At long last, a memorable issue of Tony Daniel's Batman. So far, the current arc has felt like a lot of complicated plotting all meant to create interest into the identity of the Black Mask. And after four exhausting, sub-standard issues, we're almost to the answer. This issue finds Dick Grayson under the influence of double mind control (you read it right: Double mind control), thanks to the Penguin, Mad Hatter, and a bit of Black Mask magic. I have to say, this has been my favorite issue so far in Tony Daniel's run on the series. He took some chances with the time line, and instead of confusing me, I ended up paying closer attention to the story, something I don't usually do with Daniel's Batman. Plus, for a character I thought I’d hate (I usually don’t like sidekicks in general), there’s never been a better Robin than Damian Wayne, and that includes Carrie Kelly. Despite this issue being better than average, I still can't wait to be done with this arc. Batman being turned into an assassin is fun and all, but seeing Batman in a False Face mask just brought back memories of better days, namely the final act of Morrison's "Three Batmen" arc.
Batman: Streets of Gotham # 9:
While this wasn’t a horrible issue, it was fairly disposable. Streets of Gotham #9 wraps up a two-part storyline by series stand-in writer Mike Benson, and thankfully we’ll have Paul Dini back soon. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot to say about this one. Batman (Dick Grayson) and Commissioner Gordon take-down a John-murdering prostitute stalker, and in the end we all learn that playing with people's lives is a bad thing to do, but hitting other people in the face will solve everything. And though I can understand the need to show stories where Batman is fighting villains cut from a more common cloth, I couldn't get over the fact that the Comish doubtlessly had something better to do with his time than personally help hunt down one guy, going so far as to put himself directly in the line of fire. But whatever; nobody ever accused Gotham of being a normal place.
I don't know why I'm always surprised when I like an issue of DD. Andy Diggle has yet to disappoint, and the current arc is pretty damn phenomenal. Since taking leadership of the Hand, Matt Murdock has been busily turning the crimson-clad ninjas into an army of mini-DDs. Unfortunately, the Hand doesn't go legit that easily. So Daredevil and White Tiger head to Japan to try and convince the four other Hand bigwigs that having an American superhero in charge will return the hand to it’s former glory and restore their influence over the world. Standing in his way are multiple back room dealings, a secret shadow sect of the Hand, and Bakuto, the hot-headed leader of the Hand’s South American Operations. It’s beginning to look like DD’s tenure as Shogun of the Hand will be short-lived, which is a shame, because seeing Daredevil lead his former enemies has been just as enjoyable as watching him pummel them.
The Incredible Hercules #141:
Say it ain’t so Herc, say it ain’t so! Warning: big spoilers ahead! As if it wasn't obvious when Marvel released the solicitations for "Hercules: Fall of an Avenger," in this issue Herc meets his maker after preventing Typhon from destroying all life in the universe with the Continuum(tm) machine. We all know that Hercules, like his half-brother Ares (also recently deceased) will return someday, so for now I'm more upset over the loss of Child-aged-Zeus, who also bit the dust in this issue. Apparently, February is not the month to be a Greek deity at Marvel. I can’t help but feel that these deaths are a little cheap, as both Ares and Hercules are two of the most easily resurrected characters. But for the time being, they will be sorely missed. Despite the loss, I’m still excited to see what Greg Pak has planned for Amadeus Cho’s solo series, just so long as he keeps up with the amazing sound effects.
Uncanny X-Men #521:
To be honest, I dropped Uncanny a few months back, right around the time the Utopia crossover wrapped. I mainly bought this issue for the meditating Magneto on the cover. I'm a sucker for a story that features the ol' buckethead, even if he's not talking much. And after I took a sneak peek in the back to see why he was meditating, I figured it was worth the price of admission. This issue is mostly a lead-in to the return of Kitty Pryde, with a little bit of X-men/Fantomex action thrown-in for good measure. Why Magneto would want to return her to Earth is beyond me, but like I said, I haven't been paying attention to this series much lately. Fantomex (like Damian Wayne) is another of those Morrison-created characters that manages to entertain even when he’s being written by somebody else. So the writing here is good, not great, I'd say par for the course for Fraction's run work on the title. One thing that hasn't changed since I left the series, and was one of the primary reasons I dropped the title, is Greg Land's art. Downright laughable at time and frequently inconsistent in the details, how and why Land is still on this title is beyond me. Not that I like to see anybody out of a job, but will somebody please fire this guy until he starts drawing women without resorting to ridiculous porno faces? There’s one page in particular (you’ll know it if you see it), where Wolverine looks to be doing a little more than merely attacking his enemy from behind. I’ve read some reviews and internet commentary that gives Land the benefit of the doubt, although I can't understand why. Regardless of Kitty Pryde and the exciting last panel of this issue, I don’t know if I can suffer through another issue of Land-drawn issue of Uncanny X-Men.
It's really hard to write about the current Punisher arc without devolving into a state of enthused gibberish. If the world acted according to reason (which it thankfully does not), this arc would be falling as flat as the Punisher's short-lived tenure as a Demon Slayer. Instead, it has given the series a much-needed breath of revitalized the buzz. I can't help but feel that this story got the green light as a result of the Heroic Age. While the rest of the heroes are set to go bright n' shiny, Marvel's more tortured characters (Punisher and Ghost Rider in particular) are being pushed into darker, more imaginative territory, and I couldn't be happier. Sure, the stories are etched in shadows and violence, but they've taken out the boring, droll "grit" and replaced it with a colorful world of monsters and demons. Everything about this issue, from the bullet hole in the Punisher Skull on the front page to the inclusion of Dracula and Japanese nuclear monsters in Hellsgaard's origin story, filled me with the same joy I felt when I first saw The Monster Squad as a kid. By the time I got to the letters page, I didn't think my excitement could be any more ravenous...and then I saw the preview for next month's cover. Two words: Undead Nazis. To be honest, I haven't enjoyed a Marvel title this much since the short-lived Captain Britain and MI-13 (R.I.P.)
Doctor Voodoo: Avenger of the Supernatural #5:
This, like Punisher, is another one of those occult-leaning supernatural series that should not be as good as it is. Or was (apparently this is the last issue of the series). Between Punisher, F.E.A.R. agent, and the Last Days of American Crime, Remender is quickly establishing himself as one of the best writers of science fiction/supernatural comics. Which is why its such a shame that this will probably be the last issue of Doctor Voodoo. Worry not though; teasers for Secret Avengers have featured a shadowy figure in a long-flowing cape, and there's fairly good odds that Doc Voodoo will make the team. In any case, this issue sees the Doctor Voodoo and Doctor Doom making their final stand against an apocalypse of reality brought on by Nightmare. Like the rest of this series, everything about this book clicked. Latveria as the last bastion of reality? Show me where to sign up.