Monthly archives: March, 2006

What I bought: March 8, 2006

Teen Titans #33: Road trip! Between Infinite Crisis #5 and #6, Superboy and Nightwing have to get from San Francisco to the Arctic. This is that story. Important? No. Great story? No. Worth reading? Yes.

First FamilyFantastic Four: First Family #1: If you enjoyed the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes mini-series from the end of 2004 (also written by FF:FF’s Joe Casey), you’ll like this book. It’s essentially the same thing: a story of the Fantastic Four in their very early days that fits nicely into continuity without changing anything and without requiring that the reader knows that continuity.

Son of M #4: Quicksilver starts giving ex-mutants wiffs of the Terrigen Mists. He travels to Genosha first, and gives one to Callisto. Callisto goes psycho from her new super-senses going overboard, and drops at the feet of Magneto. And daddy’s pissed. The art continues to be great, and the pace is really picking up now that Pietro’s back on Earth. I can’t wait to see a de-powered Magneto/Quicksilver fight. Somehow Callisto losing her mutant powers also caused her to lose her sweet tentacle arms, which weren’t part of her powers. Her arms were reformed on a genetic level by Masque, although if Masque lost her powers, assuming she was a mutant (I’m not very familiar with the character), that might explain it. Regardless, it sucks, because tentacled Callisto was awesome.

New X-Men #24: They suckered me in for another issue with a great ending to the last one (William Stryker shoots a missile at a bus-full of ex-mutants leaving Xavier’s), and the fact that this was a light week. The series continues to be decent, but not spectacular by any means. Whether I pick up the next issue will probably depend on how much I’m spending that week.

Pulse 14The Pulse #14: The Pulse is the only series written by Brian Michael Bendis that I’ve ever enjoyed, and it’s because it’s him doing what he does best: writing about normal people (or at least abnormal people acting like normal people) doing normal things. The best part of the series was the D-Man/Ben Urich story that ran over the last few issues, because it wasn’t Bendis trying (and failing) to write an epic event, just something relatively common that’s probably happened to a great deal of people in Marvel’s NYC. I like these books that are about regular people living in a superhero world, like Gotham Central. Unfortunately, also like Gotham Central, The Pulse is cancelled with this issue.

X-Men: The 198 #3: This mini-series has gone way downhill since the first issue. I have no clue what this series is about anymore, as the guy it seemed to be centered on in the first issue (Mr. M) is barely in it anymore. That guy with the weird monster in his chest is killing people, though. That’s sort of interesting, but I’d consider this issue the worst of the week by far.

Sensational 24Sensational Spider-Man #24: Roberto Aquirre-Sacasa isn’t a bad writer, but nothing he’s done has gotten me very excited at all. Not even when he writes my favorite character. Angel Medina’s art is strikingly McFarlane-esque, which is by no means a compliment. If the art wasn’t so bad, the quality of the writing probably wouldn’t show through so easily. The story isn’t something that’s particularly original. What’s happened to Marvel Knights/Sensational Spider-Man is remarkably similar to what happened when Peter Milligan took over X-Men from Chuck Austen: Aguirre-Sacasa/Medina isn’t any better than Hudlin/Tan/Lee, just different, and it may just be worse.

Cable & Deadpool #26: I like when this series has less Cable and more Deadpool. Maybe that’s because Nicienza’s better at writing humor (Deadpool) than drama (Cable). There was an interesting twist at the end though: Cable, who came back in time to kill Apocalypse to prevent his own dystopian future from coming to be, may be involved in a plot to bring Pocy back from the dead. It’s set before the X-Men arc, naturally.

T-BoltsThunderbolts #100: Finally, back to it’s original title (it’s officially dropped the “New”) and original numbering (not really a big deal, but there aren’t many titles above #100 nowadays). The story was decent, but kind of confusing. So Zemo’s responsible (unintentionally) for Genis going crazier lately, and Zemo’s gang of T-Bolts wants to take out Genis so he doesn’t destroy the universe, which will happen in every possible future in which he’s not taken out (they’re not technically killing him, so there’s really not a better way of putting that). Songbird’s T-Bolts oppose them, but ultimately allow Zemo to imprison Genis inside of Blackout/the Darkforce dimension. In the end, it turns out that Songbird may have been working with Zemo all along to help convince everybody that “killing” Genis was the right thing to do (or something), and then Songird and Zemo kiss. What?! I love that the entire series so far has been one big mega-arc, and I’m glad everything wasn’t neatly resolved in one issue. Everything gets tied up so quickly in most comics that it’s great to see an old-school type of storytelling every now and again. There were also a few reprints in the back of the book from the very early days of the T-Bolts, which (unfortunately) were actually better than the new story. Fabian Nicienza is no Kurt Busiek. It’s been nearly ten years since I’d read those reprinted stories, and it makes me want to break out the entire series and re-read it.

Legion of Doom’s Worst of 2005- Events

All-Star BatmanDC’s All-Star Comics line. I just can’t believe the timing on that. DC didn’t need stunts – they had fantastic stories building. And one thing that Superman and Batman had over their Marvel counterparts was that new readers could pick up a high-numbered issue of either character’s titles and not be bogged down with continuity. Those characters have stayed reasonably pure, and so a DC equivalent of the Ultimate line just wasn’t necessary. The books themselves only proved that even more. -Jim Doom

The Other. It just didn’t work. Here’s a thought: Don’t have three writers combine on a single story arc. -Jean-Claude Van Doom

The launch of the DC All-Star line. DC advertised this as completely continuity-free stories of their icons using the most basic and well-known aspects of the characters as building blocks. It was supposed to be the Batman and Superman that folks who had seen the movies but had never laid hands on a comic would recognize. Instead, we get a Batman who curses randomly, murders police officers, and kidnaps and psychologically tortures young boys. We get a Superman who regularly hangs out in space with crazy characters. While that doesn’t necessarily make for bad stories (although it does), it’s not what DC themselves said the line was going to be about. These are not the characters that Joe Anybody knows, these are Ultimate Superman and Batman. If they would have just admitted that from the start, I would have no problem with the line. I still wouldn’t read it, but at least I wouldn’t have considered it a screw-up. -Fin Fang Doom

Book of the Week: Batman Annual #25

Everybody loves a mystery. The only thing better than a really good mystery is a really good resolution. And you know it’s a really, really good resolution when someone who doesn’t even know the mystery thinks it’s amazing.

I know practically nothing about Jason Todd. I read the issue of Teen Titans he was in, and the last two issues of Batman (which I bought and read the same day as this isue). I know about the Hush/Clayface thing. But I haven’t read Hush, I haven’t read Death In The Family, I haven’t read anything more than the last two issue of Judd Winick’s run. Yet the story of how he returned from the dead had me on the edge of my seat.

Batman Annual 25It’s not very often that someone gets brought back from the dead in away that’s original. Usually it’s a ninja ressurection, a clone, the old “he’s not dead if there’s not as body” cliche, or the even older and cliche-ier “he just looked dead, but he wasn’t.” Jason Todd died. He was rotting in the ground for six months. Then he wasn’t, because he never should have been. You can certainly groan at the seemingly unnecessary connection to Infinite Crisis (surprise, surprise), tying it to the biggest crossover of the last 20 years doesn’t take away from it all.

Then there’s the Ra’s Al Ghul stuff. There’s something that seemed just right about Ra’s and Talia learning about Jason Todd and making sure that they would be the only two people that knew he was alive. We don’t really know if they wanted to rehabilitate Jason out of respect for Batman or as a way to manipulate him. Hopefully somewhere down the line Judd Winick will get a chance to further explore that particular period of Jason’s life, and the seemingly lasting relationship he’s formed with Talia.

And how cool was it that they used the original art by Jim Aparo from the alternate ending of Death In The Family?

I’ve probably got a much different take on this issue than most who read it. I’m not a longtime Batman reader, I’m not a Jason Todd fan, and I didn’t have any emotional investment in the story or the reveal of why Jason’s not dead anymore (which also meant I didn’t have any expectations that could be let down). Given that, it’d take a damn good story to get me excited about it. And Batman Annual #25 was a damn good story.

Books of the Week: Top Ten of March 1

It was a huge week for comics Wednesday, and it didn’t feel right choosing only one Book of the Week when I bought over two dozen. So here’s my top ten of the week, in no particular order.

Ultimates 2 10Ultimates 2 #10: Damn, I had forgotten that the Ultimates were so badass! Obviously, that was intentional on Mark Millar’s part. The Ultimates didn’t do a whole lot of fighting in their second “season,” except for amongst themselves of course. They paid for it last issue when a group of Super-Terrorist stole America. I can’t remember a “just when you thought they were beat” issue quite as good as this one was. Tony Stark has a gun to his head and manages to take out Black Widow via the nanobots he implanted into her so she could control the Iron Maiden suit (and a nicely placed bottle champagne). Hawkeye is strapped to a chair and takes out everyone in the room with his fingernails (!), then takes out a dozen gaurds with automatic rifles pointed at his head when he’s not even holding a gun yet. I don’t think there’s anyone that didn’t see the “I released Cap from that machine five minutes ago” moment from a mile away, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t get a chill up my spine reading the last page. However, the question remains: how are Hawkeye, Iron Man, Captain America and the Wasp going to take out the Ultimate Masters of Evil?

Green Lantern Corps: Recharge #5: Guy Gardner leading the entire Corps in the Green Lantern oath, in a two-page spread no less, is more than enough to justify this book being in the top ten.

Marvel Zombies # 4: Only Robert Kirkman could make me think “Awesome! It’s Forge!”

Infinite Crisis 5Infinite Crisis #5: Not as good as issue 4, but what can you expect? The Supermen fight, particularly the Action Comics #1 homage, was very cool. The idea that the fate of the DC Universe rests in the hands of Nightwing and Superboy, the “offspring” of Batman, Superman and Lex Luthor, has me very excited.

Adventures of Superman #649: The “This Is Your Life” arc helped the Kal-L/Kal-El battle in Infinite Crisis #5 quite a bit. A fight that epic deserves to take up a lot of pages, and IC just couldn’t provide them with so much going on. I like that the battle was just as much mental as it was physical, and both Supermen coming to the realization that they were helpless to change what had happened in both Crises was a better ending than either one of them winning.

X-Factor 4X-Factor #4: Peter David’s writing, especially his dialogue, is great. Of the three issues he wrote this week (this, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man and Fallen Angel), X-Factor was the best. Peter David manages to even make a character that was nothing more than a plot device in House of M (Layla Miller) into an intriguing member of the cast. Series regular artist Ryan Sook is great, but for whatever reason he hasn’t been able to complete a full issue since #1. My favorite monet of the book, and possibly the week, is when Siryn gets in an argument with a police officer. She tells hit to leave, and he asks “And if we refuse? Then what?” Siryn’s response? “I’ll scream.” The next page, on the right, speaks for itself.

Nextwave #2: It’s still to soon to tell if the humor in Nextwave is going to flourish like it did with She-Hulk or fall flat like it did with Defenders, but this issue was a hoot. It’s essentially the Formely Known As… formula (C-list heroes team up and trade witty banter) with two notable differences: 1) the characters have no history together, and 2) they’re actually capable as superheroes. The latter is the reason I think Defenders didn’t work very well. Hopefully the same doesn’t happen with Nextwave.

MTU 18Marvel Team-Up #18: The standard “go to the future to stop the time-travelling villain before he can travel back in time” story with a very cool twists ending. The Legion of Losers manages to stop the bad guy, but if they go back to their normal time they’ll either end up in the world they traveled from (where the bad guy killed nearly every hero and took over the Earth) or an Earth where they already exist (because they were able to prevent the bad guy from going back in time in the first place). So they saved the world, but they’re stuck in the dystopian future they travelled to because of it.

Outsiders #34: The best of the One Year Later batch. The majority of the book is Thunder undercover inside the inner circle of a violent dictatorship in Mali. Thunder blows her cover and forces the rest of the Outsiders out of hiding: Nightwing (yes, it’s Dick), Grace, Katana, Metamorpho (not Shift, mind you), and Captain Boomerang. And to top it all off, we learn that the world thinks they’re all dead. More than any other OYL book, Outsiders really gave the impression that some major stuff went down that year we missed.

Now if you were counting along, you may have noticed that was just nine books. The tenth will come a little later, in it’s own Book of the Week spotlight.

The New X-Men Writers – Will They Finally Work?

It’s been all over … well, basically Newsarama, but from there it’s disseminated into other message boards and outlets. Ed Brubaker, after X-Men: Deadly Genesis wraps up, will be jumping over to Uncanny X-Men. This is exciting news, considering his acclaimed run on Captain America and the fact that he isn’t Chuck Austen. Mike Carey, who is one of Marvel Comic’s recruits from DC-imprint Vertigo, will be writing X-Men. He joins the leagues of other Vertigo-turned-X-Men writers, including Grant Morrison and Steven T. Seagle (bet ya forgot that run.)

Is this finally going to be the solution to the bad writer problem, though? Traditionally, even the most idealistic writers find their stories don’t quite come to full fruition thanks to editorial interference, or in the case of Morrison, they find their experimental run all but erased by the powers-that-be who just want Wolverine to make yellow spandex “badass” 31-years-later. Joss Whedon’s first run on Astonishing X-Men may have had a lot of cinematic action in it, but in the end, all he did was bring Collosus back and make the Danger Room evil, which was done by Seagle and Kelly quite a few years ago (except replace “Danger Room” with “Cerebro.”) The announcement of Peter Milligan as writer on X-Men should have been a cause-celebre, but instead, he didn’t or couldn’t bring in any of his quirks as a writer, and instead went for straight forward superheroics. Incidentally, his run until fairly recently has been less-than-stellar. Seagle and Kelly’s runs weren’t bad, per se, but almost nothing truly memorable happened in them.

With Brubaker’s work on Deadly Genesis being what it is, we will hopefully see a new face to Uncanny, a book that has sagged on for far too long. His first story is episodic like the good arcs of old, and branches off of Genesis. The main villian will be Vulcan (spoiler: he’s the third Summers brother, but that’s for another post), in league with the Shi’ar and the Starjammers (!!!). The X-Men line-up will be Havok, Nightcrawler, Warpath, Xavier, Marvel Girl, Polaris and another unrevealed character.

Carey is going to be working with Cannonball, Rogue, Cable, Mystique, Sabretooth and Iceman. Though this, on some levels, wreaks of early-90s edginess, we have been assured that there is a how and why to this line-up coming together. No villians or arcs have been announced, which could be either a good or bad thing.

What Marvel needs to do with these capable writers is give them room to breathe, and accept the lasting impact that their stories have on continuity. Even if Brubaker, Carey or Whedon makes something controversial, there should be no effort made to Morrison it out. In order for the X-Men to resonate with the audience, we need more than six issues of character development. We need time invested in making Marvel’s second family a viable entity again, like Claremont did in hsi first run (but not second or third). We need heroes we care about and villians we despise, and plots that actually propel the characters beyond the page and into our minds.

Marvel, you have three good writers set for this franchise, and not a Chuck Austen in site. Don’t mess this up. Conversely, writers: don’t let it go to your head, and just tell the stories that make you awe.

Legion of Doom’s Worst of 2005- Moments

House of MA flying horse poops on a lady’s head, Black Panther #3. Yes, that was actually an attempt at humor by Reggie Hudlin. Yes, John Romita Jr. had to draw horse feces falling from the sky. Yes, that was the moment I realized Reggie Hudlin was a complete hack. Yes, that’s when I stopped buying Black Panther. -Fin Fang Doom

The somewhat arbitrary and very convenient wrap-ups to Marvel’s big moments, like Avengers Disassembled and House of M. -Jim Doom

Anything from the issue of The Other previously mentioned. -Jean-Claude Van Doom

The Case for (Rann-Thanagar) War

The Rann-Thanagar War miniseries has been quite maligned in these parts and elsewhere, largely because of its apparent irrelevance. The only real Crisis moment came at the conclusion of the series, and seemed completely unrelated to the events of the miniseries. While recent exposition has shown that incidents leading to the war were much more closely tied to the Crisis than initially believed, Superboy moving the planet and causing a war just doesn’t really seem like it’s going to satisfy the haters.

Let us pause for a second and remember that DC, and all other comics publishers for that matter, has a primary goal of making money. They make money by selling comics. It just so happens that if the comics are good, they’re likely to help the long-term sales, but it’s important to remember that when the powers that be at DC sit down to examine their figures, the first thing they’re thinking is not about how to best show Bruce Wayne’s suppressed paternal love for Dick Grayson or really exploring Oliver Queen’s self-righteousness.

I would not ever buy anything related to Hawkman, Adam Strange or Kyle Rayner. I had a general feeling that Hawkman was stupid and lame, Adam Strange was stupid and lame, and Kyle Rayner was stupid and lame. Prior to the Countdown to Infinite Crisis, I was not much of a DC fan at all. I think the only DC books I was buying were the issues of Detective that David Lapham wrote. The intrigue of the coming crossover got me started, but I was still not going to buy anything that seemed stupid and lame.

I did, however, take a chance on Rann-Thanagar War because of its prominence as one of the four miniseries, even though the characters had a stigma of being stupid and lame (in my mind). What I found upon reading the series was that these characters had reasonably complex histories and were more multi-dimensional than I’d realized.

From this, I was curious about Hawkman. So I picked up the JSA “Return of Hawkman” trade. Then I started reading more JSA books. I picked up an Adam Strange trade. I think you can see where this is going.

Infinite Crisis is not just about shock tactics, or making everything fit together in one master plan. There’s plenty of that, but it’s also serving as a start-up point for readers who’ve either never given something a chance or come in from the outside. Rann-Thanagar war got me to buy more comics that I never would have.

Besides, there is an aspect of the DC Universe that exists out in space. There’s all those other Green Lanters, L.E.G.I.O.N., and the aforementioned Rann and Thanagar folks. For Infinite Crisis to really be all-encompassing, this part of the DC Universe simply had to be represented. One could argue that, while that is certainly the case, they could have done a better job with it all. I won’t deny that, or argue that the story was extremely memorable. If you take away expectations that it has to reveal something earth-shattering (no planetary pun intended) and just read it for what it is, I thought it was enjoyable simply as a space-based sci-fi story. But now that the full motivation for Alexander Luthor and Superboy has been revealed, it fits. There was no reason for them to take a bigger interest in Rann and Thanagar.

And if you still come away from this thinking it was stupid and lame, consider this: knowing DC’s need to include all aspects of their universe in the countdown to Crisis, maybe you can be glad they stuck it all in one series so it didn’t pollute the other three.

Internal note

Many apologies to readers who’ve stopped by in the past week and found a bunch of unreadable jibberish (in place of the usual unreadable jibberish, yeah I saw that coming too). We were having some database problems, but I think and hope they’re taken care of.

Death Note is good

I don’t have a clever title for this or a clever lede, but I’ve finally found something to get me into that whole manga world.

I had an irrational hatred of manga dating back to the 90s when Joe Madureira ruined the X-Men and everyone (read: Wizard, because I didn’t know any other comics readers) praised him for his “manga-influenced style.” For some reason, everyone having big eyes and huge boots didn’t excite me the way it excited them, perhaps because I wasn’t paying them for advertising space, and I associated an entire world of comics with dingleberry Joe.

Years later, I think it was when re-reading Understanding Comics, trying to absorb concepts of storytelling as a slightly more mature reader, I came to accept that maybe some of that stuff wasn’t all about big eyes and huge boots. And maybe I should try to read it.

But where to begin? As mainstream bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders started increasing their graphic novel shelf space, the manga shelf space was exploding. And all those books were little, and there were so many of them, and you have to read them backwards…it was just too much to pick a place to jump in.

I was saved by Sara Sanders. One day during homework time in one of the after-school clubs I teach at a local middle school, I had nothing to read. I usually bring a newspaper or a magazine or something, and that day I had nothing. Sara had these books called “Death Note,” and she also had homework. That meant those books were sitting there untouched. I told her, I’d been wanting to read some manga but didn’t know where to start…that segued into “Can I look at these?”

She only had books 2 and 3, and I didn’t really want to start in the middle of something, but I read the premise: a teenager finds a Death Note, a notebook that allows its owner to take someone’s life by writing their name in its pages. The main character (I hesistate to use the term protagonist), Light, comes into possession of one of these books and decides to use its powers to rid the world of evildoers.

I was instantly intrigued. Noble intentions, obvious setup for dramatic complications. Knowing there were several books in the series, I went out and bought book 1. I loved it. Then I quickly went through books 2 and 3. When I started reading it, I didn’t see how it was going to last very long, but the series has stretched out very naturally without any contrived twists.

The dialogue is a little stiff, but somehow it comes across as forgiveably translated and not just wooden and devoid of characterization. This is very much a plot-driven story; while two reasonably-defined characters drive the action, their necessarily-guarded personalities offer a built-in excuse for a lack of too much depth. I guess the best analogy I can say is that it’s like watching a chess game, being able to know what both players intend, and just watching how it all unfolds.

But I only realized while on the last page of book 3 – that this series was still coming out. So I finished book 3 in January and learned I was going to have to wait until March for book 4. I’m not sure how early it came out, but on Monday (Feb 28) I was at Barnes & Noble and checked, and sure enough, there was book 4. Now I’m going to have to wait until May for book 5…

I have to say, the ending of book 4 was the first time that I found myself somewhat questioning where the series was going. On one hand, how long can this be stretched out? On the other hand, it’s been handled so well so far, it has earned my faith that it’s going to be worth continuing.

It’s been successful in getting me to realize that some of this manga stuff is great (even though I am admittedly hooked on a book aimed at teenagers), but I haven’t evolved too far; I love Death Note, and I’m curious to try more…

…but I have no idea where to go from here.

An Astonishing idea

With the release of Astonishing X-Men #13 last week, I decided to re-read the original 12-issue “season” of Joss Whedon’s take on mutantdom. I’d remembered enjoying it greatly at the time, but much had passed in the world of comics between issues 12 and 13. Most notable, as far as Marvel is concerned, was House of M, of course, which re-jiggered the world, losing most of its mutants.

When I flipped through those first issues of Astonishing, it was just as good as I remembered. Whedon easily found the feel of the glory days of X-Men. He paced the issues well. He held back surprises, then played them perfectly. My jaw has never dropped so low as when Kitty ran smack into the long-dead Colossus (my favorite X-Man).

Beyond all that, Whedon introduced an incredible, nay, astonishing idea: that mutants suffered a disease, one that could be cured. That concept threatened to make the world of mutants interesting once again, after it had become muddled in the creation of thousands and millions of mutants (which made the X-Men all the less special). Now, here was something that would almost certainly cut down the mutants vastly. How many would sign themselves up to be cured? How many bad mutants would be forced to take the cure by governments or “good” mutants? These were mutant stories I wanted to read.

Then, the storyline suddenly changed in the arc’s second half to follow a rather simple good guy versus bad guy tale, one that was still enjoyable but nowhere near as interesting as what had come before. And issue #13 picked up not with the mutant cure, but with the re-creation of the Hellfire Club and the implication that Emma Frost is still one wicked witch.

This is purely conjecture, but is it really a coincidence that Whedon’s mutant cure faded away just as House of M was about to heat up? So, instead of the complicated yet interesting tales that would’ve come with mutants battling with the cure to themselves, we had the Scarlet Witch, with one sentence, wiping almost every mutation off the planet. Simple, easy, directive accomplished.

Now, wouldn’t you think that “blink” and all the mutants disappear, not long after a cure for mutants is announced, would raise some eyebrows? But, of course, there’s been no mention of a mutant cure since House of M. Maybe the
Scarlet Witch dreamed that out of existence as well.