It should be noted that sometimes "last week's comics" will include some purchases that were not actually released last week.
Aquaman #10 (DC) Ever since Brightest Day, Geoff Johns has made it his mission to revive Aquaman as a legitimate presence in comics. DC has tried just about everything in many different revivals to achieve this over the years, but Johns alone seems to have had the radical approach of merely making Aquaman himself interesting. As he's done with Green Lantern, Johns has achieved this by widening the scope of Aquaman's career. Previous efforts to this regard have always centered on underwater kingdoms, and while some of these have an impact, they did not succeed in making the character for whom these kingdoms were created...relevant. Aquaman is not defined by underwater kingdoms. If he were, he'd be no better than Black Panther, an incredibly negligent ruler, spending so much time hanging out with other superheroes who notably have no interest in this faraway responsibility. Some creators have also tried to make his human origins interesting, to little avail other than extremely temporary visibility. Aquaman, unfortunately, is a character who can be summed up in an entirely dismissive fashion: he talks to fish. Johns decided to ignore all that and instead reveal a side of the character that speaks to his strengths in a far empowering way, as a guy who had an entirely separate group of allies who link his undersea world to surface concerns in ways that are still being explored nearly a year into the series and a rivalry with his archnemesis that has turned decidedly personal. Aquaman has always been portrayed as the victim in his stories (which is really weird), but Johns is turning him into a multifaceted and even culpable figure. Like Wonder Woman, he has always been a character who was supposed to be important just because he supposed to, and during Flashpoint last year their common significance as warriors was made plain. Yet being a warrior isn't enough. But being a tragic hero might be. This is a good issue to see how Johns is accomplishing this.
Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #2 of 4 (DC) What's absolutely fascinating about this issue has a connection to Alan Moore's story that could almost have been entirely forgotten in the midst of hype for being the best superhero story ever told. Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner remind readers of the social significance of it, too, as they outline the insidious plot to turn drugs into the next big consumer hit, a habit that doesn't need to provide anything lasting in order to create its own constant demand. Laurie is just beginning her career as a costumed crimefighter, something she never thought she'd do, but it's another habit, in effect, that she can't overcome. If there's a message, it's that one of these habits is productive and the other isn't.
Cobra #15 (IDW) Longtime fans of G.I. Joe will know that one of the big developments in the late 80s continuity was the revelation that Cobra Commander had a hidden son named Billy. Billy hits Cobra in a big way this issue, only he's not the boy we used to know, but a man, who in the opening pages sounds suspiciously like the Cobra from earlier issues, the ones trying to sell the organization to the public. If he's not evil, then he certainly has an ego, and could have easily been used by his father's allies, possibly without him even realizing it. It's this malleable sense of morality that allows this series to remain so brilliant. You know who the bad guys and the good guys are, but they're both forced to exist in a world where it's not so easy to keep those distinctions separate when something needs to be done. This is not a G.I. Joe book in any traditional sense. You don't even need to care about G.I. Joe to enjoy it, and I'm certain that you don't even have to have read the several other dozen issues behind this one to start enjoying it now.
Justice League #11 (DC) I don't think Graves will go down as one of the most memorable villains in JLA history, and I don't think Geoff Johns thinks so, either. He's a catalyst, a means to an end, to make a point, that this team is not perfect, even though its reputation in the book and as a comics commodity suggests so. Readers from any number of eras will tell you that the Justice League is fallible. The different and the distinction Johns is making here, and certainly in this issue, is that even a membership comprised of its most iconic members has visible chinks in its armor. The underlying story from the beginning of the series has been Wonder Woman's journey, and it's fair to say that Johns has been doing more than other writer of the team to make her relevant. Her relationship with Steve Trevor, which takes a considerable step this issue (but not one you might be thinking of), has been at the center of this significance, but the big splash is her fight with Superman and Green Lantern. It's something of a cliche to try and help out a character's reputation by putting them in a situation like this, but for Wonder Woman, she's rarely had a moment like this. In recent years she's come to be defined more closely as a warrior than ever before, but Johns has managed to channel that into someone who can be irrational and rational at the same time. She can be reasoned with. (It's also amazing that Johns is willing to show Green Lantern as so vulnerable in these pages, considering he's gone a good way into making the character his signature work in comics.) The Shazam backup continues, and can it really been only the fifth installment? Johns and Gary Frank are owning the former Captain Marvel as no one since Jerry Ordway. I don't think he'll be overlooked again anytime soon.
Nightwing #11 (DC) The subplot of Detective Nie that Kyle Higgins has been sowing throughout this run is starting to come to a head. I don't know why Nightwing seems to elicit these kinds of characters (Chuck Dixon and Devin Grayson previously worked similarly extended angles), but I'm glad it's another thing that Higgins is most assuredly doing write in this book. There's plenty of story threads to keep reader interested this issue, including a visit from Sonia Branch, the daughter of Tony Zucco (the mobster responsible for the death of Dick Grayson's parents), who turns our hero down for a loan due to the established risk involved; a conversation with Damian, loaded with references to recent comics that also helps Nightwing riddle out some detective work; and the villain Paragon, who's there to exploit as much as possible. Guest artist Andres Guinaldo is hit-and-miss, especially with Dick's hair for some reason, but the coloring makes a good contrast of Nightwing's basic gray and the new red swash. All in all, this is a book that rewards regular readers.
Now here I'm going to talk about some recent new series from cult favorite writers Jonathan Hickman, Brian Wood, and Brian K. Vaughan. Hickman's been famous recently for his work with Marvel, notably Fantastic Four, but he originally made his name on creator-owned titles for Image. Wood is known for Demo and DMZ, while Vaughan is probably the biggest name of the bunch, having crafted Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina, two long-running titles that had readers invested in the unusual lives of their central protagonists.
I read these issues last week:
The Manhattan Projects #3 (Image)
The Massive #2 (Dark Horse)
Saga #3 (Image)
Of the three, I'm most impressed by Saga. Hickman is known for having a wild imagination, but cycling it through either historical figures or established characters (sometimes blending the two, as in S.H.I.E.L.D.), and Manhattan Projects is not so different from this mold, even though it seems to have a little more breathing room than usual. As the title implies, it deals with the development of the atomic bomb, and Hickman's idea of the greater things going on around it. He gets to play with Einstein, Roosevelt, and a wacked-out version of Truman (if this is even close to truth, my history teachers have a lot of explaining to do), among others. This particular issue handles the actual deployment of the bomb that resulted, and so it's fun (insofar as that bomb was "fun") to read Hickman's depiction of these events, although there's little indication of what exactly he's doing to build a larger story. Maybe I need to read another issue. The Massive, meanwhile, appears to be part-Wood and equally parts Dark Horse reviving Arvid Nelson's brilliant Zero Killer, but in a decentralized form. For this reason (because I loved Zero Killer), I'm perhaps less inclined to view Massive as a singular creation, even though it's a book (like all three of these titles) that has a considerable amount of buzz around it, mostly because of Wood's involvement. Saga, meanwhile, is something totally new from Vaughan, at least as far as my experience goes. Maybe his Runaways was similar. At any rate, this is a story set on an alien world, and Vaughan has embraced its otherworldliness, almost to a degree that I must ask you to see for yourself. It's like Neil Gaiman doing Pixar (Coraline only gives you so much of a clue). If you ever sampled Grant Morrison and had a hard time figuring him out, Vaughan might have provided an adequate window into that kind of storytelling, like Seaguy but without being a parody of superhero comics. This one demands to be read again.