Secret Empire #2
The underground attempts to regroup after the attack on Las Vegas, but a rift in the group threatens to tear it apart. Meanwhile, the heroes trapped in Darkforce New York do their best to keep the city alive.
This is probably the most enjoyable issue of Secret Empire yet, if only because Steve is in it the least. Instead, we finally get heroes acting like heroes, or trying to given their circumstances. Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and other heroes do their best to protect New York from the demons that surround it while also working to prevent valuable limited resources from falling into the hands of Wilson Fisk. And in the Underground, Black Widow and Hawkeye argue over whether or not killing Captain America is on the table, and the possibility of any other way to victory.
Again, if you were to just forget all the bullshit and bending over backwards Nick Spencer did making Cap fascist but not really, then this is an incredible book. It’s a book that, for one, asks a better question than either of the Civil Wars: When is it appropriate for people to use lethal violence to save themselves if there might be another way?
Widow believes that ending Cap sooner prevents the most casualties, even if the heroes lose moral high ground; while Hawkeye sticks to what he believes the real Captain America would want. And more interesting is what side the younger generation of heroes takes.
There’s also a hope spot at the very end of the issue, a twist that, honestly comes out of nowhere, but maybe shows that Spencer isn’t entirely as boneheaded as he appeared to be a couple weeks ago. Emphasis on “entirely.” There’s still a question of if what he’s planning does enough to erase the year of negativity this story has already caused, which is doubtful.
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #20
Seemingly outmanned (out-animaled?) and outplanned, Squirrel Girl and her friends have to prevent Melissa from taking New York hostage and blaming it all on her.
Predictably, for this series, she manages to do so using a combination of teamwork, squirrels, and mechanical engineering. Honestly, it’s not the best ending to an arc of Squirrel Girl, with most of the yuks coming from a gag involving a bear in a Doctor Doom costume near the beginning of the issue. Still, as thoroughly enjoyable as this series has ever been.
The Flash #22
Flash and Batman chase Thawn through the timestream as he races towards the creator of the button. And as the cosmic treadmill begins to crumble under the strain of the chase, a mysterious voice calls out to Barry offering to pull them out.
Like Flash #21, this issue seems to do a lot more world-building than anything else, a lot more setting up for the coming Watchmen/DC Universe crossover. But, as predicted, that everyone knew this would somehow end with Doctor Manhattan’s reveal means that when this issue does end with a bright blue hand picking up the bloodstained smiley button, it doesn’t have the same impact.
The return of another character also doesn’t really have as much impact as it maybe should, because they pretty much phase out of existence right after they come in, and none of the other characters recognize them, so it all amounts to little more than a cameo.
Tom King writes a damn great comic.
A man is shot twice in the head on his 84th floor apartment building by someone who came in through the window. That man was Swamp Thing’s father, and now Swamp Thing wants Batman to help him find the murderer.
King writes a simple one-shot detective story, and infuses it with so much character and humor that the sudden ending will break your heart and make you want more. King and Gerads squeeze so much out of Swamp Thing’s very presence in the story, from Commissioner Gordon’s surprise at meeting him at the crime scene, to Alfred’s cleaning up after him in Wayne Manor. There’s also an incredibly inventive and fun sequence where, Bruce is drinking tea while listening to Swamp Thing explain his perspective on the life-death cycle, and Swamp thing grows his own cup while talking. It’s just a small magical moment.
Also, Kite Man makes a cameo, and I don’t know why King likes using him so much, but I hope he never stops.
And for as magical and fun as the majority of this issue is, King ends it on a heartbreaker that ties together this case with Batman’s own experience with parental murder and an idea of closure that King offers neither Batman nor Swamp Thing.
Why can’t all superhero books be this good all the time?
When Lois confronts Cobb, Superman hears her in danger and zooms to her rescue, but before they can get to the bottom of Cobb, Hamilton is attacked by giant monsters; and what Superman finds in town will change everything he’s thought about his new home. Meanwhile, Jon is forced to watch the chaos from a locked room as his kidnapper taunts Superman’s inability to fix everything.
So, right off the bat I have to dock points because this issue fridges Lois. Not, entirely – she’s still alive, thank goodness – but she is terribly injured for no reason other than to add stakes to Superman’s story here. It’s not a good look.
Other than that, this issue follows series tradition of ramping up the weird. Influential residents of Hamilton reveal themselves to be aliens or severely mutated metahumans who assemble under the banner of the Super Elite, and don’t care nearly as much as Superman does about killing the giant monsters rampaging through Hamilton (hint hint). And this chapter ends with a reveal that brings back a memorable recent(ish) Superman villain with an updated plan that fits his character so so good.
Green Arrow #23
Team Arrow splits up to try to get a handle on the Horsemen. Canary goes to the library to investigate the history of the Queen family and their connection to the 9th Circle, Emi goes to the water treatment plant to stop Cheshire from poisoning the water supply, and Oliver goes to HQ to look for Henry.
While Canary and Emi make progress on their missions, with help from Victoria and Red Arrow, respectively; Oliver returns to HQ to find Henry missing – presumed dead – and himself surrounded by Eddie and a bunch of flame-thrower wielding goons. And while all this is happening, the criminal masterminds continue cutting into Seattle, moving onto their most striking act of terrorism yet.
The end of this issue is punch to the gut. Just as the heroes manage to scrape together half a win between them, Broderick and the 9th Circle drop a building on them and look to crush the soul of Seattle with one decisive action. Last issue I wrote about how this series deftly tackled what it feels like to live in a city after a terrorist attack, and this issue continues that trend, revealing that as hard as it is to regain a sense of progress, and as low as you may have to drag yourself to feel better, it’s just as easy for everything to feel like it’s crumbling away from you again.
Also, I say something to this effect every issue he draws, but I want Ferreyra on basically every DC book right now. His art is jaw dropping.
The Wild Storm #4
This series continues to feel like a television show that you always want to be just five minutes longer, every chapter showing you just enough to want a little bit more.
The issue begins with Cole and his CAT failing to retrieve Spica and taking out IO’s Razors in the process, with everything else unwinding from there. Adri goes on her own to retrieve Spicia the “correct way,” while Miles tells his boyfriend about his terrible day at work seeing his men get killed, and why it’s super-duper important that he finds Spica before anyone else. And them we get our first extended scene with Henry Bendix, whose getting caught up to speed on the recent events.
Bendix is the show-stealer this issue, with the scene right before his actually introducing him in a way. And it feels like Ellis was saving all of this issue’s best lines for him, making him an instantly likable grumpy old man – the type of character who you’d love to see played by JK Simmons. More than any other character so far, he speaks like a Warren Ellis character, insult after zinger after insult, all dripping in sarcasm. You forget the book doesn’t end with Bendix’s scene, because the couple pages that come after it just don’t have the force of character enough to leave an impression after Bendix.
The Wicked + The Divine 455AD
History remembers 455AD as the year that the Vandals sacked Rome, but WicDiv remembers it differently.
The approaching Vandal army is obliterated by this cycle’s Lucifer, a former gutter actor who, nearing the end of his life, wishes to become the new Caesar and make Rome great again. Being that he is the last God left alive this cycle, Ananke warns him that he doesn’t have much time left, but he disagrees. He is wrong.
This isn’t an amazing stand-alone issue, as someone with no familiarity with WicDiv would have very little idea what’s going on; but, as a reader of the series, I felt distracted by what this issue reveals about how the cycle of the gods’ reincarnation works, and thus the rest of this issue’s story – an alternate history where, instead of invading Vandals, it was a quickly deteriorating God-Emperor that sacked Rome – felt more like background.
Still, as just a quick anthropological look at the WicDiv world, it’s successful enough – in that, I wish there were just a little bit more of this story to spread around.