Singles Going Steady 3/6/2013: Five Uncanny Avenging Young Guardians Incorporated

A comic review article by: Daniel Elkin, Shawn Hill, Danny Djeljosevic, Jason Sacks, Jamil Scalese, Sean Gonzalez, Nick Hanover


Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin's weekly single issue review roundup.


Not everything gets covered in Singles, so here are the comics that got reviewed separately:


Uncanny Skullkickers #1 

(Jim Zub, Edwin Huang, Misty Coats; Image)




Skullkickers is one of those books. You know the kind. They're the ones that are awesome on pretty much every level, from the storytelling to the art to the packaging to the marketing. Everything works. Yet writer Jim Zub and artist Edwin Huang obviously thought they could do better. So they decided to follow the more "professional" publishers with a "relaunch" and a new concept. The cover of this comic proudly states its intent: "WE FIGURED OUT WHAT OUR SERIES WAS MISSING: ADJECTIVES!

Thus was born Uncanny Skullkickers #1.

Which is actually issue #19 of Skullkickers. But you don't need to know that, because this is a JUMPING ON POINT! It's a NEW NUMBER ONE! It's UNCANNY!

Oh... it is.



And actually, the book really is a good jumping on point. Zub provides a two-page summary of the whole Skullkickers #1-18 that, while seemingly complicated, provides enough background to totally ignore because none of it really matters all that much. Uncanny Skullkickers #1 pretty much stands on its own.

There's a bald guy with an anachronistic gun. There's an elf warrior who seems to have some connection with the natural world. They are washed up on an island and have to figure out what to do about that. What else do you need to know? 

Oh, yeah... there's a dwarf floating in the ocean's depths on every page.

I fully realize that my little plot synopsis here may seem a bit bland, but this comic is anything but. It's Skullkickers.

If you have never read an issue of Skullkickers then you have nothing but my pity (luckily, Zub really, really wants you to read his books, so he has made them available to you for FREE). This is a world rich in fantasy, fun, travel, teases, and some of the greatest onomatopoeic moments in comics. This series has been a staple in my house since its debut and it continues to get better and better with each issue this team puts out.



Skullkickers is not about ponderous thoughts of existential malaise, nor is it a polemic on how we as a species can minimize our footprint on a world crumbling around us. Skullkickers is about fun, adventure, laughs, and escapism. Zub and Huang are playing with every single fantasy trope there is with this series. Apparently Uncanny Skullkickers marks the beginning of the "jungle adventure."

I have been spending a lot of time with some heavy reading of late -- things that have been making me question the very nature of my thoughts of existence. Uncanny Skullkickers #1 provides a "DRAMATIC KA-THUNK!" of entertainment in the right direction. It reminded me that sometimes I really need to just crawl up with some comics which can provide me with a whole lot of grins. Thanks, Skullkickers.

- Daniel Elkin


Batman Incorporated #8

(Grant Morrison, Chris Burnham, Jason Masters, Nathan Fairbairn; DC)



You know, I never thought I'd love the little bastard, but turns out I do. When Morrison took over Batman, I was amongst the confused and non-plussed at first, not sure if the book was really the best fit for one of DC's weirdest writers. How do you encompass Flex Mentallo, Seaguy (hey, kids, finally someone lamer than Aquaman!), and the crusty old brooding Bat? 



But then I realized what an insane Gotham fanboy Grant really was, and I marveled as the stories got more and more intricate, drawing from six decades of history, liberally mixing the grim and gritty with the pop-colored and goofy. It took a lot of drug trips and time-travel flashbacks to do it, but Morrison was honoring all that was at the core of Batman while sacrificing none of the weird barnacles that had accumulated over the years.



Still, I thought giving him a son with Talia was an obvious and risky move, especially one as bratty and over-confident as Damian. Then we had flash-forwards to him inheriting the mantle someday, and legions of Batmen around the world, and more Robins than anyone could reasonably shake a stick at, and dark father figures and other unexpected relatives for Bruce himself, it was all overwhelming and madcap and exhausting but usually very, very entertaining, thrilling even at those signature game-changing climaxes that drive and punctuate Morrison's long-game sagas.



This book has been the place where Leviathan grew and grew. This, and Batman and Robin, and Batman itself, have been the place where Damian realized he was a hero, not a villain. All in-born arrogance to the contrary, he liked beating the bad guys, without an agenda of domination of his own. In these stories, Damian took the risky position of siding with his father against his mother, thus making an enemy of an insanely vindictive criminal. These are risks that heroes take every day, and Damian has proved his bravery many times over. He even gets a touching moment of bonding with Dick, celebrating the team they formed while Bruce was time-lost, which was pretty great, he's right about that.

But as Burnham's art brings home, for all his deviousness, Damian is still a boy, and his mother created a far worse monster than him in her second attempt at raising an acolyte. Tragic finales, that's how Bat-books work, right?

- Shawn Hill


Change #3

(Ales Kot, Morgan Jeske, Sloane Leong, Ed Brisson; Image)



Change is one of my favorite comics right now. Ales Kot and Morgan Jeske are telling a story that we haven't seen in comics before -- one that's also visually engaging as well as textually engaging -- while Sloane Leong throws in an amazing neon palette reminiscent of vintage Wong Kar-Wai and what I wish dreams looked like.



Issue #3 -- which came out a couple weeks ago but my shop didn't have a copy waiting for me so I'm reviewing it now -- shocks as soon as it hits its splash page, a stark reminder that you can do whatever the hell you want in creator-owned comics because they're your characters and you're not going to lose any licensing or movie deals if you do something shocking or downright cruel to your characters.



It's hard to talk about something that you don't quite understand -- albeit in that delicious Grant Morrison way -- so this is going to be a short one. There's more one issue to go in this series and I'm still not sure where Change is going or where it's going to end up, but the moment-to-moment storytelling is so intriguing that I'm stoked to see how it ends -- and to reread it a few times to get a good look at the big picture.

- Danny Djeljosevic


Five Weapons #1

(Jimmie Robinson; Image)



Jimmie Robinson always creates comics that are very specifically his. His best known work is Bomb Queen, the buxom and outrageously funny killing machine for which I was always struck with a kind of love/hate relationship. Bombie, as I always loved to call her, was both incredibly sexy and incredibly dangerous, the ultimate wish fulfillment crush that would absolutely destroy me if I ever met her.



His new book, Five Weapons (released last week by Image) is another very Jimmie book. It takes place at a high school where kids go to learn to be assassins. "Are you a hired assassin worried about your child's education? Then worry no longer. The School of Five Weapons is just for you." And yeah, the kids in this comic look like your average, normal boarding school kids, with one very major exception: along with math and science, the kids learn one of five schools of assassination: knives, staves, archery, exotic weapons and guns.

It's a pretty high concept idea, but just as with Bomb Queen, the more that you dig into the world that Jimmie created, the more crazy and bizarre and horrible and oddly, wonderfully, madcap it all seems. Jimmie takes his bright idea and then extrapolates from there, adding layer after layer of bizarre lunacy to the story -- the head of the archery club has an arrow through her head, the members of the exotic weapons club can often turn invisible, stuff like that -- until you find yourself uncomfortably at home in this world, having great fun at the sheer awesome cleverness of the whole construct, uncomfortable theme of the book be damned.



Part of what makes the book work so well is that the kid at the center of the story, purported to be the son of a legendary and much-loved assassin, is smart and clever and has an interesting secret backstory that tantalizes and intrigues. We want to root for him and we glory in the way that he calmly walks in a world of real insanity. I like that kid!

And as always, Jimmie's mix of cartoonish art illustrating bizarre events works in a way that most other creators just don't try to succeed. There's a great deadpan element to Jimmie's art, like a great comedian conjuring laughs just from the look on his face, which makes his work feel special.

This is a really fun and oddly satirical seeming book that really makes me smile.

- Jason Sacks


Avenging Spider-Man #17

(Christopher Yost, Paco Medina, Juan Vlasco, Dave Curiel; Marvel)



Smart move, Marvel. 

No, I'm not applauding the Superior Spider-Man. Doc Ock's takeover of his hated enemy's mantle really has a lot of work to do in order for me to deem it a success. So far though? It's pretty damned entertaining. 

While Dan Slott is doing the legwork over in the main title Yost and Medina are reaping the benefits of the best part of the concept. The tension in the new Spider-Man's team-ups is where I find myself reading more closely, and as a result I am seriously enjoying the basic energy and feel of Avenging Spider-Man. That's where the aforementioned "smart move" comes in.



By giving Chris Yost the full-time reigns for the series he's able to craft something that goes beyond a simple buddy title. The first incarnation of the Avenging was inspired in itself, Spider-Man is such a ubiquitous figure that his voice isn't incredibly hard to nail. Spider-Ock, however, is a little bit trickier, and it'd be stupid to have a rotating team try to figure out the personality and idiosyncrasies of a surprisingly complex and enigmatic character... or, a mash-up of characters. 

Avenging Spider-Man #17 stands as an example of why this formula works. Put a Otto in a situation in which Peter would excel and see what happens. Spider-Man has a had close relationship with the Future Foundation as a charter member and friend of the brainy brat pack, and he would be a natural choice as babysitter if not for the super villain in control. Neither neighborly nor friendly, Doc Ock quickly proclaims his distaste for children, but when danger approaches he finds himself compelled to protect the FF members against the dual threats of Death's Head and the Time Variance Authority.



With no "Ghost Pete" hanging around (at least not overtly) Yost has the opportunity to really focus solely on the Superior Spider-Man. His attitude, his doubts, his goals and his heart show up on the page and it helps add to the complete picture of the dark mirror version of everyone's favorite bug arachnid-themed superhero.

Via the magic of time-travel, Yost and Medina allow the reader to peep through the keyhole and see what's down the line for one of the biggest "new" characters of the year. There are hints that this whole endeavor ends very, very badly for Otto Gunther Octavius, a tragedy that is both horrific and unstoppable. With the appearances of two classic Spidey villains -- each showing up at the end of the last two issues -- it seems that Yost and the art team have cohesive plans for the title, which is shaping up to be one of Marvel's most fun and unpredictable. 

- Jamil Scalese


Prophet #34

(Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Joseph Bergin III, Matt Sheean, Malachai Ward; Image)



So -- I've been a massive hypebeast for Prophet since Day 21, and that love for Graham/Roy/Milonogiannis/Dalrymple's idiosyncratic European barbarian sci-fi saga has not let up one bit. Prophet #34 continues its mix of strangeness and shifting perspectives by following "New-Father John Prophet" -- who I think was the John Prophet from the beginning of the relaunched series -- and offering creatures and architecture that look like huge veiny sacs with big faces that will never not remind me of Jack Kirby -- all rendered in a gorgeous blue+red+pink palette.



Some people might On some level, the series is never that far from the Liefeld original because Prophet is still a violent action comic, and this issue features the New-Father going all Eastern Promises when presented with a bathhouse assassination attempt. Even if a reader has trouble following the meta-plot, at least he or she can hold on to the moments that resonate and try to keep up the rest of the way.



As always, Prophet #34 features a back-up story;  this time it's Part 1 of  "Care" by Matt Sheean and Malachai Ward. Ward is a creator I've been obsessed with lately -- his knack for textured, landscapey sci-fi makes him a perfect fit for Prophet -- and his comic with Sheean is decidedly Prophet-esque as it involves a society where its denizens sacrifice one of their own to a creature who creates a gas that sustains their own environment. It's beautiful imagery rendered in calm pastels.

There's an essay to be written about the high-low synthesis happening in the pages of Prophet. I hope somebody who knows more than me does that.

- Danny Djeljosevic


Uncanny X-Force #2

(Sam Humphries, Ron Garney, Danny Miki, Scott Hanna Marte Gracia, Israel Gonzalez, Wil Quintana; Image)



Unless you're some kind of dick who isn't "in" on it, fun is infectious, and Sam Humphries, Ron Garney and company appear to be having fun on the relaunched Uncanny X-Force as Psylocke turns a club brawler into a video game character, Fantomex goes on a date with himself and Puck says stuff. There's a lot of character and personality here and I think that matters a lot in justifying the existence of at least one X-Men comic out of 57. If you can make me laugh at stuff and I never question why I'm paying for your comic book when that four bucks could go towards another tub of hummus, you're either doing a good job or I haven't had a stark moment of clarity yet. With this book, it's the former.

Visually, Uncanny works too -- Ron Garney drawing an X-Men comic tickles some mildly nostalgic part of my brain, sure, but he's also got diverse, fun layouts going on that are bolstered by Gracia/Gonzalez/Quintana's colors. I'm not sure why there are three colorists at work, but the colors are striking and fun -- you can win me over with neon colors pretty much immediately but even the yellow-browns they employ for nighttime exteriors is interesting. The interiors of Uncanny X-Force are often glowing rather than just feeling like mud slathered on the page.



Bishop's back, and he seems to be all Dragon Ball Z'd out as he keeps roaring at people and also is an energy bear or something? Is that the same bear from that those two New Mutants issues? Either way, I always kind of liked Bishop even though he's pretty much a palette-swapped Cable -- a gun guy from a bad future with mutant powers he never really uses. The only time I ever really saw him use his powers was in an Uncanny X-Men issue in the early 300s where he tears through the walls of the X-Mansion, pulling wires out to convert the electricity into Powers! to fight an invading Sabretooth. That was pretty cool, and marks the first time I truly understood what Bishop even does. Then he was a detective, then he went crazy and tried to kill a little girl.

I don't know if this comic even makes sense to people who don't know their X-Men, but I imagine if you don't it's just kinda weird. Don't worry, it is for us too and that's why I like it.

- Danny Djeljosevic 


Witch Doctor: Mal Practice #4

(Brandon Seifert, Lukas Ketner; Image)



Witch Doctor goes all Magnificent Voyage with this issue, as our friend Dr. Morrow, doctor of the supernatural, takes the idea of fighting diseases to a whole new level. 

Just as with every issue of Witch Doctor, this comic is full of all kinds of fun -- from a tremendously intriguing action scene to a reunion with a weird-ass woman who's kind of an old friend of the Doc's (or will she eventually become an enemy?) to a completely different cosmology of mystical abilities than I've ever seen -- Seifert and Ketner deliver a comic that is kind of deliriously intricate and immersive in ways that feel dramatically compressed and rewarding in today's comics market.



I've mentioned before how Lukas's art has a very different feel than that of most supernatural comics. He has a style that seems very Marvel-esque with its dramatic foreshadowing and realistically rendered characters, but that style forms a sort of dissonance when attached to this sort of story, a kind of off-key note that gives the story a unique sort of tension. There's a feeling that this kind of crazy bizarre shit actually could be right outside your window, that these kinds of horrible creatures and terrible diseases and life-altering insanity is just floating there, just below the surface. But at the same time when he's called upon to depict the real mystical stuff, Ketner takes a radically different turn, creating creatures and depicting powers in ways that feel utterly fresh and intriguing.

There's a tremendous amount of heart and passion and, yeah, insanity at the heart of our beloved scientist -- who's not a mad scientist, dammit!

- Jason Sacks


Comeback #4

(Ed Brisson, Michael Walsh, Jordie Bellaire; Image)



I can often be down on genre-blending -- does your Mad Max style-bite really need zombies in it too??? -- but Brisson/Walsh/Bellaire's (t/cr)ime travel miniseries Comeback is a hybrid comic that works because the mash-up feels organic, which is always key to these kinds of things. It's about an organization that uses (illegal) time travel and to save people from certain death at the cost of their loved one's bank accounts and some "witness protection" identity changing -- and then it all goes awry. It's a high concept that's easy to get behind because it's fairly novel and doesn't feel like a cynical mash-up done to cash in on something else.

Comeback #4 is the penultimate issue, and while it's one of those comics centered around an interrogation scene -- which can sometimes feel undynamic if done incorrectly -- it's also one that cuts from people talking in a room and showing people photos to a "flashback" that directly affects the present in fun time travel-y ways, leading to a really exciting cliffhanger.



On the art side, Michael Walsh and Jordie Bellaire provide really great interior pages with some fantastic sequences and striking images where everything turns one color or the background drops out for emphasis. I love stuff like that, especially when Walsh drops the background and fills it with thick, emotional brush strokes. It's one of those things you can do in comics without being deemed too flashy or gimmicky -- sometimes creating an abstract visual representation of the emotion or power of the moment is better than just meticulously drawing characters in tangible locations with natural coloring.


- Danny Djeljosevic


Young Avengers #2

(Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Mike Norton, Matthew Wilson; Marvel)



When I was a teen I fell for Young Avengers way back in Volume 1 because I had discovered a team of teenage superheroes who actually wanted to be superheroes. I loved Runaways and Geoff Johns' run on Teen Titans, but those books seemed to hinge on their characters' forced situations. As much as the idea that no teenager has control over their status quo -- even superpowered ones -- appealed to my younger self; the idea that the Young Avengers were purposefully rebelling against authority seemed to be… I don't know… rad? I swear if the concept had debuted in the '90s it would have been a triumphant success.



It's that spirit of rebellion that Young Avengers defined so well in my mind that I was searching for in the new series, and while I saw a bit of that in Ms. America and the greatest rebel Marvel Comics has in its compendium, Loki; I couldn't help but feel like the series has lost its edge. Don't even get me started on how Chavez wasn't even mentioned this issue…

Of course, there's a chance I'm missing the point. I'm probably a bit older than the demographic that the new series is aiming for. While reading the first issue I had a suspicion that the art style was designed for the kind of fans that kill time on Tumblr, and I wasn't surprised to find the second issue basically confirming my hunch. Additionally, the new series is evidently heading in a relationship-centric direction what with immediate pairing off of nearly every member of the team. Hopefully I'm wrong about any specific targeting.



Ideally, I'd like to see Young Avengers do more than bounce a bunch of witty and attractive kids off of each other for the hell of it. The characters Gillen has at his disposal have garnered such rich and interesting backstories in their short lifespans that to market their superficial appeal would be a crime. Then again, I know Marvel's trying to catch the eye of today's youth. I'm just not sure if I'm asking for too much.

As a sidenote: I dig Billy's fashion sense.

- Sean Gonzalez


Guardians of the Galaxy #0.1

(Brian Michael Bendis, Steve McNiven, John Dell, Justin Ponsor; Marvel)




The Quesada dynasty at Marvel has been interconnected with the rise of the Marvel Studios films from their respective starts, with Joe Quesada's Marvel Knights line debuting in 1998 alongside Blade, which makes it easy to see why so many of Marvel's biggest successes have come from bridging those two media. Quesada and company have wisely always built up their incoming film franchises through key remakes in the proper Marvel U and it shouldn't surprise anyone that the Guardians of the Galaxy are the next property to get the treatment, central as they are to the next wave of Marvel's filmic universe. Likewise, it doesn't take much of a prophet to guess that the Marvel architect given the task of reshaping the Guardians is Brian Michael Bendis, an early Quesada recruit and arguably the most successful of Quesada's wards.

But the Guardians of the Galaxy aren't your typical Marvel team and other than the Thanos tease at the end of Avengers, there haven't been many hints in the films about what role they'll play. This is a group with a complicated and downright bizarre history, which has a key fracture in its narrative courtesy of the reconfiguring of Marvel's space franchises that was Annihilation. Marvel Studios chose to go with the Annihilation version of the Guardians-- an easy choice considering that's the version that includes a sassy, gun totin' raccoon -- which prompts one question: that team was united due to the threat of Annihilus and his Annihilation Wave, a threat that doesn't exist in the film universe, so what will be the reason these misfits get together?



While Bendis doesn't exactly get to that in this Point One issue, by the end, we are given a glimpse at what partnership could connect this team to the rest of the Marvel films. Unfortunately, that's one of the few exciting moments in the issue, as Bendis devotes the rest of his page length to an origin story that honestly only merits a page or two. Padded out and elongated as it is, the effect is one of overwhelming frustration and boredom, particularly since it mostly wastes Steve McNiven's talent for action choreography in favor of a focus on his weakness, actual human emotion and expression (seriously, who keeps their mouth agape that often?). There's still hope that the proper #1 will pack the excitement this lacks, but that doesn't excuse a twentysomething-page cold open. Or Bendis' questionable understanding of human gestation.

- Nick Hanover




Uncanny Avengers #4



FF #4



Hawkeye #8



Journey into Mystery #649


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