BOOK OF THE WEEK: Animal Man #0: It’s “Zero Month” over at DC Comics, which means all of their books over the next four weeks are going to step back in time with releases that show how and why their main characters came to be the heroes we recognize. That trend starts strong with this week’s Animal Man #0, a look at the incident that caused C-list film stuntman Buddy Baker to end up with a powerful connection to the primal force of the Red. Writer Jeff Lemire does a great job here filling in background knowledge on a character that a lot of readers may not have been too familiar with until recently; he also manages to build on the mythology that he and Swamp Thing writer Scott Snyder have established regarding the Rot, the wicked enemy of the Red. In particular, an opening sequence featuring longtime Swamp Thing villain Anton Arcane does a great job setting the tone for the rest of this issue, not to mention making us super-excited for the Rotworld crossover taking place in both Animal Man and Swamp Thing over the next few months.
Action Comics #0: Since Action Comics is already a flashback book that shows us how young journalist Clark Kent came to be the world’s greatest superhero, this issue doesn’t have as much new ground to cover as other books in DC’s Zero Month. Writer Grant Morrison thus decides to focus not as much on Superman here as on one of his iconic accessories—his cape. In “The Boy Who Stole Superman’s Cape,” a young Metropolis child lifts the artifact from Superman while he’s recovering from a particularly nasty battle. Quickly discovering the indestructible properties of the cape, he uses it to protect his brother and mom from an abusive, violent father. It’s a little sappy, sure, but this story emphasizes a point Morrison has been attempting to make throughout his run on Action: Superman doesn’t just fight the big battles with outer-space monsters and mad scientists, he fights the little ones for all of us, too.
Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #3: In the height of the Swinging ‘60s in San Francisco, teen runaway Laurie Juspeczyk has begun to build a life for herself. She’s got a sweet boyfriend and a great social support group, and she’s also picked up the habit of going out at night and fighting crime like her overbearing mother. Unfortunately, her mom’s decided she wants Laurie back with her on the East Coast, and she sends some of her vigilante friends to track her down. Silk Spectre has been one of the most interesting of the Before Watchmen prequels because of the strong work it does with its central character. It’s fascinating trying to watch Laurie break out of the shadow of her mother while everything around her seems to draw her back in. The end of this issue, in particular, packs a few pretty strong and unexpected gut punches for fans of the original Watchmen.
First X-Men #2: Before Professor Charles Xavier set about creating his School for the Gifted, another notable mutant worked to join together individuals hated and feared by the government and their peers—Wolverine. Yeah, it’s a weird choice to make comics’ most celebrated loner a gung-ho team player, but Neal Adams and Christos Gage’s First X-Men actually does an alright job of explaining why he’d do it. More interesting, though, is the way writer Gage builds on the X-Men’s rich history. This issue, for instance, sees Logan and his allies (including, weirdly, Sabretooth) attempt to recruit a younger Magneto, who’s currently dead-set on seeking revenge for the crimes committed against his family and his people during World War II. People who are really into the X-Men’s history should enjoy getting to see conflicts like this play out far earlier than we’d ever imagined them, and Gage has a lot of fun introducing some cool new mutants for Logan to work with as well.
Hawkeye #2: Last month’s Hawkeye #1 was pretty much perfect. Guess what: this month’s Hawkeye #2? Same deal. Writer Matt Fraction, artist David Aja, and colorist Matt Hollingsworth are doing something really tremendous here. This is a slightly non-superpowered take on the Avengers’ awesome archer; in this series, Hawkeye works more subtly to protect the residents of his New York neighborhood from quieter, white-collar criminals. There’s a bit of James Bond-style stuff going on here; at no point does Hawkeye throw on his Avengers uniform and just shoot stuff. In this particular issue, he infiltrates a hotel/casino/theater structure that counts as its clients some of New York's most crooked citizens. But is everything as it seems? As last month, really the star attraction of this series is the art courtesy of Aja and Hollingsworth, which you can tell from the cover image is really striking, full of sharply defined figures and brilliant use of negative space. We’re calling it now: this is a lock for a “Best New Series” Eisner nomination. Get on it now!
Phantom Stranger #0: Though mostly DC’s Zero Month issues are opportunities to color in details of a character’s past we may be unaware of, DC's also using the month to launch a brand-new series: Phantom Stranger. If you read DC’s Free Comic Book Day offering this year, you’ll be a little familiar with what’s happening here: the man known as the Phantom Stranger is one of history’s three greatest sinners, we’re told, and his penance is to roam the Earth waiting to be given direction from those he wronged in Heaven, or Mt. Olympus, or wherever. This is a wordy and ponderous debut issue, but it does set the scene—and the psychology—of our main character ably, as we watch him complete one such mission, assisting a Gotham City detective by the name of Jim Corrigan track down his missing fiancé—or so we think. It’s too early to tell if Phantom Stranger will be a series worth following every month or not, but there’s a strong premise here. Hopefully the next few issues will actually get to some action in exploring it.
Stormwatch #0: One of the most puzzling characters in the Stormwatch book has been Jenny Quantum, a so-called “century child” who can manipulate all the scientific discoveries (both known and unknown) of the 21st century to her advantage. If that doesn’t make any sense to you, don’t worry; this issue looks 1,000 years back in time to explain what a "century child" really is and why they’ve always stood alongside Stormwatch, which, it turns out, has existed for a lot longer than we would’ve imagined. Writer Peter Milligan adds some nice color to his rich cast of characters here, but a little more forward momentum for the ongoing Stormwatch story would’ve been appreciated.
Swamp Thing #0: Over in this week’s Animal Man #0, we saw the villainous Anton Arcane work his evil on the champions of the Red. In this issue, Arcane turns his ire against the Green, whose Swamp Thing always seems to be a thorn in his side. In particular, this issue focuses on Arcane attempting to destroy Alec Holland, the botanist who would eventually become the Green's champion. What lengths did Arcane go to to stop his greatest enemy in his tracks? This is a cool twist on the origin of Swamp Thing as detailed by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson back in 1972, but reworked to fit into Snyder’s ongoing mythology for the series. There’s not a lot of new ground here, necessarily, but it’s a cool update nonetheless, and artist Kano’s work here is fantastic.
Sweet Tooth #37: As this postapocalyptic series from Vertigo draws closer to its conclusion, our main characters draw closer to finding out the cause of the plague that wiped out almost all of humanity. It turns out that cause may be Gus, a young animal/human hybrid boy who doesn’t care about his place in history—he just wants to try to find peace. While Gus wrestles with this knowledge, a group of militant humans interested in turning the boy into a science experiment are hot on Gus’ trail. As this series comes closer to its finish at issue #40, everything kind of takes on a heightened importance, as though it may be the last time we get to see some of these characters together or even alive. Throughout all the dramatic tension, Jeff Lemire’s emotional script and beautiful artwork shine through; nothing like going out on top, huh?
Transformers: Regeneration One #83: On an alternate Earth where almost all life has been wiped out, a tiny group of surviving Autobots and humans makes a power play to stop the despotic Megatron and his army of Decepticon zombies, though things seem pretty hopeless. Fortunately for Earth’s liberators, the long-dormant Optimus Prime is about to rejoin the fight… but that may be exactly what the Decepticons want him to do. At first glance, it may not seem like the best idea in the world to pick up a story 21 years after Marvel Comics canceled it, especially with the same writer and artist—a lot can change in 21 years. Yet reunited and put back to work on some of their most celebrated storytelling in comics, Simon Furman and Andrew Wildman are producing their best material in a long time. It should be noted that this book is not especially new-reader friendly; it is, in fact, full of references to the 1980s Marvel Transformers comic, which is probably exactly what the people picking up this book most want to see. For fans of that series, though, this is a must-read continuation.
Transformers: Robots in Disguise #9: In the wake of the Great War, Cybertron’s been turned into a wild world—literally. No one knows that better than Ironhide, who set out in the planet’s wilderness in response to a distress signal and found that almost every robot who steps outside of city boundaries becomes crazed and uncontrollably violent. Not good. Could Cybertron somehow be telling the Transformers to stay together? That doesn’t make any sense, right? John Barber and Andrew Griffith’s Robots in Disguise #9 continues to explore the complex, secretive world of post-War Cybertron in some really interesting ways. Although Barber’s art seems a little more rushed here than normal, this issue’s got a few plot developments in store that will definitely surprise and excite people following this series.