Dark Avengers Annual #1

Creative team: Story by Brian Michael Bendis; Art by Chris Bachalo

Villain to Watch: Norman Osborn

They say: Bendis and Bachalo launch from the pages of New Avengers and reunite for this very important double-sized chapter in the Dark Avengers saga. Captain Marvel a.k.a. Marvel Boy found out he was surrounded by madmen and villains and ran for the hills. But no one gets out of Osborn’s grip that easy…Will a new hero rise in the Marvel Universe or will Captain Marvel be seduced to the dark side? Also, the Sentry’s true self revealed!!

I say: This solicit doesn’t really grab me, to be honest. I’m pulling this strictly on the strength of the previous several months. Bendis has had me on the hook with Dark Avengers since the very first time Moonstone shimmied into a Captain Marvel uniform. This group has been twice as captivating than any previous Avengers team. And the effect they’ve had across the Marvel Universe is impossible to overestimate. So, of course I’m pulling the first Dark Avengers annual.

Deadpool Team-Up #898

Creative team: Story by Mike Benson; Art by Carlo Barberi

Villain to Watch: TBA

They say: ‘Bring me the head of Mickey Dobbs’-Everyone’s favorite Merc with a Mouth hacks and wisecracks his way across the Marvel Universe in this third ongoing series featuring a new guest-star every month! This month: the Zapata Brothers, brought to you by Mike Benson and Carlo Barberi! What happens when you take the Regenerating Degenerate, a couple of Mexican wrestler bounty hunters, the South American drug cartel, and a one-million dollar bounty on the head of a guy who’s already dead? You get a ride into the bowels of a Texas border town, where everyone is out for themselves…and nothing is as it seems.

I say: Still waiting to reach Deadpool overload. Still haven’t gotten there. I’m pretty enamored with the central Deadpool title, but Deadpool Team-up was pretty strong last month, with its Merc ‘n’ Herc show. Unfortunately, I am 100% non-plussed by the Zapata Brothers. I mean, it’s downright daring me to actually buy this issue. But, once again, I’m planning to pull it on the strength of what I’ve already seen. If they lose me, they lose me. I’ll just shift over to one of the other dozens of Deadpool titles Marvel’s offering.

Empowered #0

Creative team: Story and Art by Adam Warren

Villain to Watch: Someone with good rope skills, no doubt

They say: Even as costumed crime fighter Empowered fights a desperate battle against a functionally invulnerable, grave-robbing supervillain inside a secret underground mausoleum for fallen superheroes, back at Emp’s apartment, the alien demonlord imprisoned upon her coffee table spins a tempestuous tell-all tale of the often-struggling heroine’s deepest secrets . . . The scruple-free storyteller soon reveals how all of Empowered’s many frustrations at work, at home, and even in the bedroom can be conveyed strictly through the vocabulary of her extraordinarily expressive exhalations, thus making her . . . ‘The wench with a Million Sighs!’ Adam Warren-writer/artist of the English-language Dirty Pair comics and warped mastermind behind the popular Empowered graphic-novel series-brings you the first Empowered tale told in conventional comics format! First Empowered story in traditional comic-book format.

I say: This is definitely a mature title, but its one of the very, very few books that can actually fulfill the promise of “sexy and smart” that gets promised time-after-time when a publisher is trying to push cheesecake with a straight face. Here’s a hint, folks. Cheesecake for cheesecake’s sake is perfectly OK. Just check out anything by Zenoscope. Perfectly OK. But to do sexy and smart… to pull off sexuality with actual three-dimensional characters and healthy relationships… that’s gotta be lauded. And that’s what Adam Warren pulls off in Empowered. If you haven’t checked it out yet, pull this title and then ask your comic-shop guy about the trades.

Fall of the Hulks Alpha #1

Creative team: Story by Jeff Parker; Art by Paul Pelletier

Villains to Watch: M.O.D.O.K. The Leader. Mad Thinker. Egghead. Red Ghost and the Super-Apes. Doctor Doom.

They say: They make up the secret group who have analyzed every victory and every defeat in the Marvel Universe to create the perfect battle plan that results in Fall of the Hulks!

The origins and shocking truths of some of Marvel’s most dangerous villains are revealed as the biggest Hulk event yet begins!

I say: Geez, I guess I’m becoming a Hulk fan. Actually, to be more accurate, I’m becoming a Red Hulk fan. The Bruce Banner part of the Hulk mythos leaves me completely cold. I’ve been picking up the Hulk issues over the past couple months due to the Red Hulk and the Red Hulk alone.

Nonetheless, Fall of the Hulks Alpha has me intrigued. So I’ll pull the first one and check it out. At the very least, it promises a pretty interesting Super-Villain team-up.

What If Secret Invasion #1

Creative team: Story by Kevin Grevioux, Karl Bollers and Chris Acosta; Art by Pow Rodrix and Larry Strowman

Villain to Watch: Norman Osborn and the Skrull Queen

They say: We all know how Secret Invasion ended with the Skrulls defeated and the death of the Wasp and the Skrull Queen. But what if it happened another way? Get ready to check out two widely different tales exploring that question. In the first story, scribes Kevin Grevioux and Karl Bollers ask more questions: What if Reed Richards was killed before escaping from the Skrulls? Would our heroes still have won the day? Or would Earth embrace the Skrull way of life? In other words, ‘What if the Skrulls won?’ Illustrations by hot newcomer Pow Rodrix with digital paints by Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic. The second story presents a twilight zone take on the question, ‘What if the Secret Invasion stayed secret?’ by newcomer Chris Acosta with art by Larry Stroman and Carl Potts. Plus a ‘Say What?’ comedy strip by MAD magazine alums Mike Gallagher and Dave Manak

I say: Who doesn’t love a “What if?” I know I can’t get enough. And Marvel’s “Secret Invasion” arc stands as one of the best-executed summer blockbuster arcs of them all. So I’m right on board when it comes to revisiting that story and exploring different twists and turns.

Honorable Mentions: Black Widow and the Marvel Girls #1, Blackest Night Flash #1, Blackest Night Wonder Woman #1, X-Babies #3.

Trading Up

Goats: Corndog Imperative

Creative team: Story by Jon Rosenberg

Villain to Watch: Diablo

They say: The webcomics scene has emerged as the new incubator of comics talent. The Goats website (goats.com) has one of the most devoted followings on the Internet, with more than 1.5 million hits per month. Its wicked, weird, and geeky sense of humor places it in the tradition of cult favorites such as Futurama. Here, two lowly techies are tasked with saving the universe from utter destruction, while encountering cyborg goldfish, omnisexual aliens, Mayan death gods, and other strange and amusing denizens of the universe.

I say: There are precious few cartoonists — published on the Web or in print — who can hold a candle to Jon’s boundless skills. If you need a reminder of why this is, you should pick up his most recent trade. This is Rosenberg at his most powerful, telling stories in the Goats universe that amaze and delight.

…And One To Pass…

The Great Ten #1

Creative team: Story by Tony Bedard; Art by Scott McDaniel

Villain to Watch: ahem, Old Chinese Gods

They say: The Old Chinese Gods have returned and they’re out for vengeance! With the citizens of China caught in the middle, the Old Gods battle against the Great Ten, but the super functionaries are no match for the angry, ancient gods, not when one member – the Celestial Archer – chooses to turn against his team and fight alongside the gods!

I say: Yawn.

Dishonorable Mention: Lobo: Highway to Hell #2, Female Force: Barbara Walters.