Batman: Kings of Fear #1 (of 6)
Writer: Scott Peterson
Artist: Kelley Jones
Batman is DC’s golden goose, though not every egg is a treasure. Partially because he has such a rich and developed rogues’ gallery, he’s often the centerpiece of a lot of what goes on in the DC universe. With stories like Metal, this doesn’t always go so well. Other stories, like the Court of Owls, breathe new life into the AARP-eligible icon. More often than not, it’s the stories that are removed from the main universe that are the most rewarding. The Dark Knight Returns is an obvious example, while Red Rain or Gotham Noir are excellent spins on a classic. With a character as big as Batman, the real gems are often in the Anthology tales. Scott Peterson’s Kings of Fear has all the fixings for such a treasure.
The story starts with a very classic Batman V. Joker showdown, and a great Batmobile-ride to Arkham scene. Kelley Jones’ illustration is hitting all sorts of classic notes from all over Batman’s history. The Joker here looks more in line with a 1970s depiction, while the Batmobile is straight out of the 80s. There are visual allusions to Dark Knights of yore aplenty, from Adam West to The Long Halloween. The Joker quickly takes a backseat to larger concerns. After a great sequence squelching an Arkham breakout, one prisoner is unaccounted for. While the Scarecrow doesn’t always get as much play as Mr. Freeze or the Riddler, in a lot of ways, he’s the most interesting, because he’s the only villain who can truly strike fear into the heart of the Dark Knight. Seeing the two go toe-to-toe is rich territory for great storytelling, and Kings of Fear is off to a scary-good start.
Darth Vader #20
Writer: Charles Soule
Artist: Giuseppe Camuncoli
The Star Wars side of Marvel has been steadily dropping breadcrumbs for the last several months for some major revelations. It started small, then worked up to the before and after of the rebellion of Mon Cala, and now seems poised for some of the biggest revelations about the Star Wars saga outside of the films. Vader has previously been implicated as the flashpoint for the events of Rogue One, and thus, the destruction of the Death Star. Between that and developments in Doctor Aphra, his intransigence seems to be a constant. Charles Soule’s brewing something strong, and the 20th issue is a potent taste of Vader truly becoming the menacing ebony death machine fans were treated to in Rogue One.
The work of his Jedi-hunting Inquisitorius mostly done, it was little surprise the ranks were thinner by the end of the issue. Giuseppe Camuncoli continues to deliver amazing action sequences and some dramatic wide shots that are as epic as the silver screen. What is surprising are the continued knife twists on the part of Emperor Palpatine, and the plot twist as Vader finally claims his home: Mustafar. While lightsaber battles make for solid comic books, it’s the character arc of a young Vader that has continued to deliver surprises in Volume II. The high level of intrigue and the games Vader is clearly becoming skilled at makes for some incredible revelations. As Soule continues to fill out Vader’s shoes, the rabbit hole keeps getting deeper.
West Coast Avengers #1
Writer: Kelly Thompson
Artist: Stefano Caselli
Kelly Thompson brings a style and humor to her writing that is completely at home on the Marvel shelves. The quick wit, sight-gags, and razor-sharp dialogue is something echoed by other equally strong writers currently working for Marvel, like Donny Cates or Dan Slott. Thompson is decidedly a bit more off-beat than others, but it plays well with Kate Bishop/Hawkeye, especially when paired Clint Barton/Hawkeye. Yes, it’s confusing. Thompson has gone over and above in the draft pick for her West Coast Avengers, adding America Chavez, Gwenpool, current Bishop-Hawkeye squeeze Fuse, and X-brat Kid Omega to the Hawkeye duo. Stefano Caselli’s illustration is just icing on the cake.
The issue is worth picking up for the Hawkeye-on-Hawkeye banter alone, and the already-heated Gwenpool/Kid Omega rivalry is full of promise. While West Coast Avengers have historically been some of the lesser-known or explored characters in the Marvel Universe, this new generation is undoubtedly going to push that as an advantage in telling the funnier side of Marvel heroics. If you wanted to watch a bunch of whip-smart B-list heroes bicker on a reality TV set while fighting off landsharks (yes, really), Kelly Thompson has got your number.