Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Multiversity: Pax Americana #1

Well, no one can accuse Grant Morrison of pandering. I consider myself a fairly sophisticated comic book reader, but this was a difficult comic to get through. In addition to the unique presentation of the story (Morrison starts at the end and works backwards), the art is a challenge as well. I noticed that the sense of motion on the page was unique, but it took interviews for me to realize that Morrison was explicit in his instruction to artist Frank Quitely. Most if not all of the pages lay the motion out in a figure-eight style; infinity on a comic page.

There are a few ties to the overall Multiversity plot, but more than any of the other one-shots so far, Morrison seems to be telling a self-contained, experimental story. Clearly, Morrison is challenging himself (and his readers) with this one-shot. That might even be more of the goal than furthering the Multiversity core plot.

I have a ton of affection for both of the “sources” for this issue. I love the Watchmen; it blew my mind when I first read it. It obviously still holds up as one of the best stories ever. But at the same time, I have sort of moved away from the dour, grim, and depressing attitude that permeates its pages. Alan Moore’s intellectual exploration doesn’t accept much of the inherent joy of super-hero comics. And that is the tone that Morrison is directly channeling here. Captain Atom isn’t really Captain Atom in any way I recognize. He’s totally the distant, thoughtful Doctor Manhattan.

That brings me to the other source. The Charlton super-heroes. My exposure to them began in DC comics, the versions of the characters we see here are in no way related to their DCU counterparts. They have the same mental afflictions, guilt, and neurosis of the Watchmen. It is almost painful seeing Quitely’s beautiful take on Blue Beetle, Nightshade, and Peacemaker, but to see the characters in such a unique and off-putting presentation. This is Rorschach, not the Question. This is Nite Owl, not Blue Beetle. Heck, in a world that produced a million Before Watchmen titles, I wonder why DC didn’t just make an Earth-Smiley for the Watchmen to live on.

This is a challenging, challenging read. Much like the issue of Earth-Me, this comic takes characters I am very fond of and presents them in a way that really leaves me wanting more. This is good stuff. The story is interesting. The art is absolutely wonderful and immersive. But man, am I the only one who finished this and thought “man, I’d really like to read about these characters in a normal book?”

So I probably sound like a moron. I can accept that. This is a comic that simply must be re-read in order to understand Morrison’s message (or even get close). I understand sales were insane at my comic shop, I wonder how most people responded to this? Surely the average new 52 fan isn’t keen on treating a comic book like a college-level English discourse?

This is a GOOD comic, because it is so challenging. But I can’t give it an EXCELLENT, because Morrison is determined to make me work while I read. This comic isn’t one for relaxing and unwinding. You’d better bring some paper to take notes. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Constantine: The Spark and the Flame TPB

I’m pretty much DC’s target audience for this book. I have never read a pre-52 appearance of John Constantine. So seeing him in this series, where he acts pretty much in line with his portrayal in Justice League Dark? It doesn’t bother me at all seeing the character “watered down” like I’ve seen folks saying online. Sure, Constantine seems pretty vanilla, but he’s not offensive to me. This is one instance where the new 52 gave me a nice clean start to try the character. Maybe this is what all those “new readers” felt like when the relaunch happened.

Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes have an interesting pitch for their take on Constantine. It is all about taking from the universe, and hoping that the debt doesn’t come back to bite you. Constantine is a classic anti-hero tough guy. He’s constantly letting folks down, escaping by the skin of his teeth, and lying. But he generally does it for the greater good. He’s a scumbag with a heart of gold, and thanks to his verbose internal monologue, he’s easy to root for. It is easy to see why everyone in his life hates him, but the reader is on his side.

Part of the charm of the rascally rogue is that he has so many dang friends. He’s got allies and acquaintances showing up to give him a hand at nearly every stop along the plot of this trade. And each time, I found myself concerned more for Constantine’s friends than for himself. The writers did an excellent job making it clear who would pay for Constantine’s mistakes. (Here’s a hint, it’s not him.)
There are a lot of classic characters showing up here, mostly turned into villains. The original Sargon the Sorcerer is replaced by his daughter, a cruel murderess who seems like a good potential arch-villain. Mister E makes the most of his time too, another character whose name I recognize but who I have no exposure too. And when the Spectre shows up, he’s the version of the character I recognize; another positive.

Renato Guedes is the most recognizable penciller in the trade, working clearly in the current DC house style. The consistency with the super-heroic line just reinforces the feeling I got from the cover of this FAIR TPB; Constantine is just another super-hero. His powers even look like a Green Lantern’s. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Captain America & the Mighty Avengers #1

Well, it is official. We can now put Al Ewing on the list of Marvel writers who seem to be there to serve my kind of niche audience. The kind of talented writer who uses humor, action, and a solid knowledge of Marvel continuity to deliver modern stories that make me feel the way I did when I was a kid discovering comics. Some writers can strike it big with this style. Guys like Mark Waid and Dan Slott are still big comic industry names now. Others carve out solid chunks on solid books; writers like Jeff Parker, Christos Gage, and Fred Van Lente all do these books with smaller audiences, but are often my favorite. We’ll have to see where Ewing ends up, but just as he did in his first volume of Mighty Avengers, he’s proving he gets the Marvel U better than a lot of big-name Marvel writers.

I do have to question the decision to open up the new volume of Mighty with inverted FalCap and Luke Cage, though. Ewing handles them superbly, of course. FalCap is inverted from Chaotic Good to Lawful Evil, and Luke Cage has done the same. Falcon’s transformation is more unsettling, as Sam Wilson embraces violence and an overpowering love of his country that excuses all sorts of super-hero infractions. He seriously injures low-level thugs, all the while thinking that they are getting off easy. The most alarming part is seeing how he is justifying all this aggression through his newfound dedication to the real America.

Luke Cage is a bit more standoffish, that’s his biggest inversion. Not only is he totally unwilling to forgive Spider-Man for his “Superior” time, Cage also is more motivated by money than ever before. Part of the Hero for Hire gimmick was that Cage rarely got paid, but the inverted Luke Cage won’t stand for that. I can’t mention Spider-Man’s appearance without giving Ewing props for the awful, uncomfortable, and dead-on page of Spidey apologies. Spider-Man has a lot of awkwardness built into his character, but that usually only manifests when he’s Peter Parker. Seeing poor Spidey so discombobulated and uncomfortable is hilarious and just makes you feel for the guy.

Just like Mighty Avengers, I read this book with my daughter. She LOVED Parnival Plunder and his bad guys. It’s silly to think that the Plunderer has enough importance to be included among the inverted, but man, does it work. The urban pirate theme, the revealing and familiar banter amongst his underlings, the use of first names! All of these things made Parnival Plunder’s appearance in this book a special thing. My daughter was very upset to see this “villain” and his henchmen get beaten so badly. She read Cap #1 with me, so she knows the real FalCap, but man, she was bummed out.

Luke Ross is an artist I’ve liked for years. His solid pencils are always a nice fit for super-hero action, and the art is solid once again. I am particularly impressed with the way he draws the new Cap handling himself. From the high-altitude shield-throw to the absolutely brutal office takedown, the sense of motion and action on the page is tremendous.

Any comic that makes me think of Monty Python’s Meaning of Life has to be a GOOD comic. When those pirate ropes slapped against the glass, I thought for a moment we were getting the first in-continuity appearance of the Crimson Permanent Insurance pirates!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

All-New Captain America #1

Man, do I love this comic. I’ve been a fan of Rick Remender’s Marvel work for years now. Stuart Immonen is one of my top 5 comic artists. And I love the Falcon. So this was not a hard sell for me. But seeing these three beloved elements come together into such a strong combination is still a joy.

Rick Remender has really picked up the comedic dialogue in all of his books recently. I noticed it in Uncanny Avengers and Axis first, but the style continues here. Falcon has some tremendous asides and one-liners as he takes on hordes of Hydra goons. But the high point of dialogue, without a doubt, comes from the mysterious super-villain of the issue; Batroc the Leaper. Batroc is in a new hooded outfit that I don’t quite love, but man; his anti-American rant is just top-notch. (The ONLY thing that brings me down in this premiere issue is the possible final fate of Batroc. But we don’t’ see a body, so I’m not going to freak out yet.)

I also find it interesting that Remender is continuing the buddy-aspect of the title too, just with new characters. Now that Falcon has risen to be the star of the book, the sidekick/partner role has fallen to Ian Rogers, the new Nomad. Now, I love the Nomad name, but I loved the old costume too. So Ian’s much more Kirby-esque design is pretty strong, but I do miss that old swashbuckler look. And it would give Ian some discs to toss around too. Think about it, Ian!

Hydra can be boring, but supplemented by Batroc and a competent speeder-bike pilot; they seem like a good challenge for this whole issue. Best of all, faceless, nameless goons like Hydra agents can be killed with no repercussions to the overall Marvel U. And yet, FalCap DOES NOT KILL. In fact, he is vigorously opposed to it! Ian doesn’t have that limitation, but how wonderful was it seeing FalCap trying to be the better man in these fights. He even chooses saving a Hydra goon over his shield!

(Another aside: Redwing is dead meat. While I adore the concept of Sam having his feathered friend around, there is too much built in pathos and tragedy in killing the bird. I hope I’m wrong.)

None of this would have the same impact if it wasn’t for Stuart Immonen’s pencils. The breaking glass on a Hydra goon’s mask. FalCap scrunched up behind his shield to avoid gunfire. The frantic scramble into a mysterious elevator. These moments have weight and impact. I found myself thrilled as I flipped the pages to see what happened next. Immonen’s X-Men work has been fine, but seeing the pencils shine like they do here? I’m excited for the future of this EXCELLENT comic.

Monday, November 17, 2014

New Avengers: Other Worlds TPB

Oof. Jonathan Hickman’s eternal story of the colliding Earths continues, and now he’s added a new wrinkle that is affecting my opinion of the story. After years of turning Reed Richards, Black Panther, Iron Man and the rest into almost villains, the contrast to real heroes seems even more obvious. About halfway through this trade, Hickman introduces us to another world that has battled incursions and the Justice League-like team that protects it.


I am 100% cheering for the fake Justice League. I can only assume such a turnabout is Hickman’s point, to show that he’s essentially turned us against our normal lead characters. I don’t think that is a good thing.

As we tour different realities in each issue of this collection, we meet different versions of the Illuminati. Some face incursions, some face the Black Priests. Some face Mapmakers. (I’m still having a hard time telling everyone apart.) But in almost every case, I find myself more interested in the one-and-done protagonists than in the cast we’ve been following since this book started.

The glacial pacing has a great excuse here; we are touring a bunch of different worlds, so of course our main story isn’t continuing yet. It feels like we are treading water. Stalling only works when the detour is so interesting you don’t realize that nothing is happening. That isn’t the case here. I actually have to go back each month and remind myself what is going on with the book (thank goodness Marvel Unlimited makes that easy.)

Mike Deodato, Leinil Francis Yu, and Simone Bianchi are top notch artists. I’m glad to see the Avengers getting such top tier talent. I wish I was seeing their art in books I love reading.

I know some folks love this EVIL book. Me? My Avengers are over starring in the Mighty Avengers series.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Amazing Spider-Man #9

So my daughters and I read most of our comics together these days and Amazing Spider-Man is on the list of favorites. (I have to skim over and block some of Pete and Silk’s dialogue, but other than that the book is very kid-friendly.)

My 10-year-old is a huge Mayday Parker fan, thanks to years of back issue bin diving. So Dan Slott's Spider-verse story was right up our alley, based on what we’d heard. She’s a smart kid; concepts like alternate realities and multiple Earths don’t scare her off. But, after reading the opening chapter of Spider-verse, I was feeling a big confused. I don’t know anything about Morlun’s family. Are they new? Where do they live? Why do they get the Earth-1 designation? These things were bothering me! So I figured I’d ask my daughter to tell me what SHE thinks Spider-verse is about.

“Spider-verse is about a ton of Spider-people coming together to team up. The spider-people think our Peter Parker is really important, but he’s just confused. One of the Spider-Men is very powerful. A family of vampire-type thingamabobs want to eat all the spider-people. One is named Morlun. One has a name that starts with a D. And their Dad looks like a sasquatch. And there is a pig Spider-Man.”

So really, what else does she need to know? I guess it really isn’t that complicated, is it? She and her sister both love Peter Porker after one appearance. They are intrigued by Gwen Stacy as Spider-Woman. They love Silk and the Scarlet Spider. (And boy, are my kiddos worried about the New Warriors.) They have fewer reservations about the complexity than I do!

I will say this; my daughter is very, very worried that Peter and MJ from the MC2 Universe are really dead. She’s going to be mighty upset to see her beloved Mayday lose both her parents. I’m hoping Slott will give us some sort of an out before the end of this storyline.

I’m also very hopeful that the Spiders are going to eliminate some of the Morlun family’s more forgettable members. They look too much alike and have too similar of goals for me to easily differentiate between them. Morlun never had the most unique look when he was alone, having “fat Morlun” “girl Morlun” and “hairy Morlun” isn’t quite enough for me.

Olivier Coipel does a great job on art, as always. My daughters thought Mayday looked “different” and I’d have to agree. Seeing her rendered in Coipel’s modern style is a bit jarring after a hundred issues of Ron Frenz’s far more “classic” pencils.

This is a GOOD comic, continuing Slott’s epic run on the wall-crawler. It’s even worth the extra buck at $4.99!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Avengers & X-Men: Axis #4

So I’m a tad surprised by this one… I had understood that Rick Remender’s (through Red Skull) “inversion” of Marvel’s main characters would be a twist on their personalities, not a total alignment shift. It’s interesting. Some folks, like Iron Man, seem to definitely be off, but the core of the character seems unchanged.

The X-Men, as another example, seem to be shoring up as an army. Storm has bought in with Cyclops (who hasn’t changed that I’ve seen) and the newly powered-up Apocalypse (formerly known as Genesis). I am thrilled to see the X-Men back under one roof as a big, powerful team again; too bad it probably can’t last.

Then we’ve got the Avengers. I have no idea what is up with them. Captain America, Thor, Scarlet Witch, Wasp, they all just seem to be bad guys (some worse than others). Luke Cage seems to be greedier than evil, while Thor is cowardly AND evil. I’m just having a hard time.

Don’t even get me started on how Kluh works, exactly. The sadder Kluh gets the stronger he gets, and he seems irredeemably evil. Just full on bad guy. So that means that Hulk is normally… good? Carnage is a hero too. He’s not killing, he’s cracking jokes, and he’s rescuing hostages. So the opposite of Carnage is… Spider-Man? I’m not totally sure.

Since Jarvis, Spider-Man, Daredevil, and the SHIELD agents seem to be their normal selves, it seems only those characters actually present in Genosha have been inverted. At least, that makes sense to me and explains why the whole world hasn’t turned upside down.

I’m enjoying the overall feel of the event book so far, it does seem like a huge shake-up. That said, I hope later chapters give us some sort of explanation of what exactly happened here. Right now, it still seems a bit random.

Leinil Francis Yu’s art is always a treat. He gives the heroes and villains godlike bodies that really show off how they tower above normal humans. The difference in personality manifests nicely in the posture of some of the heroes too, especially Iron Man, Thor, and Medusa.

So I’m giving this a cautious GOOD. I like the concept, the art is great, and the stakes are high. This is much more my cup of tea than Original Sin. But I do hope Remender explains exactly how this inversion works soon. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Origin II HC

Wow. Talk about a story that no one demanded. I’m not trying to diss Kieron Gillen or Adam Kubert. They both have done fantastic work, and I keep an eye out for their names in the credit. But man, this continuation of Wolvie’s origin just doesn’t help anyone. Did anyone really want to see Wolverine struggle around with a different group of people while struggling with berserker rages?

To be honest, the high point of the book for me is seeing Mr. Sinister as a Victorian-era super-villain with a quaint little gang of assassin-soldiers working for him. I loved their uniforms!

Other than that, there is a fairly by-the-numbers plot with Wolverine falling in with another (mostly) beautiful girl who can recognize the inner nobility of Wolverine. There is another Sabretooth clone to keep things interesting. And there are a lot of berserker rages ripping up old-timey supporting characters. Nothing that really stood out.

(I did really enjoy the use of the polar bear as an analogue for Wolverine, though, that was a nice, sorrowful touch.)

Look at what Adam Kubert does in these books. In addition to his always-good action, he actually draws backgrounds! I know where these fights are taking place! A circus looks different than a bedroom! This is almost unheard of in modern comics, so I really appreciate the sense of location that Kubert establishes in each “shot.” It is always clear just where our heroes are fighting, which gives the drama a lot more grounded of a feel. This is great to see.

Again, I hate to admit that two great craftsmen like Gillen and Kubert made an AVERAGE comic, but to be honest, it would have been worse in other creators’ hands. This is simply a story that didn’t need to come out; it didn’t have enough to add to Wolvie’s mythos to be worthwhile. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Avengers World: A.I.M.pire HC

I should have read these in TPB (I read them monthly on Marvel Unlimited). As each issue came out, I was certain that I’d missed some intervening chapter. In an effort to spread the focus around to a lot of the near 40-member squad of Avengers, the plot literally jumps from issue to issue. Each opening page introduces a new team, each last page leaves them in a cliffhanger. From month to month, that makes it extremely difficult to remember what was happening back in that first cliffhanger when the story finally comes back around.

I am curious how much of this is Jonathan Hickman and how much is Nick Spencer.

The first plot is on A.I.M. Island with Smasher, Cannonball, and Sunspot investigating the new Scientist Supreme. I adore the new Smasher, she’s a fantastic addition to the Marvel U. With her WWII-era super-hero grandfather and her status as a Shi’ar Superguardian, she’s got possible plot points all over. Plus her dynamic costume and hard-headed personality make her a perfect Timbotron favorite. (The other Avengers spend their time locked up, not doing much.)

The second trouble spot is Madripoor, which is now located on the head of a gigantic dragon. (Comics!) Shang-Chi. Like in the first chapter, the supporting Avengers Falcon, Black Widow, and Wolverine really don’t do very much. This is almost a full-issue throwdown between Shang and the Gorgon, the top-level baddie from Mark Millar’s Wolverine arc. It’s a pretty great fight, with kung-fu proving to be almost the equal of the big bad’s powers. I really enjoyed the way Shang channeled the memories of ancient fighters to assist in battle. (Although isn’t this similar to how Black Panther’s Necropolis powers work now?) This was probably my favorite of the one-shots in the opening collection.

The third trouble spot is the city of the dead, where the boring Starbrand has to deal with his mass-murdering origins. I don’t care about Starbrand at all, and his companion Nightmask isn’t much more interesting. So this was a bit of struggle for me to get through, especially when I found myself pining for a different issue that gave me more pages dedicated to Hawkeye and Spider-Woman.

Manifold takes center stage in the last issue in this trade, as he starts to lead a squad of veteran Avengers in rescue mission to the trouble spots, As I said, I had a hard time remember exactly where all those stories left off without a re-write. The added callbacks to Infinity made it even harder for me to remember where we’d left off with Manifold. I like the character; he’s got a good look, powerset, and seems like a heroic guy. But it is hard to make teleportation more than a support power. Porters are necessary for plot, but they don’t always have a ton to do during fights, which limits their appeal to me.

The art is uniformly strong, with Stefano Caselli continuing to impress me. I’ve always loved his work, due to the heroic figurework, strong facial expressions, and his ability to direct nice, kinetic action sequences. He does a fine job making all these newbies look like they belong alongside the more experienced Avengers. It seems silly, but the weight and texture that Caselli gives the costumes makes the rookies seem like they fit in; that they are truly top-tier heroes deserving their spots. (I’m weird, I know.)

This is a FAIR book. I appreciate the focus on the lesser-used members of the Avengers, but man, the approach to pacing really confuses me. I had to re-read the entire run before I read issue 5 because I couldn’t remember what was going on with each group of Avengers. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Batman/Superman: Crossworld HC

Here’s how I know I’m an idiot. I accidentally skipped over two very important words when I started reading Greg Pak’s new team-up title. “Years Ago.” Literally the first two words on the page, and I missed them, tucked into the binding as they were. So it took me a few pages to figure out exactly what was going on as the story kicked off.

I like Jae Lee’s artwork, but it didn’t exactly help me. Moody and atmospheric as always, it isn’t exactly very distinct, often going for mood rather than detail. That style kept me from figuring out what was going on for even longer. Maybe this was by design, but the whole concept of switching Earths, Supermen, and Batmen felt a lot more complicated than it needed to be. It doesn’t help that Lee continues to avoid drawing backgrounds, filling the panels with blue skies, yellow skies, or black skies.

I find it so interesting that DC has basically created a cottage industry out of the alternate Earth idea. This entire story follows the New 52 version of Bats and Supes as they bounce into a much more interesting world; Earth 2. Earth 2 doesn’t feel exactly right, but it feels a lot closer to what I want in my DC comics, so seeing it as an option just makes me pine for it even more. (Especially considering that Earth 2 as we see here is essentially destroyed in its own series.)

Kaiyo the trickster has some interesting powers, like possession and inter-Earth teleporting, but other than pulling in some nice guest starts, I wasn’t overly enamored with her. I did like that as a New God, she had physical tools to stand up to Wonder Woman, but I just never bought in to her sort of vague plan to “test” Earths for Darkseid.  

The collection includes a strange flashback to the origin of Darkseid, but frankly, I felt like the rushed pacing and simple nature of the plot actually took away from Darkseid’s mystique. The art was pretty entertaining (from Paulo Siqueira), but then again, it is pretty easy to make the New Gods’ designs look good.

This was a FAIR library read, but since it was set in a world I know I won’t get to see more of, it sort of limits my interest. I am curious to see what Pak can do when he takes these characters forward in stories taking place in the present.