A Few Back Dumped Comic Book Reviews

Rather than dump nearly a dozen new reviews into my blog stream, I’ve opted to back dump them.  When I’m on a tear of focusing on one topic, I get all self-conscious, especially with comic book reviews as I can only imagine that the tiniest fraction of my regular readership cares about comic book review.  So rather than give two weeks of blog space to reviews, I’ve backdated them so that it doesn’t necessarily look like I took nearly two months off from blogging regularly.  (This is me thinking too hard about this and being too clever by half.)

Anyway, click on whatever reviews you are interested in:

Ultimate Avengers 3 #4

Shadowland #1

Batman:  The Return/Batman Inc.

X-Factor #211

New Avengers #6

Avengers #7

Captain America #612

Batwoman #0

Flash #6

Brightest Day #15

Freedom Fighters #3

Superman for All Seasons

Superman for All Seasons – A Review

Writer: Jeph Loeb

Artists: Tim Sale

Publisher: DC

Superman for All Seasons takes us back to a different age, the Smallville world of Midwest values and sensibilities.  The book is filled with a sense of nostalgia that’s both tender and poignant, carrying a real emotional punch.  This is the hallmark of Loeb and Sale, evoking the humanity of their characters in books like Daredevil: Yellow, Spider-Man: Blue, and Hulk: Gray.

“It’s not nearly as hard as learning you have limitations as it is learning how to work with  them.” –Pa Kent

Each character in their own way reflect the idea of what it must be like for Superman to come to terms with who he is and why he does what he does.  Inadvertently, they speak as much about their  own woundedness and expectations—how they see him, see themselves, measure themselves against him—as they do him.

“You may be able to do things nobody else can do but that doesn’t make it any less hard to be who you want to be.” –Lana Lang

And, “super” or not, Superman/Clark Kent struggles with the very essence of his humanity:

-he looks for a place to belong, to call home

-he struggles with loneliness

-he bears the unspoken weight of never being able to do enough and be an example for everyone

“Being the most powerful man in the world means nothing if you are all alone.” –Lex Luthor

To draw Biblical allusions, I’m reminded of the concept known as “the Messianic Consciousness.”  Not all scholars believe this theory, but the principle works like this: Jesus gradually grew into his knowledge and role as the Messiah. The same idea is at work here.  Not only do we see Clark Kent coming to terms with his body and powers, and the responsibility of being different/having special gifts; but we also see him wrestle with what he is to do with those gifts.  The burden of the fact that being multi-gifted means that we are that much more obligated to use those gifts.  To whom more is given, more is expected.

“These are choices each of us makes, not only to do good, but to inspire good in others.” –Lana Lang

Superman for All Seasons is not filled with the typical action slam bam that fills many superhero comics.  Tim Sale’s art captures the essence of Superman, both his humanity and the icon.  The story is told in seasons, each season representing a character’s point of view:  Pa Kent (Spring), Lois Lane (Summer), Lex Luthor (Fall), and Lana Lang (Winter).  If Lori Lemaris had narrated spring, we’d have completed the L.L. initialed associates of Superman theme.  But Superman for All Seasons has always had the feel of a special book.   One that should be appreciated for its simple yet profound storytelling and its elegant art.

Freedom Fighters #3 – A Review

“American Nightmare Part Three”

Written by JIMMY PALMIOTTI & JUSTIN GRAY
Art by TRAVIS MOORE & TREVOR SCOTT
Cover by DAVE JOHNSON

Published by DC Comics

Price: $2.99

Previously:  The vice president has been kidnapped.  In exchange for her liberty, the Freedom Fighters have been dispatched to gather a number of artifacts said to be part of a doomsday weapon built by the Confederacy during the Civil War.  The first artifact was located in Devil’s Tower, which also happened to house four ancient elemental demons called the Renegades.  Having accidentally released the Renegades, Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters fought to contain the demons.  Not only did they fail, but they also paid a terrible price.

I remember loving the All Star Squadron when I was a wee lad and that’s the book I couldn’t help thinking of as I read Freedom Fighters.  But I read All Star Squadron from the beginning and couldn’t imagine what it would be like to drop into the middle of the book, into a sprawling cast of characters I was unfamiliar with, and try to navigate through the story.

The big problem with the Freedom Fighters is that as characters, the reader can’t tell them apart.  They might as well all be wearing the same scanty wardrobe, because they have little to distinguish their personalities.  What’s worse, none of them seem especially likeable.  With all of the griping and jerkiness displayed, one could easily use words rhyming with “sassbowls” and “richy” to describe them.  Although, it’s easy to imagine that on teams of super powered individuals, most of the people might not be graduates of Miss Manner and may not know how to play well with others.  They tend to need a large personality/model to keep them in line (Superman, Captain America, and apparently Uncle Sam, who is absent in this issue).  It also could be that the writers haven’t found their stride with the characters.  The characters haven’t been fleshed out enough to have achieved their individual voices.

On the plus side, this issue was the opposite extreme of an in-between issue.  There was a lot going on:  the elemental rampage, the loss of Uncle Sam, the team regrouping, conspiracy theories abounding, and a new villain introduced.  With so many moving parts and new subplots, it’s easy to see how some things slipped through the cracks.  Like the Human Bomb being mentioned as missing then suddenly being there (someone needs to No-Prize that).  Also, some teamwork would have been nice, since this team is supposed to be established.  Also, one member dispatches the Renegades single-handed with her basic power that she somehow didn’t think to use.

“I’m starting to think we’re in over our heads.” –Human Bomb

The only thing that stuck out was the idea of conspiracy theories to explain away seemingly disconnected events.  We have made idols of safety and control in our lives.  We seek a context of understanding for that which makes no sense. A lot of what horror attempts to do is make sense of evil. Evil is irrational and uncontrollable; true acts of evil are so irrational that conspiracy theories make sense.   We don’t like the feeling of helplessness that life often leaves us.

Freedom Fighters has problems with its pacing at turns being scattershot in its action and direction, and like a Michael Bay movie, not allowing a scene to play out before cutting to the next. The team dynamics still need to be figured out and the people behind the masks need to be revealed (as we learn nothing about them from their lame quips and clichés.  It’s a book still in its design phase, probably given birth a little prematurely.

Flash #6 – A Review

Written by:  Geoff Johns

Art by:  Francis Manapul

Published by:  DC Comics

Price:  $2.99

Fact #1:  My introduction to the Flash came with the post-Crisis on Infinite Earth, Mike Baron and Jackson Guice’s Wally West variety.  I became an even a bigger fan of Mark Waid’s defining run.  So I was never much of a Barry Allen guy.

Fact #2:  Geoff Johns is the DC equivalent of Marvel’s Brian Michael Bendis.  The publisher’s defining voice, who seems to have his hand in everything, and like the aforementioned Mark Waid (or Kurt Busiek for that matter), can deliver the classic super hero tale, infusing them with the essence of what we love about super HEROES.

With those two facts in mind, the dialogue and action sequences flow nicely together in this issue.  We get a real sense of fluid movement without rows of talking heads filling us in on the plot.  Every time I randomly pick up an issue of the Flash, he seems to be up against a variation of his rogues gallery.  They always felt kind of like it takes six lame villains to create a legitimate threat.  On the whole, Johns handles the time travel elements adeptly (Fact #3:  I’m always leery of time travel stories because we’re usually left with plot holes one could park motor homes in by the end) and almost succeeds in making us believe the Tops convoluted motivations and plan.  Almost.  Cause there do seem to be a few less convoluted ways the Top could have handled things.  Also less than successful was John’s handling of the falsely imprisoned kid.  Everything was wrapped up with a tidy boy and comes off a little too intentional about tugging at heartstrings.  Yet, all things considered, these are nits we can live with.

“You remember what you always tell me about the past?  It’s just that … the past.  And you’re always focused what’s ahead.” –Iris

I was struck by the laudable idea behind the time police and their mission to eliminate crime by going back in time and stopping it.  Yet, I also couldn’t help but think about how much we learn and our formed by our regrets and tragedies.  How this life is hard and waving a magic wand, as much as we may want to sometimes to erase our adversity and pain, ultimately wouldn’t teach us how to navigate that part of the human experience.

It brings to mind a quote from Danny DeVito’s character in the movie The Big Kahuna who put it this way: “I’m saying you’ve already done plenty of things to regret, you just don’t know what they are. It’s when you discover them, when you see the folly in something you’ve done, and you wish that you had it do over, but you know you can’t, because it’s too late. So you pick that thing up, and carry it with you to remind you that life goes on, the world will spin without you, you really don’t matter in the end. Then you will gain character, because honesty will reach out from inside and tattoo itself across your face.”

Rather than erase events so that they never happened, it seems more “human” to learn from them, repair where we can, and continue to join in God’s mission to bring restoration and reconciliation.  Everything else feels like a shortcut wherein we learn nothing.

“You gave him his future back.  And to him, that future is rife with potential.” –Iris

This issue also seems like it will be one of those issues where collectors come back and scour for clues as hints about the Road to Flashpoint, 2011’s big event, are doled out.  We know that something bad is on the horizon, and something about time travel has been planted in Barry Allen’s head.  Did I mention that Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato art kicks major butt and every page explodes?

Brightest Day #15 – A Review

“Whatever happened to the Manhunter from Mars?”

Writers: Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi

Artists: Patrick Gleason and Scott Clark

Publisher: DC

Price:  $2.99

Once dead, twelve heroes and villains were resurrected by a white light expelled from deep within the center of the earth.  The reason behind their rebirth remains a mystery.  But it will not be a mystery for long.  This is the Brightest day.

This issue focuses on the Martian Manhunter who is completely under the control of D’Kay D’Razz and finds himself in that story perennial, living out his dream alternate life.  Twenty-five years in the future, J’onn is surrounded by his fellow Justice League members as he is being honored by the entire Martian population for finally bringing peace.  This peace is shattered as his friends are brutally murdered one by one.  Employing his detective skills, he saves Superman even as his subconscious fights against the delusion.

“There is always someone who celebrates the victory of fear.  There is always someone who wants to shut off the light by destroying the good within us. The good among us.” –Martian Manhunter

The whole theme of the issue revolves around the idea of resurrection to new life.  For the longest time, the Martian Manhunter lived with the memory of having buried his race and being the last of his people (giving him a bit of a bond with Kal-El, Superman, in terms of being the last of his people).  So for most of his life, he saw things and operated from his old wound.  His identity was that of the last son of Mars and he struggles with the shift of being the first son of Mars.

Letting go of the past and accepting our new identity in Christ may be one of the toughest things we do in our spiritual journeys.  We tend to continue to see ourselves in terms of our sin and failures rather than in the grace and forgiveness that has been bestowed upon us.  We so often hear about God’s divine love and acceptance, how nothing can separate us from His love, but do we believe that?  Most times, we really don’t.  To think that God knows me in the deepest possible way, loves me unconditionally, celebrates who I am, and wants me to grow into who I am, that’s the kind of love we can hardly fathom.

It’s a matter of getting our identity straight.  We are known by God.  We are loved by God.  Yet we don’t always believe that and don’t always see how it plays out in our lives.  When our faith can’t get traction in our lives, we become stuck.  We misplace our identity, things get shifted, then our priorities change.  We want comfort, personal happiness, and the right relationship with that special someone rather than being a living billboard for God’s glory and love.  We end up not living up to our potential like we should, thus we need to keep being reminded of our true identity:  we’re children of God, known for exactly who we are, and loved anyway!

And He identifies with our humanity.  Christ’s example on the cross left him exposed for everyone to see.  Naked for people to mock, spit upon, and pour their own self-contempt on Him.  Yet Jesus willingly embraced it and came through the other side.  His wounded place exposes shame for what it is.  Exposed, trusting and with boldness, we’re free and ready to love others in our weakness.  To live out of that reality of His example.  We put our faith where it’s supposed to be and take on our true identity.

“But no matter what you are, there’s only one simple question you have to ask yourself that really means anything and that is:  Did I do more good than bad?” –Batman

In the end, though, nothing happens.  We have a story that might entertain for an issue, as much as any It’s a Wonderful Life riffs might, if you’re happy with “it was all a dream” type stories.  And then there’s the art.  With eight inkers, there is a lot of incongruity, to put it generously, to the artwork.  Some characters were drawn poorly, though if we were to continue the generosity, this may have been a hint that something was up.  Otherwise, it feels like a filler issue for the actual Brightest Day storyline and when we’re in the throes of a major crossover event, for what comics cost, filler is frowned upon.

Batwoman #0 – A Review

“Beyond Shadow”

Written by:  J.H. Williams III, W. Hayden Blackman

Art by:  J.H. Williams III, Amy Reeder, Richard Friend

Published by:  DC Comics

Cover Price:  $2.99

Continuing their attempts to diversify their cast of characters, DC gave us Batwoman, a prominent, female, lesbian superhero.  But in the hands of Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III during her run in Detective Comics, this was more than tokenism or identity grandstanding or a publicity stunt.  Now J.H. Williams III takes her to her own series, co-written  with W. Haden Blackman, and with artists Amy Reeder and Richard Friend.

In this issue, we are presented with beautiful and elegant artwork, as anyone who ever picked up an issue of Promethea might have expected.  Moreso, we’re given an overview of the complex nature of this character, as well as insight into Bruce Wayne as Batwoman in many ways reflects him.

Employing the device of having Bruce Wayne/Batman investigate the latest addition to the Batman family adopted during his absence, new readers learn about her as he does.  He investigates the methods and fighting techniques of the new Batwoman while at the same time tailing Kate Kane, her suspected alter ego.  The book uses Williams art to follow Batwoman stacked above Reeder’s art who follows the Kate sequences.  Such a juxtaposition is both dramatic and effective.

What also comes through is the strong grasp of the character William’s has.  She comes off as both memorable and unique, completely different from the rest of the Bat-familyl, and someone a reader wants to get to know better.

“More importantly, she has that one thing I can’t teach.  That hole inside her that can’t ever be filled…it gives her the drive to do this.” –Batman

The thing about both Batman and Batwoman is that they are fully human. That is, not being super-powered, it seems almost believable that any of us could be them with enough training and dedication. They are more relatable, their struggles mirror our struggles.  Many of us are haunted by our pasts, feeling like we can’t get past mistakes we’ve made and people we’ve hurt.  We have that hole.

All of the things that make them so dysfunctional, their woundedness is part of what makes them tick.    That hole, that woundedness, can take many forms and often people try to self-medicate that hole in a variety of ways, from addictions to, apparently, throwing on spandex and running across a city’s skyscapes.

There is also the core belief that we can’t live without the self-medication. Life shifts. Gaining and losing people, places, and things leaving feelings of resentment, anger, self-protection, and abandonment in its wake, losses remind us that all isn’t as it should be. They remind us that life is painful. How do we experience and react to that pain? Sometimes we numb ourselves, medicate, act out sexually. Old wounds, be they lies we’ve come to believe about ourselves or quietly trying to please a distant father (because his opinion of you has shaped who you are and how you are) need to be confronted. Expecting something from certain relationships that never materialized, disillusioned with losses. Each loss presents a choice: passage to anger, blame, depression, resentment or passage to a greater life and freedom. For them, their unspoken belief is that their woundedness becomes redeemed in their mission.

The thing is, brokenness can be redeemed. Real love risks and offers redemption and when loved well, we’re taught about God. In all of our brokenness and (self-) deception, in all of our brokenness and desperation, we can come before the Lord and be fully accepted.

The only problem with Batwoman #0 is that there is not enough of it.  Coming in at 16 pages, it’s not much of a book, with almost half of its content being previews for upcoming issues of the title and other Batman books.  Other than paying so much for so little, we do have a treat of a book and a promising journey with a fascinating character.

Batman: The Return #1/Batman Incorporated #1

“Planet Gotham”

Writer:  Grant Morrison

Artist:  David Finch

Publisher:  DC Comics

Price:  $4.99

Grant Morrison (Arkham Asylum, JLA, X-Men) makes a major shift in the status quo of the Batman mythos  after he has Bruce Wayne publicly announce that he has been funding the Batman’s war on crime.  While this may seem reminiscent of Tony Stark’s revelation of being Iron Man, this actually seems to be the plan of Batman hinted at in Mark Waid’s classic mini-series, Kingdom Come.  A world of multiple Batmans and increased tech to keep the streets of Gotham safe (also the plan Batman would return to in the sequel to Dark Knight).  In other words, it’s still Batman working his same plan only thinking bigger.

Like with Batman/Bruce Wayne, Batman:  The Return pretty much declares this new vision and direction while at the same time hinting that there will be a shift in tone to the dark, brooding Batman we have come to know over the last few decades.  We see the obligatory check in with the Bat Family, starting with Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne, entrusting them with protecting the streets of Gotham.

“Starting today we fight ideas with better ideas.  The idea of crime with the idea of Batman.” –Batman

In a lot of ways, Batman/Bruce Wayne has shifted into visionary mode, a person with so many ideas that it is difficult to keep up with them.  This in and of itself is a shift from the ultra-focused Batman we’ve come to know.  This Batman is … enthusiastic.  Before, folks were swept up in his mania; now they are carried along by his passion.  And it’s too early to see if this is a brilliant or fatally flawed plan, but Morrison displays a confidence in his handling of the characters as well as the story.  Like Batman/Bruce Wayne, Morrison brings a lot of ideas to the table, not all of them are carried off perfectly, such as his extended metaphor of the wounded bat that opens the book.

David Finch’s art, interpreted by Batt, Winn and Steigerwald, was dark and moody.  His art direction is both eye catching and engaging, creating a motion to the story.

“Mr. Unknown is Dead”

Writer:  Grant Morrison

Artist:  Yanick Paquette

Publisher:  DC Comics

Price:  $3.99

At first blush, my instinct, based on experience with tie-ins to mega events, screamed that if you bought one book, you wouldn’t need the other.  That is far from the case here.  If Batman:  The Return laid out the mission statement, Batman Incorporated is the test run.  And from early on, it’s apparent that there’s a new story telling sheriff in town.

We begin with a journey to Japan and a world of Japanese crime fighters.  A global vision has to have global stories.  However, the new direction wasn’t in the setting, but in the jovial atmosphere of the book.  There is a buoyant humor, not to mention the innuendo laced, Nick & Nora-esque dialogue between Batman and Catwoman.  It seems like Batman isn’t operating from the wounded little boy who lost his parents and whose heart was set on vengeance, but that of a man who had found a measure of healing from that pain.

I was not a fan of the art.  While Yanick Pacquette and Michel Lacombe ably handle both Selina Kyle and Japan, something about it didn’t quite appeal to me that I still can’t quite put my finger on.

“No one can run from death forever.” –Mighty Lord Death Man

We know (and I use the word “we” to refer to those of the comic book intelligentsia familiar with the origins of Batman) that it is the tragic loss of his parents at the hand of a street criminal, and his subsequent thirst for Justice, that drives him into his new life.

Batman has always been a dangerously focused character. The death of his parents at the hands of a criminal gave him a mission in life, but how he went about his mission has led writers to depict him as either a revenge-driven psychopath (continuing to punish the man who killed his parents) or an ardent pursuer of justice (pursuing a higher calling and mission). So this hero’s journey has always been as much internal as it was external.

Similarly, the church already has its mission, the missio Dei, joining in God’s mission to be a blessing to the world. We are called to a mission of reconciliation: one to another and one another to God. God’s reconciling act is centered on the cross, a gift of freedom. The resurrection is a sign that the powers have been defeated, though still active. The cross transforms our condition while also providing an example of hope. A faith with present-future components: the present reality lived in light of a future one. Being united in mission is a sanctifying process. To fight injustice and oppression; ministering to neighbors; not putting up fences or moving away develops disciplines needed for growth. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we practice Pentecost and live out the Gospel. Reconciliation touches the most hidden parts of our souls. God gave reconciliation to us as a ministry that never ends.  One that we need to think locally as well as globally in terms of how we carry it out.

The change in direction heralded by Batman:  the Return and Batman Incorporated is a welcome one, a great start to this series.  Face paced, funny, and filled with a vibrant energy (words I wouldn’t have expected to describe any Batman work these last few years), I hope this direction continues this strong for a long time.

Ultimate Avengers 3 #4

Writer:  Mark Millar

Artist:  Steve Dillon

Publisher:  Marvel Comics

Price:  $3.99

Previously:  The Avengers have met their match:  a horde of vampires looking to recruit super heroes into their ranks.  Led by the mysterious man in an iron suit, Anthony, the vamp army has just enlisted the newly turned Nerd Hulk and Kid Daredevil.  After the first battle between the Avengers and vampires goes south, Blade descends on the Triskelion to take out the vampires’ biggest asset, the recently infected Captain America.  It doesn’t go so well.

“There’s a world beneath your world, Mr Stark, and you can build all the cities and towers you like.  It ain’t gonna go away.” –Blade

Sometimes the Ultimate universe comes off as if Marvel has given license to do a “What If …?” universe.  A place where history and continuity have little meaning or long lasting consequences, almost like a disposable universe.  Where writers can be as over the top with beloved characters and it doesn’t matter because these stories take place over here and aren’t part of the “canon” anyway, so just sit back and enjoy them.

That said, now throw in the second wave of horror tropes riding a wave of resurgent popularity.  First zombies running amuck in the Marvel universe, now vampires.  Add to the mix Mark Millar’s patented over-the-top sensibilities and snappy one liners, and you have Ultimate Avengers 3.  Mark Millar’s Ultimate Avengers still carry the spirit of The Authority, moving at a cinematic scope yet filled with plenty of Millar being Millar:  mocking the Twilight phenomena (which, cranky as I sound, believe me, this sequence alone is worth the price of admission); Blade as a smartass not a taciturn vambot, shooting folks to get them to shut up for a minute; and the Hulk vs Anthony.

“We don’t bow to any made up God.  Defer to any man-made law.  We just submit to our most basic values and follow even our darkest desires.” –Anthony

Like the vampires in 30 Days of Night, these vampires seem to roam about at will, eat from a buffet line of non-powered humanity, and basically give into their gluttony and excess. Their lives are reduced to wild, wanton wastes of wants and needs, being driven solely by desires, much like children without any parental supervision.  In a lot of ways, they are like us, striving to live life on our terms, for our maximum happiness, not realizing how selfish this is. This points to our secret desires to set ourselves up as our own gods, determiners of our fate, and not realizing that we’re the problem.

We all have desires. Desires are good in and of themselves; it’s when they stray from their intended purpose that things go awry. Desires are also potential areas of temptation and sin. The desire to enjoy things can lead to evil desires that express themselves in physical activity (“lust of the flesh”); the desire to obtain things can lead to a covetous heart (“lust of the eyes”); and the desire to do things can lead to focusing our lives around such activity (“pride of life”).

But the purpose of desires is to lead us to right relationships, with God, with each other and to live in harmony with creation. We have to be met where we are, broken and lost, in order to move where we need to be.

The bullet point review of Ultimates 3 is … it is what it is.  Seriously.  Mark Millar scripting the Avengers will give you a romp that doesn’t always makes sense, have the characters acting in ways that often seem incongruent to how we’ve come to know them, but service the story/mood/joke, and in general be a good time.  It is what it is, so you will either love it or loathe it, your mileage may vary.

Shadowland #1 – A Review

Writer:  Andy Diggle

Artist:  Billy Tan

Publisher:  Marvel Comics

Price:  $3.99

Previously:  They are called The Hand – an organization of ninjas, thieves, and assassins.  Originally banding together 800 years ago to fight off the oppressive system of feudal Japan, The Hand turned to corruption and darkness when the mutinous Snakeroot Clan seized power.  Over the years, they’ve come into conflict with many superhumans—Spider-Man, the Avengers, and the X-Men to name a few—but none of their feuds compared to their war with Daredevil.  Murdock’s ties to the hand run deep; his mentor, Stick, died trying to destroy The Hand, and his former lover, Elektra, served The Hand as an assassin for many years, nearly losing her soul in the process. So when The Hand sought Daredevil out to become their new leader, he was understandably confused.  He initially rejected their offer, but eventually consented, plotting to use the organization as a force for good.  When his arch-enemy, Bullseye, destroyed a city block – and killed 107 people in the process – Murdock resolved to turn The Hand into an army of protectors.  Over the ensuing months, they’ve confronted crime and corruption on the streets of new York – with brutal force.  As Daredevil’s power within the group has grown, so has his willingness to push the limits in order to keep the peace.  He sought to change The Hand but it appears The Hand has changed him.

Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker have had the best Daredevil run since the days of Frank Miller being on the book.  Andy Diggle picks ups after Brubaker and with Shadowland demonstrates that he has a firm handle on Daredevil.  Like Batman, Daredevil is interesting because he walks that fine line of being a vigilante while battling with his demons (with more than his share of manias and mental issues).  So to see him flirt with this walk on the dark side isn’t entirely surprising.  In fact, it seems to be the familiar watering hole his character seems to return to periodically whenever he’s hurt or going through something tough.

After years of epic, global, cosmic, paradigm shifting comics events that reset everything, it’s nice to get a street level event where the non-/not-as-powered folks get some run.  Daredevil’s arch-enemy, Bullseye, chews scenery with every panel he’s in (at one point having him in a Hannibal Lector get up, still oozing sinister charm).  Diggle uses Bullseye to great effect and lets him steal the book.  The rest of the heroes’ reaction to Daredevil is a little puzzling as they’ve seen variations on his act before (“Kingpin of Hell’s Kitchen” anyone?).

“Matt Murdock dared evil and lost.”

Shadowland explores a kind of moral ambiguity, as Daredevil begins down a well-intentioned slippery slope.  His goal is to leap into the heart of an evil organization and use it as a force for good.  As laudable as that is, there are two things that he forgets:  1) while all things can be redeemed, evil has a way of baiting traps to take down good; it’s not going to go down quietly or unopposed; and 2) evil is real and exists, demons and the like; and that while evil is to be opposed, it can’t be opposed with evil, because that only strengthens the cause of evil. Evil must be opposed with good.

“He cannot be corrupted from without.  He must damn himself.” –The Hand

At the core of Matt Murdock’s sense of woundedness are a litany of regrets and spoiled/frustrated dreams.  We long to be rescued from our past transgressions, from those out of control elements of our lives. Yet, too often, we believe ourselves too far gone, too sinful, too tainted to be loved or accepted. It’s never too late. We can be met where we are, by finding a community, and with their help, become the people we were meant to be. No matter our past and how many mistakes we’ve made. We are never so far gone that we can’t turn our lives around, starting now. The path sounds “easy” (though not really because there are costs and sacrifices to changing our lives around, and we still have the consequences of our choices to date to deal with). However, it starts as simply as asking for and accepting forgiveness (from others and yourself), then going and “sin no more.”

This is a series not to be missed and it’s no wonder it’s in its fourth printing.  The compelling premise, exploring the dark side of Daredevil against the backdrop of Bullseye (ending with a panel sequence those familiar with the history of Daredevil and Bullseye can appreciate) and ninjas … you can’t turn the pages fast enough.

X-Factor #211 – A Review

Staying in Vegas

Writer:  Peter David

Artist:  Emanuela Lupacchino

Publisher:  Marvel Comics

Price:  $2.99

Previously:  X-Factor was hired by a mysterious woman to track down an equally mysterious reprobate who had supposedly stolen an ornamental hammer-shaped pendant.  As it turned out, the mysterious woman was Hela, Norse goddess of the underworld, and the reprobate was that cosmic fun-lover, Pip the Troll, who was trying to escape back to Las Vegas, telling the detectives that their job was done.  Seeing Pip’s terror and feeling responsible, Madrox and company headed to Nevada to try and sort matters out.  Longshot then went on a massive winning streak throughout the city in hopes of catching her attention.  The good news is:  it worked. Bad news is:  it worked … and the team now find themselves under attack by undead Viking henchmen.

Peter David (Hulk, Fallen Angel) is one of my favorite writers and it had been a while since I checked in on X-Factor.  From beginning to end, X-Factor continues to be an entertaining and good read.  David brings a certain air of fun to comic book experience.  There’s a joy to the story telling and to the approach of the characters.  It’s obvious that he not only has a deep love for these characters, but he has a strong sense of them as individuals and has a firm handle on their journeys/arcs.  Not to mention that his trademark snappy banter still bubbles throughout the issue.

If the story seems to spin its narrative wheels it’s because the issue largely delivers what it promises:  if you put an all out battle between our heroes and Viking zombie warriors on your cover, then you better have some full splash page takeovers of our heroes vs. Viking zombie warriors.  And Emanuela Lupacchino’s art is beautiful and reason enough to pick up this book.

“I am the only God you should be swearing to.” – Hela

I couldn’t help but think that in the age of super heroes and immortals, it must be hard to believe in God or gods, even when confronted with them.  Supernatural beings become commonplace, people bear witness to the supernatural and the miraculous and it must do strange things to people’s faith.   Yet we continue to look for miracles. They are God’s calling cards. We believe that if only we could have some proof positive of God at work in our lives, in our world, then it would heal our faith and sooth our doubts. What we fail to take into account is that people can see the exact same things, the exact same set of circumstances and evidence, and come to very different conclusions … We can’t go through life solely seeking signs of the miraculous out in order to build our faith upon, nor should we deny them when we come across them.

We continue to look for miracles, to see some true sign of God’s presence in our reality. Miracles are God’s calling cards. We believe that if only we could have some proof positive of God at work in our lives, in our world, then it would heal our faith and sooth our doubts. If God burst in with full revelation, as He was often recorded doing in the Bible, I don’t think we could handle it. Look at those same stories in the Bible: after every miracle, it was like people embraced a type of amnesia. They either forgot what they just witnessed or became blasé with a “yeah, but what have you done for me lately?” attitude. We want a God we can control and understand, but by losing the idea of what it means to have a fear of the Lord, we end up trivializing God. God is God. Either way, an encounter with supernatural would rock our worldview to its foundation (and that’s even if you already believed in Him in the first place).

From beginning to end, this issue is packed with action.  If you’re a fan of Peter David’s witty banter, you will be taking a breather on this issue.  That’s is more than made up for with plenty of splash pages worth of art of our band of heroes vs, well, zombie Vikings.  Zombie.  Vikings.  No character is left stranded, each having something to do that contributes to the story, and you can feel the story building in momentum like a freight train.  Interestingly, David manages to jam so much into the action pages that you still may have to read the issue a second time to make sure you didn’t miss anything.