Baby, The Reign Must Fall.

 First off, let’s make one thing perfectly clear: I don’t much care for this Dark Reign business coming out of Marvel. Even though it’s only been going on for about a year or so, it feels like about a decade, due to the crazy overexposure of Norman Osborn and his team of Dark Avengers. One week, I swear to Galactus, there was something like 18 issues that featured appearances by those jerks. I’m not exaggerating, I’m pretty sure the number was 18. Anyway, with the announcement of Marvel’s Siege event, it looks like the whole thing is coming to an end, and not a moment too soon for me. As glad as I am to see the ass end of this crossover/event/cash grab, I’ve noticed a funny thing lately—some of the tie-ins to this series have actually been pretty good. REALLY good, in some instances.  Take the series of one-shots that make up Dark Reign: The List, for example. These special issues all focus on Norman Osborn’s Nixonian “Enemies List”, and detail his plans to incapicitate or destroy those who would stand in the way of his evil plans. I scoffed at the books when they were announced, even though I was intrigued by some of the creative teams. Now, however, when all of them but one has been released (still waiting on the Spider-Man special, but Adam Kubert’s drawing it, so that could take a while), I find that most of them have actually been pretty cool. Not all, but most. Let’s have a look at these awkwardly-named issues, shall we?

Dark Reign: The List: New Avengers: See what I mean about awkward? Anyway, everything got off to a bit of a rocky start here, with this Bendis-written, Marko Djurdjevic-drawn issue that sees Ronin (AKA Clint Barton) attempting to carry out his promise to kill Norman Osborn. Not much happens here—it’s pretty much a sterling example of how today’s writers take an entire oversized issue to achieve something that would have taken a few panels in the Sixties and a few pages in the Seventies, Eighties, or Nineties. Basically, Ronin (AKA Clint Barton, but don’t get me started on that) breaks into Avengers Tower to kill Norman Osborn, but is captured instead. It doesn’t really fit with what’s going on in the main Avengers title, and it’s a pretty unsatisfactory read overall. I’m not a big fan of Djurdjevic’s interior art either—I prefer his painted covers--so there really wasn’t much here for me to begin with.

 Dark Reign: The List: Daredevil: This issue serves as a kind of unofficial issue #0 to incoming writer Andy Diggle’s run on the monthly Daredevil, who has the unenviable task of following up Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark’s outstanding run with ol’ Hornhead. Thankfully, it proves that he is more than up to the task.  This one-shot was drawn by Billy Tan, who I’m not such a big fan of, but the story made up for it. As of issue #500 of Daredevil, the most put-upon superhero in comics is now the leader of the ninja clan known as the Hand, which is not nearly as awesome as it might sound. Norman sends his pal Bullseye to keep DD and his new army of ninjas out of his hair while he consolidates his power, which, of course, involves the deaths of a lot of innocent people and even more guilt being heaped upon Matt Murdock. A promising start to Diggle’s run, for sure. His first issue (drawn by new series artist Roberto De La Torre) came out a few weeks ago, picking up directly from the events in this issue, and it shows that the book is still in good hands.


Dark Reign: The List: X-Men: Now this was just plain awesome. I’ve been dipping in and out of Matt Fraction’s Uncanny X-Men run, stopping in to read the Terry Dodson-drawn issues but getting the hell outta Dodge whenever Greg Land draws an arc, so I’m only sort of peripherally aware of this whole Utopia-X jazz that’s going on now. However, that did not detract from my enjoyment of this issue one bit, where Osborn uses Namor’s ex-wife Marrina, who has been transformed into a sort of sea dragon that is actually much closer to her alien origins than the humanoid form that joined Alpha Flight, to destroy as many Atlanteans as possible. Namor and his new teammates in the X-Men (makes sense that he’d join the team—after all, he’s technically Marvel’s first mutant, I think?) draw the beast into a final confrontation. Fraction seems to have a great grasp of how to write this kind of multi-character slugfest—the mutant combatants all get appropriate little introductions and cool interactions, and the way they fight together as a team is well-handled and pretty exciting to watch. Fraction’s Namor is proud, arrogant, and hates to ask anyone for help even when he really needs it, which is a combination of traits that makes him very enjoyable to read. And the art is by Alan Davis, who, unlike many of his contemporaries from the Eighties, seems to only get more dynamic and versatile with age! This was a great stand-alone read that not only made me interested in how Fraction’s X-Men run was going, but also made me want a Fraction/Davis Namor ongoing.

 Dark Reign: The List: Secret Warriors: I gotta confess, I haven’t followed the ongoing Secret Warriors title at all—the covers by Jimmy Cheung are nice, Nick Fury is, of course, supercool, but there’s not much else in the concept that interests me. I really only looked at this issue because it’s drawn by Ed McGuiness, who has a real talent for getting me to read books I would otherwise avoid like the plague (Hello, Jeph Loeb’s Hulk!). I didn’t really get much out of this issue, as it turns out. Fury and Osborn team up to interrogate a suspect who is involved with something called Leviathan. The issue culminates in a surprise assassination and several boring pages of graphic design detailing the inner workings of the Leviathan organization, which I gather is somehow connected to the old crime ring known as Zodiac. This sort of design-heavy jazz is clearly writer Jonathan Hickman’s thing, but it’s not really a great way to end an issue. However, this one-shot did pique my interest, since it featured John Garrett, the mustachioed cyborg S.H.I.E.L.D. agent from Miller and Sienkiewicz’s classic Elektra: Assassin series. I had no idea he was running around in the Marvel Universe proper again--I recall he turned up in D.G. Chichester’s Daredevil run in the early Nineties, but I have no idea where he’s been since. I may have to have a look at some Secret Warriors issues to investigate further. Also, as I suspected, Ed McGuiness draws a really cool Nick Fury.

 Dark Reign: The List: Incredible Hulk: Yes, I know these titles are getting annoying and repetitive, but I have to look at it on an invoice every time one comes out and you will all know my pain! I haven’t been following Greg Pak’s Incredible Hulk either, and sadly, this issue didn’t really make me want to start. Bruce Banner is permanently puny these days, having his Gamma radiation drained out of him by the Red Hulk in issue #600, but he’s more or less playing Rick Jones to Skaar, Hulk’s son from another planet. Ms. Marvel (AKA Moonstone) and Osborn’s assistant Ms. Hand confront Banner and Skaar, and I kind of tuned out before the end. The art by Ben Oliver was cool, but I couldn’t get into this. It feels like much more of a complete issue than, say, the New Avengers one shot, but it didn’t really hold my interest. My complete unfamiliarity with (and complete lack of interest in) the Skaar character probably didn’t help.

 Dark Reign: The List: Punisher: I keep dipping in and out of Rick Remender’s Marvel Universe-set Punisher series, but I always seem to enjoy it, so I should really get caught up one of these days. Frank Castle is using a bunch of stolen superhero tech to wage war on the Hood’s army of Osborn-affiliated supercreeps, while the Hood is using a bunch of resurrected Scourge victims to try and take the Punisher out. In this issue, drawn by John Romita Jr., Osborn dispatches Wolverine’s jerky son Daken to destroy the Punisher, and well, without ruining anything, Wolvie Jr. is, er, surprisingly successful. Guess I did spoil it, but you really need to see it for yourself. The gory finish to this issue leads directly into the upcoming Franken-Castle arc on the monthly, non-Max Punisher, illustrated by Remender’s Fear Agent co-creator Tony Moore. After the way this issue wrapped up, I definitely want to see what happens next.

 Dark Reign: The List: Wolverine: First off, this issue is written by Jason Aaron, which is always promising. Secondly, it features interior artwork by Esad Ribic, who usually paints but shows here that he’s equally adept with good ol’ fashioned pen and ink. These are both compelling reasons to check out this issue, but as a fan of Morrison’s Marvel work circa nine or ten years ago, this issue had special significance for me. Logan takes a backseat here, while the real stars of the issue are Fantomex (the Diabolik-esque gentleman thief from New X-Men) and Noh-Varr (from Morrison’s awesome Marvel Boy mini, more recently seen serving as Captain Marvel in Dark Avengers). The two Morrison creations team up to save Wolverine from a viral attack triggered when Norman Osborn tries to take over The World (the crazy environment that is home to the Weapon Plus program, also from Morrison’s New X-Men). A funny, action-packed issue that features a great odd-couple pairing and some terrific art. Also, Norman Osborn does his best Daniel Plainview imitation on the opening splash page:


So there you have it.  The Spider-Man issue is still pending, but it’s written by Dan Slott so I’m not too worried about it. Otherwise, not a bad crop of issues—out of the seven we’ve seen, two of ‘em (X-Men and Wolverine) were great, two of ‘em (Daredevil and Punisher) were quite good, two of ‘em (Hulk and Secret Warriors) were so-so with nice art, and only one of them (New Avengers) was, for me anyway, kind of a waste of time. Two of them (DD and Punisher, again) were quite important to those characters’ ongoing series, and three more (X-Men, Secret Warriors, and Punisher yet again) made me curious to check out a monthly title I wasn’t currently following. All in all, not bad for an event I first turned my nose up at. It’s also a pretty decent “State of the Union” kind of event, for readers curious to see what the heck’s up with the Marvel U these days. I guess the lesson here is to never underestimate the healing power of a nice cleansing Reign!

 (I’m terribly, terribly sorry for that, I just didn’t know how else to wrap this up. Once again, my humblest apologies.)