BOOK OF THE WEEK: Spider-Men #4: If you've been following this series—in which the regular Marvel Universe Spider-Man meets his Ultimate Universe counterpart—you probably assumed this issue was coming. But I bet you didn't expect how emotional it would be. Spider-Men #4, the second-to-last chapter in this universe-bending crossover, finds the "regular" Peter Parker exploring the very different Ultimate Universe, whose own Peter Parker, you may remember, was killed a few months ago. Now Peter's loved ones have a chance to find some kind of closure, while Peter, too, confronts some ghosts he didn't expect to meet (like a living, breathing Gwen Stacy). This issue serves as a reminder of why Brian Michael Bendis is one of the best writers Marvel—or any comics company—has in their stable; it's quiet, sweet, and surprisingly moving for folks invested in the ongoing story of one or both Spider-Men. Although crossovers like this are typically nothing but throwaway schemes to drive up readership, it really seems like this story is integral to what Bendis is doing over in Ultimate Spider-Man. He makes these 22 pages count for both his characters and his readers. Put simply, this is a great book.
Batman #12: Coming in right behind Spider-Men #4 is this fantastic issue of Batman that finds writer Scott Snyder and fill-in artist Becky Cloonan taking a bit of a breather in between epically long fights with the Court of Owls and the Joker. This issue's all about Harper Row, a young electrician in Gotham City's employ who can barely make ends meet and who's responsible for supporting her gay, bullied brother. One night an attack on her and her brother by a local gang is broken up by the Batman, and Harper vows to do something nice for him in return. She's figured out that Batman actually runs a phantom power grid hidden inside Gotham's own; it allows him to work the city's electricity to his benefit in the event of emergencies. Harper wants to help make Batman's grid even better, but Batman may not be so keen on an average citizen playing with his secrets. Throughout the 11-part Court of Owls story, Scott Snyder proved that he could tell action epics with the best of them; this issue shows that he's just as adept with personal character pieces. By the end, Harper Row is a character you're going to want to see again.
Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #2: Last issue, the love of Adrian Veidt's life was killed by an accidental drug overdose. Now Veidt, a self-made man with incredible knowledge and martial arts training, has vowed to find the pushers that sold her those drugs. This issue marks the beginning of Veidt's career as the costumed crimefighter Ozymandias, who, we may remember from the original Watchmen, grows up to save the world… kind of. So far, despite stunning art from Jae Lee, Ozymandias has been the weakest of the Before Watchmen prequels; though it's no doubt intentional on writer Len Wein's part, it seems kind of anticlimactic to see the self-described "World's Smartest Man" taking on petty drug dealers and thugs. Everyone's got to start somewhere, but did the story of how Ozymandias started really need to be told?
Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #12: A rogue S.H.A.D.E. agent is using all the resources at his disposal to take out Agent Frankenstein. Why? Because of a prophecy that Frankenstein will be the one to end his life. Kind of a Minority Report twist, don't you think? Anyway, this issue of Frankenstein—new writer Matt Kindt's third—continues the far-out sci-fi/horror action we've come to expect from this series, and its ending offers a really fascinating twist, one that connects with the Rotworld crossover currently happening in the pages of Animal Man and Swamp Thing. Without giving too much away, it seems that a character from Frankenstein's past may have a connection to the Rot, and now he's coming back to make Frank do his bidding. The last two pages of this issue alone are worth the cover price, but the rest is pretty solid too.
Gambit #1: For months Marvel has been hyping this series featuring everyone's favorite Cajun mutant; it's a book that promises to take Gambit back to his thieving roots. The company's billing it as a mix of Indiana Jones and Mission Impossible, which seems accurate. Unfortunately, it's just not as compelling as it could be. In this first issue, Gambit puts on his fancy duds and infiltrates a fundraiser hosted by Borya Cich, a wealthy investor rumored to be a collector of illicit and destructive alien artifacts. Gambit can't resist the temptation to go thieving Cich's collection, but of course, it's not going to be as easy as he thinks it is. Writer James Asmus and artist Clay Mann try really hard to sell Gambit as a sexy super-thief; in fact, in this comic Gambit's often drawn in poses that match the exploitative positions superhero books tend to put lady characters in—skintight leather, naked with cleverly-placed foreground objects, bent over at impossible angles, etc. In a way, that's interesting, but it's not enough of a hook; it just feels like this book could give readers a little more.
Punk Rock Jesus #2: It's the year 2020, and one of the world's largest media conglomerates has decided to do the impossible—clone Jesus Christ from DNA remnants found on the Shroud of Turin. What are they going to do with this Second Coming? Make him the subject of a 24-7 reality show called J2, of course. Sound horrible? Well, it basically is; this is a vaguely apocalyptic look at a bleak future where human beings are commoditized in the extreme. The 18-year-old girl who's been chosen as a surrogate mother for J2—which involves her making a whole lot of money—has decided she's had enough, and she wants out of the show. Unfortunately, the guys who cut her checks aren't willing to let her go; they'd rather destroy her and broadcast the results. This Vertigo book from writer/artist Sean Murphy is what results when The Truman Show meets The Passion; it could potentially offend some more traditional readers, although this book is nothing if not a complex and critical analysis of the destructive effects of a culture that prizes money and media saturation above all else. If you want a new indie book to try this month, check this one out.
Resurrection Man #12: This series is nearing the end of the line, and as such, main character Mitch Shelley's closer than ever to learning the secrets behind his past. Why can't he be killed? Why does he get a new super power every time he suffers a seemingly fatal injury? An incursion into the pharmaceutical lab where Shelley worked before his first "death" should provide all the answers… if the people at the lab cooperate. Readers who've been following this book for the past year should appreciate that it's finally time to get some answers, even though that likely has as much to do with the impending cancellation as it does the way the story had been plotted. Still, there are some genuinely cool moments and revelations in this comic, and the finale looks to be satisfying, if premature.
Transformers: Robots in Disguise #8: The ferocious Dinobots, now leaderless, have returned to the Transformers' home world of Cybertron just so they've got something to do. That's good, because restless Autobot soldier Ironhide has gotten wind of a feral creature living out in the unexplored wilderness of their planet, and he intends to take the Dinobots out on a hunting party to find this destructive source. Could it be Megatron, the Decepticon leader thought killed? This is our first glimpse at untamed Cybertron since the planet "reformatted" itself at the end of the Autobot/Decepticon war; as such, it's a nice excuse to explore the Transformers' world a little deeper (both metaphorically and literally). This issue's also a great chance to get into the head of Ironhide, once one of the Autobot's most no-nonsense fighters, but now something of a mystic who's convinced he can see the future. Writer John Barber and artist Andrew Griffith continue to push the boundaries of what we expect to see in a Transformers comic, and it continues to be awesome.