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.
Today, X-O Manowar #1 came out–it’s at the end of this post–thus relaunching the Valiant Universe. (VH-3?) My store guy, which is to say, the guy ringing me up at the store I go to, let me know that a new customer came in, opened up a store subscription folder, and put himself down for two copies of every cover released by the new Valiant. Welcome back to 1992, y’all, just without a Wizard to tell us our Master Darque debuts are worth $100+.
Don’t worry, though, I’m sure a CGC’d X-O Manowar Pullbox Variant will pay off beyond your wildest dreams.
Personally, I’m more annoyed by the economic realities of Record Store Day. Nothing general or even principled, mind. I’m just upset that none of the local chains seem to have ordered any copies of the Record Store Day exclusive reissue of Here Comes Everybody by the Wake, and I keep seeing it on eBay for, like, a hundred dollars. Speaking as someone who wants the record but doesn’t want to pay $100 for it, that is objectively complete bullshit. At least all my comics came in, I guess, even if none of this week’s comics are probably as good as “Talk About the Past.”
Besides, I need that hundred dollars to afford to get into MorrisonCon.
DC Comics. Written by Grant Morrison. Illustrated by Gene Ha. Colored by Art Lyon. Backup story written by Scholly Fisch, illustrated by Cully Hamner, and colored by Dave McCaig.
I don’t know if they’re just more prevalent lately, or if I’m simply of a mind to notice them more, but it seems like every single week I pick up a DC book and there’s some flubbed editorial moment that makes me go “ugh, guys, don’t operate page proofs unless you’re all the way awake.” Case in point: page 2 of Action Comics #9, which is a perfectly fine page except for a pair of bizarrely placed word balloons. In the second panel of the page, Gene Ha left a lot of room above the character’s head, obviously to put in a word balloon–but that space is left totally ignored, filled in with dull dark green, creating an empty space that throws off the rhythm of the scene. It’s not like this is X-Men #1–where Tom Brevoort’s tumblr took pains to point out how Stan Lee clearly wrote more copy than panels could reasonably fit, causing entire figures to hide behind word balloons. There are two lines on this page, two images, and some credits. Fumbling it just makes it looks like amateur hour, and worse, diminishes what you’re trying to do.
That’s the page, on whatever side of the column I happen to stick it to when I go in later and add images. “IT’S EVERYTHING ELSE ABOUT YOU I HATE!” Luthor howls, in giant letters that match the unhinged barking rage that Ha’s drawn across his face. Then, down below, in much smaller text, “Don’t ever forget that!” The sequential placement–the eye travels down and toward the left a bit, toward the infoblock of the credits–reduces the immediacy of the follow-up statement, and the drastic change in size reduces the apoplectic fury by the time we get to that little second balloon, as if Luthor’s mania had lasted exactly one sentence. The stillness of the empty background–green, which despite being the symbol of lethal kryptonite, is a psychologically soothing color–provides the effect of giving us a micro-second of a breather between RAGE SENTENCE and Slightly Less Rage Sentence, enough to disrupt the rhythm of Luthor’s hatred.
If it seems like I’m harping on this one little moment too much–yes, I am, and I’ll cop to that. Art Lyon isn’t a bad colorist by any stretch–he gave the previous Action Comics Krypton sequences he did with Ha an eerie, otherworldly quality that separated it squarely away from the Morales/Anderson “normal world’s normal past” scenes. If anyone should be offered a blindfold and a cigarette on this, it’s likely the assistant editor, Wil Moss–I don’t know for a fact that he places the word balloons on the page proofs, but it’s either him or Matt Idelson. Whoever’s to blame, it’s a brief spoiling moment in an otherwise pretty great comic. A year ago, I’d probably have just rolled by eyes at a little flub like this, but I guess I’m just crankier now that I’m officially elderly, i.e. late twenties.
The idea of Action Comics #9–which takes place on Earth-23, home of Calvin Ellis, President Superman from Final Crisis–is that in yet another alternate dimension, three friends named Clark, Lois, and Jimmy invented a machine that manifested thoughts and ideas, and a grand corporate mechanism conquered their innovation and used it to create Superman: a nihilistic, all-consuming fascist force of media saturation that holds modern society in its palm and keeps its consumers docile and subservient. “DIAL 911 IF YOU WITNESS ANYTHING SUSPICIOUS,” a billboard above the swastika-esque Superman logo reads, “WIN VALUABLE PRIZES!” Immediately after the scene in which this dystopia is introduced, we are greeted with a two-page splash advertising Before Watchmen.
Grant Morrison’s Supergods was a fascinating book in its haphazard, indulgent documentation of Morrison’s own thought processes, but his analysis of Siegel and Shuster’s Great Comic Book Rip-Off erred a bit toward the position of “yeah, well, that’s life.” His defenses of DC and the comic industry in general have sparked criticism by those who think he’s lost touch with his radical roots and gotten complacent–at worst, there have been accusations of outright stoogedom. Here, the creators of a superhero who threatens to destroy them is exiled to another world where another (fictional) superhero welcomes them with open arms. On the one hand, it’s a biting swipe at the corporate yolk that’s keeping Morrison fed. On the other, that sort of ending–everything will turn out OK when it looks like a job for Superman–puts his loyalty firmly with ideas, rather than people. It was a corporation’s idea to make the evil Superman in this story a force for consumerism and obedience–Calvin Ellis’s Superman offers the point that provided no forces corrupt or exploit an idea, and it’s supported by those who are themselves good, it will blossom into something righteous. Tellingly, Calvin Ellis is President of the United States, a position where the public can only be overwhelmingly satisfied by fictional representations, freed from the too-real concerns of economic and political tightropes. “We’re talking about a man with the highest approval rating since President Rickard back in the ’70s–and he earned it,” as Scholly Fisch elaborates in his inoffensive but hardly essential backup story. As ever, Grant Morrison wraps his–and our–troubles in dreams.
Marvel Comics. Written by Dan Slott. Penciled by Humberto Ramos. Inked by Victor Olazaba. Colored by Edgar Delgado.
“It’s my war,” Spider-Man says at one point in this comic book–”my command, and we do things my way.” As I’ve noted every other week for a while now, Ends of the Earth–the current Spider-Man storyline, about Spider-Man engaging in a season of 24 against Doctor Octopus–feels hollow at its core, like it’s missing the human dimensions that separate proper Spider-Man stories from the rest of comics (and from bad Spider-Man stories). As the entire world declares Spider-Man and his allies (movie star Black Widow and consistently-cancelled Silver Sable), the storyline makes a hard left into being essentially the same thing as Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.
Late in the issue, we get a forceful, sharp shove in the ribs–oh, you know, Spider-Man’s out to save the world because he cares so much about Mary Jane, which justifies complicity in Silver Sable torturing Sandman with acid–but it’s too little, too late. The stakes have already been too clearly defined as existing outside of Spider-Man’s own personal sphere… and Doctor Octopus’s, too, for that matter. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol got away with this sort of thing through sheer visual spectacle and a general affability mixed in with its grim nuclear-holocaust proclamations. Tom Cruise may never express a human emotion in that movie–it would take away from his ability to concentrate on his pneumatic robo-Jenner running around–but that also meant things stayed light, and never dour. Here, we have the scowling, scalp-tugging palette of modern comic storytelling wedded to a maximalist, bigger-is-bigger plotline, and it’s like reading about some other Spider-Man, one that’s about stopping the bad guys first and distantly remembering his own personal issues later, right down to the fact that he can’t even spend Ends of the Earth in his own clothes.
Marvel Comics. Written by Christos Gage. Penciled by Tom Grummett. Inked by Cory Hamscher. Colored by Chris Sotomayor.
It doesn’t take a naked Hercules on the first page of Avengers Academy #29 to cement its current role as that of Marvel’s fan-service comic–but it helps. As a result of Avengers vs. X-Men, the X-Men’s various teenagers–along with characters who they don’t plan to make use of within the main series, such as Madison Jeffries–come to Avengers Academy to wait out the war. What this means, in practice, is that we get an issue of small moments designed to wink at longtime readers, because with this many characters, there’s not a lot of room for much else. (Gage still manages to fit in a villain plot, paying off Generation Hope‘s bar tab, but’s just a sapling here.)
There’s a sub-section of X-Men fans–typically the sort of people who loudly interject that they don’t read comics anymore because comics just aren’t good and haven’t been since the last time their particular tastes were pandered to–who are still bitter at stuff like Chris Yost and Craig Kyle killing off “truly” “excellent” characters like Wallflower and Tag, solely to reduce the cast of New X-Men to a manageable number. These are the fans who place substantial importance on the idea that characters continue to live in the margins of a shared universe even beyond the cancellation of their titles. As a result, some of these fans–not all, but certainly more than zero–use the cast of a comic book as a measure of quality. An example would be, say, Jubilee, who disappeared from comics for a couple years because no one had anything for her to do. When she suddenly reappeared as a major player in Victor Gischler’s X-Men, it didn’t matter that Gischler was changing the character’s status quo or not really writing great stories. It mattered that he was using Jubilee, and thus validating all the Jubilee-hopes and Jubilee-dreams of the fans who had been waiting for another peephole glimpse into the character’s theoretically-infinite life. This arc of Avengers Academy is all but a clearly labeled shout-out to this kind of fan, as various cancelled and forgotten and dormant characters pop up largely because they can: Hercules, Surge, Loa, the Stepford Cuckoos, the Generation Hope cast…
There is, of course, a simple pleasure for fans of a shared universe to see that universe being shared. (Any substantial research into this phenomenon would necessarily take into account the work, both creative and editorial, of Mark Gruenwald.) That makes up the bulk of this issue of Avengers Academy. We see Wolverine and X-23 have a long-delayed conversation. We also see X-23 and former New X-Men castmate Dust catch up. Hercules mentions his little buddy Amadeus Cho, and attempts to teach the Academy kids Greco-Roman wrestling. Mettle and Loa, both Hawaiian-surfer characters, have a bonding moment. Surge sasses Tigra, because Surge is sassy and Surge fans, all four of them, want to see her sass. Meanwhile, White Tiger, a principal member of the Avengers Academy cast, doesn’t have a single line, let alone anything to do.
“Downtime” issues are a tradition of superhero comic books dating back to Claremont and Cockrum’s Uncanny X-Men, when characters would play a game of baseball or go camping in the woods to further define their personalities and relationships. Historically, this is at the very least a technically useful tool for X-Men comics, where huge casts tend to require crowded social activities to efficiently sketch out the webs of interaction between the team members and hangers-on. Avengers Academy just did a “look, this is how the Avengers Academy cast would interact with a bunch of fan-pleasing guest stars” story–the previous two issues devoted a great deal of space to banter between the kids and the Runaways. Avengers Academy, which started with such a sharp focus, has drifted away from that, and while Gage is a competent scripter who can keep it entertaining (and Grummett is the ideal choice to provide healthy, friendly renditions of the bright clean teens that fans want to see), the fangs of the book feel gone–Avengers Academy needs claws to match its cleverness.
Marvel Comics. Plotted by Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and Jonathan Hickman. Scripted by Ed Brubaker. Penciled by John Romita Jr. Inked by Scott Hanna. Colored by Laura Martin.
I used to complain that Marvel tried to cram too much into their seven-issue event mini-series. Some of them felt borderline staccato in their pacing–racing from Big Moment to Big Moment to fit as much sensation into the book as possible. Civil War was especially guilty of this: once the stakes were set up, the book fragmented into a billion micro-confrontations, and without the intentional desynchronization of Final Crisis‘s armageddon scenario. “If only it had been twelve issues!” I said at the time, apparently requiring more than a single panel devoted to Captain Marvel’s return. (It later got its own five-issue series, which was nothing special aside from some tremendous Lee Weeks art, so I don’t know why I was so antsy about it.) Now that we have a twelve-issues-and-change crossover event series from Marvel, I find myself going “wow, they really could have gotten through this a bit more briskly.”
Ed Brubaker, he of the gifted long-game, is the scripter for issue three of Avengers vs. X-Men, and sets about his task like a professional. He’s built us a cupboard–sturdy, spacious, useful around the house, but ultimately more focused on function than on style or deep personal meaning. What we needed out of this issue was for the Avengers and the X-Men to separate long enough to launch separate searches for Little Phoenix Lost Hope Summers, and for Wolverine’s loyalty to be put to the test when his personal biases (“anti-Phoenix”) put the mission in jeopardy. So, all that stuff happens.
It goes down smoothly, for the most part, although like a lot of the series, it shrugs off moments of past continuity that would have, through mere invocation (rather than rambling explanation), given moments a context and weight that’s otherwise lacking.
Because the title is Avengers vs. X-Men and a fight needs to happen, Captain America and Wolverine throw down. On the page, it’s because of what I just mentioned–Logan’s Phoenix-rage makes him a loose cannon. What’s missing is the history between Cap and Logan that makes this confrontation and its harshness make sense. Longtime readers will have to logically parse for themselves the fact that Captain America has respected, but never particularly trusted Logan, and finds his willingness to abandon absolute morality as a mission requires to be, if not sickening, then at least unsettling. This rivalry and personality clash is nothing new–as I recall, Bendis has brought it up at least once during his Avengers tenure, when Wolverine was given membership pretty much solely based on his willingness to kill foes Cap or Iron Man wouldn’t–and, hell, Mike Zeck’s cover to Captain America Annual #8 is one of the most famous Marvel images of the 80s. This lack of history renders the extremity of the Cap/Logan fight–and its solution, which is the hinge that joins Garth Ennis’s Punisher and the ending of Scott Lobdell’s Uncanny X-Men run–almost meaningless, except as a way of shuffling the game pieces around on the board.
Likewise, Cyclops’s mole on Wolverine’s side of the X-Schism is revealed to be Rachel Grey (nee Summers, as in Scott Summers, as in Cyclops). This makes sense for a number of reasons, foremost among which are two thematically important notes, relevant to the current plot. Like Hope, Cyclops’s adopted granddaughter, Rachel is his descendant from a shattered alternate future, who came back in time and had to be molded from something raw and angry into a functional human being. The other, probably more important idea is that Rachel Grey–more than any other living character on either side of the conflict–understands the Phoenix Force, since she was its earthly host for the entire 1990s, in Excalibur (and later, Brubaker’s own Fall and Rise of the Shi’ar Empire in Uncanny X-Men). None of this is mentioned, of course! Cyclops’s mole might as well have been Husk, for all the dialogue mattered.
Avengers vs. X-Men is the opposite of what I was crying about above in Avengers Academy, although not as far gone as Amazing Spider-Man. The character beats have a consistency and sensibility that’s there, it’s just the onus of the reader to be able to find them, like Easter eggs. (Spider-Man, meanwhile, just seemed to go “Oh shit! Nearly forgot!”) Any bits of characterization not essential to the reorganization of the story, post-initial-brawl, got left on the cutting room floor. Where Avengers Academy had a surplus of long-time-reader pay-out moments, Avengers vs. X-Men–which even in its title exults the idea of a shared universe of characters–has none. There is a balance to be found, but Marvel is striking out left and right this week, trying to find their level.
Marvel Comics. Written by Mark Waid. Illustrated by Chris Samnee. Colored by Javier Rodriguez.
In the Avengers vs. X-Men ramble above, I pointed out the history of “downtime” issues amongst X-Men comics, where twice a year the world nearly ended because of whatever, and thus it was necessary to pick up the pieces here and there. This issue of Daredevil functions in much the same way: after The Omega Effect, the not-wholly-successful crossover that Daredevil played a major role in, this is an issue to re-orient us and further some of the less action-oriented subplots.
Matt Murdock and the new Assistant D.A., Kirsten McDuffie, go on a date at an amusement park, where Kirsten blindfolds herself to let Matt clue her in as to what it’s like living with blindness. This idea, cute as it is, is only referenced a couple times, while the bulk of the issue is given over to a flashback–Matt in law school, helping his best friend and legal-eagle life-mate Foggy Nelson get even with a tenured professor who’s giving him shit.
Back at this years Boston Comic Book Con, I overheard Daredevil co-artist Paolo Rivera talking about how Mark Waid apparently sent an apology to new co-artist Chris Samnee, because his first issue on the book would be all out-of-costume civilian-type stuff. According to Rivera, Samnee brushed the apology aside, because that “folks not wearing tight pants” stuff is what he loves to draw the most. It shows. Most of Samnee’s work that I’ve seen has leaned heavily on the noir side of things, and I’ve always respected his use of black space and shadow forms–as much as I do the undisputed master of such, Eduardo Risso. He seems to be working with a much more loose hand here, and it benefits the story greatly, bringing to mind both the sharp lines of the Phil Hester/Ande Parks team and the deft visual characterization of Sean Phillips. One page in particular, set in a New York City park as Matt and Foggy walk through it, bristled with activity like Simon Gane’s work in Paris.
So, yes, it’s a “downtime” issue, strengthening the running themes of the book if not the unsubtle end of its narrative, but it’s funny and it’s charming and it’s beautifully, beautifully drawn and colored, and if you can’t live with that, go cry in Frank Miller’s lap.
DC Comics. Written by Ann Nocenti. Illustrated by Harvey Tolibao. Colored by Mike Atiyeh and Richard & Tanya Horie.
Sometimes it takes me a bit of thought to figure out where it is Harvey Tolibao wants my eye to go in his panel compositions. He’s fond of action so dynamic that it swerves around the page recklessly, always teetering at the brink of incomprehensibility (and sometimes going over). The fight scenes in Green Arrow #9 seem totally disconnected from most known laws of physics–or at least, they refuse to acknowledge the physical space that said bodies are presumably moving within. Panel borders simply lose their authority in places.
The effect is not so much Crank 2 meth-binge montage, as something like Michael Snow’s La Region Centrale, or a less gravitationally sound take on the flying scenes in Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void. In Tolibao’s vision of the Green Arrow world, our view is fragmented and constantly shifting–we’re above the action, but also in the midst of it, but also at its feet, but also hovering behind its shoulder… These changes happen with the aggressive lateral shifts of a tilt-a-whirl.
In that respect, Tolibao’s art is a good match for Nocenti’s writing, which approaches Green Arrow like a saxophonist playing free jazz. She’s constantly throwing notes into the air, and if they don’t stick together into a coherent theme, it hardly matters. Green Arrow’s struggle against Leer, and the perverse family dynamic of Leer and his Skylarks, are the running motifs of Nocenti’s piece, and other things–a band of hunters, an old-west-style cowboy saloon, Arrow’s own monologues–are like brief, fiery bursts of air that dissipate as soon as they come, leaving no trace but for a general ringing in one’s ears. Appreciation for this kind of technique is an acquired taste.
Valiant Entertainment. Written by Robert Venditti. Penciled by Cary Nord. Inked by Stefano Gaudiano. Colored by Moose Baumann.
Restoring one of the handful of original ideas that Jim Shooter, Barry Windsor-Smith, et al. had in the early-90s heyday of Valiant, X-O Manowar tells the story of Aric, a Visigoth warrior–you know, from history!–who gains control of an alien battlesuit. In the classic X-O series, he used this armor to fill a role similar to Wolverine: that is, righteous dude who nonetheless ignores all known systems of rules and laws in favor of selfishly punching other dudes in the face. (In classic-Valiant’s crossover, Unity, his refusal to put the greater good above his own is a key plot point.)
Whether we’ll get something quite so sharp-edged here–well, who can tell, honestly? Despite being an extra-sized issue (I think; I’m not about to count), this #1 isn’t even the whole origin story. Aric fights some Romans, fights some aliens, gets taken captive, and observes the X-O armor. Next issue, according to the next-issue blurb, he will actually come face to face with it. The Aric-on-Earth scenes hit all the key genre marks, but unexceptionally so, like something you’d expect to see in one of Dynamite’s Red Sonja comics (albeit with Nord and Gaudiano’s art, which is excellent). More effective by half: the scenes of the aliens interacting with hoo-man society, which are creepy and sufficiently xenophobia-inducing–baby-tampering is a capital crime in the eyes of most readers, I’d imagine.
It’s all right, but I’m not sure exactly what I’m getting here that I couldn’t get elsewhere. Hopefully the Valiant Free Comic Book Day book can elaborate on that further, but right now, my Shooter back issues remain more attractive, if only because they’re more instantly distinctive.
April 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 11, 2012
Before sitting down to read all this stuff, I sat down (same chair even) and watched Fix: The Ministry Movie. If you ever want to learn anything about Ministry–the band, the culture that gave rise to it, the musical innovations they stake a reasonable claim toward, the total collapse–go read the Wikipedia entry. If you want to see a bunch of interviews about how much heroin Uncle Al Jourgensen was doing in ’96 and a bunch of undated footage of him getting high and acting zany, then definitely go with the movie.
DVD bonus features: the lingering question of why Casey Chaos was asked to participate, since all he had to contribute was the comic relief of seeing him looking like this:
Kaboom/Boom Entertainment. Written by Ryan North. Illustrated by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb. Backup story #1 written and illustrated by Michael DeForge. Backup #2 written and illustrated by Zac Gorman.
In Adventure Time #2, the Lich King–mystical enemy of all that lives, etc., particularly our heroes Finn and Jake–used a magic sack to destroy the world. Adventure Time #3 opens with same–”And that’s how the Lich won and the Earth was destroyed forever.” The next page is solid black but for a ‘THE END’ logo and credits. By page three, we’re back to normal, which is sort of a let-down–they could have milked it another page or two at least. In the footnotes for page 3, writer Ryan North notes: “I was going to make this and all the remaining pages in the book entirely black…” and now that he’s broached the idea, I kind of wish he had.
It’s like this story about that old Chris Elliott TV show, Get a Life–the showrunner, David Mirkin, wanted to go into one act break (commercial break) by having Chris Elliott’s character appear to die, and then spend the entire next act/segment with a static shot of Elliott lying dead on the ground.
What I like most about Adventure Time–the TV show–is that willingness to embrace perversity and, well, wrongness. There’s that one episode where Jake and Finn meet a shriveled little old gnome knight who’s talking about how weary he is of life and duty, and then the heroes of the show cheerfully advise the little guy to commit suicide. Then this:
Instead, the comic book just does the conventional thing, which, you know, it results in a story that you can read and enjoy, but what’s that worth compared to provocation? Speaking of provocative convention, it’s also sad to see them kowtow to the demands of the industry’s slam-banging hormones and put Princess Bubblegum into a retro two-piece swimsuit with a bowed belt. Which begs another question: do Bubblegum and Marceline just shop at like, some off-camera local American Apparel, or are my friend and I correct in assuming that the Land of Ooo is post-post-post-apocalyptic Williamsburg? And if it is, that opens up even more questions–do they regard Vice‘s Dos and Don’ts pages the same way we regard the Dead Sea Scrolls? Will history note that anyone ever gave a shit about Grimes? Just think–an all-black comic book. No questions. Just tranquil oblivion.
Also, Michael DeForge’s backup is pretty great and all, but maybe I should have buffered myself somehow, considering the last thing I read by him was hardcore pornography.
Image Comics. Written by Jonathan Ross. Penciled by Bryan Hitch. Inked by Andrew Currie and Paul Neary. Colored by Paul Mounts.
This is why I normally don’t read recap pages: sentences like “Details of the new look games that will help ring in the changes and, it is hoped, reverse the slide in ratings that marked the last Season were announced.” Sure, I trip over my own fucking sentences all the time, but that’s because I do this blog for free, without an editor.
And then there’s another black page–as if they’re mocking me.
People are going to shit themselves over this. From glancing around the net, I already know that they are, really. “Five-star”–that whole run. Anyway, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why: a writer who’s famous for a non-comics thing, competent, and not yet overexposed or shark-jumped, and Bryan Hitch, who invented “widescreen” comics as we know them. The story here is that years ago in San Francisco, a New Universe-style Event happened, and people got powers. For whatever reason, the people with powers were then raised in camps, and made to compete in an extreme-sports/super-combat reality show tournament, with the prize being a space on the world’s “only official superhero team.”
I got nothing against all that. It’s hardly innovative–Battle Royale, The Hunger Games, The Running Man, Death Race 2000, the roller-derby issue of Jack Kirby’s run of Captain America and the Falcon, the basketball scene in Escape From L.A.–but the idea of desperate bloodsports is at least so inherently melodramatic that the right people can make something explode out of it. Where America’s Got Powers fails is in differentiating itself from our world, our culture. That’s probably the point–our world, just a bit to the right–but we don’t get any idea as to what motivates… well, anyone, least of all mass culture. The only real context we have to anchor us is that the lead, Tommy Watts, is more or less a walking Belle and Sebastian song. Beyond that, all we have is well-constructed bombast, which entertains, but says nothing. People will talk about this series as if it means something man, if only because superhero fans are positively starved for work that they can act like a grown-up about. Unfortunately for them, this is America’s Got Powers #1, summarized in fifty seconds:
Marvel Comics. Written by Greg Rucka and Mark Waid. Illustrated by Marco Checchetto. Colored by Matt Hollingsworth.
I haven’t kept up on the new Punisher series but it looks like all I’ve missed is that Frank Castle is dead (again) and Solid Snake and Meryl Silverburgh have taken over. So Snake and Meryl go visit their buddy Daredevil to try and get him to give them his magic zip disk full of all of Crime’s Secrets, and Spider-Man intervenes, and then the Hand is there, and Snakisher is saying dialogue like “Fall back… enfilade on the chokepoint,” and honestly, this comic is just kind of a dull throb that ditches the post-whatever Lee/Romita update of Waid’s Daredevil series for, like, a bunch of people standing around and having an unexciting ninja fight, and you can’t see it in the art but you can be sure that all of their assholes are just maximum clenched.
Zeb Wells–the guy who wrote Avenging Spider-Man #1-5, and the last great Spidey/Punisher team-up in Amazing Spider-Man #577–is gone for now, and he’s sorely missed. Wells would have at least made things a bit more manic, which is how things need to go when the Punisher crosses over into the other street heroes’ turf. Hell, when Punisher guest-starred in Wells’ Anti-Venom miniseries, pretty much the first thing he did was to shoot Eddie Brock in the back of the head, just as a matter of course. Otherwise you get stuff like Shadowland, where the Punisher stood around talking about how he’s going to shoot Daredevil in the fucking face and all the heroes on his team, Spider-Man included, just seemed to shrug and go “Oh Frank.” What a card, right? Hey, remember this?
DC Comics. Written by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman. Penciled by Amy Reeder. Inked by Rob Hunter. Colored by Guy Major.
Were Amy Reeder’s layouts this berserk on Madame Xanadu? Granted, yes, it’s a bit of a moot point now, but still, there’s something that just feels off about her attempts to shoehorn her style into J.H. Williams III’s bastard of Symbolism and Art Deco. It’s like watching A Dangerous Method, that Cronenberg movie–you sit there and the story’s fine and the acting’s great, but why the hell is David “Videodrome” Cronenberg treating all of this with the preciousness and distance of a lesser Merchant-Ivory? You get through A Dangerous Method and even Michael Fassbender spanking Keira Knightley felt airless and tame, and you go “thank fuck” when you see the teaser for Cosmopolis and it’s tweaking off its tits.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, this is Amy Reeder’s A Dangerous Method, and thank fuck she quit to go hopefully work on something that actually suits her like Cosmopolis suits Cronenberg. Then there’s the inking–oh, wow, the inking. If you want to do an Amy Reeder superhero noir action comic, give her an inker that can handle shape and weight and line variation. John Dell? Someone. Don’t give her this dude who makes her work look like “back when Dustin Nguyen kind of sucked.” Anyway, Amy Reeder is great but she’s not great here and it makes the comic she’s drawing not great too, even if Batwoman syringe-roofies her girlfriend during domestic violence. (And you thought Wonder Woman was rough on its ladies’ morals.)
Image Comics. Written by Joe Keatinge. Illustrated by Ross Campbell. Colored by Ms. Shatia Hamilton.
So this issue is about Riley, the Kitty Pryde of Glory, having a dream about five hundred years in the future, when Glory is Brandon Graham’s Prophet as written by Robert Kirkman during one of those dark-storm-clouds-and-red-mist “I think I’ll just have Invincible and the bad guy rip each other’s entrails out” moods. Then it turns out Riley is destined to “stop” Glory somehow. Hey, though, what about that shocking reveal you guys ended last issue with? I mean, the series is structured around something more than filling pages until you get to the requisite twist cliffhanger ending, right? Right. So is Glory ever going to be, like, a character? It’s cool, I can wait, but you know.
Image Comics. Presumably written by Joe Casey and illustrated by Nathan Fox.
Diamond didn’t ship any to my local store. Racist conspiracy? Almost certainly. Anyway, in my imagination this issue was when Haunt and the guy who looks like Jeff Bridges finally got married after Haunt’s ghost brother got his certificate from Marrying People School or DeVry or something.
Image Comics. Written by Brian K. Vaughan. Illustrated by Fiona Staples.
It occurs to me, reading Saga #2, that Brian K. Vaughan is just about the only writer in comics, male or female, who could get away with a page where a woman says “I’ve got quick vines trying to get inside me” being followed by one where that same woman admits to enjoying the taste of breast milk, without getting crucified. Like, seriously, if this was Scott Lobdell writing Starfire? It’s 5:53 pm as I write this sentence, and in the six hours since comics went on sale there would already have been 900 Tumblr posts using phrases like “what in the actual fuck” and “alienating millions of potential fans.” It might be because Fiona Staples draws Alana with kind of a Rihanna haircut, and those of us with our finger on the pulse of the internet are just too used to Rihanna not giving a fuck and tweeting about her tits or whatever. If the Stalk doesn’t have a million fans by the end of the day, incidentally, there is no justice and everything is fucked, your ass and mine included.
Vertigo/DC Comics. Written by Paul Cornell. Illustrated by Ryan Kelly. Colored by Giulia Brusco.
This book is getting cancelled before #24, calling it here. On the one hand, it’s a good idea, but you know what, so was American Virgin, and look what that got us. A lot of the same problems are at play here–too much pussyfooting around because… okay. You ever tell someone a story and get so caught up in the telling of it that you’re talking, but you’re not communicating, because the significance of everything is plain as day to you, but you forget that the person you’re talking to has no idea how to make heads or tails of what you’re saying? That’s Saucer Country, free-floating and sort of confusing despite what should be a pretty straightforward deal. It’s like, just come out and say “anal probing” already, Christ. Take the kid gloves off. If Hillary Clinton got her ass blasted by aliens, you know things would get fucking gnarly, fucking fast.
Marvel Comics. Written by Rick Remender. Illustrated by Gabriel Hardman. Colored by Bettie Breitweiser.
This arc of Secret Avengers is all about fighting some dude called the Father. The current arc in Batwoman pits her against the Mother. Have comics finally entered their misunderstood teen years, ready to kick back at avatars of mommy and daddy by having their precious superheroes go grimly geared-up and take down all those rules once and for all? NO ONE’S GONNA TELL CAPTAIN BRITAIN TO TURN DOWN HIS STEREO EVER AGAIN, MAN. No, but seriously, this is like reading mid-90s “everything you know is wrong! again!” retcon-happy X-Men and I kind of wish the entire team would get left to die in Antarctica like Gambit, except I know it’d just turn into some storyline detailing the secret, mind-blowing truth of the staggering importance of Spat and Grovel.
Marvel Comics. Written by Kieron Gillen. Penciled by Carlos Pacheco and Paco Diaz. Inked by Cam Smith. Colored by Guru eFX.
I don’t think you can get more literal about superhero comics than this cover. Does what’s inside even matter?
Marvel Comics. Written by Ed Brubaker. Penciled by Butch Guice. Inked by Stefano Gaudiano, Butch Guice, and Brian Thies. Colored by Bettie Breitweiser and Matthew Wilson.
For the past couple issues I’ve been trying to resolve the nagging familiarity of Butch Guice’s page designs in my head. Like, yes, obviously there’s Jack Kirby in there, and Neal Adams, and a bit of reined-in Gene Colan, but there was something else that I couldn’t put my finger on, especially with the women. The women in Winter Soldier look out of place half the time–like they’re superimposed onto the action, or like they’ve been tricked into thinking an international thermonuclear crisis is actually a fashion shoot. Then it hit me–the women Guice draws in Winter Soldier look like they come straight out of 1960s magazine ads, the kind that Playboy and Esquire would have run in the days before human beings were sufficiently tan and wide-lapeled to appear in photographs. Look at the page of Black Widow sitting on her motorcycle in the rain–now imagine the white gutter space giving way to some bold serif font (or Cooper Black or some shit who knows): “When she said she wanted something powerful between her legs… it should have been obvious she meant a Harley.“
Next week: Some kind of comic book about Trent Reznor loving the BK Value Menu?
April 4, 2012
No, but seriously: two weeks into me deciding I’m going to review (or at least make fun of) comics again, they drop a week like this on me. Dear comics professionals–y’all some greasy fuckers.
DC Comics. Written by Grant Morrison. Illustrated by Rags Morales, Brad Walker, Rick Bryant, and Bob McLeod. Colored by Brand Anderson and David Curiel.
It’s like, they knew that after eight months (including a two-month interruption to go time-travel bugfuck), they knew that people would be hyped up and ready to see the biggest Super-shitkicking since the time Samson and Atlas used their combined might to engineer a nano-organism that feeds only on Lois Lane’s skirts. That’s in here, somewhere–the rotating artists and awkward framing made it so that it took me a couple pages to realize that Superman was, in fact, fighting Metallo, who was riding Braniac like a giant, phallic brain-bronco. (I’m sure you all got enough of me talking about penises when I rambled about Supreme, but really–is there a better thematic touch for the likes of Metallo than the pinnacle of advanced technology being held between his thighs like a giant, writhing erection?) Superman beats them up and saves the day. Manifesting a touch of Silver Age Super-hubris, he keeps Brainiac around as a houseboy for the new Fortress of Solitude.
Then we get the touches that point to the future, and really, that’s what’s got me excited. Instead of Lex Luthor being a purple-collared sci-crime whiz, or a doughy Wilson Fisk rip, or worst of all, the “well, he’s like Doctor Doom, but every now and then he takes his armor off” version we’ve been getting for years now, Luthor here is a weaselly little fuck with pillowy Michael Pitt lips, constantly relying upon subterfuge to get what he wants. It’s very nearly a new concept for the character, which alarms me to even read back to myself, having just typed it. Then there’s the landlady’s name, and the final panel, where a dinosaur’s head messily explodes.
That’s the statement of intent for future Action Comics tales: “Listen, mac, a t. rex’s head exploding is just the prologue to where we’re headed from here.” That’s a big hole in the skull to fill, boys.
Marvel Comics. Written by Dan Slott. Illustrated by Stefano Caselli. Colored by Frank Martin Jr.
You know, I feel leery of ever commenting on the coloring of Stefano Caselli’s work, just because no matter what happens, it’s like “well, at least everything isn’t cast in bizarre pink light like those old Secret Warriors issues.” Still, for a guy who gets a lot of his strength from the texture of his linework, this cover sure did a great job belt-sanding it all off, as if to say, “April fools, we meant to commission a cover by Clayton Crain, or possibly create a backing board on which to package 1995-era action figures.” It’s a mean thing to do to Caselli.
The plot: the Sinister Six, something something, Doctor Octopus, something something, threat to planet Earth, Spider-Armor. Most of the issue plays out like someone’s YouTube clip-show edit of a half-season’s worth of 24–roughly half of the comic is spent with various people yelling at each other tensely, to show us that the stakes be high, and so on. This isn’t so bad. Caselli draws great yelling, like a Terry Dodson who’s not scared to draw people making ugly faces. The other half is Spider-Man, wearing his new, everything-proof Spider-Armor, rolling up on the Six with his Avengers bros and summarily watching everyone on his side get taken out like they were small babies.
This new Spider-Armor is Mysterio-proof, Rhino-proof, Electro-proof, Chamelon-proof–Spider-Man was able to tell that Al Gore was an impostor because the real Al Gore isn’t a Howard Chaykin drawing–but not, as it turns out, cliffhanger-proof. I’m not sure how big a deal I was supposed to think the new Spider-Armor was, since Spider-Man himself seems so casual about it–”yeah, dude, I built a new Rhino-proof suit, what of it?”–to the point that he almost comes off like a dick. I don’t look at the ending of this issue and go ‘Parker Luck strikes again, oh no!’–I look at it and go ‘well, serves you right for being more arrogant than a Cam’ron track.’
Marvel Comics. Written by Christos Gage. Penciled by Karl Moline. Inked by Jim “Suicide Squad #52″ Fern. Colored by Chris Sotomayor.
I hate that side band on the cover. Like, I understand the reasoning for it–the way most stores shelve their product, it’ll stick out and people will go “Oh, shit, Runaways–war–I’m in.” (Cut to recap page: “…begins with a W.“) Still, it’s just sort of gross and it defeats the whole idea of having commissioned a joined diptych of a cover. I don’t want to be that guy, but sometimes I gotta be that guy.
Anyway, this is the most interesting story Avengers Academy has had in months, if not more than a year. The initial charm of the book was that it was kind of the hormones-and-acne version of Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley’s original Thunderbolts proposition–where a new team of superheroes were secretly veteran supervillains, poised to exploit public goodwill and rob the world blind. Instead, in AA, we had a couple nothing-else-going-on Avengers starting a training program for super-teens who had been discovered and exploited by a renegade government program. The kids were told they were the ones with the most promise as future superheroes, but really, they were just the most psychologically damaged and at-risk for descending into villainy.
Let’s be clear: I love that concept. I leapt onto the book with the vigor and enthusiasm of a Doctor Who fan leaping onto being annoying. Then it all just kind of wandered away–into a lengthy Fear Itself crossover and then into a story that reinvented the Academy status quo into something like “Well, it’s not quite the X-Men, and it’s not quite the West Coast Avengers, but…”
Dragging the Runaways in for a couple issues brings back some of the good stuff–the surging swell of furious angst, like that one Teenage Depression 7″ cover. The Runaways are homeless superheroes, like D-Man but with fashion sense and deodorant, and they roll with two little girls on the cusp of pubes, so Tigra and Giant-Man want to spirit the kids away and put them with warm, loving families, like the one Giant-Man has created for himself over the years. (I’m swinging a golf club, but you can’t see it.) The teen teams do battle: “So you’re fighting for your right to keep two little girls homeless.” “As opposed to what? Soldiers in your child army?”
I mean, it all gets resolved in a fairly pat fashion and people develop empathy, and that sort of stuff, but then we see near the end, Tigra standing there looking–what, amused? depressed? both?–as the two Runaways kids lay her werecat infant on the lawn and then dangle a ribbon over him so he can paw at it like a housecat, and it becomes clear that Avengers Academy is still full of people doing totally, totally fucked-up things to each other, and babies.
Marvel Comics. Plotted by Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman, and Matt Fraction. Scripted by Brian Michael Bendis. Penciled by John Romita Jr. Inked by Scott Hanna. Colored by Laura Martin.
Jesus, it really is 2012, isn’t it? If Marvel had done this crossover in 1997, that roster line-up page would be totally flipped–instead of 6 X-Men and 400 Avengers, it’d be the other way around and for some reason Forge would have a major part in it, if only to slap Tony Stark for boning Mystique (except it would turn out that Stark was really Mystique all along, and Forge was really Douglock, and Sabretooth would be revealed as his alternate future self with alopecia, who was just wearing a big, ugly yellow wig all the time).
We’ve also got little ‘AR’ tags in the corner of pages like ‘Audience put your 3-D glasses on now,’ but more on that later.
Last week, I went on a whiny tirade basically accusing Bendis of wasting space, which is to say, giving characters fluff dialogue that exists without any narrative or aesthetic purpose. I’m not enthused by our first significant page of dialogue, which is page six: Ms. Marvel arrives at Avengers Tower and goes “What’s going on? Never mind, don’t care.” Yeah, and? I’m sure it’s “more realistic” for Ms. Marvel to show up and make snarky noises (probably drinking again), but how does this set us up for the Avengers vs. the X-Men vs. the Phoenix vs. people spending their money on Game of Thrones box sets?
The thing now is that so many people call so many comics “decompressed” that the word has even less meaning than “overrated.” If you call a comic “decompressed” now you’ll get just as many people chortling about how what, maybe you want every comic book to be an old issue of Mark Gruenwald Captain America? As usual with comics discussion on the internet, everyone is insufferable, and here’s a statement that’s just as true: this comic book needed to tighten the fuck up more than a Jersey Shore vagina.
A page with five panels is positively packed by the standards of Avengers vs. X-Men #1. I’m not saying that this should be some hokey retro production where Cyclops explains his optic blasts in more time than it takes to actually shoot them, but it’s like, the dissemination of information from this comic book to the reader is so inefficient that you want to shake the fucking pamphlet and tell it to hurry up. There’s also the usual issue where one cadence and rhythm of dialogue is spread out across every character, ever. After a certain point, people come off less like they’re explaining their viewpoints than they are reciting someone else’s summary of said viewpoints.
And if you cut out every panel that was just people standing around, reacting without action to something that was just said or just done by someone else, this comic would be at least a third lighter. I didn’t bother to do the proper math on that, but it definitely feels that way.
“It’s the first issue,” the devil’s advocate says. “It’s setting things up. It’s a prologue.” Then what was #0 last week, a prank? Oh, go fuck yourself.
Marvel Comics. Same credits as the other version, plus more production staff, I guess.
Back in the 1990s, my folks gave me this CD-ROM thing that was, like, an “interactive” version of Giant-Size X-Men #1. You could click through the pages panel-by-panel, and there’d be little buttons that, when hit, would play sound effects, or direct you to relevant excerpts from other comics, or… actually, I’m not sure if they did anything else. I liked it when I was a kid, but watching the Marvel AR’d cover of Avengers vs. X-Men #1–lightning crashes, an old mother dies, and a motion comics (remember those?!) prologue plays with animated Greg Land art–I dunno, man. I really wish I’d instinctively remembered just about anything else, because it’s not a good connection to make.
Still, it’s like, this is a new toy, it’s pretty cool as a concept, I’ll give it a shot and not be a bitch about it.
The main problem I had was that all of the images came off pixelated and out-of-focus, as if they’d been done at iPhone size and then blown up, rather than “done at tablet size and then blown down.” Maybe it was just them punishing me for having a Samsung Galaxy Tab. Not sure. Either way, what’s the use of seeing JRJR’s original pencils when I could get better image fidelity by trying to take a picture with my shoe? Plus, there’s one page where the AR bit is just a bio of Hope Summers, like the back of an old trading card. Like the actual story itself, it just felt like a scattershot, “eh, that sounds good enough” way of making information manifest for the consumer. Why not just make that “who’s who on each side” page link to a special web page of bios, or whatever?
Then the whole thing was completely ruined for me when, on the first double-page splash of the Phoenix Force destroying, like, a shitload of stuff, the AR content is Axel Alonso walking across the page and not even having the decency to stop and pretend to cower in fear of the all-consuming cosmic nuclear death-flame. Immersion: gone.
Marvel Comics. Written by Mark Waid. Illustrated by Stuart Immonen. Colored by Marte Garcia.
This is, I swear, the last bit of Avengers vs. X-Men blather this week, if only to preserve my own sanity. Luckily, I saved the really enjoyable part for last. The bizarrely named Avengers vs. X-Men #1: Infinite (I guess it’d sell better than Avengers vs. X-Men: Prologue: Nova: The Phoenix Force: Nova: Digital #1) is Mark Waid and Stuart Immonen playing with what can be done in the traditional digital format. This “traditional digital format” is, it must be said, “basically looking at static comic book pages on a screen.” So there’s a lot of room to maneuver.
It’s not that Waid and Immonen are doing technically innovative work here–unlike other mediums, which tend to evolve at the speed of technology (i.e. cinema), comics are doing a breathless scramble to catch up to digital transmission formats, and this first big step for the latest “digital addenda” initiative is to fuse comic books with PowerPoint presentations. You tap the border and new captions appear next to the old ones, filling out the narrative of a panel piece-by-piece. Or a second image appears next to the first one, continuing a sequence. Or a static “camera angle” is maintained while drawings ‘move’ across it, one tap at a time. Or, and I liked these best, you tap and they pull a rack focus stunt, suddenly making apparent the threat behind our intrepid hero Nova–and later, the black screen of death.
The story is told in sixty-five “phases”–”panels” seems a misnomer–and feels more full and rich than nearly any 20-page pamphlet I’ve read in a while. The plot is thin–Nova outraces the Phoenix Force through space, and crashlands in New York, setting up Avengers vs. X-Men #1–but the pacing is so tight that it’s like the opposite of that Jersey Shore joke I made a while ago.
The crucial thing to consider is that Waid and Immonen may not be advancing new technology, but what they are doing is drastically restructuring the reading process of comics. The traditional means of absorbing information at will–letting your eye wander where it will, from panel to panel and page to page, flipping back and forth at your leisure, taking in entire sequences of action and conversation in a single glimpse of a page layout–don’t work here. Instead, there’s an enforced chronology, not just of words and captions, but also with regard to the examination of the panels themselves. When you tap to hit the next phase and the image doesn’t flip over into a new thing entirely, you’re forced to scrutinize the small details of the panel image and absorb more concentrated shortwave bursts of data than you would just glancing at a printed sheet. (I would not be able to say any of this truthfully if Stuart Immonen was not a master craftsman.) Or, to put it bluntly: Mark Waid and Stuart Immonen are fucking around with an element that print comics can’t even dream of controlling–the time it takes you to read it.
Motion comics my ass.
Marvel Comics. Written by Mark Waid. Illustrated by Khoi Pham. Colored by Javier Rodriguez.
This is a Point One issue, designed to be an easy access point for new readers–fair enough, considering that I’m pretty sure this is the eighth or ninth issue of Daredevil to be published within a four-week radius.
Waid remains a great Daredevil writer, and to put a cherry on top of that, he actually fulfills that Point One remit, rather than just treating it as a bonus issue of the title. If you’d never read Daredevil before, you’d probably be okay with this–it holds your hand just enough, like a teacher who’s scared of a parent finding out.
The wild card here is Khoi Pham, whose work I can’t claim too much familiarity with, mostly because what I did see–in stuff like X-Factor and a little bit of his Avengers stuff–I didn’t really care for. There were, to paraphrase Emperor Joseph II, “too many lines.” Here, he chills the fuck out, and it works very nicely, although I sort of wish he’d had an inker–someone like Scott Hanna or Mark Morales who can balance the spacious thickness of his shapes with enough fiddly linework to give them texture and weight, which occasionally things lack here. Still, he acquits himself well, and the bold moments are definitely as bold as they should be.
It’s just that shit, man, not getting Paolo and Joe Rivera every month is some kind of unwitting cruelty.
Also, Daredevil is threatening to “Julian Assange” people and he’s just lucky no one in that group of crooks was a lady. (Maybe the Secret Empire one was, but under that burqa, who can tell?)
Image Comics. Written by Ed Brubaker. Illustrated by Sean Phillips. Colored by Dave Stewart.
Fatale–like any Brubaker/Phillips enterprise–is a bit tricky to write about because the impulse is to treat it as a component of a story rather than a complete story unto itself, and there’s only so much you can do to say “this piece is just as good as the other pieces, and they’re all great, and everything’s great.” Brubaker’s mix of L.A. noir and H.P. Lovecraft is finally making eye contact, though–after four issues of build-up and teasing, out comes a cultist with a dagger and suddenly Sean Phillips has laterally shifted his work into the realm of Ed Repka album covers, and Brubaker isn’t lying when two pages later he describes what you just read as the point where things get “really fucked up.”
I can’t even front, though, Sean Phillips illustrating thrash metal LP covers–wouldn’t that be insane?
DC Comics/Vertigo. Written by Grant Morrison. Illustrated by Frank Quitely. Colored by Peter Doherty.
No, you can’t lay the fucker flat, but really, that’s a little thing.
The big thing is–shit, why would you even want to lay it flat? This isn’t a textbook. You’re not an animal–not come cat needing something to lay on. If you feel anything at all, why would you do anything but feel this book? Take the dust jacket off. Feel the varnish warm against your fingertips, or your fingertips warm against the varnish, or something. Stick your thumb in the cleavage and become part of your own view of the page. Connect. If you can’t connect with Flex Mentallo you’re hopeless.
Meta-this, meta-that. There are other blogs by people who own sweater vests that’ll get into all that. Still, some points bear stating: Flex is the most coherent treatise Grant Morrison has yet written on his theory of the Evolution of Utopian Super-Ideas, and the most heartfelt and affecting, too. It’s so open and so naked, despite being cloaked in fiction–Quitely draws a row of shuttered shops in the background and it just looks like Great Western Road to me.
“That’s what I remember; hot summer nights, sweltering in my bedroom, reading comics and dreaming and drawing, while life went on outside the window. Imagine a jail cell, yeah? A fallout shelter, where the walls are covered with so many drawings you can’t tell it’s a prison anymore. It’s so bright and colorful; sexy girls, handsome musclemen, adventure. You start to forget it’s not real. You don’t realize the world’s ended for you. Hot days and nights in jail…”
Grant Morrison wrote about 2012 something like 15 years before it happened. Either he’s a prophet, or none of us were paying attention.
DC Comics. Written by Ann Nocenti. Illustrated by Harvey Tolibao. Colored by Richard and Tanya Horie.
I love Ann Nocenti. At a convention I’d want her to sign the inside of my eyelid. Her Daredevil run from back in the 80s–the first comic I can remember wanting for myself, unprompted, was one of those. (It had Mephisto and Blackheart and stuff, as was the style at the time.) Now that I’m older (but no wiser, considering how I still read superhero comics), she stands out as even more of an odd duck amongst all these fans-turned-pros, because she asks and answers the sort of “well, really, what about this aspect of life…” that usually ends up fodder for cliche comics by people struggling to subvert their own super-hardons.
Back on Daredevil, Nocenti’s trick was to surround Matt Murdock–conflicted lapsed-Catholic vigilante and crusader–with women. Not just “women,” i.e. those things that keep Kyle Rayner’s fridge full, but actual women, with varying opinions on things and different personal aesthetics and all kinds of hang-ups of their own thank you very much. Green Arrow isn’t yet a repeat performance of that technique, if only because this New 52 take on Green Arrow doesn’t quite have the same strata of trauma tissue to cut into, like Daredevil. Instead, she’s entering slowly, but with no less of a flair for the obvious: Green Arrow feels no angst whatsoever about sleeping with a trio of super-villainous triplets, or even regret, beyond the loss of a bunch of technology and dignity–he’s half hero, half Tucker Max, and the only non-carnal lesson learned is not to let them sucker him like that again.
We’re also getting into environmental issues, patriarchal family dynamics, corporate intrigue, Shakespeare, animal experimentation… it might not be a total revolution, but it’s still frantic with willingness, and Tolibao’s art matches that idea (while occasionally dissolving into post-Neal-Adams page-layout LSD freakouts).
One line says as much about it as anyone could. In Ann Nocenti’s superhero books, the collection of DNA samples held by a mad scientist are rattled off thusly: “Napoleon, Rasputin, Byron, Mishima… others.”
Dark Horse Books / SAF Comics. Imagineered by Hermann. Translated by ???.
Picture Uatu the Watcher bearing down on you with his toga and his giant mutant baby head: “What If… The Turner Diaries Actually Happened?”
In the late 70s, when other Europeans were doing things like “inventing italo-disco” or “being Chantal Akerman,” Hermann left the Western adventure strip he’d been doing–Comanche–and started writing his own scripts. The product of this was Jeremiah, his best-selling book yet, and one which I’m pretty sure he’s been continuing as a series of albums ever since. The idea is simple: Jeremiah’s a good-hearted, kind-of-naive country kid, and Kurdy is a scrappy, clever little shit, and the two of them go around having adventures in a Neo Old West that civilization regrouped into following a nuclear Race War.
It’s gorgeous, as it should be, and the edition that Dark Horse and SAF Comics have put out is equally handsome, with vivid colors and an eye for the texture of Hermann’s line. Plus, I think it’s been re-translated and re-lettered–I read an English-language edition of the first volume years and years ago, and the dialogue hung a bit differently (not better or worse, just different), but the lettering on that older version was so self-consciously “Euro” that it was distracting to read, like back in the day when Wolverine was lettered with some font Comicraft probably sold with the label “unreadable chickenscratch.” No such problem here.
What you get out of Jeremiah is pretty much down to how much you get out of vaguely post-apocalyptic Westerns. If you feel nothing for ‘em, it can’t help you, dude, sorry. If you’re into them, you gotta bear in mind, this is some John Wayne shit right here. After a first page showing that the conflict that ended this modern world was, essentially, “white folks versus black folks,” the next seventy pages or so do absolutely nothing to follow up on that–it’s just a dude and his buddy and the messes they’re getting themselves into, with more of a distinct emphasis on class-on-class violence than anything else. In the post-Racialicious.com world, that sort of concern (“no, seriously, what happened to the black people here?”) chafes more than I imagine it did in 1978 Belgium, but it doesn’t diminish the beauty of Hermann’s artwork, which is what’s gonna put asses in seats here. 500 asses, specifically, because I guess Dark Horse knows what size market it’s investing in here.
Dynamite Entertainment. Written by Kurt Busiek. Illustrated by Alex Ross and Jack Herbert. Colored by Vinicius Andrade, whose name I typoed like six times trying to type it out.
I love one thing that Kirby: Genesis does with all of the warmth that my comics-defeated heart can muster, and that’s how it depicts the Pioneer Two–two otherworldly giant beings who float around in the sky holding hands. Where the rest of the world around them is Jack Herbert’s ink drawings, the beings themselves are Alex Ross paintings in that neo-psychedelic style he’s gotten more comfortable with over the years. In the right spots it really does look amazing, totally underlining the difference between men and supermen.
There’s other stuff here too, stuff like “THE SHE-DEMON DOES AS SHE PLEASES–AND SHE HAS SPOTTED MUCH TASTIER PREY!” and all that, but most of the plot revolves around new people showing up and showing off, and I’ll be honest, I barely even remember the names of the old ones. I think one of them is called, like, Miss Hair. Possibly Hair Madame.
Image Comics. Written by Alan Moore. Illustrated by Erik Larsen and Cory Hamscher. Colored by Steve Oliff.
Listen, all I’m gonna say is that Supreme talks about the Mir space station on one page. Suprema talks about Youngblood–like, the Alan Moore Youngblood–plot/character stuff on another. Kids are in a fucking comic book store. It’s like the comic book version of Awakenings or whatever that movie was where the guys in comas woke up and just kind of staggered around, confounded by the far-flung future of like 1991.
Larsen was right, though–Moore left a fucking hell of a cliffhanger.
Marvel Comics. Written by Jeff Parker. Illustrated by Declan Shalvey. Colored by Chris Sotomayor and Jordie Bellaire.
It’s hard to believe that something like forty issues ago–that is to say, what, two, two and a half years, ha ha Marvel–this comic was mostly about stuff like Nuke shooting an old Untold Tales of Spider-Man villain in the head while they tried to make Grizzly look less like a furry and more like some other kind of sexual deviant. My, how the Jeff Parker run has grown–and now, at #172, it proudly declares ’15 YEARS!’ (of Thunderbolts) on the cover, about three issues before the book is finally getting the Operation and becoming a woman, whose name will be Dark Avengers.
And just to bring it all full circle and remind us all what’s important for the big anniversary throwdown, Parker gives Citizen V dialogue about “that enormous phallic symbol in Central Park” while Shalvey tags in to draw V in a pose where he’s pretty much Michael-Scott-ing an outcropping of rock, lifting one leg so high that the only possible intent could be to showcase his sweet bulge while he yells about dick-towers, and that’s another week of superhero comics for you.
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.
Sue me: I love comics that get high on human growth hormone and then go into shuddering, uncontrollable rage-fits, kicking all the scenery over while screaming that the end of the world is at hand. I’m not indiscriminate–I still don’t know what the fuck Fear Itself was supposed to be–but it’s easy to make me love stories where beloved superheroes enter into a kind of histrionic endgame scenario. I love the end of Unity when Solar pretty much just goes “fuck this a lot.” I love the end of X-Men: Omega when everything is spiraling out of control and Colossus accidentally stomps Kitty into paste, before nuclear bombs kill everyone. I love Kingdom Come just in general, and the part in New X-Men where Logan accidentally reawakens the Phoenix Force. Crucible: The Final Impact, which was probably only read by me and two other people on Earth. God help me, I even like bits and pieces of Onslaught.
Emphasis on “bits and pieces.”
Marvel’s Onslaught mega-crossover spanned across their entire product line for a summer, but there were two books that served as prologue and conclusion, respectively: Onslaught: X-Men and Onslaught: Marvel Universe. The writing on both was split between Mark Waid and Scott Lobdell–they collaborated on the plot, and Waid did the final scripting. Waid does an all right job, considering. I mean, the overall plot of Onslaught is lunacy, and it’s not a coincidence that you hear a lot of wayward ex-readers saying it turned them off of the X-Men, or Marvel, or superhero comics. It was the payoff to a long-running X-Men plotline (one whose twists and turns were invented as they went along) about a traitor within the team, who turned out to be the X-Men’s founder and father-figure, Charles Xavier. (There was an elaborate justification and who cares.) By the end of it, Onslaught was a glorified lead-in to the next thing up Marvel’s sleeve: Heroes Reborn, a “side universe” where Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld offered their takes on some of Marvel’s most recognizable heroes. The ending of Onslaught, where the heroes nobly sacrificed themselves in a baffling, plausibility-busting Comic Book Science sequence that defeated Onslaught at the cost of their lives, was singularly stupid among 90s Marvel, which had no shortage of contenders for that spot.
As you might guess, then, sometimes Onslaught: Marvel Universe is a confusing read. People either spew exposition, or let out small character-tic lines designed to underscore just how apocalyptic the whole scenario was. The former was clunky, the latter generally more successful. What I like about this page is that you can see both sides in action. In the middle of a fight with the Hulk, unprompted by anything, Onslaught squats on Hulk’s chest and starts ranting about how he hates everyone, in a monologue that goes nowhere. And that makes Hulk… well, you know.