Monday, July 06, 2015

"In a perfect world, this was how it was always meant to be": Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #1

While many of Marvel's Secret Wars tie-ins have taken their titles and parts of their plots from past stories set in different realities or alternate futures and timelines, Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows is one of the few that is based on a previous status quo. And, it's worth mentioning, a pretty popular status quo that many fans were unhappy that Marvel changed on what amounted to an editorial whim.

Without getting too deep into the death of the Spider-Marriage, here's the short-ish version. Previous Marvel Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada didn't like the fact that Spider-Man Peter Parker was happily married to Mary Jane Watson, as he felt it unnecessarily aged the character, but un-marrying him didn't really solve the problem, as making Peter Parker a widower or a divorcee wouldn't exactly make him younger. This was one of three "genies" in the Marvel Universe that Quesada wanted to find a way to re-bottle.

He found a way, but it was a terrible, terrible way: A soft reboot that only affected Spider-Man continuity. When perpetually dying old lady Aunt May was on her deathbed yet again, Mephisto–i.e. Satan himself, essentially–appeared to Peter Parker and told him he would restore his beloved aunt to health in exchange for his soul. No, not his soul! Don't be silly! Why would you think the devil would want to render services to someone willing to sell their soul to him? No, Mephisto wanted Spider-Man's marriage. As in, he wanted to manipulate the time-stream to make it so that Peter and Mary Jane were never married.

This was really cool of the devil, and worked out pretty great for all involved. Because while he claimed that he wanted Spider-Man's marriage because it represented Spider-Man's happiness, the devil was also going to strip away all memory of the marriage from Peter Parker, so he won't have any reason to be sad about losing the marriage. What a nice guy, that devil is!

Now, this was problematic for a lot of reasons, the fact that Spider-Man did a deal with the devil to supernaturally extend the life of his elderly aunt being just one of them. (Why would the devil do that, anyway? Why would the devil want that? Would Spider-Man really want that? Would Aunt May have wanted Peter to make that decision? Isn't death a natural part of life? Is Spider-Man going to put together the Infinity Gauntlet and challenge the entire Marvel Universe the next time Aunt May gets cancer? Why does having an unmarried 30-something Peter Parker matter, anyway–issn't that why Marvel created the Ultimate line?).

In addition to undoing the marriage, the devil basically just did a random reboot of Spider-Man continuity, rebuilding Aunt May's house, seemingly brining Peter Parker's dead best friend back to life, that sort of thing–it was bad enough a story that J. Michael Straczynski (who has, remember, wrote some real stinkers in his career), argued with Quesada about the scripting of the One More Day miniseries in which this nonsense occurred, ultimately asking to have his name removed from the issues and publicly disavowing it as it was being released).

I guess people got over it pretty quickly, though. I quit reading Amazing Spider-Man at that point, but I would have quit not long after, when they jacked the price up. Marvel started publishing ASM about three times a month, and they hired a slew of great writers and artists to work on it. One of them was Dan Slott, pretty much the idea Spider-Man writer, and that guy is still writing Spider-Man. Hell, he's writing this very comic.

I'm not a fan of reboots, myself, and I hate these sort of soft reboots the most, as they don't work well in a shared universe; they essentially punish fans for knowing too much about the setting and history. DC's increasingly frequent re-settings of their continuity are annoying too, but at least those have been across the board, and generally done in-story in a way that makes a modicum of sense. The devil didn't cosmically annul Superman's marriage at any point; rather time itself was disrupted so badly by The Flash and Reverse Flash's attempts to alter it in Flashpoint (and Pandora's still un-explained attempt to strengthen the universe by blending it with two different alternate realities) that it completely changed all of history, not just a marriage (DC has done its share of dumb soft reboots too, including a John Byrne-lead one of The Doom Patrol and a Jeph Loeb/Michael Turner-lead one of Supergirl, but both were made irrelevant quickly by people either not reading/caring or later, universe-wide reboots.

Anyway, let's read Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #1, the first issue in a comic book set in an alternate reality where Joe Quesada never managed to convince anyone to reboot the Spider-Man franchise, an alternate reality that is now part of "Battleworld: A massive, patchwork planet composed of the fragments of worlds that no longer exist, maintained by the iron will of its god and master, Victor Von Doom!"

There's a lot of verbal information on this cover, but if you take a quick glance around it, you'll note how important Marvel apparently thinks the Spider-Man and marriage parts are compared to the Secret Wars-iness of it.

The ASM logo is at the top, the same size as it usually would be, long with the sub-ttile and an oversized "#1." The Secret Wars logo, in contrast, is tiny, about the size of the creator credits or the tag letting us know that this is a Marvle comic book and that we get a "bonus" digital edition because we are over-paying for this $3.99, 21-page comic.

The image is by Adam Kubert, as the large pink "Adam Kubert" signature next to it makes clear. It features an unmasked Spider-Man standing next to Mary Jane, a little girl that looks more like MJ than Peter sitting on his shoulders. Is this the long-lost Parker baby, grown up? Yes, yes it is.

Behind them is an oddly elongated version of the Spider-Heart that appeared on the wedding issue. I'm not sure why Kubert would have drawn it in that particular shape, as drawing it out like that obscures it so much behind the logo. I have to assume it was simply because there was some miscommunication between artist and publisher regarding the final lay-out of the cover, or because Kubert screwed it up but didn't want to or have time to go back and change it.

I like Adam Kubert's art okay, but like his brother, he's not really the sort who handles deadline pressure well. Or at all.


The spiel about Secret Wars is repeated here: "The Multiverse Was Destroyed! The Heroes of Earth-616 and Earth-1610 were powerless to save it!" and so on. The page ends with a big "The Amazing Spider-Man" logo (sans the "Renew Your Vows" subtitle), and some of the credits, starting with the letterer and ending with the executive producer.


The first page opens with a narration box designated by a Spider-symbol as Peter Parker's: IN a perfect world, this was how it was always meant to be." Oh, snap!

Behind it are framed photos hanging on the wall, including one of the Parkers on their wedding day and another in the hospital, MJ and Peter posing with what looks like a tiny Wilson Fisk swaddled in a pink blanket.

"Renew Your Vows Part 1: Why We Can't Have Nice Things" fills the over-sized gutter between the page's two panels, along with the missing credits from the first page: Writer Dan Slott, pencil artist Adam Kubert, inker John Dell and colorist Justin Ponsor.

At a cramped table in a cramped-looking kitchen, a shirtless Peter Parker tinkers with his web-shooters, while MJ feeds their poorly drawn daughter, whose age seems to change from panel to panel. Kubert may draw great superheroes, but toddlers are not his strong suit.

It appears to be sometime in the late 1980s, maybe early '90s. The Parkers trade jokes a bit, and Peter mentions that he seems to be picking up the slack of other New York City costumed vigilantes, as it seems he's been fighting his villains and there's lately.


Peter rushes into the Daily Bugle office to sell some photos, where he learns that some superheroes have been showing up dead ("Punisher, Moon Knight, a boy going by the name Night Thrasher") and others with powers have gone missing ("Daredevil, Iron Fist").

Is it weird that any time a creative team gets the opportunity to do an alternate reality story of any kind, they almost always resort to killing everyone off? I mean, it makes some degree of sense, given the fact that killing everyone off is something they can't normally do, so maybe they just have some pent-up bloodlust for superheroes they need to release somewhere, but you never read an alternate reality story where some of the good guys just retire or something...


This being a modern Marvel comic book, there have already been two ads, but here we get the first pull-out section of house ads. There are four ads for four different Secret Wars tie-in comics, all printed on a glossy, heavier paper stock, and which a reader can unfold as if they were going to be a poster or something cool.

Nope, just ads. One for Secret Wars #5, one for Spider-Island #1, one for Age of Apocalypse #1 and one for Hail HYDRA #1.


Spidey makes all haste to Avengers mansion, where Jarvis lets him in and lets him know they've been expecting him–"and anoyne else left standing."

Inside, he finds "The Avengers, New Warriors, Hulk and Namor." We can tell this is an alternate timeline because Captain America has a star on his forehead and an A on his chest. Totally different. Also, I think The Vision is wearing an all-white costume with just a yellow diamond shape on his chest, and thus look 98% less stupid than usual.
Cap is in the middle of a debrief, explaining that many superheroes have gone missing lately, including all of the X-Men. Iron Man and Spider-Man gossip in the corner, ignoring Captain America, while Shellhead offers to move Spidey and his family into the Mansion for safety's sake. Peter calls home on a very, very large phone to ask MJ about this, while in the background Cap reveals their best lead, the CEO of a company researching "super-human abilities and bio-technologies" with the perfectly villainous-sounding name of Augusts Roman Then Hawkeye reports in from the field, noting that there's a full-scale prison break at Ryker's and that "Everyone's broken out!"

Cap's just all like whatever.

"Sorry Clint," he says. "But I'm calling it. Roman's an omega-level threat. We need all hands!"

MJ told Spidey to hold on, as someone was at the door, and then she didn't answer again. Could the two things have something to do with one another?



Master tactician Captain America is in the process of loading every single superhero left into a single Quinjet with which to launch an assault on Roman, when Spidey bugs out of there, jumping through his own apartment window with a KSHHHH.

"Well, look at this..." says someone off-panel in a white on black dialogue balloon that either represents a slightly drunk Morpheus or...

...Venom! He's sitting comfortably on Peter's busted love seat, holding the baby in one hand (and one tentacle, his other arm (and several tentacles) around MJ.

Now I believe this is a reference to an earlier story in which something, for lack of a better term, rapey either happened, or at least was strongly implied as having happened. (I actually tried reading that part of Todd McFarlane run in a library-borrowed trade in the very early '00s, and I just couldn't do it; like the Chris Claremont/Jim Lee X-Men, they were just too bad for me to force myself to read them; spending a few minutes online researching, the official line is apparently that Venom "terrorized" Mary Jane. Those of you who lived through Todd McFarlane's Spider-Man run can feel free to set the record straight in the comments section.)

Scanning the full-page splash for clues, there's no real strong implication of that here. MJ's no more naked than she was previously, the rips in her jeans all in the same places they were during the dinner scene. Aside from Venom's long, dripping tongue curling in her direction, there's nothing terribly suggestive going on here.

I do like the fact taht Kubert drew a stuffed Hulk doll with its arms ripped off. Venom clearly smashed the door in, tore up a pillow and part of the couch and ripped the arms off of Annie's toy.

What a jerk!


Venom starts talking to Spidey, but he doesn't listen, punching him so hard in the face that he breaks bones in his hand while Venom's in mid-sentence. Why Venom didn't bite his own tongue off, I don't know. Just like I don't know why Venom's voice is so clear, despite talking with his tongue out of his mouth all the time. Shouldn't he sound more like Daffy Duck...?

Peter tells MJ to get the baby out of there, while he punches the hell out of Venom.

PAGES 11-12

MJ runs out to the street, and see the Avengers fly over head, attempting to hail them, but they're busy, flying straight at Roman's headquarters, Empire Unlimited. He has been expecting them, as he has "telepathy, like Professor X," and introduces himself. He's a big, robotic-looking Darkseid type, with his company logo as a chest emblem, pink energy emanating from his flying form.

"From this day on, call me REGENT," says Augustus Roman, CEO of Empire Unlimited. See, he did indeed capture all the missing superheroes, and he's managed to extract their powers and put them into his own body, and now he's ready to fuck up The Avengers.

PAGES 13-14

MJ thinks about Venom's powers and weaknesses out loud, and then she jumps on to the back of a speeding fires engine, hanging on with one hand while holding her baby in teh other.

Venom jumps out the window, in pursuit, followed by Spidey.

Spider-Man looks briefly in the direction of the glowing pink explosions around the Empire Unlimited skyscraper, but heads off to save his family.

"The Avengers..." he rationalizes "...will be just fine."

Will they?

Regent is boasting, telling Cap that this is "literally a show of force" and that he can evade and counter anything they can throw at them. And then The Hulk jumps at him.

I'm not 100% sure what happens here. The art's a bit murky. Regent grabs Hulk's arm, shoots Cyclops' energy beam and then BAMFs away, clutching The Hulk's severed arm.

It's unclear if he cut it off with eyebeam and then teleported away with the severed arm, or if he severed it via teleportation.

Either way, I don't think Hulk's, Cyclops' or Nightcrawler's powers should work like that, but whatever, this isn't a Hulk or X-Men comic, it's a Spider-Man one.


...Oh! Hey! Remember a few pages ago, when Kubert drew a stuffed Hulk doll with its arms torn off? Maybe that wasn't a little clue that Vemon was a big mean bully and jerk; maybe it was foreshadowing this very moment.


The firemen notice MJ on teh back of their truck with a baby as they pull up to a burning building. They start to give her grief, but are soon distracted by the giant black tongue monster rushing them. MJ lifts a line from what has to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 different comic books and movies (Venom: There's nowhere left to go! And notheing left to do... ...except scream!" MJ: Yeah? You first.")


A turn of the page brings us a half-page ad for Secret Wars: Civil War and a half of a page explaining how to redeem your code for a free digital copy of the paper comic you over-paid for. Next to it is a second pull-out section of house ads, including one for the third issue of this series, showing Spider-Man in his black costume and the tag "The Most COntroversial Spider-Man Story of The Year Continues!", plus ads for Old Man Logan #3, The Infinity Gauntlet #3 and Star Wars: Lando #1, which is not a Secret Wars tie-in, but man, if they were collapsing the whole Multiverse into Battleworld, there really should be a Star Wars tie-in. Maybe ones featuring the characters from Castle, Once Upon a Tim, those Oz comics and the Jane Austen adaptations as well.

PAGES 17-20

The sirens do indeed cause Venom to scream–"AAARGHHH!"–as sound is one of his weaknesses. Then Spider-Man arrives and starts wailing on Venom, each blow pushing him back further and further until they're within the burning building.

MJ asks a fireman if there's anyone left in the building aside from the two spider-themed super-people, and when she learns that it is, MJ shouts that the building is empty, "You're the only ones in there! Do you understand?!"

He does. God help him, he does. He pulls down a support column and brings the whole burning building down on top of them. OMG! Spider-Man just killed one of his villains!
As you can see, Spider-Man emerges from the burning rubble, but Venom? Not so much. He is apparently dead. Or maybe just "dead." I guess we'll find out.


It's sometime later, and Peter Parker is helping his now much older-looking daughter–she has long red hair as she does on the cover–cross the street. Off-panel, someone shouts, "Help! My purse! That man's flying away with my purse!" And, behind an oblivious Peter Parker, we see The Vulture successfully flying away with a purse.

"It's not a perfect world," Peter narrates over the last panel, where billboards and bus signs indicate that REgent has taken over the city/Battleworld domain, "But, I look after me and mine. And that's...good enough."

This makes for a nice, parallel to Spider-Man's origin story. You'll recall that he decided to use his super-powers to fight for good after choosing not to help stop a criminal, a criminal who then went on to murder his beloved uncle shortly afterwards. In the course of this story, he finds that by using his super-powers to fight for good, he was actively endangering his family members, and must now make the opposite choice–to selfishly not fight crime to keep his family members alive.

This story, then, shows the Spider-Man story coming full-circle. Now, we already know Spidey probably isn't going to not be Spider-Man for too long–that ad for ASM: RYV #3 in this very issue appeared to show Spider-Man in a Spider-Man costume, Spider-Manning, but it's interesting to see Slott doing something interesting with the opportunity to do an out-of-continuity Spider-Man story.

I made much of the first line of the book, the bit about in a perfect world, Spider-Man and Mary Jane would have been married, but I suppose that could be read as an ironic statement, rather than Slott meta-endorsing the previous, pre-devil deal continuity. After all, how "perfect" is this world...? Every superhero except Spider-Man is apparently dead, Spider-Man is retired, a super-villain rules the city/world/Battleworld domain and animal-themed super-villains are free to snatch purses with impunity (Although, there are flying cars and hover buses in Regent's New York City, so it's not all bad).

I've only read four Secret Wars tie-in books yet–I haven't written about the fourth one, X-Men '92 yet–but this was certainly the best of those four.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Review: Thor Vol. 1: The Goddess of Thunder

I liked this run of comic books an awful lot, and found it to be a very well-made, very fun story set in the traditional milieu of Marvel's Thor comics, but finding something new and exciting to do within that milieu.

That said, I'm fairly certain the fact that I enjoyed it as much as I did had to do with the fact that I'm reading it now (just last night, in fact), collected into a five-issue trade long after the individual issues were originally published. The true identity of the new Thor has already been revealed, so before even reading the first panel of this collection I knew the actually secret secret identity of the woman in the mask on the front cover. So I didn't concentrate on the mystery aspects of the comic while I was reading, an aspect that is a large part of what seems to have been driving the Jason Aaron-written, Russell Dauterman-drawn Thor series.

Had I been reading this series serially, I'd be pretty damn outraged that Marvel was selling the story as the shocking replacement of Thor by a female character (which was apparently garbled here and there, as I recall it being reported that Thor himself was actually being turned into a woman, rather than a woman was getting Thor's hammer and thus his powers and title), and then keeping that character's identity out of the first issue. And the second. And third, fourth and fifth. I haven't really been keeping up with it, but I believe it might have been a full eight issues until the identity of the new Thor was revealed (it's not done so in this collection), and by that point a reader has spent the better part of a year and over $30 on the story.

It is a good story, but it must have been frustrating as hell to show up month and after month to spend $3.99 on a "Who Is Thor?" story...and never get an answer, or even much of a clue.

See, as far as mysteries go, there are actually two of them in Thor, one of which leads to the other. At the climax of Marvel's Original Sin event story (also written by Aaron), Nick Fury whispers something in Thor's ear, which causes the Odinson to drop his hammer and from then on be unable to lift it. Whatever Fury whispered to Thor, the hearing of it somehow rendered Thor unworthy.

How would that work, exactly? What kind of secret knowledge instantly nullifies one's worth, upon being made aware of it? I don't know. That mystery doesn't get solved here either. Thor spends the majority of the first issues on the moon (where the hammer fell) trying in vain to lift it, and talking to it while ignoring his parents and the other Asgardians trying to talk to him. Later, upon getting very drunk in a tavern, he talks about the whisper, but is too drunk or too unwilling to elaborate on it when his friends ask.

So that's why there's a new Thor. Unable to lift Mjolnir, Thor's still Thor, but he's not as Thor as he is with it, you know? At the end of that issue, a woman off-panel walks up to the hammer, says "There must always be a Thor," and then reaches for the handle. An "S" appears before the "he" part of "Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of...Thor," and we gt a splash page revealing the new, female Thor.
I won't even pretend to know how Thor's powers "work." Originally (like, in the '60s), it was a lame doctor named Donald Blake who, upon lifting the hammer, became the Asgardian god Thor in a classic superhero transformation, but that was decades ago. I didn't understand that exactly, in terms of whether Thor and Blake were two completely different people, and what happened to the other when one was on-panel, so I certainly haven't been keeping up with the rules of Thor's transformations over the years.

With Blake, he changed appearances fairly completely, but in the other examples I've seen of people being able to lift Mjolnir, they can simply lift it, they don't transform into Thor, or buffer, blonder versions of themselves. So I won't get into whether this woman should become a man when lifting the hammer or anything.

I do wonder why she has a mask; she says she needs it, but there's no evidence of why she might within this volume. If Mjolnir changes the person holding it so completely–and she does get rather radically physically altered when she transforms–she really shouldn't need a mask. It's just there to give He-Thor something to wonder about, I guess; Dauterman is a fine artist, but all of his female's faces look enough alike that if She-Thor weren't wearing a mask, it's not like one would recognize her anyway

(Additionally, the lady who is really Thor doesn't have, like, an eye-patch or jagged scar or anything that would distinguish her from Generic Looking Comic Book Lady; every Marvel artist draws every Marvel woman their own way, and most of them seem to draw them all alike, so there's nothing by which to distinguish, say, Sue Storm from Emma Frost from Magik save their costumes.)

He-Thor doesn't seem to get too serious about sussing out the identity of She-Thor until the fifth issue, when he pulls an adorable scroll full of suspects out of his belt and crosses off a name with a quill pen.
As a mystery, Aaron's Thor is a bum one. There's only one woman (i.e. suspect) in the first issue, prior to She-Thor becoming She-Thor, and that's He-Thor's mom, Freyja. Later, She-Thor kisses He-Thor in a very un-motherly way, thus convincng the Odinson that it wasn't his mom who took his hammer.

The only other suspect in these five issues is Sif, who denies having the hammer, but wouldn't be above kissing He-Thor like that, even if she does seem pretty unhappy with him during their scene together (the climax of which is in the above panels).

Now, mystery aspects aside, like I said, I enjoyed this a lot, and found it to be a very well-made comic.

The power struggle between the two Thors mirrors that of Odin and Freyja. The All-Father left Asgard, now a floating city called Asgardia, for, um, reasons, and he left Freyja in charge as The All-Mother. Upon his return, he wants to be the boss again, which doesn't sit too terribly well with Freyja. Aaron's Odin is a wonderfully one-note character, all anger and bluster and more anger; he's even made amends with his long-lost brother, the bad guy from Fear Itself (Aaron's Odin is, essentially, the J. Jonah Jameson of Thor now).

While the Asgardians bicker, an army of frost giants marches on an undersea facility belonging to Roxxon, and while He-Thor can't get his magic hammer up, he eventually gets his shit together enough to grab his magic axe, mount one of his giant flying goats, and go to the bottom of the ocean to kill giants.
They have an unexpected ally in dark elf Malekith, who chops off Thor's arm and leaves him for dead.

It is then up to the new Thor, She-Thor, to try and save the day. Malekith (who both looks and acts infinitely cooler than the completely generic, personality-free villain he was in Thor: The Dark World) and the giants march on a flying Roxxon base, intent on getting a maguffin from Roxxon CEO (and shape-changing magic minotaur) Dario Agger. They've taken out The Avengers off-panel, leaving it to the new Thor to save the day.

She's almost there when the old Thor shows up, now outfitted with a dwarven-forged Uru robot arm, to fight the new Thor for his hammer. In classic Marvel style, the pair fight and then team up to defeat their common foes.

That is, in essence, the events of the first four issues, a fine introduction to a fine new direction. Aaron and Dauterman both excel at not only depicting the super-gods of the Marvel Universe in a way that makes them seem alien (from one angle) or mythic (from another), but also matter-of-fact. The delivery is deadpan, but that doesn't make it seem any less funny, or any less natural; a war-like society of space-gods on a flying city orbiting the moon is just the way things are, you know? Just as a private school for mutants run by superheroes is just the way things were in Aaron's Wolverine and The X-Men.

I really liked the new Thor almost immediately. Aaron writes her as almost two people in one. She talks in Thor-font, and with a heroic certainty, but thought clouds generally appear between her dialogue bubbles, questioning how she knows something or other, or why she said what she just said, or if superheroes should act in a particular way or another. It fits in nicely with the character, but, again, if I didn't know who the new Thor was, I imagine this would just read as a little weird (It does seem to eliminate Freyja and Sif though, who are perfectly comfortable in the world of Thor, and signal that whoever the new Thor may be, she's a normal woman from Earth, and not another superhero like, I don't know, Valkyrie, or is Thor Girl from The Initiative still alive?).

I also liked her desgin, and the way Dauterman draws her. The costume is even more "realistic" than that of previous Mjolnir-wielders, with only the red cape looking particularly superheroic. The mask, as odd as it seems that Thor would wear a mask, actually looks pretty cool, and immediately distinguishes the character from other Thors–because it's part of a helmet, and one with the upswept wings of the original Thor helm, it looks functional rather than a disguise.
I also like how relatively slim and little Dauterman draws the new Thor. She's not musclebound like the male Thor (and why would she be? Her super-strength comes from magic, not her muscles), nor is she a buxom default superheroine. Rather, she has to tilt her head to look up at Thor, she's got toned but slim arms, small breasts and generally looks too small to be doing many of the things she's doing–which makes for a particularly good contrast for her foes, actual giants, and, for a few pages, the old Thor himself, and makes it all the more visually dramatic when she wins those fights

(The variant cover artists don't stick to Dauterman's design. Sara Pichelli, Fiona Staples, Esad Ribic, Phil Noto and Arthur Adams all draw a very big and very buxom female Thor. In Adams' case, it was certainly to be expected, but dam it looks weird that they're encased in metal but are so...breast-y. The worst of all is probably Andrew Robinson's. And by "worst" I simply mean "at keeping true to the design of the character in the book. See below.)
The fifth issue in the collection features a guest-artist (at least, I hope it's just a guest artist; I really like Dauterman's work here) in Jorge Molina (He drew the panels with Sif and the scroll earlier in the post). The issue reads like an epilogue to the arc that fills up most of the collection, by the end of which He-Thor tells She-Thor that not only is she worthy of the hammer, but she should also use the name "Thor," so now I will quit calling them He-Thor and She-Thor, and resigns to go by "Odinson" himself.

On Earth, er, Midgard, Thor fights The Absorbing Man and Titania in Times Square, while in Asgardia Odin and his evil bro plot to find out who this new Thor is, and the Odinson very clumsily plays detective, but man, I love his scroll of suspects.

If the lady who is now Thor is going to keep being Thor for a while (and the post-Secret Wars Avengers line-up seems to indicate that she is), then I hope The Odinson moves to Midgard, rents an office and starts working as a private investigator.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Wonder Woman's new direction: Clothes

In addition to launching all of those new titles as part of their "DC You" publishing initiative, DC also attempted to make the June issues all of their pre-existing titles good jumping-on points, by starting new story arcs and launching new directions for the titles. In the case of the bigger characters, those new directions were rather radical.

Superman's secret identity was revealed to the world, he was greatly de-powered, he got a haircut and started wearing a more casual costume of jeans and a Superman t-shirt again. Batman is presumed dead, and so former police commissioner James Gordon is taking over the role of Batman, wearing a huge suit of robotic armor. Even Aquaman and Green Lantern Hal Jordan received pretty dramatic new costume changes and shifts to their status quo (with both being labeled fugitives).

And as for Wonder Woman? Well, she basically just changed clothes.

June's issue of Wonder Woman, which is still being written by Meredith Finch and still being penciled by David Finch, includes a scene where Wonder Woman visits her half-brother Smith/Hephaestus to pick up her new outfit. It's mean to be a reflction of everything she is now, she says, "god, queen, warrior for justice."

I suppose some in-story rationale was needed, but it's not really apparent from looking at the costume how it reflects any of that, and does so better than her "old" costume (which is only about four years old at this point). Well, the bigger, pointier wristbands and shoulder armor perhaps suggests "warrior" in a way her old costume didn't. And maybe replacing all of the silver bits with gold is meant to denote a promotion from princess to queen, and from demi-god to god...? She already wore a tiara at all times, which already suggested royalty.

In the back of the $3.99, 20-page Wonder Woman #41, there's a two-page feature labeled "Warrior Wear" which features a half-dozen preliminary sketches–including one which looks an awful lot like a Donna Troy/Wonder Girl costume, and another that looks like the final version with a cape attached–and a sheet of the final costume from three different views.

There's a block quote from Finch, and six short paragraphs about the design process.
"Meredith has been in my ear for a while about the costume, and how it's not in keeping with what any of the men wear, or really, what a woman in the real world would wear to fight crime," he says.

Meredith Finch is quoted saying basically what Wonder Woman does in the script: I really wanted her new costume to reflect all of her roles: old–as in, member of the Justice League; and new–as in, God of War and Queen of Themyscira."

By "what any of the men wear," I assume Finch was referring to what the other Justice Leaguers wear, and that, of course, means showing less skin. In that regard, pants are usually what gets added whenever someone tries to improve upon Wonder Woman's costume (in fact, New 52 Wonder Woman was going to wear pants instead of shorts, until fandom collectively freaked out). Covering her bare arms as well is a more unusual move (Jim Lee's infamous pre-Flashpoint redesign included a jacket though). Interestingly, "the men" are showing a bit more skin now than they did when they last had makeovers: Superman's wearing short-sleeves, and Aquaman's wearing no sleeves.

I always find it a little silly when someone tries to articulate practicality and what a superhero costume should look like in "the real world," especially for a fantastic character like Wonder Woman. Like, what would "a woman in the real world" wear to fight crime? A police uniform. And...that's about the only option, really.

What would a super-powered demi-goddess from an ancient, immortal race of warrior women wear to fight crime in the real world...? Who cares? The real world is not one in which a super-powered demi-goddes from an ancient, immortal race of warrior women exist at all, full-stop.

I don't care for the costume at all. It's a worse one than the original New 52 redesign (which was just her New 52 costume, but with black pants instead of shorts) and Jim Lee's redesign from J. Michael Stracynski's ill-fated run on Wonder Woman. It's basically just her current costume worn over a black unitard, with a pointy loincloth and shoulder-pads and thigh-high boots. As for how her knife-bracelets work, she doesn't use them at all in this issue, but I've never really understood outfitting Wonder Woman with edged weapons. A "warrior for peace" doesn't really need anything to stab with, you know?

Ideally, Wonder Woman would just change clothes when she was fulfilling the different roles in her life: Wearing her superhero costume when being a superhero, adding Bronze Age accessories like bits of armor and a battle-skirt when being an Amazonian warrior, putting on a nice clean toga when being a queen, and putting on War/Ares' helm and cape when god of warring. It's not like anyone has one outfit they wear in all occasions, designed to reflect every aspect of themselves, you know?

But then, this costume change is really just a change for change's sake, something to give Wonder Woman a hook to potentially draw in new readers, and it shouldn't last all that long.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Comic Shop Comics: July 1st

Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians #2 (Dark Horse Comics) The spinosaurus who we spent much of the first issue of this series with gets a bit of a break here, as much of the action is devoted to a pack of large theropods successfully stalking, carrying off and ultimately devouring the babies of a small herd of sauropods (Sorry, I don't know the names of the specific dinosaurs; I think I mentioned it last month, but I'd really appreciate a species key on the letters page a the end of the issue. Educate us, Ricardo Delgado!).

As for the spinosaur, he spends most of his panel-time in seducing and eventually coupling with a colorful female of his species (weird; usually it's the males of species that are brightly-colored, but here its reverse; the female is mostly red with a bunch of other colors on her sail and tail). It turns out that spinosaurs, like lions, destroy the babies their mates might have had from other males, as the pages go red and we see our hero protagonist tearing apart his new mate's previous progeny.

That the scene manages to be so damn disturbing is a testament to Delgado's skills as a designer, a renderer and a story-teller; and it's but one scene of dinosaur brutality against the young, as the the theropods save a sauropod for one of their children to learn how to kill with.

Man, life is hard out there for a dinosaur.

Do note that while this book is $3.99, it offers 24-pages of full-color content for that price, an essay from Delgado that I didn't read and no ads. I harp on this because it still boggles my mind how much the Big Two charge for their 20-22-page comics, and yet they fill them with distracting ads at such a rate it makes trade-waiting seem an attractive option. One would think the smaller the publisher, the more reliant they would be on ad revenue to offset the cost of printing and hiring creators, but that's clearly not the case.

Airboy #2 (Image Comics) I was pretty surprised by the meta-take on Airboy that writer James Robinson, in collaboration with artist Greg Hinkle, was doing with the old Hillman hero Airboy, now in public domain. Hell, in this issue, Robinson sits Airboy down and discusses The Multiverse as it exists in DC and Marvel comics with the character, who the creators–the real protagonists of the book–have decided they are hallucinating.

So Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen's It's a Bird by way of Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, only with Airboy instead of Superman, I guess. Most of this issue consists of the debauched comics creators hanging out with Airboy, trying to figure out if he's real or not and make him feel comfortable in their world, while Airboy is aghast at the "future" of our modern society (In a lot of ways, the aspect of the issue is reminiscent of the Tom Peyer written DC Two Thousand miniseries, where the heroes of the Golden Age travel to the future, are can't believe they fought off the Nazis just to make the world safe for pollution, bad fashion and heavy metal music). He also gets to whine about DC Comics a little too, which is both funny, sad and weird all at once.

The narrative does take a weird twist at the end though, one that should make the next issue almost nothing like the first two, and makes me more eagerly anticipate it. While parts of this Airboy revival may remind me of so many other comic books, I can honestly say I've never read another comic book quite like Robinson and Hinkle's Airboy.

Bat-Mite #2 (DC Comics) This issue makes good on the promise of the first issue, with Bat-Mite trying to rehab Hawkman into something cooler...after meeting him in a dungeon where a 200+-year-old mad scientist lady wants to switch minds with Hawkman.

"How to fix the Hawk.. ...When so many have tried and failed before me?" Bat-Mite asks himself. Good question! He considers some of teh same options we see on the cover (including the Alex Ross version from Kingdom Come), ultimately deciding on a Hawkman that looks remarkably like that of the '90s combined with the New 52 "Savage" Hawkman, the main two differences being Hawkman has a spiked-ball where his left hand would be, and he's got some pretty lame tattoos.
As with the previous issue, Jurgens' overall plotting is strong, although some of the particular gags he writes for Bat-Mite's never-ending chatter seem particularly flat, like they belong in comics from a decade or two ago. In fact, there's a two-panel speech delivered by the villain that made me wonder if she wasn't being used by Jurgens as a mouthpiece at one point:
I mean, that seems awfully on the nose, doesn't it? Particularly in a comic book written by Jurgens, coming out as part of DC's "DC You" effort, which if sull of young, fresh and new talents...? If so, Jurgens shouldn't complain too much; I mean, DC did give him two titles to write (In addition to this, he's also writing Batman Beyond).

By the end of the issue, everything goes back to normal for Hawkman (save he's still sans body hair), which seems like a bit of a lost opportunity to tweak and better a character otherwise missing from a DC book at the moment, and the broader plot begins to take shape a bit, with Bat-Mite making some friends and a villain appearing in the last panel to talk portentously about the future.

Artist Corin Howell's art is even better here than in the last issue. It seems much sharper, perhaps simply because she's growing more accustomed to the characters the longer she draws them. Her Bat-Mite is super-cute, looking more like a doll than the weird imp of the Silver Age, and her non-Mite characters remind me of Lee Moder's work on the Geoff Johns-written Stars and STRIPE series.

Bat-Mite's certainly not a perfect comic, but it's certainly a pretty good one.

Bizarro #2 (DC) Writer Heath Corson and artist Gustavo Duarte continue they're strangely-paced story of Jimmy Olsen and Bizarro's road trip to Canada (aka "Bizarro America"), which here takes them from Smallville (where they conclude their conflict with King Tut) to Gotham City to Central City to an Old West ghost town where bounty hunter Chastity Hex is looking for a bad guy (I'd love to see a map of this trip).

Corson continues to have a lot of fun with Bizarro's dialogue, and doing different things with it. I liked the bit where Tut complained that Bizarro kept agreeing with him while they battled, and Jimmy's uncertainty of how to take many of Bizarro's answers, as he gradually begins to understand the way Bizarro talks–except Bizarro is constantly deviating from the "rules" of his own speech (sometimes his no, for example, doesn't mean yes, but actually no).

Bill Sienkiwicz's seemingly random appearance last issue to illustrate Bizarro's dream is apparently going to be something of an ongoing feature, as Kelley Jones and Francis Manapul both show up to illustrate splash-pages in this issue, collaborating with Duarte (who draws Bizarro) to draw cameo appearances. Jones draws Batman, naturally (and I think this is his first time drawing "New 52" Batman, although due to the pose, it's only Batman's gauntlets and the soles of his boots which differ from other Jones Batmen, and Manapul naturally draws The Flash.
Like Bat-Mite, this is a very fun book, although it's a much more distinct one.

Mickey Mouse #1/#310 (IDW) I wish I knew a little more about the providence of these particular comics. There's a 36-page story by Andrea Castellan and Giorgio Cavazzano, followed by a trio of short stories featuring Pluto and Ellsworth, a mynah bird, filling up another ten pages (So that's 46-pages of ad-free comics for $4).

The lead story is an adventure one in which Mickey, Goofy and their neighbor Eurasia Toft go on a jungle adventure in order to rescue her uncle's long-lost explorer friends. The back-ups are humor-focused, with one of them proving too hard for me to wrap my brain around. In that one, Ellsworth is an anthropomorphic bird (he was just plain, pet bird in the previous story, in which Goofy buys him a t a pet store), apparently living with Mickey as a roommate, rather than a pet (Unlike Pluto, he wears clothes and talks). He's accosted by a dogcatcher who looks like Pete (some sort of dog, cat or bear himself), and is thrown into the pound with a bunch of non-anthropomorphic dogs and cats...which are nevertheless able to use their paws to operate files.

The rules of anthopomorphism in Disney comics are always blurry, but man, this one just had too much going on it for me. My head didn't explode, but I feared it might.

The lead story was fun, but I prefer Disney ducks to Mickey and Goofy. I may try another issue or two before deciding if I want this one on my pull-list or not.

Mythic #2 (Image) No, this didn't come out this week, but I missed it the week it did, so I'm catching up. Two issues in, I'm really rather on the fence about it. The premise is high concept, but it's the sort of high concept that seems a little too familiar to me (although writer Phil Hester does shade it differently to differentiate it somewhat from other comics and stories about behind-the-scenes organizations that deal with magic and the supernatural).

It was John McCrea's art that attracted me to the series, and while I've liked it okay so far, I was wavering while reading this issue if maybe this isn't the sort of comic I should be trade-waiting. But then I got to the next issue box:
How on earth is someone supposed to resist that...?

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #11 (DC) The regular creative team of Sholly Fisch and Dario Brizuela pair Scooby-Doo and Mystery, Inc with...Secret Squirrel? That's not a team-up I would have seen coming. Aside from both being Hanna-Barbera creations, these two properties don't seem like they have much in common.

Of course, it has been a long-ass time since I've seen any Secret Squirrel cartoons (When did Cartoon Network come into existence? Because it would have been shortly after that), but the fact that he is a giant talking bipedal squirrel seems too at odds with the milieu of Scooby-Doo (or the Scooby-milieu), and he and his giant talking, bipedal mole sidekick seem infinitely more terrifying than the ghost they team with Scooby and the gang to defeat. I'm slightly more courageous than Scooby and Shaggy, and I would run screaming from a two foot tall squirrel in a trench coat, no matter how friendly it seemed.

That said, Fisch and Brizuela make this work about as well as any of the previous team-ups, natural or not (There is a scene where our heroes are suspended over a shark tank that made me wish for a Jabberjaw team-up). The best bit may have been that the super-villains headquarters, built into an active volcano, was destroyed when the volcano erupted naturally. I don't know if I've seen that exact scenario before, despite how commonly volcanos are used as secret bases for super-villains in spy movies.

We Stand On Guard #1 (Image) Writer Brian K. Vaughan teams with artist Steve Skroce for a war comic set in the 22nd century. The combatants? The United States and Canada.

Okay, I'm intrigued.

The story opens with a horrific shock and awe bombing of Ottawa in 2112, and after we watch our protagonist get orphaned in a horrific scene, we jump to 2125, where she's trying to live off the land in the Northwest Terrotories, and doing pretty well at it (and damn, how does she keep her clothes so white?). Until she runs afoul of a U.S. military robot dog (sadly, not that big of an extrapolation from the technology we're already working on), then a group of Canadian freedom fighters, than what appears to be a U.S. AT-AT, which is cool enough looking that I kind of wouldn't mind this dystopian future. Like, if we had AT-ATs now, I would have joined the military as soon as I turned 18.

It's early in the series, obviously, but this is an excellent writer with an excellent track record, and an excellent artist with an excellent track record, and a pretty intriguing premise so far. Like Red Dawn, only we're the Russians, and Canada is America, maybe?

There's a great speech in here from one character about Superman:
While I'm not entirely sure how valid the reading of Superman as a symbol of Canadians may be, and I wonder how many Canadians agree that they have to leave their home "planet" of Canada for the states to do truly great things, it's certainly interesting, and a take I haven't heard, despite how often characters in various dramas might meditate on or speechify about the Man of Steel.

Please keep in mind that BKV is, like Jerry Siegel, a Clevelander himself.

Also of particular note? This panel:
I don't know if that's product placement, or if Skroce and company just appropriated it to hammer home the fact that this is definitely Canada, but I am glad to know that in 100 years Tim Hortons will still be around (I'm a little surprised the logo didn't change at all during all that time, though).

The panel also annoyed me a bit, though, because it made me want Tim Hortons coffee. And, as far as I know, the nearest Tim Hortons is an hour and change drive from here. Dammit, why oh why did I ever leave Columbus?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Review: Amazing X-Men Vol. 2: World War Wendigo

I can't help but wonder what Amazing X-Men might have been like had Jason Aaron remained onboard as its writer, instead of jumping ship for greener pastures (Star Wars, Thor). And if Marvel's X-Men plans didn't end up being so closely tied to Brian Michael Bendis' work. And if the board re-setting Secret Wars wasn't looming, building an expiration date into so many of the books in Marvel's line as it existed prior to their decision to rejigger their fictional universe.

That's a lot of ifs, I know; this second volume is just so very different from the first volume, and it certainly seems like Marvel's plans for the title changed pretty drastically at some point during Aaron's work on the initial story arc.

Aaron had, of course, been writing Wolverine for years by the time Amazing X-Men launched. For a while he wrote Wolverine: Weapon X, which was the "good" Wolverine title when there were multiple Wolverine titles. Then he wrote Wolverine. Then he wrote the excellent Wolverine and The X-Men. And, at that book's conclusion, this seemed to be the next step in Aaron's exploration of the X-Men through the prism of Wolverine, having gone from writing the character's solo adventures to writing about the X-Men's school, faculty and student body, to now focusing on the X-Men as an old-school, traditional superhero-team.

With the two A books in the franchise, the Bendis-written ones, focusing on two upstart squads of X-Men–Cyclops' outlaw, rebel faction and their New Xavier School and the time-lost original X-Men, who eventually transferred from Wolverine's school to Cyclops–Amazing X-Men really should have been the "real" X-Men book. Maybe it was techincally the (or a) B book in the franchise, but it would star the characters who both readers of the comics and the characters of the Marvel Universe would regard as the X-Men: Wolverine, Storm, Iceman and Northstar, Firestar (in for Kitty Pryde, who Bendis appropriated for All-New) and, at the end of the first story arc, "The Quest for Nightcrawler," Nightcrawler.

How odd, then, to open up the second collection of the relatively newly-launched title to find a fill-in story by a fill-in creative team, featuring Spider-Man teaming-up with just two of the Amazing X-Men for what reads a hell of a lot like an inventory story that could have run pretty much anywhere, but ended up in the pages of Amazing X-Men to...give Marvel an extra 30 days to find a new creative team, I guess.
That story is the one originally published in Amazing X-Men #7 and entitled "No Goats, No Glory," by writer Kathryn Immonen and the art team of Paco Medina and Juan Vlasco. It feels a little under-cooked, as if it's missing an element or two that might have improved it, but its major problem is that it just doesn't feel anything like an X-Men story at all, and doesn't seem to have anything to do with the storyline that preceded it or the one that will follow it (It's the sort of done-in-one that Marvel probably should have just not collected at all; I often wish the Big Two publishers would better curate their collections, and not just collect every single issue chronologically by default. Not doing so might actually encourage the purchasing and reading of the serially-published books–either in their comic book form or their digital form).

It's a Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends reunion story. Iceman and Firestar, in their civilian clothing, are at a Pik N Pay gorcery store right before closing (in the middle of the day, apparently), doing the shopping for a "game day" party. In the parking lot, they encounter a weird baby of unknown origin, and then Spider-Man, who is chasing the baby.

The baby has mutations and powers, and was left with Spider-Man as some sort of alien changeling when its owners/parents stole the goat Spider-Man was watching, the goat being the mascot of one of the teams playing the sport that is occurring on this particular day (Details are vague. Wait, Spidey mentions "kick off," so it's a football game of some kind). Why Spider-Man is watching a goat, why aliens might have stolen it and replaced it with their baby even though they want their baby back and why there is 21st century comic book plot about someone stealing the goat mascot of a sports teams is all left up to the reader to imagine possible explanations.

Immonen's scripting is often pretty funny, and as someone who used to watched the cartoon show that inspired this as a child, I enjoyed the reunion of these particular characters for purely nostalgic reasons, but what might work on the micro-level certainly doesn't work on the macro-level. This comic is just weird, not in its content, but in its existence, and not-finished quality.

The artwork, on the other hand, is fine, although there were details that bugged me (Like the position of the sun at closing time, or the fact that it took a raccoon two hands to hold an off-brand Oreo. Little stuff, really.)

That "intermission" of sorts between "The Quest For Nightcrawler" and the "World War Wendigo" storylines over, we have the return of artist Ed McGuinness inked by Mark Farmer for the first 1/5th of the title story, and the arrival of the new writers: Craig Kyle and Christ Yost. McGuniness and Farmer depart after that first issue, and Carlo Barberi and Iban Coello draw the rest of the storyline, with six additional inkers joining them (Barberi and Coello do some inking themselves, so there are eight inkers on the five-issue story altogether; maybe Marvel needed more than a one-issue fill-in inventory story to stall for the necessary time to put together an Amazing X-Men creative team).

Now, as many of you who have been reading EDILW for long know, I am not exactly expert in the Marvel Universe, having "only" read Marvel Comics for about 15 years now, and among my many, many, many blindspots is pre-Morrison X-Men history. So I don't have much in the way of background for a story in which The X-Men team up with Alpha Flight to fight Wendigos. And there were a couple of twists in this story arc where I was completely surprised by what occurred; it wasn't necessarily a bad thing, just surprising because I could tell that when certain new characters entered the narrative, I was meant to recognize them and perhaps have some sort of attachment to them. I didn't, and thus it just seemed like a random introduction of bizarrely random characters, but that actually contributed to my enjoyment to those twists.

Now, as far as I knew, Marvel's Wendigo was a big, cool, white furry monster that The Hulk fought in a comic that is probably worth a lot of money, as it was Wolverine's first appearance. I also know it's based on a legend of pre-European cultures in the North Americas. And I thought Marvel's Wendigo was a character, not a whole class of monsters, although I think Jeph Loeb is to blame for turning the Wendigo into Wendigos, in the pages of his Hulk run.

The rules of the Wendigo, as Kyle and Yost present them, is that any human being that consumes the flesh of another human being on Canadian soil turns into a Wendigo...rules so specific that it's actually kind of fun, as when the rampaging monsters cross over the U.S. border and immediately revert to human form. There seems to be some tinkering going on here though. An outbreak of Wendigo-ism is caused when a guy at a meat processing plant accidentally kills a co-worker, and attempts to hide his body by grinding it up with all the other meat.

And now Wendigos have the ability to infect others, turning them into Wendigos, by wounding them. So the threat is basically a zombie apocalypse sort of story, only without the zombies. Actually, maybe it's more of a werewolf or vampire apocalypse sort of story? The essential difference, beyond the visuals, is that Wendigo-ism, unlike zombie-ism, is reversible, so the X-Men and Alpha Fight (and The Avengers, guarding the U.S./Canada border) can face a potentially world-ending threat (more on how this is more than a Canadian problem in a bit) without having to kill scores or hundreds of civilians; even characters like Wolverine can become Wendigos but go back to normal at the end of the story, as superheroes inevitably must.

So Wolverine happens to visit an Alpha Flight lady (Vindicator) the day after her significant other with a matching outfit (Guardian), has gone missing. They investigate, and find a town overrun with Wendigos. Their teams come to attempt to bail them out. This X-Men squad includes Storm, Iceman, Northstar, Firestar and Nighcrawler from the previous story arc, and the newly added Colossus and Rachel Grey, apparently there because a few scenes call for a telepath to be there. Oh, and Rockslide, who stowed away in the locked bathroom of the Blackbird. His presence is also pretty random...until the climax. Alpha Flight includes Puck, Talisman, Aurora, Snowbird and Sasquatch, a character I've always liked the look of.

A few issues into the conflict, it's revealed that events are being manipulated by Tanarq, one of several god-like "Great Beasts," and apparently the bad one. These are the characters I was completely unfamiliar with. He's defeated the other spirit creatures in his realm and is growing stronger by Wendigo-izing Canadians; the more Wendigos that are made, the stronger the curse becomes, until they're capable of existing outside of the Canadian border, and thus threatening the rest of the world and, more importantly, the United States of America.
Some characters go to the spirit realm, free the Great Beasts, get temporarily turned into elemental gods (Rockslide was needed to be an Earth god, I guess) and fight a giant Tanaraq, who is ultimately killed (or "killed"...?) in a way that I swear I see some giant monster or other get killed in comics on at least a bi-monthly basis.

On a purely surface level, I enjoyed the storyline. I liked Kyle and Yost's dialogue, for the most part, and the way the various characters play off each least among the X-Men. Aside from Aurora, none of the Alpha Flight characters have much of a personality (and even hers is a one-note mean girl characterization; like a cattier, Canadian Namor). The art is for the most part very strong, especially if you can forgive the hiccups in style (the one weird thing was the behavior of Storm's mohawk, which at one point gets flattened when she's plunged underwater, but when the next penciller takes over, it's standing straight up again; I guess she can probably control humidity, static electricity and heat enough to fix her own hair though, huh?).

That said, the story's not really about anything, despite gliding over various angles that could have been explored and exploited so that this storyline was something more than a superhero fight comic: The nature of the cannibal curse in the era of factory farming, the line between eating meat and eating human meat, anxiety regarding immigration, the xenophobia that X-Men comics have always looked to for dramatic tension given the new form of Canadians, conflict between the religious and secular world. There's a lot of stuff in here, but Kyle and Yost don't do anything with it. Even the denouement seems wasted, as we get a few pages assuring us that none of the mutants who were on the ropes died, and that Wolverine was successfully de-Wendigo-ized.
I suppose a cynical reader, or just a reader not terribly invested in the fictional lives of these Marvel characters, could level the same criticism at most super-comics: Hey, this isn't about anything, it's just a bunch of sexy people with superpowers fighting and exchanging snappy dialogue! But here it seems more obvious than it should.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Meanwhile, at Comics Alliance...

I interviewed Jon Morris about his awesome new book The League of Regrettable Superheroes: Half-Baked Heroes From Comic Book History!. It basically a field guide to some of the weirder heroes of the Golden, Silver and Modern Ages of comic books, and I had a blast reading it (It was totally worth it just to learn about The Eye, pictured above). You can read our conversation about the book (and The Red Bee) here.

And while at Comics Alliance, you should check out the latest installment of "The Question," in which various contributors (myself included) suggest new series they would like to see Marvel announce soon, complete with creative team suggestions. You can read that here. Unlike the previous installment of the feature (same question as this one, only with DC comics), there wasn't a unanimous consensus in terms of which character everyone most wanted to see get his or her own title (everyone suggested a Lois Lane comic of one kind or another, you may recall). If I had to bet, I would assume that new books starring Black Panther, The Young Avengers and The Runaways are the most sure likely to be announced between now and San Diego Comic-Con International.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Secret Wars Journal #1 is not very good

"Fuck this comic!" my friend said of Secret Wars Journal #1 shortly after reading the first half of it last month. (That was also her review of Convergence: Superman #1, but she only read the first page of that one before making that declaration; also, she threw the Superman comic while saying it.)

She pointed out the two factors she hated most about Secret Wars Journal, and I asked to borrow it, to read and review for my blog later. My friends is, by the way, my number one–and, um, only source of Secret Wars comics at the moment. I'm extremely interested in the whole thing, but not $4-per-20-pages interested.

I suppose we should back up a bit, though. When Marvel began its new era of line-wide crossover event stories with Civil War in 2006, it also launched a companion, anthology series, Civil War: Frontline. That series compiled stories from various points-of-view around the Marvel Universe, while the main series focused on the events of the story itself: Frontline is where one could find out what the average man on the street of the Marvel Universe might think of the goings-on, or where one could find out how a minor character was affected by the Civil War storyline proper.

It was a good idea, really; it capitalized on interest in the main storyline, it gave a whole bunch of creators a great showcase for their work and it helped flesh out the importance of the event, as it wasn't just something affecting the characters with their own books, but all of the characters in the Marvel Universe (or, at least a lot of them).

Such companion series, generally street-level in focus, have accompanied most of Marvel's event series since, and it's been amusing to watch what a hard time Marvel has apparently had in coming up with titles for such series, and in distinguishing them from the series they're meant to be companions to.

My favorite was AVX: Vs, the logo of which appeared to be "Avengers Vs. X-Men," which was the title of the book it was tying into; the "v" in AVX stood for "Vs.," of course, too. By that point, they gave up on trying to think of different angles for the companion series, however, and treated that one as the comic book equivalent of deleted scenes from a DVD, as the comic didn't contain stories, just extended versions of fight scenes that appeared in Avengers Vs. X-Men.

Can you tell at a glance which of these is the main series Avengers Vs. X-Men and which is the tie-in, AVX: Vs...?

Well, Marvel's latest event series is so big it gets two companion series: Secret Wars Journal and Secret Wars: Battleworld.

Do note that the word "Battleworld" appears prominently on both, so much so that the titles actually look an awful lot like Battleworld: Secret Wars Journal and Secret Wars: Battleworld.

It doesn't really matter much; they both seem to perform the same function. The premise of Secret Wars, as the 52-word introduction on each credits page declares, is that "The Multiverse was destroyed!" and that all that remains is "A massive, patchwork planet composed of the fragments of worlds that no longer exist."

In practice, this appears to mean that Marvel told all of its editors to "go nuts" while Jonathan Hickman is writing Secret Wars, and they in turn told their various creative teams to "go nuts," and so we have all kinds of pretty nutty temporary titles.

Secret Wars Journal operates in the same fashion: Totally random stories set on "Battleworld" (i.e. the Marvel Universe gone mad), only there are two short ones per issue by various creators, and they should be able to nuttier than many of the other titles, as they only have to sustain a 10-page narrative, rather than the 20-pages of the handful of Secret Wars-related one-shots, or the 120-pages or so of the longer miniseries.

So we're up to speed then?

Okay, so Battleworld Secret Wars Journal #1 has a lovely Kevin Wada cover of an old time-y Kate Bishop in a typically pretty Kevin Wada dress, aiming her bow and arrow while Hulkling and Wiccan pose in the fog behind her.

The cover story is called "The Arrowhead," and it is written by Pru Shen and drawn by Ramon Bachs. In the first panel, we're told that the setting here is "King James' England," and a caravan is talking about The Arrowhead, who is basically Robin Hood. And is also secretly aristocrat Lady Kate of Bishop (who really should wear a mask or something when doing her thieving). She rides with a never named blonde guy and a magician named William.

Marvel fans will, of course, recognize the trio as Hawkeye Kate Bishop, Wiccan Billy Kaplan and Hulkling Teddy Altman from Young Avengers (although Kate might be more familiar to many current comic readers as the other Hawkeye, the one who appeared in every other issue of Matt Fraction, David Aja, Annie Wu and company's Hawkeye comic).

So we get an info dump: Kate is Arrowhead, who robs from the rich and she and her men are going to steal a magic orb of some kind from "The Punisher Sheriff" (Frank Castle is the Sheriff of Nottingham...?), but a trap is set for them and then the "story" suddenly ends, Shen having run out of panels, I guess, with a "See more of Lady Kate in Siege #1!"

So yeah, fuck that comic book. If you went in expecting a comic book about Kate Bishop as Robin Hood in a dress, that's gotta be pretty disappointing; me, I knew there were two stories in the issue, and it still seemed extremely abrupt and fact, even using the word "ending" to describe it is pretty generous. It's basically just a preview for a comic book that may or may not even exist yet (I don't really know what Siege is going to entail, but I hope it ends up being better than the comic it takes its name from). Honestly, about 75% of those eight-page previews that DC published in May to hype their "DCYou" initiative offered fuller, more complete and more compelling narratives than "Arrowhead."

The second half is a complete story, albeit a rather weird one. Set in "Egyptia," this one is called "We Worship What We Don't Understand" and is written by Matthew Rosenberg and drawn by Luca Pizzari. I'm not familiar with the setting, if it's one imported from somewhere familiar in the Marvel Multiverse, but it appears to be basically the Egypt of the book of Exodus, with the Israelites swapped out for mutants? The Ten Commandments or even Prince of Egypt, but with the X-Men sounds like the best idea ever, and really one that needs more than ten pages to fulfill ("Let my people go, bub").

The mutants are oppressed by the god Khonshu (the made-up Egpytian deity from Marvel's various Moon Knight comics*) and her worshippers. On this particular night, Wolverine is going to lead Shadowcat, Colossus and Nightcrawler to the goddess, so they can kill her. Wolverine's contact is a Moon Knight named Spector, but things don't go as expected, as Spector and other Moon Knights transform into Werewolf By Night-looking werewolves and fight the ancient Eyptian-ized X-Men in eighteen silent panels of brutal, dynamic action and violence running across a three-tiered, two-page spread.

There's a bit of shrugging philosophy from Khonshu, and an ironic, twist ending of the sort one might expect from an anthology comic. In that regard, while this is no longer than "Arrowhead," it at least tells a complete story, with a beginning, middle and end, has at least a few ideas to it, and is structured satisfyingly.

It's additionally a nice showcase for Pizzari. Bachs does a decent job in "The Arrowhead," but doesn't get much to do. Pizzari, on the other hand, gets to redesign, like, all of the X-Men, as well as draw lots of characters in action. Of those designs, some are just details glimpsed in passing, but they're fun ones: Bishop with an ankh tattoo over his eye rather than his traditional "M," Emma Frost still barely covering her breasts, even though now she's got mummy-like wrappings and a cape an,d, best of all, Cable's big, Moses-y beard. (Although in the X-Men version of the Book of Exodus, lets call it The Book of X-odus**, I still insist that Wolverine should play Moses.)

I remember "Egpytia" appearing on one the Battleworld maps I saw online or in the comic shop (which it might have been nice to see in these comics, actually), so I assume this isn't the only glimpse of that "domain" we'll see in the course of Secret Wars, but the ending for all of these characters seems, so I don't know if we'll see ancient Egptian (or Egyptia-ian) X-Men again or not.

Despite the various pleasures of the second story, it is still only a good story in relation to the first; I mean, there's nothing wrong with or bad about it, it's just a competently-written, well-drawn story. It is, in other words, the least we should be able to expect from a comic book from Marvel Entertainment in the year 2015. And it follows a weird-ass stealth advertainment piece for Siege. For four goddam dollars.

So, had I paid for this, I think I would have to agree: Fuck this comic.

*Please note: I am corrected in the comments section, as I so often am.

**I would also accept The Book of X-Men-odus.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Meanwhile, at Robot 6...

My apologies for such infrequent posting this week. I had a couple of bigger-than-I-expected-them-to-be pieces I was working on for sites that are not this site, and they ended up eating most of my allotted writing-about-comic books-on-the-Internet time. One of those pieces was this one, at Robot 6: Reviews of every single one of the #1 issues that DC launched this month, from All Star Section Eight to We Are...Robin. I messed around with a couple of different ways to rate the various books, something I don't normally like to do at all when writing reviews, but thought it might be useful in this particular case since I was trying to provide a survey of an entire publishing initiative. I considered stars, or Nick Lacheys, or Twix bars, but ended up using letter grades, as that way I didn't have to figure out how to make stars and half stars.

You'll note that the grades are, in general, pretty high. Since I was just grading the books against one another, I graded them on a curve. Overall, I'm pretty happy and excited about DC's new offerings.

It was nice to see so many new books devoted to humor (Section Eight, Bat-Mite, Bizarro, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, Justice League 3001, Prez, Starfire), and so many others that had a sense of fun or sense of humor to them, even if they weren't exactly out-and-out comedy books (Black Canary, Midnighter.

It was also nice to see so many new books featuring lady protagonists (Black Canary, Harley Quinn and Power Girl, Starfire, Prez), men who aren't white guys (Doctor Fate, Doomed, We Are...Robin) and one featuring a gay hero that looks like it's being built to last (Midnighter).

Perhaps more importantly to me, however, it was just nice to see so many new names in the credits for these new offerings, both in terms of great, established creators who have never worked with DC Comics before, and names that I was learning for the first time by reading these comics.

I've said it a few times already in a few posts here and elsewhere, but June of 2015 looked a whole hell of a lot like what September of 2011 should have looked like.

In May, I added Section Eight, Bat-Mite, Bizarro, Black Canary and Doctor Fate to my pull-list. Now having read the first issues, I'm considering also adding Constantine, Martian Manhunter, Midnighter and Omega Men. Or maybe I'll just trade-wait those; as much as I enjoy the comic book, I am increasingly exasperated by the storing of comic books. There are even more that I'll definitely read in trade, even if I'm not sure I'd want to buy them and own them forever.

At any rate, DC's line got a breath of fresh air this month, and I sighed with relief, rather than exasperation.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Comic Shop Comics: June 24

Batgirl #41 (DC Comics) This is artist Babs Tarr's first issue of the series in which she's not working with Cameron Stewart's layouts, and it shows. The pencil art still looks like the pencil art of the last few issues, of course, but there are some angles that look wholly unlike any we've seen before. Like this third panel on page one:

It's one of a lot of awesome Barbara Gordon expressions in this issue.

Like, for example, her "My Dad Shaved His Mustache" face:

Here's her "I'm A Little Girl And I Love My Dad And Brian The Unicorn" face:

And here's her "My Dad Is Batman Face":

As you can probably tell, this issue is all about Babs and her dad. Batgirl meets the new, police sanctioned, robotic rabbit Batman when they both attempt the apprehend the same perps, and, the next morning, James Gordon shows up at Babs' place to show off his new, clean-shaven look and have a serious talk with Barbara.

Man, even Commissioner Gordon looks sexy when Babs Tarr draws him. Is there any character she draws that doesn't look sexy? Can she draw an unsexy character? I think she may be like Sophie Campbell, and just have a really hard time not drawing sexy people, you know? (I'm not complaining; sexy is good!)

Speaking of sexy, as long as I'm scanning images from this book, check out Babs' suit-ing up for action scene:

That's behind the scenes at a barcade (damn, Burnside is trendy!), where Babs and Frankie are playing the Sailor V arcade game, which is apparently a bizarre mixture of Galaga, Asteroids that the Starship Enterprise there? Was there a Star Trek arcade game I never played?
Then Livewire, from Superman: The Animated Series shows up, and she has a new look (and it's a good one! Maybe Diane Nelson can hop on the Cosmic Treadmill and travel back in time and assign Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr the task of redesigning the whole DC Universe instead of letting Jim Lee and a few others do it? Imagine how sexy the DC Universe would be!). Again the new Batman shows up, and it looks like it's Gordon vs. Gordon, Bat vs. Bat!

I think this may have been my favorite issue of the series so far.

Batman '66 #24 (DC) It's Marsha, Queen of Diamonds once again, with writer Ray Fawkes handling the script of this one story-only issue. The art comes courtesy of Jon Bogdanove, and once again it's disconcerting how...different it looks than what I imagine when I hear Jon Bogdanove is drawing a Batman '66 comic.

His likenesses to not only the characters, but the actors playing the characters, is really quite uncanny, and it can be downright strange when he shows them in action, as Batman looks and acts pretty bad-ass, despite being the Adam West Batman TV show Batman. There are also a lot of pretty cartoony elements added, like floating hearts to indicate Marsha's hypnotism of her marks (including Robin, in this adventure).

Bogdanove seems to be doing a lot of work with computers here, not only in the obvious bits, like some sort of modeling on many of the "sets" and "props," or the special effects (with colorists Roberto Flores and Omar Estevez), but there's something going on regarding the amount of detail in the depth of the panels, so that the characters all look like they were drawn at enormous sizes and shrunk down. dumb and don't really get computers, let alone the ways in which they can be used to produce comic book art.

It looks nice and all, and I enjoyed the issue, it just seemed a little more mechanical than I prefer my comics to be.

Superman #41 (DC) It was a little strange to read Action Comics #41 a few weeks ago, and find an asterisk telling me to check out Superman #41 for background on how it came to be that Superman's secret identity was revealed to the world and that his powers had been greatly decreased (and on a seemingly more long-term basis than the so-called "solar flare" power has decreased them in the past). But then, scheduling SNAFUs aren't exactly new to Big Two super-comics, so it wasn't exactly unheard of to see books like Action, Batman/Superman and Superman/Wonder Woman exploring the new Superman status quo (no secret identity, no costume, no powers relative to what he had before) before actually getting this issue.

Well, Superman #41 is out now doesn't explain what prompted the new "Truth" status quo either. In fact, the name of this particular story is "Before Truth Part 1," so we get one page set "After Everything Changed," in which street-clothes Superman is shown, and then the remaining 21-pages are devoted to "Before." Sooooo I guess it's going to be a while before we get answers to the questions regarding the status quo change (which surprises me in large part because the ending of Superman #40 seemed to imply that Lois simply finally put two and two together, helped along by Superman's new flare-related weakness).

And you know, that's fine. There's nothing wrong with jumping around in time like this, or setting certain titles after the events of other titles. I don't think it's the best way to exploit the serial narrative of comic books, in which event should lead to the next, and a reader should always be left wanting to know "And then what?", but whatever.

Getting the long-teased outting of Superman wasn't the only reason I was looking forward to this comic, or either the main reason. This begins writer Gene Luen Yang's run as writer on the title, which is such a big deal it's really hard to overstate what a big deal it really is. Yang is joining the art team that was already in place during Geoff Johns' now concluded story arc, pencil artist John Romita Jr and Klaus Janson. So, basically, we have three great comics talents–at least two of which it would have been impossible to even imagine on a Superman comic book a few years ago–on Superman, maybe the one New 52 title that has suffered the biggest gap between high profile character/importance to the line and the reliability and longevity of it's creative team (Yang is the seventh writer or writing team on Superman since September 2011; in contrast, Batman and Justice League have only had a single writer, and Wonder Woman is only on its second writer). I was really looking forward to reading a reliably good Superman book on a monthly basis for the first time in years.

I dropped the book right after buying it, however. I guess I didn't realize that post-Convergence Superman and several other DC titles would jump 33% in price from $2.99 to $3.99; the extra $1 earning readers an extra two pages (Shouldn't that goddam Twix ad lower the price of these things, or at least keep 'em steady for a month? Do I have no idea how ads work? I thought they were used to offset the cost of producing print periodicals). I guess I'll be following Yang, Romita and Janson's Superman in trade. Which might work best anyway, given the way "Truth" is being structured.

So how is the comic? As expected, it is very good. Romita and Janson's art remains incredible, and I still haven't gotten used to seeing Romita's designs for these iconic DC characters. I still get excited every time I see a Romita drawing of Superman. As for the plot, Yang has Clark Kent and his pal Jimmy Olsen (who recently learned he's really Superman; in a twist, the current version of Superman has confided in Jimmy instead of Lois, rather than vice versa) receive an anonymous tip for a juicy story.

They follow it and get the story, although Superman has to fight a giant 3D printer and Lois Lane takes over half of the reporting before the the article actually sees print. The anonymous tipper than proceeds to blackmail Clark, as he knows his secret identity. This is his first issue, but already Yang seems to have mastered telling very classic-feeling Superman stories, even with so many of the classic elements so different. This issue was a nice reminder that no matter how much tinkering editors may do to continuity, Superman is still Superman, Lois Lane is still Lois Lane and so on. As with a lot of the new creative teams and story arcs debuting this month, I can't help wish that this saw print as Superman #1 back in 2011, rather than being issue #41 in 2015 but, again, whatever. It's nice to know there's a really good Superman comic on the stands, and one that should find its way into the heads of a hell of a lot of kids when it eventually makes it into trade.

It's not worth four fucking dollars though. I mean, it's good, but it's not Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe.