It’s funny how stories in Marvel and DC Comics can parallel each other sometimes. Marvel’s X-Force event Necrosha, in which Selene raised the corpses of dead mutants, ran at the same time as DC’s Blackest Night. Many call the X-Men a rip off of Doom Patrol, but there’s little chance the two basically contemporaneous concepts could have borrowed from each other.
And in 2019, while DC proudly presented the “Year of the Villain,” Marvel published a set of unexpected showdowns called Acts of Evil! Unlike the others though, if you couldn’t tell from the trade dress, these self-contained stories drew clear inspiration from the ’89-’90 Marvel event Acts of Vengeance, in which Loki pretty much drew blindly from the company’s sandbox of bad guys to pair them with unusual opponents. Because confusion would be the key to finally defeating the heroes, I guess?
Acts of Evil! doesn’t have the same throughline, however, or even one at all. Each of the eight issues is a truly self-contained story, with no connection whatsoever, and many of the offbeat encounters seem to happen fairly randomly. So as in any such situation, the quality of the individual stories varies considerably, depending on creative teams and the concept of the plot.
The recently released collection of Acts of Evil! annuals doesn’t exactly hit the ground running, with a shaky first story that sends the Super Skrull, current leader of his hurting empire, against Earth’s Ms. Marvel (the Inhumans are basically Kree, right?). It’s not for vengeance or anything, though, but because he believes she’s the key to rebuilding. Writer Magdalene Vissaggio struggles to capture the voice of either main character, and Jon Lam’s pencils and Msassyk’s colors have something of an “unfinished” feeling to them.
We then blast off with the Punisher, which isn’t as novel a concept as you might think. He’s again (still hard to believe this has happened TWICE) busting up spies on a space shuttle, and father-to-an-astronaut, J. Jonah Jameson, is right there with him when they accidentally slip Earth’s surly bonds. Karla Pacheco’s jokes here are pretty good, but it’s unclear why exactly the Elon Musk stand-in wants anything to do with the Brood. Adam Gorham’s pencils are scratchy and don’t communicate emotion well, though Matt Milla’s colors nicely set the tone for each scene.
Okay, after Venom vs. Lady Hellbender, the worst will be over. Created by Greg Pak and Frank Cho, Hellbender is an alien who captures “monsters” to bring them to an outer space preserve, where they can live freely. Venom fits her criteria, but she decides Eddie Brock is the more monstrous of the two, after separating them. Writer Ryan Cady then has Hellbender try to seduce Brock with the same lines, without either character moving, for what seems like half the book. Suffice it to say, not a lot happens, and Simone Di Meo’s pencils ape the worst tendencies of artists like Gerardo Sandoval, which is especially incongruent in something without much action. Mattia Iacono’s colors don’t help much, washing things out in places.
Journalist Dana Schwartz then swoops in for the save, with a classic Deadpool story of humor and hurting. She’s a newcomer to comics writing, but still shows a deep knowledge of Marvel lore in this tale of the merc confronting Nightmare to stop a child’s bad dreams. Turns out there’s a different cause, though, in a twist that might be a little too real and off-putting for this concept. Reilly Brown’s art, as you might imagine, tells a great story through panel progression, and the colors of Matt Hearms and Guru-eFX do a good job of making Nightmare’s demon creatures seem three-dimensional.
Alexandra Petri keeps it going with She-Hulk vs. Bullseye, though it’s really Machinesmith vs. everyone. Astonishing Ant-Man fans will be pleased, as his characterization there is preserved in using a boneheaded (maybe too much so?) plot by Bullseye to get She-Hulk to do what he wants. It’s an impressive first effort for Petri — maybe journalists should write comics more often? Andy MacDonald’s pencils can be a little unclear at times, but Matt Milla’s colors capture the iconic appearances of these characters.
The concept of Vita Ayala’s Ghost-Spider story is sound, as Gwen Stacy wanders into an old trap set by Arcade, but the execution is off. Gwen’s forced to “relive” some of Spider-Man’s worst memories (you can see where this is going), but her determination is spoken (over and over) rather than being shown. Penciller Pere Pérez and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg wonderfully capture the character’s aesthetic, though, with stylized panels and bright flashes of different hues.
Cullen Bunn’s Moon Knight vs. Kang is a lot of smoke without too much fire. Khonshu tasks Marc Spector analogues from throughout time with keeping the Conqueror from powerful Egyptian artifacts, with a lot of fighting and not much character development. The grainy pencils of Ibrahim Moustafa and Matt Horak fit the historical tale well, as do the subdued colors of Mike Spicer.
Acts of Evil! is capped off nicely by Jody Houser, who spins another cross-time story of Wolverine’s 1938 romance with an actress who turns out to be Morgan le Fay. Logan tries to make amends in the present day, but all is not what it seems. Geraldo Borges’ pencils are a little unrefined, though colorists Marcio Menyz and Miroslav Mrva contrast the two time periods well.
As all such collections are, Acts of Evil! is a mixed bag. There are some gems in here, but some duds, too. Fun if you’re interested in seeing a bunch of uncommon match-ups, but if you’re looking to be more discerning, just pick up the single issues that interest you most.