Posts from October 2009

October 29th, 2009

Great moments in comics! The Punisher disarms!

Marvel’s “Dark Reign” continues, with slick super-villain Norman Osborn convincing everybody (including the President) that he’s not only a good guy but the right man to be in charge of the super-C.I.A. that is H.A.M.M.E.R.

Norman Osborn keeps a list of things he wants to get done during his open-ended time in office, and one of those things is: exterminate the Punisher. Naturally, I agree.

This is and always has been one dumbass character, the fetishization of stupid brutish revenge, the anti-Batman. Frank Castiglione’s family is gunned down by the mob, and he swears an oath to punish the criminal underworld for the rest of his life. Yawn. If the character hadn’t been plucked from obscurity by Frank Miller during his epic run on Daredevil and given some choice scenes (including a naked-fighting-in-prison-shower scene that so impressed a certain filmmaker that he put it in a movie last year without so much as a tip of the hat), he’d have been remembered about as long as Fool-Killer or Mad Dog. But no! Instead, we get not one, not two, but three crappy movies and who knows how many crappy comic book series, all dedicated to convincing us that some dumb thug with lots of guns can ever be worth attention.

It makes sense that a control-freak like Norman Osborn would want to simply eliminate somebody like the Punisher. And you know what? It makes sense that he’d succeed. Thousands of mobilized, well-armed soldiers, infallible surveillance equipment, and, in this case, Wolverine’s claw-sporting mutant son Daken … Osborn’s got all this, and the Punisher has a couple of rifles, a couple of knives, and a couple of wet-washed one-liners that would’ve made Clint Eastwood blush with embarrassment. It’s no contest – and it shouldn’t be. If Marvel’s “Dark Reign” story line is going to have any bite to it at all, the bad guys have got to win a few rounds – and win big.

So of course I was expecting the worst from this issue, despite the fact that it’s penciled by John Romita Jr., one of the most talented artists in the business and definitely the guy you want drawing a nasty brawl (he has, to put it mildly, a very direct sense of violence). I expected that the Punisher would easily evade or defeat Osborn’s troops, and I expected he’d find a way to beat Wolverine’s son, even though Daken has claws popping out of his knuckles, extra-fast reflexes, and a mutant healing factor that, apparently, allows him to re-grow an entire arm (complete with tattoos!) in about a minute. When the writers of the Punisher’s own comics titles started having him mix it up with actual super-powered folk, that should have been the end – Spider-Man tackles thugs with guns all the time, after all, and so do all the other heroes – but nevertheless, nothing exceeds like success, and the Punisher is, gawd help us, a fan favorite character.

And in page after gloriously choreographed page, he seems to be keeping the upper hand. He defeats Daken in the sewers and is ready for his standoff against Osborn’s army – when suddenly Daken reappears (I know virtually nothing about this character, but I’m fairly certain writer Rick Remender gives his fast-healing powers way too much kick), lunges at the Punisher – and proceeds to carve him up like a Thanksgiving turkey, including (but not culminating in!) this Great Moment scene:

There’s no last minute miracle, no mistaken identity – some guy with guns and knives faces off against an expertly-trained super-powered mutant killer on a rainy rooftop and gets viciously dismembered. Osborn gets to cross one more thing off his list. As depressing as it is to read a comic book in which there’s no heroism and absolutely nothing good happen, it felt great to see a dark, well-thought story line advance by such an important step.

You can sense a ‘but’ coming on, can’t you? You know me so well by now!

BUT …. the issue doesn’t stop there. In frantic little back-up features, readers are reassured that this isn’t the end of the Punisher’s story! Something about gathering up the sliced and diced pieces of his body, stitching them together, and making some kind of Franken-Punisher? I don’t know, and I’m sure whatever actually gets written and drawn will appall me even more than the teasers do. Not only because it’s a stupid idea, but also because this issue, this sequence right here, is exactly right – a violent, sordid, unpredictable end for a peripheral character in the whole “Dark Reign” saga, one further chapter in making Norman Osborn’s de facto dictatorship feel real. The Punisher’s story should just stop here – but some things (Franken-Punishers are the least of them) just can’t be killed …

September 25th, 2009

Great Moments in Comics!

A full week of comics from both the big super-hero companies, but sometimes it’s fun just to concentrate on the little moments writers and artists work into the bigger stories! I’ve been reading comics for a long, long time, and I can honestly say most of my best memories of them are scattered shots of just such moments, rather than the bigger stories and crossovers and what-nots I’m supposed to be remembering.

I’ll do a few longer postings collecting some of those classic moments from across the decades, but for now I thought I’d start with a Great Moment from this very week, featuring Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner.

The long background: Namor is one of Marvel Comics’ oldest, most storied characters (the Human Torch and then later Captain America being the other two marquee-caliber names), the son of a human fisherman and a princess of the undersea kingdom of Atlantis. As this description might hint, Namor is also – quite accidentally – Marvel’s very first mutant: he’s a hybrid with the pale skin of his father (Atlanteans are deep blue in hue, don’t you know) and the water-breathing ability of his mother, but he has traits neither one possesses – mainly, he’s got little wing-thingees on his ankles that allow him to fly, and he’s preternaturally strong. But Namor has a claim to the affection of Marvelites everywhere that goes beyond his superhero stats: he’s a great character, and, miraculously, he always has been. Namor is headstrong, irritable, proud, stubborn, prone to snap-judgements but not always wrong, and he’s never been changed from that winning template, the perfect middle-ground between your standard hero and villain. And since his Atlantean physiology gives him a much longer lifespan than that of a normal human, no gimmickry is needed to have him right here, slapping around whoever’s pissed him off in 2009. He doesn’t currently have his own ongoing monthly title at Marvel, but that’s as often as not a good thing – it allows writers to handle him exquisitely and consistently give him great lines, and that’s certainly been the case in 2009 during the whole “Dark Reign” story-arc.

(That arc, for those of you joining us en medias res: psychopathic killer Norman Osborn has cleaned himself up and managed to worm his way into control of Marvel’s amped-up equivalent of the C.I.A.; he’s drafted other psychopathic killers to masquerade as his “Avengers” while hunting the real heroes into hiding; he’s conducted clandestine deals with other Marvel super-baddies like Loki and Doctor Doom – and Namor, who just recently turned on Osborn, thereby earning his ire, which is not a good ire to have)

The short background: twenty years ago, a writer took Marinna, one of the dumbass-useless characters John Byrne invented for his dumbass Canadian superhero team Alpha Flight, and made her attractive to Prince Namor (Marinna was a yellow-skinned, fish-eyed amphibious slip of a thing, a uselessly derivative character as was everyone else on Alpha Flight), who, in a decision well-known to other fictional characters (such as Larry King), decided to marry the much, much, much younger girl, even though she had a tendency to turn into a mindless, rampaging sea-monster when stressed.

Cut to the present: Namor has enraged Norman Osborn with his perceived betrayal, and Osborn, it turns out, was prepared for just such an eventuality. He has stressed poor little Marinna (and pumped her full of shark-hormones), and she’s now a gigantic rampaging mindless sea-monster – which Osborn sets loose on Namor’s undersea people with instructions straight out of the U.S. Army: take all you want, but eat all you take. When Marinna begins consuming Atlanteans, Namor goes to the X-Men for help (only he’s too proud to admit that, and he’s too proud to ask for it when he gets there, and he’s too proud to accept it when it’s offered – this one-shot of “X-Men/Dark Reign/The List” is a great little snapshot of what a royal pain in the ass Namor can be, even to his friends). The plan: lure monster-Marinna in and take her down.

Which brings us to our Great Moment! Namor and the X-Men are gathered on the shore of the X-Men island sanctuary, and they can all see the monster approaching. One of the crowd of young mutants there scans the beast and sadly reports, “There’s nothing to her but hunger and rage and … and hate. There’s nothing there but hate.”

To which Namor – with the deadpan perfection only an 80-year-old warrior king might muster – replies: “Ex-wives. What can you do?”


So hat’s off to writer Matt Fraction (and the always-gorgeous artwork of Alan Davis, of course) for providing us with our inaugural Great Moment!

September 18th, 2009

Comics! Gods and guys on the subway!

A weirdly off-key week in comics, full of issues that were more concerned with setting up other issues than with telling their own stories. The latest issue of “Captain America Reborn” was a place-holding affair, and the summer’s standout series, “Blackest Night,” featured a big crowd of snarling zombie-esque villains being held at bay by a group of desperate heroes – for page after page, panel after panel, without much else happening (except that we learned what the PURPLE Lanterns specialty is: droning exposition!).

There were some standout moments, however, even though one of them – in the latest “Amazing Spider-Man,” still retains the power to irritate. The issue was all about the love-life vicissitudes of our hapless hero Peter Parker, and that’s fine, time-honored territory. No, the irritation comes from remembering that none of these great stories fall into normal Spider-Man continuity … all of this is a weird, retro placidity bought through a deal with the devil. It’s tough to enjoy it all – as enjoyable as it undeniably is – when you know, you just know, that some writer is going to come along sometime in the next two years and undo it all.

And then there’s the issue’s cover! Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun picture (done by Mike Mayhew, whom we’ve met here before), with a chubby Spider-cupid smack dab in the middle. But off to one side, we see a face-shot of someone I can only assume is supposed to be Peter Parker, only there’s one problem: the young man in question is a super-hottie. As a lifelong reader (although not always a fond one) of “Spider-Man,” I can’t help but think this is crucially wrong, despite how often different artists have made the same mistake. Peter Parker was a nerd in high school, a skinny kid who had to be smarter – and incidentally funnier (although Stan Lee had the original genius insight of having him only vent that side of his character when he was in costume fighting bad guys) – than the actual super-hotties (like that dreamy Flash Gordon). In adult life, Peter Parker should be an older version of the same skinny kid – lanky, vaguely schlubby, a slightly sad-sackish young guy who’s still the smartest, funniest guy in the room. He shouldn’t have the fresh, shiny face Mayhew gives him; instead, he should look like just another face on the train to Brooklyn.

Questions of artwork naturally crop up with the fourth issue of “Batman and Robin,” where the wretched, one-note fan favorite artwork of Frank Quitely has been replaced by the vigorous, moody pencils of Philip Tan, so we can all stop geeking out and concentrate on the story itself, which is formulaic but still mighty enjoyable: a charismatic, refreshingly three-dimensional Red Hood (and his sad, pathetic sidekick) taking Gotham’s criminal underworld by storm, telling his partner “I guess this is all about one crazy man in a mask taking revenge on another crazy man in a mask.” The main problem I had with this issue is the same one I’ve had with this whole series (and with the high-spirited antics over in “Red Robin”): if these titles keep being written so well, will any of us want the original Caped Crusader back?

To put it mildly, a variation of that same question obtains over in Marvel’s “Dark Avengers” series, the central title in its current “Dark Reign” story arc. As you may recall, in that arc the bad guys have won and are running the show: Norman Osborn, formerly the villainous Green Goblin, is now in charge of Nick Fury’s old government-funded paramilitary operation S.H.I.E.L.D., now known as H.A.M.M.E.R., and every hero who hasn’t agreed to knuckle under to Osborn’s dictatorial rule has been outlawed and hunted by Osborn’s hand-picked team of villainous Avengers, including Ares, the brutish Greek god of war. Fury himself has returned and is in hiding, training a cadre of new heroes to strike back against Osborn when the time comes, and one of those young heroes is Alex, the young son of Ares, and in the latest issue of “Dark Avengers” (with more knockout artwork by Mike Deodato, whose stuff has never been better), Ares gets wise to this fact, follows Alex as he’s taken to Fury’s hideout, and breaks down the door, intent on gods know what.

That’s the setup of that fantastic cover the issue sports, and in tried-and-true Marvel fashion, the cover is what the kids call a total lie. As awesome as it would be to see a well-orchestrated battle between Ares and Nick Fury (who’s a pretty damn good god of war in his own right), it doesn’t happen, because Brian Michael Bendis’ script is far too smart to let things get that far. For this entire series, Bendis’ Ares has been very nicely complex – he’s not afraid of Osborn, and he’s not beguiled by him in the way some of his other Dark Avengers might be … instead, his vast godlike powers are governed by a weirdly predictable, otherworldly sense of right and wrong, which Osborn cannily uses but can’t alter. It’s a great funhouse-mirror version of Thor’s participation in the Avengers, and it’s one of the best parts of Dark Reign’s Dark Avengers.

This version of Ares isn’t just a villain, and when he confronts Nick Fury at the climax of this issue, he confesses that he’s at his wit’s end dealing with his little boy. Fury isn’t angry, and he isn’t fawning – he just tells Ares that he’s been training the boy and is impressed by his potential, and that gets to Ares, who utters that rarest of comic book lines: “I don’t know what to do.”

In the end he decides to leave the boy in Fury’s care and simply walks out. It’s wonderfully done, entirely believable on all counts, but I can’t help but wonder how it’ll play out when the whole “Dark Reign” story comes to an end – and as with “Batman and Robin,” I’m no longer oh so impatient for that to happen. This is good storytelling, weird unheroic premise or no weird unheroic premise.

September 11th, 2009

Comics! The week’s highs and lows!

It’s an odd thing, dealing with the creative output of a company like Marvel Comics. This is an outfit that’s done more over the last 50 years to rejuvenate comics and update them for adults than any other force in the industry, and yet it’s a company that so often has its collective head up its ass that you feel like you should get a complimentary bed-pan with every week’s subsciptions.

That’s as true today as it ever was, and it’s the same old problems: convoluted continuity, creators who don’t ever talk with each other, people writing flagship titles while deeply, deeply stoned, etc. You can find some of the same faults over at Marvel’s long-time competitor DC Comics, but Marvel has a few besetting problems that are peculiar to itself. One is that they have an abiding affection for sprawling, multi-part multi-title mega-stories despite having almost no talent for pulling them off, and another is that they’ve got a yearning to be badass that’s so overriding it’s creepy. Both these problems have an understandable genesis: DC. DC Comics does the sprawling, multi-part multi-title mega-story thing with consummate skill (OK, even they can have misfires – nobody around here will be rushing out to buy Absolute Trinity, if they’re crazy enough to make such a thing). And as far as badass goes, DC Comics has Batman. Nuff said.

Surprisingly, however, one of the sprawling multi-part multi-title mega-stories Marvel’s currently doing is actually making for extremely compelling reading (the other involves lots and lots of zombies and typifies everything that’s wrong with Marvel creatively). I’m talking about the whole “Dark Reign” storyline, in which the United States government, in the wake of a nearly successful alien invasion, has turned over its vast military/homeland security/superhero watchdog agencies to Norman Osborn, formerly the Spider-Man arch-villain Green Goblin and now a suit-wearing media-manipulating clandestine dictator. In the old days, this kind of plot would have been carried on for six issues of the Avengers and then resolved, and Marvel’s genius this time around is to keep the whole thing going, to expand and explore its possibilities. Osborn has cynically created his own team of Avengers (after first banishing and now secretly hunting the leftovers of the original team, some of whom are holed up in a hiding place in Brooklyn) and his own team of X-Men (after the genuine items withdraw to an island in San Francisco Bay) and sold them to the American people as the real thing, despite the fact that several members of his teams are just super-criminals wearing hero costumes (‘Hawkeye’ is secretly lethal Daredevil villain Bullseye, Spider-Man is secretly monstrous Spidey-villain Venom, etc). A nice added touch is that Osborn leads the team himself, wearing super-powered armor and calling himself Iron Patriot.

The various titles and spin-offs of this whole ‘Dark Reign’ story have been almost without exception fascinating, showing our exiled heroes in some new lights – as overpressured underdogs in constant fear of incarceration – and every month, in “Dark Avengers,” giving us a surprisingly entertaining foray into life inside a team composed of sociopaths who hate each other and are mostly kept in line by Osborn’s dark charisma. Sad but true: the actual heroic Avengers often weren’t written with this kind of wry intelligence.

One of the key details supporting the whole storyline is Norman Osborn’s assemblage of raw physical power. If his hand-picked enforcers weren’t able to smack down their scattered opposition, that opposition would simply re-take control. Preventing this took some skillful choosing on the part of “Dark Reign”s various writers, and they provided Osborn with a team that includes Wolverine’s beclawed natural son, the aforementioned Bullseye, the super-powered psychiatrist Moonstone, the unstoppable but mentally unstable Sentry, and Ares, the Greek god of war. The idea is to make the scattered good guys inferior in every way – not just tactically and financially but physically as well – in a direct one-on-one fight with Osborn’s Dark Avengers, they’d get their asses whupped and be locked up or worse. Readers are encouraged to think the same holds true for the X-Men, and that brings us to the mini-series Exodus, which wraps up this week with the one thing you’d think its writer, Matt Fraction, would go out of his way to avoid: the aforementioned direct one-on-one fight, this time between the X-Men and BOTH Osborn’s teams, the Dark Avengers and the Dark X-Men.

Granted, this is the series’ big finish, so maybe it’s natural Fraction wanted to go for the gold. But there’s a skill to writing – orchestrating – a big multi-part battle, and geez, how many times does Fraction have to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that he doesn’t have that skill before he’s forbidden to try it again?

So the big fight is a mess, in so many places I be here all day listing them. Fraction clearly had half a dozen little scenes in mind he thought would be ‘cool,’ and what happens outside of those scenes, well … it’s only a funny book, right? Yeesh.

So we have Norman Osborn blasting Cyclops two or three times with ray-beams at point-blank range, but Cyclops suffers no damage worse than ripped clothing. So we have Angel scooping up Hawkeye/Bullseye and depositing him across the bay in Marin County (rather than simply dropping him in the water, perhaps from 600 feet in the air), for no apparent reason. So we have Emma Frost entering the Sentry’s troubled mind in order to release his inner demons and cause him to fly away from Earth in a blur (rather than simply render him unconscious). So we have Moonstar ‘borrowing’ powers from “Mistress Hela” sufficient to bring Ares to his knees, but without any explanation of what those powers are. So we see what looks like an evil version of Weapon Alpha get his kidneys and spine punctured by Wolverine

and still be up and fighting several panels later. And so – when it all ends in a truce and the Dark Avengers withdraw – we see Norman Osborn’s team at a press conference: Sentry’s back and seems none the worse for wear, Ares OK, Hawkeye/Bullseye just fine despite having last been seen fighting Angel to the death over in Marin County, evil Weapon Alpha guy OK, not a Band-aid in sight … it’s enough to make anybody who cares about panel-by-panel common sense throw up their hands in despair, or maybe just throw up.

Things aren’t much better in the first issue of another “Dark Reign” spin-off series, “Avengers – the List.” In this issue, the real Hawkeye, Clint Barton, one of those exiled Avengers hiding in Brooklyn, decides enough is enough: as long as Osborn is alive, the evil days onto which the whole Marvel Universe has fallen will continue. So Hawkeye decides he will arm himself, do some recon, break into Avengers Tower, and kill Osborn. His lame-ass teammates do some moral dickering with him (this dialogue is written by Brian Michael Bendis, who very often does very much better work – but then, I suppose one of the whole points of “Dark Reign” is that we aren’t seeing our heroes at their best), and then he heads off. Artist Marko Djurdjevic provides a nice brooding two-page shot of Barton looking over the Brooklyn Bridge at his brightly-lit target

but what follows doesn’t make any more sense logistically than Fraction’s Exodus finale. Not only would Hawkeye’s teammates never let him go off and attack Osborn’s stronghold alone (if for no other reason than that his inevitable capture would jeopardize their own safety) – as it is, they just sit around lame-assedly saying “he’s going to get killed” (not quite as catchy as “Avengers Assemble!” is it?), but Hawkeye himself wouldn’t do it, for the simple reason that he’d know he had no chance of success.

So I suppose it’s thrilling how close Bendis brings him to success (although what constitutes success here – breaking into Osborn’s office and shooting him dead with a shotgun blast – raises a snotload of problems on its own, since it’s what villains traditionally do). He handles Venom with ease, shoots the fake Hawkeye several times non-lethally, and gets as far as Osborn’s office before he’s beaten senseless by Ares. I’m guessing the next issue will feature a) Osborn torturing Hawkeye for information about his teammates, and b) those teammates attempting to rescue him from Osborn’s clutches, but I’m hoping Bendis will also address the virus of stupidity that seems to be afflicting Marvel’s heroes now that they’re down and out – this is like the third storyline in which one of those heroes, alone, has tried to assault or infiltrate Osborn’s tower, been unsuccessful, and barely escaped. Whatever happened to teamwork?

(Of course, I’m willing to endure all these little gripes if the whole “Dark Reign” concept is eventually going to lead to the mother of all superhero-revenge storylines … the thing practically writes itself at this point, and it would be extremely satisfying, if done well ….)

Fortunately, writer Fred Van Lente over in “Spider-Man” lightens things up with the week’s single best panel/bit of dialogue. In that title, Spidey-hating blowhard J. Jonah Jameson has become mayor of New York City and dedicated his every waking moment to hunting down his web-spinning arch-nemesis. At one point in this issue, when some of Jameson’s jackbooted goons are shooting at him, Spider-Man yells, “How can you listen to him? I mean, look at his mustache! It’s just like Hitler’s!”


But it’s over in DC Comics that we get the week’s sweetest moment, courtesy of Geoff Johns in the second issue of “Adventure Comics.” In that issue, Ma Kent cooks supper for Superboy as he has a delicate conversation with Wonder Girl about their relationship, and when the two young people finally kiss (in mid-air, naturally), a watching Ma Kent says to herself, “Good boy,” and wistfully touches a photograph of herself and her dear dead husband, Pa Kent, in younger days. It’s a well-done little grace note in a title that’s very deliberately taking its time, so we’ll end with that. But tune in next week when we take in another batch of funny books and see what makes them tick!

December 25th, 2008

Comics! Secret Invasion: Dark Reign!

Well, the mega-crossover-event that has convulsed the entire line of Marvel Comics for the last few months, the “Secret Invasion” storyline, is now over. For those of you who quite rightly abandoned the whole mess early on, it goes something like this: the evil shape-changing alien Skrulls find a way to flawlessly mimic several dozen Earth people (including several superheroes and super-villains) in preparation for a full-on invasion of Earth. Innumerable plot complexities follow, and in the end Earth repels the invasion – with two big pieces of fallout: first, Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) resigns as head of the uber-governmental agency S.H.I.E.L.D., and second, arch-bad guy Norman Osborn (whom my generation knew as the villainous – and thoroughly dead Green Goblin) gets the job and becomes, essentially, the most powerful man in the world.

Once he gets the job, he does what any reputable super-baddie would do: he convenes a table-full of the world’s other super-baddies, raises his glass, and says, “Gentlemen – to evil!”

Not really, but damn close enough. He summons a choice roster of guests: Emma Frost, the mind-reading mutant White Queen and current leader of the X-Men, Doctor Doom, deposed ruler of Latveria and long-time arch-nemesis of the Fantastic Four, some gun-toting loser named The Hood (apparently, he’s the new leader of the underworld gangs once ruled by the Kingpin), Loki, the now-female (formerly male) evil Asgardian god, and Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner. And he makes these guests an offer he hopes they can’t refuse: in exchange for ‘hitting’ whatever he wants hit, no questions asked, he’ll use his newfound power to give them whatever they want – Doom wants to be restored to power in Latveria? Done! Emma Frost wants to keep her fellow mutants out of concentration camps? Done! The Hood wants his thieves and drug-runners to operate free of restrictions? Done! Loki wants to rule Asgard? Done!

Yah, the whole thing screeches to a halt right there, doesn’t it? I know, I know – I noticed it right away too. But let’s limp on a little anyway and come back to it later.

Anyhoo, Norman Osborn is nothing if not thoughtful. He tells his guests “We all know that our best moments have been private ones … while our defeats have been very public. I say, instead of pushing against that fate, we embrace it. Let’s keep our wins quiet. Let’s keep our victories between us. Let’s do it in a way that works to our strengths.”

It’s not a mutual admiration society he’s gathered, however, and The Hood points out the natural problem: “OK, but say when it’s time to pay the goblin, and we tell you to go @#$% yourself, because that is, historically, what we do …”

Osborn has a response ready: he gestures to a shadowy figure in the doorway, his “friend,” and threatens that anybody who doesn’t play ball will get a dire visit from that individual. He asks Emma Frost to read his mind and verify that he’s telling the truth, and she does, but neither he nor she nor writer Brian Michael Bendis feels compelled to blurt out the “friend”‘s name, so we never find out who that person is. All we know is that Osborn thinks it’s someone who could threaten even a Norse god. The meeting breaks up shortly after that implied threat, with nobody in formal agreement with anybody else about anything.

The comparison is explicitly obvious, of course. This one-shot issue is supposed to be a mirror image to Bendis’ ‘Illuminati’ series of a year ago, in which the secret leaders of the good guys gather around a table to cut deals and exchange gossip. ‘Illuminati’ and ‘Dark Reign’ have two things in common: Prince Namor, who’s on both rosters (this is fascinating, despite the fact that Maleev here draws Namor as a bald, unshaven homeless man), and …. a fairly large degree of implausibility.

With the heroes, the implausibility wasn’t quite so bad, but with the villains, it rises to nuisance level. Doctor Doom, for instance, doesn’t just want Latveria back – he wants the world, and he doesn’t want to share it with the likes of Norman Osborn. And as powerful as Doom is, he’s even more arrogant (and fearless) – there isn’t a character in the Marvel universe who could be invoked as Osborn’s mysterious ‘friend’ who would intimidate him into cooperation. And Emma Frost doesn’t just read minds – she also controls them, which would again be bad news for this ‘friend.’

And that brings us back to Loki. The Asgardian god with the ability to turn Norman Osborn and everybody else in the room into toadstools – and the ability to flawlessly mimic them, should she/he ever feel like doing so. This Loki says she wants to rule Asgard, and Norman Osborn tells her they want the same thing – but what the heck could he do to even begin bringing it about, except maybe cast an absentee ballot? And what possible coercion could he bring to bear against a god, to keep her in line?

I’m worried that there’s only one answer to that question: another god. I’m worried that Osborn’s mysterious ‘friend’ is Thor (or worse, much worse, Odin). I’ll just have to pray I’m wrong.

A slew of new titles and story lines are going to spring from this one-shot, and if Marvel’s success rate recently is any indication, they’ll all suck like a kid on a crazy-straw. The basic concept is fascinating: what if the bad guys were running the show for a change. And the story lines that should result would be great. We shall see.