May 25, 2012
More reviews, including more ‘actually new things,’ on Sunday.
Captain America: Operation Rebirth, To Serve and Protect, American Nightmare, Red Glare
Marvel Comics. Written by Mark Waid, Kurt Busiek, Barbara Kesel, and Karl Kesel. Penciled by Ron Garney, Pino Rinaldi, Dale Eaglesham, Andy Kubert, Mark Bagley, Doug Braithwaite, and Lee Weeks. Inked by Scott Koblish, Mike Manley, Dennis Rodier, Mike Sellers, John Beatty, Jesse Delperdang, Andy Smith, Bob Wiacek, and Robin Riggs. Colored by Paul Becton, John Kalisz, Malibu, Joe Rosas, Digital Chameleon, Shannon Blanchard, Kevin Tinsley and Chris Sotomayor.
A few years ago, while promoting these collections, Mark Waid said that he might not be able to write Cap today — he’d gotten too cynical. Here we have Cap as unassailable force of human good — walking away from the fights that are beneath him, even. Ron Garney illustrates iconic panel after iconic panel, giving Cap the unbeatable superpower: dignity. Then we get Andy Kubert, and he and Waid exchange one look and then gleefully leap over the edge, hand in hand. Abandoning the squinty blandness of his X-Men days while keeping the bizarre poses, this is Andy’s best work ever, kinetic and raging. Over and over, the stakes of Cap’s battles are nothing short of freedom itself. In each Waid/Kubert tale, one wrong step means enslavement and oblivion. There’s no cynicism here, in the final gasp of the Silver Age — just a few really shitty page reproductions.
Doom Patrol #19-22
DC Comics. Written by Grant Morrison. Penciled by Richard Case. Inked by Carlos Garzon and Scott Hanna. Colored by Michele Wolfman and Daniel Vozzo.
“Crawling From the Wreckage,” the first storyline of Grant Morrison and Richard Case’s weird, wonderful Doom Patrol run, ends when the enemy is forced to acknowledge that it does not actually exist. It begins with the throes of existential despair and the promise, however fleeting, of recovery. As the four issues go on, illustrated in Case’s style that’s permanently if slightly askew, healing disappears. That’s not to say the Doom Patrol — freaks, misfits — embrace their problems. When comic book characters are confronted with the abyss of non-existence, the only appropriate action is to keep going and extend their inkbound lives page by page. That’s what makes Doom Patrol one of the most uplifting series in Morrison’s canon. These fictional totems are surrounded by stories that fragment themselves, laugh off citations, and that aren’t so much resolved as endured. What makes them real characters is that they press on.
Marvel Comics. Written by Jim Starlin. Penciled by George Perez and Ron Lim. Inked by Tom Christopher, Joe Rubinstein, Bruce Solotoff, and Mike Witherby. Colored by Ian Laughlin and Christie Scheele.
Is it any wonder that Thanos is one of Jim Starlin’s darlings? It’s easy to imagine Starlin relating to the Mad Titan, whose bid to become a cosmic autocrat is thwarted by his own self-consciousness when he’s too patently uncool for the abstract concept of death to give him a handjob. I’m sure Starlin has better luck with the ladies, but that sense of doomed, ambitious collapse is so deeply coded in Infinity Gauntlet that the creators themselves lived it out. After starting with George Perez-drawn feats of hubris — such as assuming Mephisto, the Devil, doesn’t know how to spell “GOD” — to Ron Lim rushing out a final confrontation that amounts to a million explosions drowning out everything, including outer space (the only thing easier to draw). Throughout, Adam Warlock assures incredulous onlookers that he knows what he’s doing, which was likely verbatim from Starlin’s editorial calls.
Live Kree or Die: Iron Man #7, Captain America #8, Quicksilver #10, Avengers #7
Marvel Comics. Written by Kurt Busiek, Richard Howell, Mark Waid, John Ostrander, and Joe Edkin. Penciled by Sean Chen, Andy Kubert, Derek Aucoin, and George Perez. Inked by Sean Parsons, Eric Cannon, Jesse Delperdang, Rich Faber, Al Vey, Bruce Patterson, and Bob Wiacek. Colored by Steve Oliff, Jason Wright, Digital Chameleon, Joe Rosas, and Tom Smith.
Carol Danvers, formerly the swimsuit-clad Ms. Marvel, is now Captain Marvel in an attempt to claim the respect inherent in a red-and-blue clingy bodysuit. You laugh, but it’s a marked step up, especially when her most famous early stories amongst Internet cognoscenti are the one where she was raped and the one where she was put into a coma. In one of the periodic attempts to rebuild her into a non-embarrassing character, Kurt Busiek made her an Avenger, newly christened her “Warbird,” and gave her a drinking problem. That alcoholism fuels “Live Kree or Die,” where the Avengers fight a bunch of Kree rebels in disjointed, disconnected vignettes strung together by the throughline of Carol drinking too much and fucking things up. The scene where she staves off the D.T.s by drinking alien liquor out of an unmarked beaker must be read to be believed. Earth’s Mightiest Heroine can party.
Sparkplug Books. Imagineered by Katie Skelly.
Nurse Nurse is the sort of story that a person can only really make in their twenties. That’s the only phase of your life when thing still feel disproportionately important and confusing, but you’re just old and wise enough, barely, to recognize when it’s just ridiculous. If this little book — about Gemma, a space nurse, who goes on a strange adventure involving aphrodisiacs, space pirates, television, and identity — was made by someone in their 30s or (god forbid) 40s, it would be a lightweight lark, or worse yet, crushed under the weight of self-seriousness. Katie Skelly uses her loose, wabby-limbed style to make things cute, but also fragile and awkward. The single best panel is when Lucian, a doctor turned pirate, is having his leg amputated, and he lays in a trance, surrounded by visions of splintered bones, hearts, skulls, and butterflies. A benevolent comic book mushroom trip.
Squadron Supreme by Mark Gruenwald Omnibus
Marvel Comics. Written by Mark Gruenwald. Penciled by Bob Hall, Paul Neary, John Buscema, and Paul Ryan. Inked by John Beatty, Sam de la Rosa, Butch Guice, Dennis Janke, Keith Williams, and Al Williamson. Colored by Paul Becton, Kevin Feduniewicz, Mike Higgins, Joe Rubinstein, Christie Scheele, and Tom Smith.
Mark Gruenwald didn’t survive long enough to see his favorite work’s prophecy fulfilled: this 12-issue series is the playbook that modern superhero comics have been working from for over a decade now. Before this book, the Squadron’s world had been devastated by a demonic faux-President in the course of a Defenders story; the Defenders then went home, because it wasn’t their problem. This series asks: so what next? How do a handful of superheroes actually try to rebuild a planet, and should they? Bob Hall’s early issues have a rough, twitchy quality that suits the shaky ground — when Paul Ryan comes in, things get smoother and more “Marvel”, just as everything goes to hell. Gruenwald sews superheroic morality to the real big questions of power and responsibility (dictatorship, mind alteration, cures for cancer), and then fails to come up with an answer, which is really the only mature option.
Too Many Nitrous #1
Self-published. Imagineered by Billy Burkert and Samuel Rhodes.
In this extremely unofficial prequel to the Fast and the Furious film franchise, Vin Diesel’s character — terse gangbanger Dom Toretto — reveals his secret origin. Not only was he a fat kid, he’s a fat kid driven to become a major motion picture action anti-hero by the traumatic experience of his favorite fast food restaurant being blown up. No doubt this raises a dozen red flags about the already notoriously fragile continuity of the series — where in the films does Dom, during a heated street race, pass a glowing Burger King display and, for one moment, risk losing his focus as a cold rush of nostalgia creeps up his spine? This book doesn’t have answers, but it does have cheerful mania and the most adorable Vin Diesel ever drawn. This is only issue one — hopefully we’ll see the first meeting of Dom and whoever the Rock played.
Transformers: Regeneration One #80.5
IDW Publishing. Written by Simon Furman. Penciled by Andrew Wildman. Inked by Stephen Baskerville. Colored by John-Paul Bove.
Simon Furman and Andrew Wildman’s Transformers comics are the highest peak in the byzantine metalwork mess that’s arisen from a Japanese line of toys being resold to American kids. When I was 13, I went to a Transformers toy show, where a grown man and I got to talking about the Transformers comics. Back then, there was only the Marvel product, long out of print. I mentioned how I’d collected most of the issues, and the guy snorted and bragged about how he had all of “the UK issues” — the less candy-colored sci-fi tales where Furman got his start. After moving to the US Transformers, Furman continued pushing out grim-faced, Wagnerian melodrama with Wildman, whose work worshipped chrome-plating and angry paranoia, until cancellation at #80. Who knows what “best Transformers comics” means, but Regeneration‘s for adults at the toy show, bragging to the 13-year-old Michael Bay fans of today.
Two Eyes of the Beautiful #1-2
Closed Caption Comics. Imagineered by Ryan Cecil Smith. Adapted from the original by Kazuo Umezu.
“Why do you ask, Mrs. Coppard, and what are you doing with that rope–?” Two Eyes of the Beautiful is Ryan Cecil Smith’s ongoing adaptation of a 70s “monstrous mother hunts children” horror manga by Kazuo Umezu, Blood Baptism. Smith is a clever cartoonist, and while the techniques here aren’t as gorgeously creative as the color printing in S.F. Supplementary File #2C, it takes a lot of audacity to do a completely blacked-out sequence in a mini-comic, while still working in the necessary information in a way that flows easily. The second issue is where Smith seems to become more assured with using his own style as a bridge to Umezu’s original — there’s simply no silly cartoony way to draw a dog with its brain scooped out, if you want it to look horrifying and not like some Lenore icon, ready to be disseminated via t-shirt to Slipknot fans.
Winter Soldier #5
Marvel Comics. Written by Ed Brubaker. Penciled by Butch Guice. Inked by Stefano Gaudiano, Tom Palmer, and Butch Guice. Colored by Bettie Breitweiser.
Winter Soldier #5′s artwork looks like it was finished by a small army of inkers, who weren’t just dividing up pages amongst themselves, but panels. Butch Guice’s individual style gets stretched to its breaking point as he, Palmer, and Gaudiano struggle like oxes to crank this thing out, and Bettie Breitweiser is left with the bewildering task of tying it all together, like an engineer who has to master a CD recorded everywhere from Abbey Road to Fort Apache to a sewer pipe. There are pages in this thing that are as incomprehensible as old X-Men annuals. And yet — it’s got its charm. For one thing, seeing Guice somehow dredge up his inner Gene Colan only makes me want more. Brubaker remains committed, as ever, to long-term plotting in a straightforward Mighty Marvel Manner. When you’re this good, you can count on readers trusting that the seeds’ll pay off.
Wonder Woman #9
DC Comics. Written by Brian Azzarello. Penciled by Tony Akins. Inked by Dan Green. Colored by Matthew Wilson.
This is a comic book that opens with a David Caruso CSI sunglasses joke. A couple pages later there’s a joke about Wonder Woman’s “hole” being “filled” in her wedding chamber. What Brian Azzarello and Tony Akins have done here is make a very smart — almost overbearingly smart comic book. The most beautiful goddess of all is only shown from behind or the neck down. War, the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems, is the author himself, aged and slathered in blood. But at the end of the day, this is a comic where a hot-headed, waxy-skinned, blind-to-what’s-around-him man-child still spending his days seated in his father’s lap attempts to bully a fantasy superheroine into being his loveless, beautiful bride, to imprison her with all of the other souvenirs in his hollow kingdom. Wonder Woman is smart, yes, but then you can’t spell “smartass” without it.
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 18, 2012
This morning as the sun was rising I finished reading Palomar: The Heartbreak Soup Stories, the big hardcover of all of Gilbert Hernandez’s old Palomar stuff from the first series of Love and Rockets. It’s an intense read, but honestly, if you’re the sort of person who reads comic book blogs, I would hope you already know that. I don’t really know how to summarize what happens in the book, other than: “Somewhere south of the Mexican border, generations of people live and die, in glorious español unless otherwise noted.” Of the Hernandezes, I still think Jaime is the better artist–his strongest gift is his ability to effect nuanced, emotive facial expressions with so few lines that it looks effortless–but Palomar, if nothing else, cements Gilbert as the better storyteller. People always make big deals about the magical-realist elements of the series, but I barely noticed them. Compared to the patient lyricism of Beto’s characters, the truly fantastic stuff is small–the spice rather than the meat.
Palomar hits its peaks-among-peaks with the stories that delve into single characters’ perspectives on things: Holidays in the Sun with hardening jailbird Jesus Angel, Bullnecks and Bracelets with glamorously suffering Israel, For the Love of Carmen with awkwardly intellectual, sad-eyed Heraclio… The landscape of Palomar isn’t defined by the simple, almost blandly featureless homes, but by the intersections of the residents’ perceptions of one another. I won’t be so stupid as to describe the characters in Palomar as “real people”–of course not, they’re drawings and words–but the judicious selection of moments, thoughts, and dispositions is effective trompe l’oeil.
In the more spread-out stories like Human Diastrophism, Beto reveals himself as a master of true comic-art montage. We ride his scenes like waves until they break–shattering into quick flashes, managing to weave together multiple climaxes into something that leaves you disoriented, but never confused. It’s been a long time since I’ve torn through a comic this ravenously, and longer still since I could immediately consider it a masterpiece, elbowing its way into my personal canon.
What I’m getting at: if I say everything sucks this week, it’s because I spoiled myself rotten beforehand.
Marvel Comics. Written by Dan Slott. Penciled by Humberto Ramos. Inked by Victor Olazaba. Colored by Edgar Delgado.
Speaking from my position in the untouchable caste–that is, long-time fans of Spider-Man–I’m not sure how I feel about the current blockbuster mega-arc, Ends of the Earth. In the last installment, Doctor Octopus and the Sinister Six took the entire world hostage, defeated the heavy hitters of the Avengers in a matter of pages, and effortlessly sabotaged Spider-Man’s new, supposedly everything-proof Spider-Armor. In this issue, the two non-captured Avengers–Spider-Man and Black Widow–hook up with semi-obscure European mercenary Silver Sable, and fight the Sandman in the course of trying to block Ock’s plans to something something something.
The last Doctor Octopus vs. the World situation I can remember was around the release of Spider-Man 2, which featured Ock. To tie in, Paul Jenkins and Humberto Ramos did an arc of Spectacular Spider-Man. The arc–Countdown–continued the ongoing trend of Jenkins’ Spider-Man tenure, which was taking classic villains and humanizing them to an understandable, if not always sympathetic, degree. It was there–and in Zeb Wells and Kaare Andrews’ excllent Spider-Man/Doctor Octopus: Year One–that we learned about Doctor Octopus’s troubled childhood, which pushed him away from humanity and sanity and into the eight arms of science. The stakes of Countdown were potentially global, as Doc Ock kidnapped a Palestinian politician who was spearheading a peace accord, and directly personal: the price for the politician’s freedom was the unmasking of Spider-Man, his most hated and insurmountable foe. (By this point, Ock had already conquered death, after being offered up as cannon fodder to Clone Saga villain Kaine–a.k.a. the current Scarlet Spider. Spider-Man continuity isn’t usually as convoluted as the X-Men’s, but sometimes…)
The reason I bring up Countdown is that it puts into a sharper relief what’s missing from Ends of the Earth. Both stories exploit the Global Stakes/Personal Stakes dialogue–disrupting the Middle East peace process vs. frying the ozone layer, frustration with an enemy vs. facing the inevitability of death–but in execution, they’re inverses of one another. While Countdown‘s Ock Caper was certainly dangerous and in need of stopping, the real focus was on his emotional state and his adversarial relationship with Spider-Man. Here, people’s emotional motivations are a matter of course, treated like necessary set dressings in order to get to the real business of the story, which is all the high-tech one-upsmanship. Thus far, it’s a story of Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus going to increasingly absurd lengths to outsmart one another, with everything else a middling concern at best. It’s like if Sleuth forgot about the wife.
The saving grace is Humberto Ramos, for whom a character like the Sandman is an early Christmas gift. His antic, infinitely pliable bodies and his penchant for pop-eyed over-emoting are perfect for Spider-Man–note that he was on Countdown, too, nearly ten years ago. Outside of the Sandman scenes, though, I can’t really think of what to say. I wouldn’t want to read Ramos on a 24 comic, illustrating the tense, sweaty phone calls between Jack Bauer and the chick who hucked the baby on Mr. Show–and it’s not much of a step up for him to be drawing people talking into headsets and commlinks, and having the big triumphant moment come from thrusting iPhones at the villain until he confuses himself into a coma. If the story had the sort of emotional oomph that he could mine frantic body language from–like Spider-Island last year–it’d be different. But it’s not. Instead, we have a comic where Spider-Man is so wrapped up in some science-nerd rivalry that he doesn’t even think twice about effectively ripping someone’s living brain out of their body. I’m not sitting here, steaming like some hydra-headed editorial staff has perpetrated some horrific crime against imaginary real person Peter Parker, but I am left sitting here wondering where they missed the trick.
Marvel Comics. Plotted by Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman, and Matt Fraction. Scripted by Jason Aaron. Penciled by John Romita Jr. Inked by Scott Hanna. Colored by Laura Martin.
It comes back to this idea of comic books being written by committee, and whether or not that’s a good thing–or even a viable thing. It’s important to consider that previous comittee-driven comics that worked–as opposed to ones that didn’t work, such as Fear Itself–did so under specific storytelling circumstances. A quick list of things I thought “worked” (maybe not spectacularly in all cases, but they worked): Defiant and Broadway Comics, Brand New Day-era Amazing Spider-Man, the mini-series that rolled out in preparation for DC’s Infinite Crisis series…
In those three examples, what’s important is that the gathered heads put themselves together and came up with a big picture that could then be rolled out in separate but consistent pieces across an entire product line. Jim Shooter, JayJay Jackson, and others maintained a tight hold on Defiant/Broadway continuity by planning out the arcs and interrelationships of their various titles and then group-writing issues of each book–to that end, each part of the committee could both function as a peer-checker of the other members’ work, and a memory that might keep in mind certain interests or emphases that the others could forget. The significant trip-reset and architectural work necessary for Infinite Crisis was no doubt decided by committee and then parceled out to individual series. Each series could then be assigned to creators that fit the specific intent of each series, and they could do their own thing while achieving a piece of necessary Infinite Crisis set-up. Amazing Spider-Man, in its Brand New Day phase (#544-#647 or so), had writers’ conventions that would map out a year or so of storytelling, and then break it down further into arcs that played on each writer’s strengths, while chaining them all to the same necessary minimum of forward momentum regarding various subplots.
When it doesn’t work, it’s like eating a soup that has chunks of whatever people thought tasted good floating in it, with no regard for whether or not they taste good together. The modern crossover model, pioneered by Marvel–a core “essential” mini-series, that fans out into innumerable tie-ins that, in theory, support and expand upon it–malfunctions in a different way, where you get a taster’s plate by one chef, and then a shove in the direction of the buffet line and its cacophony of hot plate lids. So even if you liked the way one of those initial morsels tasted, the full-size portion of it is being prepared by someone else entirely, and it could just totally turn you off. A successful committee exercise is more like your choice of three courses, all consistently prepared by the same chef, even if the exact menu was decided above his head. You don’t want a pastry chef tasked with finding a way to incorporate hot chili and stir fry.
Alternately, a bad committee exercise is something like the song “We Will Rob You,” on Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II. Raekwon and GZA do the first and second verses, narrating tightly-focused crime-story narratives, and then Masta Killa arrives for the third and final verse and just burps out a list of all his Wu-Tang bros and some Nation of Islam stuff. Slick Rick is featured, but only sing-songs the chorus and a couple ad-libs besides, which is as cruel a bait and switch as anyone ever pulled. (Less cruel, but still blatant: Game’s “Martians vs. Goblins,” which credits Lil Wayne as a feature but just has Wayne wheezing “Bitch I’m a marsh” in what sounds like a sample from voice-mail message.)
And so we return to comics, and Avengers vs. X-Men. Well, on page one I hurled the comic away in a rage when Storm said “God help us” instead of “Goddess” like she always does. After I took a while to cool off, I stapled together the burnt remnants of the issue and read the rest of it.
As it turns out, I liked this a lot more than both #0 and #1. JRJR draws the fuck out of it–that will never be in dispute. Dig Cyclops’ dented visor after Cap clocks him with the shield. It’s a perfect little touch. Storywise, I don’t even think it’s entirely down to the change of scripters between #1 and #2–Aaron’s dialogue certainly wastes less space, but there’s less space in this one to waste, period. Hell breaks loose on page two, and continues throughout. The immediate comparison that jumps to mind is something like G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #50, by Larry Hama and Rod Whigam. That book took time to pay off old subplots and introduce new ones in between the all-out (but curiously gore-free) carnage of the G.I. Joe team invading Springfield, an entire town that functioned as a front for the terrorist organization Cobra. Replace “the G.I. Joe team” with “the Avengers,” “terrorist organization Cobra” with “X-Men,” and “subplots” with “for more on Namor vs. Ben Grimm, see AvX: Vs. #1″ (although the comic actually offers no such indicator)–you get the idea.
Is this a success or a failure of the committee-written model, though? At this point, it could really go either way–the batting average is low, but it’s not .000 yet. What it really represents to me is a blown opportunity, because a huge event like this could have been one giant multiple orgasm. Set up the plots, build them, and then resolve, resolve, resolve until the crowd’s screamed itself hoarse. Make it WrestleMania, or at the very least Starrcade. I’m sure that things will get resolved here, but so much of it feels vague and inelegant. The Cyclops/Wolverine schism, sure. The Hope Problem, definitely. Beyond that, uh…
Well, you know, the Thing and Namor have fought a whole bunch of times over Susie, right?
It’s a collection of little details and tiny moments, but what does “This is exactly why we have a marriage counselor!” or “microscopic telepathic tasers” offer other than that? If AvX Vs. is, as they say, “comic book porn,” then so far, this is Zalman King scoring a cinematographer above his pay grade.
Marvel Comics. Same creators as above.
I don’t even know what to say here. Full disclosure: I’ve worked in publishing. Specifically, I’ve worked in textbook publishing, where the name of the game is to constantly provide new and essential forms of value for your consumers–value that requires a constant stream of income from new customers/students, because otherwise if all you do is sell them some fucking book they’re just going to buy it used on-campus and suddenly you’re not seeing a dime off that content anymore. What this entails is usually web interactivity of some kind: study help, test prep, essay feedback from trained monkeys with Master’s degrees, and ebooks. The ebooks in particular can get particularly sophisticated, incorporating built-in media supplements to expand upon the points of the text, and direct students to offsite material provided by the publisher.
By contrast, Marvel AR is kind of a joke.
The sum total of Marvel AR content in Avengers vs. X-Men #2–a flagship Marvel title that was supposed to help usher in Marvel AR–is a motion-comic recap on the cover (narrated by what sounds like a 15-year-old sarcastically pretending to do a dramatic reading), a trading-card biography of Quicksilver on one page, and pencils-to-inks-to-color animated process videos on two panels. That’s all. The point this gets across to the consumers: “we either don’t know what we’re doing or we don’t have the time to give a shit, or to hire someone who does.” The blown opportunities are endless.
I mentioned this last issue, but christ, look at that recap page. It’s something like 40 headshots of characters with no explanation. “Loa?” I’m Joe Somebody who hasn’t read Academy X or New X-Men or Namor: The First Mutant, so who the fuck is Loa?
What if Marvel AR could tell my tablet/iPhone/cyborg-parts to offer me a link to a specially-built web page full of capsule biographies? What if, when Storm and Black Panther have their marital spat, I could use Marvel AR to see a brief explanation of their status quo? Likewise Tony Stark and Emma Frost. “Hi, I haven’t read X-Men in a couple years, why does Wolverine hate Cyclops (moreso) now?” Shit like “See the now-classic X-Men: Schism miniseries! -Splittin’-Hairs Stan” is way out of vogue, but if nothing else, the Marvel AR app is a new way of doing footnotes.
I’m not even looking at this entirely from a “make the medicine go down easier for new fish” perspective, either–if a customer has the money for an iPhone or a Galaxy Tab or a whatever-the-fuck, they probably have the money for a TPB of Generation Hope or whatever you want to refer the kids toward. Will some people cry foul and go “Marvel, stop trying to sell me things”–? Of course, but you know what, right now, right here, fuck them, because the alternative is something like this half-assed crap–this issue doesn’t even include an awkward voicemail message from Bendis.
I’m not even getting into how the images still display like pixelated dog shit on my tablet. Get the big stuff right first, Marvel, for fuck’s sake. I don’t even know why I’m getting worked up. By the time anyone even tangentially connected to Marvel reads this it’ll be 2025 and we’ll all have Comixology implants in our taints or whatever anyway.
Marvel Comics. Plotted by James Asmus and Ed Brubaker. Scripted by James Asmus. Illustrated by Francesco Francavilla.
These didn’t come out this week, but my store was having a sale. By now, I’m pretty sure Captain America and Bucky has totally transmogrified into Captain America and… where you can finish the title with whatever hero is hanging around that month. That’s the final evolution of the confused existence of this book, which started off as Ed Brubaker and Marc Andreyko doing a four-issue retelling of Bucky’s origin with Chris Samnee, followed by a single-issue story that, once and for all, gave us the Untold Secret Origin of Black Widow and Winter Soldier’s affair. Afterward, we got this: a four-issue arc that brought in James Asmus as co-plotter and scripter, Francesco Francavilla as artist, and ditched the flashback idea for a story firmly set in modern times. It also features “Bucky” in the sense of Fred Davis, the second guy to play the role–at the behest of the U.S. government, because the original Bucky supposedly died in a plane explosion.
The actual content of these things appears to be repurposed surplus parts from old issues of JSA. Davis-Bucky narrates with fawning lines like: “Bill Naslund and I were just two regular joes. That is, until we were given the greatest honor I could ever imagine–we got to fight alongside the most amazing men of a new era–and carry on the legacy of our nation’s greatest heroes.” Francavilla’s art likewise seems to harken back to a different set of comics, but they go further back than Asmus’s script. Looking at his art, the posed figures and moody but unfussy linework call to mind the artists of the 40s–Bill Everett, Bernard Baily–filtered through the sensibilities of a modern digital illustrator like Larenn McCubbin. Unfortunately, he doesn’t exactly hinder the JSA-style nostalgia drone. His coloring is heavy on orangey-red and yellow light, making the characters look like they’re in a world where the sun is forever setting but never actually going down.
The whole premise–”you don’t know who William Naslund is, let alone Adam-II, but here, let us assure you over and over that they’re a big deal while a modern menace repurposes their concepts in a way more palatable to modern adult superhero readers”–is the opposite of how Brubaker operated on his own salvaged villains in Captain America. We didn’t need some steady patter of monologue narration to remind us that Sin is a fucked-up crazy menace. Sin just went around being a fucked-up crazy menace, and we could infer the rest from her sadomasochistic interactions with Crossbones. It’s OK for a story to hold my hand sometimes, but I object to it gingerly placing my fingers around the base of its cock. It’s the last great frontier of adult-comic-reader dissatisfaction: forced nostalgia. “You care because of all this stuff you don’t even know about, so let’s hit you with a double-barrel of between-the-scenes flashbacks and melodramatic hero-worship captions, all with the subtlety of shooting a gun into the air.” It ruins too many good stories, straight up.
DC Comics/Vertigo. Written by Peter Milligan. Layouts by Giuseppe Camuncoli. Finished illustrations by Sal Cipriano. Colored by Brian Buccellato.
It’s not enough for Hellblazer to be the best book DC publishes, hands-down. It also has to have on lockdown the two best artists for drawing people looking fucking crazy–Simon Bisley when he’s got the time, and Giuseppe Camuncoli and Sal Cipriano for the rest. Since Cammo drifted off to work as a penciler for Amazing Spider-Man, he’s only contributed layouts–which has been Cipriani’s cue to make everyone look even crazier. The lines have gotten harsher, the thick shadows of the cheekbones have gotten sharper, and the overall looseness of it–as much as work this grounded in real things like trenchcoats and bookshelves can be “loose”–gives it a Kubrick-stare vibe, like you could see a coked-up Jack Nicholson playing any/all of the characters in the film adaptation. It’s all in the whites of the eyes and the teeth and it hints at the kind of inner depravity and ferocity that Hellblazer doesn’t let spill out onto the page these days, except in hints and rumors. It can’t be coincidence that Constantine’s eyes are scratched out on the cover. They’re the window to the book’s existential terror.
The current Hellblazer storyline–Another Season in Hell–is all about the shambles that is John Constantine’s family. Constantine himself has only just escaped from Hell, where he was seeking to liberate the damned soul of his sister. Meanwhile, his wife Epiphany has brokered a deal with Lucifer, lord of Hell, to restore her father to life after she inadvertently killed him–because he’d beaten the shit out of Constantine’s fucked-up niece Gemma, who had been sleeping with Piffy’s father to anger Constantine. Do you follow?
For years, the trick of John Constantine has been his self-prided bastardry, mixed with his equally deep self-loathing–he’s too much of a fucking shit to make connections with people, and he rationalizes it by saying that they’re better off without his bad juju anyway. Granted: they are, but is it a self-fulfilling prophecy? Hell, is it just a case of the damage being done? Is it too late to fix your ability to hold someone close after a life of neglectfully and mean-spiritedly pushing everyone away? That’s the sort of thing Peter Milligan is on with his Hellblazer run, and it’s a valid, even sometimes poignant emotional impulse felt by everyone except for sociopaths and teenagers in KMFDM shirts (there’s overlap). Everything turns to shit as you get old. Is it because you’re getting old, or is it karmic payback for once being young?
Meanwhile, in Justice League Dark, they throw rocks at vampires or something. That’s Milligan for you.
Rebellion/2000 AD. Written by Alan Grant and John Wagner. Illustrated by Arthur Ranson, Ian Gibson, Romero, David Roach, Siku, Kevin Walker, Mark Wilkinson, Steve Sampson, Tony Luke, Charles Gillespie, and Xusasus.
Douglas Wolk ran this one down pretty damn well over at his ongoing Dreddblog project, Dredd Reckoning. So I’ll just do something quick for you guys to return to when you get back here after you lose a couple hours over there. (You should, too.)
The first Anderson Psi-Files book was, it must be said, not exactly what legends are made of. Judge Cassandra Anderson–gifted psychic in the employ of Mega-City One, the fascist cyberpunk remnants of the post-apocalyptic eastern seaboard–was meant to be a counterpoint to uber-thug and 2000 AD torchbearer Joe Dredd. Where Dredd was dour and tightassed, Anderson was wry and tight-assed, a glam blonde Debbie-Meets-Dirty Harry who could make with wisecracks and actually, on occasion, feel feelings. That’s all well and good, but because Anderson was so defined by her opposition–that is, her characteristics came through mostly as a list of things Dredd wasn’t. The first volume stuck Not-Dredd into a bunch of Mega-City crime adventures, and the harsh truth stood revealed: the things that made Anderson different from Dredd made her the same as all those generic action heroes who Dredd was meant to be different from in the first place.
Volume 02–which flubs chronology a bit mostly to put the color-printed stories together–is where Anderson became her own character. In 1988, John Wagner and Alan Grant–longtime writing partners and architects of Dredd’s world–split over creative differences. In the divorce, Wagner took Dredd for the most part, and Grant took Anderson. As the story goes, at the end of the Dredd epic “Oz,” Grant wanted to have Dredd kill the character Chopper, and Wagner wanted to keep him around in case they wanted to use him later. This is noteworthy because in the wake of the split, Wagner’s Dredd became even more blatantly brutal and fascistic, and Grant’s Anderson became a kind of psychic cosmic punk travelogue.
The peak of the book comes early–Shamballa, with Arthur Ranson, whose work as an illustrator of celebrities for TV and music mags made him perhaps the most adept and creative lightboxer in all of comics. After that, there are hills and valleys, but throughout, there’s a determination to explore new territory that just couldn’t fit in with the adventures of a Judge chasing crooks in the Big Meg. No other Dreddverse stories were ever quite so… well, cosmically aware.
Image Comics. Written by Brandon Graham and Farel Dalrymple. Illustrated by Farel Dalrymple. Colored by Joseph Bergin III.
By now, it’s not too much of a drag to realize that Prophet uses a list of equipment and weapons in place of a coherent personality for its hero. He himself is of a piece with his gear–he’s a walking weapon, a tool in the most literal sense, being used by higher purposes. That’s pretty much exactly what happens in this issue. A Prophet–for there are many John Prophets, of the Earth Empire, dateline unknown–awakens and is guided through the halls of a degenerating, mind-destroying starship until he reaches his mysterious goal. Farel Dalrymple gives us a different world for a different Prophet; the last arc featured Simon Roy’s soft ridges and brown light, and this world is thinner, stiffer, and colder.
That’s the thrill of Prophet. With a lead whose characterization can be summarized in grunts and stab wounds, our focus has to spread outward, and it becomes a comic that’s about the thrill of exploration, as much as anything else. Prophet is a blank slate we can project ourselves into, a kind of quietly masculine alter-ego: instead of being garish and blatant like, say, Wolverine in his blue and yellow, this take on Prophet is competent and unyielding, keying into the simple human desire to be strong enough to never quit in despair. Prophet pushes through unfamiliar worlds on sheer force of will, and we bounce after him, enjoying the fruits of his thankless labor, getting to marvel like cultural tourists getting off to his bleeding wounds and vomit.
Before, I likened Prophet to a video game–Fallout, specifically–but now I’m not sure that’s accurate. Video games are built around the principle of you do this task, then that task, then a third task, and eventually after you’ve jumped through enough hoops, you’re at an ending, or at least a set-up for a sequel. I get the feeling Prophet could keep exploring forever, mining the infinite vein of humanity’s ability to mobilize into the places that don’t even fucking want it.
Marvel Comics. Written by Jeff Parker. Illustrated by Declan Shalvey. Colored by Frank Martin Jr.
It’s been 15 years and original T-Bolts artist Mark Bagley–present here on cover duty–hasn’t forgotten what we like out of our villains-pretending-to-be-heroes. Check Zemo on that cover, wry Eurodickhead grin patently obvious behind his mask, palm firmly planted on Meteorite’s metal-coated ass while her future self, Moonstone, grinds that same rear against Zemo’s thigh. He’s even thrusting his pistol into the air, like the exact reverse of that notorious Steranko Nick Fury panel. The stiff barrel pointing straight up–putting it in a holster would have confused the imagery.
Does this have anything to do with the story inside? Well, not really. The old Thunderbolts meet the new Thunderbolts and party together, because scum game still recognize scum game. Declan Shalvey draws one of his best issues yet–things feel off-the-cuff but self-confident, like he’s learned to trust the intuition of his lines. His acting and emoting seems to get better with every issue I see.
The twist at the end, too, man–this comic is like old Ostrander Suicide Squad in the best possible way, where it’ll let you get used to having characters around, warm you up to them, maybe let you fool around a bit, and then it’ll lean in close and grin and you can sort of make out blood caked up in the gums and smell meat on their teeth and that warm voice is right up in your ear saying “by the way baby we’re crazy and we don’t give a fuuuck” and you can’t help but feel your thighs twitch because it’s hitting something innate that maybe you don’t want to admit you’re into, and you catch yourself laying awake at night, wondering when’s the next time Parker’s gonna write a scene where Songbird gets her toes sucked.
DC Comics. Written by Brian Azzarello. Illustrated by Cliff Chiang. Colored by Matthew Wilson.
Bullets and bracelets and you could almost swear she’s winking at you–Cliff Chiang’s Wonder Woman gives even less of a fuck than the Thunderbolts, but in a more noble, selfless style. She marches into Hell in thigh-baring armor as if daring the lost souls to try and let their dead eyes roll up toward her bikini zone. “Go on, try some shit,” she says, even when she’s smiling with a jaw that’s slender but’ll still break knuckles. “Hades?” she says, for real this time. “You stole someone I love.” The key to that bluntness is the last word–she’s a warrior who’s not afraid of her emotions, which–as Josh Bayer taught us–are the ultimate battlefield.
But you know what? I’ve sat around all day reading comics about villages in Central America, spacemen with cancer stabbing each other, two superhero varsity teams bashing each other’s brains in, bargains with Satan, time travel, flying off into space to feed your head like the fucking end of Repo Man…
…and the end of Wonder Woman #8 was still the last bit that made me go “damn, that’s fucked up.” I love it.
This Weekend: I’ll be at the Boston Comic Con, so if you see a guy with platinum blonde hair and a red mustache that straddles the line between “Castro District men’s room” and “obvious pedophile,” say hey or something.
March 28, 2012
Let’s see how long I can keep up with this.
Marvel Comics. Written by Brian Michael Bendis and Jason Aaron. Drawn by Frank Cho. Colored by Jason Keith.
I was bored of this comic book within three or four pages. M.O.D.O.K.–the Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing–is sort of a human potato fetus who’s been jammed into a cross between a hoveround scooter and a boxer’s headpiece. In the hands of truly deranged artists (and I mean that in the best possible way), he’s a true monster in the “this should not be” sense. In the hands of anyone else, he’s a punchline, because he’s a giant head. He’s also died, on panel, something like four thousand times now. They don’t bother keeping track anymore–if he shows up somewhere, well, I guess he’s alive, you know?
That’s part of what bugs me about using him as the villain of the Scarlet Witch story that leads off Avengers vs. X-Men #0. The important stuff is covered early on, which is to say there’s a full page splash of Scarlet Witch where her breasts are easily as big as her head and which will probably sell to a private collector for $10,000. Then we get into M.O.D.O.K., he of the irrelevant personal continuity, spouting dialogue like: “Aarrghh! What is this? Who are y–? Wait! I know you! You’re the Scarlet Witch, the disgraced Avenger!” On the one hand, yes, it’s good to use an ‘introductory issue’ for the big summer crossover to establish what the deal is with the major players.
On the other hand, your chosen method of exposition is to have M.O.D.O.K., a cyborg whose brain is the size of a Buick’s engine block, bleat out “The rumor was that you’d lost your mind and turned on the Avengers,” while he and the Scarlet Witch gamely zap at each other with ray-beams. This is like Brian Bendis trying to do Roy Thomas, only Roy Thomas had the good sense to make banal exposition come out in the form of feverish free-jazz dialogue blurts that attempted to convince the reader that Hawkeye’s carny upbringing was a matter of more emotional electricity than an African civil war.
Then there’s Spider-Woman coming in with “Boom! I won’t lie to you, ladies, I kinda needed this,” which is I guess the 2012 equivalent of Hank Kanalz’s “I gotta admit–this gets me pumped!”
Anyway, the first story is one of the most half-baked lowballs Marvel has pitched in years. Where it should have gone for turgid, throbbing melodrama, it tried to play things both straight and cute, and those two flavors blend into bland. Cho, who’s got Kevin Maguire’s knack for varied facial expressions in his DNA, isn’t even given much to work with on that front–characters mostly seem “a little sad” or “a little annoyed” or, most frequently, “a little flummoxed.”
The second story–Jason Aaron giving us Hope vs. Cyclops, and then Hope vs. the Serpent Society–fares better. Aaron is more comfortable with the style that seems to be the editorial remit here: early-90s PG-13 superheroing with a side of sniffling angst. There are good lines, good opportunities for Cho to stretch his legs, and a relatively sound plot–and it introduces us to Hope besides. It’s not going to stand the test of time as some sort of hidden classic, but when your job is just to prime the pump for 12 issues of hooting and punching, it’s nice to see that mission both understood and delivered on.
Marvel Comics. Written by Hawkeye. Penciled by Hawkeye. Inked by Hawkeye. Colored by Hawkeye.
This is sort of like what if Spider-Man and Captain America were published by DC’s online fan community. That is to say: it’s a comic where Spidey and Cap sort of talk about feelings in a roundabout way and more time is spent on the heroes goofing around and being bros than on their skirmish with the villains (who are also the villains from the second half of Avengers vs. X-Men #0–on a different coast!). Captain America’s old pre-super-soldier comic strip art gets found and put up for auction, and upon realizing that America’s living legend is enough of a dork to have drawn comic books, Spider-Man tries to bond with him. Okay. Meanwhile, on the cover, Cap tries to cut Spider-Man’s arm off at the shoulder with his shield.
As a low-impact superhero buddy story, it’s fine and will go down in the collective memory to whatever space all those other fucking Spider-Man “let’s bond” stories live in. It gives Leinil Yu a chance to draw stuff that doesn’t involve people leaping around dislocating their hips–he’s actually gotten pretty good at the whole “humans showing human emotions” thing in the past couple years, since Secret Invasion. That said, he’s the wrong choice for this–his whole thing is loose-lined shadows and grim stares of determination and that’s way more noir than a story about Spider-Man and Captain America sitting around having a comic book jam session. Just two clean-shaven sensibly-coiffed white dudes in tight shirts having a good time and maybe drinking some soda pop. If Marvel hadn’t lost Clayton Henry to Valiant, that’d be his kind of jam. Cap’s ‘Fletcher Hanks drinking whole milk’-style comic, though, starring “Sir Spangled”–solid gold.
Plus, they either forgot or willfully ignored the storyline where Captain America was, like, a penciler for Marvel Comics for years. Like, seriously, back in the 80s he’s out there hunting the Scourge of the Underworld, who was going around serial-killing bad guys, and he stops mid-investigation to go “Oh, darn, I need to FedEx a couple pages of art to Marvel! Golly, I’m glad that comic book artists don’t need a fixed address, since I’m living out of my star-spangled Avengers Quinnebago!” I mean, that whole thing was just so weird that it’s a shame to whitewash it.
Marvel Comics. Written by Mark Waid. Penciled by Paolo Rivera. Inked by Joe Rivera. Colored by Javier Rodriguez.
You know, Mark Waid is such a good fit for this character that it’s practically obscene. What people vibe on in Daredevil comics is the level of emotional intensity–Miller had it, Bendis’s best days had it, Brubaker had it, Kelly had the start of it, and some other guys had it too. Then there was the rest of the post-Miller stuff that was just, like, all of the dark gritty clenched-teeth trappings but none of the molten core. When it comes to superhero comics about to have an aneurysm, no one can touch Waid.
Look at the guy’s history, even all the way back to shit like The Comet–where once he was upgraded from scripter to full writer, he did a story where the Comet’s life fell apart, he found out he was a shapeshifting alien clone, all of his friends were working against him, and he went insane and became the greatest threat Impact Comics ever faced, aside from low readership. Then look at the stuff people actually read–Waid’s the co-father of Kingdom Come, which is easily as good as it gets for comics that deal in unsubtle, provocative human sturm und drang. Superman clamping his super-hand over Billy Batson’s mouth and lecturing him on the burden of godhood, before launching into the air to try and actually shove away nuclear death. That’s Mark Waid!
And that’s what we’ve got here: Mark Waid, the man who’s both a superhero classicist and a leering agitator, taking the vein-popping man-child turbo-emotions of Matt Murdock and steering them into situations that evoke more of a Lee/Romita feel than Bendis/Maleev or Miller/Janson. Paolo Rivera, teaming with his father Joe, might be the next Wally Wood–he’s deft and clever enough to give us both the harmless, cartoony sad-sack bloat of Foggy’s face on the last page, and the shadowed rock-hard teeth-baring power of Daredevil on the first. In between, we get two emotionally stunted grown men–Daredevil and Marvel-nerd old-school favorite the Mole Man–screaming about their personal issues, having a quietly majestic staff-fight, and fucking each other over. It’s beautiful. People sweat this comic so hard for a reason. I do, too.
DC Comics. Written by Peter Milligan. Drawn by Admira Wijaya and Daniel Sampere. Colored by Admira Wijaya.
Peter Milligan is writing one of the best comics on the stands right now. Unfortunately, that comic is Hellblazer, and this right here is Justice League Dark. Honestly, Milligan is kind of like Bendis in his own weird way, where he can work wonders with a single protagonist or a small ensemble of them, but if you give him a seven-person team (or however many people are on the JLD–I don’t even remember!), they all blob together and it becomes a big case of Stuff Happens.
Granted, when Milligan Stuff Happens, it’s at least usually weird and cool. Here, not so much: a vampire lord is “stealing all the magic” (their description, not mine), and Gotham City is apparently 50% on fire and 50% besieged by vampires, to facilitate a crossover with I, Vampire. (Batman and Batgirl show up to remind readers that this is a shared universe and do nothing else at all.) The fill-in art–by two artists–is a step down from Mikel Janin, who balances Milligan’s weirdness by trying to skew realistic. Honestly, that’s been a lot of the fun of JLD thus far–Janin’s figures look like they’re lightboxed from 3D modeling dummies, and it gives them a kind of stiffness and plasticine glaze that actually passively enhances Milligan’s safe-for-capes nightmare winks.
Still, we’ve already hit the “b-list crossover” section of this book’s lifespan, and I can’t even begin to explain what the hell Madame Xanadu means by: “I have drawn together this team of damaged, distressed characters. Mainly because they’re all too dangerous to be left on their own…”
Oh, well, at least it’s not Red Lanterns. Am I right, ladies?
Marvel Comics. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Drawn by Alex Maleev. Colored by Matt Hollingsworth.
Now this–this is the Bendis we like. Moon Knight has been the best Bendis/Maleev collaboration since their Daredevil glory days a hundred years ago. These two guys are like a heavy metal band, or something–Bendis is the guy who wants to do every song in fractional time signatures and can’t find a rhythm section that can keep to his personal Bizarro Didley beat, and Maleev is the guy who can thump his pen to it in perfect time. Naturally, the best work they’ve done together in years is also selling too little to meet their page rates, so we only get another issue of it after this one.
In this issue: Moon Knight and his new sidekick Buck Lime (in keeping with the tradition of Moon Knight’s buddies having ridiculous names like “Frenchie” and “Marlene”) steal the deactivated head of a killer cyborg from Iron Man villain Madame Masque, using the cunning plan of “pretty much just barging right in and getting into a 20-page fistfight.” So what? Maleev owns it, gratuitous butt-shot angles and all. At this point, with the end in sight, and no guarantee that the peculiar “Moon Knight is hallucinating that fellow members of the Avengers are always telling him what to do” plotline will ever continue past this series (see also: the “SWORD wants her to hunt runaway Skrulls” idea from the Bendis/Maleev Spider-Woman series), it’s just a party, and this issue is a My War Black Flag mosh pit before Erol Alkan plays “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” and the night’s over, and that’s okay by me.
DC Comics/Vertigo. Written by Brian Azzarello. Drawn by Eduardo Risso. Colored by Trish Mulvihill.
Ape-men, child trafficking, exposed lady butts, txtspeak, boating, unlicensed therapy, reality television surviving after the collapse of civilization, gold prospecting…
Look, this comic is great, okay? And Eduardo Risso wrote his name on the surface of Mars. That’s more amazing than anything you or I did today, and we should get behind him on this. Fuck Team Comics, this is Team Comics From Mars, and we don’t care.