Amazing Spiderman Annual #39 - 9/10
Writer Brian Reed has put good use of Spider-Man's current position in the Marvel Universe into play with this Annual. Shunting the webhead out of time during a experiment in Horizon Labs with the all-too-innocent chubby scientist Grady, we catch a glimpse of what the world might look like without Spider-Man. Penciler Lee Garbett does a solid job in all respects, giving a friendly tone to a world that seems in some ways better off (Norman Osborne cures cancer, Mary Jane Watson is a superstar) and in others quite ordinary (Spider-Woman and the Avengers seem much the same). What makes this issue stand out more than anything is the temporary return of Uncle Ben, who Peter Parker couldn't help but visit. If you want to pick up just one Spider-Man comic this year, this would be the one. It's clutter-free despite the chronal catastrophe at the outset, and it fleshes out characters without attempting to go overboard. Nearly perfect in execution, and so far as "the new status quo" goes, well-placed in continuity, and Reed has clearly done his homework regarding key points along the Spider-Man timeline, played up throughout.
Animal Man Annual 1 - 9/10
Ongoing series writer Jeff Lemire has been running with the same "Animal Man's family on the run from the Rot" story for nearly a year, and this Annual, the first for Animal Man's new series, fits into that, hinting at the upcoming team-up with Alec Holland, Swamp Thing and last knight of the Green. The story stands on its own, in a fashion, being in great part a flashback to a team up between warriors of the Green and the Red to stave off The Rot. This Annual features glorious art by Timothy Green, whose alternation between sparsity and complexity of line-work suit the story quite well. The mythology brewing in the "Vertigo import" titles of the New DCU, Swamp Thing and Animal Man, has been venturing into interesting new places, breaking ground for newer and older generations of readers to enjoy. So far as intrigue goes, it has come to a point where the final battle or battles will have to match or exceed the build-up, as lengthy and pleasantly meandering as it has been. This issue, a pause of reflection, in some respects, compounds that feeling. Still gloriously done. Leaves the future for these characters wide open in terms of potential development.
BATMAN Annual #1 - 8/10
Mister Freeze has not warranted a decent reappraisal since Schwarzenegger turned him into a joke so many years ago. This Batman Annual, however, written by Scott Snyder and James T Tynion IV with impressive art by Jason Fabok, pulls us into the character with an ease that some might not expect. Tying into the "Night of the Owls" storyline wrapping up all the Batman related titles at the moment, Mr. Freeze breaks out of Arkham in a somewhat novel fashion, goes on a brutal rampage up to and including the semi-legitimate Penguin's casino (to get his freeze guns) and returns to his object of obsession, his precious Nora. In previous continuity, this was rather straightforwardly (read: dully) played out as his wife. There is now a twist, potentially coupled with details of his family background, that gives the demented tragedy of Mr. Freeze a deeper resonance than was previously thought possible. At the end of the day, of course, this can only wrap up in a limited fashion, but the trip to the inevitable end has some good and even surprising moments along the way.
Star Trek The Next Generation/Doctor Who #1 - 9/10
Here we have a crossover that fans of both series should take a moment with, something quite unexpected but highly enjoyable. With storywork by Scott Tipton, David Tipton, and Tony Lee, the cross-over starts out in the Star Trek Universe (are we to assume both universes are one and the same? If so, would Q and the Doctor have an interesting interaction or what? Perhaps later issues will clarify this.) where the Cybermen have teamed up with the Borg and are laying siege to planets, Starfleet seeming helpless to stop them. We're carried to the Doctor's universe (with Rory and Amy) where they are just wrapping up a lovely set-to with ancient Egyptians and alien scum in disguise. J.K. Woodward's arts and colors have a clean yet almost ethereal quality to them, somehow fitting. We finish this issue in what is quite obviously the anachronistic setting of early twentieth century San Francisco a la Enterprise Holodeck. There were a hundred ways in which this story could go wrong, but it has a strong finish and looks to be well paced. Here's to the future, eh?
Supercrooks #3 - 8/10
These days, Mark Millar writes superhero stories that seem as punchy as a wide-screen cinematic experience. One-liners and dramatic fights play out amongst characters that could easily have celebrity sit-ins. The premise for this story, obvious from the get-go, is "Oceans Eleven starring supervillains" making that last big score to get their old mentor out of trouble with a casino owner. Since his work on Superior, also with Millar, artist Lenil Yu seems determined to make his characters and settings as clean and crisp as is humanly possible, even when covered in muck and gore. This issue is the one in which the titular super criminals case the joint, in this case a villa for a retired super-villain known as The Bastard. From start to finish it's text-book longing for cinematic pick-up. With each page you can practically see Millarworld spin off emails to grubby producers, pitches lined with clips where some textured baddie is growling and chewing the scenery. Let's just never make another movie like WANTED. Please.
Wolverine #307 - 7.5/10
With story by Cullen Bunn and art by Paul Pelletier, this issue marks another chapter in an ongoing arc involving Wolverine tracking down Dr. Rot, a homicidal surgical villain lurking behind the scenes for nearly as long as Wolverine's interminably normal boring girlfriend. She's been looking for Wolverine with the Feds, who think Logan, James, whatever, has been going on a rampage. Well, this issue, we get to meet Dr. Rot's "extended family" (Wolvie mercy-killed the dad and disemboweled a "cousin" last issue)... who are supposed to pack the same punch as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre family, perhaps, but end up coming off ghoulishly unrealistic and flat. When these second-tier blood encrusted yahoos manage to one-up Wolverine, lobotomize, brainwash, and give him a tour of their facilities, the reader, if not already numb, can pull out of the muck long enough to predict the final page, wherein Wolverine's girlfriend and the Feds are closing in on the Rot compound, and Rot gives Wolverine orders to kill them. Let's predict next issue. Wolverine doesn't kill his girlfriend. He doesn't even manage to kill any of the Rot family. Somehow these people, grossly brutal villains that he has let off the hook before, will be let off the hook again. Then the next level of status quo will be eminently achieved when Wolverine's dull awful ethnically confusing girlfriend tells him he's not an animal, or something to that effect. Dialogue's decent enough and some instances of old tropes replayed are even novel, but ultimately this gruesome tale can only be re-examined in so many ways.