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Is It Wednesday Yet?

15 February 2011 Here we are again with another installment of your favorite comic book review series. As always, the reviews are free of spoilers, so read on without fear of having your experience ruined!

Our grading scale is simple:

Buy: An excellent comic book.
Borrow: A good comic, but save yourself some money by reading a friend's copy.
Flip Through: Give it a once-over at the comic shop.
Skip: This doesn't need to be explained.

The Amazing Spider-Man #653
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 02 February 2011
Writers: Dan Slott and Fred Van Lente
Artist: Stefano Caselli
Colorist: Edgar Delgado
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Stefano Caselli
Cover price: $3.99

Review: Hannah Krueger
The Slayer Swarm has descended on New York to visit the Spider-Slayer's wrath on the Jamesons for the death of his father. No one is safe; Jameson's wife, Aunt May, and Robbie are all targeted for death. Spider-Man's not gonna be able to handle this one alone, and needs all the help he can get. And with Max at Horizon Labs getting suspicious as to his employee's connections to Spider-Man, that's not all he has to worry about.

Most of what I've been hearing about Spider-Man recently has been backlash stemming from "One More Day," the explanation / expansion of said reboot in "One Moment in Time," and the fallout from Peter's personal life due to that. And honestly, what I've been hearing has been enough to keep me away from the series. So, to say the least, I was surprised to see this issue in my inbox last week.

I was even more surprised to find that where they've been going with it since then isn't half bad. This issue focuses a lot more on the action side of things, and something that appears to have been building up for a long time with the Jamesons. The Spider-Slayer's plot leaves no one untouched, and I love how the targeted victims react. There are some pretty awesome action scenes, too; they don't just focus on Spider-Man either, but the entire team of Avengers. The scene where Spider-Man calls Squirrel Girl for assistance has to be one of the funniest moments I've read so far this year.

The art is pretty solid; though it's nothing to write home about, it's not awful either. I have to give the panel composition credit, as well. It juxtaposes scenes from older comics with newly drawn scenes to explain what was happening in a given situation that referenced older continuity.

Even more surprising for me, though, was Van Lente's Power Man and Spider-Man backup feature, which was almost better than the main story. Featured this issue are Freemasons, Cthulhu-like tentacle monsters, the lines "I'm being felt up by a pervert from beyond time and space" and "Remember kids: Friends don't let friend's sniff intergalactic whippets," and Da Vinci Code-esque conspiracy theories. Yeah, it's as crazy as it sounds, and it's an awesome little story so much so that I actually want to read the earlier parts of it.

Definitely borrow this. It's not quite as awesome as it could be, but it's definitely very solid. And the backup alone is worth a look.

Deadpool & Cable #26
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 02 February 2011
Writer: Duane Swierczynski
Artist: Leandro Fernandez
Colorist: Steve Buccellato
Letterer: Jeff Eckleberry
Cover: Dave Wilkins
Cover price: $3.99

Review: Sean Lemberg
It's been more than a year since Cable took a dirt nap at the conclusion of the X-Men's last major crossover, "Second Coming," and even longer since the last issue of Cable & Deadpool hit the stands. The duo did enjoy a single-issue reunion at the tail end of the deceased gunslinger's self-titled series, though, which I'd presume is responsible for this one-shot's inherited numbering. Given their long history together, it's only natural to assume that an issue dedicated to Cable's memory from Deadpool's perspective would provide a quick and easy follow-up to the character's demise. The real question is why it didn't arrive sooner.

Don't look to the interior for any sort of answer on that front. Deadpool & Cable #26 leads off at Nate's wake, on a stereotypically twilight-lit cemetery hill, with most of the X-Men roster in attendance. From there, it very quickly spirals off into the uncertain reality of Wade's wacky imagination. Like so many beige ammo packs, we're strapped to the crimson mercenary's hip as he thinks aloud, leaps continents, and goes nowhere in particular but still manages to find a worthy adventure.

Deadpool and Cable made perfect foils for one another at the height of their infamy. Nathan, the no-nonsense future warrior who desperately needed to lighten up, played a fine counter-weight to Wade's inane walking punch line, a polka dotted dune buggy without a steering wheel. And, naturally, they both loved the feel of an unfathomably big gun in their hands. Via a string of brief flashbacks, author Duane Swierczynski recalls the brilliance of that pairing, alongside Wade's well-meaning (but ultimately idiotic) attempt at a permanent remembrance for his fallen buddy. Though he only wrote the duo once before (in the aforementioned Cable #25), Swierczynski quickly proves that he was a regular follower of their adventures, showcasing a firm understanding of their dynamic and an energetic regard for the shared history.

The artwork of Leandro Fernandez is right along those same lines. His clean compositions and willingness to embrace the crazier aspects of Deadpool's daydreams grant the issue the kind of easy-to-navigate zaniness you'd expect from this cast. Like Eduardo Risso in 100 Bullets, his compositions and characterizations are limited in linework but strong in individuality; even the throwaway characters on the story's fringes enjoy a face and persona of their very own. Though he missed the boat by a couple of years, Fernandez would've fit right in with the collection of artists that assisted Fabian Nicieza over the course of Cable & Deadpool's 50-issue run.

This isn't the most consequential story you'll ever read, nor the most timely. It feels like something that Marvel had every intention of publishing ages ago, but kept pushing back for whatever reason. It plays as both a synopsis and a conclusion to the dueling mercenaries' adventures together a lightweight love letter to their unique relationship. Fans of the original series will want to give this a long look, if just to reminisce and laugh, but unfamiliar readers won't be missing anything important if they leave it on the shelves. It's harmless, inconsequential fun. Borrow it.

Doctor Strange: From the Marvel Vault
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 02 February 2011
Writer: Roger Stern
Penciler: Neil Vokes
Inker: Jay Geldhof
Colorist: Lee Loughridge
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Cover: Mario Alberti
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Sean Lemberg
When you're running a business in the creative industry, there are bound to be unexpected casualties. That's just as true in comics as it is anywhere else, perhaps more-so, and this long-lost Doctor Strange story is one such victim. Originally plotted and illustrated 13 years ago, it sat in an unfinished state for over a decade when Marvel Universe, the series it was intended for, ran headfirst into an immediate cancellation. As with cold bodies anywhere in this landscape, however, you'd be foolish to think that the death of a nigh-complete story such as this one could ever be a thing of total permanence.

This kind of story, in particular, seems especially suited to such post-mortem revival. An out-of-continuity glance back at Doctor Strange's search for his mystical base of operations, the basic premise of this story feels as fresh today as it likely would have back in 1998. Which is to say, as fresh as a jar of pickled eggs. It's a chapter in the character's history that isn't going anywhere and should always be set in a familiar period, barring a significant reboot such as the one seen in the Ultimate Universe a few years ago. But while it's that lukewarm, not-quite-fresh setting that was more than likely responsible for this story finally seeing print after so many years, it also asks the reasonable question of whether such familiar territory was worth dusting off at all.

To that question, I'd respond with a tenuous, "Yes." Roger Stern does uncover some new ground in his exploration of an easily recognizable chapter in the character's history. Though the mystique of the Doctor's Sanctum Sanctorum has always been present, the root of Strange's relationship with his abode has, as near as I can recall, never been given this kind of attention. Pity, then, that Stern's storytelling is so shallow and transparent. This is a very basic story, carried by a few mildly spooky coincidences, that telegraphs almost every one of its twists. It weighs in at a light 22 pages, with very little of consequence in its bag of tricks. Strange feels a bit too passive for his own good, with the few stumbling blocks he encounters ultimately providing very little in the way of a real threat.

Artist Neil Vokes can be held partially responsible for that lack of circumstance. While Stern seemed dedicated to telling a story with hints of darkness and an underlying sense of unease, Vokes's bright, merry illustrations paint an entirely different picture. His artwork isn't without its place in this instance a few panels of an unnamed, abstract-influenced extra-dimensional realm but on the large it's a bad match for the mood and weight intended by the story. The poor fit isn't that much of a surprise, given that the series was so close to cancellation at the time of the creators' pairing, but the valid excuse makes it no more tolerable.

Some bodies should remain buried, and unfortunately it seems that this forgotten issue of Marvel Universe is proof of that fact. While the concept showed promise shedding new light on an old chapter in the life of one of Marvel's cornerstone figures the execution was an excursion in sleepwalking, offering nothing of consequence. The poorly matched artwork is just the icing on the cake. Skip it.

Invincible Iron Man #500.1
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 02 February 2011
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Salvadore Larroca
Colorist: Frank D'Armata
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Tom Hemmings
Occasionally there are runs by comic book creative teams that are so great you don't ever want to see them end. Bendis and Maleev on Daredevil is one such recent example. Geoff Johns on Green Lantern and Ed Brubaker on Captain America are two current ones. These are books that fans latch onto as something special, something really worth investing in long-term. They're also the books we recommend when someone asks, "So what comics should I be reading?" Invincible Iron Man is one more of these books.

This issue is part of Marvel's Point-One initiative, and is devoted to a retrospective of Tony Stark's life, narrated by the man himself as he talks to an Alcoholics Anonymous group. Now, I know that the drunk deal is a part of Tony just as much as balancing love and fighting crime is a part of Peter Parker, but at some point I hope we can move beyond this as the dominant framing device of the man's life. Just because "Demon is a Bottle" is regarded as Iron Man's best story of note, it shouldn't rule everything he is and does. "Kraven's Last Hunt" is widely regarded as one of Spider-Man's best, yet it's had comparatively little impact on the modern character. It's with these gripes that I approached this story, and apparently Fraction was reading my mind because he's clearly decided to make it much more interesting than I thought it would be.

Under Fraction's stewardship, Tony doesn't bare his soul in this room. Even without mentioning fighting Fin Fang Foom or Skrulls he still manages to make everyone in there seem like they live smaller lives than him, through his business successes and significantly through his dealings with women. He dominates the group through force of character rather than coming to them as an equal. Even though Tony still doesn't remember any of the events of Civil War, he is still possessed of the tremendous conviction and ego that motivated his actions at that time. Tony Stark isn't addicted to alcohol; he's addicted to self-destructive behavior. That partiality led to him sleeping with every significant woman in his life when the opportunity presented itself, and also resulted in a superhero war that killed Captain America and put Norman Osborne in charge of everything. Tony is still and always will be Tony, and he'll always create worse problems for himself than any of his villains would. It's brilliant storytelling, and a fine example of why this book has been so great for so long.

The art backs this up. Larroca might occasionally show a little inconsistency on faces, but rarely has anyone handled both the flesh and blood characters and the technology of Iron Man this well. Equal kudos goes out to D'Armata, who enhances the use of light through his color palette to create one of the most attractive comics you'll ever see. The contrast between memories and the modern period is done entirely through the way this is colored and it works incredibly well.

Fraction's Stark is one of the most well-rounded characters that exists in modern comics. This should be a great jumping on point for anyone since it's a retrospective of his life and offers glimpses of what's to come in the future. However, I would say that you should be prepared not to like Tony Stark. He's a great hero, but he's really not a very good person. If you want to like all your heroes, read Power Pack. If you're looking for something more, buy this. Then go back and get this whole series; it's well worth it.


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