Another Wednesday has come and gone, which means I’ve read a stack of new comics. Every week I try to pay homage to one or two books that stick out from the stack as being the best or my favorite. Because of my CBR job and limited budget many of the books I read are Marvel books and this weeks’ Reads of the Weeks are both Marvel books
Honorable mentions: “X-Men Vs. Agents of Atlas #2, “”Ghost Rider: Heaven’s on Fire #4, “Deadpool Team-up” #899
READS OF THE WEEK
“Assault on New Olympus Prologue
Writers: Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak
Artist: Rodney Buchemi
If you would have said to me 10 years ago that one of my favorite Marvel books would star Hercules I’d say you were crazy. These days though “Incredible Hercules” is one of the best and most enjoyable titles Marvel comics puts out. Pak and Van Lente have elevated the title character from the drunken idiot that so many writers were fond of portraying him as. He’s a fairly smart and charismatic character and he’s easily the most human and identifiable of any of the mythological characters appearing in comics. That’s because Hercules is a screw up who acts rashly. His emotions get him to trouble but his heart’s in the right place and he keeps trying to be a hero
The other strength of Incredible Hercules is that it’s a buddy book featuring Herc’s partner, the teenage super genius Amadeus Cho. Cho is a sarcastic super smart kid but like Herc he’s got a penchant for acting with his emotions.
Pak and Van Lente load Herc and Amadeus’s adventures with action, humor, and heart. It’s a series that will make you chuckle, cheer, and put a lump in your throat. That continues with “Assault on New Olympus”, a special prologue issue that sets up the titular storyline that kicks off in the next issue of “Incredible Hercules”. In the “Assault” prologue Pak and Van Lente set the stage for an epic confrontation with Herc’s power mad step mother, Hera who’s recently gained control of the Olympian pantheon of Gods. Herc gathers his allies in the New Avengers and a misunderstanding leads to an awesome and hilarious battle between Herc and Spider-Man. That misunderstanding also leads to a dramatic, heartfelt and moving reunion between Herc and his estranged wife, the goddess Hebe.
Rodney Buchemi’s art is also really good and quite nice looking. His character expressions are great and his action scenes dynamic. The splash page of Herc and Hebe rediscovering their love for each other is breath taking
In addition to a fantastic main story, “The Assault on New Olympus” features a back-up story by the stars of another one of Marvel’s most entertaining reads “Agents of Atlas”. Jeff Parker’s story is short but it’s epic. The agents face their most powerful foe yet, a god. And Gabriel Hardman’s art is amazing as usual. The god that the Agents face is horrific and awe-inspiring.
“Captain America Reborn” #4
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artists: Bryan Hitch and Butch Guice
I’m a huge Captain America fan. He’s a great combination of two classic comic archetypes: the every man and the extraordinary man. He represents the best our country can be. He’s a pretty inspiring and fun character. So it was with a heavy heart that I said goodbye to Cap AKA Steve Rogers when writer Ed Brubaker killed him off in “Captain America” #25. Brubaker did a great job building up Rogers’s replacement though. Bucky Barnes, Rogers’s former partner has been just as interesting and compelling as Cap as Rogers was.
So when it was announced that Steve had not actually died and was coming back in the mini-series “Captain America: Reborn” I was unsure. I’ve grown to really like Bucky. Here we are now though with issue #4 of “Reborn” and I can now say I’m happy to have Steve back. I’ve missed his unique perspective on the Marvel Universe. So I’m hoping when the series is over that there’s room for both Steve and Bucky in the Marvel U.
In “Reborn” #4 lots of dramatic things happen and they happen on a huge scale. The action sequences and fast pace make for an exciting read. You also really start to feel for Steve Rogers, who has become unstuck in time and is being forced to relive moments from his past over and over again. And The villains of the story: The Red Skull, Doctor Doom, Crossbones, and the Skull’s Daughter Sin make their presence felt in a big way. The issue’s cliff hanger is going to make the wait for “Reborn” #5 a long one.
Brian Hitch’s illustrations and Butch Guice’s inking is fantastic. They help give the story this huge sense of scope and scale. Their villains are sinister and regal and their action scenes are dynamic and powerful. There’s a scene where Bucky Barners, The Black Widow, and the Avenger Ronin assault an enemy troop transport in search of a friend that’s just plain cool. And the splash page of Baron Zemo in the rain with a machine gun is both awesome and ominous. The last page is telegraphed by the one before it but Hitch and Guice still manage to make it a holy crap moment.
In 2005 I was burned out on Vampire novels. Anne Rice’s books really weren’t my thing. I thought they were more romance novels than horror novels. And most of the other stuff out there was pretty derivative. Still TV shows like “Buffy” and “Angel” and comic book characters like Blade and Hannibal King from Marvel Comics “Tomb of Dracula” series had shown me that Vampires struggling against their nature to do soemthing good can make for some pretty compelling fictional characters.
It was that idea and the fact that Charlie Huston had already written two kick ass crime thrillers that made me pick up the first novel in his Joe Pitt Casebooks seriees “Already Dead” and I’m so glad I did. It was the perfect blending of horror and everything I love about crime fiction.
In creating the world of Joe Pitt, it’s like Huston took the best elements of some of my favorite stories and made the ultimate cocktail. I see elements of films like “Blade 2″ and “The Warriors”, classic private eye fiction, Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend”, and Garth Ennis’s comic “Preacher. If you like any of those things you’ll love what Huston does with vampires or vampyres as it it’s spelled in Pitt’s world.
The Joe Pitt casebooks take place in a world where vampyres are real. They’re not supernatural creatures, but there is a hint of the supernatural running through the series. They have been infected by a virus that makes them hunger for blood and amps up their physical abilities allowing them perform some amazing feats. These Vampyres have gathered together to form clans, with different perspectives on how to make their way in the world.
The specific setting of the Joe Pitt books is New York City. The island of Manhattan has been divided up by a number of opposing clans. The two most powerful are the wealthy and secretive Coalition, who want to blend in and keep the world of Vampyres a secret. And The Society, a band of revolutionaries and rebels who use violence and intimidation in hopes of one day achieving their ultimate goal of a world where man and Vampyre can exist in harmony.
Joe Pitt has history with both of those clans and because of that he doesn’t want anything to do with them. Like all noir anti-heroes trouble has a penchant for finding him. This usually happens as a result of a private detective style job Joe takes to make ends meet. Sometimes he has to hurt and kill a whole lot of people to succeed at those jobs and stay alive. The one guiding light of Joe Pitt’s world is his girlfriend Evie, an HIV infected bar tender.
Now that I’ve set up Joe’s world I’m going to to attempt to do a spoiler free review “My Dead Body” the fifth and final book in the series. Joe Pitt’s story evolves over the course of the first four novels: the previously mentioned “Already Dead“, the second volume “No Dominion”, the third book “Half the Blood of Brooklyn”, and the fourth book “Every Last Drop.”
By the time “My Dead Body” begins, Joe Pitt is in the darkest of all places, underground. He’s ignited a full scale war between the major Vampyre clans of the city, and his beloved Evie doesn’t want to see him. He’s eking out an existance in the sewers of New York City. An old associate finds him and asks him to look for his daughter who disappeared into the chaotic Vampire underworld. Pitt agrees because he learns that Evie wants him to take the case.So he sees this as an opportunity to fight his way back to the one good thing in his life.
What follows is a fast paced, blood soaked, action packed, horrific, morally murky, poignant and fun story that takes place all over one night. Pitt is a charismatic underdog. You love him because of his quick wit and his endurance. Both are on display here. Pitt undergoes a ton on physical punishment in this book, but he keeps going. You also really feel and understand the love that keeps him going. It makes him easy to root for. And Huston bring Pitt’s story to a satisfying conclusion.
He also wraps up the stories of most of the book’s reoccurring characters in nice and interesting ways. Characters that are given especially cool arcs in “My Dead Body” include: Lydia Miles, a prominent Society member and leader of a cell of lesbian Vampyres, and Hurley the Society’s massive chief enforcer.
“My Dead Body” is more than just cool character moments though. You get a three way battle between members of the Coalition, The Society, and the mutated horrors of an insane researcher out to cure the virus. You get Joe Pitt fighting to stay alive and put down all the evil in his world, as well as anything that stand between him and Evie.
Huston doesn’t tie up everything in “My Dead Body”. He leaves some things for the readers to decide, which I think ultimately makes for more satisfying reading anyway. All of these elements combine to make “My Dead Body” the best book in the Joe Pitt series and a hell of a send off for the character and his fascinating world