Waiting for the Trade – Thunderbolts

Waiting for the Trade

New Thunderbolts (vol
1): One Step Forward

written by Kurt Busiek
& Fabian Nicieza, art by Tom Grummett

collects New
Thunderbolts #1-6

 

Why I Bought This: I
generally enjoy the Thunderbolts and
this book features a team line-up I particularly enjoyed in another trade I
read so I figured I’d grab the start of that era.
 

The Plot: Mach IV
(Beetle) starts up a new team of Thunderbolts and they try to fill the void
left by the disbanding of the Avengers (in “Avengers: Disassembled”).

(spoilers below)

 

Chapter 1 – Beetle is released from prison and promises to
start a new T-Bolts team. Two months later he approaches Songbird about
rejoining; as she is semi-retired from heroics and going to college since the prior
version of this team disbanded.  Also the
romantic relationship between these two is on the rocks since then. Abe claims
he met some white collar inmates during his prison stay and got them to agree
to finance the new team. Songbird checks out the new headquarters where Atlas
is working as mechanic since losing his powers in the last series. He also
mentions that he and Dallas broke up since that series ended. They also mourn
Hawkeye’s death in “Avengers’ Disassembled.” We meet a new recruit: Blizzard
v2.0 (an Iron Man villain whose costume gives him powers similar to Ice Man.)
The chit chat is interrupted by an emergency alert when Fathom Five attack NYC.
They are apparently a bunch of Namor villains—the only one I recognize is their
leader Llyron, who is Namor’s illegitimate son via Llyra and who usurped the
Atlantean throne in the 90s in perhaps the best Namor story I’ve ever read.
Anyway they fight with Blizzard feeling a bit overwhelmed when he has to take
on a sea monster. Captain Marvel v3.0 (a.k.a. Legacy, the original’s son) arrives
to lend a hand (and hit on Songbird). Legacy wins the fight but when he refuses
to follow orders Atlas becomes enraged causing his powers to return. He then
pummels Legacy and throws him into the ocean unseen by his teammates. Atlas
claims the escaping Atlanteans KO’d and kidnapped Legacy while withholding that
his powers are back. In the cliffhanger we learn Abe’s financial backer is
Baron Strucker (founder of Hydra).

Chapter 2 – We join a battle between the T-Bolts and the
Wrecking Crew in progress. The T-Bolts are doing fine when Speed Demon arrives
and finishes off Wrecker for them. He then asks to join, having worked with
Beetle in the Sinister Syndicate. We learn a little about the dynamic between
Beetle and Strucker. We see that Purple Man has the Thunderbolts under
surveillance and that he saw Atlas kill Legacy. Cut to the UN where Namor is
disavowing the actions of Fathom Five. The T-Bolts arrive and demand Namor help
them track down the villains. Before that can proceed they are interrupted by
an attack by the Great Game (obscure post-Clone Saga Scarlet Spider villains
who treat life like a videogame). Namor, the T-Bolts and Mr. Fantastic unite to
fight the villains and win with relative ease; however, the villains’ (unseen) boss
activates the self destructs in the armors of the unconscious Gamers. With time
running out Joystick (the only Gamer still awake as she was captured in one of
Snowbird’s sonic constructs) agrees to help Reed deactivate the bombs if the
T-Bolts will take her in. Even with her help the bomb explodes. 

Chapter 3 – Songbird’s force field saved the heroes inside
the building but now it is collapsing. Atlas grows to hold it up, while
Blizzard and Speed Demon work on putting out a fire inside. Beetle, Spider-man
and Code Blue arrive and help civilians on the outside from falling debris.
Reed discovers the explosion had radiation in it. Things are getting dire as
Songbird is losing her voice, Atlas is growing taller than is safe and the
radiation is shorting out his ionic powers, Blizzard’s armor is leaking Freon
and Mach-IV’s armor is damaged by a chunk of building. Abe calls Strucker and
gets him to send Radioactive Man to the scene to drain the radiation. This
gives the heroes inside time to have Joystick and Reed clear a path to the
outside that everyone else can escape through. Damage Control stabilizes the
building and in the aftermath various Thunderbolts go the hospital having
earned the respect of the veteran heroes present. In the epilogue Strucker
begins to wonder if the T-Bolts could actually threaten his plans when he is
ambushed by a new Swordsman (v4.0 I think) who stabs Strucker through the
chest.

Chapter 4 – Wolverine has been brainwashed by Hydra, who are
apparently having a civil war. The faction controlling Wolvie have sent him to
Strucker’s HQ to kill the Baron. Strucker meanwhile removes the sword from his
chest. They then have a sword fight which Swordsman is winning but Strucker can
take the blows (as he obviously has some healing/immorality thing going on I
was unaware he possessed). Swordsman plans to decapitate Strucker figuring that
will get the job done but then Strucker reveals his blood contains a “death
spore” virus that could kill all of NYC if it was released into the air. Just
then Wolverine arrives. Meanwhile, the T-Bolts enjoy some downtime after last
issue. Speed Demon, Joystick & Blizzard want to go party but Abe nixes that
because they have outstanding warrants. Atlas visits Songbird in the hospital. Some
fishermen find a glowing pod with a man in it off the coast of NJ. Back to the action, Swordsman
engages Wolverine and uses an electric sword to stun him. Wolvie shakes it off
and reveals he doesn’t care if killing Strucker also kills NYC. We see Purple
Man is watching the fight. Strucker steps in and uses his cyborg hand to defeat
Wolvie. He then throws him off the building but Swordsman makes the save with a
web-line from his sword. Wolvie recovers and recognizes Swordsman’s scent (but
we are not told his identity). Whoever Swordsman is Wolverine ‘has never liked
him’ but the two part ways without further combat. We learn Swordsman works for
Purple Man. Back at T-Bolt HQ Speed Demon’s trio go to a strip club after Abe
is called to meet his parole officer, who happens to be Carol Danvers. He tries
to get her to clear the criminals on his team for membership when Fathom Five’s
sea serpent attacks the Brooklyn
Bridge.

Chapter 5 – Carol (Ms Marvel/Warbird) engages Fathom Five
while Abe calls his team to respond. He only gets in touch with Atlas and
Radioactive Man. Fathom Five defeat Warbird but Atlas arrives to fight the
monster. He’s doing okay until the other villains take out his legs. Abe
decides he has to help even without his armor but that goes poorly for him.
Fortunately Speed Demon arrives to make the save then in a funny bit races back
to the strip club before anyone sees he was there to help. Atlas is raging out
of control again and kills the Sea Monster. A package arrives for Abe but
before he can open it Llyron corners him. This time Radioactive Man arrives in
the nick of time to make the save. Abe dons his old Beetle armor and joins the
battle. Just as the Thunderbolts are mopping that crisis up Hydra makes an
attack on the city.   

Chapter 6 – Hydra has its own version of the Hellicarrier
and dozens of plane sized UFOs for the attack. Atlas takes the lead while
Radioactive Man wakes up Carol. Beetle radio’s Strucker, who reveals he only
funded the T-Bolts so there would be heroes to oppose him as he wants to
instill maximum terror when he destroys NYC and he felt it would be more
effective if a group superheroes failed to stop the attack for all the world to
see; with the Avengers disbanded he decided to create the Thunderbolts figuring
they would never be able to stop his plans. He further reveals he was the one
who set the Wrecking Crew and Great Game on them just so he could see them in
action to be prepared for this final battle while also increasing the public’s
faith in the T-Bolts by having them save the UN. We get a quick montage of
other heroes like the New Warriors, Power Pack, Spider-man and Captain America
joining the fight against the rank and file Hydra across the city; while the
Thunderbolts unite (including the three members from the strip club) to take on
the Hydra-carrier. Also during the montage the glowing pod from chapter 4
hatches and the occupant heads to the battle. Atlas and Joystick bring down the
Hydra-carrier so Strucker detonates a nuclear bomb. Radioactive Man absorbs it
but the effort KOs him. Strucker has 14 more
nukes set to detonate simultaneously. Speed Demon and Blizzard are dispatched
to freeze them all but only get to 13 of them before Blizzard’s suit runs out
of Freon. The last nuke detonates just as Legacy returns and he absorbs the
energy, then announces his new codename is Photon as the City unites behind the
Thunderbolts as their new heroes.

 

Critical Thoughts:
I love this book. This is everything I want a comic book to be. I particularly
enjoy the peripherals and how it’s written but let’s talk about the core of the
book first.

The team itself is a really good collection of characters.
Beetle has never been written better as he steps into the leadership role here.
Songbird and Atlas are mainstays of the T-Bolts and remain as interesting as
ever, particularly the new subplot of Atlas’s powers increasing while making him
more irrational. I really like the character of Legacy and have since his first
appearance (plus I’ve been working my way through his original series by Peter
David and it’s a lot of fun too) so he’s a welcome addition to the team; which
is something I would say of all the new members. Speed Demon, Joystick and
Blizzard all bring a new dynamic to the team, needed as the original version
had become a little too run of the mill near the end. This returns some of the
tension of who really wants to reform and who doesn’t. Ditto Radioactive Man,
as I think this was the first time the idea that he is a hero in China and only considered a villain in the U.S.
was introduced. Right off the bat this is a book that has clear voice of who
and what it is about.

Aside from that I love the way it uses the larger Marvel
Universe to enhance the story it tells. I like that we see all these other
heroes and not just big names like Spidey and Wolverine who help sell books,
but quick throw-away panels of Power Pack or Code Blue just to show that the
Marvel Universe is filled with heroes who would respond to a major catastrophe.
I like the villains they chose and more to the point how they were presented.
Marvel has hundreds of villains, we don’t need to see the same 30 or so as the
only major threats and everyone else defeated as an off-panel joke. Namor and
Scarlet Spider don’t have books anymore fine, but their villains can still show
up to cause trouble once in awhile. I’d add the T-Bolts having trouble against
these minor characters proved very effective to show the new team still
learning how to work together. I like the continuity shout outs from the 80s
like Namor hating Atlas because of what he did to Hercules in the Masters of
Evil or Speed Demon and Beetle acknowledging they were on short-lived team
together. I like the subplots involving future threats–something that is often
lost in this writing for the trade era—Purple Man is in the background spying
and making plans in this trade and we don’t know what they are yet; and I’m
okay with that. Comics used to do this all the time setting up future threats
for a page or two while the hero dealt with the current crisis of the month.
It’s nice to see some good old-fashioned comic book stories in a new millennium
book.

A quick note the art: it was very good all around in both
action scenes and panel layouts. Everything flows really well. There’s a lot of
tension in the UN building collapsing chapter and in the final battle Hydra
thanks to the art. The visuals of Atlas and the scale of his expanding powers
were also conveyed quite impressively . 
So kudos to Tom Grummett.

 

Grade A. I loved
this and I have every intention of tracking down all the other trades from this
title.

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

 
Avengers/Thunderbolts
vol. 2: Best Intentions

By Kurt Busiek, Fabian
Nicieza and illustrated by Barry Kitson and Tom Grummett.

Collects
Avengers/Thunderbolts #1-6

 
Why I Bought This: Having
finished Busiek’s legendary Avengers
run I discovered this existed and it was like having a bonus Christmas since it
meant more Busiek Avengers. (And I
enjoy the Thunderbolts too on
occasion).

 
The Plot – The
Thunderbolts begin taking a proactive stance on international crime under Zemo’s
leadership and announce they have a plan to save the world. However based on
his past with Zemo, Captain America
does not trust them.

(spoilers below)

 
Chapter 1 – Zemo & Moonstone force some fictional nation
to capitulate to their demands to shut down their reactor program and then take
their results very public. Hawkeye used to lead the Thunderbolts and feels
proud of them but Cap has the opposite reaction given their tactics and Zemo’s
leadership. We see some of the heroic rank and file Thunderbolts like Songbird,
Atlas and Vantage also have doubts about Zemo but Songbird agues it is better
to have him where they can keep an eye on him then letting him go about
unsupervised. Their conversation is overheard by Plant Man. Also
Moonstone has undergone a power upgrade lately which is making her act weird
and distant. She is however working with Zemo, Fixer and Plant Man on a
mysterious plan entitled Project Liberator. The air force of the fake country
attacks T-Bolt HQ but Moonstone dispatches them in a single panel and then in
retaliation Zemo leaks various personal scandals about that nation’s leaders to
the press. Meanwhile Cap visits the former Thunderbolt Beetle/Mach One in
prison to see if he knows what Zemo is up to. Jenkins does and tells Cap, the
Avengers are going to have to stop the Thunderbolts.

Chapter 2 – The Avengers are losing a fight with Cobalt Man
(primarily because if they hurt him he may go nuclear) when the Thunderbolts
arrive to save the day as Fixer drains the excess radiation off of him. They
then teleport away taking Cobalt Man with them. Hawkeye is suspicious that Iron
Man couldn’t invent the same device Fixer did, and his suspicions prove true when
he learns the Iron Man armor in the battle was run on remote control and Tony is
in the Cobalt Man armor and now working with the Thunderbolts undercover.

Chapter 3 – The Thunderbolts raid the Wizard’s home but not
to arrest him just to get some parts for the machine in their big plan. Hawkeye
is conflicted but decides to keep quiet on Stark infiltrating the T-Bolts.
Meanwhile the T-Bolts take over some old satellites. Moonstone is suspicious of
Cobalt Man and talks to the real Cobalt Man’s family to see if he contacted
them since coming back from the dead. Vision based on info Stark if feeding him
realizes the T-Bolts plan to drain all superhuman energy off Earth and Vision
finds a hidden protocol in the T-Bolts computer code that will store and
channel the power, which even Hawkeye concedes feels like Zemo is up to his old
tricks. The T-Bolts are ready to activate their machine when Tony intervenes,
but not to stop them permanently but because they are using stolen Stark
software and Tony realizes the outdated version will fry the satellites when
used in conjunction with the other tech. This confuses Moonstone who was sure
he was an imposter and yet now he just salvaged the plan. The Avengers are enroot
as Zemo fires up the device and it has bad effects on the Pyms, Vision and
Wanda.

Chapter 4 – Reed (of the FF) tells us the T-Bolts are
draining all nuclear, microwave, gamma and tachyon energy sources as well
including the nuclear armaments of all nations. We learn the Thunderbolts
themselves are inoculated from this power drain and their device is safely
storing the drained power. The Avengers quinjet from last issue is falling from
the sky but Songbird and Atlas catch them. Zemo is about hack into television
and address the world when Cap barges in and tells him he is under arrest.
Songbird uses a sound wall to stop Cap and Zemo from fighting. Cap tells Zemo
he can’t impose peace on the world and indeed we see various governments
mobilizing their militaries. Zemo decides to turn the stored energy over to the
Avengers to prove his motives are sincere but there is no energy in the machine
to the bafflement of both sides leading to the obligatory fight scene. Fixer
and Stark (as Cobalt Man) investigate the machine in the midst of the battle
and discover a hidden Kree code in the programming that redirects the stolen
energy thus it is not Zemo but Moonstone with the hidden agenda. Once revealed
she has a seizure but then rises up more powerful than ever. She says she only
put that code there in case Zemo tried to double cross the world but when Cap’s
shield hit the machine during the melee it caused it to activate on its own.
Now however the power being fed into her is making her go all paranoid and when
she unmasks Stark that pushes her further over the edge especially since she
assumes Hawkeye—who besides being a former team leader of the T-Bolts was
Moonstone’s ex-lover—went along with the plan to spy on the T-Bolts. And then
she uses the stolen energy to unleash a massive explosion.

Chapter 5 – The short recap is everyone fights Moonstone for
the entire issue, but if you want the play by play read on. When the smoke
clears we see only the Avengers are down. Vantage and Hawkeye try to talk her
down, while Zemo’s talk may or may not be helping. Moonstone decides she will
teleport everyone into another dimension but Plant Man stops her by literally
rooting the room to the spot. Moonstone pummels him severely for that which
forces Songbird to try and take her on. Songbird is about to win when Zemo
tackles her. Moonstone is pissed so the Avengers regroup and attack her to no
avail. Vantage joins in the assault and Moonstone breaks most of her bones in
response. This causes Atlas to grow to maximum size and he too seems like he is
about to win this fight until Hawkeye interferes with a Pym Particle arrow to
forcibly shrink him. Tony switches to his Iron Man armor as Karla decides she
wants to kill Zemo. Cap makes the save and then when Moonstone tries to kill
Cap, Zemo reciprocates although since he does not have a shield he ends up
burned and disfigured for his trouble. And then former Thunderbolt Jolt arrives
(a teen hero in the team’s early days, and the only member who was never a
villain) who Moonstone feels motherly towards. This gives Moonstone pause but
as Jolt assesses the situation she power up some gizmo Tony and Fixer built and
this rips the stolen energy out of Moonstone. Of course she still has her own
double power level. The gizmo can drain that from her too but they way her powers
work may end up lobotomizing her. Hawkeye weighs the consequences and fires an
arrow as we hit the cliffhanger.

Chapter 6 – Hawkeye’s arrow destroys the gizmo and he asks
everyone to let him talk to Karla without interference. Vision attacks anyway
and Hawkeye takes him down revealing he has an arrow for every member of both
teams. Wanda tries her powers and they interact weirdly with Moonstone causing
a dimensional rift that threatens to destroy the world. Fixer has a device that
could disrupt her intangibility power and with everything getting worse this
time Hawkeye uses it on her causing her to phase but not her stones and Vision
phases and grabs them out of her. The stress takes down Vision and Zemo capitalizes
to steal the stones. He curses Cap and Hawkeye for how this turned out and
teleports away. Hawkeye checks on Karla and she is lobotomized. In the epilogue
the Thunderbolts disband and we see where they end up (Songbird even refuses
Avengers membership). Then Jenkins gets released from prison and decides he is
going to start a new Thunderbolts team. And in the end we see Zemo plotting
with his new power.
Critical Thoughts: It’s
nowhere near the level of Busiek’s Avengers
run but it is still a perfectly enjoyable comic book on its own merits. As
always Busiek’s characterizations for both these teams is strong and if you
like fight scenes the last chapters are basically one extended fight (and for
once Wanda doesn’t just waive her hands and solve everything either).

Hawkeye is the real star of this book as he has to choose
between his loyalty to both teams and Busiek rights his motivations leading up
the climax really well. Hawkeye is one of my favorite Avengers and this is a
strong outing for him. The Hawkeye has an arrow specially designed to take out
each teammate feels a bit too much like Batman but I can’t say completely out
of character. In the West Coast Avengers it
was shown he does carry arrows specifically for longtime recurring foes like
Ultron so it’s not a total stretch he could have them for his teammates
particularly in this situation when he knew he was likely to choose a side and
fight one of the teams eventually.

The Thunderbolts also really shine hear with the differences
between those who have completely reformed and those who can never be fully
trusted. In many ways this is more of a Thunderbolts story than an Avengers
one, which is fine because you can do more with their characters than the core
Avengers who generally have their status quo at this point. I think the trade
is very successful in generating interest in the T-Bolts, as after reading this
book I purchased the New Thunderbolts trade
that the epilogue sets up.

That is not to say the Avengers get the short shrift. The
Cap-Zemo dynamic feels spot on and it leads to a rare Cap admits his judgment
may be compromised and considering what Zemo put Cap through in “Under Seige” it
is perfectly acceptable that Cap would be unwilling to give Zemo the benefit of
the doubt. I also liked Iron Man’s doubts once he is undercover with the
Thunderbolts on whether or not to let them proceed with their plan to remake
the world, as we would see in Civil War
Tony is the rare hero who believes it is okay for superheroes to institute
large scale social changes, so some ways this is a precursor to Tony’s
“futurist” persona that has become his dominant character trait for the past
decade.
Grade B

Waiting for the Trade: Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

 
Avengers Assemble
vol. 4

By Kurt Busiek, Gerry
Ordway, Steve Epting and Alan Davis

collects Avengers
#35-40, Avengers 2000, Avengers 2001, Avengers: The Ultron

Imperative,
Maximum Security #1-3 and Maximum Security: Dangerous Planet.

 

Why I Bought This: Because
I was reading my way through the entire Busiek run in trade the last couple
years (I finished this one last year and just finished volume five earlier this
year). I would assume this is the least read of the Busiek trades as people
curious about him are likely to buy the first trade, while his three most
famous stories are the Ultron story in volume 2, the Kang epic in volume 5 and
the Avengers Forever miniseries; leaving volumes 3 and 4 a little less well known—and
volume 3 still has all time great Avengers artist George Perez on pencils
leaving this trade as likely the least read of the six so let’s delve into it and see what’s there.

 

The Plot: Again
this is a series of sequential issues rather than one plot as Marvel collects the
entire Busiek run in trades. This one sees the Avengers deal with an alien
invasion, Diablo, Blood Wraith and Ultron among others.

 Quick footnote I am reviewing the hardcover version released
in the early 2000s, the soft cover version released around the time of the
movie has a slightly different issue list as the Hellcat story is moved into an
earlier volume in the soft covers.

With that out of the way, spoilers below.

 

 
Chapter 1 – Professor X has been leading a group of mutant
Skrulls in a fight for equal rights on the Skrull throne world. This causes the
Skrulls to go the Galactic Council and demand something be done to stop Earth
from intervening in cosmic affairs. Among the standard galactic races is a new
race: the R’uul, who have been making friends with several other empires. The
council learns that Ego the Living Planet has destroyed the planet Krylor. A
rescue effort by the council is ineffective but then Silver Surfer arrives to drive
Ego off temporarily. Meanwhile the council debates the past acts of Earth’s
superheroes in cosmic conflicts. When Ego attacks the Shi’ar, Prof. X leads the
Cadre K Skrulls against him Together Prof. X and the Surfer win the day but the
raw power Prof X displays turns most of the Council against Earth and they vote
to take action against the planet.

Chapter 2 – US
Agent has a new costume and is back working for the federal government’s
Commission on Super Human Affairs. The government is tracking a pattern of
incursions by unrelated alien threats. Eventually Captain Reptyl reveals the
Intergalactic Council has designated Earth a prison planet and is sending
cosmic criminals there with the idea being the steady influx of undesirables
will keep the superheroes so busy they will stop interfering in cosmic affairs.
The Avengers go into space to investigate and meet up with Ronan the Accuser.
He teleports them back to Earth after informing them his job is to prevent
anyone from leaving the planet. Things get worse when the Avengers learn Ego is
one of the refugees, and his biomass if left unchecked will consume the Earth
as he reconstitutes himself.

Chapter 3 – Iron Man and the Fantastic Four are failing to
contain Ego by science. Wasp contacts the Cosmic Avengers team already
stationed in deep space (whose members include Quasar, Thor, Starfox,
Moondragon, Tigra and Captain Marvel v2.0—Monica Rambeau, currently Spectrum).
The Council manages to arrest Professor X and Cadre K. U.S. Agent discovers the
R’uul are actually the Kree in disguise.

 Chapter 4 – the Cosmic Avengers (now including Jack of
Hearts among their members) get an audience with the Shi’ar Empress Lilandra,
who stands by the Council’s ruling. The Cosmic team is subsequently ambushed by
the R’uul and defeated with gas. They are taken to the Supreme Intelligence and
he monologues his plot to them. Meanwhile the U.S. Government puts U.S. Agent
in charge of the Avengers for this mission.

 Chapter 5 – Earth’s superheroes beam aboard the R’uul ship.
The Cosmic Avengers escape. Earth’s mystics try to stop Ego but fail. The
Cosmic Avengers find Lilandra and tell her the truth about the R’uul and that
Ego is going to destroy the Earth, which was not part of the Galactic Council’s
verdict against the planet. The Atomic Knights science guys (Reed, Tony &
Bruce) are up and temporarily halt Ego. Then Ronan shows up having absorbed
some of Ego’s power and becomes a giant. The Earth heroes and Cosmic Avengers
join up and take the fight to Ronan. Surfer tries to absorb Ego into his body
but fails. Quasar steps in and succeeds. Ronan takes down the FF and the Hulk
before being attacked by U.S. Agent. Agent takes a severe beating but refuses
to stay down. Once Quasar draws the Ego-power out of Ronan, Agent puts him down
with a punch. Quasar exiles himself from Earth in the aftermath lest Ego ever
escape, while Lilandra gets the Council to reverse its earlier ruling.

 Chapter 6 – The Avengers mop up some leftover
extraterrestrial exiles. We got some quiet moments before the mansion is
attacked by Lord Templar and Pagan (a pair of Busiek originals who’ve been
recurring since volume 2). In the chaos Hank is replaced by his Yellow Jacket
duplicate (leftover from the Kulan Gath story in volume 3). The Avengers are
barely holding their own when a call comes in from Cap seeking help in Slorenia
as Blood Wraith (a Black Knight villain) has resurfaced. Wasp sends Captain
Marvel 2.0, Iron Man, Wonder Man and Scarlet Witch to Slorenia leaving her with
Vision, Warbird, Triathlon and Jack of Hearts. Monica arrives at Slorenia at
light speed where she sees Blood Wraith has grown to the size of a mountain.

 Chapter 7 – Iron Man’s science fails against Blood Wraith’s
magic. Wraith’s magic sword is able to hurt both C.M. and Wonder Man.
We learn that his sword, which can absorb souls, was drawn to Slorenia and has
absorbed the souls of all of Ultron’s victims (Ultron killed the most of the
population of the country in volume 2), which is why Blood Wraith is a giant
now. Back in NYC Templar pulls his cloning trick. The Avengers there are doing
okay until Pagan rejoins the battle. Hank then arrives with a plan. He has C.M.
fly at light speed back to the NYC team where together she and Jack of Hearts
use energy to defeat Pagan’s strength. Triathlon then singlehandedly defeats
all of Templar’s clones. The villains teleport away, while Triathlon is curious
how he did it when Templar has gone toe to toe with Thor—it’s implied Templar
threw the fight as part of the Triune’s plan to make the Avengers look bad but Triathlon
look good. Back in Slorenia with the other Avengers failing to stop Blood
Wraith, Scarlet Witch casts a desperate spell which binds him to the borders of
Slorenia and the Avengers have the UN vacate the entire country. In the
aftermath Cap is very unhappy with how that turned out and talks with Wasp
about restructuring the team.

 Chapter 8 – A mystery man casts a spell in Greece. The
Avengers shut down one of Taskmaster’s schools. We learn Cap has activated all
the reserves and is setting up multiple bases and using a computer to track all
the major villains in an effort make the team more proactive. Black Knight and
Firebird are monitoring Slorenia, Jack of Hearts is monitoring the Savage Land,
and Quasar, C.M. and Living Lightening are monitoring outer space. Vision and
Ms. Marvel go on a date. We see the town in Greece has been overrun by Hulks.

 Chapter 9 – Cap, Thor, Iron Man, Vision, Ms. Marvel, Hank,
Wasp, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are on site to deal with the Hulks. Hank
discovers if two Hulks collide the merge into one, so he encourages the team to
make a giant Hulk with the idea of once there is one Hulk he can shrink it to
bug-size and end the battle. Meanwhile Diablo arrives at Avengers Mansion
where only Silver Claw is on duty as we learn he created the Hulks to get the
team out of town. The Giant Hulk smashes Hank’s portable lab before he can
shrink him thus putting end to that plan.

 Chapter 10 – As the Avengers fight on Bruce Banner radios in
to offer to help and Quicksilver is sent to retrieve him. Back at the mansion
Jarvis radios for help as Silver Claw is severely overmatched but keeps
fighting on until Wonder Man and Triathlon arrive, and together they win. In
Slorenia Banner becomes the Hulk and with the help of Scarlet Witch is able to
disrupt Diablo’s spell. In the aftermath we see the Avengers are being watched
by Kang and the Scarlet Centurion.

Chapter 11 – Hellcat, having recently returned from the
dead, goes back to her hometown which she discovers has been remade into a
theme park. She further discovers most of the inhabitants have been replaced by
demons. She summons the Avengers to help. They arrive to discover the Sons of
Serpent and Salem’s
Seven are involved in trying to bring a snake god (probably Seth of Serpent
Crown fame) to Earth. The Avenger’s lose the fight but an old friend of Patsy’s
manages to disrupt the spell which teleports all the supernatural types away,
leaving the Sons of Serpent alone and they promptly surrender.

Chapter 12.1 – A bunch of gang members are killed by the
Vision only for Vision to be taken down by Grim Reaper. Cut to an ATM being
robbed in shadow by Scarlet Witch and Wonder Man. Cut to a construction site
where Pym and Wasp make an impending emergency even worse. We get speculation
that the Avengers have gone crazy only for the camera to reveal these are not
the Avengers at all but robotic duplicates.

Chapter 12.2 – The real Avengers learn what happened the
night before and convene to investigate. After comparing notes they remember
Ultron captured the six people spotted by witnesses (back in Volume 2) and made
copies of their brainwaves thus this must be his newest children. Vision
concludes they should go to the same lab where he was built by Ultron. The
Avengers arrive and are attacked by the doppelgangers. The real Grim Reaper
arrives to assist the Avengers (who were winning anyway) because he does not
like being imitated either. As the robo-Avengers die they reveal that Alkhema (Ultron’s
second bride built in the pages of West Coast Avengers, she was a prominent
character in the volume 2 Ultron epic) was the one who built them but she later
cast them out for being defective.

Chapter 12.3 – Hawkeye is called in to help find Alkhema
(since her brainwaves are based on his dead wife Mockingbird) while Jarvis
deduces she is in Greece.

Chapter 12.4 – The Avengers search in teams of two while
Hawkeye tries to come to terms with Mockingbird’s death.

Chapter 12.5 – The Avengers are attacked by an army of
robots based on the six Avengers copied earlier. The robots stop attacking when
they recognize the Vision and the Pyms and take the entire team to an
underground city of robots they’ve built.

 Chapter 12.6 –
Alkhema arrives and the robots turn on the Avengers and capture them. Hawkeye
is flung from the battle and revived by Grim Reaper. They make their move with
Hawkeye staring down Alkhema via a vibranium arrow so she pulls out
Mockingbird’s voice to screw with him. She then unveils a third generation of
robots that are more like the Vision (living synthezoids as opposed to robots)
and threatens to blow up Egypt.
Hawkeye is unable to kill what is left of his wife and Alkhema takes him down.

Chapter 12.7 – The third generation robots reveal they are
not loyal to Alkhema and in fact have rebuilt Ultron. Vision uses the confusion
to free the team and we get a big melee. Meanwhile Ultron and Alkhema are
fighting and Ultron wipes out the gen 2 robots. Hank tries a computer override
but Ultron is in the mainframe. Meanwhile Grim Reaper wants to use Hawkeye’s
arrow to kill Alkhema but Hawkeye stops him. Mockingbird’s personality surfaces
long enough to tell Hawkeye to shoot and he fires the arrow presumably killing
Alkhema. When she dies all the robots she built self destruct which causes a
cave-in that buries Ultron.

Chapter 12.8 – The Avengers are forlorn about their victory
and fly off. From the wreckage a synthezoid child emerges carrying Ultron’s
head and calls itself Antigone.

Chapter 13-ish (a backup story from the 2001 annual) Jarvis
answers emails about continuity that Busiek wants to resolve (many are from the
terrible “The Crossing” storyline that preceded the “Heroes Reborn” era though
there also some basics about Cap’s shield and Falcon’s powers as well).

 

Critical Thoughts: Overall
another stand out effort from Busiek. What I really like about Busiek’s run is
the way he used every Avenger in the history of the franchise. He generally had
five of the eight core members of the team (Cap, Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye,
Vision, Scarlet Witch and the Pyms) present for every story but then each arc
also let a past member or two rotate in and shine. We see that here as the
space story features Quasar and US Agent heavily, the Blood Wraith arc uses
Captain Marvel’s powers to their fullest, The Diablo story sees Quicksilver and
Hulk return for a bit while also letting his new character Silverclaw get a
separate moment, we get a one-off story that brings in Hellcat and Moondragon
who had not done much Avenging since the 70s, and then the Ultron story gives
Hawkeye (who had been off the team leading the Thunderbolts the past couple
years) a big personal moment focusing on his deceased wife. This is something
you see in all the Busiek Avengers trades: this excellent use of the team’s
history and the constant returning of old favorites while not losing sight of
the core team that people buy the book for—I think it goes a long way to
explaining why his run is so well regarded if you’ve never read it.

My only criticism of Busiek’s run is he does over-rely on
Scarlet Witch. He’s certainly not the first writer to use her reality warp powers
as a get out of jail free card for the team, but I don’t think any writer
played the card more consistently than he did. I don’t think it is an
exaggeration to say that Scarlet Witch saves the day in more than half the
stories Busiek wrote. We see that in this volume with her defeating both Blood
Wraith and the Hulks.

In terms of the actual stories I would say the space story
is a little slow at times particularly the Professor X stuff. Also turning the
Kree into the R’uul (who are shape shifters) was a bad idea because it makes
them and the Skrulls pretty much exactly the same, which is why it is hardly a
surprise that this was later undone (in Captain
Marvel)
. Still I like the Cosmic Avengers so it was fun to see them highlighted
particularly since Quasar saves the day and proves stronger than the Silver
Surfer and I’m a huge Quasar fan.

I enjoyed the Blood Wraith story. I always thought he was a
cool villain. It’s always nice to see Monica back in the fold. And the action
with the team split on two fronts made for an entertaining story device.

I generally liked the Hulk story, mostly because Diablo was
involved and he’s my favorite Fantastic Four villain. The stuff with the Hulks
in Greece
is a bit by the numbers but never drags. I suppose I could also quibble that
this is the third story in a row with a giant-sized version of regular villains
this volume (Ronan, Blood Wraith and now the Hulks) so it is slightly
repetitive by this point in the trade.

The Hellcat story is okay but then I’m not a fan of either
Hellcat or Moondragon. Still it is a nice tying together of a few c-list
Avengers villains into a high stakes plot. And I appreciate Busiek trying to
give every past member one story arc to return in.

I really liked the robot story. Of course like most Avengers
fans I love a good Ultron story but more than that this was really good
character work with Hawkeye and he’s my second favorite of the core eight so
that’s always going to scratch me where I itch—particularly since I loved his
marriage to Mockingbird. I suppose I could live without the hand-wringing from
the Avengers when the second generation robots are dying. They are like ‘oh no
a new life form is being exterminated its awful’ and I’m thinking it’s a bunch
of robots from an assembly line it’s like being upset your toaster broke down;
but that does not diminish my enjoyment of the climax with Hawkeye and Alkhema
which is superb.

Finally the fanboy in me can appreciate Busiek cleaning up
continuity questions but I would say it is hardly necessary since most longtime
Avengers readers prefer to just pretend the Crossing never happened as it is by
far the lowest point in the history of the title. Mercifully Busiek retconned
almost every single thing that happened in that story over the course his run
because that story was just brutally bad (like Clone Saga awful—seriously never
read it).
Grade B+: It’s
not as excellent as the other volumes in the run but it is still very good
storytelling throughout. I’ll admit this is probably the least of the six
Busiek trades (counting Avengers Forever)
but even so what are my criticisms? The Scarlet Witch saves the day too much,
one story out of six is formulaic, and he used a couple characters I don’t care
for. That’s all pretty minor stuff compared to the rampant character
assassination and continuity errors we’d see from the writers who immediately
preceded him and the major writer of the last 10 years that followed him.
Overall this trade is another easy thumbs up.

 

.

 

 

Waiting for the Trade – Superman

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 
Superman: Camelot
Falls – The Weight of the World

by Kurt Busiek, Carlos
Pacheco and Jesus Merino

collects Superman
662-664, 667 and Superman Annual 13

 

Why I Bought This: This
had been in the discount bin of my favorite local comic store for many months
and I kept considering picking it up because of the Camelot reference on the
cover and Kurt Busiek’s authorship. About two months after Busiek responded to
my Aquaman review on this site, I figured why not when the price dropped again
to $5.

 

The Plot: Prior
to this trade Superman was informed by an Atlantean sorcerer that the presence
of alien heroes on Earth is disrupting the natural cycle of good and evil that
guides human destiny. The sorcerer claims that when evil finally breaks through
it will be so pent up that it will lead to the extinction of humanity. Thus he
asks Superman to consider leaving the planet for the greater good. Now Superman
has two weeks to decide before the sorcerer returns.

Chapter 1 – An alien by the name of Subjekt 17 is in Tibet
pondering why some humans live in third world conditions while other have
advanced technology as he plots revenge on Superman. (His story seems to be
that like Superman he was an alien infant rocketed to Earth, but unlike him he
was found by evil government types to be experimented on and turned into a
weapon). Meanwhile Superman is at the Fortress of Solitude trying to determine
if Power Girl is a Krytponian since some other alien villain recently told him
there is a third Kryptonian on Earth but the scans are negative. In Metropolis
as Clark Kent, Superman discusses the sorcerer
Arion’s claims with Perry, Jimmy and Lois who apparently were brought with
Superman into the future by Arion to see the death of humanity. They mostly
bring up the good Supes has down while also doubting if the future is fated.
Supes then goes to Zatanna (The JLA’s resident mystic) for advice and she fills
him on Arion’s back-story: he dates back to 45,000 B.C., died at the hands of
Mordu recently then mysteriously returned from the grave for some mystic story
she was a part of. Next Supes flies to Iran since in the future Arion
showed Supes both human civilization and Superman himself were killed by a
villain called Khyber, who was then stopped by an Arab hero named Sirocco.
Based on Arion’s timeline, Sirocco should be active now in the present so
Superman decides to meet him to see if he exists. He does, although it’s in
early in his career and he was using a different codename but likes the one
Superman calls him better and changes his name to Sirocco right on the spot. He
also claims to have killed the man that is supposed to become Khyber already.
When Superman returns to Metropolis there’s a bunch of flying people in the
sky.

Chapter 2 – In some magic bar Arion, wearing the costume
Zatanna saw in her recent adventure with him, is getting drunk when he is
confronted by the Arion Superman met two weeks ago. Supes’ Arion claims the one
in the bar is an imposter and takes him prisoner. In Metropolis the flying
people are behaving like amok children causing lots of collateral damage.
Apparently they are members of the New Gods (a group of quasi-immortals who
have something or other to do with Darkseid that I’ve never sufficiently cared
enough to look into). Light Ray (apparently another New God) shows up and
apologizes to Superman as he gets the teens under control and we learn the
random amok flying people were influenced by one of Arion’s spells to show
Superman the dangers of aliens on Earth. Meanwhile fake Arion tries to
apologize to real Arion for impersonating him. The real Arion grills him about
the present since apparently he has traveled forward in time from the past.
Next Supes goes to Lana Lang for advice, who is now the CEO of Lexcorp. She
says even if Arion is right and Clark has to
give up being a superhero she says he could still stay on Earth and help people
in other ways by joining NASA as an example. Supes broods for a few pages until
a little girl falls off a building and he saves her, at which point he realizes
he could never stand back and let people die no matter the surrounding
circumstances. He tells Arion on deadline day and Arion casts a spell to
possess Superman saying he will use him to cause civilization’s downfall.

Chapter 3 – Superman attempts to fight off the mind control
(something he’s been practicing with Martian Manhunter and Zatanna) when he
gets attacked by hi-tech soldiers who have government built tech specifically
for facing Superman when he’s mind-controlled mostly using sonic weapons,
electricity and bright lights. Ironically while they intend for this to disrupt
the mind control it is actually disrupting Superman’s resistance to the spell
which was working. They also attack Arion and he teleports away. Supes scatters
the government agents and tries to fly away to clear his head only to be
attacked by Prankster. Then the JLA arrive but by now Supes is free of the
spell and so they leave. Supes and Lois meanwhile are disappointed that there
is an entire government agency dedicated to stopping him, but that doesn’t stop
Supes from rounding up Prankster and arresting him before vowing to find Arion.

Chapter 4 – Superman and Zatanna are battling Lovecraftian
creatures set upon them by Arion who sends them a telepathic warning that this
humanities future if Supes doesn’t leave. Arion has also taken his case to the
public but both people in the streets and the U.N. vow to support Superman.
Subjekt 17 finds Superman and for some reason knows where Arion is hiding but won’t
tell Superman unless Supes can beat him a fight. Superman tries to be
reasonable but when 17 won’t have it he beats the holy hell out of him until he
agrees to talk and we learn Arion has a castle at the bottom of the Ocean. So
Supes heads there accompanies by some Lex-Corp flying remote cameras Lana built
to show the world the big fight. Arion has a force field that Superman cannot
break on his own so he makes a massive whirlpool and drops the weight of the
ocean upon it and it breaks.

Chapter 5 – We get a flashback of a trip to the future
Superman took with Phantom Stranger to verify if the future Arion showed
Superman is indeed a probable future and the Stranger seems to confirm it;
although he notes the future is fluid as Superman’s adventures with the Legion
of Superheroes show. Back in the present Superman destroys Arion’s castle.
Arion counter attacks but the Stranger had given Supes an anti-magic aura in
preparation for this fight. Arion then sets two monsters on him and while Supes
fights them off he transforms into Chthulu. However even in that form Supes is
stronger than him and the fight proves pretty one-sided. Arion returns to human
form and Supes uses that moment to steal all his magic rings and amulets at
super speed. Without them Arion’s remaining spells collapse destroying what’s
left of his castle. Supes takes Arion to jail but we see the real Arion escaped
to 1659 and left the imposter behind to face the music. With Arion (seemingly)
defeated Superman once again vows to continue to strive to save people despite
the prophecy. Then in the epilogue we see Khyber come back from the dead.

Critical Thoughts
– This is an okay story. It has an intriguing premise and I liked that
Superman’s doesn’t just take Arion’s word on this prophecy but tries to
investigate by contacting other mystics, looking up people from this supposed
future in the present and even time traveling without Arion to verify for
himself. It always nice to see the protagonist written in an intelligent manner
and use some of the tools available to him in an interconnected universe.

That said the fight scenes are not dramatic at all, which is
often a problem in Superman’s comic more than any other hero. Among the
villains Subjekt 17 is not a compelling character with motivations that don’t
make sense; while Prankster’s involvement also feels both random and
unnecessary. Arion is interesting in the early chapters when his motivations
are ambiguous to both Supes and the reader but once the story devolves into
Lovecraftian horrors it loses a lot of steam–although perhaps I’m jaded on the
idea because Marvel’s mostly terrible Realm
of Kings
crossover was heavily influenced by Lovecraft as well. I did like
Arion’s little switcheroo at the end but at the same time I doubt I would bother
to pick up a future trade if he came back to bother Superman again.

 

Grade C. The
first chapter is very good and there are some interesting ideas here as Busiek
writes good dialogue and supporting characters but ultimately it turns into a
very run of the mill Superman story in the last two chapters.

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers vol 2

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Avengers Assemble Vol. 2
by Kurt Busiek and George Perez
Collects 12-23, 0 and Annual ’99
Why I Bought This – As I mentioned a few times the week of The Avengers movie I purchased several trades. This was first on the list with a bullet as I’d waited literally years to read this since the original hardcover volume has been out of print for some time, and I absolutely loved volume 1. Thankfully the movie caused this to be re-released in soft cover.
The Plot – This is a collection of sequential issues so it doesn’t have one plot, although the Ultron story at the end is what this collection is famous for. Spoilers ahead.
Chapter 1 – The Avengers learn Hawkeye has quit the team to join the Thunderbolts, but seeing as they are  the former Masters of Evil some of the team has doubts as to whether he’s being mind-controlled or not. Vision has recovered from his injuries from the Morgan Le Fay arc that started volume 1; and Hank Pym resolves Firestar’s health problems (left over from the New Warriors) as well. Vision learns Wanda and Simon are dating, and decides to keep his own feelings for Wanda to himself. The Avengers then make their way to what will become Thunderbolts mountain, and the two teams have the usual misunderstanding battle until the alien Dominus shows up (originally a Professor X foe, he later switched to the West Coast Avengers—which makes Hawkeye the most familiar with him). Former West Coast Avenger Firebird shows up to help out as well after Dominus sends out a robot that can blow up the planet. The two teams unite and Hawkeye comes up with a plan that enables the Thunderbolts to deactivate the bomb and save the planet, and thus his new team earns the Avengers respect and they all part amicably.
Chapter 2 – We get a flashback from Jarvis’ perspective of the death of the Avengers during the Onslaught crossover; as well as the untold story of why Black Widow was unable to recruit a new Avengers team in the aftermath of the tragedy. In present day four Sentinels made in the image of the founding Avengers attack New York. The Avengers battle them to a stalemate, while Jarvis figures out that Avengers techie Fabian built them from the remains of destroyed Sentinels in the Onslaught story. Fabian had hoped to use them as a heroic strike force that would take the dead Avengers place but as always when humans play with Sentinels tech, it has gone awry and they’ve superseded their programming and are using his brainwaves as a battery until Jarvis can free Fabian which causes the robots to shut down.
Chapter 3 – Justice and Firestar accompany the New Warriors on a mission during their night off from the Avengers. The Warriors run into AIM and new villain Lord Templar and are out of their depth so Justice calls in the Avengers. Templar has energy based powers and can clone himself and thus does very well against both teams until Thor opens up a can of whup-ass; Templar however does manage to escape. Cap was unavailable for this mission due to stuff going on his own book, so Wanda is elected deputy leader. Justice decides he wants to quit the Avengers and go back to the Warriors but before he can tell Angelica, she tells him she wants them to move into the mansion as she’s come to love being an Avenger.
Chapter 4 – Beast stops by the mansion to say hi to longtime best friend Wonder Man. They end up in a bar with Wanda and Vision and we get some more interpersonal drama, while Busiek also cleans up some bad continuity from Wonder Man’s solo-title. A new villain named Pagan attacks the city, and the Avengers are mostly ineffective against him (as he has immensely high level super strength going toe to toe with Thor, Vision and Wonder Man simultaneously at one point). Eventually Pagan calls off his attack and leaves of his own volition.
Chapter 5 – Triathlon is a giving a demonstration of his powers in New York as part of political rally for a quasi-religious/minority rights group called the Triune Understanding, and we learn they gave him his powers. Pagan attacks the Triune rally and the Avengers respond and yet again are ineffective until Templar shows up and aids them against Pagan and wins the day. The Avengers find it fishy that Templar was no match for Thor and yet can defeat Pagan when the team can’t, but the Triune refuses to let them search their building for clues. We learn the head of the Triune is secretly Templar.
Chapter 6 – The Wrecking Crew are teleported to the headquarters of a robot named Doomsday Man (apparently an old foe of Ms. Marvel from her solo title in the 70s). He wants the Wrecking Crew to bring her to him, but they confuse Ms. Marvel with the second Captain Marvel and attack her instead. While normally Captain Marvel should be able to beat the Wrecking Crew in her sleep, apparently Doomsday has also enhanced their powers so they can absorb energy and convert it to physical strength so there isn’t much she can do. She calls in the Avengers for help, and the team along with Black Knight flies down to New Orleans to assist. The Wrecking Crew basically wins the fight giving Justice a concussion and capturing Capt. Marvel but when they call in to Doomsday for a teleport he sees they have the wrong girl and decides to disintegrate them instead; however Wanda’s hex power saves them by inadvertently banishing them to another dimension.
Chapter 7 – Thor tracks the Wrecking Crew and C.M. to Arkon’s dimension and most of the team mounts a rescue operation, while Iron Man treats Justice back at the mansion. The Pyms arrive to inform the team that Doomsday has captured Ms. Marvel (they were with her at the time), but with the rest of the team gone it’s just them and Iron Man to the rescue. We get the obligatory fight scene which ends when Justice arrives; disobeying orders to take medical leave and ends up getting his leg broken by Doomsday although he telekinetically dismantles the robot before passing out. The main team learns the Wrecking Crew has conquered Arkon using C.M as a battery.
Chapter 8 – The Avengers lead a rebellion to free Arkon from the Wrecking Crew. Captain Marvel saves the day by overloading their energy absorption power. Hank Pym is kidnapped from his day job by robots.
Chapter 9 – Wonder Man learns robots have kidnapped his brother Grim Reaper from the mental asylum. The Avengers battle Iron-Man foe Firebrand with Thor banishing him to another dimension to end the fight.
Chapter 10 – Robots raid the Wakandan embassy and Black Panther falls before them. Wasp arrives to inform the team of Hank’s kidnapping just as Black Panther’s distress call comes through. The team arrives and is surprised to find Alkhemia (Ultron’s second bride from WCA), who is now made of Adamantium. A furious battle ensures before Wanda ultimately short circuits her. The Avengers return home to learn Ultron has conquered the fictional European nation of Slorenia.
Chapter 11 – We see every singe person in Slorenia is dead (including some minor superhumans that had appeared in Force Works). Vision, Wanda, Wonder Man and Wasp are searching Hank’s office for clues when all of the prior Ultrons (1-15) attack them and defeat them. Ultron greets them as his family and says he intends to use them (along with Grim Reaper and Hank) to build a new race of robots that will take over the world.
Chapter 12 –  Cap, Thor, Iron Man, Panther and Firestar take on Ultron-16 in an epic back and forth battle until finally Thor manages to destroy him. Then just when they think they’ve won hundreds of additional Ultrons reveal themselves.
Chapter 13 – The Avengers battle on and we learn some of the Ultrons are not adamantium–most of them are steel thus Iron Man is able to build a weapon to defeat them. We learn Hank used his own brain patterns to build Ultron and that guilt is what has caused his mental breakdowns over the years. Vision frees himself and tries to come to a truce with his father, but Ultron rebuffs him. Still Vision is able to buy time for Grim Reaper to free the others. Just then Thor and company arrive and another massive battle ensues. Ultron is on the verge victory when Justice arrives with anti-metal that the team confiscated from AIM in chapter 3 and Hank uses it to disintegrate Ultron.
Chapter 14 – Vision and Wonder Man get into a physical fight over their feelings for Wanda and we learn that both men admire the other as being the superior version of themselves. (They both share the same brainwaves for those who don’t know).
Critical Thoughts: It does not get better than this! I loved every single thing about this book. I mean I could quibble and say the new villains (Templar and Pagan) aren’t all that interesting compared to the more classic Avengers foes; but even those chapters are filled with good character subplots, well drawn battles and a nice little conspiracy mystery that hasn’t hit fruition yet.
The Ultron stuff is every bit as excellent as its reputation. This is the simply the greatest Ultron story ever told. And Ultron is the Avengers’ greatest villain, so it would put it high in the running for greatest Avengers story ever told. Thor has pretty much his most bad-ass moment ever in chapter 13 (“Ultron we would have words with Thee”). Firestar, a character I’ve always liked, also has her greatest moment in chapter 10 as she tries to overheat Alkhema’s insides with her microwave powers and is willing to face-down certain death to do it. And the fight scenes in this arc are all excellent. Hell considering how often they top themselves they are beyond excellent.
I also love the constant one-shot appearances of Avengers’ past aiding the main team when they are in the area. Having Firebird show up to help against an old West Coast Avengers foe, or getting to see Black Knight and Captain Marvel on the team again were real highlights for me because I like them better than the others but this would also apply to Beast and Black Panther showing up.
The interpersonal stories are great. The reversal of Justice and Firestar’s opinions on the team in chapter 3 was a highlight as is all of the Wanda-Vision-Simon stuff. Vision gets a great monologue in the last chapter when he tells Simon how he feels. The Jarvis flashbacks in chapter 2 are also a nice emotional beat for a longtime supporting cast member.
Busiek’s writing remains superb. Perez’s art is without peer. And even the chapters not written by Busiek (the Sentinels chapter and three-issue Wrecking Crew arc) don’t miss a beat, flowing seamlessly into the rest of the title.
Grade A+. Nuff Said.

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers Assemble

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Avengers Assemble Vol. 1
by Kurt Busiek and George Perez
collects 1-11 and Annual ’98
Why I Bought This – The Avengers is my favorite comic. When I first got into buying trades five years ago this was among the first I bought, as I’d heard very good things about this run. I loved it and immediately wanted to buy volume 2 but it was out of print and averaging about $140 at Amazon. Lo and Behold with the release of the movie volume 2 is back in print. I immediately picked it up, and I figured I’d refresh my memory with the first volume.

The Plot – Seeing as there are twelve chapters I’m going to try to keep the chapter reviews to just a few sentences. Some spoilers ahead.
Chapters 1 – In the wake of the Onslaught/Heroes Reborn nonsense the Avengers were disbanded when their entire core A-list members were presumed dead. Those heroes had recently returned when suddenly there are attacks on everyone who has ever been an Avenger by various Asgardian creatures. About 40 Avengers (as well as Justice and Firestar who were with former Avenger Rage when he was attacked as they were all New Warriors together) gather at the mansion, where Thor informs them Asgard is in ruins and the Twilight Sword, which can cleave reality, is missing. The Avengers split into smaller teams to search for clues and discover Modred and Morgan Le Fay are responsible as Morgan uses the sword.
Chapter 2 – Reality has been remade into a Camelot-style kingdom where Morgan rules and the Avengers are her knights, except for Scarlet Witch who is held in a dungeon as a power source for the spell. Cap breaks free of the spell because he’s awesome like that and is able to free Hawkeye and they discover the spell is weakest on those who most deeply feel a connection to the team. They’re able to get through to Wasp, the female Captain Marvel, Quasar and Justice before Iron Man raises the guard against them. Thor frees himself and Cap’s group escapes, while in the dungeon Witch resurrects Wonder Man.
Chapter 3 – Cap and company battle the 30 ensorcelled Avengers while Wanda and Wonder Man battle Morgan. Morgan needs so much power to fight Wanda that she loses control of the other Avengers and then entire team combines their power through Wanda to defeat Morgan and set reality right.
Chapter 4 – The founding Avengers decide to permanently reform the team. They select Cap (as leader), Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Ms. Marvel, Justice and Firestar. A subplot that Ms. Marvel has a drinking problem is introduced.
Chapter 5 – Squadron Supreme accuse the Avengers of being imposters/skrulls in the wake of their resurrection and the two teams battle over the ocean.
Chapter 6 – The Avengers and Squadron Supreme battle in Project Pegasus, where Wanda realizes the Squadron is being mind-controlled and uses her hex-power to free them.
Chapter 7 – The Avengers and Squadron team up to take on the mastermind of the shenanigans of the last two issues: Imus Champion (The fifth wealthiest man on Earth. He has no superpowers but has used his money to by weapons from several different C-list super villains.) The heroes are about to lose until Firestar gets an ant to smuggle a message out to Hank Pym/Ant Man for a last second assist.
Chapter 8 – Ms. Marvel is kicked off the team for going into battle drunk in issues of some Kree-themed crossover not reprinted in the original hardcover edition of this book (Note – the new soft cover edition released this year to coincide with the movie does reprint those issues). The Avengers battle the Kree on the moon where the aliens launch a missile that will destroy the Earth but Firestar intercepts it by opening up a stargate; however she is concerned that using her powers at that level may give her cancer or sterility based on an old New Warriors subplot.
Chapter 9 – The Avengers respond to a terrorist hijacking at the airport and meet new heroes Triathlon (who has the strength of three men) and Silver Claw (who can shape-shift into animals from the Amazon jungle). In order to save civilians the heroes are forced to let the terrorists escape although Triathlon stows away on their plane.
Chapter 10 – Triathlon discovers Moses Magnum (has earthquake powers given to him by Apocalypse) is responsible for the hijacking and calls in the Avengers, who manage to defeat him.
Chapter 11 – The Avengers celebrate the anniversary of their founding with a parade when Grim Reaper attacks and reanimates all of the dead Avengers (including Wonder Man) against them. The villains win the fight.
Chapter 12 – Wanda, who was exploring the source of her increased power last issue and thus was not at the parade, returns to the mansion only to be attacked by the undead Avengers. She uses her powers to restore their true personalities and they then free the living Avengers. The living and dead Avengers battle side by side against Grim Reaper until Wanda uses her power to fully restore Wonder Man to life and he uses the opportunity to drag Reaper (his brother) into the world of the living as well thus depowering him.
Critical Thoughts: The initial Morgan Le Fay story is fabulous. Now it’s true I love Arthurian myth, but at the same time I hate alternate reality stories in comics. For the most part if you’ve read one you’ve read them all: characters are new people with slightly different names, our protagonists remember the truth, reality is restored and any consequences of the past few issues are erased with very few people retaining memory of the events. This is probably the only one of these stories I’ve ever enjoyed. Busiek’s selection of which Avengers feel the connection to the team most strongly is aligned with many of my favorites: Cap and Hawkeye are my favorites of the A-list and of course they are the first two to shake off the spell. Quasar is my favorite of Marvel’s cosmic characters and the second Captain Marvel was such a wonderful addition to the team during Roger Stern’s run before being sent off to comic book limbo by every subsequent author. Even Wasp, who I’m more or less indifferent to, is a fine choice to feel the call stronger than others as she named the team and her time in the team, even more so than her partnership with Hank, helped her grow out of being a ditzy socialite into a strong independent capable woman.
It also helps that the art is quite simply the best in Avengers history, with Perez drawing 40 heroes effortlessly, then redesigning those same heroes with medieval variant costumes, while also drawing frenetic battle scenes with Morgan. His panels featuring the return of Wonder Man are also very nicely done.
Wonder Man’s return ties back to an earlier point, for despite this being an alternate reality tale this story has consequences as Wonder Man (another great character in the team’s history) returns from the dead—and then Vision suffers injuries in the alternate reality that actually stay with him when reality is restored while Wanda comes out of it with vastly increased powers. All of which sets up a romantic triangle with Wanda, Vision and Simon that Busiek heats up throughout all 12 issues in this book.
The new team issue is a staple of Avengers lore, and Busiek writes it as well as its ever been written. He gives plausible reasons why many of the 40 heroes cannot stay. In the end the team he ends up with is the best of the best as to me the Avengers are at their core are Cap-Thor-Iron Man-Hawkeye-Vision and Scarlet Witch. The Avengers are simply not the Avengers if you don’t have at least one of the first three and one of the second three on the team and ideally you want four of those six in the book at all times. I also applaud the decision to put Justice and Firestar on the team. First of all many a writer has used the arrival of new unconfident heroes to let the reader see the rest of the team from a more human perspective. It’s a role filled in the past by Captain Marvel, Wonder Man, Tigra, Firebird and others. I’ve always liked Firestar as a character going back to her cartoon origins and in general it is a nice evolution for some of the New Warriors (who first debuted in the Avengers crossover “Acts of Vengeance”) to get promoted to the big leagues.
The Squadron Supreme story is the low point of this series. I’ve mentioned in a prior review that I just have no use for Squadron Supreme and all the same reasons still apply. They are not real characters. They are just analogs of DC’s heroes. They have no personality or motivations because to give them any would either make them different from their analog or probably stray too close to copyright. Thus they are literally the flattest characters in all of Marvel. There’s nothing to them but their powers, which aren’t even originally theirs. And since Marvel is never going to write a story where their heroes lose to the other company their stories have all the contrivances of hero vs. hero stories without any of the suspense in the actual fight scenes. Furthermore the final chapter where the teams unite to fight Champion isn’t any better. I’ve never seen him before but he’s not an interesting villain as has no powers, just weapons he bought from other minor villains. I completely don’t buy him as a threat to these teams. And yes, I can appreciate Busiek tries to address the concern with Champion being minor-league in the plot with Cap lecturing the team how they have to take every threat seriously and not just the Ultrons of the world; but I’m not sold. It also doesn’t help that this is only the chapter not drawn by Perez. Finally the climax is a WTF moment with Firestar getting a message out to Pym via ants. Does this mean Firestar speaks Ant? Or that all ants understand English and can carry those messages in ant-tongue back to Pym?
The Kree and Moses Magnum stories are more or less routine threats but that’s fine because it gives Busiek time to pay-off the Ms. Marvel subplot and begin a new one with Firestar, plus he continues to focus on the love triangle and introduces two new heroes. It’s all juggled very well and the fight scenes that do occur still look great thanks to Perez.
Finally we get the Grim Reaper story and this another major high point that the first time I read it five years ago convinced me these are some of the finest Avengers stories ever written. I love both parts of the story. The anniversary parade shows just how well Busiek knows Avengers history and their place in the Marvel Universe as we see the reactions of the major New York heroes (Spidey, DD, X-Men and FF) to the celebration. Wanda’s pages with Agatha Harness (another witch/magical deus ex machine I have little use for most of the time) is also well-written as yet another explanation for her powers is given. The chaos-magic explanation is not my favorite choice but I give it a pass because at this point Wanda’s powers have been rewritten so many times I just accept that Wanda’s powers are whatever the current writer says they are. (And since at least half the time she’s a reality warper I just say to myself she’s warped reality around herself and changed her powers again without a second thought.) When Reaper and the Legion of the Unliving show up we get the best fight scenes in the book. But more than that these two chapters are really the comic book equivalent of Mozart (or HBK if you want a wrestling reference) showing off the full depths of his talent just because he can. Perez draws pin-ups of Avenger ever and then another one of their most famous foes in the anniversary issue, while Busiek, who already showed in the Camelot chapters that he knows how to write 40 Avengers strongly and in-character is now showing that yea, he can write all the dead ones correctly too. And as a fan of some of those characters, it’s wonderful to see Mockingbird and Thunderstrike again. It’s the little touches when they fade back to the land of the dead like Mockingbird asking them to get a message to Clint or Thunderstrike asking Thor to look into his son that really make the issue shine.
I only have one small criticism and a nitpick about these chapters. The criticism is in the long run I don’t think it serves the character or the team to bring Grim Reaper back to the land of the living. Marvel in general has a tendency to want to pull all of their characters back to their mid-70s status quo whenever possible, but in Reaper’s case it’s a mistake. When he’s alive Reaper has no powers, just a knife that shoots electricity for a weapon. That would make him a mid-level threat to Cap or Hawkeye individually, but certainly not a threat to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes as a whole; whereas as a cosmically-powered avatar of death Reaper is in the upper echelon of Avengers foes. While for the story Busiek is telling if Wonder Man has a chance to save his brother he has to take it, sometimes these decisions should be made with the long-term view of comics as a continuing medium in mind. I’ll just add that Reaper has yet to face the Avengers again since this story was written 13 years ago and that’s probably in part because he no longer has the power-levels to realistically do so. As for my nitpick, my all-time favorite Avengers villain Nebula didn’t make the cut in Perez’s splash page.
Grade A+. The Avengers are my favorite franchise in Marvel and if I could only pick one trade to give someone and show them why this is the trade I would pick. Why? Well for one Busiek gets these characters like few other writers ever have. Sure any Avengers writer with even modicum of talent is going to get Cap, Thor, Iron Man and Hawkeye but Busiek gets even the minor characters like D-Man and Firebird who were Avengers for only one issue and nine issues respectively but were nonetheless valiant and likeable heroes under their writers who originally had them join. You have the type of major threats that are the hallmark of the Avengers at their best bookending this volume, while the chapters with lesser threats continue to build the more personal stories of the various heroes. Busiek’s use of thought balloons in particular is so well done as to be a perfect argument for their return since you never see them anymore in current Marvel books and in a team book like this they really help to give us a glimpse into all of the characters. Let’s face it we all have strong nostalgia for our childhood, and during mine there were some excellent Avengers writers in Roger Stern and Steve Englehart, who both wrote grade A Avengers stories as well; but in just this one volume Busiek and Perez overcame that nostalgia. Simply put the Avengers as a team have never been better written and artistically have never looked better than they do in this volume.

Waiting for the Trade – Aquaman

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Aquaman Sword of Atlantis: Once and Future
by Kurt Busiek and Butch Guice
Collects Aquaman Sword of Atlantis 40-45.
Why I bought this: I don’t recall whether I was looking up Aquaman or Kurt Busiek when I came across this—either is equally probable as Aquaman is my favorite of DC’s top tier heroes but I own little of his stuff as I own little DC relatively speaking; while Busiek is in my view the finest Avengers writer ever and thus I’d like to read more of his stuff. Regardless when I discovered there was an Aquaman series written by Busiek my interest was piqued. That it has a name straight out pulp serials like “Sword of Atlantis” attached to it only intrigued me more. And once I saw the name of the first volume was an Arthurian reference I knew had to own it as there a few things in the world that fascinate me more than Arthurian literature. A quick trip to Amazon later and it was mine.
The Plot: So apparently after another of DC’s aptly named Infinite Crises they yet again restarted their continuity-timeline. God only knows which one or why, I stopped keeping track after Zero Hour. But from the standpoint of a trade like this it actually makes things easier since hey it’s a whole new beginning so it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what came before. Anyway spoilers ahead.
Chapter 1 – A storm destroys what looks to be an oil-drilling platform knocking someone who looks an awful lot like Aquaman into the ocean, where he can breathe and is contacted telepathically by a mysterious voice. The voice leads him to a battle between King Shark (a humanoid shark, I’ve actually seen this character before as he was a villain in Superboy’s book post Reign of the Supermen) and a group of green-skinned Creature from the Black Lagoon-looking people called the Aurati. The voice directs our hero to aid King Shark and he does so and together the follow the voice to a squid-headed dude who looks like the villain in Pirates of the Caribbean 2. Squid-head dresses the young hero in Aquaman’s garb and tells him that is who he is. nu-Aquaman, whose name is Arthur Joseph Curry (traditional Aquaman’s name is Arthur Orin Curry and that is brought up), gives his version of his origin: that he was born premature on a sea lab away from medical help so his dad injected with an experimental drug that enabled him to breath underwater but now he can’t breathe air for more than an hour and has lived his life in an aquarium tank on the sea lab (called Avalon Cay) until the storm knocked him into the ocean. Squid-beard (who comes to be known as the Dweller or Depths so lets call him that from now on) gives a prophecy that gives us the traditional Aquaman origin including his marriage to Mera and death of his son at the hands of his brother Ocean Master until ultimately making a deal with dark-powers to save his people that will leave him transformed. Arthur doesn’t believe that he’s Aquaman and swims off, while King Shark notes most of the Dweller’s prophecy already happened years ago. Dweller finds the differences between this Arthur and traditional Aquaman odd; and as he muses on how well he remembers what he prophesized we get a close up on his hand which is made of water—which is meant to signal that the Dweller himself is the original Aquaman.
 (Don’t ask me why he has a water hand other than I know Peter David had Aquaman lose a hand and replace it with a harpoon in the early 90s, so at some point he replaced the harpoon with magic water I assume).
Chapter 2 – We begin with Arthur on the losing end of a sword fight with a green-skinned warrior (not an Aurati) as narration tells us three days have passed since chapter 1. We then flashback to Arthur and King Shark searching the sea lab wreckage for survivors and finding none, although Arthur’s father is not among the bodies they find. King Shark decides to go his own way, while Dweller agrees to accompany Arthur to Maine where he hopes his uncle will have heard from the missing father. Enroute they meet one of Mera’s warriors who requests their assistance in dealing with the Aurati. Dweller agrees for Arthur but when he learns Mera is there he bails so she doesn’t see him. Mera is looking over Atlantean refugees as Atlantis was destroyed in the latest Crisis crossover, and could use assistance although she questions why Arthur is dressed as her ex-husband. This leads to him offending one of her warriors and a challenge of honor and thus we return to the swordfight that opened the chapter. Arthur loses a lot before pulling the Hulk Hogan comeback and is debating whether to strike the killing blow when King Shark returns.
Chapter 3 – King Shark takes Arthur to a dive bar where he flashes around some gold Mera gave him to pay for drinks. This leads to some disreputable types trying to rob him and we get a demonstration of Arthur’s level of super-strength in a rather one-sided fight. King Shark and Arthur have a heart to heart about their upbringings, and we learn King Shark is the son of the God of Sharks. Arthur feels a buzzing in his head, which leads him and Shark to Windward Home: another sea lab of scientists with an adventure team (The Sea Devils) who I gather were supporting characters in prior Aquaman stories. They explain they were trying to summon Aquaman via mystic-telepathy (hence Arthur’s buzzing) because the ghost of Vulko (royal advisor to the king of Atlantis) is now residing on their lab.
Chapter 4 – Arthur and Vulko compare notes on Aquaman with Arthur saying he only knew him from the 60s cartoon show (which I own on DVD and is quite fun btw) and was never impressed with Aquaman compared to the other Justice Leaguers as Arthur has all of Aquaman’s powers except talking to fish which he doesn’t care to do. Anyway Vulko is a ghost now because of something Spectre did in whatever Crisis reset this reality and after comparing notes with Arthur, Vulko wants to meet the Dweller to discuss his prophecy. Meanwhile the sea lab people get word that Arthur’s father is indeed dead, it just took awhile to identify the body because of sharks; however they also note a lot of high-level types seem to be interested in what happened to Avalon Cay. Arthur is mourning his dad with King Shark and Vulko attempting to comfort him when Arthur receives a massive telepathic summons from the Dweller that Mera and her refugees are under attack by the Aurati.
Chapter 5 – Arthur, King Shark and the Sea Devils race to the rescue. They meet up with the Dweller and capture an Aurati scout, learning from him the Aurati are being forced to participate in these raids by surface men in armored dive suits who have taken their women and children hostage. The villains also have a female humanoid shark-crocodile hybrid working for them, who King Shark finds attractive. They sneak into the villain’s fort and rescue Mera and her guards. Despite the squid-face she recognizes the Dweller as her ex-husband. Then as they begin to mount their attack they discover the head villain is Ocean Master. Dweller warns Arthur not engage but he ignores him and is quickly out-fought by Ocean Master and stabbed in the stomach.
Chapter 6 – Ocean Master guts Arthur. Mera uses her full-power (she can create “hard water”– in this case she makes an explosive force field type effect) to allow the heroes to escape. Dweller uses his full mystic powers to heal Arthur, and in the process fully reveals himself (he’s been wearing Merlin-Obi Wan type robes all story) and we see half his body is made of water. Meanwhile the heroes’ army is losing badly to the villains’ army so Arthur comes up with a plan to lead the villains into a trench where the Sea Devils can blow it up and collapse it on them. However Ocean Master takes out the Sea Devil with the detonator. All seems to be lost when the trench collapses anyway and we learn from witnesses a pod of whales aided the heroes. It is implied Arthur summoned them and not Aquaman/Dweller whose powers were drained from the healing. Mera vows to investigate mystic sources as to whether Dweller’s condition of being half-water is potentially fatal (since it used to be just his hand was water and it’s spreading) and/or reversible. Dweller meanwhile knights Arthur and dubs him the new Aquaman. Finally we get a pair of reveals as the trade ends. First we see a flashback of why King Shark came back to Arthur’s side when he left in chapter 2; and it is because the God of Sharks senses Arthur has a great destiny and wants King Shark to stay close until the right moment when he will be tasked to kill him. Then we see Arthur’s father is alive and being held prisoner by a shadowy evil corporation.
Critical Thoughts: I liked this a lot. I can see how someone who is a longtime Aquaman fan could hate this story since it’s a new character barely out of his teens parading as Aquaman, while the original is both horribly mutated and mentally confused about his memories/identity. But taken in a vacuum its an interesting story, and clearly did no long-term damage to the character since DC reset their continuity again in the new 52 and while I haven’t read it yet I’m fairly the sure the original Aquaman is back to his status quo in that reality. For my first Aquaman trade (though in the 90s I did read some of the Peter David run plus I of course know from the various animated series over the years) it’s good jumping on point to his world and the different supporting characters in it as we see them all through Arthur’s fresh eyes.
The art is for the most part quite good. It doesn’t have that “wow” pin-up flare of a Jim Lee or Rob Liefeld, but it conveys the mood and action of the story well and that’s the primary job of comic art. Many of the underwater scenes have an interesting look to them, which again helps with the mood of the story since the whole underwater world is new to Arthur. When splash pages are used such as Arthur donning the Aquaman costume or King Shark’s father appearing they have the desired dramatic effect.
I enjoyed the parallels to Camelot with Arthur as King Arthur, and Aquaman/Dweller as Merlin. They’re not overdone (well the Avalon Cay name is a little obvious): meaning it’s not just a retelling of Arthurian myth underwater, which admittedly would still be kind of cool but other than the change of scene what would be the point? Instead the parallels are there, so that if you know Arthurian myth it provides a secondary level to enjoy the story on and it gives Arthur’s journey of self-discovery a more mythic quality that it probably wouldn’t have on its own. Busiek is clearly a big fan of the Arthurian legend as his very first Avengers story had them face Morgan Le Fay and travel to a Camelot-style alternate reality, while his first Aquaman tale is this story (and I keep being tempted by a Superman trade entitled “Camelot Falls” at my local comic store by him too).
My one criticism is the scene where Arthur mocks the 60s cartoon show/Aquaman’s powers to Vulko. I get there is this whole Comedy Central inspired riff on Aquaman having lame powers currently out there in pop culture; but if you’re reading an Aquaman comic you probably don’t feel that way about the character so why incorporate that into the story? Because it comes off as DC telling the reader they’re wasting their time and money reading books about this character. I like Aquaman best of DC’s heroes precisely because his powers and setting are so different than any other character. There are scores of characters in comics who can fly and throw cars, or shoot laser beams, or stop bank robberies. There’s only one who talks to fish and maybe it’s because I live within walking distance of the ocean but I think Aquaman’s power would be damn interesting to have in real life: more-so than 99-percent of the other comic characters out there. And from a potential plot perspective how many heroes can breathe underwater? Marvel has Namor, Sting Ray and Triton (who are B, C and D-list respectively) and DC has Aquaman’s supporting cast (like Aqualad). Thus Aquaman is the only A-list character who has the ocean to play with–which means he has a whole unique setting for stories that a good writer can exploit and tell creative stories that literally can’t be told with any other character. And his ability to talk to fish means you can occasionally allow some truly unique narration (as Peter David proved in his run) that even Aquaman’s undersea contemporaries like Namor will never offer. Throw in that you can use his ties to Atlantis to explore larger mythic themes or his link to the ocean to tell environmentally conscious stories and I just don’t see the need to belittle the protagonist when he has such a variety of unique story potential.
Grade: A-. Busiek is one of the finest writers in comics and he shows it again here. While this isn’t an Aquaman story in the traditional sense, when you have a character with a 70-year history it’s okay to break up the status quo once in awhile. Sure, Arthur’s tale does not vary too far from the usual heroic coming of age story, but it is written in an engaging way with a colorful supporting cast—King Shark in particular comes across as a much more nuanced character than the one I remember in Superboy. I’d be happy to read more of this run to see King Shark’s eventual heel turn on Arthur but alas it seems DC never printed any follow-up trades to this.