April 25, 2012
This weekend, I went to the Boston Comic Book Convention, where Simon Bisley both let me drink some of his vodka and also made fun of my hair. (I had it coming–my latest haircut has not turned out the way I’d hoped.) On the first day, I waited in line for two hours before the show opened, and all that hard work of standing around and overhearing people cheer a football game in a bar across the street led me to this:
And really, everything after that point was just gravy. Also, I had to have my arms amputated after carrying around an Elektra by Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz Omnibus hardcover in a tote bag all day. My shoulders still have yet to forgive me.
But all that is the past, and here at Comics Drink and Go Home, all we give a fuck about is the present, so here’s a questionable present to you, the reader: this week’s stupid comics for jerks.
Marvel Comics. Written by Ed Brubaker. Penciled by Alan Davis. Inked by Mark Farmer. Colored by Laura Martin.
So ends Powerless, and with it the New Brubaker-Davis Team. The movie-tie-in Captain America relaunch has put a shot into the arm in nearly every aspect of the title–whereas a couple of the Bucky-Cap stories felt relatively adrift compared to the brick-upon-brick buildup of Bru’s Winter Soldier and Death of Cap arcs, the new series has that old feeling back… that sensation of trust, the suspicion that this is all adding up to something bigger than the sum of its parts. On the first arc, American Dreamers, we had art by Steve McNiven–which is always a treat, although his recent change in inkers hasn’t done him an incredible amount of favors. For this one, Powerless, we have Alan Davis, he of Captain Britain, Excalibur, ClanDestine, D.R. and Quinch…
The plot of Powerless is simple enough, when one reduces it to a blurb: Codename: Bravo and his crew, including the believed-dormant Machinesmith, are using Madbombs to trigger riots in American cities, while a mysterious phenomenon keeps draining Cap of his powers and reducing him to a 98-pound weakling. Most of that gets resolved here, and some of it is left to be carried over into the next storyline.
That things get accomplished efficiently in Captain America #10 is pretty much the most shocking thing about reading it. It’s become such a near-omnipresent style of the times for comics to stretch their legs and, in doing so, stretch out plot beats until they feel like getting around to them, that a single comic moving briskly is a feat in and of itself. Cap’s body problems get fixed, mysterious revelations about the Madbomb crowds are brought to light, the Madbombs themselves are nullified, Falcon gets into a couple fights with people, Sharon and Cap have an almost-confrontation, and Machinesmith gets a virus, which will no doubt lead to unfortunate blog posts from people enraged that one of Marvel’s few openly gay characters would be ‘infected with a virus.’ All this, and Alan Davis, too–who seems to luxuriate in his big, open page compositions, and who brings a love of kineticism and stagey facial acting to a story that some other artist would have no doubt turned into a stark, bleak race-riot noir.
There’s something very comic booky–and far from in a bad way–about the whole package here. This is an exceptionally odd comment to have to make, considering we’re talking about comic books.
Marvel Comics. Written by Mark Waid. Illustrated by Marco Checchetto. Colored by Matt Hollingsworth.
Daredevil #11 is the third and final chapter of The Omega Effect, a minicrossover that started in Avenging Spider-Man and ran through Greg Rucka’s Punisher. The plot thus far: 1. Daredevil has been in possession of a macguffin called “the Omega Drive,” which contains priceless information about every ‘megacrime’ syndicate in the Marvel Universe, and which is apparently the yin to the Identity Disc‘s yang. 2. Because no one in the entire Marvel U can keep a secret, the Punisher (accompanied by his new sidekick, Cole or Alves or whoever) and Spider-Man both ended up caught up in this whole Omega Drive affair. 3. Punisher’s sidekick, Cole/Alves/Cole-Alves/Calves, betrayed Daredevil on the last page of Punisher #10, in a spectacular failure of clear and readable storytelling. (At first glance I thought Daredevil’s plan for destroying the Omega Drive included, for some reason, a willing stage dive into a crowd of hostile villains.)
Marco Checchetto worked on Daredevil a few years ago, filling in for Rob de la Torre on Andy Diggle’s brief and bland run on the title. (I can’t find a quote right this minute–I’ll edit it in if I do–but I seem to recall Diggle claiming Marvel editorial basically plotted Shadowland for him in an AMA on Reddit. Since I’m relying on memory here, god knows what the case is, and take this tangent with a grain of salt.) Checchetto’s art was interesting there–he was clearly aping de la Torre’s style of the time, which involved quite a bit of Photoshopped New York City architecture and deep, scratchy shadows cast across figures. At the same time, he had a brightness and clarity of expression that de la Torre’s Daredevil art was often missing, and at the time, I honestly preferred Checchetto to the guy he was filling in for.
Here, I wish I could say the same. Maybe it’s just a consequence of having to bang out an entire three-issue crossover designed to come out in the space of a month, but Checchetto’s artwork here just isn’t very… well, interesting. Look at this page, which is from a sequence of Daredevil furiously tracking down Calves after her betrayal of the team:
The sheer lack of energy here is overwhelming. It even works against the captions given: What is it, exactly, about an empty street run through a Photoshop filter that offers “too much sensory input?” Why doesn’t Calves seem even a little tense, considering DD just explained why her snatch-and-grab plan was extremely poorly thought out? The next page is a wordless pin-up homage to Joe Quesada that doesn’t even properly follow through on the idea that Daredevil is being chased. Whatever wildness Checchetto’s style had while aping de la Torre is gone here, and it doesn’t even have the heavy-shadow atmosphere that could have made up for it.
I’m picking on Checchetto’s art because it’s a damn shame that it lets the story down. Waid’s writing is as sharp as ever, and because he’s so sparing with letting us see the dark, angry, Frank-Miller-y side of Daredevil, moments like his outburst at Calves–”I am sorry for your loss! But if you genuinely believe that only the death of a loved one can motivate a human to take up a cause… then get your pathetic, cynical ass out of my way so I can do my job!”–and her stunned silence afterward carry more weight than they would in a more generally apoplectic book. It does feel like a bit of a cheat in the end–there’s not so much a satisfying conclusion as a a dissolution of the team-up–but at least we’re back to business as usual with Waid and Chris Samnee in… seven days? Jesus Christ.
Marvel Comics. Written by Danny Fingeroth. Penciled by Mike Manley. Inked by Mike Manley, Ricardo Villagran, Bud LaRosa, and Bob Wiacek. Colored by Joe Rosas and Kevin Tinsley.
One of Marvel’s Sensational Character Finds of 1991, dArkhawk has returned from total obscurity over the past ten years, now residing comfortably in mere semi-obscurity thanks to guest spots and supporting roles in titles like Runaways, The Loners, and War of Kings. Now, capitalizing on some sort of “people will buy anything” policy within Marvel’s trade-paperback department (see also: the ongoing series of West Coast Avengers hardbacks–a team dArkhawk was a member of, which can’t be a coincidence), dArkhawk Classic Vol. 1 collects the first nine issues of the series, by Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art Senior Vice President of Education Danny Fingeroth, and Draw! Magazine editor Mike Manley.
Guest speaker and dArkhawk scholar Drew Case is here today to explain the importance and history of dArkhawk, which may go a ways toward explaining this publication’s existence:
The first thing you have to know about dArkhawk is that he is the spirit of the 90’s. He embodies all that is good about the 90’s and all that is bad about it. His origin is 90’s as hell, his powers are 90’s as hell, and his anger management issues are 90’s as hell.
Let’s start by looking at his brilliantly conceived origin story. Chris Powell, is your normal teen just hanging out at abandoned theme parks with his two younger brothers. I don’t live in New York so this might be a pretty common thing to live across from old theme parks. While hanging out at the abandoned them park, Chris sees his cop father taking a bribe from a known mobster. Why did his father decide to set up his bribe money transaction across the street from his house? One simple answer, the Powell family doesn’t think ahead. After seeing his father’s back alley deal going down, Chris freaks out and runs away coming upon a giant pink crystal. Instead of just continuing past it like every other human being he instead brushes off the used condoms and grabs the crystal and is transformed into DARKHAWK! This really is all there is to his origin story. As you read more of the comic you actually forget about his dad or any other pieces of his origin because they don’t actually matter. Everything in his story is flimsy setup for him to find a pink tech crystal and becoming a space robot. This is the perfect 90’s story because it has no substance and gets you right to the part you care about, the part where a robot beats people up.
The most 90’s part about dArkhawk is his powers, which either don’t make sense or are taken from a more popular hero. First, dArkhawk has a claw that unsurprisingly looks exactly like Wolverine’s claws, but it is totally different because he only has one and it is also a grappling hook. We should just rename the 90’s to the Woverines because everything in those years was about how Wolverine you could be. dArkhawk gave it a good try, claw and all. Second, dArkhawk has wings that allow him to fly, which makes his grappling hook even more pointless. It is like the creator got drunk and made a list of powers his awesome robot hero was going to have. Grappling Hook? Check. Claws? Check. Can fly? Check. Wait did I put in someone like flying already? Whatever, I’m too drunk to double check this. Third, dArkhawk has all the generic hero stuff. He is more durable, stronger, and faster than a normal person. He basically has a little Spider-man thrown in there to cash in if that is your kind of thing. You wouldn’t want him to be really original. Lastly, you have to give this robot some real power, maybe some sort of blast like an optic blast but we can’t totally be ripping Cyclops off, how about a chest laser. A laser that shoots out of his pink chest crystal. So with a great mix of random and ripped off powers you have the amazing abilities of dArkhawk.
This may sound like I hate dArkhawk but nothing could be further from the truth. I love dArkhawk. He is the perfect character to read when you don’t want to care about comics. Everything in dArkhawk is carefree. He can go from one issue where he brags about not having to breath in space to the next issue where he freaks out because he thinks he is going to drown while fighting a squidman. dArkhawk is the kind of comic where I can watch two sweaty muscled robots punching each other and trying to gross each other out by taking of their helmets(his robot face is ugly, no one knows why). It also doesn’t try to hide the fact it is absurd. Half of the issues near the beginning of his run are team ups with people whose powers he has ripped off. I have to root for an underdog like dArkhawk, the comic tries to make him seem really important like when people fro mthe future talk about this super awesome hero in the future called ‘The Powell’, and you just know that is never going to be talked about again because it is stupid as hell. A lot of the other dArkhawk historians won’t cover this but dArkhawk is also one of the few chubby chaser suoerheros. Every girlfriend dArkhawk has is a skinny girl who he treats like trash. Obviously, because he has a deep desire for a large girl but can’t get one. He is truly a confilicted hero. Having read the entire original run of dArkhawk, I can tell you it is worth reading if only because dArkhawk the character is a lot of fun even when he is fighting communists or whatever random shit comes up in the series.
Whew! Insightful and informative, as always, Drew. dArkhawk Classic‘s collected tales revolve around the trials and tribulations of Chris Powell adjusting to his strange new status quo, and taking on now-forgotten villains such as Lodestone, Savage Steel, and one of the dead Hobgoblins. It’s all very competent in a 90′s kind of way–Manley seems to go out of his way to let us know that everyone’s on steroids–but it has near-zero relevance of any of Marvel’s ongoing plotlines, and as such it can be mercilessly skipped in favor of AvX: Vs. #1, which will breathe new life into that linchpin of comics readership, “Wouldn’t a fight between Iron Man and Magneto last all of four seconds, because duh, hello, Iron?”
DC Comics. Written by Peter Milligan. Illustrated by Daniel Sampere. Colored by Admira Wijaya.
It’s that time of year for crossovers, I guess–this is part three of Rise of the Vampires, in which Justice League Dark freely intermingles with one of DC’s other spookyverse titles, I, Vampire. Plot summary: refer to title of crossover.
Reading this story is like jumping into the Lord of the Rings movies with Return of the King (or, if you’re a different kind of nerd, substitute any other franchise chain of sequels. Back to the Future Part III. Whatever). Since I haven’t been reading I, Vampire, I’m left with the impression that maybe I should have, if I want to understand even a little bit of what the fuck is going on. Hell, in Part Two, the “I” in I, Vampire is dead, or undead-dead, or something, with no explanation. Considering that the first storyline in Justice League Dark was this link, that leaves a pretty steep upward curve–then again, maybe I’m just the only idiot on the planet who doesn’t read both Justice League Dark and I, Vampire.
Daniel Sampere’s art, which I remember being a bit patchy a month ago (or at least I think I do–my memory of JLD #7 is curiously smudgy), has improved by leaps and bounds, perhaps because a good portion of this issue is relatively tight shots of various characters pulling faces. He’s good at that–I’m not sure about the whole demonic vampiric eldritch horror aspect of it all, but he’s at least handy with his faces and his figures, and hell if that doesn’t go a long way toward reparations. The story still doesn’t make a lot of sense–magic stuff happens, because magic–but at least Milligan seems to have gained more of a sense of purpose, if only because he’s tidying a few things up in his last issue. If only the previous seven had had such beautifully Milliganesque exchanges as the first page of this one:
Constantine: “This must take you back, Brand. The sound of the circus, the smell of grease-paint. You screaming and falling from your swing to a horrible death.”
Deadman: “It wasn’t a swing, you jerk, it was a high-wire. And I didn’t exactly fall… I was shot. And I wasn’t screaming either, okay?”
Dynamite Entertainment. Written by Kurt Busiek. Illustrated by Alex Ross and Jack Herbert. Colored by Vinicius Andrade.
You know, I really like the coloring in this comic. Generally, when it comes to coloring, I’m like “oh, well, I know, um, Dave Stewart, and… um.” (I can probably assuredly identity more letterers from sight than I can colorists, but I’m not 100% sure of that ever since Chris Eliopoulos stopped doing those tall, thin balloon letters that he used to fill X-Men comics with.) My first reaction upon seeing the name “Vinicius Andrade” was to go “oh, wow, that’s totally made up”–and then to Google him, because I wondered why I hadn’t noticed his work before. Red Sonja, Queen Sonja, Invaders Now!… well, that settles that question.
Still, there’s something to be said for a comic book that can embrace modern coloring technology and still go for a bright, clean look that isn’t obnoxiously forced-retro. I’m getting kind of tired of, like, purple and brown and grey and darkish red–the serious comics pallette, which Matt Hollingsworth leaned upon so heavily for The Omega Effect that you’d think he needed a cane. The colors in Kirby: Genesis suit the material, but also enhance it. It’s not like Jack Herbert is a bad illustrator (far from it), but he’s sort of foot-racing a bullet train when it comes to competing with Alex Ross’s LSD-wet-dream color compositions. Andrade backs Herbert up, and makes the lights glow and the chrome shine. Is it realistic? Well, no, of course not. It’s better; it’s Kirby. And Kirby should never be in anything less than Technicolor.
Marvel Comics. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Illustrated by Alex Maleev. Colored by Matt Hollingsworth.
Moon Knight #12 is both the end of the Bendis/Maleev Moon Knight series and the latest installment of a particular subgenre of comics Bendis has pioneered in the past decade or so, which I hereby dub “HBO Comics.” The parallels are pointedly obvious between just about any Marvel Universe Bendis series and the sort of adult-targeted drama programming you get on HBO–his Avengers run, with subplots and characters drifting off into the either only to suddenly get yanked back into focus when necessary, might as well pay royalties to David Chase and The Sopranos. Moon Knight, at the very least, is a title that was able to sustain this sort of model better than most–the title character is a normal, albeit crazy, guy whose history skews more toward the tradition of the unreliable narrator than lore of the Infinity Gauntlet. Viewed as the 12-comics equivalent of a TV season, Moon Knight doesn’t reinvent any wheels to speak of, but it seems to know what it’s after, and it doesn’t trip over its own feet pursuing it.
While Moon Knight has been an enjoyable example of “comics written like they’re HBO shows,” Bendis still gets a little too indulgent in his finale: when Moon Knight and Count Nefaria, the villain of the series, have a climactic brawl, the repetition of Nefaria’s howls of “MOON KNIGHT!!!” is a pretty baffling miscalculation. One can imagine Bendis hearing his dream actor in his head, screaming the lines so harshly he has to spit up afterward, as the camera closes in on the guy’s face, the whites of his eyes teasing out the mania as the flesh of his face contorts… and so on. On the page, it’s just a couple word balloons going “MOON KNIGHT!!!” and it almost reads like a non-sequitur, or the Sideshow Bob rake gag. (Also: didn’t Spider-Woman also end with the Avengers being called in to outnumber the villain?)
Still, if Moon Knight is remembered for one thing, it will be the simple pleasure of seeing Alex Maleev draw stuff like a super-powered Italian nobleman using his ionic lightning powers to royally fuck up a police station. That man was born to draw lamps and paperwork flying around while people’s bodies explode.
DC Comics/Vertigo. Written by Brian Azzarello. Illustrated by Eduardo Risso. Colored by Trish Mulvihill.
I’ve kept any punditry about Before Watchmen to myself, largely because there are other, more coherent pundits who are doing it better, and I don’t want to feel like I’m sabotaging the cause with my usual wordpuke. That said, I do keep up on things, and one of the key things to keep up on this week is today’s post at the Comics Beat by Heidi MacDonald. Yes, it’s mostly about Before Watchmen, but it also says this:
Did you know that when SPACEMAN, the new book by Azzarello and Eduardo Risso came out last fall, in the middle of the New 52 firestorm, only a single preview was published anywhere on the internet? One week before the book came out, Io9 put out a five page preview. I know because I had been looking for preview pages to run to promote it and there weren’t any.
That was enough to get a ‘what the fuck’ out of me, because this comic is great. I hope more people talk about it when the inevitable hardcover edition comes out–it’d certainly make the conversation easier for those of us who want to nerd out with our peers about it.
DC Comics. Written by Warren Ellis. Penciled by Tom Raney, Pete Woods, Michael Ryan, and Jim Lee. Inked by Randy Elliott and Richard Bennett. Colored by Gina Raney (nee Going).
In the late 90s, it became sort of a trend for independent publishers (i.e. Image partners) to take their pet universes, most of which had began as ill-conceived knockoffs of Big Two superheroics, and put them in the hands of writers who were not inclined to be precious about them, in the hopes of infusing some degree of respectability and prestige. Warren Ellis, cantankerous purveyor of bastardry and second-hand smoke, had just completed a somewhat bumpy run of things in the X-Office at Marvel, and being offered one of Jim Lee’s X-Men knockoff teams must have seemed appealing, if only for the sheer fuck-youishness of it.
Indeed, the very first words of Ellis’s lauded StormWatch run: “My name is Henry Bendix. I am the Weatherman. I am the controller of StormWatch, the United Nations special crisis intervention team. I am the world’s policeman. I am the Weatherman–and I’ve got your New World Order right here.” Subtle as ever, Mr. Ellis.
There are a couple interesting aspects to an archival reprint edition of Ellis’ StormWatch, the most immediately visible of which is the evolution of Tom Raney as an artist. He started off inelegant and a bit cluttered, with people whose faces often looked like they were working against them. As time wore on, he refined his style into something still blustery and a bit stiff, but he figured out how to work it to his advantage, and most of all, how to lay out a page. The Raney at the end of the book is so far from the Raney at the beginning that it’s a bit striking–no doubt because he had to sharpen himself to keep up with Ellis, who was using StormWatch to quietly blueprint nearly every theme that he’s followed since.
Yes, yes, The Authority, blah blah. That paranoid fascination with super-powered people being given unilateral authority (or something approaching it) is very much on Ellis’s mind–dig that quote above, after all. Unfortunately, we won’t see that thread hit its screeching climax until Vol. 2, which will contain the highlight of the run, the three-issue Change or Die. Still, this is more or less the start of Ellis’s fascination with fusing mainstream storytelling to formalist experimentation, culminating in an issue that rolls through the history of century-old character Jenny Sparks in a series of style-swipe flashbacks–a twenty-page proto-Planetary. It’s not a shining diamond or anything, but you really and truly could do a lot worse.
Marvel Comics/Icon. Plotted by Mark Millar and Nacho Vigalondo. Scripted by Mark Millar. Penciled by Leinil Yu. Inked by Gerry Alanguilan. Colored by Sunny Gho.
It looked like Mark Millar might have been able to make it a whole four issues without being willfully offensive for the sole purpose of titillating adult men whose sensitivity is lodged firmly up the ass of their thirteen-year-old junior-high past selves, but then he went and started slinging phrases like “bareback buckaroo” around. Oops! Silly us. The shame of it is that other than the cheap-titillation factor of a supervillain being blackmailed with the threat of outing him–not quite “COP’S GAY SON IMPREGNATES MORON SISTER” or whatever the now-infamous Nemesis plot-point headline was, but still–Supercrooks isn’t a bad comic. It’s not a great one, either, but it could have been a fun little genre flex without the lingering specter of Millarisms.
The star of the show in Supercrooks is Leinil Yu, who’s in his element here, and exploiting his chance wonderfully. Gerry Alanguilan understands the idiosyncracies of Yu’s lines–the penchant for both pools of heavy black and thin fiddly lines, and the balance between them–and Yu himself is getting better and better at composing panels to mine the most out of his facial acting and physical action. The best part of all of it is the backgrounds: instead of fucking around in Photoshop and just digitally treating a photograph to go “oh, look, it’s real as shit,” Yu sketches out these intricate yet open backdrops, almost universally the thinnest lines on the page. They create a world of a piece with his characters, and it’s marvelous to look at–shame about the whole “story” thing.
New England Comics Press. Written by Benito Cereno. Illustrated by Les McClaine. Colored by Bob Polio.
After a mysterious and far-too-long absence–a year? something like that–Benito Cereno and Les McClaine’s Tick series returns, pulling a big-shot stunt like reverting to its original, first-volume numbering. Not only that, but Invincible, the most enduringly popular indie superhero since the dawn of Image Comics, makes a guest appearance, teaming up with the Tick to essentially commit a grand-scale act of solar-system sabotage and probably completely fuck up a whole bunch of orbits and gravitational pulls and other science words.
Following up on continuity from The Tick: New Series that requires copious footnotes to remember (asked and answered), the Tick and his new ally Invincible take on Martin of Mars, a Martian warrior whose evil scheme involves staying on just the right side of copyright infringement. The only problem with all of this–and it is a serious problem–is that we do not get the meeting that the cover implies, between Invincible and the Man-Eating Cow. Tick #200, I guess. Only another 26 years!
Marvel Comics. Written by Kieron Gillen. Penciled by Greg Land. Inked by Jay Leisten. Colored by Guru eFX.
And so, we reach this week’s lone Avengers vs. X-Men outpost, the solemn and necessary followup to a one-panel sequence of Colossus being sucker-punched by Red Hulk in Avengers vs. X-Men #2–famous for Bleeding Cool making a couple jokes about how vaguely homoerotic it was, in keeping with their temporary policy of pointing out how homoerotic every single detail of Avengers vs. X-Men preview material was. Tellingly, the opening scene of this issue–where Cyclops and Emma Frost are briefed on Hope’s Phoenixitis by Dr. Nemesis–does more to set up a coherent motivation for Cyclops than AvX #0-2 have done in total.
The same goes across the board, really–Cyclops, Namor, Hope, Colossus, all of whom receive substantial and insightful narration which helps spackle some sense of motivation and coherency into the gaps left by the main series’ just-the-business approach. Is it too much to ask, though, that the next Uncanny tie-in have the decency to end with Captain America, eyes bulging out of his skull, screaming as he waves an assault rifle at a closet where a shrieking and weeping Hope is hiding?
Dynamite Entertainment. Written by Dan Brereton. Illustrated by Jean Diaz. Colored by Alex Guimãraes.
Vampirella is one of those things I never quite understood the appeal of (along with Witchblade, Lady Death, Dawn, Shi, and every other sexy-sex action series). The idea of assigning a deep and meaningful backstory to a 1970s horror mascot doesn’t make a ton of sense to me, even though I just wrote above about an Avengers vs. X-Men tie-in comic. Every couple of years it seems like someone makes a new attempt to try and convince us that no, really, there’s more to Vampirella than the thong and the boots, there’s a brain in that beautiful skull of hers, and a whole assortment of interesting characters and rogues, and so what if Pepe Gonzalez can’t draw it anymore, certainly the C-listers of today are good enough, really…
Anyway, I thought Dan Brereton could at least try and sway me. After all, I like The Nocturnals, and I was hoping this would have some of its Salem-tourist-culture meets Say You Love Satan appeal. Instead, I realized I might be getting a comic about this:
I powered through despite these misgivings, and realized I was actually getting a comic about this:
In short, I have no clue what the fuck is going on anymore.
April 4, 2012
No, but seriously: two weeks into me deciding I’m going to review (or at least make fun of) comics again, they drop a week like this on me. Dear comics professionals–y’all some greasy fuckers.
DC Comics. Written by Grant Morrison. Illustrated by Rags Morales, Brad Walker, Rick Bryant, and Bob McLeod. Colored by Brand Anderson and David Curiel.
It’s like, they knew that after eight months (including a two-month interruption to go time-travel bugfuck), they knew that people would be hyped up and ready to see the biggest Super-shitkicking since the time Samson and Atlas used their combined might to engineer a nano-organism that feeds only on Lois Lane’s skirts. That’s in here, somewhere–the rotating artists and awkward framing made it so that it took me a couple pages to realize that Superman was, in fact, fighting Metallo, who was riding Braniac like a giant, phallic brain-bronco. (I’m sure you all got enough of me talking about penises when I rambled about Supreme, but really–is there a better thematic touch for the likes of Metallo than the pinnacle of advanced technology being held between his thighs like a giant, writhing erection?) Superman beats them up and saves the day. Manifesting a touch of Silver Age Super-hubris, he keeps Brainiac around as a houseboy for the new Fortress of Solitude.
Then we get the touches that point to the future, and really, that’s what’s got me excited. Instead of Lex Luthor being a purple-collared sci-crime whiz, or a doughy Wilson Fisk rip, or worst of all, the “well, he’s like Doctor Doom, but every now and then he takes his armor off” version we’ve been getting for years now, Luthor here is a weaselly little fuck with pillowy Michael Pitt lips, constantly relying upon subterfuge to get what he wants. It’s very nearly a new concept for the character, which alarms me to even read back to myself, having just typed it. Then there’s the landlady’s name, and the final panel, where a dinosaur’s head messily explodes.
That’s the statement of intent for future Action Comics tales: “Listen, mac, a t. rex’s head exploding is just the prologue to where we’re headed from here.” That’s a big hole in the skull to fill, boys.
Marvel Comics. Written by Dan Slott. Illustrated by Stefano Caselli. Colored by Frank Martin Jr.
You know, I feel leery of ever commenting on the coloring of Stefano Caselli’s work, just because no matter what happens, it’s like “well, at least everything isn’t cast in bizarre pink light like those old Secret Warriors issues.” Still, for a guy who gets a lot of his strength from the texture of his linework, this cover sure did a great job belt-sanding it all off, as if to say, “April fools, we meant to commission a cover by Clayton Crain, or possibly create a backing board on which to package 1995-era action figures.” It’s a mean thing to do to Caselli.
The plot: the Sinister Six, something something, Doctor Octopus, something something, threat to planet Earth, Spider-Armor. Most of the issue plays out like someone’s YouTube clip-show edit of a half-season’s worth of 24–roughly half of the comic is spent with various people yelling at each other tensely, to show us that the stakes be high, and so on. This isn’t so bad. Caselli draws great yelling, like a Terry Dodson who’s not scared to draw people making ugly faces. The other half is Spider-Man, wearing his new, everything-proof Spider-Armor, rolling up on the Six with his Avengers bros and summarily watching everyone on his side get taken out like they were small babies.
This new Spider-Armor is Mysterio-proof, Rhino-proof, Electro-proof, Chamelon-proof–Spider-Man was able to tell that Al Gore was an impostor because the real Al Gore isn’t a Howard Chaykin drawing–but not, as it turns out, cliffhanger-proof. I’m not sure how big a deal I was supposed to think the new Spider-Armor was, since Spider-Man himself seems so casual about it–”yeah, dude, I built a new Rhino-proof suit, what of it?”–to the point that he almost comes off like a dick. I don’t look at the ending of this issue and go ‘Parker Luck strikes again, oh no!’–I look at it and go ‘well, serves you right for being more arrogant than a Cam’ron track.’
Marvel Comics. Written by Christos Gage. Penciled by Karl Moline. Inked by Jim “Suicide Squad #52″ Fern. Colored by Chris Sotomayor.
I hate that side band on the cover. Like, I understand the reasoning for it–the way most stores shelve their product, it’ll stick out and people will go “Oh, shit, Runaways–war–I’m in.” (Cut to recap page: “…begins with a W.“) Still, it’s just sort of gross and it defeats the whole idea of having commissioned a joined diptych of a cover. I don’t want to be that guy, but sometimes I gotta be that guy.
Anyway, this is the most interesting story Avengers Academy has had in months, if not more than a year. The initial charm of the book was that it was kind of the hormones-and-acne version of Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley’s original Thunderbolts proposition–where a new team of superheroes were secretly veteran supervillains, poised to exploit public goodwill and rob the world blind. Instead, in AA, we had a couple nothing-else-going-on Avengers starting a training program for super-teens who had been discovered and exploited by a renegade government program. The kids were told they were the ones with the most promise as future superheroes, but really, they were just the most psychologically damaged and at-risk for descending into villainy.
Let’s be clear: I love that concept. I leapt onto the book with the vigor and enthusiasm of a Doctor Who fan leaping onto being annoying. Then it all just kind of wandered away–into a lengthy Fear Itself crossover and then into a story that reinvented the Academy status quo into something like “Well, it’s not quite the X-Men, and it’s not quite the West Coast Avengers, but…”
Dragging the Runaways in for a couple issues brings back some of the good stuff–the surging swell of furious angst, like that one Teenage Depression 7″ cover. The Runaways are homeless superheroes, like D-Man but with fashion sense and deodorant, and they roll with two little girls on the cusp of pubes, so Tigra and Giant-Man want to spirit the kids away and put them with warm, loving families, like the one Giant-Man has created for himself over the years. (I’m swinging a golf club, but you can’t see it.) The teen teams do battle: “So you’re fighting for your right to keep two little girls homeless.” “As opposed to what? Soldiers in your child army?”
I mean, it all gets resolved in a fairly pat fashion and people develop empathy, and that sort of stuff, but then we see near the end, Tigra standing there looking–what, amused? depressed? both?–as the two Runaways kids lay her werecat infant on the lawn and then dangle a ribbon over him so he can paw at it like a housecat, and it becomes clear that Avengers Academy is still full of people doing totally, totally fucked-up things to each other, and babies.
Marvel Comics. Plotted by Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman, and Matt Fraction. Scripted by Brian Michael Bendis. Penciled by John Romita Jr. Inked by Scott Hanna. Colored by Laura Martin.
Jesus, it really is 2012, isn’t it? If Marvel had done this crossover in 1997, that roster line-up page would be totally flipped–instead of 6 X-Men and 400 Avengers, it’d be the other way around and for some reason Forge would have a major part in it, if only to slap Tony Stark for boning Mystique (except it would turn out that Stark was really Mystique all along, and Forge was really Douglock, and Sabretooth would be revealed as his alternate future self with alopecia, who was just wearing a big, ugly yellow wig all the time).
We’ve also got little ‘AR’ tags in the corner of pages like ‘Audience put your 3-D glasses on now,’ but more on that later.
Last week, I went on a whiny tirade basically accusing Bendis of wasting space, which is to say, giving characters fluff dialogue that exists without any narrative or aesthetic purpose. I’m not enthused by our first significant page of dialogue, which is page six: Ms. Marvel arrives at Avengers Tower and goes “What’s going on? Never mind, don’t care.” Yeah, and? I’m sure it’s “more realistic” for Ms. Marvel to show up and make snarky noises (probably drinking again), but how does this set us up for the Avengers vs. the X-Men vs. the Phoenix vs. people spending their money on Game of Thrones box sets?
The thing now is that so many people call so many comics “decompressed” that the word has even less meaning than “overrated.” If you call a comic “decompressed” now you’ll get just as many people chortling about how what, maybe you want every comic book to be an old issue of Mark Gruenwald Captain America? As usual with comics discussion on the internet, everyone is insufferable, and here’s a statement that’s just as true: this comic book needed to tighten the fuck up more than a Jersey Shore vagina.
A page with five panels is positively packed by the standards of Avengers vs. X-Men #1. I’m not saying that this should be some hokey retro production where Cyclops explains his optic blasts in more time than it takes to actually shoot them, but it’s like, the dissemination of information from this comic book to the reader is so inefficient that you want to shake the fucking pamphlet and tell it to hurry up. There’s also the usual issue where one cadence and rhythm of dialogue is spread out across every character, ever. After a certain point, people come off less like they’re explaining their viewpoints than they are reciting someone else’s summary of said viewpoints.
And if you cut out every panel that was just people standing around, reacting without action to something that was just said or just done by someone else, this comic would be at least a third lighter. I didn’t bother to do the proper math on that, but it definitely feels that way.
“It’s the first issue,” the devil’s advocate says. “It’s setting things up. It’s a prologue.” Then what was #0 last week, a prank? Oh, go fuck yourself.
Marvel Comics. Same credits as the other version, plus more production staff, I guess.
Back in the 1990s, my folks gave me this CD-ROM thing that was, like, an “interactive” version of Giant-Size X-Men #1. You could click through the pages panel-by-panel, and there’d be little buttons that, when hit, would play sound effects, or direct you to relevant excerpts from other comics, or… actually, I’m not sure if they did anything else. I liked it when I was a kid, but watching the Marvel AR’d cover of Avengers vs. X-Men #1–lightning crashes, an old mother dies, and a motion comics (remember those?!) prologue plays with animated Greg Land art–I dunno, man. I really wish I’d instinctively remembered just about anything else, because it’s not a good connection to make.
Still, it’s like, this is a new toy, it’s pretty cool as a concept, I’ll give it a shot and not be a bitch about it.
The main problem I had was that all of the images came off pixelated and out-of-focus, as if they’d been done at iPhone size and then blown up, rather than “done at tablet size and then blown down.” Maybe it was just them punishing me for having a Samsung Galaxy Tab. Not sure. Either way, what’s the use of seeing JRJR’s original pencils when I could get better image fidelity by trying to take a picture with my shoe? Plus, there’s one page where the AR bit is just a bio of Hope Summers, like the back of an old trading card. Like the actual story itself, it just felt like a scattershot, “eh, that sounds good enough” way of making information manifest for the consumer. Why not just make that “who’s who on each side” page link to a special web page of bios, or whatever?
Then the whole thing was completely ruined for me when, on the first double-page splash of the Phoenix Force destroying, like, a shitload of stuff, the AR content is Axel Alonso walking across the page and not even having the decency to stop and pretend to cower in fear of the all-consuming cosmic nuclear death-flame. Immersion: gone.
Marvel Comics. Written by Mark Waid. Illustrated by Stuart Immonen. Colored by Marte Garcia.
This is, I swear, the last bit of Avengers vs. X-Men blather this week, if only to preserve my own sanity. Luckily, I saved the really enjoyable part for last. The bizarrely named Avengers vs. X-Men #1: Infinite (I guess it’d sell better than Avengers vs. X-Men: Prologue: Nova: The Phoenix Force: Nova: Digital #1) is Mark Waid and Stuart Immonen playing with what can be done in the traditional digital format. This “traditional digital format” is, it must be said, “basically looking at static comic book pages on a screen.” So there’s a lot of room to maneuver.
It’s not that Waid and Immonen are doing technically innovative work here–unlike other mediums, which tend to evolve at the speed of technology (i.e. cinema), comics are doing a breathless scramble to catch up to digital transmission formats, and this first big step for the latest “digital addenda” initiative is to fuse comic books with PowerPoint presentations. You tap the border and new captions appear next to the old ones, filling out the narrative of a panel piece-by-piece. Or a second image appears next to the first one, continuing a sequence. Or a static “camera angle” is maintained while drawings ‘move’ across it, one tap at a time. Or, and I liked these best, you tap and they pull a rack focus stunt, suddenly making apparent the threat behind our intrepid hero Nova–and later, the black screen of death.
The story is told in sixty-five “phases”–”panels” seems a misnomer–and feels more full and rich than nearly any 20-page pamphlet I’ve read in a while. The plot is thin–Nova outraces the Phoenix Force through space, and crashlands in New York, setting up Avengers vs. X-Men #1–but the pacing is so tight that it’s like the opposite of that Jersey Shore joke I made a while ago.
The crucial thing to consider is that Waid and Immonen may not be advancing new technology, but what they are doing is drastically restructuring the reading process of comics. The traditional means of absorbing information at will–letting your eye wander where it will, from panel to panel and page to page, flipping back and forth at your leisure, taking in entire sequences of action and conversation in a single glimpse of a page layout–don’t work here. Instead, there’s an enforced chronology, not just of words and captions, but also with regard to the examination of the panels themselves. When you tap to hit the next phase and the image doesn’t flip over into a new thing entirely, you’re forced to scrutinize the small details of the panel image and absorb more concentrated shortwave bursts of data than you would just glancing at a printed sheet. (I would not be able to say any of this truthfully if Stuart Immonen was not a master craftsman.) Or, to put it bluntly: Mark Waid and Stuart Immonen are fucking around with an element that print comics can’t even dream of controlling–the time it takes you to read it.
Motion comics my ass.
Marvel Comics. Written by Mark Waid. Illustrated by Khoi Pham. Colored by Javier Rodriguez.
This is a Point One issue, designed to be an easy access point for new readers–fair enough, considering that I’m pretty sure this is the eighth or ninth issue of Daredevil to be published within a four-week radius.
Waid remains a great Daredevil writer, and to put a cherry on top of that, he actually fulfills that Point One remit, rather than just treating it as a bonus issue of the title. If you’d never read Daredevil before, you’d probably be okay with this–it holds your hand just enough, like a teacher who’s scared of a parent finding out.
The wild card here is Khoi Pham, whose work I can’t claim too much familiarity with, mostly because what I did see–in stuff like X-Factor and a little bit of his Avengers stuff–I didn’t really care for. There were, to paraphrase Emperor Joseph II, “too many lines.” Here, he chills the fuck out, and it works very nicely, although I sort of wish he’d had an inker–someone like Scott Hanna or Mark Morales who can balance the spacious thickness of his shapes with enough fiddly linework to give them texture and weight, which occasionally things lack here. Still, he acquits himself well, and the bold moments are definitely as bold as they should be.
It’s just that shit, man, not getting Paolo and Joe Rivera every month is some kind of unwitting cruelty.
Also, Daredevil is threatening to “Julian Assange” people and he’s just lucky no one in that group of crooks was a lady. (Maybe the Secret Empire one was, but under that burqa, who can tell?)
Image Comics. Written by Ed Brubaker. Illustrated by Sean Phillips. Colored by Dave Stewart.
Fatale–like any Brubaker/Phillips enterprise–is a bit tricky to write about because the impulse is to treat it as a component of a story rather than a complete story unto itself, and there’s only so much you can do to say “this piece is just as good as the other pieces, and they’re all great, and everything’s great.” Brubaker’s mix of L.A. noir and H.P. Lovecraft is finally making eye contact, though–after four issues of build-up and teasing, out comes a cultist with a dagger and suddenly Sean Phillips has laterally shifted his work into the realm of Ed Repka album covers, and Brubaker isn’t lying when two pages later he describes what you just read as the point where things get “really fucked up.”
I can’t even front, though, Sean Phillips illustrating thrash metal LP covers–wouldn’t that be insane?
DC Comics/Vertigo. Written by Grant Morrison. Illustrated by Frank Quitely. Colored by Peter Doherty.
No, you can’t lay the fucker flat, but really, that’s a little thing.
The big thing is–shit, why would you even want to lay it flat? This isn’t a textbook. You’re not an animal–not come cat needing something to lay on. If you feel anything at all, why would you do anything but feel this book? Take the dust jacket off. Feel the varnish warm against your fingertips, or your fingertips warm against the varnish, or something. Stick your thumb in the cleavage and become part of your own view of the page. Connect. If you can’t connect with Flex Mentallo you’re hopeless.
Meta-this, meta-that. There are other blogs by people who own sweater vests that’ll get into all that. Still, some points bear stating: Flex is the most coherent treatise Grant Morrison has yet written on his theory of the Evolution of Utopian Super-Ideas, and the most heartfelt and affecting, too. It’s so open and so naked, despite being cloaked in fiction–Quitely draws a row of shuttered shops in the background and it just looks like Great Western Road to me.
“That’s what I remember; hot summer nights, sweltering in my bedroom, reading comics and dreaming and drawing, while life went on outside the window. Imagine a jail cell, yeah? A fallout shelter, where the walls are covered with so many drawings you can’t tell it’s a prison anymore. It’s so bright and colorful; sexy girls, handsome musclemen, adventure. You start to forget it’s not real. You don’t realize the world’s ended for you. Hot days and nights in jail…”
Grant Morrison wrote about 2012 something like 15 years before it happened. Either he’s a prophet, or none of us were paying attention.
DC Comics. Written by Ann Nocenti. Illustrated by Harvey Tolibao. Colored by Richard and Tanya Horie.
I love Ann Nocenti. At a convention I’d want her to sign the inside of my eyelid. Her Daredevil run from back in the 80s–the first comic I can remember wanting for myself, unprompted, was one of those. (It had Mephisto and Blackheart and stuff, as was the style at the time.) Now that I’m older (but no wiser, considering how I still read superhero comics), she stands out as even more of an odd duck amongst all these fans-turned-pros, because she asks and answers the sort of “well, really, what about this aspect of life…” that usually ends up fodder for cliche comics by people struggling to subvert their own super-hardons.
Back on Daredevil, Nocenti’s trick was to surround Matt Murdock–conflicted lapsed-Catholic vigilante and crusader–with women. Not just “women,” i.e. those things that keep Kyle Rayner’s fridge full, but actual women, with varying opinions on things and different personal aesthetics and all kinds of hang-ups of their own thank you very much. Green Arrow isn’t yet a repeat performance of that technique, if only because this New 52 take on Green Arrow doesn’t quite have the same strata of trauma tissue to cut into, like Daredevil. Instead, she’s entering slowly, but with no less of a flair for the obvious: Green Arrow feels no angst whatsoever about sleeping with a trio of super-villainous triplets, or even regret, beyond the loss of a bunch of technology and dignity–he’s half hero, half Tucker Max, and the only non-carnal lesson learned is not to let them sucker him like that again.
We’re also getting into environmental issues, patriarchal family dynamics, corporate intrigue, Shakespeare, animal experimentation… it might not be a total revolution, but it’s still frantic with willingness, and Tolibao’s art matches that idea (while occasionally dissolving into post-Neal-Adams page-layout LSD freakouts).
One line says as much about it as anyone could. In Ann Nocenti’s superhero books, the collection of DNA samples held by a mad scientist are rattled off thusly: “Napoleon, Rasputin, Byron, Mishima… others.”
Dark Horse Books / SAF Comics. Imagineered by Hermann. Translated by ???.
Picture Uatu the Watcher bearing down on you with his toga and his giant mutant baby head: “What If… The Turner Diaries Actually Happened?”
In the late 70s, when other Europeans were doing things like “inventing italo-disco” or “being Chantal Akerman,” Hermann left the Western adventure strip he’d been doing–Comanche–and started writing his own scripts. The product of this was Jeremiah, his best-selling book yet, and one which I’m pretty sure he’s been continuing as a series of albums ever since. The idea is simple: Jeremiah’s a good-hearted, kind-of-naive country kid, and Kurdy is a scrappy, clever little shit, and the two of them go around having adventures in a Neo Old West that civilization regrouped into following a nuclear Race War.
It’s gorgeous, as it should be, and the edition that Dark Horse and SAF Comics have put out is equally handsome, with vivid colors and an eye for the texture of Hermann’s line. Plus, I think it’s been re-translated and re-lettered–I read an English-language edition of the first volume years and years ago, and the dialogue hung a bit differently (not better or worse, just different), but the lettering on that older version was so self-consciously “Euro” that it was distracting to read, like back in the day when Wolverine was lettered with some font Comicraft probably sold with the label “unreadable chickenscratch.” No such problem here.
What you get out of Jeremiah is pretty much down to how much you get out of vaguely post-apocalyptic Westerns. If you feel nothing for ‘em, it can’t help you, dude, sorry. If you’re into them, you gotta bear in mind, this is some John Wayne shit right here. After a first page showing that the conflict that ended this modern world was, essentially, “white folks versus black folks,” the next seventy pages or so do absolutely nothing to follow up on that–it’s just a dude and his buddy and the messes they’re getting themselves into, with more of a distinct emphasis on class-on-class violence than anything else. In the post-Racialicious.com world, that sort of concern (“no, seriously, what happened to the black people here?”) chafes more than I imagine it did in 1978 Belgium, but it doesn’t diminish the beauty of Hermann’s artwork, which is what’s gonna put asses in seats here. 500 asses, specifically, because I guess Dark Horse knows what size market it’s investing in here.
Dynamite Entertainment. Written by Kurt Busiek. Illustrated by Alex Ross and Jack Herbert. Colored by Vinicius Andrade, whose name I typoed like six times trying to type it out.
I love one thing that Kirby: Genesis does with all of the warmth that my comics-defeated heart can muster, and that’s how it depicts the Pioneer Two–two otherworldly giant beings who float around in the sky holding hands. Where the rest of the world around them is Jack Herbert’s ink drawings, the beings themselves are Alex Ross paintings in that neo-psychedelic style he’s gotten more comfortable with over the years. In the right spots it really does look amazing, totally underlining the difference between men and supermen.
There’s other stuff here too, stuff like “THE SHE-DEMON DOES AS SHE PLEASES–AND SHE HAS SPOTTED MUCH TASTIER PREY!” and all that, but most of the plot revolves around new people showing up and showing off, and I’ll be honest, I barely even remember the names of the old ones. I think one of them is called, like, Miss Hair. Possibly Hair Madame.
Image Comics. Written by Alan Moore. Illustrated by Erik Larsen and Cory Hamscher. Colored by Steve Oliff.
Listen, all I’m gonna say is that Supreme talks about the Mir space station on one page. Suprema talks about Youngblood–like, the Alan Moore Youngblood–plot/character stuff on another. Kids are in a fucking comic book store. It’s like the comic book version of Awakenings or whatever that movie was where the guys in comas woke up and just kind of staggered around, confounded by the far-flung future of like 1991.
Larsen was right, though–Moore left a fucking hell of a cliffhanger.
Marvel Comics. Written by Jeff Parker. Illustrated by Declan Shalvey. Colored by Chris Sotomayor and Jordie Bellaire.
It’s hard to believe that something like forty issues ago–that is to say, what, two, two and a half years, ha ha Marvel–this comic was mostly about stuff like Nuke shooting an old Untold Tales of Spider-Man villain in the head while they tried to make Grizzly look less like a furry and more like some other kind of sexual deviant. My, how the Jeff Parker run has grown–and now, at #172, it proudly declares ’15 YEARS!’ (of Thunderbolts) on the cover, about three issues before the book is finally getting the Operation and becoming a woman, whose name will be Dark Avengers.
And just to bring it all full circle and remind us all what’s important for the big anniversary throwdown, Parker gives Citizen V dialogue about “that enormous phallic symbol in Central Park” while Shalvey tags in to draw V in a pose where he’s pretty much Michael-Scott-ing an outcropping of rock, lifting one leg so high that the only possible intent could be to showcase his sweet bulge while he yells about dick-towers, and that’s another week of superhero comics for you.