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.