Amazing Spider-Man #598

Creative team: Story by Joe Kelly; art by Phil Jimenez and Paulo Siqueira

Villain to Watch: Green Goblin / Norman Osborn

They say: That cover pretty much tells you what you need to know. Is there an evil obstetrician in the house?!

I say: This title has been unstoppable — and it has been an incredible part of the Dark Reign arc being pushed by Marvel Comics. Harry Osborn is being written as a phenomenally sympathetic and likable character, and the cover promises that he’s just about to get ripped to shreds. Bad for Harry. Good for those of us who love a good story.

Avengers: Initiative #25

Creative team: Story by Christos N. Gage; art by Humberto Ramos

Villain to Watch: Taskmaster and the Hood

They say: The full effects of Dark Reign take hold as Norman Osborn reshapes the Initiative into a place to train the Dark Avengers of tomorrow! And wait until you see who’s running things now…(Hint: they’re on the cover!) But what will happen to the Gauntlet, Tigra, Trauma and the other heroes who’ve made the Initiative what it is? Oh, Norman has plans for them as well… Don’t miss the issue that changes the Initiative forever.

I say: Avengers: Initiative hasn’t been the crown jewel of the Dark Reign saga — or the Avengers family of books. But the storytelling has been fairly solid. I’m putting this issue on the “Pull” list for one reason and one reason only: Taskmaster. Long a B-list baddie, he’s been on a nice upswing this year, and I’m looking for some nice character development out of him. And the timing is perfect for that to happen. The Hood, I could take or leave. There’s nothing I’ve seen out of that character that wouldn’t make him stand out from any ten villains in the Marvel Universe. I’m hoping he gets scratched soon. So, I’m hoping for a little of both in this book.

Dark Avengers #6

Creative team: Story by Brian Michael Bendis; art by Mike Deodato

Villain to Watch: Norman Osborn

They say: That’s what Norman Osborn’s H.A.M.M.E.R. and Avengers have been all about! And with every bold choice comes more and more risk! And with risk comes pressure! And with pressure…come the voices. How long can Norman Osborn hold it together? And what is he willing to do to make it look like everything is just fine!

I say: Dark Avengers has been a stand-out book from the start. The storytelling is taut and the illustration is crisp. I’m loving the concept, and this book is where some of the crucial story-points of the Dark Reign storyline are being developed. Keep an eye on Ares. He’s already warned some of the fake Avengers that they’re going to act like real Avengers as long as he’s around. I would not be surprised if he made a couple heroes out of that motley crew of poseurs.

Sinister Spider-Man #1

Creative team: Story by Brian Reed; art by Chris Bachalo and Tim Townsend

Villain to Watch: Venom

They say: He ain’t friendly and this ain’t your neighborhood! Yes, Mac Gargan, America’s favorite sociopath-turned-symbiote-host-turned-hero-hunter now takes the spotlight as Norman Osborn’s sinister Spider-Man. With the Dark Reign-a-raining, the lives of our mighty Marvel heroes are being destroyed left and right – but for guys like Mac, the world is their oyster and the chef’s covering the bill. Mac’s a beloved hero. Women love him, men want to be him and nobody wants to run into him after midnight – because the symbiote is still pretty darn hungry.

I say: Who’s writing these press releases? “He ain’t friendly and this ain’t your neighborhood!” It’s just ham-handed. Regardless, here’s the deal: This is the only one of five (count ’em five! — Dark Reign character-driven issues this week worth following — the others being Dark Reign Electra, Dark Reign Hood, Dark Reign Wolverine and Dark Reign Zodiac. Listen. Marvel. I’m all about the Dark Reign stuff. I really am. But there’s only so far I’m willing to go. We don’t need more Wolverine in the Marvel Universe, and we certainly don’t need a Dark Reign Electra or a Dark Reign Zodiac.

Empowered #5 (trade paperback)

Creative team: Story and art by Adam Warren

Villain to Watch: If you’re watching the villains, you’re just not getting the point

They say: After saving much of the superhero community from certain doom, costumed crime fighter Empowered is dismayed to find that, in the suspicious eyes of her caped colleagues, she’s gone from being merely a “pair of training wheels for supervillains” to possibly being a closeted supervillain herself! Worse yet, she’s wrestling with envy and resentment that her roommate Ninjette and boyfriend Thugboy are now more popular in masks-and-tights circles than she is! Meanwhile, our stressed-out superheroine must also unravel an alien-spawned body-image conspiracy, overcome “cosplay” dress-up disasters at work and in bed, and try to survive a potentially lethal confrontation with her teammate Sistah Spooky! Adam Warren’s work on The Dirty Pair is well known to U.S. comics readers.

I say: Mature Readers only. Between the art and the deceptively sensitive writing, this is perhaps one of the most unique and brilliant super-hero books on the stands. I know… I know… it’s heavy on the cheesecake. It’s also heavy on a realistic and surprisingly functional relationship between Empowered and Thugboy. You’ll pick up this book for the cheesecake. You search out volumes one-through-four for the story. Warren is just that good.

…A qualified “Pull”…

Lethal Legion #1

Creative team: Story by Frank Tieri; art by Mateus Santolouco

Villain to Watch: Grim Reaper and his crew

They say: When Norman Osborn takes over, what happens to the villains who don’t make his short list of acceptable allies? Grim Reaper, Mr. Hyde, Absorbing Man, Nekra, and Man-Ape are about to find out when their cooperative of crime lands on the wrong side of Norman’s law – but they’re not going down without a fight.

I say: As a faithful Evil Inc henchperson pointed out, this story,is exactly the same as the storyline that kicked of the Secret Six when DC was in the midst of Lex Luthor’s “Society.” I’m lukewarm on the book from the giddyup, but I’m going to page through it in the comic shop and give it half a chance. Tieri has chosen some very flat characters to work with, but if he can make me care about Nekra the way Gail Simone has made me care about Cat Man, then this book will be successful — with or without the second-run feel of the concept itself.

…And One to Pass…

Avengers / Invaders #12

Creative team: Story by Dale Eaglesham and Alex Ross; art by Steve Sadowski

Villain to Watch: Red Skull

They say: The year long event concludes with a battle royale against a Cosmic Cube powered Red Skull that shakes history to its core. In an altered past and an unrecognizable present, three super-powered teams made up of Earth Mightiest Heroes and the Greatest Heroes of World War Two, find themselves at a crossroads that none of them…or us…may survive.

I say: This series has stunk on ice from the very first panel of the very first book. What a tremendous opportunity wasted. Not even the luminous Alex Ross could save this un-navigatable turd.