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Hot Ink — Powers #1, Giant-Size Thor Finale, Chew #6, Detective Comics #859, Blackest Night #5

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

BACK ON THE CASE – Powers 1

It’s been two years since we last saw an issue of “Powers,” the superhero police procedural from writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Avon Oeming. But this week the series is back and kicking off a third volume in its run with “Powers” #1. For me, the book’s always had two sides. There’s the “Powers” that creates its own universe of super-powered beings with a well-developed history. And then there’s the “Powers” that riffs on prominent superheroes, usually with its own versions of DC characters.

The former has always been a much stronger read than the latter. The “Powers” world strikes me as strong enough to stand on its own and its knock-off characters haven’t been done nearly as well as the same concept has been done by other creative teams. So to start with, I’m glad to see the latest storyline of “Powers” once more delving into its own history rather than borrowing from someone else’s.

All right, all right, there’s a small caveat there. When I say they’re not “borrowing from someone else’s” history, what I really mean is the characters here are drawing their inspiration from actual history rather than another publishing company’s iconic characters. Detective Christian Walker and his new partner, former Internal Affairs Detective Enki Sunrise, are tasked with investigating the murder of Z. Decades ago in Las Vegas, Z headed up a superhero version of the rat pack that included Walker. The group mixed all the ego and swagger of Sinatra’s boys, then backed it up with superhuman abilities and a tendency to brag about the dictators they personally put down during World War II. They made it clear Vegas was their playground, and that it would be great for everyone as long as nobody got in the way of them having fun.

Meanwhile, back in the present, Walker’s girlfriend Heather is starting to get glimpses into his past. She isn’t coping so well with the fact that her boyfriend’s an amnesiac immortal who’s left a trail of doomed romances behind him. And not doomed in the sense of “never meant to be”, but rather doomed in the sense of “running out of cemeteries to store the dead girlfriends.” Then to top it all off Walker’s not having an easy time working with his new partner, mostly due to the fact that she was previously investigating him for covering for a murder committed by his previous partner. So feel free to start placing bets on which of these challenges will start ruining Walker’s life first.It’s all a welcome return to the “Powers” universe. With heroes that are neither completely amoral on the scale of many superhero deconstruction books nor total boy scouts the way many of the Big Two’s headliners can be, Bendis and Oeming have carved out their own distinct little world. There’s an element of fun pulp action mixed with a sense of what mundane life would be like in a world of capes, masks, flying men and people who can shoot laser beams from their hands. I’ve missed it, and it’s good to have new stories back and headed in a promising direction.

DROPPING THE HAMMER – Giant-Size Thor Finale

Time to be blunt. This book made me unhappy in almost every way an issue of a comic book can. The story was a downer, intentionally so. It continued the trend Marvel’s been following lately of taking an issue, tacking on a preview and a reprint, then calling it “giant-size”. And it has all the flaws you’d expect in a poorly managed handover from one creative team to another.

This all started a little while ago when “Thor” writer J. Michael Straczynski announced he’d be stepping down as the book’s writer in order to avoid being dragged kicking and screaming into Marvel’s next big crossover event, “Siege,” which promises a big role for the Norse gods. I’ve liked the job Straczynski’s done re-launching and partially modernizing one of the Marvel universe’s oldest characters, but one major facet of that run has been setting Thor and the rest of the gods of Asgard off on their own and giving them time to rediscover their place in the Marvel Universe.

Now that this has been accomplished, Marvel wants to pull them all back into the bigger picture, and Straczynski’s not excited by the editorial edicts that’s going to involve. It’s a constant curse of the big event style of comics publishing: If a series is engaging enough, it’ll be pulled into the larger universe of a company’s story, probably derailing a number of story threads that its creator has been carefully building. This isn’t the first time it’s happened and it’s unlikely to be the last.

But this one is particularly painful. First off, the title of “Giant-Size Thor Finale” is entirely misleading. There’s a standard length comic here, followed by a preview of next week’s “Thor” 604 by Kieron Gillen and Billy Tan and then a reprint of classic Thor stories. So it’s deceptively giant in the style of one man standing on another’s shoulders while wearing an enormous trenchcoat.

Second, it’s not really a finale, at least not for the main storyline that’s recently been running in Thor. What is resolved is the story of star-crossed lovers Bill, an ordinary guy from Oklahoma, and Kelda, a beautiful Asgardian woman. Spoilers will follow from here, because I’m going to need to go into what happens to describe why it’s so disappointing.

Bill dies from wounds suffered in a fight, but not before he can successfully rescue and warn Balder that he is about to be betrayed by Doctor Doom and Loki. Balder needs someone else to tell him that it might not be a good idea to trust an alliance of Doctor Doom and Loki because Balder is an idiot. But that’s not important to the matter at hand. Upon hearing of Bill’s death, Kelda swears she will not rest until she has her revenge on Loki and departs. In the first six pages of the preview by Gillen and Tan, she’s killed by Doctor Doom. And so two interesting supporting characters who’d been introduced in Straczynski’s run and gone through as much if not more character development than anyone else in the book are effortlessly discarded because there’s no time to pay attention to them while the big important superheroes are fighting.

This perfectly illustrates one of the major problems I’ve got with Marvel and DC. As long as big event books are the focus, there’s not much room for these beautiful little character moments to exist. Seeing an example so brutally snuffed out hurts, and unfortunately it’s done in a story that isn’t even that good. Whether Straczynski simply didn’t have enough time to resolve everything he wanted to resolve or whether he’d already mentally moved on to his next project while writing this, I don’t know. But it doesn’t feel like it’s a one hundred percent effort here.

All in all it’s a sad way to end the run. I’m left with little desire to keep up with the title when the creative changeover happens. I’d never really been a big fan of Thor prior to this and thought he actually worked better as a character more removed from the rest of the Marvel universe. This only clinched that feeling for me. Not even a fight scene demonstrating that angry naked Volstagg is the rock to a squad of suped-up Doombots’ scissors was enough to leave me feeling good about this one.

THANKSGIVING THREE COURSE SPECIAL – Chew 6, Detective Comics 859, Blackest Night 5

As this week’s comic releases coincide with Thanksgiving here in the U.S., I’
m going to conclude this week’s reviews with a quick run down of issues that highlight different parts of the true meaning of Thanksgiving.

To start with, you can’t talk about Thanksgiving without talking about food. And comics readers should remain thankful for “Chew,” the Image series that hit its sixth issue and second story arc this week. As International Flavor, another five-parter, begins, Tony Chu becomes reacquainted with John Colby. Detective Colby was Chu’s partner way back in the first issue of the series until an unfortunate encounter between his face and a meat cleaver landed him in a hospital bed for a brief stay. The FDA’s agreed to provide Colby with a cybernetic replace to the half of a face he lost, complete with nifty red laser eye, in exchange for him joining as a special agent. Partnering with Chu, the two are ordered by their spiteful boss to solve a bank heist, which can be accomplished either by hard detective work or by cibopathic Chu eating the one piece of evidence left at the scene to discover the bank robbers’ identity. As that piece of evidence is a neatly coiled pile of human excrement, they go with the first option. The issue serves mostly as a fun reintroduction to Colby, who’s much more a risk-taker compared to the cautious, hesitant Chu. And it also introduces an object the arc’s going to revolve around, a mysterious plant that looks like a pineapple invented by H.P. Lovecraft. “Chew” remains an excellent book and a wonderful side dish to your Thanksgiving feast.

Thanksgiving’s also the traditional time for students to come back from college and experience awkward moments with their parents. Which is one of the many scenes on display in the continuing origin story of Batwoman in “Detective Comics” 859. While the last issue focused on one pivotal moment in Kate Kane’s childhood, this one jumps to several significant points in her later life. It begins with her refusal to deny her homosexuality, resulting in her expulsion from West Point and ending a promising military career. Kate’s father, a lifelong military man and role model, actually takes the admission pretty well. But the aftermath hits Kate hard, as she’s directionless and tries to bury her sorrows under drink and parties. The issue goes on to tell the story of how Kate first met Renee Montoya, how their relationship faltered, and then of Kate’s fateful first encounter with Batman. Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III continue to amaze with this book. I end every issue wondering how they can possibly top or even maintain the level of quality they’re hitting, and yet they do it every time. Rucka’s building a backstory up there with the best DC character origins and everything about Williams artwork, from his varied styles to his splash pages, remains jaw-dropping.

Finally, Thanksgiving is a holiday known for overblown conflicts. People exhausted and tense from traveling and cooking all day, relatives nursing old grudges, everyone overdosing on turkey and stuffing until gravy seeps into their brain and stunts more rational thought processes. It all ends up making Thanksgiving a holiday where every little thing eventually spirals into a matter of life and death that’s going to cause the end of the world. Which of course brings us to “Blackest Night” 5.

The entire DC Universe has gathered to gather in an attempt to cook Nekron, the villain who was revealed as the crossover event’s big bad at the end of the last issue. It looks like someone gave them the wrong instructions, because nothing they do seems to be working. Yes, this being issue 5 of and 8 part series, the heroes’ plan to destroy the villain once and for all has (gasp!) backfired and made him even stronger. After a fight scene lasting most of the issue in which it’s not all that clear why anyone is doing what they’re doing, Nekron gains the power to reclaim heroes who’ve died and come back to life and starts turning some into Black Lanterns. In fact, he declares that he only let them come back to life in order to further his plans to stop the Guardians of the Universe from doing whatever it is he’s unhappy about them doing. Let me repeat that. He stated that every single resurrection that’s occurred in the Post-Crisis DC universe was all part of his master plan to thwart the Guardians. This is some pretty heavy retroactive justification.

When “Blackest Night” ends, I’m going to look back on this issue and say that this was either when the event started to disastrously collapse inward under its own weight or when it started to head in the direction of examining in-depth the issue of how death is handled in comics. Now, I’ve got a bad track record of giving big event comics the benefit of the doubt because they often start with a premise which I can picture going in an interesting direction. And I usually end up disappointed when that premise is abandoned in favor of big splash pages with dozens of people fighting.

The emotional horror of old friends coming back wrong and confronting people with their innermost fears that was present early in “Blackest Night” appears to have been abandoned in favor of different colored light beams shooting things. Honestly confronting the idea of how comics casually handle death is the only interesting premise remaining here, so I’m going to tightly clutch my blue ring in the hope that it’s examined in the issues to come. But experience has taught me that may not be the case, and if that happens I’m going to be left choosing between either the willpower to stop buying this or the rage over the fact that I’ve been tricked yet again.

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