Greetings and salutations, internet! You look well rested. Relaxed. The perfect state of mind to be in before your mind is blown by the unbelievable insanity contained within the pages of the many comics we’re here to talk about this fine Thursday morning! Don’t worry, that tingly excited feeling is normal! This may just be the greatest moment of your young life!
Oh, everyone’s a critic! Here’s what I picked up at the shop this week…
…as much as I don’t want to plug you to death, just a friendly reminder that most of my Marvel reviews will now be available at www.marveldisassembled.com! X-MEN LEGACY, THOR, WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN and lots more. Fear not, however! Marvel puts out so many books that I still have plenty to talk about here, and of course, there’s a lot of great comics from other publishers that I have to chat about, as well. Without further ado, here are my meandering, structureless thoughts for comics released the week of March 14th, two thousand and thirteen…
UNCANNY X-MEN #3 written by Brian Michael Bendis, penciled by Chris Bachalo, inked by Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza, Al Vey & Victor Olazara, coloured by Chris Bachalo, lettered by Joe Caramagna, cover by Bachalo & Townsend
This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for; a confrontation between Scott Summers’ mutant revolutionaries, the Uncanny X-men, and Steve Rogers and his Avengers. As much as these confrontations can began to feel very familiar in the Marvel Universe, Bendis does a fantastic job with an important, pivotal scene in the evolution of Cyclops’ character. If you’re an X-fan, you’ll no doubt find yourself rooting for the romantic arguments made by the new leader of the mutants. “Shame on you, Captain America. For not seeing that by doing NOTHING you are as guilty as the worst one of them.” But Scott’s allusion to the events of WWII kind of reveals his rather juvenile mindset about the whole thing. As his new students began to question why the Avengers are claiming Scott killed Charles Xavier, Emma silences them with a quick ‘Xavier died in battle.’ Now, I’m not saying I’m on the Avengers side of the argument either, with their oppressive tactics and policy of fight-first ask-later. But Scott just seems like such a mixed-up kid in all of this – he’s the farthest thing from grown-up. He’s a kid who’s just lost his dad and his girlfriend and is confused and lashing out – “To those who would deny us our freedom…the fight is coming to you.” Scott announces to human onlookers, flashing his media-savvy X-logo. Either way, Bendis and Bachalo give us an incredibly tense scene – it reminds you why Bendis became known for his long scenes of people talking – he can make it captivating.
The issue ends with Magneto revealing the most unsurprising twist we’ve seen since issue one of this series, but this does lead to a wonderful scene between Scott, Emma and Illyana. Bendis has a great grasp on Magik, and I hope we’ll see more of her in the future – he treats her as the wild card of the team, the, dare I say it, Wolverine. “i can transport us up into Avengers Tower and we can clog all the toilets and switch their underwear drawers.” She’s a fiery troublemaker, but cool enough about it that she never seems to have a point to prove. Bachalo does as fantastic job as expected, but he still seems so misused on this title. Again, this isn’t an insult to the issue, but it’s what it is – twenty pages of talking heads. Bachalo and his large team of inkers certainly sell the scene, with wonderful acting and composition…but, I don’t know. I mean, I’m complaining about having to look at great art, really, which is silly. But when I think Bacahlo, I think the SHED storyline in ASM, or his X-MEN arc, or GEN X – even his recent A + X story reminded us just how fantastic and unique his action sequences are. Then again, I suppose there’s nothing wrong with flexing different muscles now and then!
This is the best issue of the NOW! volume of FANTASTIC FOUR yet, and boy, am I relieved to say so. I haven’t had anything negative to say about any of Marvel’s new titles, but F4 came dangerously close, after four months of extreme decompression. It’s odd, because I’m certainly not one of those rallying against a slower paced style of storytelling – decompression is a tool or style like any other, and if you don’t enjoy it, you should certainly avoid the work of writers who use it. I personally have no problem with it, unless it’s used in excess. When I think of Fraction, I certainly think of a writer who can fit in a lot of material in each issue – but then again, when I think of Fraction, I think of THE DEFENDERS and CASANOVA. Then again, his run on IRON MAN and X-MEN were certainly more in the decompressed style, and I very much enjoyed both of those runs. What I’m trying to say is, I think my preconception of what this series would be like really hampered my enjoyment of it – after reading the aforementioned DEFENDERS series, I couldn’t think of a better writer to pick up after Hickman’s run. But so far, the series has felt like it’s spinning its wheels a bit. Getting the FF into space, and then having Reed lie, having Sue worry, having Thing sad, the kids inquisitive…I mean, those are such staples of the franchise, you’d think that could be set up by the time I can say ‘Doom the Annihilating Conqueror.’ However, after last month’s rather sweet Valentine’s story, it seems that the series is finally going some place, with a very fun story that’s a little bit of a throwback, while also feeling modern, as well.
By now the stuff of internet legend, in one of Lee/Kirby’s earliest FF stories, the family traveled back in time to gather treasure for Doctor Doom only to discover that Ben Grimm has always been the legendary Blackbeard the pirate. The days of ‘THIS MAN, THIS MONSTER’ were far in the future, is what I’m getting at. However, that issue has seemingly become a bit of an in-joke with many modern Marvel writers – we’ve seen pokes at it from many different sources in the last few years, most memorably Jeff Parker in the WORLD WAR HULKS storyline. F4 #5 isn’t a callback as much as a tribute, with the family traveling to Rome, 44 B.C.E., to witness the days of Caesar. However, it turns out that ol’ blue-eyed Ben Grimm isn’t the only one messing with timelines and rewriting history in his spare time – a time traveler from some far-off planet had stopped by Earth to visit the days of Caesar, only to discover by interfering with time, he ended up killing the man long before he was supposed to. The alien has been living inside of Caesar’s brain ever since, planning to end Caesar’s life at the moment it was supposed to. There’s a lot of fun to be had here, with Thing fighting monsters in the Roman Collesium and the kids gleefully learning about the fascinating stories hidden back in history.
Amidst all this, Sue has just discovered that her husband has yet again lied to his family in a misguided attempt to protect them. They may all be dieing from degenerative cells, and Reed has been traveling to different points in space and time to discover a way to cure them. Fraction excels at the scenes between the long-time husband and wife – Susan’s description of socks wasting away in the laundry is stark and touching, and conveys the tension that comes from long-term monogamous relationships. The only character that feels off is Ben – it feels like there’s too much of a focus on the Thing’s melancholic, lonely side. The appealing thing about the character has obviously always been the ‘tender man in a body of a monster’ angle, but his actions here sometime seem downright maudlin. Despite all my annoying geeky nit-picking, FANTASTIC FOUR is a good F4 comic, certainly the best one of the relaunch. I think Fraction and Bagley have found their footing, and now would be a good time to jump on for curious readers!
Marvel is making it very difficult to narrow down to having just a couple of must-reads, because they’re all just that good. If I were, horrific as it is to imagine, limited to just two Avengers titles, I think I’d have to go with Hickman’s NEW AVENGERS and the new volume of SECRET AVENGERS. This title is quite unlike anything else. Spencer gives us a sci-fi/political/spy/superhero hybrid story, told in the broad strokes of captivating, mysterious scenes that slowly build into a bigger hole. Issue 2 is all about two separate nations that have become supervillian breeding ground. A.I.M. Island, led by the Scientist Supreme Andrew Forson, and Bagalia, last seen in the previous volume of this title. Nick Fury Jr. is paying the latter a visit, in hopes of recruiting Taskmaster to the Secret Avengers. Taskmaster is instantly captivating, winning all of the best lines, as his is wont. Spencer’s bets characterization may be Fury Jr. – I was surprised how invested I was in seeing a Nick Fury that was able to fail – it’s not that he’s incompetent, because he has years of experience as a leader and a soldier. But he isn’t the man Fury is, and he finds himself getting into trouble, attacked by a cavalcade of c-list villains, from Constrictor to Lady Stilt Man, allowing Taskmaster to escape.
Forson, meanwhile, has assembled different members for the ministry of his nation, all hoping to create a supervillian revolution right under the world’s nose – Mentallo, Superia, Graviton (!) and Jude the Entropic Man are all enlisted. However, S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t as inept as we first may have imagined – Taskmaster is apprehended by Mockingbird, whose appearance actually had me make an audible gasp of excitement. Taskmaster meets with Colsoun, who informs him that he’ll be playing the double agent on A.I.M. Island. All of these events are bridged together by the narration of the leader of the island, who is instantly captivating in his complicated and fascinating motivations. Luke Ross’ artwork is perfectly suited for the series – dark and mysterious, with a serious Gabriel Hardman vibe. Matt Wilson’s artwork compliments the dark shadows wonderfully – the bright yellow of the A.I.M costumes, the eerie greens and blues in the background of many scene…very interesting look. SECRET AVENGERS takes it titles seriously – it keeps you guessing, in a way that’s addicting. Even if I’m often not a fan of the slow-burn approach to the opening arc of team books, Spencer found a way to make it work. That being said, I can’t wait to see Hawkeye, Black Widow, Winter Soldier and Mockingbird together!
THE PURE MOOD PICK OF THE WEEK
I have been all over this series from issue one, but this is the one that finally woke me up and reminded me that it’s one of the greatest comics currently being published. I hate to begin with the standard sentiment, but it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t – after his work his Greg Pak and many great artists such as Clayton Henry on Marvel’s THE INCREDIBLE HERCULES, I knew I would follow Van Lente anywhere he went. That balance of big ideas, touching moments and laugh out loud hilarity created such a perfect mix in that unforgettable series, and I hadn’t seen anything like it since it’s cancellation. Valiant’s relaunch of ARCHER & ARMSTRONG, however, came really close – many fans were quick to point out the similarities in both series featuring a genius boy teaming with a rotund, alcoholic immortal. But that’s looking at things pretty superficially, and by the time you hit issue #8, you really see what this comic is about.
For me, ARCHER & ARMSTRONG is all about history, and figuring out how and when history goes wrong. Van Lente seems to feel things go off the rails when we lose our natural and unique ability of independent thought, and instead begin following symbolic ideals and easy-to-swallow rhetoric. complexity is what we’re here for – it’s what makes our time on this planet special, and worth living to the fullest. All of the various evil organizations in this series are legitimately terrifying, because they draw from real world ideas – the One Percent, who have no feelings for humanity and are driven only by greed, or the Nul, a group fixated on the idea that nothingness is the only thing that lasts forever, so we should eliminate everything we see around us. “An ending. To violence and war. Hatred, pain and intolerance.” That’s the horrifying thing about nihilism – it makes as much sense to retreat from your emotions as it does to barrel into them, but the idea of apathy is so romantic and powerful that many of us fall under its spell. That’s what’s scary about the Nul, but also about the One Percent – as much as people wanting nothing scares me, people wanting everything is just as scary. Issue 8 adds another piece to this complex, villanous puzzle, and it is insane.
The Problem-Solver. You see, sometimes ideas get too complicated. Sometimes situations become not a matter of black or white, and somebody needs to show up and just freak us all out and get us so scared we forget who we are and how to handle traumatic situations. A killer for The Nul, he is nothingness spread throughout history – he is every school shooting, every mass suicide, every assassination – “Wherever there is a seemingly senseless explosion of violence…I am there.” The Problem-Solver keeps us from thinking and keeps us scared, and he wants Archer’s brilliant mind so that his job can be that much easier. There’s also the problem of the Source, basically the essence of nature, seemingly corrupted by the Nul. “Erase the mistake of existence.” the monkey spirit says. If all of this seems pretty out-there, it is; in the greatest possible way. ARCHER & ARMSTRONG started off reminding me of THE INCREDIBLE HERCULES, but its way too unique to ever be published by the Big Two. It’s a contemporary, cataclysmic comic, that still fits in plenty of laughs and touching moments. It’s really anything anybody could ever want in a monthly read, and the first trade is available now. You have no excuse to not try this out.
Ian Flynn has turned MEGA MAN into one of the most exciting Archie books currently being released, and considering my love for the ARCHIE MEETS GLEE crossover last week, I’m really saying something when I say that. Ironic, intelligent and charming, MEGA MAN is filled with subversive jokes not only for fans of the video game franchise, but for anybody delighted by the sheer absurdity of the idea of making logic out of video game ideas. A lot of the character interaction seems like winking in-jokes mocking the many attempts at rebooting iconic video game franchises in an attempt to give them a more ‘mature’ respectability. In this issue, a team of robots rush out to buy Megaman a present for his birthday, only to be stumped by what exact material possessions a boy robot needs. “Let’s get him a pet!” “He’s already got a dog that TURNS INTO A ROCKETBOARD!” It honestly is a surprisingly clever series.
Oddly enough, as much as I feel like a lot of the wit in the book comes from putting a magnifying glass on the silliness of the MEGA MAN franchise, Flynn also tells a very sincere, honest and moving story. This is the climactic battle between Breaker and Megaman, both inventions of the loving Dr. Light. Breaker has been corrupted by the villainous Dr. Wily, however, and is ready to end Megaman’s life, earning revenge for being the ‘favourite son’. It’s just as an effective story of familial revenge as this week’s exploration of Dog Logan in the pages of WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN. “…Just don’t break my dad’s heart.” Megaman tells Breaker before he delievers a final blow. The entire series has been an exploration of just when our definition of ‘love’ stops, and whether or not we ever will accept the idea of humans and advanced technology having emotional relationships. Jampole’s artwork is appealing and expressive, but he really excels at the action scene – it’s more exciting and visceral than anything else I read this week. The issue ends with Megaman being transported into the Sonic universe, starting the first video-game crossover between the two iconic characters. I admit I’m a little saddened to not get to read Megaman’s solo adventures, but I really enjoy the Sonic books, and I think it will be a lot of fun. Honestly, MEGA MAN is a lot better than you probably think it is!
I hate to admit it, but as much as I love the STAR WARS franchise, I’ve never read the comics, save the Marvel stuff from the bronze age. I’ve only touched a few of the novels, only played a couple of the video games…I feel like a big SW fan, but I’m really nothing compared to the most dedicated of the series. That being said, when I heard the man who is probably my favourite living writer (at least for sheer quantity…I read anything the guy writes, and each title is nothing short of amazing) was going to launch an ongoing focusing on the events immediately following the events of the first (…fourth) film? I was all over it. And it really does carry Wood’s signature tune all over it – namely, his well-known skill at crafting ‘strong female characters’.
Longtime listeners of the show will know that Zane and I certainly have no problem with that term – it’s obviously coming from a good place, and I’m not about to say anything ridiculous like it’s sexist or hurts men or any of the ridiculous things the internet has spilled about it. But really, Wood became the guy synonymous with that term for a reason – just read THE NEW YORK FOUR/FIVE series and see how he comes from a place of writing women in a passionately human way. That book made the comics-reading madman in me so goddamn proud, because he went about those characters in such a literate way – I really felt like he went out and lived those characters lives, did whatever he could to feel the heightened pain of being an adolescent girl in a cultural oasis like NYC. Anyway, this is all to say that Wood casts Leia as the star of the series, characterizing her as a leader desperatley trying to hold on to control, haunted by the unjust deaths of the citizens of Alderaan. However, the thing I love about Wood is that he doesn’t just show up to the game to have strong women face unstoppable odds – just look at his representation of Rebel pilot Prithi. A flirty, energetic young pilot with a serious attraction to Luke, Prithi is a flawed, well-rounded character who instantly steals the scenes she appears in. And I’m not saying this his Leia is some one-dimesional Rosie the Riviter – she finds herself obsessing over this weird farmboy Skywalker, this guy who saved her life and the universe with no experience, no real stake in the game. It really sets up their interplay in the next two films.
There’s also appearances by Han and Chewie, in an exciting story set in a hotel, drinking expensive wine and taking down the Imperials. There’s also the recently deranked Darth Vader, currently building the second Death Star. All of these moments are handed expertly, and Wood has all of the characters distinct voices down incredibly. D’Anda’s art is wonderful, and honestly, not at all what I was expecting – I always find that many lisence books go for stiffer, photo-realistic artists who can more accuratley pin down representations of the actors. But D’Andra is a storyteller, and instead of getting wrapped up creating the perfect likeness of Mark Hamill, he creates a representation of Luke Skywalker, and that’s what a cartoonist is supposed to do. His beautifully detailed thin-line drawings of the various spaceships of the STAR WARS universe is incredible. Honestly, if you’re a more casual fan of STAR WARS such as myself, you owe it to yourself to pick up this book. You’ll be rushing to read Dark Horse’s extensive trade collection, and hopefully find yourself intrigued to read the rest of Brian Wood’s work as well.
Did you READ those creator credits?!? DID YOU? If you did, you will now be holding this book in your hands. TOM ORZECHOWSKI LETTERING, MY FRIEND. Richard Starkings, Dougie Braithwaite…this is a great way to spend four dollars. This story from 1989, featuring the seventh doctor, is fantastic. Landing on the planet of Tojana, where the only piece of land is a small island, slowly being swallowed up by a rising tide, prophesied to eat up the entire civilization. The Doctor can’t believe this – a group who would willingly put their head in the sands, and just hope things look better when they come back up. It’s intelligent, hilarious and beautiful to look at. Honestly, if you have any passing interest in DOCTOR WHO or good comics, here you go! Get this!
SLEDGE-HAMMER 44 #1 written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi, art by Jason Latour, coloured by Dave Stewart, lettered by Clem Robins, cover by Mignola & Stewart
Y’know, I don’t mean to be a jerk, and maybe I’m just cranky because we’re almost at the end of our haul here, but if you’re not reading the Mignolaverse comics at this point, what is wrong with you? I mean, honestly. I just can’t even comprehend it. Putting aside my awful, judging ways for a second, SLEDGE-HAMMER 44 is like a lost story of WEIRD WAR TALES – a robot that Lobster Johnson took down in a previous series has been recast by the allies as a Nazi-killin’ machine.
Mignola and Arcudi provide plenty of fun and excitement in a pulpy, throwback story, but it’s not all laughs – robots designed to kill in war are great devices to focus on the brutal absurdity of war, and the two use it to great effect. A darkly comic scene of the soldiers trying to figure out whether or not there’s a man alive in the suit underlines the humanity these men had to let go of to get through life as a soldier. Jason Latour, writer of WINTER SOLDIER, one of my favourite Marvel series, provides the art here, and it’s fantastic. Heavily stylized character designs and wonderful character work, Latour seems like the kind of guy that’s really passionate about telling stories in the complex, unique kind of way that only comics can pull off. Naturally, Dave Stewart’s colour work makes the whole thing look amazing, with a limited palette of light blue, contrasted against other scenes of harsh, dry yellow. It’s a beautiful looking book. Mignola’s universe may seem wide and intimidating, but it’s a rewarding reading experience quite unlike any other, and SLEDGE-HAMMER 44 serves as a reminder how no one does it quite like him and Dark Horse’s team of fantastic talent.
Well, that’s it for this week! If you’d like to discuss the revenge of Robert Oppenheimer, the struggling survival of Black Widow and Moon Knight in the Age of Ultron, Dani Moonstar’s return to glory, or any other titles you enjoyed and think I should be reading, leave a comment below!