Gutsville is the bizarre tale of the decedents of an ocean liner swallowed by a mysterious creature. They live inside the monster and one of them wants out. Simon Spurrier teams up with talented artist Frazer Irving to bring us what must be the strangest story of the year so far. Gutsville is published by Image on 30th May. Anticipation factor: 7
Strange Embrace comes to Image comics in digitally re-mastered form with colours by Rob Steen and lettering by Comicraft ensuring David Hine’s dark tale of sexual desire, obsession and damnation looks better than ever before. Issue 1 is out on May 16th. Anticipation factor: 7
Ward of the State is about an assassination business, the twist is the ringleader is a foster mother and the assassins are the kids she’s put in charge of. This three issue series is written by Christopher Long with art from Chee. Published 2nd May. Anticipation factor: 8
Warlash: Zombie Mutant Genesis is the opening shot of a three part series from Frank Forte. Set in Pittsburgh (the spiritual home of zombies) and featuring mad scientists and genetically engineered warriors plus lots of the undead this promises to be great fun. Coming in March from Asylum Press. Anticipation factor: 7
Painkiller Jane gets a new comic series from Dynamite. The comics character will shortly be seen in a new Sci Fi Channel series and this re-launch must be hoping to capitalise on that. Written by Jimmy Palmiotti with art by Lee Moder this should be out in May. Anticipation factor: 6
Legion of Monsters: Morbius is another one-shot featuring some of Marvel’s horror characters. As well as a tale of the Living Vampire by Brendan Cahill and Michael Gaydos we also get a Dracula story by C.B. Cebulski and David Finch. In stores 30th May. Anticipation factor: 8
Marvel Zombies: Dead Days is a prequel to the mega hit Marvel Zombies and is once again written by Robert Kirkman and illustrated by Sean Phillips. See how it all began on the 9th May. Anticipation factor: 9
This month’s reading:
The Amazing Spider-Man 537 & 538
The Civil War reaches its climax and Spider-Man’s world changes forever as someone close to him dies. Well I’m assuming Aunt May dies, we only see her shot at the end of issue 538 but it would explain why he goes back to the black costume. Garney’s art improves with the larger panels suiting his style, while Straczynski’s script is spot on. There have been rumours JMS is to leave this title and perhaps the time is right as, after several years as the best of the Spider-Man titles, it’s now lost that top spot, at least for this reader. “What to?” you ask, keep reading and all will be revealed. Grade: B
Black Panther 24 & 25
The Black Panther sniffs out a traitor in the resistance movements ranks (although the revelation is saved for Civil War) while Storm goes to see her Grandparents in issue 24. Number 25 spotlights a confrontation between Storm and the clone/robot/what ever the hell it is of Thor that takes place during the final Civil War confrontation. The artwork is average at best but at least the writing improves. Hudlin still can’t resist having all the Black heroes winning there respective confrontations though (Storm Vs Thor, Luke Cage Vs Doc Samson, Falcon Vs Nighthawk). Am I the only one who finds this comic racist? Grade: C
SHIELD send Blade after Wolverine in what is a throwaway story with a resolution that comes as no surprise. Perhaps the most pointless Civil War crossover of them all. Grade C
Captain America 25
Cap is dead! Or is he? This is after all just part one of "The Death of the Dream". Dead or not this is still a great read and features a truly shocking climax. Ed Brubaker gives us three different perspectives on the man who is a living symbol of his country, and through them we see him as a man not a icon. Ex-partners Bucky and Falcon and Cap's lover SHIELD agent Sharon Carter offer different perspectives on the hero.
Steve Epting shows yet again that you don't need flashy panel layouts to be a great comic book artist, you just need talent and he has it in spades. Even if he is dead I'll be back for the next issue. Grade: B+
Civil War 6 & 7
The final two issues of the series bring some memorable moments but the conclusion left me strangely unsatisfied.
In issue 6 Cap beats Punisher senseless after he guns two criminals in cold blood but it's the conclusion of the scrap that makes it stand out. Frank Castle refuses to defend himself, unwilling to raise a hand against the living symbol of America. It's a deeply moving exchange with Millar showing a grasp of both these iconic characters.
The best moments in the finale, an all out action issue, are Hercules taking down the replica of his friend Thor and the Captain America realising the destruction the conflict has caused surrendering. So why am I unsatisfied? Well the good guy didn't win but that is so often the reality of war. It may not have been the ending I wanted but it was the right ending for the story. Of course we now have to suffer that self-righteous prick Tony Stark as head of SHIELD but that's a small price to pay for such a cracking story. Grade: B+
Fantastic Four 542
Some nice dialogue between Reed and Johnny is the highlight of this issue as The Human Torch tries to reconcile Reed and Sue’s marriage. I could have done without Johnny and Ben’s reunion in France though. Dwayne McDuffie is a good writer and Mike McKone is really making the title his own but I’m not sure the current direction will be good for the title. Grade: B-
Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man 16 & 17
In 16 the Vulture storyline comes to a close with an unexpected climax. It seems that Peter David has at last hit his stride with this title and he deserves a pat on the back for the return of Betty Brant. It’s also welcome that we have a good artist on the title (for this story at least) and Scot Eaton does a terrific job, I just wish he’d stayed.
With 17 the "Back in Black" storyline begins as Peter Parker gets asked for help from Sandman. Call me cynical but the black costume is in the new Spidey film as is Sandman and I don’t believe in coincidences. David does his best, creating what promises to be an engaging murder mystery but all his effort is scuppered by some frankly awful art by Todd Nauk, imagine a bad Eric Larsen imitator and you’ll get the idea. So no this isn’t the comic that’s taken the crown of best Spider-Man title. Grade: C+
Frontline 9 & 10
Paul Jenkins neatly ties up the plot threads as the title nears its end. Two of the stories lead into Thunderbolts with one introducing Penance who is a major player in that title. While it’s definitely come second to the main Civil War book this has been a fun ride and I’m looking forward to the final issue which promises some startling revelations. Grade: B
Ghost Rider 8
The first part of a Civil War tie-in that pits flaming skull against flaming pumpkin as Ghost Rider goes up against Jack O'Lantern. The link to Civil War is slim and the tale could easily have been told without reference to that series. The team of Javier Saltares and Mark Texeira do a nice enough job on the art but this feels inconsequential and it's hard to imagine any lasting repercussions from the story.
The Incredible Hulk 99 -103
"Planet Hulk" reaches its conclusion with these issues and much as I’ve enjoyed it I think it’s gone on for a little too long. Issue 100 gives us a glimpse of what’s been happening on Earth and events that will lead to his return, in a bonus story written by regular scripter Greg Pak with art from the amazing Gary Frank. With Frank taking on art duties with issue 104 the best may still be to come from Pak’s stint on the book. Grade: B-
Iron Man 13 & 14
In his own title we get a more human side to the Iron Avenger, as Tony Stark wrestles with his conscience. Try as they might though writers Daniel and Charles Knauf can’t make me like the guy. Patrick Zircher’s pencils are good both in the action scenes and the quieter character moments,his panels having a nice cinematic flow to them. Grade: B
New Avengers 24 -27
Bendis is the best Avengers writer for years, really taking you inside the characters heads yet not skimping on the action. Issue 24 has The Sentry trying to avoid the Civil War on Earth by hiding on the moon where he encounters The Inhumans. It’s hard not to feel sorry for the hero, he’s only just got his sanity back when his world is turned upside down with friend battling friend and it’s no wonder he tries to get away from it all.
Iron Man faces a disgruntled employee in 25, a man who disables his armour and threatens to blow up Avengers Tower. It’s a great piece of storytelling but once again won’t win Tony Stark and fans.
The real gem in these four issues is issue 26 in which Bendis gives a character he’s killed and resurrected a couple of times in recent years a little piece. Hawkeye comes face to face with Scarlet Witch, the woman who "killed" him and the confrontation is as unexpected as it is beautiful. Hawkeye has been a favourite character of mine since his introduction and while I hope this isn’t the last we see of him it’s nice to have someone written out on a happy note for a change.
The mysterious Ronin is at the centre of 27 and while the issue has lots of action it falls apart at the end with some duff repartee between the team, Iron Fist is especially badly written. Still it’s not often Bendis drops the ball and it’s more than made up for by Leinil Yu amazing art. Few pencilers can come close to Yu when it comes to depicting kinetic action sequences and he’s excels himself here. Grade: B+
The Sensational Spider-Man 28 – 35
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has taken what was a decent enough title and turned it into the best Spidey book currently on the shelves. Packed with villains, these eight issues alone contain Doctor Octopus, Electro, The Chameleon, The Scarecrow, Will-O’-The-Wisp, Swarm, Molten Man and Rhino, yet managing to be even more character driven than Amazing Spider-Man.
Within these pages we see a side of both Mary Jane and Aunt May that we’ve never seen before, at times unflattering yet showing there failings just makes them more human and ultimately someone we can sympathise with. On top of Aguirre-Sacasa’s deft handling of the books star and supporting cast there is some first rate art. There styles may be very different but Angel Medina, Sean Chen and Clayton Crain have all done some of there finest work here with each perfectly suited to the story they illustrated. One of Marvel’s best books and a title every Spider-Man fan should be buying. Grade: A-
She-Hulk 8, 15, 16
The first issue here is a Civil War crossover that ends with a proposal as John Jameson asks She-Hulk to marry him. It's nice to see Paul Smith's art although it's far from his best work. With issues 15 and 16 the "Planet without a Hulk" arc kicks in as She-Hulk is recruited by SHIELD to deal with the short of threat the absent Hulk used to handle. Artist Rick Burchett has potential with some clean line work that's reminiscent of Paul Smith.
One word really sums this title up – fluff. Not every comic can be a dark brooding masterpiece though and this provided a pleasant change. Far from essential but definitely fun.
Thunderbolts 103 – 105, 110 & 111
The first three issues here feature the old team written by Fabian Nicieza. It’s a good Civil War crossover but ultimately nothing special. In fact the title looks and reads like a 90’s comic.
With issue 110 the new creative team of Warren Ellis and Mike Deodato Jr. arrive and the book suddenly becomes essential reading. Regular readers of this column will know I’m a big fan of Ellis and it’s impossible to think of a writer better suited to this unusual team book.
The group was made up of villains before but now we get such "A List" bad guys as Green Goblin, Venom and Bullseye. There’s plenty of action in 111 but the best scenes are the ones where Norman Osborn interviews the individual members of the team. Deodato shows us everything we need to know in these scenes from body language and facial expression with artist and writer in perfect symmetry. Bullseye even gets a wonderful flashback to Miller era Daredevil and it’s that kind of dark, brooding atmosphere the comic evokes. If Civil War had given us nothing else it would have been worth it for this series alone. A must have. Grade: A-
Wolverine 42 – 50
The first seven issues here are a Civil War tie-in the has the hairy X-Man/Avenger hunting the man responsible for the whole Civil War – Nitro. Marc Guggenheim’s story doesn’t stop there though as Wolverine follows the trail back to Damage Control Inc and finds corporate greed lies at the end of the road.
Guggenheim has some nice ideas which I’d like to have seen expanded on but sadly they are not explored to there fullest potential. Still this is a damn fine story and Humberto Ramos’ heavily stylised art (sort of manga meets Sam Keith) is great, really bringing out the humour.
Issue 49 is a special Christmas story that pays homage to (or rips off) Die Hard as Wolverine finds himself trapped in a department store with a terrorist gang. It’s a fun piece of fluff but nothing more.
With the 50th issue the new creative team of Jeph Loeb and Simone Bianchi arrives and a story that promises to reveal the ties between Wolvie and Sabertooth begins. The action is violent and bloody as the two go head to head in a tale that has the potential to be among the characters best. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it delivers. Grade: B
Next month – Stephen King's The Dark Tower, Brave and the Bold, City of Others plus lots more.