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Hot Ink — Dr. Horrible, Dark Reign: The List – Amazing Spider-Man, Adventure Comics #4, Irredeemable #8

ComicsAlliance’s Chris Murphy reviews the biggest — and best — comic books hitting the shelves this week.

BESTEST ENEMIES – Dark Reign: The List – Amazing Spider-Man One-Shot

Sometimes you’ve been enemies with someone so long you start to take it for granted. You move somewhere new, start getting involved with new activities and new people, and you lose touch. You get so blinded by all the new attention and responsibilities, you forget who your true enemies are. The ones who really make that tingle go down your spine and through your nerves as you cackle madly and wipe the blood off your hands.

Sometimes it takes seeing those people again to remind you of all the unnecessary baggage you’ve built up that’s gotten in the way of the real you. And as your jet boots carry you over rooftops in hot pursuit of them, firing lasers in complete disregard for the collateral damage you’re causing, you’re truly yourself again.

The latest issue of “Dark Reign: The List” sees Norman Osborn getting back to those roots as the real Norman as he tries to finally kill Spider-Man once and for all. Norman and Spidey haven’t exactly been strangers of late, with the former Green Goblin recently appearing as the villain in the “American Son” arc of “Amazing Spider-Man.”But seeing as just about everyone has a reason to go after Norman lately, and that reason is that Norman has been making it his business to go after them first, it’s nice to see these two together alone with each other again. Given that “Dark Reign” tie-in and Spider-Man books come out every week, this one really calls for big moments from the leads to stand out, and fortunately writer Dan Slott delivers for both Osborn and Spider-Man.

Finally sick of the admiration being lavished on a despicable human being like Osborn, Peter Parker and his co-workers at the left-leaning newspaper “Front Line” set out to give the public indisputable evidence of Osborn’s past wrongdoings. But when Spider-Man gets caught escaping OsCorp headquarters with the evidence, he’s confronted with the problem of the usual public hatred he inspires and the newfound hero-worship for his nemesis all at once.

Oh, and lasers. Deadly, deadly lasers. Well, all right, this is a comic book, so really only painful, painful lasers. Chase and fight scenes follow, but what really makes the issue is how, in the end, when the problem of Osborn is solved it isn’t Spider-Man who does it. Osborn’s been played up as such a big and powerful villain in the Marvel Universe lately that when someone takes a swing at him and makes a solid connection it feels pretty good. “Dark Reign: The List – Amazing Spider-Man” is one of those times.

Of course it’s fitting that a Spider-Man book sees Norman squarely taking that hit before “Siege” gets here, giving us what I assume will be a line of superheroes patiently waiting to step up and sink a fist deep into Osborn’s gut. With the risk of villain gang-beating fatigue that scenario creates, I’m glad to have read this one before it gets old for me. And it should still be fun when, after “Siege” is over and Norman has some recovery time off (possibly in an afterlife somewhere), he shows up for simple old fight with Spider-Man again.

THEY SAY IT’S BETTER THE SECOND TIME, THEY SAY YOU GET TO DO THE WEIRD STUFF – Dr. Horrible One-Shot

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” the superhero web musical series created by Joss Whedon and starring Neil Patrick Harris, Felicia Day and Nathan Fillion, was a perfect storm that created an instantaneous cult following. The fans wanted more stories, and now Dark Horse is releasing a “Dr. Horrible” one-shot, written by “Sing-Along Blog” writer (and Joss’ brother) Zack Whedon with art by Joëlle Jones.

If you’re expecting this to be as good as the web series, you’re in for a let down. But then, I’m not sure why you would think a musical comedy that drew as much from the performance of its cast as it did from its stellar writing would translate perfectly into a comic book. Comics, which use only text and static images, present a few obstacles to staging a full-on musical. But having said that, this book is still a fun return to the setting and manages to pull it all off about as well as a comic adaptation could.

This one-shot is a prequel to the series, giving readers a look at the titular villain’s first encounter with Captain Hammer as well as a glimpse of the early events in Horrible’s life that inspired his career in supervillainy. It’s all done with the same tongue-in-cheek sensibility as the series, with Whedon’s writing and Jones’ art, particularly the facial expressions of Hammer and Horrible, making it all feel pleasantly familiar.

The story plays with the theme of brains versus brawn, and given that you are someone who is reading a comic book based on a franchise created by Joss Whedon, you can probably guess that it’s not going to be taking a stand against “brain”. But even though the philosophical conflict is familiar ground, its combatants cast it in a refreshing light. Captain Hammer’s brand of misguided heroic stupidity is here in full force along with Horrible’s well-deserved pride in his ingenuity, despite its horrible applications. The web series thrived on the dynamic of fighting with yourself over whether you should like or hate both characters, and all the fun of that inner conflict is still here.

The book may not be the sequel fans are eagerly looking forward to, but should certainly help to bide the time until it arrives. And if Dark Horse were to publish more issues of “Dr. Horrible” between now and then, I know I’d gladly give them a look. And I’m doubtful I’d be the only one. With the cancellation of “Dollhouse” reducing Whedon’s employment opportunities, Joss and Jed should have more time to work with Zack on that possibility (also, seriously, these guys make fantastic television series in California and not moonshine in the Tennessee valley?). Unless of course Dark Horse decides to focus the three of them on the inevitable “Dollhouse” comic first.


DUEL OF THE SUPERPOWERED MANCHILDREN – Adventure Comics 4 / Irredeemable 8

This week sees the release of both “Adventure Comics” 4, headlined by a “Blackest Night” tie-in story starring Superboy Prime, and “Irredeemable8, BOOM!’s series by Mark Waid telling the story of a Superman analogue gone horribly wrong. Both issues see super-strong, nearly invulnerable characters who’ve each been responsible for death on a massive scale faced with foes who can fight back. Both issues challenge readers to feel some degree of sympathy for the genocidal supermen. Yet at the same time, both issues are probably going to end up making you root for that character to finally get killed. But while inIreedeemable”‘s case this is all by design and well done, “Adventure Comics” seems to still be hampered but the questionable previous handling of Superboy Prime and the unclear future direction planned for the character.

The Plutonian, the Superman stand-in featured inIrredeemable,” has spent the previous seven issues of the series killing everyone that stands in his
way without any effective resistance. The series’ heroes have been busy trying not to die by running away and hiding, which has been an extremely time-consuming task not all of them have succeeded at.

But as issue 8 opens the Plutonian’s met with an unpleasant surprise of his own. It’s revealed that Charybdis, a hero who possessed powers that seemed to only work in conjunction with his twin brother Scylla, had lied about his powers. While Scylla had the power to tap into Charybdis’ power and share it, all the power actually rested in Charybdis alone. Now that Scylla’s dead at the Plutonian’s hands, Charybdis’ capabilities have doubled.

And he’s understandably angry with the Plutonian, who is not at all prepared to deal with this surprise. Seeing the monster finally given a black eye feels pretty good. But at the same time we also see more flashbacks into the Plutonian’s past, about how he was given a mantle of perfection by an adoring public that he never wanted and never could really handle. Waid continues to hit all the right points in his deconstruction of the Superman mythology, and the fact that this series is a pleasure to read even though it’s walking on ground that’s been thoroughly covered before is a mark of high quality.

“Adventure Comics” 4 is more muddled. As the issue opens we find Superboy Prime sitting in his basement on Earth Prime, where he’s been trying to live the life of a normal boy on a world free of superheroes that he’d desperately been seeking. He’s surrounded by issues of various DC Comics, in the midst of reading “Adventure Comics” 4. After expressing initial displeasure at his continued inclusion and the metatextual nature of the presentation, he becomes scared out of his mind when he reaches the book’s end.

Desperately requesting his parents take him to the comic store, he tries to track down rumors about “Adventure Comics” 5 until being interrupted by the arrival of Black Lantern Alexander Luthor of Earth-3, Prime’s mastermind partner from “Infinite Crisis.” At this point I’m assuming I’m shouldn;t want Superboy Prime to die based on that fact that, first, Black Lanterns are evil and, second, because Prime expresses a desire to not see his parents die. But given that Prime remains a petulant child who’s committed murder on a massive scale and doesn’t so much want redemption as he wants to be left alone, I’ll be honest and say I wouldn’t really mind if he got killed off.

But unlike the Plutonian, whose tragic reasons for changing motivations have been slowly revealed as Irredeemable has progressed, Prime continues to feel like a character who’s had some kind of evil on/off switch installed to be thrown as seems convenient. His conversion to evil inInfinite Crisis” felt awkwardly forced, but the resulting irresponsible child with incredible superhuman powers was an interesting obstacle for a time. But he was never a character as much as he was a force of destruction.

His transformation into an angry fanboy feels equally forced, and while it’s good for a chuckle or two it isn’t something I could see continuing as a story focus. So the two options would seem to be either turning him into a villain, which is tricky because he can’t even come close topping what he’s already done, or starting him toward an incredibly implausible path to forgiveness. I’m up for the third option: Get rid of him.

And if zombie ginger Alexander Luthor is what it takes, fine, just make it quick. I’m not saying this is an awful book. There are some fun moments, and Luthor’s description of the Internet as “A conduit for the rage of the people on this Earth” is the most succinct description I think I’ve heard for the central facet of the information age. But I simply found it difficult to care about any of the characters or what was happening to them. By the book’s end I felt I’d earned the Grey Lantern Ring of Indifference.

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