Mark Waid's "Daredevil" run has started out strong, but has since become somewhat uneven, with the meandering crossover plot and the artistic changes. The distinctive innovative retro stylings have been all but lost in the shuffle, as the "Omega effect" crossover has helped the sales of tie-in books, but at the cost of throwing the critically acclaimed title off balance. With the #12's addition of a new regular artist, it's clear that the editorial has done work to help the beleaguered title.
On the other hand, it's hard to think of Chris Samnee as the regular penciller when Marvel wants to keep putting out multiple issues of the title each month. Taken on its own, Waid and Samnee's latest effort harkens back to the more stable days of the title, by once again playing with science fiction to present a challenge to the hero's powers, and in effect get away from the everlasting shadow the Frank Miller's neo-noir stylings left on the title. Following the issue in which Samnee showed the character going on a date in his civilian identity, his Latverian adventure sees nothing but superhero adventure. Daredevil's in costume throughout, and from the start Waid presents him with a trap he must escape from.
Choosing deliberately to start out "blind", the writer makes the issue a distinct storytelling unit, albeit one that comes with familiar "to be continued" at the end. The issue then centers around Daredevil's coming to terms with the villain's predicament, which tries its best to completely overwhelm him by the issue's end. The classic trope of superhero's powers giving up on him certainly presents a more interesting challenge for a hero whose powers come from his enhanced senses, and Waid seems to delight in narrating Matt's gradual realization. More problematically, the writers also posits a too familiar view of Latveria as a fantasy medieval kingdom with a dark twist.
While this is in keeping with the more traditional superhero approach, it also leaves the character in an underdeveloped setting that is overtly familiar to longtime readers. Using Doctor Doom's banker as the villain might have been inspired had the creative team not opted to depict him as a late 19th century feudal noble, which completely undermines the diverting potential of the economic references. More problematically, Samnee's Daredevil seems unsure and generic, lacking a personalized take.
Always a solid storyteller, the artist manages to get across the nuance in Waid's quirky script, but does little more besides, which is certainly a step down from the work of Rivera and Martin that preceded him. Given time, there is every indication that the artist will get more comfortable with the character and embellish his own style to get the most out of it, but coupled with the fill-in issues necessitated by the accelerated schedule, Marvel has turned "Daredevil" from an artistic showcase to merely an above average superhero title that hints at a greater potential.
Greg Rucka and Marco Chechetto's leisurely paced relaunched "Punisher" series continues in much the same vein, while not picking upon the zombie threat teased at the ending of the previous issue. Once again, the decompressed storytelling results in a competently crafted comic that reads well in larger chunks. On its own, it's a very slight episode, featuring little more than a single scene, as the younger, more modern Punisher confronts his protegee in the fall-out of the "Omega effect" crossover.
Police lieutenants Ozzie and Bolt are kept to the peripherals, yet they use the little time they have to advance the subplot of the older detective's gradual acceptance of his young colleague, as the newly promoted detective finally starts owning up to some of his unprofessional behavior. Rucka also picks up on the Daily Bugle reporter, continuing the development of her relationship with Rachel, which has an interesting dynamic of its own. Norah's role in this chapter is also much more organic than that of the two police officers.
The character confrontations culminate with the fight between Frank and Rachel, which feels somewhat overlong and predicated on a piece of a particularly loaded symbolism. Chechetto's solid, clear work gets overtaken by a particularly intrusive piece of special effects when it gets to the featuring the two characters trading punches in the rain. The resulting sequence is at least a page too long and muddy, which takes away from the intended effect of shock and emotion. When the two characters finally start talking in a close space, Rucka hangs the sequence around a photograph from Rachel's wedding, a prop that has reappeared numerous times since debuting as the series' opening panel.
It makes some sense to have Rucka visualize the object of their quarrel, seeing as how the comics are a graphic medium, but the execution falls short of memorable. Thankfully, by the time the sequence has ended the two characters have come to the beginning of a new phase in their relationship, which has so far served as the emotional core of the series.
Rick Remender's concluding arc on "Venom" is still building up to a crescendo, as co-writer Cullen Bunn presents a particularly tense issue. In the year and a half since the title's debut, the series has lost both it's original penciller and it remains to be seen how much longer it will maintain the presence in the market following Remender's exit. The original "Fables" artist Lan Medina gives a more representational look to the grim and gritty series, while losing some of Tony Moore's nuance when it comes to black humor. The over the top moments are still there, but his Toxin-possessed Eddie Brock feels much cruder and uncertain than some of the apparitions Moore designed in the series' entries to the "Circle of Four" crossover.
Plot-wise, this could be seen as a controversial issue, as it revolves around the Venom's relationship with Crime Master endangering the women in his life. Once again, the Spider-Man parallels are inevitable, with the writers going so far to underline the spin-off aspect of Flash Thompson's adventures by calling back at perhaps the worst tragedy in the life of Marvel's wall-crawler. It's entirely in their hands how much the execution will grate against some of the most controversial genre tropes.
Thankfully, the result is on par with the best issues of the title. There is not much to say about the issue in which Flash/Venom is still reacting to his enemies plan to punish him for insubordination, except that it hints at most of Remender's plots being tied up by the end of the "Savage Six" arc, while making progressing the character in order to leave Bunn with a foundation for a new direction that will hopefully continue to be supported by the fan base.
The penultimate issue until the milestone #100 is decidedly an understated affair. With news of record breaking orders of the next issue, the present effort seems largely overshadowed and perfunctory. Simply put, Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard present another in a long line of issues that minimally advance the plot, while continuing the character subplots. All that happens in Walking dead #99 is that Rick and his friends plan their next move and head out once again, while mourning their loss from the previous issue.
Thus, the reader is focused to ponder Kirkman's propensity for seemingly randomly killing off major characters. That the cast has always consisted of characters that worked to a different degree of success in regards to the series was always a given. By killing another alpha male vying for dominance, it's tempting to say that the creators have subconsciously once again reasserted Rick's role of the protagonist. It seems almost indecent to note that with Rick freed of the shackles of family and the attempt of a relationship outside the core group of survivors, his taking up with Andrea seems almost logical.
The character has come a long way from the leader of the small band of stragglers, and has almost become an ends justify the means usurper that disrupts the order of the larger communities and uses his hardened stance to assert himself as an authority on everywhere he goes. This thuggish side of the character is largely depicted as a tragedy out of necessity, but his continued survival means that the creative team have to continually challenge him, while trying to effect sympathy from the existing audience.
Kirkman and Adlard have time and again introduced other characters as possible leaders that could ensure that Rick steps down from responsibility and settles down into the role of the father, but they have continually proven unstable and ill suited next to the series' protagonist. This strange dynamic is arguably the most interesting thing about "Walking Dead", and it remains to be seen how the creators plan to develop the character.
Obviously, having Andrea die and Rick advanced to begin a relationship with Michonne, while he becomes the leader of yet another larger community would not be the creatively most interesting outcome. In the meantime, Kirkman and Adlard produce yet another readable issue, most interestingly contrasting Rick and Andrea's first attempts at living together with the plight of Glenn and pregnant Maggie, as well as another local couple. Outside of these attempts at poignancy by these people who must go on with their lives in spite of the constant sense of life threatening danger, there is little new to discuss.
Charlie Adlard continues drawing both the melodramatic and the horror elements with equal precision, professionally going about the assignment at a fast pace, and Kirkman continues to tease the climatic break from the fortified community in which Rick and his people have spent the last several years of publication. With the advent of the anniversary issue, big chances are liable to be visited upon the series, which is viable to shake up the status quo and introduce new characters and come up with the new roles for the existing cast.
Brian Azzarello concludes the three-parter involving Wonder Woman's debt to Hades from the previous arc. DC's insistence on "New 52" titles sticking to the regular schedule means that the issue has two pencillers, but Kano and Tony Akins styles adjust enough to provide for a unified experience. The drab atmosphere suits the fantasy/horror premise of the series, while paradoxally clashing with Hades as established in the previous issue.
Some of the playfulness has been lost in the transition between pencillers, which is not mitigated by all the fighting that goes on following Wonder Woman's decision to escape her wedding in the Netherworld. As always, the character designs for these version of Greek gods are the visually most interesting part of the book, but at this point it can be safely said that for all of their observed storytelling, the fill in artists still lack when compared to the flair in the work of the regular penciller Cliff Chiang.
Azzarello's Wonder Woman remains as resourceful and enigmatic as ever, but for all the effort she still remains little but the reader identification figure in this strange and wonderful world. At one point the writer hints at the special attributes of Lennox, but his two companions get little more than the complimentary dialogue to remind the reader they were there. Despite the brevity of the issue, the creators finish on a nice sequence liable to make the reader satisfied with what has been a slow building, but certainly one of the most consistent titles of the DCU relaunch.
Interestingly, the Ed Brubaker spin-off title "Winter Soldier" has actually improved following the first storyline. With Butch Guice gone for the duration, the writer has followed up on Bucky and Black Widow's adventures with Michael Lark. One of the writer's original "Captain America" artists, Lark offers a completely different dynamic than the heavily atmospheric Guice. The resulting dynamic, here in its second issue actually makes for a better story, if familiar to the long time readers of Brubaker's take on the mythos.
With "Broken Arrow", the writer is actually developing a similar dynamic to the one in the "Captain America" that this title is spinning-off from, with an opposite number villain being a figure from the character's violent past. So far, both of the antagonists have little to show in way of actual character, but at least in "Winter Soldier" Leo Novokov does manage to bring the best out of both Bucky and Brubaker. After the slow start, the issue starts picking up with an extended sequence designed to streamline Black Widow's updated origin.
Redefining the character as Bucky's girlfriend might seem insensitive, but at least in this instance, the writer never stops showing Natasha as a strong and fully capable woman. The character was introduced as a supporting player and has historically been largely remembered due to the association with Daredevil, for the brief time that the two characters shared cover billing while relocated to San Francisco. Recreating a similar dynamic with Bucky, involved perhaps the largest Marvel retcon in a decade, explaining that Captain America's original sidekick survived WW2 as a brainwashed Soviet assassin, but in that framework the relationship works.
On the other hand, the new connection of the two characters didn't necessitate that the character specifically mentions some of the details of her previous origin as memory implants. The brief reference not only disparages previous creators work, but more importantly, it takes the reader out of the story. Thankfully, Brubaker paces his work so well that there is otherwise hardly a wrong beat in the entire, well structure scenario. Starting on the next page, the reader is treated to a fantastic spy action scene, phenomenally choreographed by Michael Lark.
The whole of this sequence is basically a blueprint for making superbly crafted action comics, as Lark maintains the sense of place and dynamic while changing the point of view. Despite the characters being highly capable operatives, suspense never lets up and the creators carry the reader through what could have been yet another familiar ticking clock situation. It feels earned even when the creators unambiguously compare the sequence with Bucky's original Silver Age demise, itself a retcon. Having a sense of pride over the moment that is quite clearly the best executed sequence in the title so far merely identifies Brubaker and Lark as creators who take pride in their good work.
The closing sequence exists to tease the next issue and underline the importance of the Widow's flashback. Once again, Brubaker underlines Natasha's importance to the title and rises the stakes in a way that seems natural and organic. Gone are the motivations built around Latverian cyborgs and nuclear weapons, as Ed Brubaker finds that at least one of the Soviet agents of the opening arc was too many. Looking at "Black Arrow" so far, a single one was more than enough to cause serious problems for Bucky and Natasha.
More importantly, with the title finding its own identity as a post Cold War spy epic, there is no need to return to Super-Apes and Doctor Doom once Butch Guice returns to the art. This level of assured, confident storytelling should be enough to assure the fans to stick with the title.