Today, X-O Manowar #1 came out–it’s at the end of this post–thus relaunching the Valiant Universe. (VH-3?) My store guy, which is to say, the guy ringing me up at the store I go to, let me know that a new customer came in, opened up a store subscription folder, and put himself down for two copies of every cover released by the new Valiant. Welcome back to 1992, y’all, just without a Wizard to tell us our Master Darque debuts are worth $100+.
Don’t worry, though, I’m sure a CGC’d X-O Manowar Pullbox Variant will pay off beyond your wildest dreams.
Personally, I’m more annoyed by the economic realities of Record Store Day. Nothing general or even principled, mind. I’m just upset that none of the local chains seem to have ordered any copies of the Record Store Day exclusive reissue of Here Comes Everybody by the Wake, and I keep seeing it on eBay for, like, a hundred dollars. Speaking as someone who wants the record but doesn’t want to pay $100 for it, that is objectively complete bullshit. At least all my comics came in, I guess, even if none of this week’s comics are probably as good as “Talk About the Past.”
Besides, I need that hundred dollars to afford to get into MorrisonCon.
DC Comics. Written by Grant Morrison. Illustrated by Gene Ha. Colored by Art Lyon. Backup story written by Scholly Fisch, illustrated by Cully Hamner, and colored by Dave McCaig.
I don’t know if they’re just more prevalent lately, or if I’m simply of a mind to notice them more, but it seems like every single week I pick up a DC book and there’s some flubbed editorial moment that makes me go “ugh, guys, don’t operate page proofs unless you’re all the way awake.” Case in point: page 2 of Action Comics #9, which is a perfectly fine page except for a pair of bizarrely placed word balloons. In the second panel of the page, Gene Ha left a lot of room above the character’s head, obviously to put in a word balloon–but that space is left totally ignored, filled in with dull dark green, creating an empty space that throws off the rhythm of the scene. It’s not like this is X-Men #1–where Tom Brevoort’s tumblr took pains to point out how Stan Lee clearly wrote more copy than panels could reasonably fit, causing entire figures to hide behind word balloons. There are two lines on this page, two images, and some credits. Fumbling it just makes it looks like amateur hour, and worse, diminishes what you’re trying to do.
That’s the page, on whatever side of the column I happen to stick it to when I go in later and add images. “IT’S EVERYTHING ELSE ABOUT YOU I HATE!” Luthor howls, in giant letters that match the unhinged barking rage that Ha’s drawn across his face. Then, down below, in much smaller text, “Don’t ever forget that!” The sequential placement–the eye travels down and toward the left a bit, toward the infoblock of the credits–reduces the immediacy of the follow-up statement, and the drastic change in size reduces the apoplectic fury by the time we get to that little second balloon, as if Luthor’s mania had lasted exactly one sentence. The stillness of the empty background–green, which despite being the symbol of lethal kryptonite, is a psychologically soothing color–provides the effect of giving us a micro-second of a breather between RAGE SENTENCE and Slightly Less Rage Sentence, enough to disrupt the rhythm of Luthor’s hatred.
If it seems like I’m harping on this one little moment too much–yes, I am, and I’ll cop to that. Art Lyon isn’t a bad colorist by any stretch–he gave the previous Action Comics Krypton sequences he did with Ha an eerie, otherworldly quality that separated it squarely away from the Morales/Anderson “normal world’s normal past” scenes. If anyone should be offered a blindfold and a cigarette on this, it’s likely the assistant editor, Wil Moss–I don’t know for a fact that he places the word balloons on the page proofs, but it’s either him or Matt Idelson. Whoever’s to blame, it’s a brief spoiling moment in an otherwise pretty great comic. A year ago, I’d probably have just rolled by eyes at a little flub like this, but I guess I’m just crankier now that I’m officially elderly, i.e. late twenties.
The idea of Action Comics #9–which takes place on Earth-23, home of Calvin Ellis, President Superman from Final Crisis–is that in yet another alternate dimension, three friends named Clark, Lois, and Jimmy invented a machine that manifested thoughts and ideas, and a grand corporate mechanism conquered their innovation and used it to create Superman: a nihilistic, all-consuming fascist force of media saturation that holds modern society in its palm and keeps its consumers docile and subservient. “DIAL 911 IF YOU WITNESS ANYTHING SUSPICIOUS,” a billboard above the swastika-esque Superman logo reads, “WIN VALUABLE PRIZES!” Immediately after the scene in which this dystopia is introduced, we are greeted with a two-page splash advertising Before Watchmen.
Grant Morrison’s Supergods was a fascinating book in its haphazard, indulgent documentation of Morrison’s own thought processes, but his analysis of Siegel and Shuster’s Great Comic Book Rip-Off erred a bit toward the position of “yeah, well, that’s life.” His defenses of DC and the comic industry in general have sparked criticism by those who think he’s lost touch with his radical roots and gotten complacent–at worst, there have been accusations of outright stoogedom. Here, the creators of a superhero who threatens to destroy them is exiled to another world where another (fictional) superhero welcomes them with open arms. On the one hand, it’s a biting swipe at the corporate yolk that’s keeping Morrison fed. On the other, that sort of ending–everything will turn out OK when it looks like a job for Superman–puts his loyalty firmly with ideas, rather than people. It was a corporation’s idea to make the evil Superman in this story a force for consumerism and obedience–Calvin Ellis’s Superman offers the point that provided no forces corrupt or exploit an idea, and it’s supported by those who are themselves good, it will blossom into something righteous. Tellingly, Calvin Ellis is President of the United States, a position where the public can only be overwhelmingly satisfied by fictional representations, freed from the too-real concerns of economic and political tightropes. “We’re talking about a man with the highest approval rating since President Rickard back in the ’70s–and he earned it,” as Scholly Fisch elaborates in his inoffensive but hardly essential backup story. As ever, Grant Morrison wraps his–and our–troubles in dreams.
Marvel Comics. Written by Dan Slott. Penciled by Humberto Ramos. Inked by Victor Olazaba. Colored by Edgar Delgado.
“It’s my war,” Spider-Man says at one point in this comic book–”my command, and we do things my way.” As I’ve noted every other week for a while now, Ends of the Earth–the current Spider-Man storyline, about Spider-Man engaging in a season of 24 against Doctor Octopus–feels hollow at its core, like it’s missing the human dimensions that separate proper Spider-Man stories from the rest of comics (and from bad Spider-Man stories). As the entire world declares Spider-Man and his allies (movie star Black Widow and consistently-cancelled Silver Sable), the storyline makes a hard left into being essentially the same thing as Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.
Late in the issue, we get a forceful, sharp shove in the ribs–oh, you know, Spider-Man’s out to save the world because he cares so much about Mary Jane, which justifies complicity in Silver Sable torturing Sandman with acid–but it’s too little, too late. The stakes have already been too clearly defined as existing outside of Spider-Man’s own personal sphere… and Doctor Octopus’s, too, for that matter. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol got away with this sort of thing through sheer visual spectacle and a general affability mixed in with its grim nuclear-holocaust proclamations. Tom Cruise may never express a human emotion in that movie–it would take away from his ability to concentrate on his pneumatic robo-Jenner running around–but that also meant things stayed light, and never dour. Here, we have the scowling, scalp-tugging palette of modern comic storytelling wedded to a maximalist, bigger-is-bigger plotline, and it’s like reading about some other Spider-Man, one that’s about stopping the bad guys first and distantly remembering his own personal issues later, right down to the fact that he can’t even spend Ends of the Earth in his own clothes.
Marvel Comics. Written by Christos Gage. Penciled by Tom Grummett. Inked by Cory Hamscher. Colored by Chris Sotomayor.
It doesn’t take a naked Hercules on the first page of Avengers Academy #29 to cement its current role as that of Marvel’s fan-service comic–but it helps. As a result of Avengers vs. X-Men, the X-Men’s various teenagers–along with characters who they don’t plan to make use of within the main series, such as Madison Jeffries–come to Avengers Academy to wait out the war. What this means, in practice, is that we get an issue of small moments designed to wink at longtime readers, because with this many characters, there’s not a lot of room for much else. (Gage still manages to fit in a villain plot, paying off Generation Hope‘s bar tab, but’s just a sapling here.)
There’s a sub-section of X-Men fans–typically the sort of people who loudly interject that they don’t read comics anymore because comics just aren’t good and haven’t been since the last time their particular tastes were pandered to–who are still bitter at stuff like Chris Yost and Craig Kyle killing off “truly” “excellent” characters like Wallflower and Tag, solely to reduce the cast of New X-Men to a manageable number. These are the fans who place substantial importance on the idea that characters continue to live in the margins of a shared universe even beyond the cancellation of their titles. As a result, some of these fans–not all, but certainly more than zero–use the cast of a comic book as a measure of quality. An example would be, say, Jubilee, who disappeared from comics for a couple years because no one had anything for her to do. When she suddenly reappeared as a major player in Victor Gischler’s X-Men, it didn’t matter that Gischler was changing the character’s status quo or not really writing great stories. It mattered that he was using Jubilee, and thus validating all the Jubilee-hopes and Jubilee-dreams of the fans who had been waiting for another peephole glimpse into the character’s theoretically-infinite life. This arc of Avengers Academy is all but a clearly labeled shout-out to this kind of fan, as various cancelled and forgotten and dormant characters pop up largely because they can: Hercules, Surge, Loa, the Stepford Cuckoos, the Generation Hope cast…
There is, of course, a simple pleasure for fans of a shared universe to see that universe being shared. (Any substantial research into this phenomenon would necessarily take into account the work, both creative and editorial, of Mark Gruenwald.) That makes up the bulk of this issue of Avengers Academy. We see Wolverine and X-23 have a long-delayed conversation. We also see X-23 and former New X-Men castmate Dust catch up. Hercules mentions his little buddy Amadeus Cho, and attempts to teach the Academy kids Greco-Roman wrestling. Mettle and Loa, both Hawaiian-surfer characters, have a bonding moment. Surge sasses Tigra, because Surge is sassy and Surge fans, all four of them, want to see her sass. Meanwhile, White Tiger, a principal member of the Avengers Academy cast, doesn’t have a single line, let alone anything to do.
“Downtime” issues are a tradition of superhero comic books dating back to Claremont and Cockrum’s Uncanny X-Men, when characters would play a game of baseball or go camping in the woods to further define their personalities and relationships. Historically, this is at the very least a technically useful tool for X-Men comics, where huge casts tend to require crowded social activities to efficiently sketch out the webs of interaction between the team members and hangers-on. Avengers Academy just did a “look, this is how the Avengers Academy cast would interact with a bunch of fan-pleasing guest stars” story–the previous two issues devoted a great deal of space to banter between the kids and the Runaways. Avengers Academy, which started with such a sharp focus, has drifted away from that, and while Gage is a competent scripter who can keep it entertaining (and Grummett is the ideal choice to provide healthy, friendly renditions of the bright clean teens that fans want to see), the fangs of the book feel gone–Avengers Academy needs claws to match its cleverness.
Marvel Comics. Plotted by Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and Jonathan Hickman. Scripted by Ed Brubaker. Penciled by John Romita Jr. Inked by Scott Hanna. Colored by Laura Martin.
I used to complain that Marvel tried to cram too much into their seven-issue event mini-series. Some of them felt borderline staccato in their pacing–racing from Big Moment to Big Moment to fit as much sensation into the book as possible. Civil War was especially guilty of this: once the stakes were set up, the book fragmented into a billion micro-confrontations, and without the intentional desynchronization of Final Crisis‘s armageddon scenario. “If only it had been twelve issues!” I said at the time, apparently requiring more than a single panel devoted to Captain Marvel’s return. (It later got its own five-issue series, which was nothing special aside from some tremendous Lee Weeks art, so I don’t know why I was so antsy about it.) Now that we have a twelve-issues-and-change crossover event series from Marvel, I find myself going “wow, they really could have gotten through this a bit more briskly.”
Ed Brubaker, he of the gifted long-game, is the scripter for issue three of Avengers vs. X-Men, and sets about his task like a professional. He’s built us a cupboard–sturdy, spacious, useful around the house, but ultimately more focused on function than on style or deep personal meaning. What we needed out of this issue was for the Avengers and the X-Men to separate long enough to launch separate searches for Little Phoenix Lost Hope Summers, and for Wolverine’s loyalty to be put to the test when his personal biases (“anti-Phoenix”) put the mission in jeopardy. So, all that stuff happens.
It goes down smoothly, for the most part, although like a lot of the series, it shrugs off moments of past continuity that would have, through mere invocation (rather than rambling explanation), given moments a context and weight that’s otherwise lacking.
Because the title is Avengers vs. X-Men and a fight needs to happen, Captain America and Wolverine throw down. On the page, it’s because of what I just mentioned–Logan’s Phoenix-rage makes him a loose cannon. What’s missing is the history between Cap and Logan that makes this confrontation and its harshness make sense. Longtime readers will have to logically parse for themselves the fact that Captain America has respected, but never particularly trusted Logan, and finds his willingness to abandon absolute morality as a mission requires to be, if not sickening, then at least unsettling. This rivalry and personality clash is nothing new–as I recall, Bendis has brought it up at least once during his Avengers tenure, when Wolverine was given membership pretty much solely based on his willingness to kill foes Cap or Iron Man wouldn’t–and, hell, Mike Zeck’s cover to Captain America Annual #8 is one of the most famous Marvel images of the 80s. This lack of history renders the extremity of the Cap/Logan fight–and its solution, which is the hinge that joins Garth Ennis’s Punisher and the ending of Scott Lobdell’s Uncanny X-Men run–almost meaningless, except as a way of shuffling the game pieces around on the board.
Likewise, Cyclops’s mole on Wolverine’s side of the X-Schism is revealed to be Rachel Grey (nee Summers, as in Scott Summers, as in Cyclops). This makes sense for a number of reasons, foremost among which are two thematically important notes, relevant to the current plot. Like Hope, Cyclops’s adopted granddaughter, Rachel is his descendant from a shattered alternate future, who came back in time and had to be molded from something raw and angry into a functional human being. The other, probably more important idea is that Rachel Grey–more than any other living character on either side of the conflict–understands the Phoenix Force, since she was its earthly host for the entire 1990s, in Excalibur (and later, Brubaker’s own Fall and Rise of the Shi’ar Empire in Uncanny X-Men). None of this is mentioned, of course! Cyclops’s mole might as well have been Husk, for all the dialogue mattered.
Avengers vs. X-Men is the opposite of what I was crying about above in Avengers Academy, although not as far gone as Amazing Spider-Man. The character beats have a consistency and sensibility that’s there, it’s just the onus of the reader to be able to find them, like Easter eggs. (Spider-Man, meanwhile, just seemed to go “Oh shit! Nearly forgot!”) Any bits of characterization not essential to the reorganization of the story, post-initial-brawl, got left on the cutting room floor. Where Avengers Academy had a surplus of long-time-reader pay-out moments, Avengers vs. X-Men–which even in its title exults the idea of a shared universe of characters–has none. There is a balance to be found, but Marvel is striking out left and right this week, trying to find their level.
Marvel Comics. Written by Mark Waid. Illustrated by Chris Samnee. Colored by Javier Rodriguez.
In the Avengers vs. X-Men ramble above, I pointed out the history of “downtime” issues amongst X-Men comics, where twice a year the world nearly ended because of whatever, and thus it was necessary to pick up the pieces here and there. This issue of Daredevil functions in much the same way: after The Omega Effect, the not-wholly-successful crossover that Daredevil played a major role in, this is an issue to re-orient us and further some of the less action-oriented subplots.
Matt Murdock and the new Assistant D.A., Kirsten McDuffie, go on a date at an amusement park, where Kirsten blindfolds herself to let Matt clue her in as to what it’s like living with blindness. This idea, cute as it is, is only referenced a couple times, while the bulk of the issue is given over to a flashback–Matt in law school, helping his best friend and legal-eagle life-mate Foggy Nelson get even with a tenured professor who’s giving him shit.
Back at this years Boston Comic Book Con, I overheard Daredevil co-artist Paolo Rivera talking about how Mark Waid apparently sent an apology to new co-artist Chris Samnee, because his first issue on the book would be all out-of-costume civilian-type stuff. According to Rivera, Samnee brushed the apology aside, because that “folks not wearing tight pants” stuff is what he loves to draw the most. It shows. Most of Samnee’s work that I’ve seen has leaned heavily on the noir side of things, and I’ve always respected his use of black space and shadow forms–as much as I do the undisputed master of such, Eduardo Risso. He seems to be working with a much more loose hand here, and it benefits the story greatly, bringing to mind both the sharp lines of the Phil Hester/Ande Parks team and the deft visual characterization of Sean Phillips. One page in particular, set in a New York City park as Matt and Foggy walk through it, bristled with activity like Simon Gane’s work in Paris.
So, yes, it’s a “downtime” issue, strengthening the running themes of the book if not the unsubtle end of its narrative, but it’s funny and it’s charming and it’s beautifully, beautifully drawn and colored, and if you can’t live with that, go cry in Frank Miller’s lap.
DC Comics. Written by Ann Nocenti. Illustrated by Harvey Tolibao. Colored by Mike Atiyeh and Richard & Tanya Horie.
Sometimes it takes me a bit of thought to figure out where it is Harvey Tolibao wants my eye to go in his panel compositions. He’s fond of action so dynamic that it swerves around the page recklessly, always teetering at the brink of incomprehensibility (and sometimes going over). The fight scenes in Green Arrow #9 seem totally disconnected from most known laws of physics–or at least, they refuse to acknowledge the physical space that said bodies are presumably moving within. Panel borders simply lose their authority in places.
The effect is not so much Crank 2 meth-binge montage, as something like Michael Snow’s La Region Centrale, or a less gravitationally sound take on the flying scenes in Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void. In Tolibao’s vision of the Green Arrow world, our view is fragmented and constantly shifting–we’re above the action, but also in the midst of it, but also at its feet, but also hovering behind its shoulder… These changes happen with the aggressive lateral shifts of a tilt-a-whirl.
In that respect, Tolibao’s art is a good match for Nocenti’s writing, which approaches Green Arrow like a saxophonist playing free jazz. She’s constantly throwing notes into the air, and if they don’t stick together into a coherent theme, it hardly matters. Green Arrow’s struggle against Leer, and the perverse family dynamic of Leer and his Skylarks, are the running motifs of Nocenti’s piece, and other things–a band of hunters, an old-west-style cowboy saloon, Arrow’s own monologues–are like brief, fiery bursts of air that dissipate as soon as they come, leaving no trace but for a general ringing in one’s ears. Appreciation for this kind of technique is an acquired taste.
Valiant Entertainment. Written by Robert Venditti. Penciled by Cary Nord. Inked by Stefano Gaudiano. Colored by Moose Baumann.
Restoring one of the handful of original ideas that Jim Shooter, Barry Windsor-Smith, et al. had in the early-90s heyday of Valiant, X-O Manowar tells the story of Aric, a Visigoth warrior–you know, from history!–who gains control of an alien battlesuit. In the classic X-O series, he used this armor to fill a role similar to Wolverine: that is, righteous dude who nonetheless ignores all known systems of rules and laws in favor of selfishly punching other dudes in the face. (In classic-Valiant’s crossover, Unity, his refusal to put the greater good above his own is a key plot point.)
Whether we’ll get something quite so sharp-edged here–well, who can tell, honestly? Despite being an extra-sized issue (I think; I’m not about to count), this #1 isn’t even the whole origin story. Aric fights some Romans, fights some aliens, gets taken captive, and observes the X-O armor. Next issue, according to the next-issue blurb, he will actually come face to face with it. The Aric-on-Earth scenes hit all the key genre marks, but unexceptionally so, like something you’d expect to see in one of Dynamite’s Red Sonja comics (albeit with Nord and Gaudiano’s art, which is excellent). More effective by half: the scenes of the aliens interacting with hoo-man society, which are creepy and sufficiently xenophobia-inducing–baby-tampering is a capital crime in the eyes of most readers, I’d imagine.
It’s all right, but I’m not sure exactly what I’m getting here that I couldn’t get elsewhere. Hopefully the Valiant Free Comic Book Day book can elaborate on that further, but right now, my Shooter back issues remain more attractive, if only because they’re more instantly distinctive.
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.