What I’m Reading 0026: 1/27/14 – TWO-FISTED EDITION!

Two weeks of comics reviews coming at you–BOOM! POW! A VERITABLE SMORGASBORD OF SNARKY, REVIEWY GOODNESS!! LET’S DO THIS!! By which I mean, let’s start with a trifecta of zombie-infested reads…

1. Empire of the Dead #1 (Marvel, W: George Romero, A: Alex Maleev). You read that right: THE GEORGE A. ROMERO is writing a zombie comic. Sounds legit, right? Well, yes and no. Bringing Hollywood-types into the realm of comics to write, and expecting them to be able to pull it off with the same skill and aplomb that they do in their day job often yields mixed results at best. Sure, for every J. Michael Straczynski who turns out a successful comics-writing career, there’s a whole slew of Heroes writers waiting to crash and burn in their turns at Marvel (ahem). Thankfully, Romero proves to be adept at translating a story script-to-panel. So what, then, does the master and progenitor of all things zombie-related give us in his turn in the funnybooks business? Not surprisingly, a zombie comic that’s set in the cinematic world of the undead he’s created. However, don’t mistake this for co-existing with the Marvel Universe (Marvel Zombies covered that nicely), either. This is a brand extension of what Romero’s been doing for nearly fifty years now, and the comic doesn’t hesitate to remind you by throwing in a bit of a twist on a classic scene from Night of the Living Dead that ties one of the comic’s protagonists back to that original film. It’s a nice touch, but a bit forced and unnecessary. Empire sees all of Long Island overrun by zombies, but also under a sketchily-defined marshall law. These zombies aren’t the ravenous, constant threats we’re accustomed to. But rather, they’re almost docile, unthreatening until threatened. The human populace has become so accustomed to their shuffling presence that they almost don’t register as a threat. Think Shawn of the Dead minus the humor and pointed social critique. This begs the question, which is the fuel that propels the series: can a zombie be taught to be human again? It’s an intriguing set-up, and just for added spice, Romero throws a second supernatural curveball in at the end, which could prove to be interesting or incredibly lame. Alex Maleev  Although my mind wasn’t blown, it was a decent enough read that I’ll be back for more. As for Romero, I don’t expect he’ll give up his day job anytime soon, but the fact that the master himself is writing a zombie comic–and not sucking at it–is cause enough for celebration. Score: 7/10.

2. Afterlife With Archie #3 (Archie Comics, W: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, A: Francesco Francavilla). With all the hype, how could I NOT check it out? But damned if Afterlife With Archie doesn’t prove to be a well-executed, mood-drenched piece of zombie fiction. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel by any means, and revels in its tropes. But that’s actually the book’s strength: taking well-worn zombie standards and applying them to the sugary-sweet world of Riverdale is a move that could have failed miserably, if writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa weren’t taking it all so seriously. There’s a pervasive sense of dread permeating every panel of this book, creating an ominous mood that not only can’t be escaped, but also sets the tone for every scene. Artist Francesco Francavilla can be thanked for that, whose retro-noir style is utterly perfect for this book (although I’m a bit disappointed that this gig has apparently stalled the second volume of his Black Beetle). Aguirre-Sacasa isn’t playing it safe, either, just because these are classic characters: without spoiling anything, another of the iconic Archie cast meets a grisly fate this issue. My one real complaint is that Archie himself seems a bit undefined this issue, although that may be my own fault for coming in at issue three. But he doesn’t have much personality other than “resourceful guy who cares about others.” However, that said, it may only seem that way because the supporting cast takes center stage this issue. It’s great seeing the likes of Betty and Veronica treated like real people instead of the cartoon characters they’ve come to be known as over the decades. This comic seemed like a mere gimmick when first announced, but Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla have turned out a solid, if not wholly original, addition to the zombie sub-genre. Score: 8/10.

3. The Walking Dead #120 (Image, W: Robert Kirkman, A: Charlie Adlard). Halfway through “All-Out War,” and the casualties continue to pile up as Negan and his Saviors take the fight to Rick and company. Scorched earth is the name of the game, and the sanctity of their home is thrown into jeopardy. Nary a zombie is to be seen, but with the walls on fire, it’s just a matter of time. Accusations of Kirkman repeating the prison story here aren’t entirely unfounded, but there are critical differences: this is a Rick Grimes who is far more wise and world-weary, and determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past. He’s organized, a true leader, not just someone thrown into the role by circumstance. Negan, too, is a far different threat than the Governor was: whereas the latter was an unpredictable psychopath, the former is a “mere” sociopath, capable of planning, organizing, and rallying his troops into becoming disciplined military units rather than just rabble with guns. Also, the cost of losing is far greater here: whereas the prison was always acknowledged as a temporary safe haven at best, in Alexandria, Rick, Carl, and the rest have carved out a true life for themselves where they can thrive and return to a semblance of normality. That Negan threatens that existence makes him a greater threat than the Governor ever was. BUT… all that analysis doesn’t mean this issue isn’t without its problems. There’s a sense of “been there, done that” in some of the story beats–from Rick’s panic over the possibility that Carl has been injured to the mangling of several of the supporting cast in many a gruesome way. And that doesn’t help quell the accusations that Kirkman’s merely repeating himself with this arc. Is the man out of ideas? Hell, no, and “All-Out War” is going to inevitably lead to the next phase of this book’s evolution–potentially setting up the third act, as it were. (I count the first act as ending with the fall of the prison, and the second act potentially concluding with this story. We’ll see.) Most stories have a bit of drag in the middle, as it serves to set up the conclusion. That sense is keenly felt in this issue, which winds up being decent and readable, but hardly an essential chapter of the overall story. Score: 6/10.

4. Amazing X-Men #3 (Marvel, W: Jason Aaron, A:Ed McGuinness). That Jason Aaron is leaving the vastly superior Wolverine and the X-Men to write this drivel makes me despise the book on principle despite its overall lazy execution. To whit: the X-men fight pirate demons in limbo, all in the service of bringing Nightcrawler back from the dead in a whimsical manner that fits his character. They fight pirate demons this issue, that’s it. Sure, there is a great action sequence featuring Nightcrawler in all his bamf-tastic glory, but that’s about it. Ed McGuinness’s art is as nauseatingly cartoony as usual–shouldn’t this guy be working in animation rather than drawing comics? But that’s a matter of personal taste. Again, it’s Aaron’s paper-thin plot that dogs this book. Maybe it will gain some momentum once Nightcrawler’s back from the land beyond, but at this point, it’s a mash note to that titular character that’s far more style than substance. Score: 3/10.

5. All-New X-Factor #1 & 2 (Marvel, W: Peter David, A: Carmine Di Giandomenico). If Peter David wanted to simultaneously justify the end of his previous volume of X-Factor and wow me with the debut of this iteration, he’s off to an extremely poor start. We’re introduced to Serval Industries, a Google-like conglomerate that’s decided to extend its ethos of improving peoples’ lives by starting its own team of mutant superheroes. They initially induct Polaris and Quicksilver, the former of whom recruits Gambit, currently on the outs with Wolverine the Jean Grey School. (Apparently, it’s frowned upon to be both a teacher and a professional thief.) Polaris’ recruitment method involves coming up to Remy in a greasy spoon and sitting down with him in order to talk Serval up. If that scene sounds familiar, that’s because it’s been played out a hundred times before in other stories. Likewise, every other beat in this plot has been equally beaten to death in comics: from the torture of mutants for scientific gain to the seeming benevolence of Serval that’s too good to be true, there’s nothing here we haven’t seen before. Even David seems bored: his dialogue, usually full of clever wit and turns of phrase, is dull, drab, and not particularly exciting. Di Giandomenico’s art is stylish, but doesn’t do much to help the proceedings either, lacking any real pop to grab the reader. Issue one in particular ends with one of the most jaw-droppingly inane cliffhangers I’ve ever read, relying on the surprise reveal of a character who, at best, is a D-lister from ’90s. Yet David treats her appearance as if we’re supposed to care beyond measure. Seriously, what editor approved this? Did David promise, “Don’t worry, I got it,” and that was good enough? And on David’s end of things, why in the hell did he think this was good enough for mass release? He’s one of the medium’s most talented writers, but he clearly didn’t bring his A-game. Given time, the great Peter David could certainly turn it around. But today’s market is far less forgiving of subpar comics, and cancellation will certainly be in this book’s future if David doesn’t turn it around quick. Score: 2/10.

6. Uncanny X-Men #16 (Marvel, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Chris Bachalo). Issues like this rely on the perception that comic readers have short attention spans. It really wasn’t that long ago that Magneto was the ruler of the all-mutant nation of Genosha (before it got blowed up real good by Grant Morrison), yet here, when Mystique has done the same thing and turned Madripoor into the same, Magneto flips his shit because of some imagined slight involving the more underhanded means by which she accomplished the task. So, okay, I get his moral objection. My qualm is that this is MAG-FUCKING-NETO, and he has the keys to a sovereign mutant nation right in front of him, and he’s made because… what? Mystique is posing as Dazzler? She cut a deal with Hydra to purchase control of the island? What? Sorry, but that just doesn’t wash. It’s the thinnest of rationalizations for him to angrily assault her, Sabretooth, and Blob, and to reject Madripoor altogether. It’s also a callous set-up for the upgoing Magneto ongoing series. Ultimately, issues like this may make sense to newer readers who don’t have much of a sense of the X-Men’s history, but for anyone with a working knowledge of the characters, it’s eye-rollingly lazy. At least Chris Bachalo’s art is on point. Score: 4/10.

7. All-New X-Men #21 & 22.NOW (Marvel, W: Bendis, A: Brandon Peterson & Brent Anderson [#21], Stuart Immonen [#22.NOW]). So continue the adventures of the Young X-Men, merrily trampling their way across many a decade of established continuity because Marvel needed a big selling point to coincide with Bendis’s arrival on the X-books. Good thing he’s at least got focus now on this book, what with the X-kids fighting anti-mutant religious bigots and the addition of X-23 to the cast. Things continue to unravel for Jean Grey, who recently discovered all the horror she’s in for, made worse by the arrival of the Guardians of the Galaxy in issue 22.NOW. But here’s what works: by allowing the original X-Men to witness the crazy scope of what they’re in for, we readers are treated to characters who react realistically to the revelation of how insane their lives are destined to become. It’s the age-old question: if your teenage self could see what you’ve become as an adult, how would he or she react? How would the revelations of destiny affect them? Well, they’d get pissy and/or sullen, most likely. But having these characters respond in realistic ways and act like real human beings rather than snarky tabula rasas is what’s turning the book around. A fascinating new spin on what makes the X-Men great. Score: 7/10.

8. Thor: God of Thunder #17 (Marvel, W: Jason Aaron, A: Ron Garney & Emanuela Lupacchino). Sweet Christmas, does Jason Aaron knock it out of the park with the conclusion of “The Accursed!” With all the cards on the table and all the players in the same room, everything comes to a head in the least predictable fashion possible. Which of course I won’t spoil! And the stage is set for an even more epic confrontation, one that might just involve… Nah! Not telling!  But holy crap is it going to be cool. This arc has suffered for lack of a consistent artist, but Emanuela Lupacchino proves to be the most capable among them. It’s a shame she wasn’t tasked for the entire story, as opposed to the banal and untalented Ron Garney. As I’ve stated before, Jason Aaron is writing the premiere superhero book of his career, and frankly, it’s second only to Scalped as his greatest work of all. But who knows? Time will certainly tell, and the son of Odin could prove to be the mightiest of them all. Score: 8/10.

QUICK HITS:

9. Daredevil #35 (Marvel, W: Mark Waid, A: Chris Samnee). The other shoe drops. With one more issue to go on this volume, Mark Waid has Daredevil do the last thing anyone would expect. If you think I’m telling you, you’re nuts. But the oft-overused phrase “everything changes” DEFINITELY applies. Score: 9/10.

10. Velvet #3 (Marvel, W: Ed Brubaker, A: Steve Epting). Image continues its string of hits by letting Brubaker & Epting do what they do best: tell a kick-ass spy story. Not only is this one of the best books out right now, it’s easily the best book Brubaker’s written in about three years AND one of the strongest with a female lead. DO NOT be left behind when this book takes off. Score: 10/10.

11. Astro City #8 (DC/Vertigo, W: Kurt Busiek, A: Brent Anderson). When her world begins to crumble around her, Winged Victory’s allies, Samaritan and the Confessor, come out of the woodwork to come to her aid. Winged Victory has always been a very womens’-lib focused version of Wonder Woman, and it’s outstanding to see what happens when the entire life she’s built for herself around those principles is torn apart. The best AC has been since it’s Vertigo debut. Score: 8/10.

12. The Massive #19 (Dark Horse, W: Brian Wood, A: Garry Brown). Dying of cancer and his entire belief system thrown into chaos after the events of “Longboat,” Callum Israel is determined to die on his own terms, which leads to him pursuing the crazy man who threatens his entire operation. This book is now firing on all cylinders as it approaches its conclusion and playing to all of Wood’s strengths as a writer: deep, nuanced characterizations, and rich, fully-defined worlds. A wonderful sleeper book that deserves wider recognition, much more so than Wood’s vastly overrated X-MenScore: 8/10.

13. Wonder Woman #27 (DC, W: Brian Azzarello, A: Cliff Chiang). I’m not sure when exactly Brian Azzarello’s masterful Wonder Woman devolved into an irritatingly convoluted soap opera, but that’s where we are. The supporting cast has overrun the book and there’s no clear notion as to whose motivations are what anymore. Still better than 99% of DC’s other output, though. Score: 5/10.

14. Hawkeye #16 (Marvel, W: Matt Fraction, A: Annie Wu). I’ll give it up to Matt Fraction: for all this book’s recent problems, he still managed one hell of a great issue here. (Even if it did ship before #15 for some stupid reason.) It’s essentially a love letter to mentally-ill Beach Boy Brian Wilson and his lost masterpiece album “Smile,” all wrapped up in a mystery Kate Bishop must solve. Kate’s less obnoxious this issue than in her previous solo jaunt, and every loving nod to Wilson rings perfectly and true. This one deserves to be up for an Eisner. Score: 10/10.

15. Wolverine and the X-Men #40 (Marvel, W: Jason Aaron, A: Pepe Larraz). With only two more issues to go until Jason Latour steps up to the plate, Jason Aaron positions himself to go out on a high note and not only give us a coda for what makes the Jean Grey School so special, but also starts Wolverine and Cyclops down the road to mending their friendship. While kicking Sentinel ass. It’s X-nerd heaven. Score: 9/10.

16. X-Men #9 (Marvel, W: Brian Wood, A: Terry Dodson). All right, the hype on this book has officially worn off for me. Brian Wood’s all-female X-squad needs to start coming into its own. The story is so nuanced, it feels like nothing is happening. Worse still, the villains are completely unoriginal and uninteresting. Arkea is about as threatening as Ikea. Yawn. Score: 5/10.

17. Captain America (Marvel, W: Rick Remender, A: Carlos Pacheco). The Mandarin, I mean, the Iron Nail wreaks all sorts of havoc in this issue as for once, a writer treats Nuke like an actual human being instead of a colorless, flag-waving obstacle to be overcome. Cap’s still in bad shape after the events of the Dimension Z arc, weary and quick to anger. Remender’s approach to the character may be unorthodox, but it’s working, relevant, and excellent. Score: 7/10.

18. Avengers #25 (Marvel, W: Jonathan Hickman, A: Salvador Larroca). Jonathan Hickman decides to steal from the X-Men treasure chest and have the original Avengers show up. No, it’s not time travel–it’s an alternate dimension version. Close enough to still reek. Score: 4/10.

19. Avengers World #2 (Marvel, W: Jonathan Hickman & Nick Spencer, A: Stefano Caselli). Stefano Caselli’s always-stellar artwork saves what could have been an otherwise drab affair. In the midst of some AIM Island shenanigans, under-utilized rookie Avenger Smasher gets the spotlight, and the generational results are oddly DC-ish. Which isn’t such a bad thing for Marvel to co-opt, since DC has completely abandoned the concept of generational heroism. I’m still waiting for this title to distinguish itself from Avengers proper, though. Score: 6/10.

20. All-New Invaders #1 (Marvel, W: James Robinson, A: Steve Pugh). This comic exists solely to appeal to the nostalgia factor of a certain sect of comics fans. Jim Hammond, the original Human Torch, is sad and mopey out in the sticks when he’s attacked by a Kree warrior who’s in search of his piece of a Maguffin that, of course, ties back to World War II. The writing is lazy and uninspired, and I genuinely can’t find a single reason for this comic to exist at all. Pugh’s art is decent enough, and the cover is outstanding. Too bad that can’t be said for the rest of the comic. Score: 2/10.

Keep Readin’ Those Funnybooks!

~ILL DIABLO~

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What I’m Reading 0025: 1/9/14

Hello from Antarctica, also known as Oklahoma. Damn, it’s been cold. But hey, it’s, like 60 degrees now. In January. But no, that climate change stuff’s just hokum! The nice thing about being a comics nerd, though: weather be damned, I’m still plowing out there to purchase my wares! With that in mind, 2014’s still off to a great start, with a whole slew of new books on the way, including one that debuted this week. But I’m starting with one of last year’s breakout books instead. Enjoy!

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1. FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics #7 (DC/Vertigo, W: Simon Oliver, A: Robbi Rodriguez). After months of me praising the covers on this book, this issue finally breaks that trend. What the hell’s going on here? What am I looking at? Okay, okay–eventually I figured it out, but I shouldn’t have had to stare so hard or for so long. Poor color choices made the cover image rather indecipherable at a glance, which is very, very bad, since the first selling point of any comic is its cover. All those dark tones run together, blending into the black background yet clashing with the bright blues of the wormhole that’s being leaped through. (Trust me, it’s a wormhole.) Just a mess, though an extremely rare misfire for cover artist Nathan Fox. Inside, however, the story shines and crackles as we get the conclusion of the origin of the team’s newest member, Rosa Reyes. She’s more than a little socially awkward, but with good reason, as we discover. The wonder of this book is all of the completely off-the-wall physics concepts writer Simon Oliver comes up with–in this case, involving wormholes. Yet he also makes you feel for the characters involved, and doesn’t get too caught up in the weirder, bigger picture (a lesson Jonathan Hickman could learn in his Avengers titles). In just two issues, Rosa has become a fully-realized, three-dimensional character that fits perfectly with Adam and Cicero and their bizarre world.  The situation she gets involved in this issue–a prison break involving a wormhole generator–is a perfect balance of physics madness and straight-up crime, with Rosa caught in the middle without her team to back her up. The resolution is flawless–heck, if it weren’t for that garish cover, this entire issue would be perfect. Jump on now before this comic get too much further into its run. Score: 9/10.

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2. The Walking Dead #119 (Image, W: Robert Kirkman, A: Charlie Adlard). Never let it be said that Robert Kirkman only does things halfway. He called this story “All Out War,” and he damn well meant it–as of now, both sides have taken heavy casualties and there’s no sign of any letting up. The cracks in Ezekiel’s facade begin to show in a big way after the events in last issue, and it could impact Rick’s strategy against Negan. No time for that, though, because Negan’s bringing the fight to Rick! And so does “all-out war” itself reach Rick’s community, potentially threatening everything he’s built. The most exciting aspect of this story is Kirkman’s ability to make the reader feel very “in the now” as events are occurring. The chaos and madness of war is a frightening, frenetic, fast-paced thing–and Kirkman makes sure we know it by making us feel its presence at every turn. And in it all, the (vast) supporting cast all get little moments to shine as actual human beings: Aaron mourns the death of his boyfriend Eric, Jesus gets to philosophize about the futility of war among zombies, Michonne gets to be a bitch at the best time possible. Carl also continues to prove that he’s grown up before our very eyes in this series, in that Rick trusts him to be in charge while he’s away as much as he would any adult. Even Heath, never the most fleshed-out of supporting characters, gets a moment amid the din to show us the kind of guy he is when he’s not having to kill zombies. I mention all this to make a point: that despite everything–the zombies, the world-rebuilding, the war, the “Negan is just the Governor done differently” nonsense–this is a book about people who are just trying to survive in a world that’s gone completely insane around them, and cope with it as best they can. Robert Kirkman hasn’t forgotten that for a minute. So to all the haters out there, or to the folks who moan because Daryl Dixon isn’t a cast member in the comics–get over it. This is a consistently fantastic book that’s become the bedrock of Image’s astounding output. Score: 8/10.

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3. Cataclysm: The Ultimates’ Last Stand #3 of 5 (Marvel, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Mark Bagley). That’s a lot of (presumably) dead X-Men on the cover. Too bad the X-Men don’t show up at all in this issue! Maybe this is symbolic, though, of how little the public at large cares for the Ultimate X-Men anymore. Are they doomed? Hell, is anyone doomed? At issue three out of five, it feels like very little has actually happened–which tends to be Bendis’ stock-in-trade. By the end of issue five, things will probably feel complete, but probably not a second before. In this issue, lunatic Reed Richards and Miles Morales are enlisted to go to the 616 Marvel U to retrieve information on Galactus, who’s busy destroying New Jersey as a means of protesting Chris Christie’s highway lane closures. What the duo discovers is extremely humbling, but it doesn’t exactly bode well for the long-term health of the Ultimate U, or at least most of the characters in it. At least this time as death is being doled out, it isn’t Jeph Loeb’s hack-ass writing it. Unfortunately, however, amid the clamor of trying to write the situation with a vast sense of urgency, Bendis misses the mark on much else. Including depth. What this story boils down to is, “Trouble! Hurry! Respond!” and very little else. Which is unfortunate, because taken at face value, it’s still an exciting read. But face value is actually worth very little when there’s nothing much else beneath the surface. Is this a fun issue? Sure. But do I wish anything more had occurred? Definitely. Score: 6/10.

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4. Sex Criminals #4 (Image, W: Matt Fraction, A: Chip Zdarsky). What, you didn’t think there would be sex criminals without the sex police too, did you? Suzie and Jon find that out the “hard” way (insert erection joke here) in the midst of their daring bank robbery (for the realest of reasons: to save a library). The sex police are at first a seemingly fascistic bunch, made worse by the fact that they’re not actual police. Who are they? What puritanical reason do they have for stopping people from having sex in public and committing crimes? How are they not affected by the Quiet (or “Cumworld” if you prefer)?  Fraction neatly sets these questions up, but gamely dodges them and instead focuses on Suzie and Jon’s frenzied reactions to having their time-frozen world set upon by the po-po. Being novices to the world of sex criminality, Suzie and Jon’s resistance goes about as well as you’d expect. My one real gripe with this issue is that Fraction insists on inserting more flashback sequences for Suzie, which really aren’t necessary here. They don’t slow the pace of the story up too much, but if he keeps this up, he’s going to lose momentum. Still and all, though, this book is absolutely on fire. Because at the end of the day it’s not about the raunchy jokes, the sexytime, or the general weirdness–it’s about Suzie and Jon, two people meeting each other and falling in love. What more can you ask for? Score: 8/10.

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5. Fatale #19 (Image, W: Ed Brubaker, A: Sean Phillips). I’ve given up trying to figure out when Brubaker’s going to wrap this story up. When the paychecks stop rolling in, I suppose. The Seattle arc wraps up here, with highly predictable results. If you can get past that, however, this has been one of the book’s better arcs, clearly told from the heart (Bru grew up in Seattle in the ’90s) with a keen eye for the details of an underground rock scene and inter-band dynamics. And that is a great cover, and the set-up for the next arc gets us back to modern times and is quite a doozy. But at the same time, I can’t help but feel the book’s on autopilot, for all the unoriginal twists and turns the story’s taking. Jo is bad. Yes, we know. She literally drives men crazy. Yup, got that too. There are evil Lovecraftian villains who want her for their own nefarious ends. Gotcha. But Brubaker, buddy, you’ve got to give me something new to work with, okay? Like maybe an end to this story… Score: 5/10.

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6. Avengers World #1 (Marvel, W: Jonathan Hickman & Nick Spencer, A: Stefano Caselli). Ah-ha! Bet you thought that, since this book spins right out of Infinity, and is called Avengers World, then perhaps it would take a larger, global or even interstellar view of the Avengers, right? That seems logical, right? Tough luck, sucker! There’s literally nothing to distinguish this book from its sister title Avengers, which is of course also written by Jonathan Hickman. It’s the exact same team of Avengers fighting different villains. In fact, in the backmatter, the editor even admits that this book exists to fill the void left by Avengers coming off its bi-weekly schedule. Wotta rip-off. As for the story, it’s actually not too bad, and is a pretty good jumping-on point for new readers. There’s not much you need to know prior to jumping aboard. It’s a solid, decently-told story involving a sea monster with an island on its head, and the Avengers–most of whom are, in what’s becoming Hickman’s default style, written interchangeably–who must stop it. The real star of this book, however, is the always-awesome Stefano Caselli’s art. As usual, his animation-cell style is crisp, clear, and drop-dead gorgeous. With him on board, even the most pedestrian tales have that much more going for them. Not that this story is OVERLY bad or even pedestrian, per se–it just feels forced and, worse, an unnecessary cash grab. Score: 6/10.

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7. Wolverine #13 (Marvel, W: Paul Cornell, A: Alan Davis). Rarely has Wolverine been brought so low as Paul Cornell has taken him. Without his healing factor, Logan is a shell of his former self–unable to cope with his mortality. So naturally that’s Sabretooth’s cue to step out of the shadows and rub Logan’s nose in it that much more! There’s something about a good villain who revels in causing the hero pain that can only be brought about by someone who knows them at every level. Lex Luthor to Superman. Green Goblin to Spider-Man. Joker to Batman. And Sabretooth to Wolverine. Cornell’s saved the best of this volume for last. His Sabretooth isn’t some frenzied lunatic–he’s a sadistic monster, but a rational, calculating, even level-headed one. He knows exactly how to hurt Logan the most and it’s by his inaction that he does so. “Killable” has been a pleasure to read because not because of the tired trope wherein the hero loses his powers, but rather in the emotional depths Cornell has plumbed in Wolverine, reducing him to a state we’ve never seen before: vulnerable, and frightened of what it means to be truly human. Back in the day Larry Hama touched on these themes right after Magneto ripped Logan’s adamantium out, but not with this degree of finesse or subtlety. (Truthfully, there’s not much subtle about Hama’s style at all. Loved his Wolverine run anyway.) Unfortunately, Alan Davis isn’t quite up to the task of complementing the story in equal measure artistically. He’s gotten plain lazy in a very John Byrne-esque way, in that he’s opted to add less detail and more heavy inks to hide that fact. It’s not a mess, but it’s clear evidence that he’s past his prime. Oh well. Ryan Stegman takes over next month with the new volume, and his hyper-kinetic style couldn’t be more different. Of course, at some point Logan will get his healing factor back. But it promises to be a fun ride leading up to that inevitable conclusion. Score: 8/10.

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8. Green Arrow #27 (DC, W: Jeff Lemire, A: Andrea Sorrentino). Jeff Lemire’s run on Green Arrow has been an excellent but sometimes frustrating thing. While he’s certainly injected a level of focus, intrigue, and outright fun into the book that was sorely lacking beforehand, he’s also leaned a bit too heavily on certain tired old superhero tropes for my taste. His biggest fault in this regard is currently being played out in the current arc, “The Outsiders War:” the old “everything the hero thought he knew was WRONG!!” bit. Here’s a nice bit of clunky dialogue from Shado that perfectly summarizes what I’m talking about: “You already know what I’m talking about. You’ve always known it, but you’ve buried it deep down, refused to accept the truth…” Ugh. That reads like somebody just cribbed their dialogue out of a stock “ominous phrase” textbook. And then there’s Magus, who shows up out of nowhere to reveal to our titular hero the secrets of his past, just like Stick in Frank Miller’s Daredevil. Actually, exactly like that: Magus is even a blind martial arts expert too, to boot. Don’t get me wrong, this book is still one of DC’s strongest (and that’s a very, very select few), but Lemire needs to ditch the tropes and come up with his own ideas, or ultimately, even with Andrea Sorrentino’s phenomenal art, it won’t mean squat. Fortunately, he’s playing the hell out of these cliches, but that can’t last forever. But hey, if nothing else, check out the quasi-return of old-school Green Arrow on the final page! Score: 7/10.

Keep Readin’ Those Funnybooks!

~ILL DIABLO~

Remembering the David Michelinie Era of Spider-Man

I’ve been reading comics for a good two-thirds of my life now, and it often strikes me how many great runs by various writers or artists are forgotten. We all know the classics: Lee/Kirby’s Fantastic Four. Lee/Ditko’s Spider-Man. O’Neil/Adams’ Batman and Green Arrow/Green Lantern. Claremont/Byrne’s X-Men. Walt Simonson’s Thor. And on and on; the list is as long as your arm.

But for any and all of those classic and oftentimes definitive runs on various characters, there are dozens of great, fun runs by writers that are utterly glossed over at best, or completely forgotten at worst. And that’s a real shame, because most readers don’t have a firm understanding of the true history of the characters they love beyond their own lifetimes. I myself am guilty of this, having only recently discovered the Bronze Age works of Gerry Conway, including Amazing Spider-Man and a brief stint on Avengers. True, these older writers’ styles and narrative sensibilities might seem dated in today’s terms, but that’s no reason to brush them aside as though they never happened! Is it somewhat obnoxious to have to trod through several pages’ worth of recap from a character’s thought bubbles when he or she is in the middle of a life-and-death firefight? Yes! But it was the standard of the time, because nobody had THOUGHT OF recap pages yet! Gotta start somewhere.

To that end, I’ve decided to revisit and appreciate certain writers’ and artists’ runs on various titles where I see fit, if for no other reason than to tip my hat to the men and women who created their bodies of enduring, if overlooked work. Some of them are within my own lifetime, and others not. It really doesn’t matter, because good work is good work regardless of when it was produced.

So today, I’m going to look at writer David Michelinie’s tenure on Amazing Spider-Man, issues 296-352 and 359-388. He had written some sporadic issues prior to taking over the book full-time, most notably 290-292, in which Peter Parker proposes to Mary Jane, and the subsequent annual in which they were wed (#21, 1987). He also had brief run on Web of Spider-Man in the mid-’80s, most notably writing the sequence in which an unseen assailant–later revealed to be Eddie Brock, A.K.A. Venom–shoved Peter in front of an oncoming subway train without setting his spider-sense off. After Michelinie was removed from that book, it would be three more years before he could revisit that subplot in Amazing, when just a handful of issues into his run on that book, he introduced Venom.

Up until that point, Michelinie was primarily known as the man who turned Tony Stark into an alcoholic, during artist Bob Layton’s and his epic “Demon in a Bottle” saga in Iron Man. His second tenure on that book featured the seminal “Armor Wars” story, and introduced perennial foe Justin Hammer. But in my mind, he topped all of that with his Spider-Man work.

Up until that point, it had been a few years since Amazing had lived up to its name. Writer Roger Stern’s tenure had been cut short as of issue 252, leaving the book–including the ongoing soap opera revolving around his creation Hobgoblin’s identity–in the less-than-capable hands of editor-turned-writer Tom DeFalco, whose style is largely known for contrived plots, atrociously stiff and expository dialogue, and eye-rollingly unmemorable villains such as the Rose and the Black Fox. There was a need for someone to come in and clean things up, to bring back a sense of fun to Spidey’s flagship book. David Michelinie was Marvel’s man for the job.

Fortunately, his arrival coincided with artist Todd McFarlane’s, whose own career (and ego) were about to shoot into the stratosphere thanks to his work on Spidey. McFarlane had been around the industry for a few years, and had recently wrapped an extremely well-received run with writer Peter David on The Incredible Hulk. (For my money, NO ONE ever nailed the cocky, emotionally defensive swagger of the grey Hulk like McFarlane.) It also didn’t hurt that, as stated above, his first few issues introduced Venom, the definitive Spider-Man villain for the ’90s, and is one of only two Spider-Man villains to debut in the last three decades to have any sort of meaningful staying power. (I’ll get to the other one in a bit.)

As a grinning, psychopathic “anti-Spider-Man,” Venom proved to be an instant hit with fans, a shot in the arm to the then-tired Spider-mythos. With McFarlane along for the ride, Michelinie couldn’t miss. Which was a good thing, as one other little thing had recently occurred that had some fans’ hackles raised–Spidey was a MARRIED MAN! With his marriage to Mary Jane still a new and unexplored plot point, Michelinie got to be the point man on defining their married relationship. Anyone who’s married knows that that relationship is a vastly different one than the unwed relationship–but no writers up to that point had had much of an opportunity to explore how it affected Peter and Mary Jane both as individuals and as a couple. Sure, Gerry Conway was writing both Web and Spectacular Spider-Man at the time, but for as much fun as those books were, they weren’t much focused much on the domestic side of Spidey’s life. Conway would be succeeded on Spectacular by uber-drama queen J.M. DeMatteis, who, though talented, wasn’t the man to focus on anything other than psychological torment; and over on Web, he was succeeded by an endless litany of no-name hack writers whose contributions to the overall Spider-Man mythos amounts to the silver-and-black Spider-armor, known mostly as a variant costume in any number of Spider-Man video games. With that in mind, the task of defining the Peter and Mary Jane marriage fell to Michelinie, and in that I feel is where his legacy should truly be secured.

Again, aided and abetted by Todd McFarlane, Mary Jane went from being a rather drab, nebulously-defined party girl to a glamorous, gregarious model who wasn’t just Peter’s colorless wife–she was his friend, his support, and sometimes his critic. She was everything Gwen Stacy hadn’t been, and everything Black Cat should have been (if she hadn’t been a loon). Frankly, Peter, still scrambling to make a living selling pictures to an indifferent Daily Bugle and perpetually worrying about his never-NOT-frail Aunt May, was lucky to have her. Fans were lucky, too–anything less than an awesome portrayal of married life for Spider-Man would have been a PR disaster for Marvel. Peter and Mary Jane were young, sexy (and constantly making allusions to their sex life, at least as much as the Comics Code would allow), and just finding their way as a cohesively functioning married unit. If the idea of perpetually-down-on-his-luck Peter Parker marrying a supermodel and living in a high-rise luxury condo didn’t feel “right” to you, no worries–it wasn’t long before Michelinie had them evicted and MJ’s career put into jeopardy by the condo owner who was murderously fixated on her. Nothing says “loser” more than having to pack up your wife and move back in with your aunt in Queens, of all places.

Michelinie and McFarlane ran the gamut of classic Spider-Man villains: Sandman, Chameleon, Mysterio, the Lizard, the Green Goblin, Hobgoblin, the Rhino, and the Scorpion all put in appearances in the duo’s twenty-eight issue run. Venom returned for round two, and was (unconvincingly) defeated. Of course, Michelinie can be pegged for his introductions of less-than-stellar villains such as Styx and Stone, and eventually Cardiac, but then again, even Stan Lee invented the Kangaroo. Nobody’s perfect.

Eventually, McFarlane was crowned a comics superstar and awarded his own book, the adjectiveless Spider-Man, to draw and “write” (I use that term VERY loosely when considering McFarlane’s earliest attempts at it), thus ushering in the ’90s and the era of the artist taking precedence over the writer. The Image revolution was but two years away.

But Michelinie had the good fortune to have Erik Larsen waiting in the wings to take over ASM‘s art duties. Larsen had a looser, funkier art style than McFarlane, one that owed much to Jack Kirby and the design sensibilities of Walt Simonson. Which worked out perfectly, as Michelinie had developed his own looser, funkier style of writing, one owing less to clunky boxes of exposition and more to a witty back-and-forth between characters and the narrative boxes. Spider-Man might be lost in thought at the end of one sequence, wondering what happened to a villain who’d gotten away. The next page would transition to a scene revealing that villain’s fate, but instead of a lengthy and ultimately pointless description of the same, or a bland “MEANWHILE, AT SUCH AND SUCH PLACE…” text box, Micheline would simply say, “Nope!” or “Guess what, Spidey? You’re RIGHT!” or some other playful banter that  served to move the story forward. This sort of thing isn’t present in Michelinie’s earlier work; it’s a tack he developed specifically for Spider-Man. And it worked perfectly.

Larsen stayed on for about two years before moving on to replace McFarlane on Spider-Man before scooting on to help form Image. But before doing so, he illustrated my personal favorite story from Michelinie’s ASM in issues 349-350, in which, while attempting to stop the Black Fox’s latest act of thievery, Spidey runs afoul of none other than Dr. Doom, who proceeds to kick Spidey’s ass. BAD. Spidey barely escapes with his life, and winds up with a pretty serious concussion but is still determined to intervene in Doom’s plot to kill the Black Fox, despite Mary Jane’s insistence that while she will always support her husband doing the right thing, she couldn’t and wouldn’t support him going out and committing suicide. In the end, Spidey prevails not by means of fisticuffs, but by using his head and appealing to Doom’s common sense (and ego). It’s a beautiful, relatively simple, completely overlooked story that features Spider-Man at his absolute self-sacrificing best, not unlike the classic–and far more often remembered–Spidey vs. Juggernaut yarn.

With Larsen departing, Michelinie had the good fortune of lucking into Mark Bagley for a replacement. Bagley’s style had a raw kineticism to it that was counterbalanced by a near-flawless knack for rendering emotion. His Spider-Man wasn’t overly rippling with muscles like McFarlane’s vision or endlessly, inhumanly contorted like Larsen’s, but rather had the lithe musculature and energy of a gymnast. He came on board just in time for Michelinie to take a well-deserved break for six issues while the completely forgettable “Round Robin: The Sidekick’s Revenge” biweekly tale rolled out, which basically turned ASM into a team-up book for any character who was only popular for about five minutes in 1992 (and the Punisher, who was EVERYWHERE at the time). But when Michelinie returned, after a quick detour for a rather pointless tale featuring Cardiac, the man who looked like a blue-and-white EKG reading, he had a surprise: CARNAGE, the spawn of Venom, and as I alluded to above, the only Spider-foe from the last three decades to have any sort of lasting impact.

Carnage was, in a lot of ways, the perfect early-’90s villain. He was a serial killer, so he could tap into the post-Silence of the Lambs fascination with them, abut then he was also just like Venom–but more EXTREME. (In the early-to-mid-’90s, EVERYTHING had to be EXTREME!!!!!! RAAAARRRR!!!!!) In this, he was also fairly one-dimensional–but the fans ate him up anyway, and just a year after his debut, Carnage was the focal point of the first-ever crossover between all four Spider-Man books (and the new quarterly Spider-Man Unlimited), the aptly-titled “Maximum Carnage.” “Maximum Overexposure” was a bit more on the nose for all the depth the story had, but Michelinie couldn’t be blamed for this. As told in Sean Howe’s book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, this was an era when the marketing department was literally making editorial calls. Carnage was popular. Carnage sold. Hence, the big Carnage crossover would be spread out over fourteen comics for three months.

It was around this time that Michelinie did an about-face with one of his major characters to have contributed to Spider-Man: Venom. For all of his existence, Venom had been hung up on “innocents,” and was vociferous in his insistence that he protect them from “fiends” like Spider-Man. Once he (finally) realized Spidey was one of the good guys after witnessing him save the life of his ex-wife, Venom abandoned his crusade to kill Peter Parker and was spun off into his own miniseries, “Lethal Protector,” written by Michelinie and drawn by Bagley. Going back to the ethos that allowed beancounters to dictate editorial policy, Venom was big bucks–and therefore needed his own series. Thus did Venom go from being one of the pre-eminent Spider-Man villains to a sort of quasi-anti-hero, the star of an endless array of miniseries chronicling his solo adventures. Michelinie, fortunately, only wrote the first of these series, but the continued oversaturation of the Venom character would eventually prove to be a deathblow to the character’s popularity, and he eventually became a symbol of everything wrong about comics in the ’90s. The character has yet to regain the both the popularity or the significance he enjoyed twenty years ago.

As for Michelinie, he was nearing the end of his tenure on Spider-Man by that point. At the end of ASM #365, he brought Peter’s parents back from the dead, with a whopper of a story involving the Red Skull, spies, Taskmaster, and I think Jimmy Hoffa’s body. Mistrust was seeded for months on end as Peter debated whether or not these were truly his parents, miraculously returned from the dead. And of course, in typical Parker luck, the moment he revealed his identity to them as Spider-Man, they were revealed to be some sort of  T-1000-wannabe robots who gooped around and tried to kill our hero, all part of a bizarre revenge scheme by the second Green Goblin (Harry Osborn, then dead by that point in Spectacular) that somehow also involved the Chameleon. And thus began the J.M. DeMatteis era of Amazing Spider-Man, which began in the aftermath of that event, had Spidey renouncing his humanity and wanting to be called “the Spider,” introduced a character named Traveller whose power set was so ill-defined that literally NO ONE at Marvel knew what his deal was, and ultimately kicked off the Clone Saga, the most reviled story in all of Spider-Man’s history. Michelinie had the good sense to read the writing on the wall with what the editors were wanting and jumped ship while the jumping ship was good.

And by that turn, it should be noted that David Michelinie’s run on Spider-Man was the last TRULY good run for the character (in-continuity, that is–2000 saw the debut of Ultimate Spider-Man, easily the definitive Spidey book of the 21st century)  until J. Michael Straczynski’s first couple of years, circa 2001-02. The intervening years saw, of course, the unending train wreck of the Clone Saga, followed by a truly uninspired turn by professional hack Howard Mackie, and a pathetic attempt at retconning the hero’s origin by washed-up former superstar John Byrne.

David Michelinie had the stupendous good fortune of getting to work with Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, and Mark Bagley as his artists–a murderer’s row of talent if every there was one. He also gave us the definitive take on the Peter and Mary Jane marriage, which for those of us who grew up with it, is the gold standard, no matter how much retconning to it has gone on since. The man’s work wasn’t perfect, but even when introducing a silly-looking villain like Cardiac, or a groan-worthy pair like Styx and Stone, Michelinie always played it straight, and wrote the hell out of it. He truly understood not just what makes a good Spider-Man story, but also what makes Peter Parker ticks, and that’s a tricky balance. Less than a half-dozen writers or so over the last five decades have managed to pull it off. Stan Lee, obviously, followed by Gerry Conway. Roger Stern. Brian Michael Bendis. And David Michelinie. The man deserves recognition for being in that company alone, yet his run with Spidey is often glossed over and forgotten by comics historians. And that’s a shame, because writers who so thoroughly understand the inner workings of a character, ANY character, are few and far between.

Michelinie hasn’t written much since leaving Amazing Spider-Man–just odds and ends, and a weak attempt at opening his own comic publishing company with artist Bob Layton, called Future Comics, in the Aughts. It seems he has retired, as, according to Wikipedia, his last published work was a four-issue Iron Man miniseries in 2009. All good things must come to an end, of course, and at age sixty-five, Michelinie has maybe just decided to call it a day. But for me–and a legion of fans that were growing up at the time–he was the definitive Spider-Man writer in the ’90s, before it all turned so bad for so long. My hat goes off to him, and the body of work he created.

But mostly his Spider-Man yarns.

Keep Readin’ Those Funnybooks!

~ILL DIABLO~

Everything Wrong With Disney Owning Star Wars In One Simple Photo

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Gaze on my works, ye mighty, and shit your pants. This image summarizes PERFECTLY everything that’s wrong with Disney owning Star Wars. Yes, it’s old news, but OH MY GOD THAT’S DONALD DUCK AS A STORMTROOPER. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG. Thank you for shitting on my childhood, you heartless corporate bastards. (More than the Lucas already has with the prequels, but that’s old news, too.)

Keep Readin’ Those Funnybooks,

~ILL DIABLO~

Marvel’s Star Wars.NOW? No!

All good things must come to an end. Sometimes, though, the inevitability of a demise is worse than the demise itself. Today’s case in point: the announcement that Dark Horse has lost the license to Star Wars comics effective next year. It’s been a looming threat since Disney purchased LucasFilm, and to the ire of many a Star Wars comics ubergeek, Marvel (also owned by Disney, duh), will (again) be the curators of George Lucas’s bastard children.

I never read too much of Dark Horse’s Star Wars books myself, mainly because I’m content to watch the original trilogy and feel fulfilled with that story in and of itself. I don’t need to know umpteen centuries of universe-building backstory to feel I know the “whole” story. However, there are plenty of fans who DO, and for them, twenty years of continuity is being chucked out the window violently and suddenly for the sake of… a boardroom deal.

From Disney’s perspective, it of course makes sense to bring the Star Wars comics to Marvel, and thus under its own umbrella. It’s a business move, plain and simple, one that will allow them to milk the golden calf that is Star Wars much more efficiently and effectively, with the added bonus being Marvel’s larger overall market share leading to a higher overall sales percentage.

But back to those forlorn Star Wars comics ubergeeks: for them, it’s the end of an era. And in a larger sense, it is for the entire comics industry.

If you’re an under-thirty fan, you grew up with Dark Horse’s Star Wars line. Period. And since they obtained the license, they have done a stellar job of curating Lucas’s mythos, and building on it with a respect and reverence for the original source material that was, frankly, unmatched up until that point. In other words, Dark Horse set the gold standard for licensed comics. Prior to that, licensed comics were fairly heartless affairs, often written and drawn by uninterested, uninspired creators who were clearly only in it for the paycheck.* Dark Horse’s Star Wars comics, on the other hand, were written and drawn by creators who were fans, and who understood the tone, character, and history of the tales they were attempting to augment.**

For over twenty years, Dark Horse has built upon all things Lucas in that manner. They expanded the mythology forwards and back, printed numerous character-focused miniseries, found ways to make characters from even Phantom Menace seem three-dimensional,*** and even had the balls to kill Chewbacca. And the fans LOVED THEM FOR IT.

Will Marvel’s iteration of the Star Wars line be as good? Worse? A straight-ahead continuation of Dark Horse’s line? It’s too early to tell. Although chances are good it won’t be a continuation of Dark Horse’s saga, since doing so would entail a certain amount of coordination with Dark Horse, which at this point is a non-starter. Surely it will be different, as Marvel will probably bring its own house style to the books. It also bears mentioning that old-school fans looking to Marvel’s original run probably won’t find much guidance; Jim Shooter-Marvel was a vastly different beast than Joe Quesada-Marvel. Marvel will also very likely bring its own brand of top-flight talent to the book, so expect something written by Brian Michael Bendis and/or drawn by Steve McNiven (actually, the latter would be pretty cool). One positive about this is that it IS giving big-name creators a chance to write a Star Wars yarn without the constraints of 20+ years of continuity. The downside is the potential for a Bendis-penned Star Wars comic.****

The other looming question is what the loss of the Star Wars license will do to Dark Horse’s overall market share. Surely it will hurt; the question is how much. I don’t foresee it threatening Dark Horse’s overall existence, as they have too many other strong properties to fall back on, but the loss of the entire Star Wars line will hurt and hurt BAD.

Dark Horse says it has big plans for its final year as stewards of George Lucas’s legacy. I certainly hope so, because their fans deserve it. It may have been inevitable that the Star Wars license would go to Marvel… but that doesn’t mean Dark Horse doesn’t have to cast so large a shadow, Marvel doesn’t have a hope in a Sarlacc pit of succeeding.

Or that it hasn’t already.

 

Keep Readin’ Those Funnybooks,

~ILL DIABLO~

 

*Yes, I’m aware that Alex Ross made his official debut in a Terminator comic. Sue me.

**Check out Dark Horse’s opening salvo, Dark Empire, if you don’t believe me. Boba Fett, represent!!

***All except for YOU, Jar-Jar. May you burn in the fiery pit of abortive supporting character hell for all eternity, along with Orko, H.E.R.B.I.E., Dobby, and any other annoying-sidekick types that have been foisted upon us over the years for cheap and immature laughs.

****Hey, I love the guy, but NO. His style would definitely not mesh with the tone of Star Wars.

What I’m Reading 0024: 1/2/14

Hi-dilly-ho neighboreenos, and welcome to the first edition of What I’m Reading for 2014. I’m getting off light this week, as only three books from my pull sheet shipped! As usual, my ratings scale is relative mostly to my enjoyment factor of a particular title, not necessarily my novice-level skills as a critic. With that in mind, let’s begin with the latest issue of one of the breakout books of 2013…

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1. The Superior Foes of Spider-Man #7 (Marvel, W: Nick Spencer, A: Steve Lieber). I’m not sure cover artist In-Hyuk Lee got the memo, but Superior Foes is actually supposed to be the thinking man’s fun comic. Not the “posing Jim Lee-style and looking so cool” type of book at all. Hopefully, this aberration is his only cover for this book, because it’s really very misleading as to what kind of comic this is. This issue sees an interlude to the main plot that details the new female Beetle’s origin, now that it’s been revealed she’s the daughter of albinic Spider-foe Tombstone. As per usual, Spencer’s characterization is top-notch: Tombstone is written in a blue-collar, Tony Soprano-esque manner, and his daughter Janice (the future Beetle), makes me think of Meadow Soprano–if she had ambitions of being a costumed supervillain. All of the details are there and feel right, but if anything, this issue suffers from being too much of a good thing. At seven issues in, Spencer’s first arc should be wrapping up, not spending an entire issue in an interlude that, frankly, could have been told in half the pages or less. There’s a completely unnecessary two-page spread of Janice’s evening in journal form, showing how she manages her time in a crunch. And then there’s an extremely amusing sequence involving the Fixer and Baron Zemo that’s priceless–but also completely unnecessary. Janice’s backstory could have been told in six to eight pages, and then the rest of the issue could have moved the plot along. But oh well. It’s still a superb read and a minor misstep in an otherwise near-perfect book. Buy this title now before Marvel axes it! Score: 8/10.

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2. New Avengers #13 (Marvel, W: Jonathan Hickman, A: Simone Bianchi). What “Inhumanity” has to do with this issue is beyond me, other than Black Bolt was arbitrarily slapped on the cover (PS… he’s MIA post-Infinity). That, and Marvel’s hoping that by tattooing that particular trade dress on as many of their comics as possible, someone might actually give two shits about “Inhumanity.” “Oh, new Inhumans are spontaneously popping up all over the world? And society at large is distrustful of them? No, that’s nothing like the X-Men at all!” But I digress. This issue gets back to the matter at hand that’s plagued this book from its inception: the incursions of alternate Earths the Illuminati are desperately trying to stop. It’s a pretty esoteric concept, and it gets weirder this issue as we witness the failure of another Earth’s Illuminati to stop some villains known as Black Priests, who are apparently the ones behind the incursions, from killing them without breaking a sweat. Unfortunately, the Priests haven’t really earned their badassery, because they’re just showing up this issue. We know nothing about them, but, in a time-honored comic book cliche, we’re being TOLD they’re, like, sooooo badass because they’re effortlessly killing some inconsequential alternate-earth duplicates of our titular heroes. We’ve seen this a hundred times before, so until Hickman gives me a REASON to CARE about the Black Priests, I’m uninterested. (For crying out loud, the Avengers just got done fighting THANOS! It doesn’t get much more badass than that.) As for the rest of the book, we get some more vaguely ominous dialogue from the captive Black Swan that leads to the return of Reed Richards’ bridge from Hickman’s Fantastic Four run, which is a nice callback. And it actually serves a purpose too, and isn’t just a tip of the hat to the author’s previous work: using it allows the heroes to witness their own demises on the alternate Earth at the hands of the Black Priests. What’s it all mean? It means that Hickman isn’t done by a long shot, which is great, since this book is so thoroughly engaging and original, especially when compared to the oversaturated Avengers proper. Simone Bianchi does his usual stand-up job on the interiors, but Mike Deodato would be welcome back at any point. Although certainly not the most new reader-friendly book on the stands, New Avengers continues to push the boundaries of what a team book is, and that is not a bad thing by anyone’s estimation. But, can ANYONE tell me what the two pages with Dr. Strange was about, though? Hickman’s biggest flaw as a writer is his propensity toward being a teensy bit too vague and emotionally aloof at times in favor of the greater concept. And while this is without a doubt a concept book at its core… give me something to care about, man. Score: 7/10.

aquaman26

3. Aquaman #26 (DC, W: Jeff Parker, W: Netho Diaz & Paul Pelletier). Geoff Johns is a tough act to follow, even when he’s not at his best. Who followed him on The Flash? How about on Green Lantern, what’s that guy’s name? Vendetta? Vagina? Vegetarian? Does anyone care? And so too do the fates threaten Jeff Parker, sentenced to follow Johns’ good-but-never-great run chronicling the tales of Arthur Curry, a.k.a. Aquaman, a.k.a. comics’ longest-running joke of a character. Now, it seems to me that the smart play would be to do something unexpected, write some grand gesture announcing to the WORLD that he’s unafraid to put his own stamp on the character. So, what does Parker do? Nothing of the sort, actually. This comic is so ho-hum it nearly caused me to fall asleep–and the thing’s only twenty pages long! Aquaman pulls off an underwater rescue mission? Check. King Aquaman isn’t trusted/liked by his Atlantean council, nor the city’s people? Check. Aquaman fights a sea monster? Check! See where I’m going with this? There’s nary an original thought to be had in this issue. It reads like a primer for the character by way of checking off the cliches most often associated with him. Okay, I lied, there is one original notion: Mera using her hard-water abilities to launch Aquaman out of the sea and into the air, like some Super-Soaker cannon that can shoot the man clear across half the world. And that’s just stupid. The art, too, is bland: Netho Diaz draws the first half the issue, followed by returning artist Paul Pelletier, and neither artist seems particularly interested to be there. Maybe if they were working from a better script? Parker better produce some magic fast, or the loss of Geoff Johns is going to doom this book to cancellation regardless of whatever else he eventually pulls out of his hat. Score: 4/10.

And that’s a wrap! Easy week. Three comics? No problem. It’s these weeks where comics for me ship in the double-digits that things get tricky! But oh well. It’s all for the love of the game!

Keep readin’ those funnybooks!

~ILL DIABLO~

2014: The Top 10 Things I’m NOT Looking Forward To

‘Round about this time every year, we as a society become inundated with “top blah blah” lists from the previous year. It’s an annual tradition, and it’s enough to make me want to scream. Most of these lists – be they for movies, books, celebrities, comics, or whatever – trend toward the positive light. Sure, there are “worst-of” lists, but they’re usually just little-ass footnotes to their more positive, upbeat brethren.

And then there’s people like me, who like the snark of the “worst-of” lists. I revel in the schadenfreude comeuppance of professional idiots like Michael Bay or Rob Liefeld. And so it is with this spirit in mind that I jump on the top ten list bandwagon and bitch about the upcoming year’s ten things I’m least looking forward to. Enjoy.

10. Mark Millar’s ego. Okay, yes, he’s a legitimately talented dude. His Millarworld books have been, for the most part, pretty damn fun rides (noteworthy exception: Nemesis*), even if they aren’t the most, ah, thought-provoking books on the rack. But holy motherfucking GOD does this guy love himself. It seems that at every possible opportunity, he’s taking a moment to toot his own horn, brag about how yet another of his properties has been optioned by a movie studio before issue one has even been released, how he’s now creating the new 21st century Marvel Universe, etc. It’s been said he’s just being tongue-in-cheek, but I specifically remember a comment made some years back blaming the artists for all three of his books that were being released at that time for them being late. So, with that in mind, exactly how is it Frank Quitely’s fault that Jupiter’s Children has been perpetually late from its inception?** Dude needs to check himself with a quickness before I lose interest due to the man’s sheer pomposity.

9. Still No Wally West. Fans such as myself (and the ENTIRETY OF MY GENERATION) who grew up with Wally West as the Flash have been perpetually slapped in the face by DC since Barry Allen’s return in Final Crisis. Not only was he quickly relegated to being a second-string bit-player in the world of the newly-returned Silver Age Flash, but post-New 52, he’s utterly non-existent. This is of course made worse by the fact that Geoff Johns, who wrote so many memorable and definitive Wally stories in the early-to-mid-Aughts, has been a driving force in railroading Wally in favor of Barry’s “shoulda-stayed-respectfully-dead” ass. Oh sure, we got a mild tease by Dan Didio that Wally MIGHT return in 2013, but that was for naught. And there was early speculation that the hooded prisoner of the Crime Syndicate in Forever Evil is Wally, but that’s nothing more than hopes and dreams with zero substance. Thus far, there has been, sadly and predictably, no traction for Wally’s New 52 debut. Sure, we’ve only peered as far forward as April into the early solicits crystal ball, but at this point all we can do is keep our fingers crossed, as DC isn’t giving us JACK.

8. Bob Harras is Still EiC at DC. Look, say what you will about the Joe Quesada/Axel Alonzo era at Marvel. Yes, there has been an endless barrage of gimmicks, events, stunt deaths, and Spider-Ocks. But that doesn’t have ANYTHING on the total batshit-crazy, utterly schizophrenic madness that has gripped DC since the New 52 crushed our collective souls, hearts, and minds. Can Dan DiDio, Geoff Johns, and Jim Lee all have stubby fingers pointed squarely at them in blame? Yes, yes, and yes. But let me be clear: the editor in chief is the guy who runs the day-to-day. And Bob Harras is nothing more than a yes-man goon with no balls or ideas of his own. It’s been noted that since he was given the EiC reins, there has been a massive influx of washed up, sad ’90s “talent:” Tom DeFalco. Ann Nocenti. Scott Lobdell. Howard Mackie. Was anyone, anywhere clamoring for these writers’ return? No. Why? Because they suck. Yet bringing them to the forefront of DC’s stable has been the sole contribution Harras has made on his own, because he’s otherwise too busy doing whatever DiDio, Lee, and Johns tells him. A timid, spineless EiC does not a strong company make. Ask anyone who remembers Marvel in the ’90s. Wait, who was the EiC then? Oh, that’s right. Harras.

7. Image Won’t St0p Putting Out Awesome Fucking Comics. Seriously, guys. Give it a rest! I can only buy so many books a month, but if you guys don’t stop putting out so many awesome fucking comics from creators I love, I can’t afford them all! Already in my sights this year: Southern Bastards by Jason Aaron and Jason LaTour, and MPH by Mark Millar. Your move, Eric Stephenson.

6. Hawkeye Isn’t Regaining Its Momentum Anytime Soon. Hawkeye was one of Marvel’s top three books, period. It was innovative, original, exciting, FUN, and in a nutshell unlike anything else from the House of Ideas. Matt Fraction brought a distinct indie flair to Clint Barton’s adventures, and along with David Aja’s art, it became one of the most critically-acclaimed books on the shelves. And then, inexplicably, or maybe because he was too busy getting his nipple pierced at an S&M club, Fraction lost all focus on the book. Period. It started after the death of supporting character Grills. From there we had the Pizza Dog issue, which was utterly amazing but taken as part of a whole failed to move the story forward. Then a two-parter flashback giving us the details of Clint and his brother Barney’s upbringing. Then the incredibly subpar annual focusing on Kate Bishop, then a lengthy publishing gap, THEN an entire issue where Clint mopes around after Grills’ funeral and THEN, BY FUCKERY, THEN AN ENTIRE ISSUE FOCUSING ON MORE OF KATE BISHOP’S INANE CALIFORNIA ADVENTURES. And then it was announced that every other issue of Hawkeye will rotate focus between Clint and Kate, further putting the brakes on any forward momentum the book once had. Sensing a pattern? I do: Matt Fraction’s lost pretty much all interest in Hawkeye. And hey, if he has, then well, it was fun while it lasted, right? But dude, move on and let some other talented writer try his hand at it, instead of drawing out what WAS a fantastic story.

5. Actually, Matt Fraction Seems To Be (Almost) Done At Marvel Entirely. So let’s see: Hawkeye‘s turned into a lame duck, he ditched Fantastic Four and FF early, and he abandoned Inhuman before the first issue even shipped. Which means that, as far as I know, Matt Fraction has ZERO Marvel work on his slate in 2014, leaving him with only Sex Criminals to spend his time with. But that might not be a bad thing: as talented a writer as he is, Fraction’s output at Marvel over the past six years has been hit or miss at best: for every run on Uncanny X-Men, there’s been a Fear Itself. For every Hawkeye, there’s been a Fantastic Four. So yes, I’ll miss him and his distinct style at Marvel if indeed he is leaving the company, but if Sex Criminals is any indication of what he can do when the gloves (and editorial shackles) are off, then bring it on. (And hey, leaving the Big 2 has worked out pretty well for Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka, whose respective books Velvet and Lazarus are two of the strongest books of the year.)

4. Event Comics Are Still Going To Rule. No sooner had Trinity War ended, and DC jumped immediately into Forever Evil. And just as soon as Infinity wound down its gauntlet, Marvel announced an unnamed “death of the Watcher” event starting in March. Yes sir, event comics aren’t just annual moneymakers anymore, they’re an integral part of the lifeblood of the comics industry. And for all the bitching and moaning fans do online about event fatigue, they continue to gobble them up anyway for fear of missing out on whatever the big happening is that everyone will be analyzing to death the next day.*** And no doubt DC already has something cooking that will stem from Forever Evil in addition to the weekly Forever’s End nonsense starting in May. Like ’em, love ’em, or masturbate screaming their name: event comics aren’t going away anytime in the near future.

3. Scott Snyder’s Going To Keep Taking a Dump on Batman. Once upon a time, it was enough to simply tell a straightforward Batman story of some sort. “Shit, the Joker’s got some Joker fish! Gotta stop ‘im!” “Shit, Bane broke my back and I’ve gotta put a mentally-deranged dude I barely know with religious delusions in the Bat-suit!” And so on and so forth. Now? Scott Snyder’s idea of a “good” Batman story is to turn every single arc he writes into an event comic in and of itself. The Court of Owls nonsense. The “Death of the Family” debacle. And now he’s managed to turn Batman’s origin into a year-long (at least!) slog that’s gone so far as to cross over into COMPLETELY unrelated books such as Flash and Green Arrow! Remember when Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli wrote “Batman: Year One” and it was four issues, straightforward, and completely fucking definitive? Yeah, you can chuck all that noise out the window, because Scott Snyder’s milking this golden cow for all it’s worth. Pathetic. And even more pathetic? It’s selling like crazy. Get a clue, fanboys.

2. The Numbers Game Isn’t Going Away. I’ve bitched and moaned before about the continuous stream of reboots and renumberings that have plagued the comics industry in the last few years, so I’m not going to rehash what’s already been said. It’s insulting to the history of certain titles and characters to so callously renumber comics that have been around for over seventy years, but the prevailing mentality is that that no longer matters. Catering to new readers and audiences does, and instead of simply WRITING GOOD STORIES AND LETTING THE READERS COME, the Big 2 have decided to focus solely on the short-term effect of putting a big fat “1” on a cover. In fact, Marvel has now gone so far as to confusingly put a huge-ass #1 in the upper corners of some of their All-New Marvel Now titles WITHOUT actually renumbering the title. Hey, was that issue of Avengers last week #1, or #24.NOW? (Don’t answer. Both answers are stupid.) A shift in direction or a changing of the creative guard is all it takes to slap a new #1 on the cover of a long-standing title, just to temporarily goose sales. All this truly indicates is that he beancounters have taken over again, just as they did in the ’90s, which is bad news indeed for us all.

1. Spider-Ock Is Still A Thing. Peter Parker’s still “dead.” Dr. Octopus is still driving around in his body. And Superior Spider-Man is still one of Marvel’s top-rated books, meaning they’re going to keep dragging this thing out as long as humanly possible. Has it reached Clone Saga-levels of disastrousness? No, but in a way it’s almost as bad. Yeah, there’s some scuttlebutt that this upcoming “Goblin Nation” arc will be the finale of Otto’s misadventures as Spidey, and only and idiot would believe that Peter won’t be back SOMEday, but the very fact that this story ever happened at all is incredibly vexing. When even Stan Lee is poo-pooing something Marvel’s doing, BE VERY, VERY AFRAID.

Keep Readin’ Those Funnybooks!

~ILL DIABLO~

 

*Fucking hell, did that SUCK. Millar at his “look at me, look at me, I’m SO FUCKING CLEVER” worst.

**Okay, bad example, because Quitely’s every bit as bad as Millar at maintaining a regular schedule that isn’t insulting to fans with its tardiness.

***Yeah, yeah, I did in fact read Infinity. It turned out to be all right, but the fact of the matter is that I couldn’t read Avengers or New Avengers— both of which I’ve been subbed to for years–without it.