to the beginning of the most recent Heroes for Hire run.

Has Misty Knight been manipulated once again, or is something else going on? With one more issue left in this mini-series, one can only hope that Marvel gives Abnett & Lanning one more shot at this. It’s too much fun to let go.

Batman #5 — Snyder/Capullo — March ’12/DC

Ever since Gotham was first brought to life in the ’30s, Batman’s adversaries have delighted in pushing Bruce Wayne’s splintered psyche into the red in hopes that it would permanently fly apart. Nothing has changed in all that time, and as mind-bendingly perverse as Grant Morrison’s recent Black Hand was supposed to be, their methods seem positively utilitarian next to the latest secret cabal to try and torture our man until he was bat-shit crazy.

When this issue breaks, the Bat has already been missing for a week. While Commissioner Gordon sits vigil next to an over-heating signal, Batman has been struggling to keep to the shadows in a full-sized Escher nightmare. His legendary calm resolve is tested by endlessly returning to a florescent-lit room with framed time-lapse photos of all those who were driven mad in the maze before him. Every time he turns a corner, “Pop,” an antique bellows-style camera on a tripod snaps his picture and one more frame joins the wall. Of course, he may just be tripping balls.

As Batman begins to lose his moorings, artist Greg Capullo begins to shift the layout orientation, effectively throwing readers off their feet until up becomes down and forward becomes backward; an effective way to get the derangement of Batman’s senses across to anyone holding the book. Writer Scott Snyder has come up with a worthy adversary in the mysterious Court of Owls that has only begun to call into question the Wayne legacy and Bruce’s sanity.

Moon Knight #9 — Bendis/Maleev — March ’12/Marvel

If you haven’t been following the latest incarnation of Marvel’s crescent-cowled crime fighter, and sometime Avenger, perhaps this issue isn’t the best place to jump on board; for those of us who have been on this kooky ride from the jump … hoo boy.

No longer skulking around the eastern seaboard in the Secret Avengers and/or Heroes for Hire, Marc Spector has surfaced in Los Angeles as the producer of a hit TV show loosely based on his adventures as Moon Knight. What hasn’t made the scripts is the fact that Spector hears voices. More specifically, he imagines that his old pals Captain America, Spider-Man, and Wolverine appear to him to offer sage advise whenever the going gets rough.

To better expedite the imaginary trio’s helpful hints, Spector has entreated his ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. tech buddy to build him his own shield, web-shooters, and metal claws. The problem, of course, with asking someone to do that is running the risk of having that person figure out that you are more than a little nuts.

With the help of Echo, another ex-Avenger without special powers, Spector has been on the trail of traditional Avenger nemesis, Count Nefaria … yea, that Count Nefaria, Madame Masque’s crazy daddy Count Nefaria. Needless to say, the pair is punching out of their weight class. When Nefaria crosses the line, the voices in Spector’s head start to fight amongst themselves—the Cap persona arguing against going completely berserk, the Wolverine persona … well, not so much.

Writer Brian Bendis had been given the latitude to let this title slow cook and with this issue, the crock is about to blow. Alex Maleev’s edgy inks combined with Matt Hollingsworth’s subdued palette continue to give Moon Knight a distinctive feel, calling to mind Michael Gaydos’s work on Alias. Maleev’s painted, and often abstracted, covers add to the overall feeling that there is more going on here than the usual spandex punch-up.

No matter if you’ve never heard of this character, or haven’t cared for how Moon Knight has been handled in the past, if you enjoy not being able to guess where in the heck your psychotic super hero noir is going, you owe it to yourself to give this book a shot.

Detective Comics #1 — Daniel — Nov. ’11/DC Comics

Honored with the job of rebooting DC’s titular title after its run of about three hundred years, a lot was riding on artist/writer/bon vivant Tony Daniel’s head. After Justice League #1 failed to garner the wiz-bang reaction everyone expected of the venerable comic house’s opening gambit, this was to be the make or break book. If Detective sucked, it was going to be a slow, sad slog through the remaining 50 books coming out this month.

Not to worry. As someone who enjoyed Daniel’s various runs on Batman, I was glad to see him back penciling his own story. The opening splash gives us all we need to know: Batman’s on the move and he’s friggin’ pissed off. Who’s got him pissed off? The Joker. Boom.

The book opens six years into their dangerous dance and Daniel’s Joker is off the rails and stab happy from the jump. The writing is tight throughout and Daniel’s pacing is relentless. There’s a nice bit of internal dialogue where we get to get inside of Batman playing the detective and running The Joker to ground.

Not one to go down easy, however, The Joker gets his shots in. While in a temporary position to deliver the killing stroke, he nicely sets up the new run by warning of there’s a bigger problem than himself in Gotham City and scolds Batman for not making out the big picture. Batman, of course, then throws him off a building.

Back in the care of Dr. Arkham, we learn that it was all part and parcel of The Joker’s plan. The final page of Detective Comics #1 delivers the much-needed jolt that signals DC’s shake up just might end up being the fun-filled ride we had hoped for.

Justice League #1 — Johns/Lee — Oct. ’11/DC Comics

I can count on the fingers of one hand how many times the news has reported on the world of comics. It’s usually because one of the two big houses, DC or Marvel, was killing someone off. Of course, in comics, no one ever stays dead. You hear me talkin’, Human Torch?

The first instance I can remember was the death of Robin at the hands of the Joker, then when Bane broke Batman’s back, and then, of course, when Superman died … notice a pattern? From the other side, there was the ill-fated Marvel Universe reboot after the Onslaught mess, but that turned out to be a separate bubble universe … or something.

Marvel threw the last bomb big enough to rattle the mass media with the death of Johnny Storm, which no comic fan really took seriously as Fantastic Four is edging closer to #600, and they ain’t gonna get there with Spider-Man fleshing out the team. Imagine my surprise when DC decided to press the reset button on … well, everything.

Starting with this week’s Justice League #1, the entire 52-book DC line is starting from scratch, which is kind of a weird read at first. In this opening salvo, we see Batman chasing down some freaky creature at the same time being chased by authorities that don’t really see a difference in the two. Suddenly, Green Lantern appears, having been alerted by his ring to the presence of an extra-terrestrial. Shocked that Batman is real, and “just some guy in a bat suit,” Lantern comes off cocky and self-important until Batman puts him in his place, powers or no.

The unlikely pair head off to Metropolis to seek out Superman, who they’ve never met, because … well, he’s an alien and all, so he’s supposed to know everything about extra-terrestrials … or something. All in all, it’s strange trying to take this universe at face value, having to set aside decades of back-story and established relationships. How well this ultimately comes off will probably depend on how quickly we see the Justice League coalesce and start wailing on somebody.

Jim Lee’s artwork is as cinematic as ever, with special kudos going to colorist Alex Sinclair. The intricate constructs that Green Lantern assembles on the fly really pop.

DC’s reasoning for the re-framing of their house is that it’s too hard to attract new readers while lugging around 70 years of accumulated history. We’ll have to wait and see if the gamble pays off; with such a tentative opening shot, it’s anybody’s guess.

New Avengers #15 — Bendis/Deodato — Sept. ’11/ Marvel Comics

With Fear Itself hijacking the storylines of all major Marvel titles for the time being, it was a nice surprise to read what was essentially a stand-alone, action-driven peek at an over-looked, tertiary character this month. OK, I’ll just come out and say it: Squirrel Girl rocks.

A former Great Lakes Avenger hired a few books back to nanny the baby of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, Squirrel Girl Doreen Green stuns everyone at Avengers Mansion by handing Wolverine his … erm, pelt, in a backyard throw down.

Green admits that she took the job thinking that once she was in the manse, the Avengers would want to invite her to join the team, however, when the chips are down, she realizes that she has bonded with the child to such an extent that its protection has become her only priority. A battalion of flying Nazi battle tanks between her and her charge only pisses her off.

Not such a good idea. Squirrel Girl 1, Nazis 0

Stupid Nazis.