Top of the Pile: Dark Reign, Batman, X-Factor, Astonishing X-Men

Two big story arcs have concluded in the comics universe over the last few weeks: Marvel’s Secret Invasion mini series, in which the alien, shape-shifting Skrulls attempt to take over the Earth, and Batman R.I.P, in which the Dark Knight dies. Or appears to die, because really, what are the chances that he’s actually dead?

As a result, we’re into the clean-up phase of both story arcs, as their respective universes attempt to deal with the consequences that have been unleashed upon them.

Secret Invasion: Dark Reign #1

I haven’t read Secret Invasion #8 yet because my comic book store sold out of it, and hasn’t gotten any reprints in. I enjoyed this series; it was a little silly and a lot of over the top, but I liked the 1950s paranoia angle, which fit in well after the Civil War storyline that saw such an expansion of in-world political power.

Dark Reign is the follow-up to that; apparently at the end of Secret Invasion the world went a little crazy and decided that Norman Osborne, aka the former Green Goblin and leader of the Thunderbolts, should take command of the Initiative and Homeland Security. Tony Stark (aka Ironman) is kicked to the curb for his role in Secret Invasion; I have a hard time swallowing this. Ok, sure, Tony Stark was too self-rightous for his own good, but how do you go from Iron Man to the Green Goblin leading the Initiative?

A good book might have been able to pull off the premise, but Dark Reign #1 is not a good book. It’s premise is that Osborne has summoned together the biggest criminals (or the most unruly, hard to control ones) including the Hood (apparently Kingpin’s replacement), Loki, the White Queen, Namor and Doctor Doom. He offered them a deal: work for him, and they get to keep their kingdoms.

The book’s art is sketchy and dark to the point of muddy, which seems to be a trend that’s been oozing its way through the Marvel universe. Namor looks like a common thug with pointy ears, and talks like a half-mad, half-drunk pirate who just got off the ship in New York. The Hood seems like one of those throwaway villains that Marvel seems to spawn every few years, and the White Queen seems utterly out of place in this story.

There’s no action in the book, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, see X-Factor #39, but here we’ve got 28+ pages of people talking in a conference room. I can get that at work.

Batman #685: Last Rights

Batman is dead. Or at least living challenged. I enjoyed the Batman: RIP storyline, which essentially asked the question what would happen if Batman went insane? Is he so brilliant that he would have a contingency plan to defeat himself?

The answer, of course, was yes. Yes he would. I won’t ruin it for those who haven’t read the series, but I liked the twists and turns that Bruce Wayne encountered as he dealt with his own psychological tramau. His “death” was less than spectacular, but then again, it almost had to be so that he could pull of his resurrection in a few months.

What’s happening now in the Batman title is a requium, as DC shows the impact of losing Batman on Gotham and the Bat-crew. It’s filler for the most part, and the big news is that DC is putting Batman and Detective Comics on hiatus, and cancelling the related Bat-titles (Nightwing, Robin, Birds of Prey). The core Bat books are being temporarily replaced by a mini-series that I’m guessing will lead to his return at some point in 2009 or 2010.

My reaction? Meh. It was inevitable after they “killed” Batman, but it seems like one disruption too many for this part of the D.C. Universe.

X-Factor #39

Whoa. I mean, just … whoa. If you’ve been reading X-Factor, you need to pick up this book, now. And if you haven’t been … pick up the last few, THEN read this book. I’ll leave it at that, because Peter David told us to. And because he was right.

Astonishing X-Men #28

Warren Ellis has taken over writing duties on Astonishing X-Men from Joss Whedon. It’s done the book good: for one it’s actually coming out on a regular monthly schedule again, and for another, it’s a good story. The X-Men have moved to the pro-mutant haven of San Francisco, where they’ve discovered one of their own murdered. Stranger still, they learn that the man’s attacker was an artifical mutant.

Further research into the attacker’s identity leads them to a secret region of China that was home to the communist country’s equivelent of the X-Men (at least until M-Day, when most mutants world wide lost their powers), where they discover a further mystery: a mutant whose mutation occurs in a different chromosome from standard mutants.

They soon come to the realization that these are mutants from an alternate reality, apparently uneffected by M-Day. This would seem to contradict Beast’s discovery during the Endangered Species series that all realities had been purge of their mutants. Ellis addresses this thought by bringing up the birth of the mutant baby in Messiah Complex; apparently her birth has changed this fact, giving rise to alternate realities where mutants have returned.

I’m hopeful this storyline will finally restore the mutant status quo; the abolution of mutants on M-Day has gone on far too long, and I’d really like to see a return to something like the prolific mutant days of old.

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