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Derek Mainhart: Well here we are closing in on Halloween, but for comics, the summer-style blockbusters from the Big Two keep on comin’. I guess I should start with the one I actually read.

Batman #13 – The Joker? Issue 13? Perfect set up for some Halloween frights. If only it were just that; but this much-hyped return of Batman’s nemesis is also the next epic crossover. Having just come off the whole Court of the Owls storyline (which was largely excellent) I must admit to feeling a little epic-fatigue. I do wish this was contained solely within Scott Snyder’s Batman instead of spread out across the whole Bat-family (not that I intend to buy all the other issues). Having said that, Snyder gets things off to a solid start. We get all the classic Joker beats in one issue: Joker assaults a police station? Check. Joker stages an elaborate, announced plan to kill a public official? Check. Joker lures Batman into an over-the-top deathtrap? Check. Having cleansed his palette, we can assume Snyder will be off and running with some new wrinkles next issue right? He certainly hints at it. He seems to be setting up a bigger, badder Joker. Harley Quinn spells it out: “He’s not the same Bats. He’s not my Mr. J. anymore…” I suppose this is tied into the whole getting-his-face ripped-off thing from Detective #1. (This begs the question: whose idea was that? Tony Daniel’s? The editors’? Or was Snyder setting this current story up a year ago?) But really, how much more twisted can the Joker get? Is Snyder suggesting that this version is somehow more monstrous than the Joker of Alan Moore’s character-defining turn in The Killing Joke? Trying to make this character more extreme seems to be just a way to fulfill the parameters of an “epic event”. Why not just give us an awesome Joker story? But, like I said, there’s much to like. The story-telling by Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion is excellent. Most of all, Snyder really excels at developing an underlying sense of dread through the entire book (his mastery at this was established in Severed (published by Image) which was practically an exercise in keeping your skin crawling over seven issues. The best horror book of recent memory. Get the trade for Halloween.) Speaking of which, how about that back-up? I only wish we could have read that before the events in the lead story!

I’ll let you handle the honors on this week’s other blockbuster: Uncanny Avengers #1.

Uncanny Avengers #1

Scott Carney: Oh, joy.  Your generosity knows no limits!  Must be your mutant ability.  For the record: I’m looking at Batman #13 as I would the first ten or so pages of The Great Gatsby–which means, in my mind’s monotone: “Now that that’s done with, let’s get on with the good stuff.”  Like you said: the back-up was pretty sweet–like cyanide.  Damn thing should’ve been part of the story proper.

OK.  I’ve put the “honors” you so benevolently bequeathed to me off long enough.

Now, I know you didn’t read UA #1, which is why you’ve lobbed it over to my side of the net.  But I’ll tell you all you need to know by analyzing one page: page one.  Picture this:

First panel: an eye held open a la the brainwashing scene of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange; glowing in the iris is Cyclops as the Phoenix.  Speech bubble: an unknown spouting anti-mutant babble.

Second panel: zooming out, we  see two eyes held open a la the aforementioned a la, a trickle of blood between them, and some more babble, rousing some rabble about “evolution” and “competition”–which, interestingly enough, put me in a certain mind.

Third panel: the voice gains a scalpel-wielding hand, which is slicing into the exposed brain of the now Phoenix-free eye guy.  As unnamed character–he of the hand–blathers about the world’s having “felt the mutant boot on its neck”; and I was like, “Mr. Remender, you’re talking about AvX, aren’t you?”

Fourth panel: the voice digs itself deeper into a villainous vat of nonsense as its two hands pull part of the poor fella’s–the eye guy’s–brain out of his head.  And I was like, “Mr. Remender, you’re crafting the perfect Marvel fan, aren’t you?”

Fifth panel: the voice–now clearly Remender, in my mind, anyway–hops into a heap of “hatred[, which] protects a [comic company, like Marvel] from complacency in the face of [its more successful] rivals[, clearly DC].”  As he does, he shoves some device into the empty space in the eye guy’s head.

And that device, my friend, is Marvel NOW!

What a way to begin this glorious new initiative: with Remender’s mocking Marvel readers by making them out to be an easily-led legion of lobotomized zombies–zombies willing to buy into the reactionary ReEVOLUTION, which, apparently, isn’t much of a revolution at all.  In fact, according to Axel Alonso, Marvel’s editor-in-chief: “The only change is some subtle tweaks to some costumes.”  Indeed!

Phew.  I’m exhausted after that.  I’ll leave the rest to you!

DM: Yeah, dude.  Take a deep breath–or a nap or something.

I’ll jump into another book tying in to a crossover event is Frankenstein: Agent of Shade #13. This book also pairs well with our October fright-fest, as our favorite, tragic zipper-neck gets knee-deep in the Rot from the current Animal Man/Swamp Thing epic. Tie-ins like this are usually superfluous and best-avoided. And truly, nothing integral to the Rotworld story seems to happen in this issue. But not picking it up would mean depriving yourself of the stirrings of undead/amphibian love! Frankie riding a talking horse through post-apocalyptic Metropolis! And Matt Kindt’s freewheeling revisiting of Mary Shelley’s Modern Prometheus with Daddy issues! In terms of the larger story, this issue is indeed tangential and probably unnecessary. It is also one more thing: wildly entertaining.

Archer and Armstrong #3 may not be part of any crossover event, but with its globetrotting antics and millennia-spanning conspiracies, it sure feels like a blockbuster (and a pretty one too, as drawn by Clayton Henry and Pere Perez). But no mindless action spectacle this. The swordplay and martial arts are merely dressing for the big ideas that Fred Van Lente is playing with here (no surprise from a scribe who co-created a comic called Action Philosophers). Van Lente is an interesting, idiosyncratic writer; conversant in popcorn archetypes, he exploits them to plumb deeper thematic territory. If he has a weakness, it’s that his character’s reactions sometimes seem unearned. Archer’s about-face rejection of his lifelong indoctrination doesn’t ring true. And Armstrong’s response to the killing of a character he calls “the best woman I’ve known for ten thousand years” is simply “Bastards.”  Still, this is fascinating stuff. The rollicking action and effortless odd-couple, cop-buddy banter make a breezy read out of what is, after all, a thoroughly-researched satire about nothing less than the nature of faith.

SC: You know, that’s exactly what I was gonna say!

Turning pages,

Derek & Scott