A slew of new Marvel titles highlight a roundup of recent comics

A slew of new Marvel titles highlight a roundup of recent comics

In one of the strongest debuts of Marvel Now!, Marvel’s ongoing not-a-reboot rollout of first issues, Jason Aaron isn’t telling the story of one Thor, but three. Thor: God Of Thunder #1 (Marvel) is a millennia-spanning fantasy epic featuring the past, present, and future incarnations of the titular hero, fighting a god-butchering villain across space and time. Joined by the stunning art team of Esad Ribic and colorist Dean White, Aaron creates a story more influenced by horror than the usual Thor fare, emphasizing suspense and dread as much as superheroic action.

As books like Kieron Gillen’s Journey Into Mystery and Brian Wood’s Conan The Barbarian have proven, narration often works well in the fantasy genre, where elaborate prose can help create a grandiose atmosphere. Shifting from Aaron’s usual rough, realistic dialogue, Thor’s heightened language has the writer stretching different muscles, and doing so admirably. He has a strong handle on the different voices of the three Thors: the proud blowhard of the past, the humble hero of the present, and the broken king of the future. Separately, their stories are intriguing, but Aaron weaves them together into a narrative that pulls the reader in and never lets go. Each of the time periods has a distinct tone—the past is horror, the present is superhero, the future is Frank Frazetta-like fantasy—making Thor: God Of Thunder #1 one of the densest and most satisfying reads of Marvel Now!

Aaron’s pacing with this first issue is perfect, building suspense in the past as Thor discovers the first victim of Gorr The God Butcher. The memory of that dead god weighs on Thor’s mind when he sees Gorr’s work in the present, the tension increasing as Thor makes his way through a slaughtered pantheon to eventually face one of Gorr’s many guard dogs. That little taste of action is preparation for the climax, which features a one-eyed, one-armed old-man Thor leaping into battle against an entire army of Gorr’s shadow warriors. 

Esad Ribic’s painted artwork on 2004’s Loki miniseries demonstrated his remarkable ability to capture both the gleaming magnificence and sinister underbelly of Asgard, and it’s a wonder that it’s taken Marvel this long to put him on Thor’s ongoing adventures. Dean White’s rich colors are the next best thing to Ribic’s paints, and his skill at contrasting warm and dark colors works with Ribic’s pencils to make the artwork pop. There’s some particularly impressive work involving light sources, like Thor’s hammer, creating bright flashes of color that are kept in check by suffocating shadows. This first issue is entirely focused on Thor, so it will be interesting to see what Ribic and White are capable of once more of Asgard comes into play. There’s some spectacular creative synergy on display in this first issue, and if Aaron’s previous work is any indication, the title will only get better as the story gets bigger…

Shifting from the realistic espionage of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America is a smart move for whichever unlucky writer is tasked with following up that landmark run. For Marvel Now!’s Captain America #1 (Marvel), Rick Remender embraces the pulp sci-fi styling of his acclaimed Fear Agent to take Steve Rogers in a new direction, relocating the Star-Spangled Avenger to Arnim Zola’s Dimension Z. The extra-dimensional adventure is what Marvel is promoting with this title, but the main draw of this first issue is Remender’s insight into Rogers’ character, beginning with a flashback to his childhood in 1926 New York City. 

With an abusive drunk for a father, Rogers learned how to be strong by watching his mother, who always stood up to her husband no matter how hard he hit her. The flashback offers a strong image of the hard times Rogers grew up in, and showing his past home life informs his present-day reaction to Sharon Carter’s marriage proposal. It’s entirely possible that his trepidation about moving forward in his relationship is as much due to seeing his own parents’ marriage as it is to his commitment to Captain America. When Rogers boards a mysterious subway car that has randomly appeared on a long-abandoned line, he’s whisked away to a barren alternate dimension, walking into Zola’s trap but also escaping his personal drama.

Remender’s story is inspired by Jack Kirby’s run as writer and artist on Captain America in the ’70s, and John Romita Jr.’s artwork captures the raw energy that characterized Kirby’s work. He’s teamed with inker Klaus Janson and colorist Dean White, and it’s a combination that results in artwork that is simultaneously retro and modern. There’s a cartoonish quality to the characters, but the environments are rendered in intense detail (see the opening panel of a crowded street on the Lower East Side in 1926) and given even more dimension by White’s lush colors. Romita has been putting more trust in his colorists over the last few years, resulting in cleaner, more streamlined artwork, soon to be let loose on the new world Remender has asked him to create… 

After eight years spearheading Marvel’s Avengers titles, Brian Michael Bendis moves on to Marvel’s other blockbuster superteam with All New X-Men #1 (Marvel), reuniting him with his Ultimate Spider-Man and New Avengers collaborator Stuart Immonen to bring the X-Men’s past into their present. Following the events of Avengers Vs. X-Men, Cyclops has fully transitioned to the darker side of the mutant revolution, forcefully recruiting new mutants with the help of Magneto, Emma Frost, and Magik. Meanwhile, Beast is continuing to mutate and beginning to fear for his life, motivating him to take drastic measures to change the future, like going back in time and recruiting the original five X-Men to help get Scott back in line. It’s a promising start, and in spite of readers’ individual opinions about the development of certain characters, there’s no denying that the X-Men have a stronger sense of direction post-AvX

Bendis’ concept doesn’t really get the chance to take off in this first issue; like this past summer’s Spider-Men #1, All-New X-Men #1 is primarily intended to establish the current status quo of the 616 universe. But if Spider-Men is any indication, the introduction of the past X-Men into the present should result in some incredibly emotional moments. Immonen is one of the best artists in superhero comics, and the style he’s applying on All-New X-Men strikes a nice balance between the realistic linework he brought to books like Superman: Secret Identity and the more cartoonish pencils of Nextwave. His characters are wonderfully versatile actors, and Bendis’ script is elevated by Immonen’s ability to capture each emotional beat. With Bendis also relaunching Uncanny X-Men with Chris Bachalo in February, this first issue does a lot to build confidence for his run. Hopefully Marvel won’t stretch the writer too thin, because with two X-books, Guardians Of The Galaxy, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, and the relaunched Powers all slated for the next few months, Bendis has a lot on his plate…

After turning Daredevil into one of Marvel’s best titles, Mark Waid takes over the breakout star of this summer’s The Avengers film with The Indestructible Hulk #1 (Marvel), a project that reunites Waid with Superman: Birthright artist Leinil Yu for an action-packed first issue. This first chapter sets the stage for Bruce Banner’s new role in the Marvel Universe as a scientist working for S.H.I.E.L.D., beginning with Banner meeting S.H.I.E.L.D. director Maria Hill to blackmail her into giving him a job. It may be a scene of two people talking, but Waid keeps the tension high by constantly checking in with Maria, who becomes increasingly anxious with each new change in the environment. A bump from a passing elbow, the crash of a cup of coffee, anything could potentially set Banner off and awaken his monstrous alter ego. The clock on the wall is ticking down to the S.H.I.E.L.D. operation Hill is carrying out, but it’s also a haunting reminder of the time bomb waiting to go off inside Bruce Banner. 

Leinil Yu is an amazing talent, drawing the diverse patrons of a crowded diner sitting around eating breakfast with the same craft and detail as he puts into explosive action sequences between giant mechanical death machines and raging green superheroes. The Mad Thinker says that the Hulk’s strength is incalculable, and Yu’s depiction of the title character backs up that assessment. While this first issue promises a bright new future for Bruce Banner and the Hulk, Waid ends on a less-than-optimistic note by focusing on the ticking of Maria Hill’s watch. It’s similar to the final page of Waid’s Daredevil #1, where Foggy Nelson casts doubt on his partner’s chipper personality after an issue of positivity. If Waid can strike the same balance of character-based drama and superhero action with Bruce Banner that he does with Matt Murdock, Daredevil might end up having some competition at the top…

After this summer’s shooting at a Dark Knight Rises screening in Aurora, Colorado, there’s an extra element of real-world terror in the opening sequence of Bedlam #1 (Image), featuring a Joker-like madman who brutally murders a concert hall full of people. Bedlam is another remarkable debut to add to the pile of exceptional ongoings from Image this year, with writer Nick Spencer and artist Riley Rossmo telling a riveting story about the nature of morality in a jam-packed oversized first issue. Although he shares the name with a Yeasayer song, Madder Red is a horrifying character, using mass murder as a way to motivate his city to chaos. When a costumed crime-fighter by the name of the First brings him in, the villain reveals that he’s hidden bombs in the belongings (and perhaps on the persons) of various children throughout Bedlam, and that the only way to prevent detonation is by killing him first. It’s an ethical quandary that threatens to tear the city apart, and then Madder Red blows himself up anyway just to mess with everyone.   

All of these events happened 10 years in the past, and in the present, Madder Red, who somehow survived the explosion, attempts to reintegrate into society after having his brain operated on by the Good Doctor. The concept is essentially “What if the Joker became a hero?” By the end of the issue, Madder Red is eager to help fight crime, but the tone established by Spencer and Rossmo makes it hard to believe anything but harm will come from his actions. As is Spencer’s wont, there are numerous monologues discussing heady issues of morality and madness, but they don’t interrupt the flow of the issue, instead adding depth between the moments of brutality. There’s one speech in particular that seems to be a direct response to the Aurora shooting, using Madder Red to comment on how evil is most frightening not when it’s wearing a colorful mask, but when its face looks like any random person on the street.

Madder Red has a chilling design courtesy of Rossmo, who established himself as one of the hardest working artists in comics this year. He continues to fine-tune his linework, and with each new project his character work becomes more nuanced and his environments more detailed. Colorist Jean-Paul Csuka’s use of only black, white, and red for the flashbacks makes that last color very important, ensuring that readers will notice any red that appears in the sickly green-tinted present sequences. Bedlam #1 is a stunning debut that reveals these two creators could easily take on a Batman book and create a riveting story, but the fact that they’re not shackled to any of the editorial restraints that come with established characters means that Spencer and Rossmo can take this title in whichever direction they please. Based on this first issue, it should be a scary but exciting journey…

With the cancellation of Vertigo’s longest-running title, Hellblazer, to make way for a New 52 Constantine ongoing, the future of DC’s mature-readers line seems uncertain. Fewer Vertigo titles are being released each month, but if Ghosts #1 (Vertigo) is any indication, there’s plenty of life left in the imprint. The latest in a series of anthologies reviving classic DC titles like Strange Adventures and Mystery In Space, Ghosts is also the strongest, featuring an all-star cast of creators like Paul Pope, Gilbert Hernandez, Jeff Lemire, and Geoff Johns (making his Vertigo debut). The ghost theme helps lend this anthology a stronger focus than its predecessors, and the creators play with the central idea of haunting on different levels. 

Past mistakes and unfulfilled hopes can be just as troublesome as disembodied spirits and demons from hell, as seen in Al Ewing and Rufus Dayglo’s “The Night After I Took The Data Entry Job I Was Visited By My Own Ghost” (which has a Kill Your Boyfriend/early Vertigo vibe) and Cecil Castellucci and Amy Reeder’s gorgeous “Wallflower.” The content varies greatly from story to story, but the quality is consistently strong, with stand-outs beings Paul Pope and David Lapham’s science-fiction tale about two sibling slaves who find their way back to each other, Gilbert Hernandez’s ethereal story featuring two dead boys and the “dark lady” who leaves flowers on their graves, and Neil Kleid and John McCrea’s chili cook-off from hell. 

It’s nice to see Geoff Johns return to more personal storytelling after writing blockbuster action comics for the past few years, and “Ghost For Hire” is a sweet little story about two brothers (one dead) with characteristically evocative artwork from Jeff Lemire. But Ghosts is most notable for containing the final comic-book work of the late Joe Kubert, a tale about a dying old man who sacrifices himself to save his grandson from the god Quetzalcoatl. The pencils are only loosely laid-out, but Kubert’s incredible craft still shows through, revealing his skill at telling a story with clarity while still retaining a sense of grandeur. Kubert’s talent will be greatly missed, but his spirit lives on in the legion of comic artists that he’s influenced… 

As the Before Watchmen books begin to fall behind schedule (where are Silk Spectre and Comedian #4?), DC is padding the event’s shipping schedule with added books like the two-issue Before Watchmen: Moloch and one-shot Before Watchmen: Dollar Bill. Beyond whatever that says about DC’s planning, it shows that it’s willing to dip back into the Watchmen pool as long as it remains profitable, making jokes like Before Watchmen: Bubastis and Before Watchmen: Bernard The Newspaper Guy seem like legitimate possibilities. J. Michael Stracyznski gets the writing reins for Before Watchmen: Moloch #1 (DC), and while it’s not nearly as abysmal as his Nite Owl, it’s a predictable story about a tormented outsider who turns to a life of crime for acceptance and power. 

Shunned and beaten by his peers, Edward Jacobi found an escape through magic and murder, building a crime empire through the dealing of sex and drugs. Moloch suffers from the same passive voice as the equally narration-heavy Ozymandias, but because this is Stracyznski, there are more gratuitous boob shots. Eduardo Risso is too talented an artist to be shackled to such a forgettable story, but he beautifully stages Stracyznski’s words, adding some artistry to the by-the-numbers plot. And Risso’s no slouch with the gratuitous boob shots, either. It’s clear that DC has primarily focused its efforts on making sure the Before Watchmen titles look fantastic, drawing readers in with snazzy visuals then serving up writing that varies dramatically from book to book. Before Watchmen: Moloch is serviceable, but if DC is going to continue milking Watchmen, serviceable just isn’t good enough… 

On the surface, putting Greg Land on Iron Man #1 (Marvel) seems like a good idea. The photo-referencing artist leaves much to be desired when it comes to drawing people, so assigning him to a hero clad completely in metal seems like a way to avoid the characteristic stiffness of his pencils. Unfortunately, the character of Iron Man poses its own problems for Land, and there’s no sense of movement when he draws Tony Stark’s suit of armor. It’s like someone took screencaps of the Iron Man movie and copied them onto random backgrounds, and it results in sluggish, visually bland action sequences. When Land has to draw real human beings, he recycles the same poses and faces over and over, resulting in dialogue that reads like it’s being presented on a View-Master with maybe four different images on the disc. Why didn’t Marvel put Carlo Pagulayan on this book, considering he designed the new armor and is an artist deserving of a big career push? Kieron Gillen tells a solid but familiar story about technology falling into the wrong hands, with a terrorist organization getting its hands on Extremis and selling it to whoever has the cash, but it’s difficult to connect with the plot when the artwork is so cold and lifeless… 

Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four was a title deserving of its superlative title, but it wasn’t necessarily the most kid-friendly, not because the content was questionable, but because of the sheer density of the plot. For Fantastic Four #1 (Marvel), Matt Fraction takes a simpler approach than Hickman, keeping the expanded cast of the Future Foundation but focusing the story on the core four members of the team plus Valeria and Franklin Richards. This first issue is classic Fantastic Four, reminiscent of Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo’s delightful run on the title back in the early ’00s. The tale seems bright and optimistic, even though it’s motivated by a deadly discovery made by Reed. While gallivanting in the Cretaceous era, a dinosaur bites through his elastic skin, and after further examination, Reed learns that his body is degenerating, a side effect of the cosmic radiation that gave him and his family their fantastic powers. He decides to take his family on a road trip through space and time in hopes of finding a cure, but keeps his true motivations a secret. The stakes are high, but the story is wonderfully all-ages, and Fantastic Four #1 is a book that will captivate young readers with its imagination and cast of vibrant personalities. Mark Bagley is an artist whose work is greatly affected by his inker, and pairing him with Alan Davis’ inker Mark Farmer is truly inspired. Farmer’s inks add sharpness to the lines and bring Davis’ fluidity to Bagley’s pencils, resulting in some of the best artwork of Bagley’s already notable career. Like Hickman, Fraction will also be writing the companion title FF (with art by Michael Allred), and this debut shows that he’s a strong fit for the world of Marvel’s first family…

Relaunching X-Men: Legacy with David “Legion” Haller, son of Charles Xavier, as the central character is one of the more unorthodox decisions of Marvel Now!, but in the hands of writer Si Spurrier and artist Tan Eng Huat, it’s a gamble that pays off. X-Men: Legacy #1 (Marvel) is one of the most bizarre reads to come out of Marvel in recent years, diving into David’s fractured mind for an off-kilter superhero story that is unlike any other book the publisher puts out. A large part of the issue takes place in the Qortex Complex, the mental prison where David keeps his alternate superpowered personalities captive as he undergoes mystical therapy in the Himalayan Mountains. Spurrier’s narration can get a bit heavy-handed in the Qortex sequences, but the verbose descriptions of the environment and characters make the reader feel the sensory overload that David experiences at all times. When Professor X dies, the event sends mental shockwaves that destroy the prison walls in David’s head, setting up this series to get even more insane as the alternate personalities prepare to gang up on their weakened jailer. Huat provides artwork that is as stylized as the story, and he incorporates a thicker, smoother line than usual to bring an added animation influence to his pencils. His designs for the Qortex are particularly strong, creating a variety of alien characters that are just waiting to be further explored in the future. There’s no telling where this book is going to go next, a rarity in the largely static world of superhero comics…

The Valiant revival has been one of 2012’s most pleasant surprises, and the publisher continues its winning streak with Shadowman #1 (Valiant), teaming rising star Justin Jordan with industry mainstay Patrick Zircher on Valiant’s voodoo-influenced superhero. High-octane action has become Jordan’s claim to fame, and after a page of quick exposition, he immediately jumps to a massive battle sequence, showing the death of Shadowman so that his son can take on the mantle years later. It’s a quickly paced first issue that does admirable work setting up the world and main cast of this title, but the real revelation here is Zircher’s artwork, which has taken astronomical leaps in quality over the last few years. The amount of detail he brings to each page borders on photo-realistic, but he’s able to maintain a sense of dynamic movement that is absent in the work of artists that have a similar style (like the aforementioned Greg Land). Zircher has a firm handle on both the superhero and horror worlds that Jordan combines in his story, creating some particularly creepy visuals for the book’s villain Mr. Twist, who is made up of the morphed flesh of his victims. There’s a lot of promise in this first issue, which is the best thing that can be said about the entire Valiant revival. The publisher has put a lot of effort into making sure their books can compete with what’s being released at Marvel and DC, and Shadowman is a successful debut that is indicative of the larger Valiant line…

RECONNECT is an illegal time agency, hired by the wealthy to retrieve recently deceased loved ones from the past and bring back into the present. The organization is at the center of Ed Brisson and Michael Walsh’s science-fiction thriller Comeback #1 (Image), which follows the agents of RECONNECT as they deal with the pressures of their job. The issue opens with a tense retrieval sequence that doesn’t cast its central characters in the most favorable light: Mark and Seth lie about their identity, then break into the target’s house and forcefully abduct him. When the man’s brought through time, an undisclosed tumor causes fatal complications, causing him to expand until he combusts. That combination of gritty suspense and sci-fi unpredictability makes this a notable first issue, amplified by Michael Walsh’s moody artwork. Evocative of artists like Michael Lark, Cliff Chiang, and Francisco Francavilla, Walsh’s heavy inks give the characters real weight and help to keep the story grounded.

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