Iron Man: Enter The Mandarin #3 -- I'm convinced that Joe Casey's flashback minis -- including this title as well as Avengers: World's Mightiest Heroes I and II -- are primarily designed to be read with the relevant Essentials trade paperback at your side. This issue is the perfect argument for that theory. After all, who really remembers Marvel's Scarecrow, let alone the nature of his encounter with Iron Man from the old Tales of Suspense besides those of us who have read Essential Iron Man v.1 more than once? The increased backstory does flesh him out a bit, enough that a neophyte could at least understand who he is and what his motivations are, but I imagine that for a non-hardcore Iron Fan, this wouldn't hold as much weight. Of course, I doubt many non-hardcore Iron Fans read this title. Anyway, Casey introduces a modern-age character into this Silver Age flashback, and as a fan of this character I'm rather pleased by this development. Eric Canete's frentic, slightly cartoony pencils continue to impress me, despite it being a real "change of pace" type of rendering for the character.
Freddy vs Jason vs Ash #1 -- Most folks who know me know that I grew up on a steady diet of horror movies. As such, one of the few things I mark out for more than comic books remains, to this day, horror movies of all types. And so this series, an adaption of the script to the never-going-to-be-made sequel to Freddy vs Jason, was right up my alley. I cut my teeth on modern horror (well, it was modern when I was a kid) with the NOES series, have always been a fan of F13, and honestly, who doesn't like Ash at this point? Anyway, this issue serves primarily as a "pre-credits" prologue and the very beginning of the first act, tying up the loose ends from FvJ and establishing Ash's role in the conflict. Craig's art is good but not great; his facial work runs hot and cold, but his draws the gore quite nicely and things never get too confused or cluttered. Campbell's covers are all pretty, well, Campbell-esque, but the Jason cover, which I chose, looks pretty nice. A very interesting set-up for what hopefully will be a worthy followup to one of the best horror "party" movies of the last decade.
Annihilation: Conquest: Star Lord #4 -- It's all out, guns-ablazin' action in this, the final prologue to A:C, and Giffen, Green, and company do not disappoint. With Peter Quill and most of his team captured, it's up to Mantis and the wounded Captain Universe to shut down the Phalanx's nanovirus before it enslaves the remainder of the free people of Hala. But they were warned that this was a suicide mission, so even if they succeed, who will survive? I say if a concept sounds fun, then run with it, and that's what Giffen has done with this series. It doesn't really matter that this is a motley crew of loonies and wierdos, because the action is exciting, the dialogue snappy, and the overall presentation solid and entertaining. I am very much looking forward to seeing more of the "Suicide Squad of Space" in the upcoming issues of...
Annihilation: Conquest #1 -- With the situation and challenges established by the Prologue and the four lead-ins, the stakes have been set for the second Annihilation. DnA's story is epic and sweeping, and they have assembled a cast of heroes who run the gauntlet from the majestic (Quasar) to the ordinary (Star Lord), the noble (Ronan) to the brutish (Blastaar), and the driven (Wraith) to the reluctant (Adam Warlock). And in the best tradition of the space opera, they throw them against seemingly unsurmountable odds and a foe who not only has enough power to take down them all, but is so much of a surprise that I doubt anyone could have seen it coming. Tom Raney's pencils are lush and weird, matching the alien landscapes and armies populating the universe. Annihilation may not be high art, or even deep and meaningful, but what it offered (and continues to offer through Conquest) is true escapism fantasy, a relief from the crushingly depressing mainstream Marvel Universe, where supposed "reality" has replaced imagination and creativity. You may not be a fan of cosmic-style superhero antics, but if you are a fan of exciting adventures (preferably in space), then this is the series for you.
Superman #670 -- The story which (apparently) Kurt Busiek wanted to tell over a year ago bows here, in the double-sized conclusion to "The Third Kryptonian." The fact that in the interim, Johns and Donner introduced a fourth Kryptonian doesn't help matters, but at least Supes himself recognized that and acknowledged it himself a few issues back. The story at hand plainly was supposed to be in the Annual, as is evidenced by the chapter breaks, but it works just as well here. Alien hunter (in that he is an alien who presently is hunting different aliens) Amalak has tracked his prey to Earth, and now he and his crew -- armed with anti-Kryptonian weaponry -- are going to exterminate all remnants of the planet Krypton, including the great city of Kandor. So it's up to Superman, Supergirl, Powergirl, and Krypto (plus an assist from the Dark Knight) to stop him. Personally, I'm supportive of any story which features Batman driving Superman's battlesuit and commanding an army of Superman Robots, but beyond that, I really enjoyed this story. This is the kind of thing I thought DC was supposed to be moving to in the wake of Infinite Crisis. Nevermind that Busiek has been doing that, but with "The Third Kryptonian," he not only makes it easily accessible to the reader but also ties it up without any delays or distractions. There's plenty of action but not a whole lot of violence; there's nothing depicted on Leonardi's powerful pages which I would have balked at giving to a younger reader (tween-aged). Even the big tragic moment, while powerful and shocking, is bloodless, and does a good job of raising more questions rather than simply expressing rage. I know I am frothing at this point, but I am a sucker for Superman stories like this, which show how hard a beating Big Blue can take, and the lengths to which he will go to achieve justice.
The Pick of the Pile this week is really, really tough, as both Annihilation: Conquest and Superman are very strong candidates. On the one hand, A:C is the kickoff to what promises to be a great series, with a last page reveal which comes completely out of left field. On the other hand, Superman delivers on everything I could want from a DC title, and fires on all cylinders in doing so. In the final tally, though, I have to give the nod to Superman by the tiniest of margins -- with the tipping point being no fault of A:C's at all... namely that it is the start of a story, while Superman is the finale. A:C leaves me intrigued, but Supes left me satisfied.
So what did YOU read this week?