Amazing Spider-Man/Venom: Venom, Inc. Alpha #1: I didn’t have too high of expectations for this issue, but Costa and Slott do a good job bringing those of us who are unfamiliar with Venom's status quo up to speed. Flash is FaceTiming with one of his former students in Philly (I remember that part), and we learn she’s a symbiote-possessed hero called Mania. He watches as a group of thugs attack her with fire and sonics, stealing the symbiote from her. Flash asks Spidey to help him get back the symbiote from Eddie Brock (who apparently stole it from him at some point), since he’s worried the attack on Mania presages trouble in Symbioteland. Spidey refuses, so Flash follows Eddie into Alchemax, where he apparently receives treatments to keep the symbiote’s anger under control. Spidey follows Flash thanks to an audio Spider-Tracer he tagged on him, so he’s listening when Flash confronts Eddie. We learn the scientist in charge of the project developed a whole batch of antidote, saying (inexplicably) it would be convenient to have a lot on hand in case he actually kills the symbiote. (I honestly have no idea what he means by that. How would the antidote save a dead symbiote? Wouldn't it just make it dead-er?) But, it's convenient from a plot perspective: as the symbiote struggles to pick between Eddie and Flash, Spider-Man pours the antidote all over them, turning Flash into Anti-Venom. Meanwhile, the thugs who stole Mania’s symbiote appear at a bar where the Looter is regaling the crowd with his story of how he barely survived an encounter with Venom; they then forcibly infect him with Mania’s symbiote. Of note, they’re all also bonded with symbiotes, which seems...bad. I’m not sure why they chose the Looter as Mania's host, but I’m guessing we’ll find out more later. As I said, it’s a solid start, and it’s made all the better by Stegman’s outstanding art. I’ve always felt like the Spidey books were under-using him, and I’m glad to see him given a chance to strut his stuff here.
Avengers #674: I haven't been a huge fan of this series in part because it's lacked a certain heart: everyone has been more assholic versions of themselves than usual. But Waid delivers heart in spades here. In their long journey to the center of Counter-Earth to disable the vibrational device, Vision admits to Viv she's meant to live a normal, human lifespan. After encountering the version of himself who lived thousands of years, that means he's going to have to bury her. It's why he's so protective of her, because he can't imagine having to do so. It's an incredibly touching moment, made all the more so when Viv sacrifices herself to save the day. Waid actually seems to imply Vision could've saved her but Viv chose to sacrifice herself, as if she saw something on the other side, where we encounter her at the end of this issue. Waid's work with Viv has been the highlight of "Champions" and I'm definitely intrigued to see where he goes with her. In terms of the "Avengers," this cross-over event did indeed feel like an old-school story, in line with the Legacy goals. Of course, at times it felt a little too much like one, essentially replicating the plot of Hickman's run on the title. But, I'm cautiously optimistic about the upcoming weekly event. The Avengers have been meandering for a long time, possibly since Bendis' run on the title. (I wasn't a fan of Hickman's aforementioned run, as he essentially told a "Fantastic Four" story with Avengers characters.) If Waid could manage to evoke Bob Harras' Gatherers story or Kurt Busiek's Kang War, we'll be on the right track.
Batman #36: King yet again does a remarkable job teasing out Bruce's emotions as Lois and Selena press Batman and Superman to call the other one about the engagement. Over the course of unknowingly investigating the same case, the two men admit why they can't bring themselves to do so. (Clark and Lois are investigating why some company called "Twenty Corp" is profiting from railroad insurance speculation while Bruce and Selena are following a plutonium shipment. To be honest, I had to re-read the issue to follow these storylines. King is making the point the subject of their search is less important than the conversations they're having, but, as the reader, he might've done a little more to make the plot clear.) Each man respects what the other one has done with the losses he's suffered: Clark marvels Bruce isn't trying to burn down the world after his parents were taken from him, and Bruce is amazed Clark doesn't squish us all like ants. Clark respects Bruce's decision not to trust him completely because his past doesn't allow him to trust anyone completely, and Bruce feels his engagement would be beneath Clark's notice because he respects him as essentially a god. (They also view the other one as choosing to do what he does, whereas they see themselves as having to do it.) King happily doesn't give short shrift to Lois and Selena here. In case Bruce is hesitating in introducing Selena to Clark because Selena would deduce his identity, Selena lets Bruce know she's already done so. For her part, Lois also tells Clark to stop worrying it means Catwoman will know his identity because she's clever enough to have put two and two together a long time ago. It all comes to a head when the two couples emerge on the same floor of an office building at the same time. (In case you're wondering, Twenty Corp was run by Dr. Axe and Dr. Echs -- i.e, two Xs adding to XX, or 20 -- and they were using the proceeds from the railroad insurance to buy the plutonium. How'd they get the money? Why, by using their powers to destroy trains, of course.) Again, it's another excellent character-focused issue from King, particularly since King essentially allows the tension -- and misconceptions -- between the two men remain.
Captain America #696: You should read this issue for Chris Samnee's art (it's a wonder no one put him on "Captain America" until now) and Joe Caramanga's great testament to the American dream in the letters page.
Hawkeye #13: Marvel remains committed to showing the aftermath of "Secret Empire" in a way we usually don't see. Normally, events are maybe mentioned once or twice in the first month or so after they end, and then we never hear about them again. But, several series, like "Ben Reilly: Scarlet Spider" and "Captain America," continue to explore the aftermath months after the event ended. It's...refreshing. Thompson gets into the game here, re-introducing Eden Vale from "Generations: The Archers" and sending her after Clint after her daughter died in the Las Vegas bombardment. ("Generations" and "Secret Empire!" It's a two-fer!) Eden tries to recruit Katie into killing Clint by offering to use her powers to pull people through the time stream to bring back Kate's mother. I'm not sure how Eden knows Kate's mother is dead, but she doesn't seem to know Kate's pretty sure she's actually alive. We'll see where we go from here.
Nightwing #34: This issue has...problems. An enraged Blockbuster attacks Dick and Raptor, but misses punching them, something Raptor himself notes. But, then Raptor crumbles; he's drawn as if his bones all turned to jelly. He eventually dies, but I honestly don't have any idea if Blockbuster actually did hit him or if something related to the Blockbuster serum killed him. Meanwhile, the Run-Offs manage to save everyone in the casino by putting Orca's antidote in the sprinkler system, but it seemed to me like they probably should've focused on the bigger threat, namely Raptor successfully using Pigeon's birds to distribute the serum to the whole city. Also, Pigeon is maybe dead, and Dick used the last bit of antidote on Blockbuster. It's almost like DC is canceling this series, given how hurriedly Seeley seems to be wrapping up loose ends here.
X-Men Gold #17: At this point, I feel like Guggenheim is thumbing through some sort of book on X-Men history, picking two or three stories, and just taking them for a spin again. I mean, are we really supposed to take Kurt's fear of death seriously, as he's already been dead at least once? To make matters worse, he dies just the same was he did in "X-Men: Second Coming," by getting impaled in the chest. In another example, Amara and Dr. Reyes discuss how Rachel was just in the medical unit, as she is again here. It's one thing to pay homage to the X-Men's history; it's another thing just to repeat it endlessly. (Also, who the fuck is Ink? I'm a serious X-Men fan, and, if I don't recognize someone, we probably need a little intro, particularly when he's drawn just like Professor X. I spent half the issue feeling like I missed Professor X's actual resurrection in "Astonishing X-Men," rather than just him possessing Fantomex's body.) This series has so much potential, but I just feel like we're not realizing it.
Also Read: Batman: White Knight #3; Iceman #8; Spider-Man #235; Star Wars: Darth Vader #9