Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Weekly Haul: January 24th
52 #38 (DC) This week’s issue is dominated by the Montoya/Question storyline, which, of all the plates this book has spinning, is by far my least favorite. It’s not just that it seems to be killing off a cool character (and if Booster Gold and Animal Man escaped the Grim Reaper already, what are the chances of a three-peat?), but it’s just so badly written. Firstly, I don’t understand why Montoya can’t just get to Nanda Parbat the same way she did last time. And secondly, there’s that damn first-person narration; only the Montoya scenes have any kind of narration at all, which makes them stand out awkwardly from the rest of the story, and the things she says in narration are never pertinent. The same information is usually relayed in the dialogue and the images, more so this issue than usual. In the plus column, those nutty mad scientists unveil their scary-ass Horsemen, and Natasha Irons seems to have wised up. The back-up is the origin of The Red Tornado, as drawn by Phil Jimenez. More on that later.
Cable & Deadpool #36 (Marvel Comics) Missed it! I’ve been curious about this Deadpool character for years now, and this Cable-free issue seemed to be a good jumping-on point. I’m glad I jumped! I don’t normally think of Fabian Nicieza as a fun and funny writer, but I’ll be damned, this was a fun and funny issue. Deadpool’s rep as a killer for hire is on the wane, so to fix it, he comes up with a crazy plan: Kidnap a bunch of people who hire hired killers, kidnap dreaded hired killer Taskmaster, and force the former watch him defeat the latter. ‘Pool starts his hunt for Tasky at Marvel Comics, on a first-page that recaps the series in a way that’s entertaining (rather than simply wasting that first page, like most Marvel Universe comics do these days), and eventually the plan goes off without a hitch. I really dug ‘Pool’s Spidey-like quipping, the Skeletor-faced Taskmaster (who ends up not being as lame as his name makes him sound), and the surreal sight of D.P. hopping around the battlefield (he’d shackled his legs together to make his victory more impressive). Of course, like almost all books set in the MU since the debut of Civil War #1, this story also had it’s continuity problems. For one, isn’t Taskmaster pumped full of behavior-controlling nanites and serving under Tony Stark and SHIELD’s Thunderbolts initiative? And the Rhino, seen escaping at the end of this issue to face Deadpool in the next issue, was spotted this week fighting the Punisher in Punisher War Journal #3. Civil War has vividly illustrated that Marvel has problems making the trains run on time, but is it too much to ask that they stop their trains from running into one another?
Civil War: The Return #1 (Marvel) Based on the all-white cover with just text on it, this looks like the most generic comic book ever. Woah, wait a minute, there’s some vague image on that field of white, I think. Let’s see…yes, yes, if you look really, really closely, there’s an off-white star-like shape above the title. So, this book will feature the return of either the original Captain Marvel or Nova, who have such stars on their uniforms, or Jesus, whose birth was heralded by such a star. I do hope it’s Jesus, so I can pray to him to give Steve McNiven the strength to finish Civil War #7 on time and Marvel editorial the wisdom to find some way to reconcile Civil War’s many, many, many mistakes. Three pages in and it’s clear which of those three it is—the original Captain Marvel (Well, Marvel’s original Captain Marvel, not the original original Captain Marvel). You may remember him as the superhero that dramatically died of cancer decades ago, in one of the first powerful superhero comics that injected real world tragedy and emotion into its narrative with a modicum of sophisticated storytelling. Which is a pretty good reason not to fuck with it. But then, this is the company and writer who recently introduced us to "Dark Speedball," so, hell, anything goes, right? Not unlike Paul Jenkins’ Civil War: Frontline, The Return is an anthology. The first of its two stories is called “Captains Courageous: The Return of Captain Marvel,” and in it, Jenkins uses second-person narration to recap Cap’s death and explain to us how he returns from the dead. Would you believe that when trying to open a portal to the Negative Zone (to build their gigantic, Star Wars-sized Guantanomo for unregistered superheroes), Tony Stark and Reed Richards accidentally created a rip in fabric of space-time right in front of a young, still-living Captain Marvel, and he got shunted forward in time? And as soon as he gets here in the present, they make him the warden of said Negative Zone prison? (Not that he tries to stop the mass breakout that occurred off-panel in Civil War #6). Or that he's still got cancer and will still die of it in the present? Seeking inspiration from a deodorant commercial, Jenkins writes perhaps the worst line in his entire career: “You’re the first person ever…to get a second chance… to make a first impression.” Yikes. The second half of the book is devoted to “The Decision,” which is a story about The Sentry deciding to register during a battle with the Absorbing Man. This might strike anyone who’s been reading New Avengers, which already explained how and why The Sentry decided to register, as fairly odd.
Doctor Strange: The Oath #4 (Marvel) Writer Brian K. Vaughan had me at the words “Emerald Bands of Exador.” In the penultimate chapter of this adventure, in which the good doctor, his manservant and his new sidekick Night Nurse seek to acquire a magic potion that can cure cancer, they battle a tentacle-y Lovecraftian demon and a rival surgeon-turned-sorcerer. Vaughan’s character work is sharp and his dialogue is razor sharp, while Marcos Martin’s art is equally adept and rendering the characte’s as distinct, real-looking people and choreographing magic vs. monster action scenes. As eagerly as I’ve anticipated each new installment of the series so far, now that the finish line is in sight, I’m dreading #5, as that spells the end for BKV and Martin’s take on Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme. I do hope they’ve got a few more miniseries in them, if not an actual ongoing series, although I suppose we’ll be seeing a lot of Dr. Strange this year either way. Despite Strange’s exasperated, “This is why I never joined the Avengers” comment after his associates refuse to follow orders, he will in fact be doing just that.
Eternals #6 (Marvel) I was fairly certain I’d dropped this book, but since it showed up in my pull this week, I went ahead and bought and read it. Like the last five issues, it was wonderfully illustrated by John Romita Jr. and capably if disappointingly written by Neil Gaiman (the downside of having so much ingenious work on your resume is that readers hold everything you do in the future to the standard of it, and this falls far short of pretty much all of Gaiman’s previous comics work), and featured a completely incongruous painted cover by Rick Berry. The inclusion of Iron Man, Yellowjacket and the Wasp and talk of registration seems out of place, although JRJr does a nice job drawing the more mainstream Marvels, and Yellowjacket’s presence does set up a nice size reveal when the Eternal finally stands up.
Fantastic Four #542 (Marvel) Missed it! I didn’t realize that Dwayne McDuffie would be coming onto FF as the new writer until after Civil War wrapped up, so I neglected to grab this issue last week. Based on this story alone, McDuffie couldn’t get on this title soon enough. The issue finds Anti-Reg Johnny Storm meeting with Pro-Reg Reed Richards in a coffee shop, and checks in with the Richards children, Ben Grimm and Sue Richards. For the most part, the story is devoted to explaining the various members’ positions on the Superhero Registration Act and which side they’ve taken in the “civil war” in a way that makes both some sort of logical sense and squares with their character histories. In the process, McDuffie has to pretty much call the writer he’s replacing, JMS, on a lot of bungled character work. The whole issue stinks of damage control, as many of the points raised within are the exact same ones I’ve been reading on Newsarama.com’s message boards for months now, but at least someone finally got around to addressing them. Granted, this issue would have served the “Civil War” story and the FF’s thread in it much, much better had it come out on the heels of Civil War #1, but better late than never, I guess. Despite the team’s break-up and the uncertain direction of the title, I’m really looking forward to where things are going in the future—McDuffie’s first script is just jam-packed with great dialogue, strong characterization and a sense of humor and melodrama that seems organic, growing out from the characters rather than being forced upon them. The pencil art, by Mike McKone, is sort of sparse in background and detail, but strong in character design. The photorealistic cover of the Human Torch with his flame on doesn’t do much to sell the book, however, and it’s generic-ness no doubt contributed to my passing it over at the shop last week.
The Helmet of Fate: Ibis The Invincible #1 (DC) I’ve complained here before about DC’s seemingly terminal case of legacy-itis (At the rate they’re going, Superman and Batman will be the only heroes left who haven’t been replaced by younger versions in the whole DC catalogue of characters by next year), and the wrong-headedness inherent in taking the name of a character incapable of carrying his or her own title and giving it to a brand-new character who’s even less likely to be able to carry his or her own title. So naturally I wasn’t too excited to learn that Golden Age magician/crime fighter Ibis the Invincible (I love typing that!) is passing his name and mission on to an Egyptian-American teenager who’s to become Ibis II here. I suppose Ibis the Invincible has been out of circulation so long (unlike The Atom II, Blue Beetle II or Firestorm I) that there’s little risk of alienating a sizable fan base (I think he’s only appeared once since his death in Swamp Thing anyway), and in this particular case making sure the legacy character is of a non-European ethnicity isn’t as forced or offensive* as it sometimes is, given that the character’s powers and identity are so tied to Egyptian mythology. Novelist-turned-comics writer Tad Williams introduces us to 17-year-old Danny Khalifia, bullied for being Egyptian in post-9/11 America. He follows a flaming Ibis symbol through a huge vagina in a brick wall, which leads him to the dying bodies of the original Ibis the Invincible and his girl Taia. Ibis the Invincible bequeaths unto Danny the Ibistick and charges him with rescuing the Helmet of Fate, which has fallen into Set’s hands. With the aid of the Internet and Thoth, Danny is given a dumb superhero costume, some superpowers and the abs of a twenty-something and goes about saving the world. Fittingly, Danny/Ibis share a lot in common with Billy Batson/Captain Marvel, from the magical portal in an urban locale, to the origins in Egyptian magic, to the elder/advisor, to the turning into a full-grown superhero by saying a magic word. The tone is also quite similar to what a Captain Marvel story should be—light and adventurous. Williams’ script, beautifully illustrated by Phil Winslade, is more about the new Ibis than it is about the Helmet, which is simply a magical maguffin here, but that's fine by me. I’d certainly look forward to seeing future stories by Williams featuring this character, if only because they would give me more opportunities to read, say and type the worlds "Ibis the Invinicible" and "Ibistick." As far as I’m concerned, Helmet of Fate is two for two, and comics bloggers who complain about super comics that lack a beginning, middle and end, be sure to check this one out; I think you'll dig it.
Punisher War Journal #3 (Marvel) It was a little irritating that the Spidey rescue scene in Civil War #5 and the Spidey rescue scene PWJ #1 differed so greatly from one another, and it was really irritating when the Captain America vs. Punisher fight in CW #6 and PWJ #2 were so completely different. Now it just seems like writer Matt Fraction is trying to but me, as PWJ #3 features a third version of the Captain America vs. Punisher fight—you can kinda forgive Fraction for the first two not synching up (maybe he didn’t get to read Mark Millar’s script before writing his own?), but this time he’s contradicting himself. I swear I’d be pulling my hair out if I hadn’t shaved it all off. This was by far the weakest of the PWJ issues to date, with nothing to really recommend it (Artist Ariel Olivetti’s Rhino costume looks kinda cool, I guess). Fraction's sense of humor is suspiciously absent, and his portrayal of Punisher as a lunatic that made the first two issues so appealing is not carried through to this issue. Perhaps things will pick up once CW reaches completion and Fraction won’t be shackled to a line-wide crossover.
X-Factor #15 (Marvel) One Jamie Madrox is kidnapped by Hydra and brainwashed into serving their evil organization. Another Jamie Madrox, Agent of SHIELD, shows up to rescue him, but it seems their subconscious has wrapped things up for them. That whole duplicating power can be pretty scary when it gets out of control, as it does here. This issue’s probably worth the price of admission just for Jamie’s joke about Hydra’s motto.
*Making second generation heroes black, Hispanic, Asian, gay or female (all of which still qualify as minority in mainstream superhero comics) fosters the sentiment that they’re essentially sidekicks or stand-ins for the white, straight, male originators of the role, and these characters end up always being under the shadow of the originators. John Stewart, for example, is always going to be the black Green Lantern, and never the only, one, true Green Lantern (not in the comics, anyway). In that regard, creating original characters that are black (or Hispanic, Asian or gay) seems preferable to passing a white, male, heterosexual hero’s name on to them. For DCU examples, Black Lightning and Vixen are stronger characters that can stand on their own far better than, say, Firestorm II or Mr. Miracle II.