Welcome again, you loveable rascals of the misfit quality. Marvel released a bunch more comics. I read them. Now, let’s talk about them! Okay?
After years of teasing, Bendis’ swan song to the Avengers is finally here, and in one issue, it almost completely makes up for the whimper of a denouement that we saw last year in the concluding issues of AVENGERS and NEW AVENGERS. I think it’s easy to hate events for the same reason that it’s easy to hate blockbuster movies, but honestly, AoU is an interesting, apocalyptic examination of superheroes, and whether or not we can rely on them when it counts the most. You can’t write an Ultron story without deconstructing superheroes somewhat, due to this death-bot being built by founding Avenger, and one of my favourite Marvel characters, Henry Pym. Surprisingly enough, Pym is nowhere to be seen in this issue; the star of the show is Clint Barton, AKA Hawkeye.
From page one, we’re thrown into a completely different world. Crackling energy, armies of Ultron and destroyed remains of buildings and cars are seemingly all that remains of New York City. Soon we’re inside a derelict and delepated building, occupied by drug dealers, sex sellers, and ex-crimelords such as The Owl and Hammerhead. Soon, their party of debauchery is interrupted by the arrows and bombs of the arrow-weilding avenger, and friends, this ain’t Hawkguy. There’s no awkward stumbling, no male sensitivity, just a man with one thing on his mind – saving Peter Parker, held hostage and tortured by revenge seeking criminals. And it looks like this is the idea of the AGE OF ULTRON series, at least in this first issue – we see a panicking and paranoid Tony Stark, She-Hulk and a battered, shell-shocked Captain America, all lost in a world full of rules they don’t understand. But Hawkeye never had the God-level power of Thor or many of the other Avengers – all he knew how to do was struggle to survive. A world with no hope isn’t as much of a departure for him as it is for Captain America. Strangely enough, we see that what makes him grow up is precisely what terrified all of the other Marvel heroes – the idea that we are heroes, and no matter the circumstances, we have to keep fighting.
Bendis’ characterization is surprisingly strong in this issue – he understands how each of these characters would react in this situation, like Cap breaking down or Spider-man not changing at all. Hitch’s artwork is everything we know him for – expansive, panoramic and highly detailed. Hitch is obviously a mega-talent who deserves nothing but praise, but I’ve always found his character work to be a bit stiff. I like a comic artist that’s an actor, whose work is expressive and breathes life into the characters…but that being said, this is an event, and Hitch does a wonderful job selling this huge, terrifying world, and his layout in the action sequences is beautiful. AGE OF ULTRON is a unique event – it feels like a WHAT IF? but we’re promised it isn’t. It feels like an Avengers crossover but it features practically only one character. It’s a dystopian, disturbing vision of why these superheroes are so important, and why we have to rely on them to never give up, and why the ones we rely on the most are the ones who know how horrible a hopeless situation is. Like an ex-villian carny with a set of trick arrows.
On the flip side of the Bendis coin, here’s an issue that couldn’t feel more BMB if it included extended dinner scenes at the X-mansion. I hate to be that guy, because I genuinely believe Bendis to be a fantastic writer, and his (still going) run on ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN is a large part of what hooked me on Marvel as a wee lad all those years ago. That being said, the criticism of his decompression and characterization’s often does ring true to me…and this issue was a masterclass in that style. Most of the issue is dedicated to a meeting between the two different Angel’s, and them taking down a Hydra threat on the Avengers HQ. This is a meeting I’ve been looking forward to for some time – the Angel of our universe currently believes he is an actual Angel sent from God, while the Warren of the past was the only one of the 05 who didn’t want to stay in the current timeline. But nothing much comes of this confrontation, and as much as I hate to use these kind of phrases, the voices are really off. “I love it when they put their logos on things. It makes it so much easier to figure out what to hit.”, present-Angel quips before saying “Sorry to interrupt your villainous rant! You were really building to something there.” This is the kind of fun, put-down superhero dialogue that Bendis excels at, but it just doesn’t feel right for Angel as we now know him.
However, I don’t want to sour this whole issue. After the Avengers discover that the X-men from the past are running around our time, Captain America stops by the Jean Grey School, leading to a hilarious scene of Bobby and Kitty making extended riffs on the predictability of the superhero genre. It’s also one of the first scenes I’ve seen that comes close to selling whatever thing the two have going on – after a guy as sensitive, artistic and complicated as Colossus, Kitty may enjoy being around a guy who just likes to laugh. And the final pages are chilling and take the book in a completely unexpected direction – as Warren decides that seeing this future world just makes life way too complicated, Jean Grey saves the day with a friendly mental lobotomy. The foreshadowing of Jean not quite being the saviour we all hoped, of implementing the methods that created so many problems from Charles…it’s an interesting last page twist. And this is a still a must-read, captivating book! As much as I began whining about it, I’ve loved every issue of this series, and this was the first one that left me a little colder, and was really only the first half.
SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN written by Dan Slott, penciled by Giuseppe Camuncoli, inked by John Dell & Giuseppe Camuncoli, coloured by Edgar Delgado & Antonio Fabella, lettered by Chris Eliopoulos, cover by Camuncoli/Dell/Charalampidis
It’s weird, because ever since THE THING, SHE-HULK, SPIDER-MAN/HUMAN-TORCH and of course, ASM, I’d practically trust Dan Slott with my life. Not only is he literally the world’s biggest Spider-fan, his writing exemplifies what makes the Marvel universe so unique. More importanly, he gets fun, and I actually think that’s very hard to do in modern superhero comics. As much as superheroes have a long history of being fun, most contemporary stories classified that way read more like winking in-jokes for fans of DC’s Silver Age titles like JIMMY OLSEN. But Slott never veers into that category – he tells mature, intelligent stories that just so happen to feature riffs on Hostess Fruit Pies and forgotten back-issues where Alicia Masters becomes a spider-creature. Anyway, I loved the concept of the Superior Spider-man from the get-go, but I honestly never thought it’d be as great as this. With Slott telling the story, I should have known better.
Our story begins with Massacre, a sociopathic murderer who recently broke out of prison and massacred patrons and employees of fast food restaurant Burger Town, paying a visit to the CEO of the multi-billion dollar chain. He offers her a proposition – for twelve million dollars, he’ll kill a pile of New York’s innocent bystanders wearing the t-shirt of Burger Town’s competition (whose logo certainly looks…familiar) in a sick, disgusting twist on PR and guerrilla marketing. Meanwhile, Octavius continues to enjoy his time as Spider-man, updating his costume’s technology and working with the police in a way that makes Peter instantly envious. We also see the introduction of a potential love interest in the guise of Anna Maria Marconi, expert chef, brilliant physicist, and surprisingly enough, a little person. I’ve loved how Slott has identified almost all of Ock’s villiany as coming from physical insecurity and body image issues, so the introduction of Anna points to Otto possibly finding a way to understand that you can get by in the world even without Peter Parker looks.
Throughout the issue, we see Otto struggling to deal with the bizarre moral rules most superheroes live by. “Saving the lives of a paltry few…in the grand scheme, does it really matter?” he wonders well saving near-victims of Massacre’s killing spree. Otto may have Peter’s memories now, but he still has his – he can’t forget that he was never above killing others lives to get what he wanted most. THE SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN is chilling, and for me, represents one of the most personal Spider-man stories of all time. After all, if we’re being honest with ourselves, if we found ourselves in the Marvel Universe, would we really turn out like supposed ‘everyman’ Spider-man? Or would we be the same weak, self-loathing, insecure people we are now? And if we go the chance, and got to live the life of a young, handsome man with a wonderful job and plenty of loved ones…would we change? SUPERIOR looks at all of these complicated, frightening questions, and it’s one of Marvel’s most inventive and entertaining reads. Even if Ghost Peter really needs to hit the bench for a couple issues.
THE PURE MOOD PICK OF THE WEEK
ARCHIE COMICS’ have become pretty infamous in the last few years for their media-savvy event comics, but I have to say, I’ve immensely enjoyed pretty well all of them. ARCHIE MARRIES… continues to be one of the most dramatic, honest relationship comics of the past decade, while other titles like ARCHIE MEETS KISS went so completely left-field as to be memorable for the sheer surreality. ARCHIE MEETS GLEE goes into just as wacky terriotry, while also going into some pretty interesting ideas of comics often unseen influence, all while being pretty funny, to boot. The story begins with Dilton Doiley accidently opening up a portal to another dimension – straight into the locker of slow-witted Brittany S. Pierce. Soon, Dilton is studying everything he can about this unusual world of song, dance and melodrama, all while documenting the unusual similarities between this new world and his, which he dubs the ‘Archieverse’.
In Phillip Johnson’s well-known and very interesting article, HOW COMICS ARE BECOMING JAZZ, Johnson tries to get to the bottom of comics small fan-base, and how far-reaching it’s influence is. ARCHIE MEETS GLEE is kind of about the same thing – Aguirre-Sacasa uses Dilton’s digital journal as a device to explore how heavily Glee lifts from the Archie mythos, while probably not even being aware of it. ARCHIE created such lasting, iconic archetypes in it’s many characters that storytellers can use them without even being aware of it. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a mean-spirited accusation of plagarism – it’s a very interesting look into how an industry that entertains tens of thousands of people has constantly provided inspiration to the brains behind multi-billion dollar industries. Using Dilton as the protagonist was surely no accident either – the geeky outcast of the ‘Archieverse’ becoming obsessed with the possibility of acceptance in another world resonates as strongly with me as what I said about Octavius as Spider-man earlier. Escapism is a fascinating thing, and Dilton’s obsession with facts, patterns and statistics of the people he knows certainly hit home to a guy that has gotten into actual arguments about ROM Space Knight.
It’s also funny, and ridiculously charming. There’s plenty of great jokes about the bizarre workings of the Glee universe – it doesn’t quite have the sharp, satirical sting COMMUNITY’s Glee-mocking episode, but that wouldn’t be at home in the Archie books, anyhow. The character driven and physical prat-fall humour has always been the series’ staple, and this issue has it in spades. From Reggie and Noah’s desperate attempt to be loved to winking jokes about Glee having a two-to-one ratio of Gay Icon’s like Kevin Keller, ARCHIE #641 has a much smarter script that you might guess. Dan Parent’s cartooning is great as well, and he does a great job Archie-fying the cast of Glee. The issue ends with the two universes merging, with a hodgepodge of characters from both realities trapped in their respective universes. A final splash page of Veronica now having to face the painful life of being a drama-geek actually had me laugh out loud. ARCHIE #641 is sharp, funny and unique.
I may have to implement the lazy but loving device I used for JiM last week on this issue, because there’s just far too many nice things to say. CABLE AND X-FORCE is a fantastic comic, and if you can fit one more X-book into your budget, this needs to be the one. This twenty pages of sheer lovely fantastic, from Domino downing shots and bedding Colossus, to Doc Nemesis and Forge bonding over arcade gaming and then having a robot v. scorpion showdown, to an extended Cable motorbike reading sequence straight out of my dreams. Honestly, the best thing about this title is that Hopeless just gets Cable and Hope, two characters that I’ve never been particularly gripped by. “Be young and stupid. Screw up. Run around half-cocked and get into some trouble. DO WHATAEVER YOU WANT TO DO.” Cable tells his daughter before leaving her behind, in one of the most tense, dramatic and touching scenes of the week. Hopeless gets this very personal story about a complicated man and his adolescent daughter – but the most unfair part is, his grap of the other characters is just as strong. Peter’s reluctance to be a part of a kill-squad, how Nemesis and Forge are two very different pieces of the same weird-science pie…and Domino. Oh, Domino. Hopeless was born to write her, giving her a voice that just feels true, that sings as clearly as Morrison’s great use of her in NEW X-MEN. The book may be a little light on action, but if you’re looking for a group of strong and damaged superheroes who think the world needs saving in a different way…you won’t regret reading this book.
RED SHE-HULK #63 written by Jeff Parker, art by Pagulayan/Alves/Staples – am I crazy, or did Marvel not put credits in this issue?
This issue was released at an especially opportune time, as I just picked up the MARVEL LEGENDS Red She-Hulk figure recently! Nothing like having the company of Shrulkie and her big-ass sword as I read one of the most interesting comics on the stands. It’s no secret that Jeff Parker is one of my all-time favourite Marvel writers – he turned RULK into a fascinating story about the strength and weaknesses of men of honour and pride, explored the correlation between superheroes and mythology in THUNDERBOLTS/DARK AVENGERS in a years-long journey through time and alternate realities, and has generally just made amazing comics like AGENTS OF ATLAS and X-MEN: FIRST CLASS since forever. And RED SHE-HULK is some of his best work yet, and this issue is unforgettable. Combining celebrity news media, technology, humanity’s lust for power and of course, that element of all Hulk stories, the desperate desire for some kind of control, and of course, Parker’s unique brand of humour, this comic is unique and exhilarating.
Opening on a broadcast of THE POWER PLAYERS, a gossip-talk show about superheroes, featuring guest Colin Hume, AKA former member of Alpha Flight, Windshear. Parker’s characterization is subtle and haunting – “It’s a weird thing to have that much power – honestly, it goes to your head. You don’t like hearing ‘NO’ very much.” Colin’s ominous comments are quickly shushed by the hosts of the show, which illustrates a pretty interesting example of how much the world is changed in the last decade – no longer are comics showing critiques of the fear-mongering, act-first-think-later tactics of the news media. Instead, we an entertainment outlet trying to amuse us out of thinking, which is honestly a lot scarier.
This scene is contrasted beautifully with a scene of Betty and Aaron Stack, AKA Machine Man, being swarmed by instagrammers at a greasy spoon diner. The middle of the book is devoted to a conversation between Maria Hill, Agent Phil Coulson and Bruce Banner, who has begun working for SHIELD in the events of INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK. Banner has a pleading, needy desire to help track Shrulkie down, but as Maria says “Imagine we send Hulk in and he falls for her like he always did. What does that get us? Two enemy Hulks.” Maria’s attempt at keeping these immense forms of power close to her chest parralels the primary threat of hte series so far, the government program Echelon, a new attempt at the Super Soldier program. The issue ends on a fun cliff-hanger that brings in the Mad Thinker and the Mole Monster, which seem like fantastic counters to a very technical and political story. Pagulayan and Alves are artists that were born to draw this specific title – as much as I loved Terry and Rachel Dodson’s beautiful and ornery Red She-Hulk in THE DEFENDERS, these two give us a rough and tumble, hardcore Betty Ross, and it looks beautiful. They also handle the character moments between Maria and Bruce perfectly, as well as the Echelon soldiers and monsters towards the end of the book. A wonderful looking and very thoughtful, intelligent series.
VENOM #32 written by Cullen Bunn, art by Delcan Shalvey, colour art by Lee Loughridge, lettered by Joe Caramagna, cover by Shane “why did you cancel your appearance at Fan Expo Vancouver :(” Davis and Morry Hollowell
Cullen Bunn made VENOM a must read title. As much as Rick Remender told a very sombre, personal story, Bunn brought in his particular brand of weirdness and heart to tell a story very much in the mighty Marvel manner. This issue is a perfect example – Flash Thompson has moved to Philadelphia, and started a job as a gym coach at a local high school, only to find himself deep in that surreal time vortex that is high school, where trends may change, but everything really stays the same. Case in point, Flash is bullied by the school’s resident jock for being a cripple, but of course, Flash can’t resent the guy; he was that guy. His attempt to bond with the alternative kids (who are also fans of THE SIXTH GUN, it should be noted) doesn’t go over much better. I love the idea that, with Flash no longer in NY, he has nothing to cling back to – he doesn’t have Peter, he doesn’t have Betty, he doesn’t have his hero Spider-man – he has no history, and now he has to earn respect as a hero from the ground up. As I mentioned before, Bunn doesn’t just bring the heart – along with Delcan Shavley, there’s plenty of weird, as well. A hunchback monster with robotic tentacles stuck to glowing green cylinders in his back has a nasty habit of eating people. Meanwhile, Flash’s battle with his reliance on the alien monster inside of him continues – Flash’s history with addiction certainly aren’t proving to be a benefit when trying to control an evil space monster. The end of the issue ends with yet another cliffhanger reveal of Eddie Brock as Toxin, who’s bound to show up soon, right? Even so, VENOM is a lot of fun, and Flash Thompson continues to be one of the most fascinating and surprising of Marvel’s characters.
Well, that’s it for this week! If you’d like to discuss the tragic last days of Purple Man, the melancholic journey of Hellboy and Edward Grey, THE WHITE EVENT, how Death’s Head is this year’s Devil Dinosaur, or any other titles you enjoyed and think I should be reading, leave a comment below!