Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lead Me to Your Comics, Gonna Read 'Em Alphabetically

Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #3 of 5: The only problem I didn't have with Kaare Andrews' Spider-Man: Reign was the art. And even though his art is not as...pronounced (for lack of a better term) here, it's still excellent, although I think the cover to this issue is kinda...I dunno exactly, but Emma's boobs just look weird. It provokes a reaction in me not dissimilar to my friend Lauren's newfound interest in corset and waist-training.

It seems there's been a theme lately in a lotta comics that Africa is kind of a sucky place to be. A lotta super-powered Idi Amins seem to be cropping up lately. You could see this as a disturbing trend, exploiting the vast Otherness of the dark continent for mere thrills and chills. But I think Warren Ellis' script--especially that concerning the villain here, a certain Dr. Crocodile--is less exploitative and more expositional. Like, instead of callously exploiting, it's actually more shining a light on why Africa seems ripe for this sort of treatment in comics today. Or maybe since making Middle Easterners the bad guys is so 1987, western pop culture has turned its sights a little further south.

In any event, this is still a good book, even if it adheres to its strict whenever-we-get-around-to-it publishing schedule.

The Avengers (vol. 4) #5: I know it's been said a million times by now, but how many disasters can the city of New York deal with? While they've got Galactus and a bunhca other anomalies running rampant in this book, New Yorkers are also facing demons and an apparently evil Ancient One in New Avengers. Makes the summer of '77 look like a day at Palisades Park.

That Brian Michael Bendis is more or less in charge of the Marvel Universe nowadays, I wouldn't have it any other way, really. He seems to have an nearly omniscient grasp on continuity, and his dialogue is as cracking as ever. But I think he may be starting to spread himself too thin. Especially if you consider this story-line--Kang, what with all his battles with Ultron and other Marty McFly sports almanac shenanigans, has all but destroyed the space-time continuum. That could be pretty easily read into the Marvel universe as a whole, y'know? The center cannot hold. Of course, it's kinda like the "Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie" episode of The Simpsons, where if you're paying attention, you'll see the writers are saying, "Please let us put this show to pasture already. The well has run dry (to mix farm metaphors)!" And of course, that'll never happen.

Oh, well. John Romita Jr. pencils with Klaus Janson inks, anyways.

Avengers Academy #4 Now here's an Avengers book I can sink my teeth into, not unlike its predecessor, Avengers: The Initiative, which writer Christos Gage also worked on. Gage has got a very workman-like writing style, which I mean as the highest of accolades. There's no flash-bang style, y'know, the dialogue is witty without ever being precocious, and it serves to move the plot along at a good clip. This book has introduced several new characters, super-powered teenagers that Norman Osborn had sought to exploit while he was in power. Now, Hank Pym is in charge of them, and they're not entirely sure if he's not really just out to do the same.

This is why Marvel's comics continue to strike a chord with so many. Spider-Man, the X-Men, all of these are pretty much just kids becoming adults, and they're trying to find their way in a fucked-up world. There's still the backdrop of action and adventure like in the Golden Age, but there's no overstating how vital it is to the story-telling process to have relatable characters. Even guys like The Punisher, The Thing, Wolverine, the Hulk--they're all pretty much broken people, trying to put things back together in some way that makes sense to them, and really, most of the time, failing miserably. It's so depressing sometimes it makes me want to do cartwheels, I'm not even kidding.

Black Widow #6: I grabbed this up because Duane Swierczynski wrote it, but I dunno. For one thing, the spy genre has never really done it for me. Gadgets and subterfuge are neat and all, but they're most often set into these world-spanning crises that are mostly political (as opposed to the Devourer-of-Worlds-type crises), and almost anything political puts me to sleep. The art in this book is passable, but nothing to write home about. Just kinda meh, all around.

CBGB OMFUG #3 of 4: I was re-reading those Instant Piano stories that Evan Dorkin
and Kyle Baker did back in the early '90s where they would review shows they'd gone to, and every time they went to CB's, they would totally trash it, calling it overrated and overhyped and overpriced and over-whatever. Now, I never got to go there at all, but like most know-nothing punk rockers, I still revere the Bowery club that birthed such bands as the Ramones. At the same time, I'm a grown-up, and I realize that most things/people/places that are held reverent are usually done so for no real reason. In other words, they're overrated, overhyped, etc., etc. Especially for punk, this is a real dumb attitude, despite its ubiquitousness.

The first couple of issues of this mini-series, though, have managed to devote more energy to what CBGB represented, especially in its early days. The club, for better or worse, has come to not only represent punk rock in the minds of many, but also that weird cultural evolutionary period of the late '70s/early '80s, when a lot of the hippies' children were coming of age and realizing how full of shit their parents were, however "groovy" they may have been at one time. And this is obviously an attitude that transcends generations, not to speak of cultures and geography. So this mini is a real neat tribute to one of the places where all of these artists, etc., crossed paths and led onward into the murky gray of the latter decades of the 20th century.

Just this issue kinda blows, is all.

Fantastic Four #583: A lot of people, myself included, were excited to see the return of the letters page to many favorite titles. But at this point, I think we should go back to not giving the average reader a venue to voice his opinion. Not to sound superior, but these people are fucking idiots and should be soundly ignored.

All right, that's a little harsh. But it can be extremely frustrating to give this wide-reaching forum to the same old crybaby fanboy-types who all basically like things as they were, never as they are or might be. Personally, I'm a big fan of where writer Jonathan Hickman has been taking this title, but that doesn't mean I won't listen to contrary opinions. I only ask that these be (heaven forfend!) well thought out and sensible opinions, not varying degrees of "I don't like it, wah." Simple whining never solves anything and is just embarrassing for all involved. Why you'd want that published in a high-circulation comic periodical is beyond me.

G.I. Combat featuring the Haunted Tank #1: This fifth-week series from DC is pretty good times all around. Well, actually, I passed on the first issue because I was buying a ton of other books that week and, frankly, it just looked pretty bad. But the subsequent one-shots have been pretty good, this one being no exception. Even for a guy like me who's pretty much O.D.'ed on World War II stories, this book has got a solid story, good art, just an all-around smart purchase.

Hit Monkey #3 of 3: If you told me, "Hey, Marvel's coming out with a book about a monkey who becomes a hitman," I'd go, "Hey, quit trying to keep me from buying Marvel." But then if you said, "Hey, Daniel Way created and is writing it," I'd say, "Well, of course." Only Way could take an idea as dumb as this and make it work. And sure enough he did. Would you expect pathos and emotion from a book with the synopsis above? That would be a big no, but there it is, plain as day. Also, Way writes Bullseye into this story, which hearkens me back to Way's earliest comics, and is just good times all around.

Hulk #25: I woulda thought for sure this book would be aced after the World War Hulks storyline, but I guess the Red Hulk has proved to be a pretty popular character. I'm grateful because it gives Jeff Parker yet another monthly to write, and I'm liking his stuff more and more all the time. He's teamed up again with artist Gabriel Hardman in this issue, and it's a very well done transition from that tumultuous story-arc mentioned above. There's plenty of scenes between General Ross and Bruce Banner, and their on-going hatred for each other is now taken to new levels, which is good since that rivalry's been going on for almost fifty years now.

There's a little back-up story featuring Rick Jones which was kind of a let-down. I mean, the story is good and all, and the art's fine, but it takes place in San Diego. As a resident of that fair metropolis, I always get a little excited when my hometown makes it into a movie or a comic or something. But then when the city is pretty much represented as a harbor and a couple of palm trees, it's a bummer. I mean, for one thing, it'd be nice to see where I live depicted in a funny book, and then I can somehow rationalize that I myself am in a Marvel comic. But also, it cuts my suspension of disbelief. I know I'm in the minority here, y'know, not everybody who reads this book is gonna know what San Diego looks like for reals and isn't gonna think much of how it's drawn here. But even so, once I see that this is just a couple buildings on a waterfront, I'm reminded that I'm just reading a comic, and it just yanks me out of the story. And who wants that?

Nemesis #3: There seem to be almost as many reasons to hate writer Mark Millar as there are people who do hate him. Me, I couldn't care less, really. The guy does seem something of a tool, but it's not like I have to hang out with him or anything. It does get up my back sometimes that he doesn't seem to really give a shit about comics, that they're just a springboard into Hollywood for him. But first of all, again, what do I care? He's not gonna destroy comics single-handedly with this attitude, and I sure as hell am not required to see the god-awful flicks his comics properties have spawned.

But also, the guy continues to put out comics, unlike others who seemed to have jumped ship completely at this point (i.e. Brian K. Vaughan, J. Michael Straczynski), and they also continue to be high quality books. He works with artists like Steve McNiven, whose talents speak for themselves, and to judge by the sample script pages in the back of this issue, he sure seems to give these guys free reign to do what they want creatively. He also effectively deconstructs the superhero genre, which I theorize is exactly why a lot of hard-core comics fans hate him. I love superheroes as much as the next dork, but you can slaughter my sacred cows all you want. In fact, I insist on it most of the time, if my fealty to Garth Ennis is any sign. Anytime a creative team depicts superheroes fucking or swearing or doing anything else that'd make Kal-El blush, I know I hear a lotta grumbling down at the comic shop. And say what you wanna about Millar, at least he's not as big a pussy as those guys.

Secret Avengers #5: Ugh. Seriously, I'm on espionage overload. I've been a huge fan of Ed Brubaker's for years now, and I still really like that I always get a sense of glee from his scripts because he's writing Captain America stories. But this fuckin' evil twin shit is getting boring. I think I'm junking this book.

Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow #2 of 3: Colleen Wing has always been pretty much a C-list character, so it's nice to see her getting more of the spotlight here. This group of lady ninjas is pretty fun to read, even though I still find it hard to believe that bad-ass Japanese girls always wear little school-girl outfits, despite Quentin Tarantino as well as my raging libido insisting otherwise. Also, this is a good twist on this crossover, where Daredevil has pretty much become the villain. In this series, we see Colleen's point of view, which is that DD's new martial law in Hell's Kitchen may have some really positive points. Overall, you pretty much know those aren't gonna outweigh his fascistic leanings by the end of the story. But it's refreshing to see a little more of this viewpoint than I think you normally would.

Shadowland: Moon Knight #2 of 3: I think Shadowland is the first major Marvel crossover wherein I've purchased every single title since the goddamn Infinity War. And so far that hasn't been a bad thing, but this book is definitely the weak link. For one thing, I was never the hugest Moon Knight fan. And Gregg Hurwitz is a good writer and normally I'd say the character is in capable hands, but I dunno. See, it's like this: these characters tend to go through some very screwy changes over the course of their existence. About fifteen years ago, The Punisher became possessed by a pony-tail wearing demon, and nowadays he's a Frankenstein monster, of all things. And he's one of Marvel's bigger guns. When you get down to the more low-rent heroes, like Moon Knight, they get all kindsa re-writes and re-boots and re-what-have-you.

So it seems like Hurwitz is trying to pull a judo move on all that and cram all the past character changes into Marc Spector's head as a multiple-personality disorder. And while I still think that's a really good idea, it doesn't come off that well in the execution. It just comes off as vague and confused. A valiant effort, but not quite there. There's only one issue left, so I'll stick it out, especially with the neat stuff Hurwitz is doing with the god Khonshu. But over all, an A for effort.

Ultimate Spider-Man (vol. 2) #14: (I know this isn't technically alphabetical, but in my filing system, this goes under Spider-Man, Ultimate. Take it up with my OCD if you don't like it.)

Back when Marvel started up the Ultimate line (basically, a full re-boot of the Marvel Universe, for those of you not in the know), people flipped their lids. A lotta guys did not want their precious characters messed with. This is silly for any number of reasons, not the least of which being that none of these books at all replaced the ones that had been going on for years. They're just kind of a sidebar, and they really open up the possibilities for the characters. Writers are able to re-tell some of their favorite parts of Marvel lore and add any twists they see fit. It's like a really, really good cover band.

Ultimate Spider-Man under the helm of Brian Michael Bendis has pretty much always been the best of the line, and one of the few to survive the mass cancellation of various Ultimate titles last year. Hell, it may be the only one, I think. Anyways, I wouldn't have thought he'd missed a trick, that Bendis, until this arc when he introduces The Chameleon. Man, how did I not notice his absence before? He was Spider-Man's first super-villain, for chrissakes. And not only that, but in this universe, good ol' Ruby Thursday is his sister. What a great idea. This is why I like the Ultimate line: in regular continuity, Ruby Thursday is just kind of a re-hash of The Chameleon, a female version of the evil shape-shifter. So in the Ultimate line, we can kinda correct that, and just make them related. Makes perfect sense, don't it?

Well, it does to me, anyways.

Thor #615: I didn't realize how much I'd missed this book or character until they finally brought him back a couple of years ago. And it also seems like these Marvel guys have really been reading up on their Norse mythology, introducing aspects of the pantheon that I'd never heard of before. And since Marvel Comics is about as close as I'm ever going to get to religion, I can use all the additional info I can get.

This is also Matt Fraction's first issue as writer, and I've been enjoying his stuff since his indie book tribute to Charley Varrick on AiT called Last of the Independents. Right away, Fraction brings a kind of younger, more hep sensibility to the book than Kieron Gillen preceding him, or even J. Michael Straczynski before him (although both of those guys parted quite a bit from the old "thee, thine and thou" characterizations that Stan Lee and Larry Lieber set down way back in the day and which nobody moved from for the next forty years). This is not a bad thing at all. Also, Fraction likes to take time with the sub-plots, opting for point-of-view characters who are fairly insignificant to the over-all story, but which provide a pretty unique take. That sorta Citizen Kane thing is fairly standard in a lotta regular literature, but I sure don't see enough of it in the funny pages, I can tell you that.

Ultimate Mystery #3: So, like I was saying, the Ultimate universe is pretty much over with. In case you missed it, Magneto went nuts for good and killed millions of people, and a buncha other characters bit the big one, like Wolverine
and Nightcrawler and Daredevil. Normally, that would be that, y'know, we'd all move on to the fiftieth or sixtieth Avengers title and forget all about that other imprint, like New Universe, 2099, or Heavy Hitters.

But I kinda like that this title seeks to cross all the t's and dot all the i's of the aftermath of Ultimatum. Ultimate Fantastic Four may have been nixed, but let's check in on the characters and, oh what the hell, throw a few curveballs their way. So now these parallel characters have really changed. This isn't a book I couldn't live without, but it's interesting to see how these books are getting on in the line's afterlife.

Uncanny X-Men #528: Uh-oh, Africa's at it again.

Hope, the first mutant born since M-Day, is now no longer the only mutant to have been born since M-Day. Mutant children are cropping up all over the place, and this issue finds a new X-recruit in deepest, darkest Africa. Of course, the backwards militaristic junta is convinced she is a witch and is trying to kill her. So Storm has to go in and hand them their asses. Again, I don't really have a problem with this set-up or anything. Wherever you go in the world, there are gonna be shitheels with guns. But it just seems to be cropping up a lot lately (or maybe I'm just harboring some residual resentment over the cancellation of Unknown Soldier). And then, call me nuts here, but to have Storm handle things just seems too easy. I know she was born in Africa, but for all intents and purposes, she was raised as a westerner. Maybe back in the Claremont/Byrne days, she was more of an outsider, but she's all acclimated now, I'd say. And yes, she's queen of Wakanda now, but if anything, that puts her even further out of touch with the indigenous peoples, no? Having Storm go clean up the mess in Africa just smacks too much of white guilt, that's all. Or maybe it's my own white guilt that makes me feel that way.

On the other hand, there's more Kitty Pryde in this issue, which makes me glad. She begins to get into it a bit with the White Queen as well, which is great because I've been getting kinda bored with her, so having her interact more with Kitten piques my interest.

I'm still not sure I like Namor being considered a mutant these days. I know he's technically been considered Marvel's first mutant for some time and all, but isn't he more of like a halfling or something? Also, and I dunno why this never occurred to me before, the guy has a real thing for blondes, don't he? Namora, Susan Richards, Emma Frost. I'm surprised he hasn't put the moves on Magick yet. Probably because Colossus would fuck him up.

Man, I think about this stuff way too much sometimes.