Hawkeye: Hawkeye, The Marksman/The Old Order Changeth/Hawkeye
featuring Stan Lee and Mark Gruenwald
(Art by Don Heck, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, Mark Gruenwald and Brett Breeding)
Marvel's Mightiest Heroes Book 29. Three stories of the archer Avenger, beginning with his first ever appearance as an antagonist for Iron Man. The second story reveals how Hawkeye goes from enemy of the Avengers to one of their members when the original roster decides to take a leave of absence. The final story jumps ahead to Hawkeye setting out on his own, independent of the Avengers, and encountering the former spy Mockingbird.
I've always been a Hawkeye fan, although I know the character gets a lot of flak for being a bit silly in concept (I think it's because I used to read a lot of 'Avengers Spotlight' and 'Avengers West Coast' as a kid). Here we find out that the reason he's a bit cartoonish in concept is that he genuinely did start out his career as a circus act. Admittedly that doesn't explain his choice of purple costume, however. Despite being a Hawkeye fan though, I have to say that this book didn't really hit the mark (pun intended) for me.
The first story sees him try to be a superhero like Iron Man and immediately get mistaken for a criminal, so he decides to lean into an attack Iron Man more or less just because Black Widow is hot and told him to. It's either very lazy writing or Clint Barton is a complete moron controlled entirely by his crotch-instincts.
The second of Lee's stories here, 'The Old Order Changeth', is little more than an extended explanation for why Iron Man, Giant Man and Wasp all simultaneously decide to retire from the Avengers and why former villains Hawkeye, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are allowed to immediately step in and take their place. Honestly, I felt really sorry for Captain America, who returns from South America (although Lee needs to brush up on his zoology, because that's not where you find boa constrictors or leopards) to find this has all been decided in his absence. Really it's a non-event of a story that serves just to introduce a new Avengers roster and not much else.
The third story, written and part-illustrated by Gruenwald, is a much more interesting Hawkeye story. It actually explores the character a bit, tackling his feelings of being overshadowed by the Avengers, as well as his repeated bad decisions when it comes to women. It makes for a nice theme of this world-famous superhero trying to overcome his deep-seated insecurities. However, although it explores some interesting themes, the overall story of a new supervillain sending assassins after Hawkeye and Mockingbird is pretty much straight out of the cookie mould.
3 out of 5
Hellboy: Oddest Jobs
featuring Joe R. Lansdale, Mark Chadbourn, John Skipp, Cody Goodfellow, Ken Bruen, Garth Nix, Brian Keene, Tad Williams, Amber Benson, Barbara Hambly, Gary A. Braunbeck, Rhys Hughes, Stephen Volk, Don Winslow and China Mieville
A collection of short stories featuring the titular supernatural hero written by a mixture of fantasy, horror and mystery authors (not to mention Edited by Christopher Golden and Illustrated by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola). It's worth noting that these are prose stories, not the comic book stories of Hellboy's origins.
This book does a great job of capturing the gothic horror-meets-pulp fantasy feel of Mignola's original comic books but each writer manages nicely to bring something of their own to the table. As with (almost) any anthology, it's not all gold and there are a few stories here which just didn't capture my imagination. Some, like Braunbeck's 'In Cupboards and Bookshelves' or Hughes' 'Feet of Sciron' were just a bit too out-there to be credible and instead come across as confusing and unsatisfying. Others, including the contributions of Brian Keene and Amber Benson (Tara from Buffy, if the name sounds familiar) just, sadly, aren't that interesting.
However, there are a few real gems here which mostly make up for those shortcomings. Lansdale's novelette is a dark and twisted tale that leans heavily into the horror aspect of the franchise, whilst Nix's contribution captures that wonderful magical feeling of mysterious goings-on just out of sight in the rarely-visited corners of the world. We also have Stephen Volk's 'Monster Boy', which is a loving and touching tribute to the writer's grandfather far more than it is a Hellboy story. My personal favourite was Hambly's contribution, which shows that there are truly awe-inspiring dark powers at large in Hellboy's world and that sometimes even he can only just barely prevent catastrophe.
4 out of 5
Hercules: When Titans Clash!/Gods Of Brooklyn
featuring Stan Lee, Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente
(Art by Jack Kirby, Vince Colletta, Neil Edwards, Scott Hanna and Cory Hamscher)
Marvel's Mightiest Heroes Book 31. In these two stories we see Hercules' first appearance in the Marvel Universe as he battles Thor and then see him adapting to life as a mortal as the events of 'Fear Itself' (reviewed here) tear the world apart.
Although I've long been aware of Hercules the Avenger, I've never really read any stories focusing on him and I was wary of doing so due to my love of the real-world Greek myths that inspired the character and the danger of them not being done justice. I have to say then that I was pleasantly surprised by this book.
In Herc's first story, Stan Lee uses his usual technique of introducing a new hero by having them fight an existing hero for distinctly spurious reasons. Usually this forced conflict-for-no-good-reason annoys me, but with the two characters specifically featured here it felt very fitting. Both Thor and Hercules are written true to their mythological roots in being brash, arrogant and unreasonably belligerent. So it seems true to both characters to have them come to blows simply because neither was willing to make way for the other to pass and having the fight escalate simply because neither was willing to accept the other as being more powerful also felt very appropriate.
The second story, by Park and Van Lente, picks up Herc after the events of 'Chaos War' and into the events of 'Fear Itself'. Here he has been stripped of his powers but unlike some heroes who would become mopey or tormented by this, Hercules stays true to his brash persona by just deciding to continue fighting wrongdoers regardless. There's no hiding in the shadows trying new techniques or trying to adapt to a secret identity, instead Herc declares Brooklyn under his protection and throws himself at any threat that comes his way, regardless of how outmatched he is. I actually really enjoyed the idea that he's a people's hero at his core and the fact that he's no longer a superhero makes no difference to him on a fundamental level.
Overall a surprisingly enjoyable book which let me get to know a version of Hercules that is entirely Marvel's own but which genuinely honours his mythological origins.
4 out of 5
House Of M: Fantastic Four/Iron Man
featuring John Layman and Greg Pak
(Art by Scot Eaton, Don Hillsman II, Rick Magyar, Pat Lee and Dream Engine)
Two stories linking into Brian Michael Bendis' 'House Of M' in which the powers of the Scarlet Witch turn the world on its head.
The Fantastic Four story is a bit of a surprise in that Ben Grimm is the only one of the FF featured. We're presented with an alternate world where Reed Richards and Sue Storm died during their space flight and only Ben survived, becoming the It. Inspired by this, Doctor Doom uses cosmic rays and sorcery to grant superpowers (which are similar to those of the FF) to himself, his wife and his son. Enslaved by Doom, the It rounds out the Fearsome Four. The story revolves around Doom's obsession with power and his attempt to wrest control of the planet out of the hands of Magneto and his children. Sadly, this story was a bit too much 'mirror-universe' for me rather than tackling the more interesting possibilites of the House of M reality.
The second story features Tony Stark, the most successful human in a world ruled by mutants. However, when his position is threatened by anti-mutant extremists he unveils his secret weapon; a suit of remarkable armour. Iron Man soon becomes a symbol of hope to the human resistance but ultimately has to fight for both humans and mutants against the machinations of his own father. This is a much better story and I really loved the look of the armour shown here. Plus, how often do you get to see Iron Man fight Sentinels, eh?
3 out of 5
House Of M: World Of M Featuring Wolverine
featuring Daniel Way, Reginald Hudlin, Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker
(Art by Javier Saltares, Mark Texeira, Trevor Hairsine, John Dell, Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano, Lee Weeks, Jesse Delperdang and Mike Perkins)
Four stories which link into Bendis' 'House Of M', in which the Scarlet Witch alters the world, creating an alternate reality in which mutants oppress the human minority and Magneto rules the planet.
In 'Chasing Ghosts' we learn of Wolverine's alternate life as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. This is a great story in which Logan is shown to be a drug-abusing alcoholic obessessed with the war against the humans and one man in particular, Nick Fury. Most interesting is the details of the romance between Logan and Mystique, something only touched upon in 'House Of M', but revealed here in all it's 'what if?' glory.
The second story, 'Soul Power in the House of M', is about the few independent rulers of the world, Black Panther, Storm, Sunfire, Prince Namor, and their attempts to resist the imperial depredations of Magneto and his ally Apocalypse. What I enjoyed most about this story was the fight between Black Panther and Sabretooth.
In 'The Pulse' a human reporter, frustrated at mutant prejudice, encounters a man claiming to have been to have been brought back to life after dying in an alternate reality. This is, of course, Hawkeye and his confusion and pain at the insanity of his predicament is very well written, culminating in the destruction of a House of M monument. This story finally makes clear the details of Hawkeye's disappearance halfway through 'House of M' and reappearance at the end.
Finally, we are offered an alternative history of Captain America. After helping to win WWII, Cap is ostracised for his tolerance towards mutants in a poignant echo of America's anti-Communist witch hunts in the 50s. Forced to retire Captain America, Steve Rogers becomes the first man to walk on the moon. As the mutant population increases, Rogers finds himself caught between his image among humans as a mutant-lover and his outspoken views against the totalitarian regime being built by Magneto. Slowly his world, his life, withers away until all that's left is a lonely old man.
All told this little anthology is a great collection of linked 'what ifs?' which enhance the main 'House Of M' story no end. However, if you haven't read 'House Of M', you'll be completely bewildered as to what's going on here, so read that first.
4 out of 5