It’s Thursday night, and you’ve just been welcomed into the loving and open arms of the Pure Mood. We assume you’re here for the comic reviews, ramblings and driblets?
Fair enough! Here’s what I picked up at the shop this week…
…and here’s my banal and misguided thoughts on them! Of course, you can see more of my Marvel comic reviews at http://www.marveldisassembled.com, along with reviews by people much smarter and more succinct than me. So check it out! And away we go!
THE PURE MOOD PICK OF THE WEEK
CAPTAIN AMERICA #5 written by Rick Remender, penciled by John Romita Jr., inked by Tom Palmer & Scott Hanna, coloured by Dean White & Lee Loughridge, lettered by Joe Caramagna
Against all odds, CAPTAIN AMERICA has somehow become one of my favourite Marvel books. I don’t know if it just comes from being a young leftist Canadian, but Cap has always been one of my least favourite characters. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a Marvel obsessive, and I love plenty of Cap’s runs – Kirby’s, Stern/Bryne’s, Gruenwald’s, Brubaker’s recent and instantly legendary stint – but as an actual character? I just never tapped into it in any way. Luckily for me, Remender always felt the same way. “I want to turn him into Peter Parker”, he said in a recent CBR interview, meaning that he wants Steve to have a world – because it’s impossible to argue that Peter doesn’t have the best supporting cast in superhero comics, and having your protagonist interact with other strong personalities with differing motivations and beliefs is a great way to show the interesting aspects of their character. But don’t get me wrong – this still a Rick Remender comic book. When I say Steve is on the track to becoming Peter Parker, he’s doing it in an alternate dimension, raising a surrogate son and fighting mutant Nazi versions of himself.
The Arnim Zola storyline in Kirby’s run, clearly where this volume of CAP gets most of its inspiration, is unforgettable. Zola’s entire plan centres around the idea of marketability – he explains that it was Hitler’s mug was the problem behind his lack of success – he was on the right track with the moustache. That, you can sell some t-shirts with. But if someone is telling you they’re going to be the future ultimate-race, they have to look the part – and boy does Steve Rogers fill that role. So Zola wanted to put the brain of Hitler into the body of Captain America – which may have influenced Remender in another book he’s writing, as well. Anyhow, this time around, Zola is currently the ruler of Dimension Z, and Cap has found himself trapped there. His biological experiments have grown even more twisted, and he now sends his test-tube daughter Jet Black after Steve, who is also battling a Zola virus that the mad-leader has put inside of him.
Most of the book is a gritty battle between Jet and Steve in the rain, surrounded by horrific transfigured creatures and Ian, a young boy Cap has trained to be an ultimate warrior. Remender has no fear in letting JRJR become the star of the show – I mean, this guy made his name drawing bloody battles in the rain, and he just draws the hell out of this desperate and gritty brawl. That isn’t to say Remender isn’t doing some of the best work of his career – his fascinating obsession with being a father while being a broken person continues. Zola, clearly, isn’t cut out to be a parent to anyone – when Jet asks him why Captain America showed her such compassion in the midst of battle, refusing to let anyone die in cold blood, Zola waves it off as weakness. When she discovers Arnim has been deceitful to her, and that the brother she thought Steve killed he has instead been raising, she becomes even more morally confused. But the interesting thing is that Cap struggles just as much.
He’s not the manipulative, evil being that Zola is, but Steve’s struggle with parentage really is a frenzied one – he’s much happier painting pictures of his lost friends, reminiscing about Sharon or doing all he can to fight Zola than he is in raising Ian. But Remender isn’t showing this to show Steve as irresponsible – finding yourself with a son in Dimension Z is just as violent and terrifying as finding yourself with a son in our world – no one knows how to do it right. No one knows how to make a person correctly, and Steve is so desperate to do right for Ian, illustrated beautifully in a tragic, unforgettable ending scene. CAPTAIN AMERICA is something special right now, and it’s unlike anything the property has ever been – by lifting from forgotten elements of the character’s long history and adding a surrogate son that our hero doesn’t quite understand, comparisons may be made to Morrison’s BATMAN work – but this is wholly unique. A dark and honesty dystopic story about trying to be the best person you can be, and raising people to do the right thing, too. A undauntable, fearless comic.
DAREDEVIL #24, written by Mark Waid, art by Chris Samnee, colour art by Javier Rodriguez, lettered by Joe Caramagna
I have an enormous love for all things Mark Waid, but I don’t talk about his work as often as I’d like because I have a difficult time doing so. His scripts just read so breezy and effortless, and are so instantly engaging, heart-warming and clever that I can do little more than recommend anything he does if you enjoy superhero comics. I’ve said this before on the podcast, and I’m sure it’s been said plenty of other places, but pairing him with Chris Samnee has resulted in one of the greatest collaboration of his career, right up there with ‘Ringo, because Samnee draws the way Waid writes, and I can’t say it in any other way but that. Just as Frank Quietly seems to have the ability to bring to life exactly what Grant Morrison’s imagination must look like, Samnee’s beautiful brush work has the likeable, personable style of Waid’s dialogue. And when Waid does shift gears to the horrific, to the depressing, to slap-dash comedy or sweet, touching moments, Samnee handles that just as expertly. DAREDEVIL is what I want other people to think of superhero comics as, and honestly, that’s the best praise I can put on anything.
Taking things in a drastically different direction, we come to NEW AVENGERS. If I said DAREDEVIL is the book that defines the genre to me, that I would hand to other people if I wanted to show them how fun and wonderful and uplifting and honest these things can be, NEW AVENGERS is proof that even the antithesis to that is just as gripping and unforgettable. Because NA breaks a million rules – it’s sure to upset people who define IDENTITY CRISIS and CIVIL WAR as everything wrong with superhero comics – but it still tells an amazing story, and it challenges our ideas about these characters and their roles without ever feeling gimmicky or mawkish. The Illuminati, the smartest heroes of the Marvel Universe, have gathered once again to deal in secret with problems too large for the superhero community, or the world, to know about. As multiverses are breaking and dieing, the team gather the Infinity Gems in an attempt to save the world, which results in Steve Rogers breaking the Infinity Gauntlet, being exiled from the team and having his memory erased by Doctor Strange. Clearly, this isn’t Matt Murdock asking Hank Pym to shrink down to regular size so he’ll stop yelling over the phone.
However, there is nothing wrong with that, and in my estimation, it’s everything that’s great about the modern era, and what truly does it make it the ‘renaissance’ that Morrison outlined in his book, SUPERGODS. The fact that you can have a book like this alongside a light-hearted book like HAWKEYE, or the epic scope of AVENGERS, or the light-hearted fun and melodrama of ALL-NEW X-MEN…that’s what’s really great about the modern era of comics. That’s part of what makes classifying our current era so difficult – one mention of the word ‘Silver Age’ and images of gorillas and time travel are sure to pop into your head. Things are so varied now, and I think the market is stronger for it. Anyway, NEW AVENGERS may be a little too hopeless and tragic for some Marvel readers, but I think that ambiguity is what makes it as strong as it is.
Hickman has described this book as an ‘old-boy’ s club’, a bunch of ex-intelligence officers hiding in a back room over coffee and maps covered in tacs, and these characters really do fit that tone. The most memorable scene in this issue is a confrontation between Wong and Doctor Strange, where the former addresses his apprehensions to all of this bumbling around in the dark. Some of the bravest moments, though, are Hickman’s fearlessness in showing these characters as ugly people – Reed and Tony seem to have a bit of a sick jealousy of each other’s genius in an opening scene.
But the issue ends with a reaffirmation, and one that asks a lot out of the audience, too. As Galaktus appears, ready to eat one of the multiple Earth’s now appearing above 616’s skies, the team gathers to stop him, despite the fact that he’s basically doing their job for them. Terrax appears, offering an unforgettable and challenging speech about the need for superheroes and the workings of justice – do we really expect to be able to punch all of our problems away? But these guys are heroes – these guys can’t let others die, even if they inhabit a universe we know nothing about. Honestly, this book is one of the most interesting of the Marvel NOW! initiative, and definitely the smartest book to have ‘Avengers’ in the title in a long time.
ALL-NEW is getting more fun with each issue, and even if it’s a bit of a slow burn, I’m still really enjoying it. This issue sees Professor Kitty taking the 05 team on their first mission in the danger room, shocking the young heroes who are used to the hoops and floating red balls of the Lee/Kirby days. A Sentinel attack in the middle of NYC proves way too much for them to handle, and Prof. K lectures them on the need for priority and research while doing battle with anyone. Meanwhile, Mystique, disguised as Maria Hill, breaks Lady Mastermind out of confinement at S.H.I.E.L.D. Bendis characterizes Mystique in a really interesting way, and it seems more than a little inspired by Brian K. Vaughn’s run on the character. She’s given up on villains, heroes, mutants…the whole superhero game. “I want to be rich.” So she’s assembling a new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants for the exact purpose of owning a couple islands and being able to live the rest of her life in luxury. Things continue to go from bad to worse at the Jean Grey School, as Cyclops and his team of Uncanny X-men show up at the front door.
The most interesting parts of ALL-NEW are how much the characters are changing by being brought to the future. The anal, moping Scott Summers is turning into somewhat of a rebel, resenting Jean Grey’s incursions into his mind and the pressure of being the one to stop Cyclops from starting mutant genocide. Jean, meanwhile, is becoming a bit too controlling with her new-found powers. Bendis gets a lot of conflict and drama from this, and his natural gift for spontaneous sounding dialogue is perfect for the young time-traveling kids. The story occasionally feels as if it’s just rolling along at a breezy pace, rather than actually building to anything, but it’s still a lot of fun to read. Of course, Immonen does a lot of that heavy lifting – a splash page of Marvel Zombies and a two page spread of a Sentinel attack are simply unforgettable, but his character work is the star of the show. Scott storming off after a Danger Room session, Lady Mastermind assuredly draping herself against a wall after her prison break-out…perfect stuff, and often very comedic.
NOVA continues to absolutely delight me, and again, I’m really interested in why that is. A lot of people aren’t quite connecting with the book, or are finding it to be formulaic, following the standard cliché of young man getting bullied, meeting a love interest, not wanting to be where he currently is, not believing in superheroes, becoming a superhero. NOVA may be a little light on depth, but that’s never where Jeph Loeb has excelled – and I certainly don’t mean that as a negative. He writes for a certain audience, he writes summer blockbusters, he writes easily digestible comfort food. Now, for my own opinion, if readers are demanding more than that, it’s a great thing. The comics industry is always in such a terrifying state, we need to demand only the best from our material, only unique works of art created by storytellers with unique points of view. However, that doesn’t stop me from enjoying a book like NOVA – a story about a jaded, angry and confused young kid who discovers there’s more to this complicated world than he ever imagined.
I talk about this a lot, but it’s amazing how difficult it is to be amazed when reading about superheroes. They’ve been a apt of the cultural vernacular for so long that you know Superman can fly before you can even read his adventures. I’m always delighted when a superhero book reminds me just how incredible and wonderful these powers can be, and Sam flying through the night sky for the first time did that to me. Again, I do think this book wouldn’t be nearly as memorable without Ed McGuiness – his pencils capture that feeling of wide eyed wonderment, of imaginative youth so perfectly. NOVA is far from essential, but it’s incredibly enjoyable, and it’s just the kind of gateway drug that would have had me hooked as a kid.
CAPTAIN MARVEL #11 written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Christopher Sebela, art by Felipe Andrade, colour art by Jordie Bellaire, cover by Joe Quinones
CAPTAIN MARVEL improves by leaps and bounds every issue, and it’s part of what makes me so passionately motivated to see it succeed. Joined by Christopher Sebela, KSD hands in her finest story yet in the series – due to a danger of hemorrhaging, Carol Danvers has been ordered by a doctor to quit flying. Her friends try to hook her up with a fancy new flying motorcycle, which she is adamant to learn how to fly, despite being pretty spectacularly bad at doing so. It’s a hilarious scene, but it’s just one of many really memorable moments – a new Deathbird has been stalking Captain Marvel, sent out by a mysterious assailant, while Carol also has to deal with her landlord wanting her out of the building, figuring a super villain attack is waiting around the corner.
The really interesting thing about this issue is the structure. Serial story-telling doesn’t normally work so well with that – these stories are meant to have no end, or at least last as long as the public is interested. So a typical three-act structure is rare to be found, which unfortunately results in some writers abusing this privilege. Quiet, character-focused issues are always welcome, but with the increasing cost of a comic book habit, it can be frustrating reading a book that seems to lack direction. DeConnick and Sebela deliver such a tight, well-crafted story I could do little more than marvel at it – the scenes balance perfectly, and all of them tie into one another. A young neighbour in a familiar costume, a mysterious visitor, an ominous meeting at a park bench…it’s not something I can explain in words, but it’s a real blast once you see what they’re doing with it all.
Andrade does some wonderful work in this book – the last time I saw his art was as fill-in on ULTIMATE COMICS X-MEN, and I didn’t feel he was right for that series. But he absolutely shines in CAPTAIN MARVEL – the expression on Carol’s face when she learns she can longer fly, after some initial denial, is fantastic. I particularly love the people he fills her world with – they all feel like they’re real people, with their own back story and own unique ways of dressing themselves, of moving and expressing. His style is certainly a unique one, and many of the readers in the letters column have some passionate words against him, but his work is clear, kinetic and original.
I know a lot of the wonderful folks in the X-fan community are firmly rallying against this book, and I really can’t blame them. Unfortunately, I love it. I don’t want to say anything that will put me in a light I don’t mean to be in, but I do think everything Cho is doing is all in good fun, and I actually don’t find anything sexist about it. Many of these same jokes are used freely in both the IRON MAN comics and movies, and it seems to be accepted. The humour in the book doesn’t feel as cheap as you might expect, either – an early scene with Amadeus Cho is charming and character-driven, and we find ourselves laughing with Amadeus, imagining our shy and awkward selves in his situation, rather than laughing at the women around him. But I digress. SAVAGE WOLVERINE is a pure pulp adventure, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything but. If you’re looking for a deeper and more complicated book, for one, you maybe you should stay away from comics with WOLVERINE in the title. But in all honesty, Cornell and Davis’ series looks to be just that.
FIVE GHOSTS is a wonderful book, complete with a brilliant and simply executed high-concept idea, all while telling a tragic story and creating an immersive, wonderful world for lucky readers to spend time in. Fabian Gray is a dashing young adventurer with the spirit of five ‘literary ghosts’ in side of him; Merlin, Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, Miyamoto Musashi, and Dracula. He can summon these powers at any time, using which ever suits the current problem he finds himself in; and boy, does he find himself in a couple of pickles. Barbiere swings across all corners of Pulp, from vicious savages to dark and mysterious fortresses. In fact, as a whole, FIVE GHOSTS feels like a journey through this weird corner of literature, and never really veers into the parody the way you think it will. It’s a sincere and straightforward story of a broken man trying to make up for a wrong that led his sister to be frozen in a permanent stasis, using his wondrous powers to corner the globe to find a cure, getting in plenty of adventures and meeting scores of beautiful women along the way. Mooneyham’s art is perfectly suited for the story – it really does look like a lost Kubert gem. It’s not normally legal to have as much fun as you will reading FIVE GHOSTS, so for three dollars and a half, go have yourself some crazy fun.
“We’re the kind of book that calls an arc ‘DEATH OF EVERYONE’ and don’t kill off any characters.” That comment in the letters pages really says it all. The 101st issue continues to tell a completely unique superhero story, proving that the genre shouldn’t just be limited to the constraints of the Big Two publishers. Kirkman opens up with a fascinating scene, again look at the central theme of the book – that our independence and capability to love our the only thing humans have worth fighting for. Thragg belittles his soldiers for being swayed by the human ways – one has now decided her body is her choice, and refuses to procreate with the humans to create more Viltrumites, while another has fallen in love and devoted himself to monogamy, refusing to offer his seed in support of the Viltrumite cause. It’s a really fascinating scene, contrasted wonderfully by the other side of human love; incredible, awkward pain. Eve has just revealed herself to be pregnant, and this time, she’s going to keep the baby.
It’s interesting that, in the course of 100 issues, I’ve found myself less and less captivated by Mark Grayson. Now, this isn’t a knock against a creative team or even a complaint; just an observation that I surprised myself with during this issue. The scenes with the Viltrumites, or Cecil’s interactions with Nolan and Debbie, or even Robot’s sense of betrayal after what Mark did…these were the scenes that gripped me, and Mark’s frequent on again/off again allegiances with Cecil, his bumbling attempts at maturity regarding Eve…I suddenly realized I’m not as invested in his future. Either way, I love this comic. The art team is as terrific as always, especially having one of my favourite letterers, the incomparable Rus Wooton. And as always, even among the more serious themes and melodramatic moments, Kirkman and Ottley bring the funny. One of Kaboomerang’s …er, exploding boomerangs bouncing off of Mark’s cheek is hilarious.
As I mentioned last week, I know next to nothing about the wider STAR WARS universe. I’ve read a couple of the paperback novels, and I did find them really enjoyable, but for whatever reason, I lack the dedication shared by so many fans of the franchise. But Dark Horse got my attention throwing some of my favourite talents on their newest books, first with Brian Wood on the simply titled STAR WARS, and now the team of Bechko/Hardman/Rosenberg, who never fail to create beautiful music together. Rosenberg has been one of my favourite colourists for a couple of years now, and I’ve bought anything with Hardman’s name on it since I saw his artwork in Jeff Parker’s ATLAS series. This issue takes place a hundred years and some change after the events of the original trilogy, with the descendant of Leia Organa and Han Solo now the proud owner of a junkyard. After the discovery of a lightsabre, she vows to get out of her modest junkyard origins and make something of herself. Bechko and Hardman tell a story with plenty of action, intrigue and heart; everything you could want from a STAR WARS story. Even if I found myself lost in some of the points of mythos, this was still a really fun comic, beautiful to look at and a blast to read, and I can’t wait for more.
Well, that’s it for this week! If you’d like to discuss Wonder Woman’s confrontation with Hermes, Banner’s romantic inclinations with anti-Atumma revolutionaries, Mephisto’s dislike of hissing servants, or any other titles you enjoyed and think I should be reading, leave a comment below!