Looking at my work schedule and my promised reviews, I realize I can’t do everything I’ve promised to do. (I’m the “go to” guy for unexpected situations at work, and there’s going to be a whole heck of a lot of “going to” going on in the next few weeks.) Rather than completely drop all of my promises, I’ve decided to write a quick rundown of all of the Dark Reign titles to date, with brief outlines of what’s worth looking for and what impacts the others.

Dark Reign is a “state of the U” label more than a crossover. Titles impacted by Norman Osborn’s rule as commander of H.A.M.M.E.R. after Secret Invasion have this banner, but that doesn’t guarantee they will reference or be referenced by the other titles with that banner. Here’s a brief rundown of the 34 (!) series to date that have sported the banner:

  • Agents of Atlas – The Agents have the world believing they are criminals to gain intel and do good for the world. The opening story arc was decent, with nice plot ideas, but none of the characters have grabbed me, so I stopped collecting as soon as the crossover ended.
  • All New Savage She-Hulk – There was a one shot a couple of years ago in which Thundra collected Hulk’s DNA to genetically engineer an offspring. This offspring has travelled from the future to the present to satisfy her own mating urges. It’s a decent setup for a character that will have a role to play in the upcoming “World War Hulks” (along with other Hulks and other She-Hulks.)
  • Amazing Spider-Man – This crossed over for only six issues, with Norman Osborn using his position to manipulate his son and go after Spider-Man once more. It’s one of the better stories since “Brand New Day” began, particularly with the strong banter between Peter and Harry.
  • Avengers: The Initiative – Norman Osborn has very different ideas for what the Initiative will become, and this plays off them nicely. This is still the strongest Avengers title on the shelves as far as the writing is concerned. This also reveals the fate of Ragnarok, the Thor clone introduced in Civil War.
  • Black Panther – This relaunch is barely related to Dark Reign. T’Challa was attacked on his way back from visiting Dr. Doom, and a new Black Panther must be chosen. I don’t care what it crosses over with in the future, I’m not reading Reginald Hudlin’s stuff again. Hudlin’s last issue written was also my last collected, so the current state of the title may be better than it has been.
  • Dark Avengers – The second best Avengers title on the market. This is the one covering Norman Osborn’s public group of Avengers, treating the franchise like it’s actually a franchise, with familiar outfits and code names on some nasty people. Sentry and Ares are who they claim to be. Hawkeye used to go by Bullseye, Ms. Marvel used to go by Moonstone, Spider-Man is the Mac Gargan Venom, Wolverine is Logan’s son Daken, the Iron Patriot is Norman Osborn in appropriated Stark armour, and Captain Marvel is Noh-Varr, the Kree from another reality. There have been some great interactions in the team here, including some nice moments with Noh-Varr when he realizes that he’s on a team of villains.
  • Dark Reign Files – A “handbook” style issue detailing a lot of villains. They do a good job of covering the Hood’s group of thugs, but they miss a lot of the ones that have been showing up in other titles (such as the Punisher.)
  • Dark Reign: Hawkeye – Currently on issue 4 of 5, this is a look at Bullseye under the Hawkeye mask, trying to act like a good guy in public. Someone’s been tormenting him with his past indiscretions, and he doesn’t like being tormented.
  • Dark Reign: New Nation – A set of quick stories that set up the new titles spinning out of the event.
  • Dark Reign: Elektra – This series just wrapped up. It does a nice job of setting up Elektra and how the world reacts to her, as well as pinning down her kidnapping timeline in relation to the “Enemy of the State” story arc from Wolverine’s title.
  • Dark Reign: Fantastic Four – Jonathan Hickman picked this up after he started working on the main title, and used it to set up his run. Reed has realized that the world has gone very wrong, and he’s studying alternate dimensions to look for solutions that worked. He knows things started going wrong when he, Iron Man, and the Skrull version of Hank Pym decided to join forces at the start of the Civil War after the Illuminati fell apart. He learns that the realities that run smoothly all have one thing in common: Reed decided to fix everything himself. Reed’s a scientist, and that’s compelling evidence. The fallout from this interesting series began in Fantastic Four #570 earlier this week, and so far, it’s very easy to recommend.
  • Dark Reign: Lethal Legion – Wonder Man is back, and this is a flashback series trying to reassemble the events that led to Wonder Man joining the Lethal Legion and the deaths, injuries, and incarcerations of its members.
  • Dark Reign: Mister Negative – This gives a lot of backstory on the new Spider-Man villain, and reveals more of his powers and attitudes. It’s a nice companion to Amazing Spider-Man, and is definitely worth checking out if you read that title.
  • Dark Reign: The Hood – Parker Robbins has the underworld at his feet, as a direct result of a cloak powered by the dread Dormammu. He’s trying to break free of that demon without losing his powers or position in the underworld, and it’s not going to be easy. Four of five issues have been released so far, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who read Brian K. Vaughan’s original series to find out what happened to Parker’s mother, mistress, and pregnant girlfriend.
  • Dark Reign: Sinister Spider-Man – This one is about the Mac Gargan Venom living with the Spider-Man name. He’s being forced to work with J. Jonah Jameson Jr. in what is definitely the most twisted Spider-Man story I’ve ever read. Seriously, when has Peter Parker ever stopped a robbery, bitten off the robber’s arm, and then taken the stolen money with him to spend on strippers?
  • Dark Reign: Young Avengers – A new team of Young Avengers have appeared, and they’re not good guys. Enjoyable to date, and featuring the original Young Avengers as well.
  • Dark Reign: Zodiac – There’s a new Zodiac in town. I don’t recommend this one. It looks like Zodiac is trying to do what the Hood’s doing, only with crappier minions and lousy art.
  • Dark Wolverine – Daken is following in Daddy’s footsteps, and is both X-Man and Avenger. He’s playing with the minds of his teammates. The character really doesn’t appeal to me, and I haven’t been enjoying it because of that.
  • Deadpool – The crossover started with “Magnum Opus” tying into the Thunderbolts, and then continued with a Deadpool vs. Bullseye fight. “Magnum Opus” is easy to pass on, but the Bullseye tie-in was great. Those two make great adversaries.
  • Hulk – So far, this has crossed over for a grand total of one issue. Bruce Banner isn’t the Hulk anymore, but he’s still being targeted by people the Hulk has angered.
  • Incredible Hercules – Standard betrayal and aborted capture story. Easy to miss.
  • Invincible Iron Man – One of the best titles Marvel’s putting out, with or without “Dark Reign” on the cover. Stark had all the secret identities of the registered heroes in a database Norman Osborn wants. Stark kept that database in his head, so he’s been on the run, trying to hide long enough for his brain-deletion protocol to finish its job before Norman brings him in and gets the secret identity list he wants so badly.
  • Mighty Avengers – Hank Pym has assembled a team of international heroes with the help of the Scarlet Witch. The world recognizes them as the Avengers, but what none of them realize is that the Scarlet Witch had nothing to do with the team. Loki is using her image when he appears before them, and he’s manipulating the team for his own purposes. This is the third best Avengers ongoing Marvel’s publishing.
  • Ms. Marvel, Vol. 2 – Set in the near future, Carol Danvers is having a rough time. She went into hiding with another name, but now no longer remembers being Carol Danvers. Meanwhile, the Karla Sofen Ms. Marvel (former Thunderbolt and villain Moonstone) is fighting a different Ms. Marvel. It’s an interesting concept thus far.
  • New Avengers – The “Dark Reign” banner was on when Brother Voodoo was chosen as the new Sorceror Supreme, but it’s been dropped for the story arc that seems to have more to do with the crossover. It’s enjoyable, but it’s still the weakest Avengers ongoing Marvel has publishing.
  • New Avengers: Reunion – Detailing the new status quo between Ronin/Hawkeye and Mockingbird. It does a decent job of that, but if you didn’t read West Coast Avengers back in the day, you probably won’t miss it.
  • Punisher – This is, for the first time ever, a Punisher title that interests me. The Punisher is tailor made for this type of world, and and Rick Remender is using him well. Not only is he after Norman Osborn, but the Hood has used his abilities to bring several criminals killed by Frank Castle back to life for 30 days. The Hood has also promised them that whoever kills Frank Castle gets his spell extended indefinitely to stay alive, while the others will die. There are a lot of people targeting Frank Castle right now.
  • Secret Invasion: Dark Reign – The one shot reviewed earlier that set up the status quo.
  • Secret Warriors – Jonathan Hickman pitched a 60 issue plan when he was offered this title, and the first seven have been excellent. The first issue ends with the revelation that, unbeknownst to Nick Fury, S.H.I.E.L.D. was secretly an arm of Hydra. As Baron Strucker puts it, “we’ve been dancing for years, and now you can finally hear the music.” Nick Fury fans will find a lot to love here. Those who aren’t Fury fans may become Fury fans if they give this a shot.
  • Skrull Kill Krew – The original miniseries didn’t sell particularly well, and I strongly suspect this will do even worse. If you liked the original, there are some twists here to grab your attention, but it’s not up to the quality of the first.
  • Thunderbolts – This is now Norman Osborn’s black ops team, with a secret agent in the midst. The “Magnum Opus” issues that crossed over with Deadpool weren’t great, but those since have been very enjoyable.
  • The Uncanny X-Men Annual – This reveals how Emma Frost and Namor know each other. It’s important to the Utopia crossover.
  • War Machine – James Rhodes is now barely human, and he’s working the international front to keep fighting the good fight like the soldier he is. The scripts were better than the art. The art style somehow looks cluttered, no matter how little there actually is in a panel.
  • Wolverine: Origins – A heavy tie-in to the series to date on this one. Easy to pass if you’re only reading for the sake of “Dark Reign.”

Some quick short lists, with the three most entertaining titles to date, and the three most avoidable titles to date involved in the “Dark Reign” labelling. The list to grab:

  1. Deadpool – Issues 10-12 with the Bullseye fight, anyway.
  2. Invincible Iron Man
  3. Secret Warriors

The list to avoid:

  1. Black Panther
  2. Dark Reign: Zodiac
  3. Skrull Kill Krew