Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Artists: Greg Land, Billy Tan, Dustin Weaver
Collects: Uncanny X-Men (vol. 2) #11-14
Quick question. If you intend to launch an ongoing series, you probably have the intention of running it for a while, right? That seems to be the general idea. Well, not at Marvel! I hope you weren't getting attached to this volume of Uncanny X-Men, because it ends with the next collection.
That's right, this one got as far as twenty issues before another change so dramatic they figured a relaunch was in order. Why did they even do the first relaunch? They had to have had an idea where things were headed back then. Why not just wait until after the big status quo alteration for the full relaunch treatment?
Oh Marvel, you cads.
Anyways, as you can tell by that spiffy banner at the top of the front cover, Uncanny X-Men ended up in the old land of event tie-ins. To be completely fair to Marvel, this doesn't come out of the blue; the previous ten issues were all building up to Avengers vs X-Men. Still, there's something kind of sad about cancelling the over five hundred issue Uncanny X-Men, relaunching it, then letting it last all of twenty issues with ten of them tie-ins to a big event. If they absolutely had to relaunch the book at all, they should have waited for the end of AvX.
Despite having his title relegated to supplementary material for another series, Kieron Gillen makes the best of what he's got. He attempts to add some measure of depth to the proceedings, going so far as to try and give a reason for Namor to be on the side of the X-Men*. This probably shouldn't come as a surprise, but the best scenes all seem to hinge around Namor. Gillen seriously has that character down and his Namor alone has made reading this volume of Uncanny worthwhile.
Sadly, Uncanny's new status as an AvX tie-in comes with all the usual downsides. Most issues now read sort of like a clip show, with no flow between the issues. One issue Dr. Nemesis seems fine, the next he'll be more or less chemically paralyed with Storm and Magneto, who weren't in any of the prior issues. This is not Kieron Gillens fault, but it is still a major drag.
The only real upside is that Gillen manages to sneak in an issue focusing on Mister Sinister; you know, the one plotline Gillen has been able to truly cultivate prior to being hit with AvX. The downside is that if you want to see the conclusion to that, you're going to have to own a couple AvX tie-ins whether you want them or not. I guess you could always get the Sinister focused single issues and skip the trade. In fact, I recommend that.
Artwise, this one's a mixed bag leaning towards bad. I've made mention of Billy Tan before; he's pretty good but kind of workmanlike. Dustin Weavers issue - thanfully the Mister Sinister one - is as amazing as you'd expect. But then we're hit with two full issues of Greg Land art, because for some reason Marvel didn't get the memo that the less readers see of Lands work, the better. Seriously, there's a scene where some characters are near water and Greg Land couldn't even be bothered to draw the goddamn water. He just photoshops in an image of real water. Yeah, THAT doesn't contrast at all.
But man, that one issue of Dustin Weavers sure is pretty.
The Score: 6 out of 10
Kieron Gillen does his best, but the nature of the tie-in drags down his second to last X-Men volume. Still, he manages to make it worthwhile. I'm in for the last volume, but holy hell do I wish Marvel would have just let the guy do his thing.
Cyclops Douchebaggery Alert: Maybe it will read differently in AvX proper, but going by what we see here - which is the background of the pivotal scene where the battle begins - Cyclops starts the war by attacking Captain America with his optic blast. This is, I might add, without any form of physical provocation. You could argue Cap bringing backup just in case was a bad faith attempt at negotiations, but it's not like Cyclops is known for rational thought lately. Oh, and apparently he PLANNED to go to war with the Avengers, because he left the publicist of the X-Men a press release basically declaring his intent to give everyone the middle finger. Kind of amazing Marvel still considers this guy a hero. Cyclops is on a level of sheer douchebag that would make even Silver Age Superman say "damn!"
* As opposed to Captain Americas side. You know, the dude he's been friends with since World War II? Even with the mutant label they threw on him, you'd figure Namor would stay out of it as opposed to fighting Captain America, one of the few men he openly respects. Maybe it's just me.
Monday, April 29, 2013
|Rogue's pretty chill for someone |
with a dislocated kneecap
Artists: David Baldeon, Rafa Sandoval
Collects: X-Men Legacy #250.1, #261-265
As you might recall I gave up on this book completely somewhere around the creepy "no means yes" Rogue and Magneto hookup*. I didn't exactly have any intention of going back either. But the split of the X franchise saw this book fall into the Wolverine half. Apparently it acquired a new writer since the last time I read it too. I much prefer the school setting and I'm an easy mark for Gambit, so I figured there was no harm if seeing whether the franchises new lease on life translated here.
It's a little bit of yes and a little bit of no.
We start off pretty good. An innocent little screwup leads to the X-Men having to fight legally distinct versions of the Xenomorphs from Aliens. If you know me at all, you know I'm all over that. It's a fun little one-shot that even manages to work in some effective comic relief in the faculty trying to keep the war going on outside from the kids.
Next is a small arc centered around the return of some dude named Exodus. Who he is or what he can do isn't adequetly explained; we get some exposition about the last time they fought him, but nothing on why we should care while his powers seem to be "whatever the hell he feels like doing". I imagine he's from Carey's run. The stuff I didn't read.
The Rogue and Magneto... "thing" remains at the fore. This is, after all, Rogues book, despite the expanded focus. I guess the X split left them on a weird long distance note. The "Age of X" nonsense that started the whole thing isn't even mentioned anymore; it's like they're some normal couple going through some distance issues. Rest assured, book, that I sure as hell haven't forgotten that creepy shit.
Rogue, the master of questionable decisions, makes a few with the potential to be interesting. She's the independent one, liable to disobey orders if she feels she's right. Trouble is, like most characters of that ilk, she isn't always right and her decisions come back to bite her in the ass. Turns out the call to Utopia she made - which Wolverine explicitly told her not to - brought the Utopia kids to the battle, putting them in danger and only strengthening their belief that Wolverine and company are only fooling themselves. This, of course, weighs heavily on her, made worse by the clear fact that it's partly because of Magneto, which she is thankfully called out on.
We end on a two parter about a couple of villains - who are basically BFF's - trying to get help from Wolverines X-Men. Weapon Omega's powers are going out of control and he's basically going to explode if something isn't done. What follows is a race against the clock to try and save him - villain or not - in any way they can. It's downright heartwarming at times.
Legacy still struggles with keeping artists for an entire volume at the least. Thankfully, it has two very good ones in Baldeon and Sandoval. I like their styles, so at least the work is good this time. The ridiculous art issues that plagued a past volume or two are thankfully absent this go around.
Is this an improvement? I suppose. Enough of one to bother continuing? I wouldn't go that far.
The Score: 6.5 out of 10
My honest opinion? Skip it. You won't miss anything. At this point Avengers vs X-Men was just around the corner and after that wrapped Legacy was relaunched with a new mission statement. It isn't even worth attempting to connect with the new status quo unless you just really like these characters.
* In case you think I'm kidding, prior to the Aftermath volume, Rogue had been pretty consistent in saying "no, I'm not interested" to Magneto's advances, while he just kept on keeping on with it. After Age of X, we're told their alternate universe selves had feelings for each other - we saw nothing of the sort and if anything there was more there reinforcing Gambit and Rogue than anything - and since Rogue kept all those memories and had some odd form of PTSD she was suddenly shacking up with Magneto, a guy who basically mind-raped her - her words - at one point and killed several of her friends. I can't recall a situation so completely wrongheaded short of that time Carol Danvers was pregnant with her rapist who rapidly aged to adulthood and went off with Danvers who suddenly decided she loved him in the worst case of Stockholm syndrome I've ever seen in fiction**.
** Chris Claremont cleared that one up. He pulled a "what the hell hero" on the Avengers for letting it happen and salvaged Danvers. Sadly, there isn't a Claremont around to play cleanup on Rogue and Magneto.
Saturday, April 27, 2013
Artist: Jeremy Rock
Collects: Cold Space #1-4
So tell me. Are you, by chance, interested in a comic written by Samuel L Jackson, starring Samuel L Jackson doing Samuel L Jackson things for eighty pages? If so, well, Cold Space has plenty of that.
So, Samuel L Jackson is an outlaw who ends up in a space dogfight when he's caught doing... outlaw things. He subdues them, something goes wrong and he crash lands on a fairly desolate planet. Turns out it has a town straight out of the Wild West. This is alright, because we could all use more Space Western Samuel L Jackson in our lives. As you might guess, he plays both sides of the fence, things go wrong and shit starts blowing up.
Cerebral, it is not - or particularly original, as the foreword all but admits it's basically Yojimbo In Space - but I've had worse ways to kill an hour. It's got some good lines peppered throughout and while no scene stands out as truly exceptional, nothing about the story reeks either. It feels like a couple of guys not used to writing comics working out the kinks. Cold Space ends on a note that feels as though this were meant to be the start of something more. The first "episode" if you will.
That's the problem.
One of the practices that has taken root over the past decade is the movie pitch disguised as a comic. It's beyond cynical, essentially using comics as a stepping stone to more "important" things. Mark Millar is the king of it; half the shit he's put out since Wanted end up reading like it was written with a movie adaption in mind*.
Cold Space is nowhere near that bad, but something about it comes off as if the idea didn't start life with a comic in mind. It felt as though this were originally meant to be a pilot for an animated TV miniseries much like Afro Samurai, which Samuel L Jackson and Eric Calderon also co-wrote. It starts with the art, which feels very "animation friendly" and stretches all the way to the ending, which all but states there's more to come**. But this is also simply how it felt to me; the "TV pilot" feel could just come down to the fact that comics aren't exactly what they're used to rather than repurposing an idea meant for another medium.
Regardless, that's not enough to sink it. Oh no. The knockout blow? That one comes from the price. Cold Space is collected in a softcover Digest-esque size and the story is a good eighty pages. Guess what it goes for? If you said eight to ten dollars, you're thinking rationally. Boom wants fifteen. I've got Specials and Anniversary issues with as many pages for less than that. Cold Space is pretty alright, but that's more money than it's worth.
The Score: 6 out of 10
Cold Space is not great, but it's not particularly bad either. It sits somewhere in the realm of mediocrity, maybe just a hair above that given who is behind it. If you can find it in the library, it might be worth a flip through for you. Purchasing it is another matter entirely; it's just not worth the cash they want for it.
* I imagine what we got for a film version of Wanted didn't help matters. Aside from character names and the closing minutes the amount of things the film had in common with the comic are jack and shit. May as well just write them like you would a movie in that case, eh?
** As of the date I wrote this, I haven't heard anything about a second miniseries. Probably not TOO surprising, as Samuel L Jackson is a busy guy in Hollywood. Regardless, Cold Space feels like something they meant to come back to down the line, so I won't be too awful shocked to hear about a sequel at some point.
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Artists: Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Joe Prado, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark
Collects: Brightest Day #17-24
Well, the fourth time is clearly the charm, because DC finally got the weekly* series they were aiming for all this time, just in time for not a god damn lick of it to be followed up on.
Brightest Day, while rough in spots, holds together much, much better as the "spine" of the DCU. A lot of that is because - as is made crystal clear over the course of this volume - it was clearly well thought out in advance. Everything that has happened thus far links up for the finale in a way none of the previous series pulled off**. Even the tie-ins starring the characters the core maxiseries didn't focus on, while not essential, clearly had their own role to play in the endgame.
Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi clearly knew what they were doing all along.
The endgame is done pretty well. This is where the individual plotlines reach critical mass, each reaching some measure of conclusion. The problem each hero faces is cleverly tied to their purpose, meaning the reason they were brought back to life. Each task was clearly meant to ready them for their role in the climax and the puzzle pieces slotting into place is fairly satisfying to read. While a thing or two got the short shrift - the final battle between the Dark Avatar and the Light Avatar could have stood to have more page space devoted to it - everyone got their moment to shine and most of them walked out of the series with an interesting status quo to explore. Which is the problem.
Brightest Day was almost immediately followed with the announcement that DC was relaunching the DC Universe. Some characters, like Batman or Green Lantern, kept the vast majority of their history. Others were rebooted entirely. Sadly, most of the star characters this series intended to breathe new life into - and succeeded, at that - were given a total reboot.
Obviously, this isn't a big problem for a guy like Hawkman, who's a general bore to read anytime he's not beating dinosaurs into submission with a mace. But for a guy like Firestorm, this is a travesty, as their new status quo coming out of Brightest Day was arguably the most interesting of the setups we got. It wasn't followed up on at all. Not even a six issue miniseries just to see the idea through.
Despite that issue, I'd be willing to call Brightest Day a success. Most of the competition wasn't exactly stiff - everyone is still trying to forget Countdown exists while everyone forgot about Trinity halfway through - but it's still one of DC's best weeklies and may even be somewhere near 52. To be honest, with a few alterations and a couple removed pages, it could have even been made to be sort of a "happy ending" for the old DCU prior to the New 52. Shame they didn't go with that, because while it's not an all time classic, it's not a bad note to go out on.
You could have worse in your collection of DC trades. Hell, you probably do.
The Score: 8 out of 10
Taken as its own thing - maybe even as the logical continuation and even ending of the Blackest Night saga - Brightest Day is still a pretty entertaining story. High art it is not - and the whole thing could easily have done without the uber violence Johns has become oddly attached to - but it's a fun, universe-wide romp that would have revitalized some of DC's most storied characters, had the relaunch never happened. The Hawks still suck though, but to be fair, I'm not sure even Grant Morrison himself could make them cool.
* Well, sort of. It was actually bi-weekly. It alternated weeks with JLI: Generation Lost for a year. JLI had ties to Brightest Day but was mostly its own thing, functioning as a sort of "lets get the band back together" for the Justice League International characters to fight a world altering threat.
** 52 is well regarded by fans as an overall story, but it ended up resembling more of an anthology that happened to have each plot end around the same time. Countdown was such a bizzare mess no one can figure out if it had a point, mess less if it all tied together in the end; if Countdown was the spine of the DCU, then the DCU must be a hunchback. Trinity put everyone to sleep in the middle third, so no one really knows if it concluded or if it was all a fever dream.
Friday, March 29, 2013
|Presenting: The early front-runner for the|
most controversial comic of 2013
I'm not really planning to talk about this issue. For one thing, Joe Hughes and Andrew Wheeler have already covered it definitively at Comic Alliance. For two, I'm a straight white male; I don't exactly have anything to add here. It's more about the fact that some seem to fear this damages the metaphor for mutants representing minority struggles.
The trouble is, I think Marvel broke that metaphor a while ago, with this just being the latest hit an already bleeding concept has had to endure.
Not too long after Grant Morrisons New X-Men - a personal favorite of mine - Marvel put out House of M. This, I think, was ground zero. Almost immediately after the "No More Mutants" proclamation, the X-Men shifted to a different mission statement. They were now the endangered species. Survival was the concept at the heart of the team. The X-Men began to resemble an army, not a group of people unfairly prosecuted for their differences.
Ed Brubaker sort of got the ball rolling when he disgraced Xavier in Deadly Genesis, which led to the character losing any influence on the team and losing his purpose. This is important because his entire deal was that he was for peace and acceptance. He was the figure offering a better way, even if it was harder. Now, he was off the team, with many mutants disillusioned regarding him and his message*. It didn't stop there, with most of the questionable moments centering around Cyclops.
The school was trashed again, only this time the X-Men left instead of rebuilding. Education is essentially the root of fixing the problems of the world, but now the X-Men weren't teaching much of anything beyond combat. When someone he doesn't like comes into power and causes problems, Cyclops packs his people up, herds them on an island made of Asteroid M just off the coast of San Francisco and declares them their own nation. The idea of the teenage X-Men being child soldiers is pretty apparent**. Cyclops puts a kill team together to take out the people who could cause mutants the most damage. After a split with half the X-Men, Cyclops named his group the Extinction Team and decides to send the world an ultimatum essentially saying they weren't going to put up with their BS and that they would retaliate if someone even looked at them cross.
Then there's that whole thing about Cyclops being willing to gamble with the planets life over whether a giant fire phoenix will revive the mutant population - even after they know it nuked a planet on its way to Earth - but, uh, that one might not have any implications beyond the fact that Cyclops is kind of a dick.
In fairness, it's not a straight one to one comparison to real life. The X-Men have never been a one to one comparison to any minority group. It's very easy to do great stories without using the racial metaphor at all. But it's a concept embedded in the franchise, meaning that when Marvel greenlit all this, they essentially had the stand-in for minority struggles engage in all of those very questionable acts.
You can see how this might be a problem.
Marvel obviously wants to go back to the well, now that the "endangered species" era is effectively over. Trouble is, how do you really come back from that? I mean, sure, you can do whatever you want in fiction, but how does it work after all that, save a continuity reboot?
But try they will, only trouble being that now we've got a real problem in the dynamic. Cyclops and his group have, to be frank, become a representation of extremists. Even if you think that, in light of Marvel continuity, enough is enough and agree with their position, they are definitely not the good guys here. That leaves Uncanny Avengers to be the other side of the coin. But that is now out the window as well.
So, where's the middle ground here? Cyclops is obviously wrong. People have made it clear Havok is wrong, intentions aside. Not a good situation to have.
Can it be salvaged? Sure. The right writer could theoretically put the house back in order. But the franchise has spent close to ten years slowly breaking the metaphor. It will take a lot of work and even then I'm not sure it can ever be completely fixed. I guess only time will tell.
* And now he's dead - killed by Cyclops - because Marvel couldn't find something to do with the guy who taught peace and understanding.
** Marvel was at least aware of this one; it was central to Schism, where the X-Men split into two groups over it.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
Artist: Neal Adams
Original Graphic Novel
It could only have happened in the 70's.
Think about it. Ali was still in his prime and while the Silver Age had been winding down, it would still be a while before COIE and men like Frank Miller and Alan Moore would put it to rest for good. Try and pitch it just a few years later and the idea would probably have been laughed out of the DC Offices. Trying it any sooner wouldn't work either; Ali's exile from boxing over Vietnam cost him several years of his career. It feels like one of those circumstances where, had the stars not aligned just right, this book wouldn't even exist.
Which would be a shame, because I had a good time with it.
The cover doesn't lie. This is indeed about a boxing match between The Greatest and The Man of Steel. Obviously, it goes a bit further than that - an intergalactic empire decides to waste Earth unless the winner of the titular bout can defeat their champion in the ring - but it's window dressing to justify the fact that Superman is just straight up chillin' with Ali and at one point trading punches.
It's almost goofy in how very Silver Age it is. The aliens, the fact that it's decided that a boxing match would be a pretty bitchin' way to decide the fate of the planet, the other aliens being moved to turn against the warlord by the courage and honor of the title characters. It is ridiculous.
I wouldn't have it any other way.
Personally, I have a rough time with Silver Age comics. I love the crazy anything-can-and-frequently-does-happen nature of the era. But those comics are very, very dated; I've said this before, but as much as decompression is decried, the format of comics changed for a reason. A lot of Silver Age comics - because almost all of them had to end in twenty two pages or less, as was the sensibility of the time - end up reading like a still clip show. As though someone arranged a bunch of pictures, with no fluid motion or connectivity, and attempted to make a story out of it.
Superman vs Muhammad Ali does not have that problem, because it's illustrated by Neal Adams in his prime. Adams is a master of his craft, able to craft dynamic page layouts and tell a coherent story with his art. Portraying the intricacies of a boxing match in the comic style of the time has to be a tall order, but Neal Adams is good enough to pull it off.
Of course, the writing is also handled by Neal Adams, which normally would be cause for alarm. Yeah, his usual partner - similarly legendary writer Dennis O'Neil - has his name on the cover, but as the intro explains O'Neil was forced to drop out of the project fairly early. For a man who understands sequential storytelling like few others, Neal Adams is a notoriously bad writer. Skateman is the stuff of bad comic legend, while Batman Oddessy is so off the wall bad that it loops back around to being enjoyable for it.
I'm not sure if it came down to the editing or the approval process - as the text pieces explain, Ali's people pored over the book extensively and had final say - but Neal Adams manages to hold the story together fairly well. Oh sure, it's still goofy as all get out, but it's the fun sort and not the kind that requires bleach for the brain. A bit too wordy - this is still a comic from the 70's, after all - but not as overbearingly so as many old comics tend to be.
The hardcover is in DC's Deluxe Edition*. It really is a nice looking book. I guess they even managed to get all the proper permission, because the original cover is used and included for the book**. It's a nice package and well worth putting on your bookshelf. The Deluxe Edition format is well liked for a reason.
The Score: 8 out of 10
It's ridiculous. It's outrageous. But more importantly, it's a lot of fun. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a classic or one of the best OGN's of all time, but it's a really good time and well worth putting on your shelf. You just don't get stuff like this anymore.
|It's only fitting that the greatest duo receive the greatest hardcover.|
** The cover of Superman vs Muhammad Ali has a who's who of 70's celebrities in the audience. Pretty much everyone you can think of is there, including Jimmy Carter. You'll also notice assorted DC superheroes and DC staff of the time if you're particularly eagle eyed. There's a ton to pore over in that one cover. The hardcover included a key in the back for identifying each crowd member.
Saturday, March 23, 2013
What is with these people who think a deconstruction automatically destroys its target genre?
This is not to single this person or instance out. It's not unique. I've seen similar comments for years. I could swear I've even seen Alan Moore quotes from back in the day where he seemed convinced he'd just destroyed superhero comics with Watchmen, but don't quote me on that. It might have just been the journalists of the time. If you've been paying any attention at all, you're aware that prediction was exposed as bullshit a long time ago.
Cabin in the Woods, for the unaware, is a deconstruction of the horror genre. It's pretty distinctly a Joss Whedon thing, but it's also a fairly slick skewering of horror films. The basic gist is that every so often, a bunch of asshole scientists have to get together and kill off a group of teenagers in gruesome ways to appease some higher beings, or else the world is destroyed. Since it's a deconstruction, you've probably put two and two together and realized the higher beings are meant to be us as we partake in these displays of wonton murder. They manage to break the cycle and doom the world in the process just by virtue of surviving.
Like Watchmen, the effect on the long term health of the genre is going to be jack and shit. Slasher flicks already go in and out of vogue as it is; you'll get a period where there's a glut of them, then you don't see much for a few years and then suddenly ghosts are popping out of televisions and Rob Zombie is, for some reason, given the keys to a bunch of slasher icons. But they don't die out completely.
I wonder, what is it about a deconstruction that causes people to think the targeted genre or tropes are irreversibly broken? Everyone is different and that's probably true for some, but for the most part it's just another story looking at these things in a different way. It doesn't suddenly make the type of stories it positions under the microscope unenjoyable.
Watchmen is a classic, but if you think it ruined superhero comics, I've got a bridge to sell you. They've been trucking right along for twenty five plus years since that story came out. There have been bad times, but they've survived despite Moores magnum opus. There have been some amazing stories with superheros since then. That doesn't make Watchmen any less important a story. It just means that it's not a genre killer.
Cabin in the Woods will end up in the same boat. Maybe it will go down as a classic. Maybe it will even force slasher films to evolve*. But it won't destroy them, because there's a demand for those type of films.
Anyone else see the Nightmare on Elm Street remake from 2010? Every time some interesting twist is added to the plot, it's shot down ten minutes later. I've seen worse, but it was still a waste of time. Didn't matter. Even adding in a decent figure for advertising, it still made over twice its budget. Before you say anything, I get that it came out two years before Cabin. Doesn't make a difference. Freddy's a horror icon and people want to see him. Cabin was only a modest success anyways, so you have to wonder just how many people saw it.
Noir has been deconstructed. The femme fatale trope has been torn to hell and back. They're still here. So can we stop pretending deconstructions are all important? It's a valid avenue to explore, no question. But just because you can tear something down doesn't mean someone else can't build it back up.
* It sounds like this is what Whedon was shooting for. I guess it was meant to take a shot at torture porn too, judging by his comments. I can agree with that. I'm far from squeamish, but some of those films end up going too far.