The Doomino Effect for January 16, 2019

In week 3 of the Return of the Doomino Effect, I will set the stage by telling you that we’re going to experience some high highs and some low lows, my friend.

Speaking of high-high, I’ll lead with The Batman Who Laughs #2, because “high-high” is kind of like “ha-ha,” and also because you have to start somewhere.

I have to tell you, I was largely disappointed by the Metal miniseries, in spite of how much I loved Scott Snyder’s run on Batman, and how much I generally appreciate stories with long-term builds. There’s just something about “ooh, scary versions of the good guys we know!” that always falls pretty flat with me. Snyder’s horror feels so intimate and personal, so the widescreen monster attack just didn’t grab me in the way I’d hoped.

So I honestly didn’t really expect to read The Batman Who Laughs, because that Joker Batman was probably my least favorite of the new spooky Batman versions from that storyline. It just felt too easy, almost. Fortunately for DC’s bank account, it came out on a week when I was otherwise light, so I picked it up to fill out the stack.

And man, I’m so glad I did; so far this series is everything I loved about Snyder’s Batman run. Rather than something exploitatively shocking and dark (and it does have its shocking and dark moments, mind you) this is at its core a psychological horror mystery. And having just recently re-read the “Court of Owls” storyline (more to come in a future blog post), that’s something I think Snyder does as well as anyone in the superhero comics world.

Snyder can write a Batman who’s on top of anything—but then villains who are even a few steps ahead of that—in a way that never manages to feel contrived. He can retcon Gotham history and plant convenient plot devices in ways that might elicit eyerolls from lesser writers.

I do think it’s his horror touch that allows him to pull it off. By creating an atmosphere so off-kilter and uncertain, these plot devices he employs feel symptomatic of a chaotic experience, giving them the cover they need to land emotionally rather than just feeling like part of a formula. Like at one point it’s literally raining aged Bruce Wayne corpses. Can you imagine how stupid that would be if Tony Daniel were trying to write that? (You can tell I’ve been out of this game for a while when I’m still picking on Tony Daniel as a Batman writer.)

So anyway, speaking of awful Tony Daniel Batman stories, instead of a Joker who skins his own face off for no reason, we’ve got a Joker who attempts suicide in order to turn our Batman into the Joker to fight an otherworldly Batman-turned-Joker who is trying to unleash everyone’s worst nightmares. It’s ridiculous, and I’m totally sucked in and can’t wait to find out how Batman gets himself out of this one.

Speaking of our nightmares come to life, that leads me to the garbage that has been Uncanny X-Men and the new issue Uncanny X-Men #10. This thing has been coming at me weekly!

Good grief I have hated this series. I couldn’t really imagine a less worthy storyline for the relaunch of this legendary title. But thankfully we’ve finally arrived at the conclusion to the abysmal X-Men Disassembled storyline, where the X-Men aren’t actually disassembled at all. They’re all quite intact, quite together, but they’re stuck in the as-bad-as-this-story Age of Apocalypse Earth.

Fun fact: did you know that when your mind gets sucked into X-Man’s mind, your body disappears too? Doesn’t that seem strange? I get—based on the rules of Marvel telepathy—that your mind could be lost in someone else’s mental playground, but how does that make your body disappear?

It doesn’t help that the art is so bad. It’s just so stiff and robotic. There’s a page where it looks like Colossus, Kitty and Psylocke are all yawning. I assume they’re yelling, but their heads just look pried-open and frozen. There’s no passion or energy like you might expect with an activity such a “yelling.”

On the same page, Iceman and Sunfire are both blasting the same bad guy with their respective powers a few feet from each other. Like no one stops to think that having Iceman blast ice at someone right next to Sunfire blasting fire at the same target might minimize the impact of their respective blasts. Iceman becomes distant-steam man. At least he would if the artist were thinking about what he’s drawing. It’s indicative of the really juvenile level of thought behind this entire story.

But it’s over—thank goodness. And now I guess we’re finally at the point where Cyclops and Wolverine are supposed to show up and pick up the pieces (although technically there are no pieces, since the X-Men weren’t actually disassembled and their bodies are in X-Man’s head).

Speaking of Wolverine returning, a few weeks ago, I caught myself wondering “What ever happened to that Return of Wolverine series? I seem to remember reading a few issues last fall.” Sure enough, The Return of Wolverine #4 came out! And man, I wish I would have forgotten that I had been reading this, because it’s awful!

I am so lost when it comes to what’s happening with Wolverine’s return. It reminds me of Countdown, Death of the New Gods and Final Crisis, when there were three different stories having to do with the deaths of the same characters, all being released at approximately the same time, and none of them being at all consistent with each other.

I can’t say that’s what’s happening with Wolverine’s return—because I honestly have no idea what’s happening with Wolverine’s return—but it reminds me of it. Wolverine showed up last year with one of the Infinity gems, almost immediately dumped the gem with someone else (which made it seem like an editorial audible), made some cameos in the Infinity Wars miniseries, is supposedly going to be in Uncanny X-Men soon, and is also returning in this miniseries that seems disconnected from everything else.

I’m assuming this miniseries is taking place in the past before those other things, but it’s so hard to even bother thinking about things like “theories” or “where this is headed” when the story is so darn boring. And the art is terrible. It’s like if you went back in time and got Matt Wagner as he was just starting to learn to draw. It’s like you hired Steve Dillon and he couldn’t open his eyes as he worked.

I’m really hoping that—much like Wolverine—I forget what I’ve been doing and when issue #5 comes out, I think to myself “Issue #5, eh? Well, I sure don’t want to start reading a new series when it’s already on issue #5! Pass!”

The one thing I do like is Steve McNiven’s cover art, which is clearly inked to resemble Barry Windsor Smith’s Wolverine art from Marvel Comics Presents. Nice callback, but the rest of the book just can’t even come close to delivering on that legacy.

Speaking of Marvel Comics Presents, that leads me to Marvel Comics Presents #1. I usually try to work harder on these segues, but it is what it is. They actually relaunched Marvel Comics Presents on the same week Steve McNiven is clearly mimicking Barry Windsor Smiths’ art style from the Marvel Comics Presents Weapon X story. What am I supposed to do?

Something about the original Marvel Comics Presents fascinated me. Even when the stories weren’t all that good, just the simple idea of an anthology series blew my mind—especially when it arrived at the aforementioned Weapon X storyline. I honestly still can’t really tell you what it is about the idea of an anthology series that so flummoxed and captivated this child—maybe just the wide-open opportunities of being able to rotate in different characters and tell (somewhat) self-contained stories?

There’s always been something about the disposability of newspaper comics that has captured my imagination. All this work goes into holding your attention for three-to-four panels, and then it just moves on the next day. Stories in Marvel Comics Presents had a similar mortal charm, because unlike a storyline in a main title, like Uncanny X-Men or Avengers, a Marvel Comics Presents story existed on the periphery—still featuring the characters we know in the universe shared with their main titles—but somehow free to experiment a little more simply by nature of existing in this anthology playground. The stories would come and go and then NO ONE CARED. I was completely romanced by that disposability.

I’m fully aware that these ideas come from a nostalgic place in my childhood, and so when I picked up Marvel Comics Presents #1, I did so with guarded expectations—but I could hardly have been happier with the overall experience.

The Wolverine story is starting off to be a fun little horror tale that plays off his age (it’s even good in spite of being written by a man named Charles Soule, which is also the name of the guy who is writing the awful Return of Wolverine comic book). The Namor story is a tragically beautiful look back at his time in World War II. The Captain America story was weird and I kind of hated it, but I didn’t care! It felt like a perfect fit as the last story in the anthology. I mean Greg Land illustrated the thing, so it’s got its usual distracting collection of traced porn stars.

My fear is that this will just be some cash-in project (it’s $4.99!) and that Marvel will lose interest once these kickoff stories wind down. But in the meantime, I’m super interested in where this Wolverine story goes! I love the setup for this Namor story! I couldn’t care less about this Captain America story and I hope it’s replaced with something better next issue because you can totally do that in an anthology!

Speaking of Namor in World War II, that leads me to Invaders #1. Let me tell you something about the Invaders.

I may be remembering incorrectly, but I’m pretty sure that my love for the New Invaders series in 2004-2005 is part of what inspired the creation of this blog. Obviously this wasn’t a one-person effort, as Doom DeLuise, Doominator, Fin Fang Doom, Colonel Doom and Jean Claude Van Doom were there from the beginning. But there was something about my unexpected level of love and excitement around that series (it was a bunch of lame D-list characters but I loved it!) made me think things like “I want to talk about the comics I’m reading!”

So in a similar nostalgic vein as Marvel Comics Presents—only about 15 years later in my life—I was excited for the return of Invaders, particularly with its anchor in these characters’ World War II pasts. The issue did not disappoint.

I hadn’t decided to resurrect this column yet a few months ago when the The Best Defense one-shot crossover miniseries was released, but I loved that thing. It felt like such a callback to stories from my youth when an arc could have gravity without being some kind of mega-event. Like you’d read Avengers or Hulk or whatever for three issues and there’d be a fully self-contained arc that felt like it had consequences and felt like the creative team was fully invested in telling it to the best of their ability, and as a reader you’re totally along for the ride. Then somewhere in the 90s, everything shifted to where if anything had any consequence at all, it was going to be a mega-crossover event, and everything between crossovers just felt so trivial and meaningless.

The Best Defense was like the great pre-crossover-mega-event era stuff, where ultimately it was inconsequential! But nobody told the creators! Every second of it was determined to suck you in further. Speaking of getting sucked in, I’m spending a lot of time talking about a series that isn’t even the one I’m reviewing here, but I was glad to see that Invaders #1 was building on the events of that Best Defense Namor one-shot (I’m also aware of the irony of comparing a crossover event to the days before crossovers, but it’s not as if this particular crossover I’m referring to was some major marketing ploy; it was just this story out there, and it was just kind of up to you if you were going to find it). And to further bring this home, my enjoyment of The Best Defense was a big part of why I decided to dust off this old column and start writing about my comics again.

While I’m at it, I’ll just start talking about other comics that this isn’t, and say I’m glad to see it also ties into what’s been happening in Avengers—but not in some mega-event crossover way, just in a way that acknowledges the significance of events in the universe where this resides. It rewards your attention and your memory and makes it feel consequential by grounding its events within the context of what’s happening elsewhere in the Marvel Universe.

So anyway, the issue itself centers around Namor’s unraveling, which we’ve seen in those aforementioned stories, but it also calls back to a pivotal event in Namor’s World War II partnership with the Americans. And normally I really dislike when a comic book has several artists in one issue, but Marvel editorial made a nice move here by putting Carlos Magno on the present-day pages and Butch Guice on the World War II-era sections. Butch Guice is pretty darn peerless when it comes to telling classic stories (other than those actual peers who also illustrated the Brubaker-era Captain America issues, I guess) but I can’t praise the selection enough. The distinctions in styles feel like actual storytelling techniques, as opposed to the usual “Hey our regular artist couldn’t finish this in time, so here are some subs.”

I’m very much looking forward to seeing where this goes.

Speaking of bundling artists on a single issue, that leads me to an issue that actually came out a few weeks ago but that I just picked up this past week, and that is Fantastic Four #5—the wedding issue.

I will waste no time getting to the point—I think this is one of the most flawlessly executed comic books ever. There wasn’t an HTML error here–I decided to give it 20 out of 10. I may have overshot it a little, but I am actually planning on buying another copy and maybe several because I want to give this issue out as gifts.

I’m no long-standing Fantastic Four fan. I’ve read it off and on over the years. I bought issue #1 and maybe issue #2 of this relaunch, but then I just kind of forgot to continue on with it. I saw issue #6 on the stand this week, and figured eh, what the heck—if I’m going to buy #6, might as well grab one of those many extra copies of #5 that the shop ordered and still hasn’t sold.

I segued into this because—like Invaders #1—this issue has multiple artists. Like Invaders #1, this is also one of the rare instances where I think it works beautifully. This issue breaks down what is essentially the last 24 hours before Ben and Alicia’s wedding, and the different artistic teams help set the tone for what are truly standalone—while thematically connected—stories.

And it’s such a great story! Honestly when I picked this thing up and saw how many pages it was (and $7.99!) I expected maybe a 22-page main story, a cute 4-5 page backup story, and then like 30 pages of reprints from 1968 or something. But no, this is all new content, it’s all threaded together, and it’s just perfect. It’s sweet, it’s funny, it’s incredibly clever in how it recognizes the failings of many/most comics wedding stories, and it sets up the Fantastic Four’s next adventure in a way that ties into the wedding itself.

It’s just so good. And since I am only including the old issue because I bought the latest issue, Fantastic Four #6 is part one of the new Herald of Doom arc. Galactus has come to Earth (again), but this time Doctor Doom plans to single-handedly rise to the challenge. As in, he does not want the Fantastic Four’s help or meddling, because—as you may expect—Doom’s heroic antics may not be as altruistic as they first appear.

While not a legendary moment like its sequential predecessor, I loved this issue too. I became a big Dan Slott fan during his Amazing Spider-Man run years ago, and it’s no surprise he excels on this book. His ability to capture cinematic action and personal-level heart and personality is such a great fit for the Fantastic Four.

I am indeed a sucker for basic-but-beautiful storytelling.

See you next week! Maybe I’ll pick up something that I hate for more interesting reasons.